Monday, 28 December 2015


Wisdom is not just a quality worth acquiring in the Bible, Wisdom is an essential property of God.
Wisdom is part of the divine nature, so growing in wisdom is getting closer and closer to God.
The Old Testament has a whole category of writings called wisdom literature, such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes or Job.
Indeed in John’s prologue that we heard over the Christmas period, “In the beginning was the word
Word in Greek is the word “Logos” and can also mean wisdom. So the word made flesh can also read, “wisdom” made flesh and especially in the Christian Orthodox world wisdom and Jesus are entwined.
The greatest church in all of Christendom for centuries before the Muslim invasion was the Haghia Sofia in present day Istanbul – I expect many of you have been there – was dedicated to Christ and it was called the Haghia Sofia which means literally the “Holy Wisdom”.
Christians associated Christ with wisdom through Biblical warrant and I’d like to read an extract now from proverbs 8: 22-31 and see where this correlation comes from, and especially how it chimes with John’s prologue;
"The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
   the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
   at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
   when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
   before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
   or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
   when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
   when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
   so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
   then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
   rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
   and delighting in the human race."
Once we have immersed ourselves in the concept of wisdom being of God himself, a lot of the New Testament begins to shine a little brighter.
When Jesus sat at the feet of the religious teachers when he was left behind in the Temple He was already displaying extraordinary wisdom and insight amidst the cut and thrust of theological debate with his elders and the last verse (52) says;
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.”
How he grew in wisdom is not spelled out but we know that Jesus knew the scriptures inside out. Even at age twelve he was debating with scholars the spiritual meaning of them. And even at that early age he was aware of the fact that Almighty God was His Father.
Jesus is our exemplar, and we are to follow him so how he grew in wisdom is the same path that we must follow.
We grow into Christ and therefore grow in Wisdom when we realise that we too are a child of God the Father and when we immerse ourselves in, and struggle with, scripture in the power of the Spirit and pray.
This comes out strongly in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
We, who have recognised ourselves as children of God, are to build a church separate from the ways of the world – which is the meaning of the word “Holy” in verse 12.
And then Paul gives us a list of virtues that should be prevalent amongst the believers in this new community. He mentions humility third but I think “humility” is probably a prerequisite to the others and so, in fact is a very important first base.   
Thinking of ourselves as no better than anyone else is quite difficult for us because we have such large egos. Whenever we are tempted to think like that it is good to remember this;
Jesus was content to die for that person.
And In humility we also mustn’t think that we are the finished article. If we are not continually learning and growing into Christ we are stagnating
Top of the moral pyramid is Love of course. But again remember when we talk about Christian love we mustn’t succumb to the modern world’s view of love as slushy and sentimental.
Love in Christianity is about sacrifice and suffering. We must not forget that our ultimate symbol of Love is not hearts and flowers; it is a man who after being battered , flogged and humiliated was nailed to a cross to die by drowning in his own blood. That is Love - Nothing sentimental there.
Paul also says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish each other in all wisdom.
In other words, study the word of God and pray to Him often, teach and admonish each other.
Some people have the impression that a church should just accept everyone as they are and just leave them like that. Not so – that is only half right.
We accept anyone but a condition of being a part of a Holy Community is that they are taught and admonished so they can see the error of their ways and repent.
The New Testament church was No cosy, wishy washy, anything for an easy life, non confrontational, ever so polite Anglicanism here.
Also our response in gratitude to what has been done results naturally in spirited worship. This is our calling as Christians.
As you have a new vicar I expect there are many people wondering what will be happening in the church.
Well I don’t know exactly but the Holy Spirit does and we will be guided by Him.

Who knows where the Holy Spirit will take us, but be assured that in accordance with Paul we will do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Flow Spirit flow!

It is axiomatic in the Bible that God takes the weak. the unlikely, and the outsider, and uses them to carry his message to the world.
As that is with people so also it is with places
So the prophet Micah contrasts the fortunes of the seat of Kings and the Temple – Jerusalem with the tiny hamlet of Bethlehem.
And in the process Biblically literate people turn naturally to David the youngest and most unlikely of rulers compared to his brothers, and of course also in that mental process to David and Goliath.
Micah says that is in little Bethlehem that the promised future ruler will come, not Jerusalem, and he will also be in David’s line.
I have always loved the fact that the literal translation of the name Bethlehem means the “House of Bread” and there is a wonderful symmetry in the Bread of Life being born in the House of Bread. Just as an interesting aside - In Coptic (Egyptian) churches you know each church bakes its own bread for the Eucharist – a wonderful thing - and each oven in every church is known as its Bethlehem – the house of bread.
It is in Bethlehem that another outsider, a baby born to a young Jewish couple from Nazareth will change the world forever.
How Jesus the baby boy born in Bethlehem changes the world as Jesus the man from Nazareth is told us in the letter to the Hebrews;
This man Jesus, as God’s very self and agent becomes our Great High Priest, offers His very self as a willing sacrifice for sin, and in that process wins a decisive battle against sin and death and wins us forgiveness, access to God and eternal life. Jesus’ sacrifice was a cosmic fulfilling of the words to Abraham in Genesis 22:8 “God will provide the lamb”.
So for those of us who believe, the world look like a very different place than to an unbeliever.
Our lives are not written between the barriers of birth and death, our lives are written against an infinite horizon.
Our actions have eternal significance – we have hope, because the final battle has already been won. A new age has been inaugurated and we have a place within it. When we repent, no matter what we’ve done, our sins are forgiven.
But let’s move back to before the time  Jesus was revealed in great power at the resurrection to be our mighty king, as foretold in Micah or our Great High Priest as proclaimed in Hebrews and go back to that story of a lowly birth to a village girl in a manger told by Luke and let concentrate on Mary herself for a moment.
True to past form God chose another outsider, a peasant girl, to bring forth Jesus Christ into the world. And it is in that motif that I can really connect with Mary.
The catholic cult of Mary has done great violence to her and her place in the Christian story.
In fact, the doctrine of the immaculate conception and the assumption of Mary into heaven for me just obscures the real worth of Mary. In the words of the Book of common prayer “they are rather repugnant to the word of God”.
She is if fact an icon of the whole aim and purpose of the Christian life.
When you think about it, a Christian is supposed to be filled with the Holy Spirit and thereby give birth to Christ in the world – we are in fact called by saint Paul – the body of Christ. Our aim is to bring forth, give birth to Christ in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit which is exactly what Mary did.
She surrendered to God “Let it be to me according to your word” and was filled with the Holy Spirit and after nine months gave birth to Christ in the world. She gave birth literally of course whereas our giving birth is not literal,  the outcome is just as physical and real for all that in its effects.
And just as there was a gestation period between being filled with the Spirit and Mary  giving birth to Christ so there is often a considerable gap between the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the fruit of the Spirit being manifest in our personal and corporate lives.
Now how Christ is present in our lives is through the Holy Spirit. It is the action of the Spirit that is very important here.
So the Holy Spirit is vital to Christianity but is somehow the Cinderella of the Holy Trinity in mainstream churches, but I say that recovering a theology of the presence and gifts of the Spirit  is vital for our flourishing.
Christianity has been reduced too often to a passionless intellectual exercise in many churches but actually it is only when the heart and our emotions are touched and engaged that the church starts to explode into life.
And I know the Spirit is moving in this place. I can feel it. Can you feel it too?
It is exciting. Who knows where the Spirit will lead us, but wherever that is, it will be where God wants us to be, if we follow. If you can feel the Spirit moving within yourself, forget your British reserve and stiff upper lip and give in to it, surrender to God as Mary did and let the Spirit flow.

