Monday, 26 July 2021

St. James the apostle


Sunday 25th July – James the Apostle.

Jeremiah 45: 1-5. Jeremiah prophesies disaster for the Jewish people because of their inability to represent God’s love and justice in the land. That raises an interesting point of whether God actively “breaks down and plucks up” or simply withdraws his protection of the Jewish people from the attentions of powerful and malign nations. The Hebrew scriptures strongly suggest the former. The Christian revelation says that while God is involved at every level of pain, suffering and disaster, free will dictates that there are lines and constraints that cannot be transgressed in this life, even for God.  

Acts 11:27 – 12:2. This reading mentions the murder of James almost in passing by King Herod who must have been feeling very threatened by this new movement that followed another “King of the Jews”. A famine is also predicted and as I have said before, while we have no control over what happens to us we have choices over how we react. The churches subsequently and effectively rallied around to support the impoverished churches in the Holy Land where the church was born.

Mark 6: 14-28. We’ll never know whether this was the sole action of a proud and pushy mother or whether James and John put her up to it. Jesus’ reaction to the brothers suggest the latter and anyway it provides a wonderful introduction for Jesus to express the nature of true Christian ministry which is one of service and not lording it over the church. “Servant leadership” as it is known in the church is however a difficult balancing act to achieve convincingly.


To be honest the most enduring visible legacy to St. James in Europe is undoubtedly the Way of St James across Northern Spain to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela which traditionally houses his remains.  Known as the Camino, this is on our bucket list for when we retire

Of course, Santiago simply means St. James in Spanish and I remember visiting the cathedral under acres of scaffolding and the iconic incense burner (Thurible) was out of commission.

How his remains got to Spain from the Holy Land after James was put to death by the sword is another matter but sometimes, I think it is better to give in to romance and mystery.

But, for modern Christianity it is in that little exchange between Jesus and James and John’s mother that introduces a quite profound insight into how Christian leaders are required to relate to their flock that is the most important thing.

On their behalf their mother is asking for a seat at the high table, security and position, and from that place can then Lord it over all the other disciples which understandably upset everyone.

I would summarise the reply that Jesus gave as saying that the first quality needed in leadership in the church is humility and collegiality. Listening to others with respect, acknowledging that they may have something vital to contribute to the discussion and that all of us are never too old to learn.

A “first amongst equals” if you will.

That may still lead to respectful disagreement, but you must be able to listen all the same.

Advancement and the pursuit of prestige and power for its own sake are not hallmarks of Christian ministry.

You work for the good of your community, the best you can, with the gifts that God has given you, and hope that people trust and follow you, if for no other reason, because they realise that you are not in this for yourself or for money.    

This also accounts for the way that Kings in the Hebrew scriptures are also routinely referred to as shepherds.

Shepherds are necessary and there to guide and protect their flock, so while they occupy that position in society the role is softened, with the message that the king is there for your collective benefit.

How this is worked out in the three biggest apostolic churches of the world, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican is interesting.

The Anglican model of synods with separate houses of clergy and laity and , all starting with the PCC as the first rung on that ladder in its modern form has both strengths and weaknesses, but the prime mover for that system is trying to balance the need for leadership with the need to show that we are humbly going forward together, listening to each other, noting our differences with respect.

As our joint PCC’s start again after a difficult year in September lets be mindful that we are one community – a community of equals – with designated and assigned roles within that community of equals and to keep the show on the road we need lashings of grace and patience with others that we may disagree with, always mindful that we are only here at all because we are members of one family – the universal church – the one Holy, catholic and apostolic church and in the eyes of Christ we are all viewed equally, loved passionately, and no matter who you are, if you were the last person alive on earth, Jesus Christ would and did lay down his life for you.   

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

God's plumb line


Sunday 11th July – 6th after Trinity – Proper 10

Amos 7: 7-15. The plumb line means that God is going to establish a standard of behaviour and will no longer be indifferent to how people live. We don’t know if Amos directly prophesied Jeroboam’s violent death but according to 2 Kings 14:29 Jeroboam died a peaceful death after ruling Israel for 41 years. We do know however that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was laid waste by the Assyrians in 721 BC which would accord with his prophesy against Israel.

