A ghost walked into a pub, went up to the bar and said to the landlord, “Can I have a brandy please?” “I’m sorry,” said the landlord, “we don’t serve spirits!”
Yes – the old ones are the best!
Ghost or real. That’s the question facing the disciples – and us – in our gospel reading today!
It’s been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster ride for the followers of Jesus on that first Easter Day. Throughout the day they are in turn startled, terrified, frightened, joyful, disbelieving, puzzled, wondering! Try and imagine what must have been going through their minds as they deal in turn with the death of Jesus, his burial, their fear of the authorities, and then various in their number turning up and saying: He’s not dead at all – he’s alive again. Continue reading
The man is on trial for murder. The jurors have retreated to the jury room where they are shut in until they reach a verdict. The case for finding him guilty seems overwhelming – and, in fact almost all of the jury are at the outset convinced that finding him guilty is the only option. But one of the jurors is not convinced. He has doubts. And he does his best to persuade the other jurors that they have got it all wrong, that a critical view of the evidence can only result in finding him not guilty.
The play “Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose, made into a famous film with Henry Fonda, is a story of one man who sees things differently and who isn’t about to be persuaded otherwise by the other people in the group. Continue reading
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It was, of course, Easter Day last Sunday. And here is the sermon preached by Mother Anne-Marie.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Come on, you all know the joyful answer: “He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!” It is spring, well maybe it is spring – we remain ever hopeful. The daffodils are blooming, and the blossom is just beginning to come out, there are Easter Eggs to eat, and the Lord is risen. There are no notes of sadness, worry, grief, or fear in our greetings to one another this morning.
But how different it was early on that first Easter morning as Mark tells us in our gospel. The three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, didn’t greet one another with such great joy. There were no alleluias, no happiness in their hushed whispers. They were grieving and devastated. They had seen their beloved Jesus, their teacher, stripped of not only his clothes, but every possible shred of human dignity, executed in the most horrible way, and laid in the garden tomb late on the Friday.
And then sunset had come, the Sabbath was upon them and they could do nothing. Continue reading
I always prefer surprise presents for Christmas and birthdays. The one surprise present I have never received, though, is a book I’ve been expecting for some time – ever since it was published in 2004.
I’m surprised my children – and I’m thinking of one of them in particular – have never thought that an appropriate and fitting gift for me would have been the book Grumpy Old Men – A Manual for the British Malcontent. Written by David Quantick it has an introduction by Rick Wakeman – in my opinion the greatest keyboard player in the history of rock music and a self-confessed grumpy old man. Amazon has a description of the book: Continue reading
The gospel last Sunday was the story of Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night in order to ask some questions. Here’s what I said.
Questions. Today’s gospel is about questions. Or rather, it’s about someone seeking answers but not really knowing the right questions to ask.
Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. So said the great French philosopher Voltaire.
But how do we know what the right questions are? Some of history’s greatest thinkers have pondered: What are the questions we should be asking? And they’ve come up with some interesting answers to that question. They’ve come up with questions like these – posed by in my opinion probably the greatest ever winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature:
How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?
Or how many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
Or how many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned?
What are the answers to those questions? Well, some of you will have recognized those words, so you will know: Continue reading
Here’s my sermon for Easter 3. In the New Testament reading we hear how Saul encounters Jesus, and in the gospel reading how Jesus calls Peter to follow him.
Jesus, after the resurrection, needed to do some recruiting. He had twelve posts to fill – he needed twelve apostles to be the founding leaders of his church. So how did he go about it? Place an advertisement in the Jerusalem Times? Draw up a list of interview questions? Get an interview panel together? Job description and person specification?
And if Jesus had carried out background checks – character references, criminal records checks, and so on – of those he wanted to be his apostles where would we be? Would he have appointed them? Or would he have decided that they weren’t suitable candidates for the job? Continue reading
They had watched the person die. They checked the body – yes, definitely dead. And so, having made sure that the body had been buried, and knowing that the grave was subsequently sealed, they thought it was all over. The only problem was that subsequently someone saw the person again – apparently alive. Or was it a ghost. They can’t be alive, surely, thought those who knew the body must still be buried. And then they were confronted by the person they thought gone for ever, alive and talking to them. The grave is empty.