Monday, 14 December 2015


A reflection on Isaiah 35 and Luke 1: 57-80
When a child is born there are always a lot of hopes, dreams and expectations invested in that child. I ‘m sure that some psychiatrists have built whole careers on helping people  who never lived up to their parent’s dreams and aspirations for their offspring.
Imagine for a moment being John before he was “the Baptist” growing up in a household where your mum and dad believed that your path was to be the prophet that would pave the way for the messiah.
And there was no blueprint for what that path and life would look like. All you could do was immerse yourself in scripture and let yourself be guided by God., and see where that would lead you.
So it is with us. We are God’s children and God has invested all his hopes and dreams for the world in us.
Are you beginning to feel the weight of responsibility yet?
I’m sure that like John, what can we do except immerse ourselves in scripture and let ourselves be guided by God.
I’m sure that we couldn’t sustain ourselves in that task unless we were also buoyed up by something else, and that something else is joy.
Isaiah 35 is a chapter devoted to the joy that people would feel when the Messiah had come and set us free from our bondage to death and decay. It is that joy, which itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which together with the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit that guides us and keeps us on the way that leads to God.      
“The way” is a way of life. Now of course Jesus says in John’s gospel “I am the way, the truth and the life”. If you are looking for direction in life – follow the way of Christ, which was primarily a life lived in a permanent conscious relationship with the Father which manifested itself in certain traits like Justice, wisdom, insight, humility, sacrificial giving of everything he had, including his life.
“The way” is how the church was originally known. Followers of the way of Jesus were first called “Christians” or “little Christs” in Antioch some considerable time after the resurrection but up until then they were known simply as “the way”.
They like us were sustained by the joy they felt at being saved, immersed in scripture and walking the way in the power of the Spirit.

That is how we are going to fulfil the expectations of our heavenly Father. We have a great responsibility but we have been given the tools to fulfil that role. 

The Joy is ours

Expressed In rather beautiful language in Zephaniah and Philippians, the overriding message is one of the joy, comfort and peace that will be ours when “The Lord himself will be in our midst”
Listen again to beautiful way in which this is expressed in Zephaniah;
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A warrior who gives victory
He will rejoice over you with gladness
He will renew you in his love
He will exult over you with loud singing
As on a day of festival”

That excitement, joy and comfort is ours. The “day of the Lord” that Zephaniah looks forward to has already been inaugurated in the revelation of Jesus Christ. A joyless church is simply a church that just hasn’t understood the Christian gospel. Gospel means “good news”. The good news is that the plan for the salvation of the world has been inaugurated. We now know the truth of what Zephaniah was writing about six hundred years before Christ.

God the warrior has defeated death and we have eternal life. He rejoices over us, he renews us and he exults over us.

Take a moment to think about you and your relationship with God because this is personal.. Say to yourself in the silence of your heart; I have eternal life; God himself rejoices over me; He renews and remakes me; he exults over me.

The joy of our worship is reflecting back to God what he first lavished on us.

Your fortunes will be restored and I love this phrase in verse 20. “I will bring you HOME.”
Our Home is with God forever. With our Father and our brother Jesus at the heavenly feast.
As we all know “Home” is where we can most truly be ourselves, home is where we feel most secure, Home is our refuge and strength. Home is with God.
When we know we have an everlasting home we can relax and rejoice, for the Lord is near (Philippians 4:5).
And that sense of joy at what God has done for us is the well spring of Saint Paul’s exhortation in our reading from Philippians today to

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” (4:4-7). The Lord is near. Just like Zephaniah prophesied about God being in our midst.

Then Paul gives us some hard won advice that I know we could all do with at some time or other. “Do not worry about anything”. How on earth do we achieve that?
Well we are not puppets and God is not going to do for you what you should be doing yourself so everything you can do to affect a worrying situation you must try to do.
But there comes a time when there is nothing else we can do. It is at that point that the constant worry and anxiety becomes debilitating and can really affect your overall health and wellbeing. There is a point where we should recognise that you cannot affect anything by further worry.
At that point Paul says essentially “Trust. When there is nothing else you can do Take everything to God in prayer and just trust”. After all, The only one being hurt by all the worry is yourself and you can’t affect anything by it, so pray and trust”. Lay everything at God’s feet and say “Thy will be done”. If you can surrender in that way, the peace of God which passes all understanding will be yours. It will descend upon you, and will find peace.
Jesus said “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)
Another way of putting it is “Let go and let God”. Now such surrender, such total reliance is a hard place to get to and our sense of ego and self-reliance gets in the way of such surrender so for a lot of us it probably won’t happen until we are really at our wits end, but try it before then. There is a well worn prayer that is as true now as it was when it was written by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1951 but this is a longer form of it.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

That of course is known as the serenity prayer subsequently taken up by AA in its shorter form.
Accepting this sinful world as it is, changing or affecting what you can, but crucially knowing your limits and placing the rest in God’s hands is the path to peace.

Now let move to the gospel reading. The stand out phrase John the Baptist uses for me is “Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8)
And of course the whole content of Jesus’ preaching is recorded as “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”  
Repentance is supremely important then. In this service I have already said “God forgives all who truly repent” Repentance means to stop! And turn your life around. Turn around your life from doing that which was contrary to the word of God and consciously turn to God. Mend your ways, show sorrow and contrition for what you’ve done (which stings but is absolutely necessary), and determine to follow God’s way, ethics and morality and attitude to life.
Baptism is the outward sign of repentance. Those who are baptised should respond by aligning their lives with God’s purpose.

