Category Archives: Sermon

Sermon by Graeme Hay 8th September 2019

Notes from the sermon by Graeme Hay 8th September 2019

Creation Season part 2:Air

Readings:
Psalm 139:13-16
John 20:19-22

Creation: Fearfully and wonderfully made Air and Breathe

Today is the second in our four-part series on Creation: Fearfully and wonderfully made and I am considering Air, or more particularly Breathe. We’ll look briefly at what and why we need air and breath but I want us then to consider God’s breath and Spirit and how or if we need that.

What is Air? I can’t see it, touch or feel it, but I know it’s all around me and without Air I would die. Technically it is made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide and about 0.03% other gases. Air’s value to us is that we need to breathe it in order to live. When we breathe our diaphragm lowers, our chest cavity expands and our lungs take in air: but our bodies only really need the oxygen which is absorbed into our blood, and carbon dioxide is expelled when we breathe out. Breathing is a reflex action which our bodies perform naturally and without us having to think about or tell our brain to do. But we can override the system and actively manage our breathing.

For example let us all (who can or would like to take part) see who can hold their breath the longest: i.e. who has the biggest breathe! When I say so I’d like you to stand then take a deep breath and hold it for as long as possible: when you can’t hold your breath any longer please sit down (i.e. don’t collapse) and the last person standing, literally will have the biggest breathe.

Now let’s have a go at slowing our breath to reduce our breathing rate. This time we’ll take a big breath and exhale it as slowly as possible: it may help to gently whistle as you exhale or to imagine you have an eyelash on the end of your finger and you’re trying to blow it off.

Now another aspect of Air is Wind. You cannot actually see ‘Wind’ but you can certainly see its effect and outcome. When I was preparing this talk the sun was shining and I thought it would be lovely to sit on my balcony and enjoy the sun’s warmth. But it was windy and as soon as I sat down my papers and books where blowing around out of my control and I had to go back inside. More dramatically did you see the pictures of the effect of hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas this week?

The Bible sometimes uses the image that God’s Spirit is like breath or wind in order to help us understand some aspects of what God is like, how God works, who God is.

“Ruach” is the Hebrew word the Jewish Bible uses for ‘wind’ or ‘breath’. It is not just the actual physical thing but more significantly the POWER encountered in the breath or wind: this power is seen as motion and action or the ability to set other things into action. “Ruach” is used to describe the power of God’s action in the world: so the power of God in creation in Genesis as ‘God moved over the face of the waters’; or the power of God at specific times such as in Luke when the angel Gabriel visited Mary ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most high will overshadow you’.

In the biblical account of creation ( which I believe is meant to give spiritual meaning and not be a literal record) in Genesis 2v7 we read “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being”.  God the Creator is our source and the sustaining power of our world and lives.

I was able to be present when each of my parents at different times in hospitals took their last breath and died. On each occasion their medical care was superb, but their bodies were worn out and I was alongside them as their physical strength failed, their breathing slowed, then stopped. Their physical bodies were still and their souls were at rest.  

I was also privileged to be at the births of both my children: when the babies emerged into the world and took their first gasping breaths and amazingly their bodies started moving and each of their fabulous lives truly started.

The idea of God breathing creation into being is recorded more poetically in Psalm 33v6 “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of God’s mouth.”  The psalm continues to suggest our rightful response to God’s power, verse 8 “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the people of the world revere God.”

In the more philosophical narrative of Job , when Job has been beset by horrendous calamities, in reply to his friend Zophar’s explanation of why these events occurred, Job himself is able to offer an understanding Job 12v10 “In God’s hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all humankind.” Whether in good times or bad times God gives us breath and we can see our lives as ‘being in God’s hand’ not necessarily to prevent harm happening but surely to be with us in our difficulties and offering support and comfort.

