This Sunday as the last Sunday before Lent. Each year on this Sunday we hear the story of the transfiguration of Jesus, this year hearing the version from Saint Mark. Here’s what I said.
What do you see when you look at the clouds?
Like many, I love the Peanuts cartoon strips – and possibly my all-time favourite dates back to 1960. Charlie Brown and his friends Linus and Lucy are lying on a grassy mound looking up at the sky.
Lucy says: Aren’t the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton wool. I could just lie here all day, and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations. What do you see Linus?
And Linus, being particularly imaginative, says: Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of British Honduras on the Caribbean. That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen … I can see the apostle Paul standing there to one side.
Lucy replies: That’s very good … What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?
And poor Charlie Brown, having heard Linus’s response replies: Well, I was going to say a ducky and a horsy, but I changed my mind.
You can see the original strip by clicking here.Continue reading
Relationships between couples can be problematic. However hard we try sometimes things don’t always work out. Every couple wants happiness, but sometimes it’s rather evasive.
So it was with, I’m sure, the best will in the world that around a hundred years ago Woman’s Weekly gave regular advice to wives on how to keep their husbands happy. In those days, of course, it was rather one way! And so Woman’s Weekly gave lots of tips to housewives that would enable them to make sure they had a happy husband and therefore a happy marriage.
Advice such as:
- Make your own clothes
- How to use up leftovers – including a recipe for rhubarb dumplings
- How to pack a holiday trunk
- Talk less
They also had reams of helpful advice for housewives on how to keep the home, and yourself, ship-shape because a ship-shape home and a ship-shape wife meant a happy husband and a happy marriage. Things like:
- Stir mushrooms with a silver spoon to identify the poisonous ones – actually completely untrue, it doesn’t work!
- Store your lemons in sawdust.
- Brush your hair for ten minutes each day to cure insomnia
Thankfully things have changed, and today, of course, we recognise that what creates a good relationship is not a matter of following those kinds of rules that people once thought important. And we know it’s not about one person keeping the other happy by doing all the right things.Continue reading
The sermon preached at Midnight Mass. Here’s what I said.
It is something of a tradition for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other leading religious figures, in their Christmas sermons to make some reference to the state of the nation or the world, or to comment on political leaders – and to remind us of why we need the light of Christmas to shine into the darkness of the reality of the world we live in.
Not wishing to be outdone by the Archbishop of Canterbury, I thought this year I would follow his example. So I want to say something tonight about Members of Parliament – and in particular about one of the worst decisions that has ever been made in the House of Commons.
Don’t worry – it’s not what you think! The worst decision is not a recent one. But it must surely be the most unpopular decision ever made the House of Commons in its history and it has its 375th anniversary this year. The year was 1644. It was during the Civil War, and the mostly Puritan House of Commons disapproved of people enjoying themselves, especially at Christmas. So Members of Parliament decided to pass a law banning Christmas. Yes! Really!Continue reading
We all follow Jesus. And at St John’s over the last three Sundays, we have been exploring our Mission Statement and particularly the three words which form our action points as, as a Church, we work out what it means to follow Jesus each day. Our mission statement is … I’m not expecting anyone to know it off by heart, but it is: St John’s is called by God to be his people through faith in Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit: Worshipping – Growing – Serving. Having previously thought about those three words, our final sermon this week is called: We are a Jesus community – and as this Sunday was All Saints Sunday it’s a particularly appropriate theme for the week.
Here’s what I said.
A great first line in a film can really prepare you for what is to come.
Let’s try some first lines and see if you know them.Continue reading
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
Last Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, gave us as the gospel reading Luke’s account of how Jesus laments over Jerusalem. We also heard, in the Old Testament reading, of how God made his covenant with Abraham.
When you’re a teenager, it’s as clear as clear can be that the only role parents have is to annoy you. I remember my teenage years well and it was obvious to me that parents just went out of their way to cause quite unnecessary conflict.
Later on in life I came to see things in a different light. Because when I became a parent myself I came to understand that parents, of course, are always – and I mean absolutely always – right. I should know, having seen three children through their teenage years. Funny how the reality of a situation changes depending on where you stand, what your viewpoint is. Of course when our children were teenagers they didn’t think we, as parents, were ever right about anything. Now our daughters have their own teenage children, though, their viewpoint has also changed as well.Continue reading
It has been said: Always expect the unexpected!
It was in fact Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who died around 425 BC, who first coined the phrase: he wrote: If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.
I’m not quite sure exactly what he meant by that – certainly not by the second part of that saying! He seems to have made a habit of being deliberately enigmatic. He also came up with such gems of philosophical thought as:
There is nothing permanent except change
and – see what you make of this one: The way up and the way down are one and the same.
Always expect the unexpected!
Oscar Wilde emphasised the importance of expecting the unexpected by updating that quote from Heraclitus. Wilde, in his usual manner, said: To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. Continue reading
There’s an old saying: “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family!” Not absolutely accurate, of course, when you think about it, as those who adopt children will realise – but essentially it means that your parents, your grandparents, your brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts – they are all who they are! You can’t just decide one day that if you don’t like them or aren’t getting on to change them for someone different. There’s many a teenager would like to change their parents, and many a parent who would like to change their teenage children – but you can’t! Friends you can change if you fall out – family you are stuck with.
Families! We all have them, yet what a mixed blessing they can be! On the one hand, they can be a wonderful place of love and support. At the other extreme, they can be an awful place of hurt and abuse. But for the most part our experience of families is neither completely one nor the other, but full of contradictions. They can love and protect us, but also be stifling and discouraging at the same time. George Burns, the American comedian, once said “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family – in another city!” Continue reading
You don’t have to do much to get labelled as a troublemaker, a subversive, or even an enemy of the people. No matter that you may have done nothing wrong, or even if you have done something for the wider good – just rock the boat a little bit, threaten the status quo, and in goes the knife, and before long as far as some are concerned you’re an enemy of the people.
Henrik Ibsen’s famous play of that name is about an ordinary man, Dr Stockmann, who discovers that the expensive new spa in his home town is using poisoned water. He naively thinks people will want to know. But his brother, the mayor, thinks otherwise – and points out that the town could be bankrupted if the news leaks out. The truth isn’t important – the vested interests of the town’s business people carry far more weight.
And so the mayor leans on the editor of the local newspaper and the editor, rather than repeat the truth, vilifies Dr Stockmann as an enemy of the people, to the extent that at a public meeting he is almost lynched. All he did was tell the truth – an important truth – that the water was poisoned. Continue reading
Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter, on Jesus’ words to the disciples after the Last Supper from John’s Gospel when he told the disciples that they must be rooted in him, the true vine.
My parents were both keen gardeners, and would spend hours, days even, out in the garden, planting, weeding, pruning. The passion for gardening never rubbed off, and I tend to take a more theological approach – I allow God to look after my garden in his own way. But one thing I remember from my childhood is the constant pruning or cutting back of rosebushes, fruit trees, and other plants.
As every gardener knows, many plants appear to be dying, overgrown, weak – no longer able to bear fruit or flowers. Like the pear tree that the School Governors gave me two years ago for a significant birthday. It was duly planted in the vicarage garden and last year and over the winter gave every appearance of being dead – more of a bare twig than a tree. No sign of life at all. I was all for digging it up. But suddenly, in the last couple of weeks, it has sprung into life and is sprouting leaves all over. It’s positively blooming. Continue reading