Ephesians 1: 3-14. “Blessing” in Greek is both an act of praise or thanksgiving or an act of bestowing a gift on another, so God is to be blessed for God’s blessings. The gifts bestowed are redemption, forgiveness, wisdom and faith and the only appropriate response to that is one of giving thanks and praise. This should prompt us to recall that the chief end of human life according to the Westminster confession (1646) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Mark 6: 14-29. This longest piece in the gospels not directly about Jesus is drawing a parallel between the deaths of both men at the hand of weak vacillating leaders who left to their own devices would have spared them but under the influence of other circumstances order their executions. Speaking truth to power has always been a dangerous thing to do and having friends in high places (Herod respects John) never guarantees your safety.


Honesty and integrity and treating your fellow men and women with justice and as equally loved by God have always been highly prized human attributes and especially within the house of Israel (at least to each other) these are the foundation stones of what honouring and praising God looks like in practice.


It is a commonplace in the Bible that a love of God and a pure religious cult must go hand in hand with a just society purely because it was revealed early on that this is what God wants and prizes.


But it was a fact that no matter how correct the religious worship was and how strictly the sacrifices to God were conducted, Israeli society at the level of both the societal and the personal level had become corrupt.


Injustice, cheating, lying and exploitation had become commonplace and the message given to Amos the prophet was that God was not going to tolerate it any more from what was after all his chosen people.


A plumbline is a piece of string with a weight on one end and was used to measure how straight walls were – and the plumbline God was dropping into Israelite society was the law, or Torah.

Measure up to that or face the consequences was the basic message revealed to Amos, because actions have consequences.


The actions of powerful men and women like Herodius, Herod and Pilate have far reaching life-ending consequences for which they should have been held to account in this life but will have to account for before God.


And that is the same for all of us on a personal level of private morality, and the more power you wield, the higher up you are in the pecking order, the more your decisions and morality impinge on ever more people so your honesty and integrity become even more important.


What we do know is that the Northern kingdom of Israel was wiped off the face of the earth by the Assyrians in around 722 BC.


Were the Assyrians an unknowing instrument of God. That is unknowable but the Southern kingdom of Judah must have looked at what happened to their brothers and sisters to the North and shuddered.


Did it make them think about their own actions and morality? Probably, in the short term but humans are flawed beings, prone always seek the easiest most expedient way so even if it did produce a sudden burst of moral probity I dare say it wouldn’t have lasted very long – and historically of course we know it didn’t last.


Of course, when the time was right God dropped another plumbline into human society, his son Jesus Christ.

A definitive once for all standard against which all things can be measured and found wanting.


Jesus Christ is the eternal revelation of the truth about God and his moral rectitude and wisdom shines as an everlasting light to the world at large and for his followers like us a paragon of virtue to emulate and use as an example of how to live a godly life.


Jesus was immersed in God’s grace and lived out of that grace. That is the example he left us. Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.


Just like our Jewish antecedents we fall and fail often but in the light of the revelation in Christ we also know that if we repent (turn our lives around) there is forgiveness and mercy and eternal life.

This is why we praise God. His love, forgiveness and redemption are revealed to us in Christ. We are blessed in Christ and we praise God for that blessing.       

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The example of St. Peter


Sunday 27th June – Commemorates St. Peter

Ezekiel 3: 22-27. The resonance with St. Peter is I think the similarity to Peter being unable to speak up and denying even knowing Jesus when Jesus was arrested (as well as the incident from Acts 12 which is our second reading today) yet subsequently becoming a vocal and articulate preacher of God’s truth at Pentecost and other occasions enabled by God’s Spirit.   

Acts 12:1-11. A story of an angel helping Peter to escape Herod’s clutches. An angel is a messenger from God doing God’s bidding or delivering a message from God. Understood literally this would be a marvellous act of God, understood more metaphorically a message that God is on the side of Christ’s disciples against all that would try and hinder the spread of the gospel.