John here alludes to the fact that a new people are being formed but it is based on the response of lives lived in a manner appropriate to God’s call, not on inherited descent.

We are not Christians by right or because our parents decided to have us baptised as children - we are Christians in the manner to which our lives are aligned to God’s will and morality. As Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them” and even more tellingly, “Not everyone who says Lord Lord will enter the kingdom of God, but only those who do the will of my Father” (Matthew’s gospel)

God’s kingdom includes even soldiers and tax collectors. John’s advice to their future behaviour is; be just, be true, be responsible. The response is changed behaviour.

All this suggests that salvation is universally available but not universally applicable.

The relationship between salvation and judgement is also evident in John’s statement that Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In Christian baptism God’s Spirit lives in our heart and at the same time what is expected is that the chaff, our fallen shabby immoral ways will be burned in the fire even as the Spirit cleanses empowers and guides.

This for me alludes to the fact expressed so well by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that good and evil runs not between peoples or nations, but cuts right through the heart of every human being and when we are baptised in the Spirit, our sin is dealt with at the same time as we are made one with God.

We are building a renewed, joyful, moral, Holy community. We are modelling what a community can look like in a society where community is breaking down. Our community mustn’t be a reflection of our broken society! We are to be salt and light where rights come with responsibilities; We are here to model and change society to bring more and more of it under God’s rule!   

Monday, 7 December 2015

A voice crying out in the wilderness

We lit our second Advent candle today to symbolise the prophet’s role in the story of salvation.
Now the role of a prophet was not just or even mainly to forsee things that would happen in the near or far future, but mainly to speak the word of God forcefully into the present, and to  challenge the assumptions, morality, inequalities and injustices of society.
A prophet challenged the sin and corruption of society; challenged it with the word and way of God, to point out the flaws in society and how far they had strayed from God and secondly, looking to the future to tell of a time when God will decisively act to bring about all those necessary changes that are needed to bring about God’s justice.
They were then pretty wild and woolly and uncomfortable characters to be around, people on the edge who challenged authority.
You see this magnificently in the book of Malachi, the last book of the prophets in our Bibles. Malachi in fact means “My messenger” and he prophesies that a messenger will be sent, and God will break into history to lead us on a different path to God’s future.
In the gospel reading today we have another prophet, Isaiah, being quoted, and Isaiah foretells a prophet who will precede the messiah who will be “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” and Christians had no problem in ascribing that role to John the Baptist.
In fact the Jews had come to believe that the coming of the Messiah would be preceded by the return of the prophet Elijah and Jesus himself refers to John as fulfilling this role. In Matthew 11:14, Jesus, talking about John the Baptist says plainly “and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come”
Now the start of Luke chapter three reads like a brief history lesson, and he lists Emperors, Governors, rulers and high priests. In doing this, Luke wants to achieve two things.
First, Luke is saying, this is not a fairy tale. This happened in history, in the blood and guts of lived reality, politics and religion.
What was about to unfold really happened in a dusty outpost of the Roman Empire, amidst all those aforementioned characters; really happened amidst the corruption, oppression, and intrigue of a particular time and place.
This point is very important nowadays. What we believe is set in history. It happened. The birth, life, teaching, death and crucially the resurrection of Jesus are well attested historical facts. Of course, they are lived reality for us, but they are historical events. This is important because a recent poll revealed that a high percentage of the British population don’t even know that.
They think that Jesus is on the same level as Santa Claus – an unintended consequence of mixing fact and fantasy is that Jesus is reduced to the level of the tooth fairy.
The second thing Luke wants to achieve is set the witness and ministry of John the Baptist outside of the centres of secular and religious authority. John’s voice came from the wilderness, not from Rome or Jerusalem.
And like all prophets that came before him, John was an uncomfortable and uncompromising figure. He spoke God’s truth to authority, both secular and religious.
and they are the objects of God’s disdain.
Time and time again, Israel is judged by God and left to go to rack and ruin when his blessing is removed. This is one of the truths revealed through the pages of the Bible. I’ll leave as an open question where the Church of England may stand here.
But we are speaking of prophets of old here!
What of prophesy today?
It is needed more than ever. Do we have the stomach, the moral fibre and strength that I spoke about last week in the parade service to stand up and be counted in the midst of our society?
Are we bold confident enough to say that I believe that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life, not just within these walls, but to families, friends, colleagues or even strangers.
After all, as a minority that makes us outsiders and being seen as an outsider is undeniably uncomfortable. Our preference would be to fit in and keep our heads down.
So the question on the day in Advent that we honour the prophets of old is this;
Are we ready to be prophets in our own time? To be so we need a clear confident message more than ever before
Saint Paul recognised this and he wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:8 “ If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who is going to prepare for battle”, and we are in a battle.
If the church is confident in asserting its faith people will at least have something to either draw or repel them; a diffident church has no chance of igniting anyone or anything.
During this period of Advent and Christmas are we willing to stand up confidently and contend for Biblical truth revealed through the prophets, through and in Christ, and the witness of the New Testament?  
We have found in the process of visiting lots of churches is that that one of the big differences between walking into a middle of the road liberal church and an evangelical church is stark contrast in the levels of zeal, confidence and commitment.  
Many modern Christians, because they are, like secular liberals, basically relativists and set such high store on tolerance, they seem embarrassed by the fact that we might say that our religion is the whole truth and therefore other religions are not the whole truth. It offends their sensibilities. In their desperation to be inclusive their trumpet not only gives an uncertain noise, sometimes no noise at all comes out.  
They do so in the supposedly noble causes of “tolerance” and “inclusivity”.
But you see God is not tolerant of sin, and not tolerant of other gods and religions. For what passes for “tolerance” in the modern church you could substitute the word “cowardice”.
But you know, I want you to know this. I wasn’t always this bullish. You see, I used to be a liberal and I used to think that way myself so I don’t say these things now as if I am spiritually superior. I was there myself, but I have been on a long meandering journey these last few years and I have finally returned to the faith that nurtured me in the first place.  What finally changed me was a religious experience.
There was a time not so long ago when I thought I had cancer. The details are unimportant, it turned out not to be the case, but for a few days I thought I was going to die just after I’d got married and life was back on track.
I remember that on the way back from the hospital I was in my car and I stopped and cried and with tears in my eyes I turned consciously to Christ. And then I knew – I really knew. When the chips were down, I turned to the one who had already turned towards me. What had happened to me in my ministry is that my anchor had lost its purchase and I was being tossed about by every current and fad that came along. I was building not on rock but on sand. So by a long circuitous route I have returned to the faith that nurtured me.
I vowed in that car then that I would never turn my back on Him ever again.
I believe, intellectually and at a much deeper level than that, through spiritual experience That Jesus is the way the truth and the life. No ifs, no buts, no exceptions, no maybes. To proclaim that and say that there is salvation in no other as the Bible tells us in this day and age is to be truly prophetic.
It is uncomfortable and sets you up as a target, an outsider, and you’ll likely get called a judgemental bigot. Much easier to go with the relativist flow.  
But I say again. If we are to grow, we need to be prophets in our own time.

