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?