For any minister preaching your very first sermon is a nerve-wracking experience. After that it gets more difficult.
The College of Preachers, to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary – a good few years ago now – carried out a survey to discover what people think about sermons. The results were surprising. Far from dreading having to sit through sermons apparently 96.6 per cent of those surveyed actually look forward to the sermon. Which is encouraging for me as I stand here facing you this morning!
But what I found particularly interesting, and it’s rather appropriate during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was the report’s findings on the expectations of people in different denominations.Continue reading
I can’t help it, but John the Baptist just makes me want to burst into song. And it’s all to do with my daughter. Let me explain. I’ve often thought that our elder daughter, when she was a teenager, would have got on with John the Baptist like a house on fire.
Because as an early teenager, she went through a grunge phase. Now, for those of you who have no idea what grunge is let me explain. Grunge was a combination of music and lifestyle that first became popular in the early 80s. And the first thing you noticed about teenagers who were into grunge was how they dressed. Mainly black and dark coloured clothes, often second-hand and generally tatty, to go with the deliberately unkempt appearance of those who wore them.Continue reading
Today is a very special birthday. Because today, May 9th, a very famous person reaches the grand old age of 359 years old.
Today is Mr Punch’s birthday! Though I doubt very much that Judy has bought him a present! Mr Punch celebrates his birthday today because the very first record we have of him is in the diary of Samuel Pepys – on May 9th 1662 Pepys records how he saw a new Italian puppet play outside St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden – the first recorded performance of Punch and Judy.
And each year to celebrate his birthday St Paul’s Covent Garden, holds a Mayfayre in his honour and has Mayfayre service.
Mr Punch, of course, has never been noted for his good behaviour. He is notoriously rude and bad-tempered to everyone who comes his way, as well as being rather violent, though as he has got older he has toned down his behaviour a bit. In his younger days, as I remember from childhood trips to the seaside, he would throw the baby out of the window, beat his wife, murder various public servants who came to see him before finally tricking the hangman into hanging himself! And then he would follow that up by declaring: That’s the way to do it!
It’s no wonder Mr Punch doesn’t have any friends. Not easy being a friend to someone who behaves like Mr Punch. He didn’t behave in a way that was likely to get him any! And he very much behaved in a way that was definitely not the way to do it!Continue reading
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