We are given a different image of God breathing life into worn, dried-out bones in Ezekiel’s prophecy of the valley of dry bones. In the prophecy Ezekiel was shown a valley which was covered with dry lifeless bones and asked if the bones could be made to live. Ezekiel 37v5-6 “This is what the Sovereign LORD says ( to the dried-out bones): I will make breath enter you and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

We are given a reason why God has created us, his amazing people, called to follow the way of Jesus, in Isaiah’s prophecy and the well-known passage about the Suffering Servant, which we take to be a foretelling of the life and ministry of Jesus. Isaiah42v1 “Here is my servant whom I uphold, I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations….He will not shout or cry out…A bruised reed he will not break…He will not falter or be discouraged til he establish justice on earth.” Isaiah42v5-6 continues “This is what God the LORD says-God who created the heavens who gives breathe to its people… I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness: I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those that sit in darkness.”  Notice that in these few verses we see reference to God the Spirit being both a presence (upon the Servant) and an enabling force (upon the people).

So what is different about breathing air (which everyone does) and receiving God’s breath or Spirit? Is this something I can do? Is it reserved only for ‘special people’? Is it real and for now?

In John’s gospel Nicodemus, a religious man who knew the ancient Hebrew texts and was following God’s rules, came to Jesus questioning the new things God was doing through Jesus and what this new kingdom Jesus was showing was about. In reply Jesus said John3v8-16 (parts) “The Spirit gives birth to spirit…You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit…For God so loved the world that God gave the one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God doesn’t force people to receive his Spirit we need to choose to open our lives and let God work in our lives so that by the breath of God’s Spirit we grow in God’s grace.

This leads us nicely to today’s gospel reading. We are right at the point of Jesus resurrection, the stunned disciples, still in fear of their lives, are cowering in an upper room and the risen Jesus is with them . Overjoyed with his presence Jesus shares his peace with them and then empowers them with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit; John20v21 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. With that Jesus breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” God offers us a new, special presence to help us live more loving caring lives as we follow the example of Jesus life; to grow in God’s peace and share our experience with others.

What is Air? I can’t see it, touch or feel it, but I know it’s all around me and without Air I would die. Now another aspect of Air is Wind. You cannot actually see ‘Wind’ but you can certainly see its effect and outcome. So it is with God’s Spirit or breath. We can’t see it, we can’t usually feel it physically, but wow as a Christian do I need God’s Spirit or presence with me to help me to live as I’d like to.

AS Jesus promised to his disciples in that upper room after his resurrection, we are able to receive the Holy Spirit, and we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to live loving, caring lives and to share the Good News of God’s continuing presence that is still with us today with others around us.

Not just so we here at church can be blessed, but so that others near us and around us can be blessed too. Remember the promise from Isaiah’s prophecy? “… I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness: I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those that sit in darkness.”

As we receive God’s Holy Spirit we should expect to develop and demonstrate some of God’s good qualities in our lives. In the Bible some of those qualities are described as “fruits of the Spirit”. Do you remember Heston’s challenge to Kid’s Church last week? Can anyone tell me some or all of those fruits? Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Wow would I like more of those qualities in my life!

So we’ve had a whirlwind tour through the Bible and looked at various images describing God’s action in creating and empowering by the Spirit’s breath: in Genesis breathing new life into being; in Job giving breath and holding us in his hand; in Ezekiel breathing and giving new life to old dried-out bones; in Isaiah Spirit anointing and empowering; and in John’s gospel Spirit giving us new life to receive a spiritual birth and the resurrection Spirit breathing life into us to share Jesus Good News  with others.

We probably spend most of our days (and nearly all of our nights) not being aware or controlling our breathing. It’s regular, natural and normal. But there are times (maybe under pressure or stress) when we are very aware of our breath and the air we need. Eg as we’re gasping for breath after we’ve walked upstairs, or run for a bus: or when we’re anxious and tell ourselves “BREATHE”.

If you’re like me you probably spend most of your time unaware of God beside us in our daily lives, alongside us in the nitty gritty of daily routine. But we might remember to send up an arrow prayer for help when a friend asks, or when we face a difficult situation. When we take time to read God’s word, the Bible, and when we come to church to share in communion and fellowship with others we soak in God’s presenceand breathe more deeply of the Spirit among us.

