This week at St John’s we began a series of four sermons thinking about our mission statement. The first sermon has the title: We are a worshipping community. The preacher is allowed to depart from the set readings for the day but as it happens God was able to use this week’s set gospel reading which is the story of Jesus healing ten lepers – but only one returns, praising God, to thank Jesus.
Popular music is full of unanswered questions! And many of them ask somewhat deep and philosophical questions about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. And I know many of you think you already know the answer to the life, universe and everything (Chorus of ‘42’ from the congregation!)
Who let the dogs out? Who? Who? sang the Baha Men. Who indeed? We never find out.
Should I stay or should I go? sang the Clash. A question many of us try to answer – especially when we’re at a party we don’t want to be at!
They get even more esoteric and though-provoking. Take the Smiths who ask: How soon is now?
Or Queen, from the classic song Bohemian Rhapsody: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? I think it’s definitely real life! But there’s always the possibility some of you may be living in a fantasy world!
My own favourite song with unanswered questions comes from the hand of the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature – Bob Dylan of course – which begins by asking, but not answering, the question: How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? Dylan never tells us, except to say that the answer is blowing in the wind!Continue reading
Here is the second of this week’s sermons on the gospel reading for last Sunday from Matthew – the somewhat problematic story of Jesus rejecting a plea for healing from a Canaanite woman because she is not one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In the end, though, she persuades him to change his mind. This sermon is from Father Jerry who was preaching at St John’s.
If you were unfamiliar with the name before this week then – unless you’ve managed to avoid the news – you’ll now know all about Charlottesville, in the State of Virginia. White nationalists, heavily armed, marched to protest over the removal of the statue of General Robert E Lee, the Civil War general who had led the Confederate forces during the US Civil War. His statue was being removed because some saw it as wrong to continue to honour someone who had supported slavery. A major reason for the US Civil War was the desire of the North to abolish slavery against the wishes of the South, and slavery was abolished at the end of the war in 1865.
Others, civil rights protestors, turned up to oppose the march by the white nationalists, and violence ensued. The politics of the Civil War still live on in the United States. And at the heart of it all issues of inclusion and equality.
Britain had abolished slavery almost 60 years earlier than the US. And here the name of William Wilberforce and his work in abolishing slavery are forever linked. Continue reading
Not an easy gospel reading this week. It’s the story from Matthew’s Gospel of a Canaanite woman who wants healing for her daughter from Jesus. Jesus, though, doesn’t want to give her what she wants because she is not one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He rejects her – but in the end, she persuades him. Two sermons this week as Father Jerry was preaching at our own church while Mother Anne-Marie was preaching at our neighbouring church. And those who manage to read both sermons will see that when we are both preaching we discuss the message beforehand! This one is from Mother Anne-Marie.
Last weekend a quiet university town in the United States, Charlottesville, Virginia, was engulfed in terrible violence and the outpouring of disgusting racial hatred. Emboldened white supremacists took to the streets, carrying offensive banners and uttering vile slogans. The counter demonstrators gathered in a Baptist church for a dawn prayer meeting before taking to the streets to counter the racial hatred. Many ministers and priests of the Christian church were amongst those opposing this outpouring of racial abuse. Continue reading
This week’s gospel reading was about Jesus healing on the sabbath. The leader of the synagogue got a bit upset!
Where would we be without rules? Rules are important aren’t they? Without rules we’d all descend into chaos. It was the rules that caused such a problem for Jason Kenny as he rode to his sixth gold medal in the men’s keirin cycle final in the Olympics this week. For those of you who weren’t watching let me explain. The keirin is a race where the riders all do several laps of the track behind a kind of electric moped that gets faster and faster. Then, when the moped leaves the track the riders all race for the finish.
The problem was that in the first run of the race a judge decided that at the last moment one of the riders had overtaken the moped by a matter of a couple of centimetres before it left the track – against the rules. So the race was stopped, and judges poured over a replay of the race to decide who had broken the rules – possibly Jason Kenny. The commentators couldn’t tell whether he or anyone else had. While we waited the commentators repeated several times in different ways: this has never happened before, this is without precedent, the problem is the rules are not entirely clear, they’re subject to interpretation. Continue reading
Last Sunday we kept the feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle, which was actually the day before on 21st September.
“For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)
The Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition in 1851. After the Exhibition was over it was dismantled and rebuilt in an enlarged form on what was then known as Penge Common in Sydenham Hill – now known, of course, as Crystal Palace Park. Sydenham Hill was at that time an affluent London suburb full of large houses. And the rebuilding of the Crystal Palace presented the residents with something of a problem.
What on earth were they going to do with all the workers who would be coming to live locally to do the rebuilding. For one thing was quite clear. They couldn’t possibly attend the same church as the local residents, Saint Bartholomew’s in Sydenham. Continue reading
Here’s my offering for last Sunday, the gospel reading being Luke’s account of how Jesus sent out the seventy.
Holidays are supposed to be relaxing. So why does getting ready for a holiday seem to be so stressful? Trying to decide what to pack and what to leave behind. Deciding what things might prove to be indispensable. Making sure that you’ve got all the right clothes. Then trying to fit it all into the luggage.