Matthew 16: 13-19. The famous incident when St. Peter accurately proclaimed the truth that Jesus was “the Christ” (anointed one or Messiah). Jesus knew that this truth was revealed to Peter directly via the Holy Spirit and told him so. Peter is known as the rock on which the church will be built though whether it is Peter personally or more generally “faith in Christ” that is the rock on which the church will be built can be argued either way.


Having St. Peter as your patron is quite a boon because he was “very human” had lots of flaws, got things wrong sometimes and could be difficult (coming into conflict with St. Paul at one time)famously denied Christ at one time but despite all of that came good in the end.

It was Peter that accurately proclaimed Jesus was the “Messiah” or Christ that Israel had been waiting for.

It was Peter who was the spokesman for the fledgling Christian community at Pentecost.

It was Peter who walked on the water, let his gaze slip, and started to sink, and had to be rescued by the strong arm of Jesus.

And perhaps it is this last example that chimes with me most when thinking about the Raleigh Mission Community and today St. Peter’s in particular, aswe are named in his honour.

All the while Peter keeps his eyes fixed firmly on Jesus he could walk on water.

But he was distracted and battered by a boisterous wind as the king James Bible puts it and he took his eyes of Jesus, became frightened and started to sink.

It was then that Peter cried out to Jesus to save him and Jesus stretched out his arm and helped him into the boat.

If we imagine ourselves as St. Peter who has been battered by a boisterous wind and may have had our faith knocked, to save ourselves we need to cry out to Jesus to save us and he will stretch out his arm to us to lead us to safety.

Seeking Jesus’ help is the only way to steady ourselves and our church when we have been rocked.

Look around you at the people sitting to your left and your right, in front of you and behind you.

We are Christ’s body on earth so pray for this church for our well-being and flourishing.

Keep the people around you on your heart as you come to receive Jesus in communion.

Pray to God to inspire and guide us by his Spirit through the choppy waters and reveal to us our direction.

We are a praying church. We pray to God spiritually and physically communicate with him as our central act of worship which are both ways of cementing our relationship with Him and just as importantly with each other.

It is together as a united church that we express the will of God.

United in Christ under the patronage and example of St. Peter we are able to present a united, happy and flourishing body of Christ to the world.

Pray for the ways means and ideas of how to successfully present Christ to our community and to be able to identify and meet its needs in ways that are particular to us.

God won’t ask us to do anything that is beyond us, but we must ask in Spirit and truth for direction to steer this boat in the direction or directions that God has identified in his wisdom.

As I have said before, this is not my church, neither is it your church, it is God’s church to do with and direct as he sees fit.



Monday, 21 June 2021

Calming the storm


Sunday June 20th – Trinity 3 – Proper 7

Job 38: 1-11. Is there no point to the human quest for knowledge? The point of chapters 38 to 41 is to state that humans are not able to see things from God’s standpoint. We couldn’t make any sense of reality even if we could. The quest for knowledge and for answers to the most perplexing questions of human existence must never be discouraged but our intellects are tiny when measured against an infinite universe and God deals compassionately with humanity despite our inhumanity to each other.

2 Corinthians 6:1-13. We are working together with Christ to bring the salvation of the world wrought by God in Christ, so we are ministers of that good news. Our work is part and parcel of the saving revelation in Christ – co-workers in fact. Paul describes the ups and downs of that ministry – the truth of it in God’s eyes and the slanders that come our way. The power of the gospel is from God but its credibility owes much to its ministers.

Mark 4: 35-41. Jesus shares our predicament amidst the storms of life, but this parable tells us that Jesus can do something about them as well. That Jesus was sleeping presents us with a picture of someone at total peace, even in the face of a storm. The parable offers us not simply a strategy for coping but the promise of salvation.



It is a truth that we no control over what happens to us – good or bad – but we do have a choice over how we react to things.

The most powerful book I have ever read that makes that so apparent is a book by the psychologist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl. I’ll read from the very end of the book about how the prisoners behaved towards each other.

“In the concentration camps, in this living laboratory we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine and others like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself. Which one is actualised depends on decisions not on conditions.

Our generation is realistic for we have come to know man as he really is. Man is that being that invented the gas chambers at Auschwitz, but he is also that being that entered the gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s prayer or the Shema Israel on his lips."