Are we ready and confident to proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life?  

Monday, 30 November 2015

All will be well.....

The OT reading is Jeremiah 33:14-16. Now as I wrote mid-week about this reading from Jeremiah - what is interesting about this snippet is that it is a re-worked piece from earlier in the same book and it is looking forwards to the fulfilment of all things.

In the original piece in Jeremiah 23: 5-6 the "righteous branch" obviously identified by Christians as Jesus - is given the name "The Lord is our righteousness" but in this re-worked piece we heard today, it is Jerusalem that now bears that name.
What is the significance of this change? Well Jerusalem the place is a short hand way of referring to the people of Israel and what it does is introduce a corporate element to the Advent hope, because the prophesy is looking forward to a restored and renewed community that lives under the wise and just rule of the aforesaid “righteous branch”.

And if we want to find out something of the nature of that community we look to our second reading, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Now 1 Thessalonians is a fascinating book because it is Paul’s first ever letter and actually is the oldest Christian text in the New testament, predating all the gospels and was written around 52 AD just 19 years after the resurrection of Jesus. So when we look at Thessalonians we are looking into the first written evidence of the young church by its foremost evangelist, Saint Paul.

So as I say this letter tells us something of the nature of that community. Its essential traits are to be Love and Holiness. There is to be both love for "one another" and "love for all".

If we take the first one. In terms of our relationships within and between different members of the church, how we relate to each other whether they be trivial or profound, peaceful or full of strife, what we can be sure of is whatever they are like, they will be a witness to others.
The question is....what kind of witness will we be?
Do we really know each other or is our knowledge of each other shallow and perfunctory? Do we know what makes each other tick? Do we really care about each other, not just in terms of “Oh Doris isn’t well this week” but do we know and care about our spiritual health and well being. How is Doris’ relationship with God? Is she sure of her salvation? Does she know that she is loved? Do you know if the person sitting next to you knows they are loved by God? Do you yourself truly know that you are loved by God?

Because knowing you are loved is first base. You should know that if you were the last person on earth, Christ would have died for you. God loves you that much. That is so important because knowing how much we are loved is the prerequisite and well spring  of the following phrase;

That we should have "Love for all".  We love others because He first loved us and this is a reminder that through us we are to exercise God’s compassion that extends beyond our boundaries.

And believe me, there are boundaries!  Because besides "Love" we are also called to "Holiness", a word that appears six times in Thessalonians. Holiness is the quality of life that distinguishes us from the world. The word "Holiness" means chosen and set apart. It implies separateness. We are to follow a clearly defined set of ethics and moral behaviour and not succumb to the norms of the world. Christian morality and ethics are different and set us apart. When churches reject the morality of the Bible as being old fashioned and no longer applicable and replaces them with the morals and ethics of secular society I firmly believe that God rejects us.

Now of course, on the wider canvas we can all fail and often but when we do it is a good thing that we have something that we are also assured of – forgiveness.

We believe in a God who forgives those who go astray but truly repent.

Many Christians have fallen in this way and we all know we fail often so it is a great thing that despite that fact by the grace of God we can always turn and be saved. God who came to us in humility at Christmas and will come again at the end of time, for everything in Thessalonians is set against the backdrop of "the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints". This is not a warning to keep the troops in line but a conclusion to the whole human story where our faithful life will come to light. The end of all things is the major theme of Advent.

And so we turn finally to Luke.

Luke 21:25-36 concerns what has already happened (the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD) and the final day of reckoning all underpinned and overseen by the "coming of the Son of man in a cloud" (refers back to Daniel). We are living in the gap as I said two weeks ago between the inauguration of God's kingdom and the final end when "heaven and earth will pass away" as it says in verse 33. What does that mean “when heaven and earth pass away?  
The Christian hope is in a renewed physical resurrection body in a renewed world where "heaven and earth" are no longer separate but one place because heaven comes down to the earth. If we want a vision of our hope in words we can do no better than refer to the book of Revelation 21: 1-4 which says;

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

This my friends is the Good news. The Good news that started in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Good news for all mankind.

In the end, no matter how broken and bruised we may be, how shattered and hurt by events in life. The faith we have says that in the end, all will be well and all manner of things will be well as Julian of Norwich wrote many centuries ago.

Monday, 23 November 2015

The feeding of the 5000

A reflection on the feeding of the 5000 and (John 6: 1-15) and Daniel 5 – The writing on the wall.
John’s gospel does not have miracles – John always describes them as signs. That is very important because what does a sign do? It points you to something else.
Do don’t stand mesmerised by the sign itself, you look to see where it leads.
The first and greatest sign, the keynote sign of John’s gospel in the turning of water into wine. The essence of that sign is that it is the gospel in miniature. The water of our existence – our lives - are transformed by the Spirit of God into something much richer and intoxicating by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And all the signs in John’s gospel relate back to that foundational keynote sign.
John and of course Jesus wants us to look through and beyond the actual sign itself to see something more. Of course, many have no insight and don’t see beyond the event itself and Jesus rebuked those who after the feeding of the 5000 followed him just because they thought they might get another free meal rather than any notion of getting an insight into God.
And this is one of the tie-ins with the story of the writing on the wall in the book of Daniel. Understanding and interpreting the sign was in the gift of Daniel, a man who walked closely with God. The reason God withdrew his favour from the King was basically for idolatry. The definition of idolatry is worshipping that which is not God. Worshipping the creation instead of the creator.
That can be a stone or wood idol as in the case of the king in that story or it could be an addiction to pride and self sufficiency (making ourselves God), or the love of money, or position, or possessions.    
God is Lord and creator of all. He gives and sustains all life and redeems it also. He is the final arbiter. Everything we have is a gift from God. In the realms of science and technology, nothing is created. We discover things. Things that were already here and have always been here since the creation of the world. We manipulate things and piece things together. We make wonderful things that make life more comfortable. We manipulate and fashion things out of what was already here using our God-given ingenuity.
What doesn’t change is the human condition. We are not innately cleverer than our forebears – we stand on others shoulders. In fact for all our technology and comfort nowadays we are unhappier with our lot than ever before. The social fabric disintegrates as the family collapses, we lead selfish, greedy, ultimately unfulfilling lives. Stress and stress related illnesses and depression are rampant.
Life for many is empty and pointless. There is a gaping void in their lives which of course they try and fill and dull with drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, novelty or various obsessions . The reason given in the Bible is that we live short-circuited lives because we don’t know, recognise or acknowledge the giver of life itself as the creator and importantly the sustainer of all things. God sustains as well as creates.

