In this Sunday’s gospel reading we heard Jesus talking to his disciples after they had shared their final supper together. We heard the first part of what has become known as the Farewell Discourse – Jesus’ final words to his disciples before his arrest.
Today’s gospel reading is like a box of chocolates. Open a box of chocolates and you’re faced with a choice of mouth-watering centres. All the chocolates look fantastic. And you’re not quite sure which to pick first. Some you like – some you don’t – some you’re not sure about. Open your Bible to our gospel reading today and you’re faced with a choice of uplifting and encouraging and familiar statements from Jesus. And just as any chocolate box has those chocolates that some people don’t like, so this passage has sayings of Jesus that some Christians don’t like or feel uncomfortable with or find hard to relate to. And the preacher is faced with a difficult choice – which one to choose, which one to preach on?
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Easy for Jesus to say, of course, yet we spend our lives being troubled and stressed. Continue reading
The 27th of December is the feast day of Saint John, the patron Saint of our church. Although we have a mass on the day itself everyone is usually recovering from Christmas, so it’s our custom to keep the feast on the first Sunday after Christmas. This year, of course, that meant New Year’s Day. I decided, rather than to talk about Saint John, to touch on the subject of resolutions for the coming year. Here’s what I said in my sermon.
Well, here we are – New Year’s Day and in Church when I’m sure we’d all really like to be in bed recovering from the late night last night. Don’t worry – I’ve no intention of keeping you long this morning. I just have a few thoughts, at the beginning of this New Year, about resolutions for the coming month.
After the indulgence of Christmas – all that food and wine – among the most popular New Year resolutions are new diets and new exercise regimes as people make the decision to get themselves back into shape. So – what diet to adopt? What sort of exercise to do?
Don’t worry – I have some ideas. Friday’s edition of The Times carried a really interesting article about a particular diet and exercise regime which I’ll share with you this morning. It’s not new. In fact, it dates back to before Queen Victoria came to the throne. 1834 to be exact, and it’s found in a book called British Manly Exercises – it’s just been discovered by researchers at Cambridge University. Though I’m sure that, despite its title, it’s equally applicable to women. Continue reading
In this week’s gospel reading a disciple says to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and we hear what Jesus did in response.
Our gospel reading this morning always reminds me of a holiday we had when I was very small. We were travelling as a family on a coach for our summer holiday to Gorleston-on-sea, which is near Great Yarmouth. Like most small children I wanted to know when we’d arrive. Unlike most small children I didn’t repeatedly ask, “Are we nearly there yet?” I was far too intelligent for that, and since I knew from an early age that my Father knew everything I kept asking every few minutes, “How many miles are there still to go?” My Father, with infinite patience – he never once told me to be quiet – would tell me exactly how many miles there were still to travel – each time giving me a figure one or two miles less than the previous answer. I was so impressed that, despite the lack of any signposts, he always knew the right answer. It wasn’t until years later that it occurred to me that he wasn’t quite as all-knowing as I had thought and had just been guessing to keep me happy. Continue reading
A week ago Mother Anne-Marie preached on the gospel reading about Mary and Martha. Apologies for this being a little late – here’s what she said.
I remember a time, even when we had a young family, when we hosted dinner parties and went to quite a few. But now that rarely happens. We are more likely to wait for summer and host a bbq or just stick to traditional Sunday lunch when we entertain. I could put it down to getting older but I gather we are not alone. The decline in the “dinner party” is due to a number of factors summed up as time, cost and celebrity chefs! We have less time to prepare fancy meals, the cost of hosting a dinner has got too much for our budgets, and celebrity chefs have scared us off cooking! We carry on watching numerous cooking programmes but the amount of cooking we actually do declines year on year, and we get scared of entertaining because we think we cannot keep up with the likes of Nigella, so we just don’t bother. A bbq is an easier, far less stressful option.
Imagine how much bigger a tizz Martha would have been in had she had Nigella or Jamie Oliver (Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver – two famous British TV chefs) to live up to!! For her entertaining Jesus and some of his disciples was stressful enough without those role models to make it worse! Martha was no doubt a lists person – she wanted to do the best she could for Jesus and she knew in her mind exactly what had to be done when – 5 o’clock put the goat in the oven, then prepare the vegetables, make sure the wine is at the right temperature, put the bread to warm – oh and Mary can lay the table, fetch the water, and do the washing up as I go along. Continue reading
Last Sunday in the Church of England we kept the feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist, who wrote the gospel that bears his name as well as the Acts of the Apostles, and who also accompanied Saint Paul on some of his missionary journeys.
During my childhood one of the most popular toys to be introduced was Action Man. For those of you who have no idea what an Action Man is let me briefly explain. It was introduced in the UK 1966 – a fully pose-able action figure about a foot tall of a soldier, sailor or airman complete with uniform. When they first came out just about every boy wanted one. I have to admit that I never had one – and to be honest I never really wanted one, but I think I must have been unique. But for a while they were top of every boy’s wanted list. Except me, obviously.