That, for me is a 20th century re-telling of the stilling of the storm. The storm of the gas chambers couldn’t ever have been envisioned by Jesus, but he fully understood mankind so he understood the potential for those and a million other storms in our lives.

He knew our need to see and know a greater reality, a greater love and acceptance, that could absorb and transcend such horror.

That is the message of the cross and resurrection. That horror was absorbed and turned to joy.

We can choose what to do in the face of the storms of life.

We can let them overwhelm us and we end up fearful and drowning, alone in a cold uncaring universe, victims of chance and circumstance or we can choose to have faith that there is someone there, who understands, a friend who loves us, who has felt what we are feeling, and can lift us out of the storm.

Someone who is at one with God and can ultimately lead us to safety. This is the power of the gospel.

Those of us who share this faith can choose to share that with others and by doing so we can be Christ to others.

It is within our gift to be that helping hand, the steadying support, the bringer of the comforting word, a protector.

We are in that case working in co-operation with Christ as his co-worker. Christian means I suppose a little Christ.

You do hear people saying, usually clerics like me, talking about doing God’s work but every Christian that is kind and shows concern, either material or spiritual for their fellow man and woman is doing God’s work.

Bringing in the kingdom in our own small, humble but very important way. Paul calls it being Christ’s body here on earth.



Monday, 17 May 2021

Happy to be religious


Sunday 16th May – Easter 7

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. The idea behind choosing two candidates and then casting lots was to give the casting vote to God in who would lead the new community. Though we never hear of Matthias again, his role is probably symbolic – twelve reflecting the twelve tribes of Israel so stressing the continuity of the church with ancient Israel.

1John 5: 9-13. A simple message with enormous implications. “Life” is in Jesus.  God raised him to eternal life and believing this we inherit eternal life by believing in his “name”. Jesus Christ – Joshua Messiah - God is salvation, the anointed one.

John 17: 6-19. The prayer “that they may be one” is used by ecumenists to push for reunification of the churches but is surely a forlorn task in the world where there are thousands of different denominations. And we must remember that this cause would not have been in the mind of the person that wrote it. He had in mind spiritual union between believers and God. I suppose he would have taken for granted that ecclesial unity was a forgone conclusion and would inevitably flow from that prior union. But of course, it hasn’t and you might argue that this was inevitable because of human failings, but nevertheless the notion of spiritual union – gets much better traction in Eastern Christianity where it is the explicit goal of human life – union with God – also called theosis. 


A common position for people to take nowadays is to say they are “spiritual but not religious”

What this means in practice is that they are attracted to some concepts culled from such diverse beliefs as Buddhism, Hinduism, paganism, new age, or perhaps Christianity in a pick and mix kind of way but don’t subscribe to any particular religious faith.

This handily doesn’t bind them to any particular ethical standards of behaviour or moral codes and they don’t need to involve themselves with any community. They have beliefs that make no demands on them at all while giving themselves an airy mystical glow.

But I am unashamedly religious.

The root of the word religion is mostly understood as meaning to “bind together” which I understand as meaning you have a unified world-view held together with common morals and values together with the need to relate to each other in all our intrinsic God-given differences.

So I have no qualms about describing myself as both religious and spiritual, because the two are two sides of the same coin.

I am indebted to the Bishop of Oxford John Pritchard who I knew years ago when he was the Archdeacon of Canterbury (incidentally , if you want someone to blame, it was John who encouraged me to seek ordination in the first place) who writes engagingly about how we live faithfully as Christians and our starting point is when we try and get our heads around being in union with God.

Because whatever we do in our everyday Christian life depends on that fundamental relationship with God which in Christianity is three persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit. They are as the Eastern church describes it as a divine eternal dance and when we come into that relationship with God we enter that dance.

Clumsily, and not knowing the tune or the steps at first, but as in any dancing you learn through practicing the steps over and over again.

It starts with being fascinated by God who we have learned to call Father. God cannot be smaller than infinity. God imagined the universe into being and sustains it by his thought. This is God beyond creation who nevertheless invites creation to join in the dance of Love for love’s sake. Our vision of God is enlarged by scientists, enriched by artists and deepened by theologians.