The shorthand symbol for that sustenance in the Bible is bread, the meal. The shared meal is the way of restoring and nurturing relationships both between humans and between humanity and God. And the favoured way of describing the fulfilment of all things is the heavenly banquet where we will eat with God as the host, which is why the shared meal is the central act of Christian worship, which is based in part on the wider message of the feeding of the 5000. God is in ultimate control and in and through Christ he will feed us and fill us abundantly. In that story, if you remember, afterwards there was so much left over that they could fill twelve basketfuls with food.  This means He has more than enough love to go around for us and for everyone else.  

Christ the King.

When you listen to Jesus speak in the gospels you will have heard him refer to himself as “the Son of Man”. In fact that was his favourite way of referring to himself as in....”Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Now, unless you know the Biblical reference all the connotations wrapped up that phrase will pass you by.
Jesus is referring to, and identifying with, a character that appears in the book of Daniel in this wonderful prophetic vision  which starts with God himself, referred to as the “ancient of days”. The white clothing and white hair denotes eternity and wisdom, the fire denotes purity and holiness.
The climax of this vision is when one like a “Son of Man” or “like a human being”(NRSV translation) is presented to God and this “Son of man” is given dominion and glory and kingship.
Jesus is quite definitely taking upon himself this persona, this mantle, when he uses this phrase.
So when Daniel writes about this kingship being everlasting and indestructible, he is prophesying the everlasting indestructible kingship of the risen Jesus. And today this Sunday is denoted “Christ the King”
The book of Daniel is written in a particular Hebrew idiom called “Apocalyptic” and the most well known piece of apocalyptic literature in the New Testament is the book of revelation. It is impossible to understand Revelation without reference to the book of Daniel and Revelation takes this image and expands it and boldly states that this everlasting kingdom is the slain and risen Jesus, the first-born from the dead.
The first-born note. He is the first of many to follow, and we the saints will follow and be in that number, as the famous hymn says;
The first-born from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth and has freed us from our sins by his blood. And then revelation says something rather interesting which refers back to my sermon last week. Verse 6, says “he made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father”. Reference to a common priesthood yet again note, and not a separate caste.
And this picks up a yet more extraordinary sentence in the book of Daniel. It isn’t in our piece we heard today but if you read on in verse 27 it says this;
The Dominion given to Jesus in verse 14 of Daniel, in verse 27 that dominion is given to “the people of the Holy ones of the most high” That is us! Quite extraordinary; Jesus reigns through us!
This chimes with Saint Paul’s description of the church as the “body of Christ”. How is Christ’s dominion exercised on earth? Christ’s dominion is exercised through his body on earth, the church. He works and exercises his rule and power through us by his Holy Spirit. How is Christ present to us here today, now. He is present by his Holy Spirit, the eternal Spirit, the same Spirit that rested on Jesus when he was baptised by John. The Spirit that guided Jesus is the same spirit that dwells in us and when we attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit we do Christ’s work.
I am reminded of that great prayer written by St. Theresa of Avila.
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
With compassion on this world.
What a responsibility and privilege we have because we can do the work of Christ ourselves.
And now we turn to the gospel passage itself. That Jesus was crucified with the charge against him fixed to the cross “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is one of the best attested facts in the ancient world.
It is good to realise at this point that crucifixion, although common was not the punishment for any old misdemeanour. Crucifixion, a particularly cruel and unusual punishment was reserved for sedition, for enemies of the state, so that even the so-called thieves on the cross would also have been involved in anti-Roman activities.
Jesus was crucified as an enemy of the state, perceived as a political rival to the Roman empire and particularly the Roman state.
For the early Christian church, we nowadays have little idea how dangerous it was to proclaim Christ as “King” for to proclaim Christ as King meant that you owed your allegiance to Him and not to Caesar. To proclaim Christ as king is a political statement, and indicates whose authority you recognise and who you obey, and if properly understood can be as dangerous today as it was then and just as potent. Consider Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu or the liberation theologies in South America.
With those people in mind it is time to consider the nature of this kingdom to which when we acknowledge Christ as King we belong.  
The authority of Jesus comes not from the world but from his intimacy with the Father, and so by default so must ours.
Jesus was a witness to the truth about ourselves and about God and he testified to the truth not only by his words but by his acts and his death. He suffered for the truth and if we listen to his voice we will be on the same road and must expect opposition. But our comfort is to be found in the knowledge that in testifying, and contending for truth we are continuing His work in building the Kingdom of God.
Going back to where we started in the book of Daniel, the beasts that emerged from the sea, who represented the evil kingdoms of the earth (modern purveyors of evil like Islamic state are just one of scores of examples past and present) will be subject to divine judgement and on earth they will be overcome ultimately not by a similar and opposite force, but by faithfulness to goodness and truth.

That is who are and will be, a community bound together by the Hoy Spirit and faithful to the goodness and truth revealed in Jesus Christ, the man whose authority and leadership we recognise, our King Jesus Christ. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

The wheat and the Tares

The parable of the wheat and the tares or weeds is deceptively simple.
The word of God has been sown in the world – this tremendous energy has been released and Jesus apparently just says, stand back and watch the kingdom grow.
But the word has been sown into a sinful world and it is a fact of life that within as well as without the world, saints and sinners co-exist.
Bad, sinful and hypocritical people will stand alongside the faithful in any church assembly. Wheat and tares apparently look very similar, and this parable is a warning against too much weeding. Although this must be seen in the light of other parts of the New Testament where there are warnings against the influence of evil men and women and what to do about it when they try to malignly influence the assembly of the faithful. The difference appears to be that the people to be challenged and in the end judged and excommunicated are overtly sinful and most importantly obviously and blatantly unrepentant. So, seen in that light this parable would appear to be aimed against the not so obvious sinner, the secret sinner if you will.
The message of this parable is that God knows the secrets of our hearts and on the day of judgement we will have to give a full account of ourselves and everything will be brought into the light. So we interpret the parable in the light of the wonderful words of psalm 95 that sees God as creator and redeemer and judge of the whole world. We, however are not fine tuned enough to make such a perfect judgement in ambiguous cases. In these cases, Leave that to God, says this parable
And anyway, there is always the hope that any weed can also turn and be saved as well along the way for God’s arms are never too short to save.
So essentially, we can’t know the secrets of anyone’s heart (unless they directly start working against the interests of the body of Christ of course, which leaves us in no doubt) so, if in doubt, hold fire, for judgement belongs to God.  
What we do instead is build people up and encourage people and exhort people to grow in faith and commitment without judgement and through our good works and good example encourage people to look deep within themselves to see their need of God and to turn to him in faith. That is our role as a Christian family – to love and serve people in the hope that through our faith and good works people will be moved to respond positively, after all there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 people who don’t need to repent..