Yes – Eastenders (For those outside the UK – a widely watched British TV soap opera and a bit of a national institution) have done it again. For those of you who don’t watch Eastenders you don’t know what you’re missing. Or perhaps you do, which is why you don’t watch it. Let me explain. Continue reading
We all have tragic events that stick in our minds. We may not have been personally involved, but something about them, or what you were doing at the time, holds them in the memory. For me, one of these was the Lockerbie air disaster in 1988 – too long ago for some of you to remember. I was nowhere near Lockerbie at the time and knew no one on the flight, but it sticks in my mind because of what I was doing at the time. I had decided to stay up late to wrap Christmas presents – everyone else had gone to bed – and I switched on the TV for company. The screen was full of pictures of the devastation of a blown up plane and a small Scottish town, and I just continued to watch and take in this tragedy which had killed so many just four days before Christmas. Continue reading
Last Sunday the gospel reading was the feeding of the five thousand, followed by Jesus walking on the water. The feeding of the five thousand is one of the few miracles to appear in all four gospels. We had the version from John.
To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect, said Oscar Wilde.
Which might explain why the disciples, living as they did two thousand years ago, spectacularly failed to expect the unexpected even though the unexpected is what kept happening.
On the website Yahoo! Answers, a site where you can ask questions on any subject in the hope that someone else has the answer, someone posed the question “Do you always expect the unexpected?” To which someone else replied:
“Technically it’s impossible….I mean you can’t expect the unexpected… as the word unexpected means you didn’t expect it… so if you expect the unexpected, it’s no longer unexpected is it? Because it becomes expected… so anybody that says they do expect the unexpected are lying as it’s impossible…”
Which clears that up! As far as that person is concerned you can’t expect the unexpected. They’d have got on well with the disciples. Because you might have thought that the disciples, having seen what Jesus has been doing, would have learned to expect not just the unexpected, but the downright impossible! Already by this point in Jesus’ ministry, according to the writer of John’s Gospel, they have seen him turn water into wine, they have seen him heal an official’s dying son from a distance, they have seen him heal an invalid at the pool of Bethesda. By now they should have been ready to expect just about anything.
And yet it seems that although they had seen what Jesus could do they still couldn’t get their minds around the reality that the impossible was possible when Jesus was involved! That the unexpected kept happening. Constantly they found their faith in Jesus being out to the test – deliberately put to the test – by Jesus.
And in our gospel reading this morning we see two impossible situations where the disciples – and in a very real sense, we too – have their faith put to the test. We see Jesus’ disciples face two impossible situations; will they respond in faith? Will they trust that Jesus has everything under control, even though it may not seem so?
Jesus is followed by a massive crowd to a remote place, and we are told that Jesus tests Philip by asking him where they can buy bread for all these people. He knows what he is going to do, but he wants to find out how Philip will respond to the situation. Note that there is no indication that these people are actually hungry – but Jesus has decided to feed them anyway. Philip responds to the test in a very human way: he considers the finances and concludes that it is totally impossible as they would need a huge amount of money to feed everyone, more than half a year’s salary. Quite where he thought they could by food from is a mystery – they were in a remote place! Then Andrew chips in, mentioning that he has found a boy with five barley loaves (the cheapest, least palatable bread) and two fishes (probably pickled fish of some kind,) but states this small amount of food would be little help in feeding the crowd.
Both disciples look only at their own resources to deal with the problem and, as such, believe it to be irresolvable. Jesus shows them that what is impossible for them is possible for God and proceeds to feed the entire crowd so amply that there are twelve baskets of food left over: more than there was to start with!
Afterwards, Jesus goes off by himself to get away from the crowd. Being well acquainted with the temperamental nature of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples realise that they can wait no longer if they are to cross before a brewing storm breaks. And they set off across the sea leaving Jesus behind! Why? We don’t know. What were they thinking? Anyway, three or four miles in, after hours of hard rowing, exhausted, with conditions deteriorating and still only halfway across the lake, they are clearly in trouble.
