Light for the world
This Sunday we kept the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It’s actually on 2nd February, but the Church of England allows us to transfer it to the previous Sunday when more people will be in church! During the service we had a baptism, and at the end we joined in the candlit procession which ends at the font for the final part of the liturgy. The font is by the main church door, and so we remember that the place where we give our lives to Christ in baptism is right next to the door where we leave worship to take Jesus out into our world.
Here’s what I said.
The birth of a child has always been a cause for celebration. And throughout history different cultures and religions have had their own special ways of celebrating. In our own culture people celebrate with parties, champagne, and often – as this morning – a christening at the local church. Continue reading
Follow your star home
This Sunday we kept the feast of Epiphany, transferring it from the 6th, as we are allowed to do in the Church of England. This meant that the feast of the Baptism of Christ, which it displaced, was itself transferred to Monday and celebrated with a mass. One of the things we do every year at Epiphany is bless chalk which is then taken home and used to mark the doorways to our homes. There is a very good explanation of this old European tradition here.
How many of you have taken down your Christmas decorations? Most of you, I suspect! (At this point I got people to put their hands up – only one person other than my wife and I still had them up – an Orthodox Christian who was, of course, celebrating Christmas according to the Orthodox calendar).
Well, we still have them up in the vicarage! Let my explain why! If you follow tradition you’ll at least have kept them up for twelfth night which was on Thursday, and then have taken them down on Friday, the feast of Epiphany. However, we are allowed to keep the feast of Epiphany on the nearest Sunday, so this year you can keep them up an extra two days and take them down today. Apart from the crib scene, of course – our knitted crib figures will stay up in the vicarage until Candlemas.
There’s an old superstition that if you don’t take your decorations down the day after twelfth night it will bring bad luck – apparently, the gods of the greenery might escape and take up residence in your house. Continue reading
How will the baby grow up?
This is the sermon I preached at Midnight Mass. For those from abroad who may be puzzled at the references let me explain. Eastenders is one of the top television soap operas in the UK and the Mitchell family are one of its most famous – or notorious – families.
A baby is born. New parents with a tiny child. And at one level Mary and Joseph were no different from any other parents holding a new born baby in their arms. They must have had the same hopes, the same fears, the same questions. A scene repeated millions of times over thousands of years. And like so many parents, as they looked upon their baby, they must have wondered at some level – what kind of person will this baby grow up to be.
Every parent has been there. As you look upon your new child and wonder what the future holds for them, what can you expect? What will they be like as they grow up? What kind of person will they grow into? What will they achieve in life?
Well – I’ve done a survey of a typical area of London and looked at how children turn out when they grow up. The typical area of London I’ve chosen for this survey is Albert Square in Walford, to be exact. For those of you who don’t know where Albert Square is, it’s where the people from Eastenders live. Continue reading
You can’t always get what you want
The gospel reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent tells us of Joseph’s dream about Mary’s expected baby. Joseph – and Mary for that matter – must have been a little perturbed about this somewhat surprise gift from God of a baby. Here’s what I said in my sermon.
You can’t always get what you want sang the Rolling Stones. I sometimes think they might have been singing about Christmas presents. They also sound a bit like my mother when I was growing up, and I wonder how many parents will be saying that to their children this Christmas. The problem with Christmas presents though isn’t just that you can’t always get what you want but that too often you do get what you don’t want!
Christmas will soon be over. And we’ll be counting the cost of all those unwanted Christmas gifts. Continue reading
Have another glass of wine!
This week the gospel reading was the story from John of Jesus providing lots of wine for a wedding reception. So much for cutting down our alcohol intake as one of our New Year resolutions!
It can’t have escaped your notice that the U.K. Chief Medical Officer has introduced new limits on the maximum amount of alcohol that it is recommended people drink. I’ve come up with a solution for those who find this a problem. The solution if you don’t want to cut down, is to change your nationality to Spanish if you’re a man, as their limit is two and a half times as much. And if you’re a woman? Adopt Japanese nationality where women, unlike men, are given no maximum at all.