As I close we are going to spend a short time together with an opportunity to actively manage our breathing and invite God, by the Holy Spirit to be among us and enable us to rest in God’s presence and receive again from the Holy Spirit. We’ll be quiet in prayer as I will simply ask God to grace us with his presence.

Let us pray. As we pray allow God by the Spirit to come and grace us with gifts of the Spirit.

Holy Spirit breathe LOVE on us, take away dislike and scorn.

Holy Spirit breathe JOY on us, take away despair and sorrow.

Holy Spirit breathe PEACE on us, take away conflict and strife.

Holy Spirit breathe PATIENCE on us, take away irritation and exasperation.

Holy Spirit breath GOODNESS on us, take away badness and corruption.

Holy Spirit breathe KINDNESS on us, take away cruelty and cold-heartedness.

Holy Spirit breathe FAITHFULNESS on us, take away deceit and hypocrisy.

Holy Spirit breathe GENTLENESS on us, take away harshness and anger.

Holy Spirit breathe SELF-CONTROL on us, take away thoughtlessness and rashness.

Holy Spirit as we rest in your presence grace us with your gifts.

Pause for time to rest and receive from Holy Spirit.

AMEN

 

Sermon by Toby Parsons 1st September 2019

Notes from the sermon by Toby Parsons 1st September 2019

Creation Season (Earth)

Readings:
Psalm 139:13-16
Luke 8:22-25

Can I invite you to close your eyes, and to start forming a picture in your mind of somewhere on this earth that you find beautiful?
It might be the rugged coast of Northumberland, with long windswept beaches and an endless sea.
It might be a gentle piece of nature much nearer to home – a corner of your garden, or an open park, where you can sit and just be.
Or it might be right within the bustle of Leeds itself – or a panorama of skyscrapers in a megacity; beauty in busy-ness.
You may or may not have been there; perhaps you’ve only seen pictures.
And as you hold that image in your mind, try to see some of the detail – maybe the birds and insects that move along that windswept coast, or the ornate decoration on one of the buildings in the background. [brief pause]
If you can just hold that image in the back of your mind, we’ll return to it in a few minutes.

So, this is the start of Creation Season at All Hallows. Over the next month we’ll particularly celebrate God as Creator – the fountain of life, to use the words from the start of our Creation Season liturgy. Over four weeks, we’ll focus in turn on earth, air, water and fire as the themes for our sermons.
So today, we’re thinking about the earth – although apologies in advance for straying a little from that theme! But the earth… the incredible place God has created for us, and to which we are so fundamentally connected. One of the Hebrew words for ground or earth which is used in the book of Gensis is Adamah. The link to Adam as one of the first humans in the creation story reinforces that connection between humankind, Adam, and the earth, Adamah. We originated from the earth, and in a physical sense we’ll return to it – “dust to dust, ashes to ashes”, as we hear at funeral services.