We then become friends of Jesus Christ, in the way described recently in John 15. We inherit that privilege of intimacy in ways described variously as being “in Christ” or “knowing Christ” or “receiving Christ” or Christ living in the believer

As present day believers in Christ John says that we are just as much like the keystone cops as the first disciple’s were, running around without much clue but if we keep an eye on what our best of friends was doing we may become a little less erratic.

That leaves the Holy Spirit. Pray daily that you will be full of the Holy Spirit so you can live in God’s world with God’s help. A punctured football can’t bounce, or if it has a slow leak – which we all do. But an inflated ball will bounce high and be fit for purpose.

We can’t live a Christian life in our own strength. We need to face God and draw on his limitless life.

We need to have our lives turned towards God as our consistent point of reference. Living as a Christian is this world we need to remind ourselves of the presence of God without being unduly pious. Just looking in the direction of God for just a moment before we make decisions puts things in perspective, reminds us who we are and who we serve and allows God’s Grace to work through us.

Having our lives turned towards God begats an attitude of life and disposition of the heart that turns our life around until it become just “who we are”.


Monday, 10 May 2021

A friend of God


Sunday 9th May – Easter 6

Acts 10: 44-48. The very start of the Christian story charts the fact that Jews and gentiles were entirely equal in the new church, that God showed no partiality. This must have been so attractive for the “God-fearers”, gentiles who were attracted to Judaism but were hitherto always on the outside looking in. The building blocks of the new community of equals were being put in place.

1 John 5: 1-6. Whoever is born of God “conquers the world” in this passage. What does this mean? To me this means that the world, and everything in it is intimately connected to God, is not our enemy and we can commune with God through the stuff of ordinary life. “Water and the blood” are indicative of the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus, incorporation and identification with humanity followed by his sacrifice on behalf of humanity, mirrored in the church’s rites of Baptism and Eucharist.

John 15: 9-17. Friendship was given much greater importance in the ancient world that it seems to receives today. Being a friend of Jesus is a radical thing because friendship is based on having an equal relationship – not as a master and slave or teacher and pupil. Friends have no secrets from each other and shares everything he has with his friends even his privileged access to God.


Saying you are a friend of God or a friend of Jesus is a truly radical thing because as Jesus himself explains to his disciples, friendship is a relationship of equals. Not like a master and slave – that isn’t a relationship of equals – but friendship is a special thing that was previously bestowed on few people in the Bible. One of the most notable was of course Abraham.

I have been lucky enough to visit the tomb of Abraham in Hebron in the Holy Land and over it the building is both a mosque and a synagogue. The mosque is named after Abraham and is called the Haram El-Khalil – the mosque of the friend of God.

Think about the qualities of true friendship. A relationship of equals, not based on any notion of gain or exploitation. You enjoy their company just for who they actually are, not for what you can get from them. You don’t have to hide any secrets from them. They don’t mind sharing things with you. They want the very best for you and are not in competition so that they rejoice and celebrate with you when you do well and love greatly.

With that picture of true friendship, now read verses 13 to 15 again and imagine Jesus is saying them to you directly because Christianity really starts to transform a person when it becomes personal.

13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[a] any longer, because the servant[b] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

What do we have to do to be recognised as a friend of God? Jesus makes that plain.

“Love one another as I have loved you”

Now as Nat King Cole once beautifully sung – “Love is a many splendored thing” it has so many facets and is rich and multi-layered.

Think of the lovely hymn to love Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 13 and we need to look no further than John’s gospel itself to have it made plain that in plain terms – God is Love.

And yes, love can be expressed carnally as well as the Song of Songs makes clear but can’t be reduced to being just that.

Love is also service and self-sacrifice – not particularly sexy at all but absolutely necessary and meets us at the point of need.

Love is profligate, audacious, forgiving and gives us a status in God’s universe as a child of God.

And who doesn’t love their children? Happy is any parent whose children grow up to also become their friends.

This is the privileged position that anyone holds who tries to love as God loves us all.