And not only that, the Chief Medical Officer made it clear that any amount of alcohol at all was dangerous. Well, what a good job the Chief Medical Officer wasn’t a guest at the wedding at Cana. What would she have had to say, I wonder? Continue reading
O what a beautiful morning …
Last Sunday was the fourth Sunday of Advent, and as we approach Christmas our thoughts turn towards the coming nativity. This year, being the year of Luke, our gospel reading gives us Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, and her famous song of praise the Magnificat.
Don’t you sometimes have a great day – a day when the sun is shining and the birds are singing and the temperature is just right. A day when you feel really good. A day when, as you’re walking down the street you feel like bursting into song and singing, “Oh, what a beautiful morning!” Because it’s a beautiful day and like Howard Keel in Oklahoma you’ve got a beautiful feeling that everything’s going your way. Perhaps you feel like that this morning! Well, perhaps not! Particularly this close to Christmas Day with so much still to do to get ready. But most of us have a day like that now and then – just not as often as we would like. Continue reading
What I said last Sunday – Lent 5
The gospel reading for last Sunday was the story from Saint John of Mary, Martha and Lazarus entertaining Jesus. And Mary pours perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. Here’s what I said.
In the name of the Living God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’m going to begin with a story – a true story. It is told by William G Carter , a Presbyterian Pastor from Pennsylvania. He writes:
I will never forget the furor sparked at a stewardship conference at which an ecumenical group of pastors gathered to discuss generosity. One presenter spoke about offering a gift directly to God, and the clergy began to yawn. Then he pulled a $100 bill from his wallet, set it on fire in an ashtray, and prayed, “Lord, I offer this gift to you, and you alone.” The reaction was electric. Clergy began to fidget in their chairs, watching that [banknote] go up in smoke as if it were perfume. One whispered it was illegal to burn currency. Another was heard to murmur, “If he is giving money away, perhaps he has a few more.” “Do you not understand,” said the speaker. “I am offering it to God, and that means it is going to cease to be useful for the rest of us.”
Today’s gospel is about burning money. Continue reading
What I said on Sunday – The Assumption
Last Sunday we kept the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It should, of course, really be on the 15th and in recent years we have kept it on the sunday of the octave. This year we were just a little bit naughty and pre-empted the feast. Here’s my sermon
Revelation 11.19-12.6,10; Luke 1.46-55
Today we come together to honour the mother of Jesus. Every year on or around the 15th August Christians around the world come together to give thanks for the role played by Mary in bringing about our salvation. For without Mary’s “yes” to God there would have been no incarnation. Continue reading
What I said on Sunday – 3rd before Lent
Slightly late this week. I spent rather a lot of time yesterday shovelling snow and trying to get the car as far as the main road!
Those of you who have ventured beyond the door of my study will probably have noticed the icons that hang upon the wall. Icons, of course, are a feature of Orthodox churches and Orthodox worship, but are increasingly finding their way into the devotion of other Christians. One example I have here with me this morning. This is what is known as a travelling icon. It is a small, foldable, set of icons depicting Jesus in the centre, with his mother Mary on the left and John the Baptist on the right, and is designed so that it may be taken with you when you travel away from home.
If you are into art in any way you may have immediately thought – ah, that’s a triptych. You might not – but don’t worry, I’m about to explain what a triptych is. Continue reading
What I said on Sunday
Here’s what I said this morning at our main service, which considering how bad the snow is today was amazingly well attended!
Isaiah 7.10-16; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-end
Christmas Eve, for most people, is a time to buy or wrap last‑minute presents, to meet friends for a drink and to share the joy of anticipating Christmas Day. One person who famously refused to spend this day doing such things was Scrooge, the grasping miser of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”. Scrooge was intent upon spending Christmas alone. He refused to celebrate, to give any money to charity and closed his eyes to the hardships suffered by his clerk Bob Cratchit and his family. Above all he refused to share himself. Only after witnessing the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come and revisiting his own youth did he change his ways. He sent a turkey to the Cratchits, raised Bob’s pay and visited his nephew. In his newly acquired humanity he experienced a real satisfaction never achieved by hoarding money.