We heard a version of the first chapter of Genesis at the start of our service today, and many will know the biblical creation story very well. Whilst most Christians today are comfortable with not taking it literally, there are many points we could draw out. We could look at the fact that God created humans last, not first. Or we could focus on the example of resting and reviewing work well done, as God did multiple times. But for now, I just wonder why it took seven days?
God didn’t rest at the end of each day because of tiredness. There wasn’t that Friday-feeling of “thank goodness it’s all over for another week”, or an exhausted flomp on the sofa. God wasn’t tired.
And it’s not that God couldn’t have summoned everything into being in one go. Creation could indeed have been described in the bible as a big bang: an explosion of God’s creative power.
Amazing. Immediate.
But instead we have a six stage journey – seven, if you include the day of rest. And perhaps we should take from that a suggestion, a reminder, that creation isn’t a single event that happens and finishes.
Later on in our service today, we’ll be invited to join in saying the affirmation of faith(1) together. The opening line of the version we use during Creation Season is “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”. At other times of the year, our liturgy uses the phrase “We believe in God, who has created and is creating”. It’s an on-going process, not a one-off event.
As individuals, we‘ve been created – individually and specially, not accidentally. Just as the earth is the sum of so many different parts, we are each a unique combination of our skills, our personalities, our experiences. If we call to mind again that image of somewhere in the world we find beautiful, it will surely have many parts to it. Even if it’s a mighty river, it’s perhaps got a
backdrop of clear blue sky, or lush vegetation on the banks. And that’s before we get to the subtle detail – the swirling eddies, the shadows, the reflection of the sun. Whatever our image, it will be made complete by many different things, and removing one of them – even the supposed least; even the most painful, if we think now of the experiences that form us – will diminish the whole.
And so, we are individually made; our completeness being in our complexity. And to hear again the opening words of the affirmation of faith, “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”.
If creation is a journey, a process that doesn’t stop; if we believe that God does indeed renew all things; then we haven’t just been created, but we – and the whole of humankind – are continually being re-created, renewed.
Let’s go back again to the image in our minds – the place that you find beautiful. Maybe close your eyes again, if that’s helpful. And now try to picture it if we gradually turned back time: a day; a year; a decade; a century; or right back to Jesus’s time. Depending on your image, it might be very obviously different when you get to the Victorian era, the middle ages, the time of Christ. Certainly any stamp of human activity will have changed. But it may initially feel much the same – hills or coastline would still be there. They would change, however – beaches vary with both the daily tide and the effect of the currents over the years; even rivers change their course… if my vague memories of secondary school geography are correct, a river’s course meanders in curves, which can then separate to form distinct ox-bow lakes. This leads to a part of the river that had been a swirling churning current becoming a still, calm lake. And then later in time, it perhaps rejoins the main river.
Some of the changes we see in our world are accelerated at the moment by human actions, through climate change and the abuse of our environment. Some changes will naturally happen anyhow. Whatever the cause, creation is an on-going process.
So what does that mean for each of us?

I wonder if, for most people, life is a mixture of regular, routine, repeated experiences, and the specific events that stand out much more. We might have that combination of nerves, excitement and refreshed interest when we start a new school, begin a different job, or commit to a new relationship. We don’t know at that point exactly how those steps will shape our lives in the future, although we may have a plan as to how we see things developing. But we can’t be sure what will happen, even if we do know that these are moments of creation, of new opportunity.
Some of these events won’t be positive. There are times when our individual world will be turned upside down; when an unwanted intrusion of grief, anger or hurt punctures our routine of life. Sometimes that will be in ways everyone else can see; at other times it may be much more hidden. Sometimes we’ll wonder why this should have happened to us; at other times we might devalue the pain we feel because of all the headlines of suffering we see in the world.
These events, and the potentially long and slow journey of healing that follows the most painful ones, are important moments in our very own creation story; our journey of renewal.
So where does that journey lead? If we turn back to the bible – and resist the temptation for our fingers to flick to Genesis at the mention of creation! – we can see in the gospels how Jesus himself embodied those concepts of creation and renewal.
We can read the practical accounts (which, unusually, are found in all four gospels) of Jesus creating meals for thousands from a few loaves and fishes. We can see in many emotionally charged verses that he created excitement and fervour in the crowds. Conversely we read of Jesus calming the storm in Luke 8 – creating physical stillness and removing the disciples’ fear. And Jesus created peace around many who were troubled – think of John 8, verse 9, when Jesus is left alone with the woman caught in adultery, after her accusers have withdrawn one by one following
Jesus’s challenge to throw the first stone. John may not have said it, but you can imagine the stillness, the relief, but also the remaining pain, with Jesus waiting quietly for the woman to digest what’s just happened.
Jesus creates, in so many different ways. But even he is also renewed by God throughout his earthly life. He comes to his active ministry over time; he gradually teaches his disciples; he struggles in the garden of Gethsemane with the knowledge of his coming death (Mark 14, from verse 32). And then comes the cross, the moment when it might all have stopped; the ultimate test of destruction versus the on-going power of creation.