Over the years they started to introduce additions to the range. In time, in addition to the soldier, the sailor and the airman you could get a tank commander, lifeboatman, space ranger, jungle explorer – the list just grew. One model that they never introduced – I can’t think why – was evangelist action man. I think they may have missed a trick there, but clearly they didn’t know anything about Saint Luke.
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist, and I want you to think of Luke as an Action Man. And to help us do that our readings, very conveniently, all have something to teach us about action – about being busy – about our response to God, God the Creator, who himself is always active. Luke’s writings, in particular, are full of action, and highlight how a life of action is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus. Luke himself was to accompany Saint Paul on some of his missionary journeys.
In the reading from Acts we see Paul and Timothy urged by the Macedonian – traditionally believed to be Luke – to cross over to Macedonia to preach the gospel. And it’s clear that this is the point at which Luke joins Paul for the first time – just look at how the writer starts by talking about ‘they’, but immediately after the vision switches to ‘we’. Luke in action right from the start! A reminder of the call to all of us to get involved in the preaching of the good news of Christ.
Then there is the reading from the second letter to Timothy, from Saint Paul. Paul is older now, an old man calmly facing death – he knows he is going to be taken to Rome, he knows the result of the “arranged” trial there long before he even starts on the journey. He looks back over a ministry packed with action – and he still would like to fit in some reading, and some further writing up of his memoirs – if only Timothy will bring the books and his notebooks he left in Troas.
Above all the Gospel makes us conscious of the need for action in the service of God; Jesus is shown sending out thirty-five couples of disciples, telling them to prepare the way before him. Luke is the only evangelist who mentions this episode; it seems to go in with his special interest in activity. He is very strong on action.
It is in Luke’s gospel that we have the parable of the Good Samaritan, who was certainly a man of action; the story of Zacchaeus, who so badly wanted to see Jesus that he was prepared to make a fool of himself and climb a tree. It is also Luke who gives us the stories of Gabriel coming from God to announce the news of a birth to Mary, and of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and of the birth of Jesus himself among the animals. Since Luke never knew Jesus and since only Mary could have known the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus it has been the tradition since the early church that Mary knew Luke and told him these things. Saint Luke likes to portray people who ‘do’ things. And part two of Luke’s gospel is of course the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which tells us everything by its name.
These are not just examples to follow. All three readings are deeply theological. That is, they give us the reason why we should be people of action. The reason is, that this is the way we respond to God, who is also active in the world – God does not simply sit back and let things follow their own course. It was perhaps best put by Saint Teresa of Avila, whose feast day was last Thursday. She wrote:
Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through
which he is to look out into the world;
yours are the feet with which
he is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands with which
he is to bless us now.
Probably she was talking to a priest when she first said that but she might just as easily have been talking to any Christian man or woman.
But when the writer of 2 Timothy says “Do all the duties of your calling” he means more than that. He means prayer too – and this is where we often slip as Christians. When we are under pressure, when time seems short or life particularly difficult, the first thing that often starts to go is prayer. We think that God will understand and forgive. So he does. But that is not an excuse. Prayer is not for God’s benefit, it is for ours. One of the best definitions of prayer that I know also comes from Saint Teresa:
Prayer is knowing, remembering, considering,
that I am always in the presence of God,
who is closer than breathing,
Closer than hands and feet.
If we are too busy to take that to heart, too busy to pray, we are letting go of the very thing that make us Christian – our relationship with God through Jesus.
Luke may well be an Action Man. But he is also equally concerned about prayer – because Luke also knows the value of being properly prepared for our action. Any Action Man – soldier, sailor or airman, knows the need for proper preparation before going into action. So it is with Christians, and for us that means prayer. Luke is always showing us Jesus at prayer. And he is the one who gives us that story about Martha, who rushed around, and Mary who chose the better part and sat at the feet of Jesus and listened.
Our prayer life is absolutely crucial. Each of us needs to ask ourselves – are we praying enough – at home – or with our brothers and sisters in Church? Could we pray more? Could we spend an extra few minutes each day in prayer? For prayer must undergird everything we do for Christ. It is for our sake and the sake of the work we are doing as Christ’s body in this place.
Now, to finish, this is the point at which I should ask you all to be, like Saint Luke, an evangelist Action Man. But clearly that would be sexist. I don’t think that they ever introduced an Action Woman figure, and I don’t think Barbie quite fills the bill.
So – be an evangelist Action Person. That’s the message that comes out of our readings this morning. That people who follow Jesus need to be active in the spreading of the gospel, the good news about Jesus. Be people of action for Jesus, with everything you do undergirded with prayer. Continue reading
Here’s what I said this week.
“I’m sorry, so sorry” sang Brenda Lee back in 1960, making it to no 1 in the charts in the US. Well, sorry she might have been, but saying sorry is never easy. Elton John was clear about that when he sang “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, as were Chicago with their song “Hard for me to say I’m sorry.” Connie Francis, though, put the blame on someone else when she sand ‘Who’s sorry now.” There are so many songs that are about people saying sorry. Continue reading
– Epistle of the Apostles, circa 150.
So much of Church Army ministry is helping people to discover the Jesus who reaches out to them.