So I invite us to pray for the family of Holy Saviour church that we grow together, and support each other and nurture each other to repentence.

Endings and beginnings

Endings are always also necessarily  beginnings and they can be traumatic.
This is pertinent to me personally in the trauma of leaving one place and starting another and is true for  this church in particular. In both cases, whatever has gone before is finished – over. So what is going to happen next is a question that quite naturally will be looming large in your minds.
A new man, a new ministry, a new way of thinking and doing things will happen, though perhaps not immediately. I did note that at the rehearsal our Archdeacon prayed that I be gentle and I did take that on board. But whatever I bring that might be deemed new be assured that what underpins them will be timeless and unchanging. I will be building upon the unchanging solid rock of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We will be a Christ centred Spirit led church. And that good news of Jesus Christ is what is being articulated here so clearly in the letter to the Hebrews that we heard this morning;
Hebrews is talking about the High priesthood of Christ - our one mediator needed between humanity and God.
So let me make one first thing perfectly clear. You don’t need me to gain access to God. I am not your mediator, Christ is. We are the priesthood of all believers because as a Christian we have our great high priest living in our hearts. That is how we have access to God. When I was ordained I did not become a priest. I, like all Christians shared in that common priesthood already. When I was ordained I was designated a catalyst, leader and teacher of the faith. Seeing things through the lens of proper Biblical theology rather than the traditions of men will always set you on the right track. Those who have ears...let them hear.
With the Spirit of Christ living within us we have unbroken unmediated access to God at all times. As the writer of Hebrews says we have confidence to enter the sanctuary of God through his very flesh. Notice the use of the carnal word flesh, rather than the word body.
The use of the word “flesh” is meant to underline the full humanity of Jesus.  This is very important, for if Jesus was not human in every single way he was not really one of us, and therefore he didn’t really suffer, and he really didn’t die. But he did truly suffer and he did truly die. He travelled the same path that every human being must tread.
And therein lies the true glory of the good news. Jesus the man, who suffered and died, was raised from the dead. This earth shattering event is the pivot around which all history revolves. But the glory came, and only could come through pain and suffering and death. To borrow the final phrase from our reading from Mark today – this was just the beginning of the birth pangs. Jesus’ end was also a new beginning.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone and guarantor of our faith. Without the resurrection we have no faith, but faith in the resurrection is our guarantee that we will all share that glorious future if we repent and believe the good news. We have eternal life asour personal possession right now. We are saved, we are born again. We also have the pleasure and pain of doing God’s will no matter where that leads us and we look forward to a future where there will be no more pain, no more tears, where justice is done, where everything is put right.  
We, the church believe that we are living in that time between the resurrection of Christ when our future was actually revealed to us in historical time, and the final end, the Day of the Lord when all things will be made new, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth and we will be given resurrection bodies that will never decay.
So we are living in that gap. Christians don’t need a De Lorean car in which to travel forward in time. We have seen the future. We know our ultimate future. Which leaves the question....what now? What are we supposed to do we do with this privileged insight into our end and the end of all things?
Well the Bible is perfectly clear about what we do in the mean time. In the power of God’s Spirit we work to bring in the kingdom whenever and however we can. We are to repent of our sins and become disciples of Christ. Lifelong learners and perfecters of  God’s will as revealed to us in the life, death, teaching and resurrection of Jesus, in the Bible through the same Holy Spirit that rested on Jesus at his baptism.
Christ lives in our hearts by faith by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. A Spiritless church is worse than useless. Jesus had a phrase for such people and things – he called them whitewashed tombs. Looks great on the outside, all shiny and new and impressive on the outside , but just like a tomb, is dead on the inside.
Every church has the implicit choice to make between being a Christ- centred, Spirit led church that makes disciples of its members and being a whitewashed tomb. And understanding this is vital for our flourishing.
Let me start with some uncomfortable truths.
The Church of England is dying. And our dying is going to accelerate because tThe demographic time bomb that most church of England members are pretty aged  means that in about twenty years, the C of E will pretty much cease to exist.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. At the same time that the church as a whole has been in steep decline, parts of the church of England have grown enormously, bucking the trend entirely. Outside of the C of E, in the North East alone 125 new churches have started and are flourishing. What do those parts of the C of E that are growing and those new churches have in common. They are evangelical and Pentecostal in nature.  What does that mean? They are Christ centred, Spirit led, and adhere to Biblical authority. They take discipleship and commitment seriously. They study and discuss God’s word.  They offer lively contemporary worship.
That leaves us with some interesting options doesn’t it?
Will we choose life or death?
I have a vision for this church where we have to put on extra services because people can’t all fit in at once. A place where people from 5 to 95 flock to experience the presence of Christ and to grow in the faith – a place where God is known through His son Jesus Christ, for there is salvation in no other.
That doesn’t mean throwing out babies with the bathwater. I have already seen all that is good and true and worthwhile happening here. We can justly rejoice in everything that is already happening and sustaining people’s faith, but if we are not moving forward we are going backwards. We build on some things, alter the balance of some other things, we start new things and we do it together.
People of God, friends, can we catch that vision together to grow this church in both depth and in numbers? I know and can see the potential with my own eyes.
I am really excited by the potential in this church. I’m sure that I can feel and detect the excitement in many people here. We need to validate, nurture and set free all that potential.  run with it, make it happen. Together we make Holy Saviour a church fit for purpose for the 21st century?  Corporately can we go forward as God’s family. Can we, as Hebrews extols us, provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another as we mach on towards our glorious future.  