There are many fantastic Easter hymns, resurrection hymns, that abound with joy and promise, and I love that rejoicing on Easter Sunday. But some of the words can feel so triumphalist, so certain of victory, that they don’t always match our life experiences throughout the year.
But the middle lines of Thine Be The Glory say “Lo! Jesus meets us, Risen from the tomb; Lovingly He greets us, Scatters fear and gloom”. Again, we have the present tense – meets us, greets us, scatters fear… not once, I’d suggest, but many times throughout our lives, as part of that process of creation, re-creation, renewal. And the meeting doesn’t have to be at those massive moments, but in the routine times too – Jesus rises to greet us each and every day. And whilst the now scattered gloom probably does reform at another point in our life, Jesus will again offer to meet us there, creating and renewing.
Our affirmation of faith today starts “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”. It concludes “We believe that with Jesus Christ we too will rise and take our place in a new creation, reconciled, restored, and renewed”. There may be a long and often painful journey before we reach that final statement, but each step – whether big or small; whether forwards, backwards or sideways; however painful – is part of our own creation story, which God writes with us, in love.

1 Affirmation of faith in Creation Season
We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love. We believe Earth is a sacred place filled with God’s presence, a home for all its creatures to share. We believe that God became a man of Earth, Jesus Christ, who lived and breathed among us, suffered and died on a cross, for all human beings and for all creation, and rose again to fill all things. We believe the Spirit renews life in the world, groans together with every suffering creature, and waits with us for the whole universe to be reborn. We believe that with Jesus Christ we too will rise and take our place in a new creation, reconciled, restored, and renewed.

Sermon by Rev Angela Birkin 25 August 2019

Notes from the sermon/meditation by Rev Angela Birkin on 25 August 2019

Luke 13:10-17

The woman who was bent over.
The last eighteen years had been hard, very hard for me.
I was only a young woman, little more than a girl really, when I began to suffer back pains and stiffness. It became more and more difficult to straighten my back until I could not straighten it even a little.
Eighteen years of being bent over, unable to see the sky, unable to see the road ahead or the faces of people, seeing only dusty feet and shadows.
I was unmarriageable of course, so a burden on my family, my parents first and then my brother. They were kind to me and of some importance in my village so people mostly treated me with kindness, or at least tolerated me, although a few did mutter that I or my parents must have sinned for me to be so afflicted. I knew that wasn’t so. We are no worse nor better than most other people in my village.
I was treated best by the children of the village who thought of me as a playmate. I was happy to play with them as I could do little else, and they accepted me, showed me the beauty of wildflowers and pebbles, and described birds and clouds and stars in the sky which I could not see.
It was a child who took me by the hand to the synagogue. I went every sabbath, but I particularly wanted to go this sabbath because Jesus of Nazareth was teaching in the synagogue. It made me chuckle that he came from Nazareth, as my father was born there and when my mother was annoyed with him, which was often, she would repeat the old saying, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Despite the old saying I had heard lots of good things about Jesus, about his teaching and his healings. He was stirring up a lot of interest and opposition particularly from those in authority who were becoming afraid that the Romans, who are occupying our land, will use Jesus as an excuse for further violent oppression of our people.
So, I went to the synagogue to hear Jesus teach and with no expectation of anything else. I am not special, and many people are ill or injured or afflicted in some way. Why should Jesus heal me? How could he heal me after eighteen years?
The child led me to the synagogue, and I went to the area where the women were. Sitting is very difficult, so I remained standing tucked away in a corner, and suddenly I heard a voice which I knew somehow was Jesus’s voice calling me over to him. I hesitated, thinking that I was mistaken, but he called again and the little girl who was with me led me to Jesus.
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment” he said, and then he gently laid his hands on my head and immediately my back felt free and I could stand tall again!
There was a sharp intake of breath from the crowd. I don’t know what shocked them more, that Jesus had healed me on the Sabbath, that Jesus had touched me, a woman, or that I was actually healed!
Then there was uproar, people surrounded Jesus asking to be healed while the leader of the synagogue shouted at the people to go away and come back on another day, not a sabbath, to be healed.
I think he realised how silly he sounded even before Jesus pointed out that animals are led to water on the sabbath and how right it was to free me, to heal me, to save me, on the sabbath.
That sabbath was truly, in the words of Isaiah, “a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable.,” and I could not stop myself praising God using the words of one of my favourite psalms,
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Who forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.
(Psalm 103:1-3,8).
Now I must decide what to do with the rest of my life, this gift which has been given to me by Jesus.
I have spoken with the women who follow Jesus, some of whom, like Mary of Magdala, have also been healed by him. He is going to Jerusalem. It is a dangerous road, and no one knows what will happen there, but they know that Jesus has the words of life, and that where he is the Kingdom of God breaks though.
I think that I will follow Jesus on the way too. I am no longer the woman who was bent over, I am a daughter of Abraham, and I believe that my God is acting in and through Jesus of Nazareth. I am healed. I am saved. I am blessed. I am loved by God. I always was.
That is my story. Now tell me yours.

Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 18 August 2019

Notes from the Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 18 August 2019

Luke 12:49-56
49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Jesus came to bring division to the earth! Which sounds like the LAST thing we need in our times. But let’s compare Jesus with another JC to make some sense of this. From a Facebook wit: If only Corbyn would forget about Palestine, austerity, poverty, inequality, crime, education, public services, housing, workers, the environment, young people and a nuanced Brexit position, and just did exactly whatever Murdoch wants, the press and the BBC might stop demonising him.

In a world where there is any imbalance of power and resources, there will always need to be a challenge to the status quo. Jesus and the Jewish prophets consistently challenged the powers that be, from the margins of power- from the perspective of the marginalised (orphans, widows and refugees). So no surprises that Jesus got into deep trouble, as he offered God’s way of self-giving in challenge to human self-seeking, pride, power and greed. And no surprises that his followers have been getting in trouble with the rich and powerful ever since.

The imagery in this gospel reading is the language of the prophets. Amos uses fire imagery to talk about judgement, and Isaiah to talk about purification. And fires of judgement and purification and justice are a bad thing if you are the 1% but very good news if you are the 99%. We might like to imagine God’s refining fire burning through tax havens and immigration policies and austerity and universal credit.

God’s kingdom is good news for the Margins. Theo Sheridan is going to tell us about Leeds School of Theology’s work equipping Christians for Ministry on the Margins…

A word of affirmation for All Hallows, and the ways you have been prophetic ‘troublemakers’ within the church for many years. It’s funny isn’t it? That you can preach a judgemental and vengeful and angry God and nobody will mind. But you start preaching a God that is too accepting, too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too kind.. and you are in trouble! (Gene Robinson)

We agitate and make trouble because, with Jesus, we are longing for a better world- the kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know; when at some moment of crisis a strength comes to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong, and whether we realise it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it. (Frederick Buechner)

Jesus’ followers, hungering and thirsting for God’s beautiful future, go to extraordinary lengths and inconvenience and sacrifice to bring that dream into reality. And it has always got us into trouble.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hungering and thirsting for God’s kingdom is not a solitary business. We can’t do this alone- and God never meant us to. So who are your heroes of faith? Who (dead or alive) is filling you with faith hope and love? AND who are you sharing faith hope and love with? Colleagues, friends, family, strangers…..

G.K. Chesterton- Jesus promised his disciples three things:
that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble.

How are we ‘reading the signs of our times’ and making the right sorts of trouble?? In our divided nation, can we make space for ‘tell me more’ rather than ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’?? Can we offer our neighbours nuance and something of God’s perspective? Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

We should try to love in such a way, that if the gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us. (Anthony Bloom)

Sermon by the Rev. Tony Whatmough, 11 August 2019

 Notes from the Sermon Preached by Tony Whatmough

Readings

  • Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16
  • Luke 12:32-40

 

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells his followers. “Do not be afraid.”

Easier said than done!