When our children were younger we regularly had holidays in North Wales. The problem with holidays in this country, and particularly in Wales, is that you can never be certain what the weather will be like. So you have to pack clothes for hot weather, cold weather, wet weather – and it all has to go in somewhere. And the children could never quite grasp the concept that the space in a car is limited. A car isn’t like the Tardis, and you can’t pack your entire wardrobe and all your games and your portable TV so you can watch it in your bedroom and your entire family of cuddly toys. Trying to fit everything in was a nightmare. We were even known on occasion – and I’m almost embarrassed to say this – to give in and take two cars because it was easier. We could have done with something like the luggage in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, a chest which had infinite room inside and ran around after you on its own legs. Continue reading
This week we had a family service with all our uniformed groups on parade. It was a fairly informal talk and mainly preached from a few notes. It’s not possible to post it, but I realised I had completely forgotten to post last week’s sermon, so here it is. The gospel reading for the day was the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant.
Mothers are full of pearls of wisdom. A survey by Clinton’s Cards last year discovered that on average mothers pass on 41 pearls of wisdom to their children. I hope you all listened to the pearls of wisdom that were passed to you as you were growing up. When asked people remembered being given such good advice as:
- No 33: Don’t eat cheese before bed.
- No 28: Don’t leave the house with wet hair.
- No 20: Watching too much TV will make your eyes go square.
- No 11. Always wear clean underwear.
Such things might seem rather flippant. And you may remember growing up and being given such good advice! I have to say that the one recurring instruction that I remember being given by my mother isn’t in the list: Do as you’re told and don’t ask questions! She would have made an excellent Roman centurion!
Amusing though those pearls of wisdom may seem, many of the pearls of wisdom given by mothers and recorded by Clinton’s are universal. And it would seem that somewhere along the way they have been picked up by the Roman centurion we hear about in today’s gospel reading. Remember that he is an officer in an army occupying a particularly difficult province in the Roman Empire. The Jews didn’t much like Romans and the Romans didn’t much like the Jews. He was someone who knew full well that he was in a position to be like my mother: Do as you’re told and don’t ask questions. And yet here we have a centurion who is clearly aware of and lives by – perhaps unusually for someone in his position – some of the motherly pearls of wisdom that appear at the top of the list:
- No 15: Treat others how you wish to be treated yourself.
- No 10: Treat people with respect.
- No 5: If you don’t ask you don’t get.
- No 1. Always try your best.
Treat others how you wish to be treated yourself – he has a slave whom, we are told, he values highly. He cares for him and when he takes ill he wants to do something about it. He could have thought, ‘I’ll get another slave,” but he doesn’t. What he does is seek to have the slave made well.
Treat people with respect – which he does in a remarkable way. Remember, this is an officer in an army of occupation. And yet not only has he treated the Jews with respect, he has built them a synagogue. And the love he has shown for the Jewish people has resulted in the Jewish elders supporting his request.
If you don’t ask you don’t get – and the centurion must have known that he had no right to ask and no right to expect that Jesus would respond to him, a Gentile. And yet he has enough faith in this Jewish teacher to know that Jesus has the power to heal his slave. And he’s only going to find out if Jesus will do it by asking.
Always do your best – and that’s clearly how this centurion is trying to live. He has tried his best in spite of the difficulties of being a Roman soldier trying to keep order in a difficult situation to not just get along with the local people but to help them. He is trying his best to find healing for his slave. This was clearly a highly unusual man given his role. So unusual that even Jesus is surprised by him, and he comments on his great faith – faith that he hasn’t found in his own people.
We hear in our gospel reading how the centurion sends the Jewish elders to Jesus with the request that Jesus come and heal his slave. They support his request, urging Jesus to come and help. And yet when Jesus is near to the centurion’s house he sends his friends out to meet Jesus. Perhaps he did this because he assumed that Jesus, a Jew, wouldn’t enter the house of a Gentile because of the constraints of the Jewish Law. And he sends them with a message: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
Today, I want you to think about those words of the centurion, and to imagine that he is passing a pearl of wisdom on to you. He spoke those words through his friends with complete faith that Jesus would answer his request. A little later in our communion service we too will use words based on that request. And the pearl of wisdom that we have from the centurion is that as we approach the altar to receive Jesus in the bread and wine, is to ask with the same level of faith as the centurion for healing from Jesus and believing that he will do what we ask.
For those words, of course, have found themselves in a slightly altered form in our communion service. Traditionally they were: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed. In Common Worship they have been simplified to: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.
We probably just say the words each week automatically. But today I want you to think about them: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed. Each of us knows that we are not worthy to receive Jesus, just as the centurion knew that he was not worthy. And yet Jesus still comes to us and gives himself to us. As you prepare to receive Jesus in the form of bread and wine today, think about what healing you need in your life. We’ve all got things that we know Jesus needs to sort out – physical, spiritual things that need his healing. And as you say those words – only say the word and I shall be healed – believe that he will heal you. Have the faith that he had.
Learn from the wisdom of the centurion. Reach out in faith. And know that as you reach out your hands to receive the bread and the wine, the body and the blood of Jesus – or as you bow your head to receive a blessing – that Jesus has truly come to you. He has come under your roof and spoken words of healing right to your very soul.