I am sure that with God’s help we can and we will. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God

I suppose the only reason this piece of scripture has been allotted for Harvest festival is that it is about the only passage in the New Testament that waxes lyrical about nature but actually it is a very deep and challenging piece about something that affects all of us – anxiety and worry – and because there is a bit of this about in the parish at the moment, for obvious reasons, I’ll take my opportunity this Harvest Festival,  as only the second to last time that I’ll be preaching to you on a Sunday to speak about anxiety and worry . Not as someone who has conquered it, but as someone who suffers from it and could do with following Jesus’ wise words as much as anyone else.
For anyone on the poverty line, or a refugee on the road, or suffering after a flood or drought the sentiments “Do not worry about anything, about what you will wear, eat or drink” is at best unrealistic and at worst a bit sick.
So we must as a priority understand just what Jesus is forbidding and what he is advocating.
It is not ordinary concern and foresight that Jesus condemns, that is essential and intrinsic to human life – It is the overwhelming and all consuming “worry and anxiety”, that can envelop us like a shroud that sucks all the joy out of life that is condemned.
As an antidote to worry Jesus starts by pointing in the direction of the created world around us. The word translated “Consider” actually means “learn from” rather than “contemplate”.
Learn from Nature. What do we see?
What we learn from the birds is that they do not worry. They do not strain to see a future which they cannot see or seek security in storing up goods and wealth as insurance against a future that you cannot see.
In verse 27. Jesus also points out that worry is pointless anyway in that it never ever changed anything. All it does is rob you of your present.
And then when Jesus asks us to learn from the “lilies of the field” he is referring to the poppies and anemones which together with dried grass were used in their clay cooking ovens to raise the temperature quickly in Palestine at that time. Thy were burned up but in their short life have more inate beauty than mankind can ever emulate.
Jesus means if God gives such beauty to such a short lived thing that we burn in the flames, how much more will he care for us? Learn to trust God more, no matter what the immediate circumstances of our life are.
Jesus gives us two antidotes to worry pertinent to followers of “The Way”. First of all he says concentrate first on the Kingdom of God. If we concentrate on how much God loves and cares for us, concentrate on the doing of God’s will and the acceptance of God’s will, worry will be squeezed out of our lives.
We all know I trust how a great love can drive out all other concerns; We clear the decks because this love becomes the all consuming passion in our lives, inspiring us, dominating our entire life. It was Jesus’ conviction that worry is pushed out when God becomes the dominating power of our lives.  This is a view which fins its counterpart in the first letter of John when John writes. “Perfect love casts out fear”.   Anxiety and worry are the consequences of fear.
The second thing Jesus offers is in verse 34, inexplicably omitted from our lectionary reading, and it says “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will worry about itself”. This is the ability to live one day at a time – to live in the present. Handle the demands of each day as it comes without worrying about an unknown future.
In today’s parlance you would call that a form of mindfulness. Concentrating and living fully in the present. Most of the things we worry about never happen.
It is important that we get to grips with this because worry and anxiety are not benign – they are far worse than useless they are actively injurious to the human soul.
Many of the typical diseases of modern life are caused by worry, from ulcers to mental breakdown, to heart attacks.
He who laughs most and longest lives longest.  Worry also refuses to learn the lesson of life, that no matter how dire something has been in our life – well here we are – with our heads still above water (sometimes only just) but here we are nevertheless and if someone had told us at the beginning of whatever traumas we have faced would’ve told us that we would get through it regardless, we might not have believed it.
At the last breakfast club we had a deeply moving talk, one of the most powerful I have ever heard and when you hear what some people have endured it makes you weep inside, but that talk was also a testimony to the healing power of God to patch us up and put us back together again. Our other great weapon against worry is prayer.

Lay it all down at the foot of the cross. Free yourself to live your life which is God’s gift to you and live it fully. Let go and let God. 

The Love of money

Well this week’s gospel offering is even more contentious that last week’s aabout marriage and divorce . It is about money and what we do with it.

As I wrote mid-week - Given that most Anglicans are middle class and by most measures rather affluent, I fancy there is no other area that causes us more embarrassment than our money if we are to read the gospels diligently.

The parable of the rich young man is one such that has the capacity to make us all feel a little uncomfortable and embarrassed. Jesus confronts the obviously pious and otherwise devout young man who kneels before Jesus and as he says “keeps all the commandments” had asked Jesus "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus who sees deeply into his soul, sees his real needs and insecurities and tells him “to give away all his possessions to the poor”. He follows this up with his famous line that it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What shall we say about such a wild and radical thing to say? Well if we look around the rest of the New Testament for interpretive tools and clues we find that for one thing Jesus knows that equality in income is here to stay. He says "You will always have the poor with you" (Mark 14:7). Also in the (often misinterpreted) incident when Jesus is presented with a coin with Caesar's head on it and asked if it is lawful to pay taxes his answer "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's" (Mark 12: 17) is in context an extremely clever way of saying that in effect nothing belongs to Caesar - at the end of the day everything belongs to God. 

But the best interpretive tool we have in the New Testament is "For the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).

Money in and of itself is not the problem. In fact, even in the first century the church relied on rich people to support the young church and even Jesus and his disciples relied on provisions supplied by comfortable women (Luke 8: 1-3). Wealth creation is not derided. As Margaret Thatcher once said, wealth has to be created first for it then to be used for any purpose, including the welfare state, with important caveats of course that to the Christian, people are always more important than money. 

The concerns Jesus raises in the heart of this young man (who actually represents all of us) is his singleness of mind and true loyalties and priorities. So it is not money per se but what you do with your money that counts, and ultimately what do you love most - God or money - because you cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13). As Saint Paul says you are bound to be a slave to something, so whose slave are you - God or mammon?
Possessions are nice but how firmly are you attached to them?

How do we use our money. Do we store it up in barns or put it to good use. How much money do we give away? The Biblical standard is the tithe - 10%. 

The real question is not "Do I give everything to the poor"  but the actual question cuts cuts just as deeply and is just as uncomfortable if we take a good hard look at ourselves. Do we care more for God or for things? What are our priorities in life?

Monday, 5 October 2015

Therefore, what God has joined together let no one separate.