Again, they are in a truly hopeless situation: all alone and believing Jesus to be too far away to help. Indeed, when Jesus does approach them upon the water they fail to recognise him and are petrified. They may have recently witnessed him miraculously feed more than five thousand people, but they still seem to struggle to believe that he could be there to help in their desperate situation. Once Jesus has reassured them it is him, however, and he is on board, another miracle occurs: the boat immediately finds itself ashore!
Well, what are we to make of these two miracles – feeding thousands with five loaves and two fish, walking on water in the middle of a storm and then bringing the boat and its occupants immediately to their destination?
Well, both these miracles are really about the same thing. Have the disciples learned to expect the unexpected where Jesis is concerned? Have they come to realise who Jesus is and what he can do? Have they come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he can do anything? And – more to the point – the writer of the gospel is really asking the same questions of those for whom he wrote, and of us here today.
For the point of the feeding of the five thousand is not that five thousand people are fed. It is that Jesus is testing his disciples to see whether they have now realised that the unexpected, the impossible, can happen. “What are we going to do to feed these people?” he asks.
And the point of Jesus rescuing the disciples in the storm is that the disciples have not learnt to trust in Jesus in time of need. And when he comes walking across the sea to them in the middle of a storm, they fail to recognise him. And he has to say to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
Jesus tests the disciples. Have they learned that with Jesus they can expect not just the unexpected, but they can expect what those without faith would think impossible? In today’s gospel reading they are not yet there and they didn’t get there until after the resurrection. The writer of the gospel, though, is putting the same test to those for whom he is writing his gospel. Those who will read his words – or more likely hear them read – and who live in the light of the resurrection. Do you have the faith to believe that Jesus can work miracles, that Jesus can use his power to overcome the natural order of things, that Jesus can do the unexpected in your life?
We face the same test. In our gospel reading Jesus dealt with a crowd needing food and a boat of disciples at sea in a storm by – in both cases – doing that which seemed impossible. Do we, as his followers today, pass the test? Do we believe that Jesus can deal with the seemingly impossible problems that beset us – in our world, in our nation, in our own daily lives?
Jesus didn’t respond in ways that the disciples expected – and that can often present a problem for us. Of course, it is far from easy to keep exercising faith in situations such as when we lose our job, or are diagnosed with a terminal illness, or our marriage breaks up, or a loved one dies, and so on. For Jesus doesn’t always respond in the way that we might, at one level, want. He doesn’t wave a magic wand and make everything go back to how it was. He often responds in unexpected ways.
As with the disciples, he is there, ready to support in the ways that he thinks best, and help us find a way through. And faith is about understanding that Jesus, even when things seem impossible, can do the unexpected and help us through, and it’s about trusting him to do it. Faith – as I said a couple of weeks ago – Forsaking All I Trust Him.
It was in difficult and seemingly unsolvable situations times that Jesus took the opportunity to try and inspire faith from his disciples, because those times should have forced them to look outside themselves and seek God’s help through Jesus. It was clearly important to Jesus that his disciples had a growing faith and if the disciples needed to develop their faith, so must we.
So may we encourage our faith to grow, putting it into practice each day by choosing to believe that Jesus can and will help us, no matter how difficult our situations. Br trusting in him, trusting that Jesus can use his power among us: for what is impossible for us, is possible for Jesus!
I’m going to finish with the words of Saint Paul which end our extract from his letter to the Ephesians, a prayer that reminds us that God can do so much more than we often think he can! It’s a prayer that we used it regularly during worship at the Church Army College when I was there, and it has become one of those prayers that I know by heart and use at opportune moments. This is the version from the Common Worship prayer book.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or conceive, by the power which is at work among us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages. Amen. (Eph.3.20-21)
Which is Paul’s way of saying: Always except the unexpected! Continue reading
What sort of a Christian are you?
I don’t mean are you a good Christian – you know in church every Sunday, helping others every day or a half hearted Christian – here occasionally and every so often you possibly give God a passing thought and think maybe you should put a £1 in the Christian Aid envelope. No I don’t want you to delve around into your conscience and assess how well you put your faith into action; no, I ask the question in terms of what is your faith actually like – what do you believe, how do visualise or encounter God? How did you become a Christian – if indeed you are at the point yet where that is how you would describe yourself? Continue reading