Becoming a friend of God through his Son Jesus Christ we enter a divine dance with our creator. Keep close to God as we have heard in our gospel reading last week about the vine and the branches. Commune with God often, talk to each other often in private and corporate prayer so you keep that relationship open, and fruitful.

What you gain is a new kind of security, not based on what other people may think about you, but what the king of kings thinks about you.

You are loved, go and love likewise. 


Tuesday, 4 May 2021

I am the true Vine


Sunday 2nd May – Easter 5

Acts 8:26-40. Luke had already stated (1 verse 8) that Jesus promised that the disciples would be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and “the ends of the earth”. The Ethiopian eunuch is exotic enough to represent the ends of the earth to Luke’s readers. Here we also have Isaiah 53 quoted and applied to Jesus and the baptism and gift of the Spirit is affirmed.  The “Ethiopian” was on his way to Jerusalem to worship and was reading Isaiah so was he Jewish or at least a God-fearer? We’ll never know and the fact that he is a eunuch, so not acceptable to Jews in religious worship is made nothing of in this story which may be another sign of Christianity breaking through Jewish cultic barriers.

1John 4:7-21. This is a sublime and liberating doctrine equating God with love and provides a theological underpinning of Paul’s hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13. There exists a gritty subtext of course that this love was not due to those who had split away from the main church this letter is addressed to. Those who had “gone out” from the community in chapter 2: 19. Notwithstanding this contextual point, it remains an inspiring piece of writing.

John 15: 1-8. Another of the “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel that emphasises our reliance on God and which simultaneously presents Jesus as the image of God. So far so good and comforting, but there is a sterner side to this parable. Vines grow slowly, typically taking three years to bear fruit and in the meantime careful tending and pruning were needed.  Jesus himself was subject to the same process he says so we are not above it. Happily, in Greek the word for pruning also means cleansing, so instead of being simply lopped off and thrown into the fire, that leaves open the path of cleansing by baptism and then repentance and ultimate forgiveness.


In John’s first letter we have a sublime piece of writing that equates God with Love. In the Acts reading we have someone wanting to be baptised into that Love.

And in the gospel reading we have a story about people growing in that love to better reflect God’s light and love.

So it is a story of being inspired by and attracted to God.

Then Demonstrating that we want to be incorporated into that love signified by Baptism.

And then instruction on how to live and grow in the faith into which we have been baptised.

I will assume that everyone is here of their own free will so you are attracted by God. I will also assume that almost everyone has been baptised, so the real lesson today is about how to grow in our faith.

In the “I am the true vine” saying we have that lovely conflation of Jesus as God incarnate so the words, while being the words of Jesus are actually also the words of the Father. This is made clear in John 17 when Jesus says that “I and the Father are one”.

We can stay close to the Father by staying close to the son. We drink from the well of the Spirit that proceeds from the Father that keeps us close to the Son.

We keep close through Private and public prayer, good works, engaging with the Spirit through study of scripture, and communing with God in the public act of Holy Communion.

Through those practices you are abiding in Christ and through those practices you will bear fruit.

I’ve said before that was a point of difference with my training vicar many years ago when he said to me that all you are asked to do by Christ is remain faithful. But I always maintained that keeping the faith wasn’t the desired end product. You are expected to bear fruit. That is the goal of the Christian life.

And in case we need a prompt, Paul kindly lists some fruit of the Spirit in Galatians and they are,

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

These are how Jesus recognises his followers because as Jesus said “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16) not by their appearance or their claims but by their fruit.

Admittedly that can also be a bit scary as well because so many of us are prone to introspection and are quite self-depreciating so we’ll often beat ourselves up by telling ourselves that I am not growing in love or joy or self-control or whatever but if we are asking the question of ourselves we are at least acknowledging the demands of Christ and their authority and if we can recognise where we are found wanting, we fall back on the repentance and forgiveness of God which is plentiful.

We worship and commune often with a great and good God who wills our salvation.

He will never give up on us so let’s not give up on ourselves.  Trust in God’s prior acceptance of you through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and stand on that firm rock. Then keep as close as possible through prayer and worship and good deeds and you will grow into the person you were created to be.