It is tempting to believe that the way to happiness is through self‑absorption, refusing to share ourselves and our possessions with others. Many people have a fear that by revealing themselves to others, by allowing themselves to be vulnerable, they will be taken advantage of, hurt. Even if we do not live alone, like Scrooge, we can still ignore what happens outside our narrow circle of friends. And we risk developing miserly selfishness and losing much more than we gain.
In today’s Gospel, Joseph faces the temptation to keep to himself. He discovered Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant, but not by him and he was inclined to opt out of the situation by divorcing her. He appeared to be concerned that Mary should not suffer unnecessary shame, but he was not prepared to share his life with a woman of seemingly questionable virtue who might cause him shame. Then in a dream the angel of the Lord urged him to regard the situation from another perspective. He was told that the pregnancy did not simply concern his honour and his own family, it was a matter of supreme importance to the whole world.
Joseph was a man of honour and integrity, a man of God, so he accepted Mary and her unborn child into his home. In doing this he acknowledged his responsibilities not only to his family but recognised his obligations, towards the world, the whole people of God. Interesting, isn’t it, that God should choose to send his Son to enter the world in such a way as to scandalise people by the manner of his birth – he could have chosen a married woman, and made sure her husband knew what was going to happen before his wife became pregnant. But he didn’t. And Joseph, and no doubt members of both families, were shocked. And no doubt many were just as shocked when Joseph broker the news that he was going to marry Mary and raise the child as his own – such a thing was unheard of.
So it was that Jesus was born as Mary’s son, raised and cared for in Joseph’s home, as a true descendant of the house of David. But St Paul’s writing reminds us that Jesus belonged not only to this family and House but to every age. And those who call upon Jesus, in turn, belong to him. Jesus did not come to earth to keep himself to himself. He came to share our life, in all its ups and downs and to share himself with us, that we might share our future lives with God. How remarkable that God should make himself so vulnerable, as vulnerable as a tiny baby, because he wanted to be with us. Joseph, acknowledging his responsibilities to the wider world, hints at what Jesus’ life will be like. Jesus would refuse all narrowness and selfishness. He would ignore the taunts of those who accused him of eating with tax collectors and sinners. He suffered death for the sake of others, rose from the dead to lead the world to eternal life in heaven, and shared his teaching and his vision with those who chose to follow him.
We may not, like Scrooge, shun the Christmas festivities in favour of a quiet day, counting our savings. But we can often be tempted ourselves, and refuse to share our lives. How often, when someone asks “How are you” to we avoid telling the truth and just smile and say “Oh, I’m fine”. Perhaps we believe that we only belong to our family and friends and turn a blind eye to the needs of others. Or if we ourselves ask some, “How are you?” we don’t really want them to actually tell the truth. Perhaps we change the subject whenever we sense that a deep or difficult topic is entering the conversation. Or, we may be happy to share our joys and sorrows with a wide range of people, but stop short of sharing our faith with them. I’m frankly amazed at the number of times over the years that people have said to me, “We can’t come to church on next Sunday because we’ve got family or friends over.” Why not come to church – tell them that church is important and why it is important. Better still, bring them with you. Don’t give them the impression that church is just a hobby that can be set on one side when it suits.
Today’s readings remind us that we, like Jesus, belong to all people who also belong to us. We are all God’s people, we all need the salvation which Christ brings. We cannot simply leave God’s work to God alone, because God has chosen to work with us and through us. ‘Christmas Yet to Come’ will hold little promise for us if we keep our present life and our faith in Christ to ourselves. We need to share the holiness and hope we possess and then discover the joy of following in Jesus’ footsteps.
As Saint Teresa of Avila wrote in those so familiar words:
Christ has no other hands but your hands to do his work today;
no other feet than your feet to guide folk on his way;
no other lips but your lips to tell them why he died;
no other love but your love to win them to his side.