In the letter to the Hebrews the writer says “In former days God spoke through the prophets but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son.” So let’s listen. He who has ears.............
Here we have in Mark’s gospel the supreme Christian underpinning of the sanctity of marriage from the very lips of Jesus himself.
In case anyone missed it;
“Jesus said to them “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another  commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery””
In Mark’s original rendition there are no mitigating circumstances at all, unlike Matthew’s version which adds “except for unchastity”.
Here in the bold and radical original we have Jesus’ view that Marriage is an unbreakable sacred bond and this view circumvents “the law” which famously in Deuteronomy, and quoted at Jesus in this passage, allows divorce.
Jesus circumvents the law and goes back further to the original intention of God revealed in the book of Genesis. Jesus said the law that permits divorce was only given as a concession because of the sinfulness of human beings but that it was never meant to be that way.
Jesus says plainly that the commandment that permitted divorce was given because of our hardness of heart and then quotes from the book of Genesis;
From the beginning “God made them male and female”. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” Then Jesus says those wonderful words now enshrined in our marriage service;
 “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate”
Jesus says that strong monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is the original and good and healthy intention that God ordained for all humanity. It is the place for the nurture and upbringing of children. Significantly the text then moves without a break to the famous piece which in the King James version says “Suffer the little children to come unto me”
In our society’s misguided “anything goes” environment, self indulgence, self interest, and an insistence of individual rights takes increasing precedence now over any responsibility  to wider society, your husband or wife, or even your children
Marriage has been devalued and reduced to “just a piece of paper” in the eyes of the metropolitan liberal elite, a view that has now become the norm, destabilising and destroying the bedrock of stable civilised society especially in working class areas. Divorce is now normalised and easy.
Christians though have a higher aspiration, a higher calling and our ways are not their ways. Our way is the way of God, the way of Christ, revealed as in today’s passage, in scripture.
There is a deeper theological insight here of course. That in circumventing the law and going right back to Genesis, to the original good creative intention Jesus is saying that in Him and through Him we are re-creating Eden.
He is inaugurating the transformative power of God to redeem and judge and put right all that is wrong in the world – to return the world to its original pristine state.
The new creation that Jesus ushers in, revealed and validated by the resurrection of his body is the answer to all our longings for things to be put right – for justice to be done – for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven (as Jesus told us to pray).
And this beautiful understanding of marriage is a part of that new beginning. This, Jesus is saying, is how it always should have been.
I am confident that my role, whatever church I happen to be the vicar of is not to cave in to the ways of the world but to present a different, wholesome, self denying, honest, truthful and Christ-like account of this new creation and the expectations and the responsibilities laid on Christian’s shoulders to faithfully reflect and preach the way of Christ, not the way of the world.
The promotion of marriage as the sacred union between one man and one woman for life is an important constituent part of that.

Our responsibility is not to follow worldly wisdom but to “Repent and believe the good news. The Kingdom of God has come near” and his way has been revealed to us. We don’t have any excuse.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Faith without works is dead.

Both the gospel reading and the reading from James’ letter are about not showing partiality in terms of race, culture and religion in the case of Jesus and in terms of social class and economic means in the case of James’ letter.
In the sight of God we are all his children and within the Christian assembly we see each others as brothers and sisters in God’s family.
We start in Mark’s gospel with Jesus meeting the Gentile woman in Tyre. At first sight Jesus can be judged to be quite rude if not downright offensive.
The non Jewish woman comes to Jesus wanting him to heal her daughter. Jesus says in reply “The Jewish people are to eat first. Why should I throw you scraps from the Jewish table to you, gentile dogs?”
Looked at a little closer, things are a little different. The word “dogs” used by Jesus is in fact a diminutive and affectionate form of the word which translates more accurately as “doggies”.
We probably have an image in our minds of Jesus po-faced and speaking imperiously when we read his words in the Bible but here I think that Jesus was in fact both teasing and testing the woman at the same time. You can imagine a wry smile on his face as he is saying it.
The woman, quick witted throws back the reply. “Even us doggies  eat the crumbs that fall from the table”.
In that reply, this woman has recognised the power and sovereignty of the God of the Jews, a power, however dimly she understands that is obviously alive and active in this man before her.
Jesus recognises her response at once and immediately heals her daughter. God’s redemptive and healing power is a gift that knows no bounds. It is available but needs to be recognised and accepted to be of any power or use.
Any gift has to be received and unwrapped before it can be enjoyed and used. God will not force himself onto anyone, but anyone who does come is accepted no matter who they are.
From Tyre, Jesus travelled to the Decapolis –ten cities all founded and built by the Greeks and had a mixed Hellenistic and Jewish population, so Jesus was operating again on the boundaries.
In this area he healed a deaf man with a stammer. Mark may well have written “Those who have ears to hear...hear and speak clearly and loudly about the healing power of God for all people.”
One of the defining features of Jesus’ ministry of course was the total integrity of word and deed. This was a man free from hypocrisy who put his words into action.
This is what James is talking about in his letter, where we can be sure from the content that at least some Christian gatherings were showing great partiality towards the rich against the poor. This fault has plagued the church ever since then.
Even at a certain point in Gainford’s history there was a separate door for the rich so they didn’t have to mingle with the ordinary people. In some churches, the Lord of the manor has his own special seat, pride of place. This according to James is a sin and has no place in the church.
It is easy to fall into the trap of welcoming a man or woman who is well dressed and articulate and ignoring another who is perhaps a bit dishevelled and not so well educated, but our social class and economic position are no way of knowing the state of anyone’s heart, or how much they love and are loved.
We need this lesson because it is very common and even dare I say “natural” to do it. Birds of a feather flock together. When we have things in common with others it oils the wheels of communication and is easy.  Not so easy when you have little in common and move in a different social circle.
I once did a stint of being attached to a church in Headingly in Leeds. At the 8 O’clock BCP service a very large woman started to come, who quite obviously had problems looking after herself. The smell was awful and got worse and worse as the weeks went by. People voted with their feet and just dropped off one by one.
I expect we prayed for her, I can’t really remember – but as James says in his letter today  - so what! If you really want to prove your faith – do something for God’s sake.
In the end some of our ladies took her aside and went home with her and washed and bathed her and washed her clothes. They tidied up her flat and tried to help her. I don’t know what became of her. Perhaps she went back to her original state. Their help could well have been rebuffed in the first place. I don’t know, but what they did at that time for that woman was a living embodiment of what James is talking about. Christianity is about acceptance certainly but it doesn’t stop at mere acceptance. Leaving somebody to stew in their own juice, or their distress, or in terms of spirituality or morality to wallow in their sin is not an option. We have to turn to help them, but likewise, they have to turn and be saved.
Everybody remembers the woman caught in adultery and Jesus challenging everyone with the words “He who is without sin, let them cast the first stone” but not quite so well remembered in Jesus’ parting command to that woman. “Go and sin no more”. For those capable of a response, a response to the gospel is required.
No it is not easy, but I don’t think Jesus or anywhere in the N.T.  says that this is going to be easy. We need the strength of the  grace of God to be emboldened to step outside our comfort zones.