If not fear, then anxiety seems to be characteristic of our age.

And it’s not something that only affects adults. It affects children and teenagers too.

When I go into our church school, Shire Oak, I talk to the teachers and a constant theme of these conversations is fear and anxiety amongst the children:

  • What will happen when they sit their SATS?
  • What will happen if they don’t make their grade?
  • What will happen if they don’t get into the secondary school they want, and will be leaving their mates behind?

And it’s something that affects Catherine and me.

  • What will happen when I retire?
  • Where will we live,
  • Will we have enough to live on?
  • What will I do with all this time on my hands?

I suspect it is something that has affected humanity as long as we’ve been on this earth.

The Bible, and Jesus in particular, repeatedly says, ‘Do not be afraid.’

And what is Jesus’ antidote to this fear?

God will give you the kingdom, so sell all you have and give to the poor.

That also rings bells with us as well!

We look around at our home and see all the stuff we’ve accumulated, and wonder what we are going to do with it all!

My particular problem is the number of books that I’ve acquired. I know very well if I give a book away, I shall want it again next week!

If I read a few verses later on in our gospel reading, I would find again the instruction: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear…Instead, strive for God’s kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.”

Anyone who has had dealings with people who are anxious and afraid, know that to say, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ only makes matters worse.

But that is what Jesus says: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Jesus is not just saying, ‘There, there, don’t be afraid.’

He is giving us a promise: this is not the end, but the beginning.

This is part of God’s plan for you, and the reward is God himself.

And this is where giving away all your possessions comes in.

What Jesus is commending is faith, a faith that gives us a future not based on our own achievements, but based on God himself, which is far more than anxiety about money, the future, and food to eat or shelter from the storms of life.

This is where the letter to the Hebrews comes in.

The writer gives us a wonderful litany of faith, of all those people who had set things aside to journey on with God.

Someone once wrote, that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty, and I think the writer of the letter would agree with that.

As we look back over our lives, I suspect that we can see that to be true.

Nothing ever really works out how we thought it would. Those who have a map of their lives usually end up where they least expect themselves to be.

And that is true of the kingdom of God as well.

Jesus continues to teach us that the Kingdom of God is very different from anything we might imagine, and that must have been so for all the heroes of faith that the letter to the Hebrews describes, Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Samson, David, Samuel and all the rest.

Where they started from and where they ended up are totally different.

But getting back to preparing to move on, strangely to us, Catherine and I have found it easier to get rid of stuff than we first thought.

In fact we wonder why we accumulated all these things in the first place.

Did we collect it out of fear, the fear that one day we might need it?

We’ve noticed that those things we’ve stored away for that reason have very rarely seen the light of day!

It reminds us of another saying of Jesus: “Your Father in Heaven knows what you need.”

And if we take that on board, we can indeed let go of our fear.

Ironically last Tuesday we had a visit from our financial advisor, who incidentally works for a Christian Company, and our lot of our questions were based around fear.

And one of the questions was, where should we invest our money!

According to today’s Gospel, our investment should be in people, not in things:

Store up treasure in heaven.

Get rid of your fear – give to the poor.

Get rid of your need to be in control – let God be in control of your life.

Instead, deposit your treasure into the bank of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 28 July 2019

Notes from the Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 28 July 2019

The UK has a new Prime Minister and government. So it’s a good time to ask – what have the Romans ever done for us?!

Well, there’s the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health… J There is a lot of ambivalence in our scriptures and tradition about ‘Empire’ – or established, centralised power.
Empire can be a force for good- and although the Jewish people started their life as a theocracy, they soon demanded a king, and embraced Empire with all its benefits and prosperity. And this prosperity looks similar in all Empires anytime and anywhere. So accounts of Solomon’s wealth and power read much like Virgil’s rosy poems of Pax Romana life- or indeed like the promises we’ve heard this week about a no-deal-Brexit golden age.

BUT prosperity is usually the view from the corridors of power. And even if the Jewish kings and religious authorities bought into this vision of empire, the Jewish prophets refused to. They consistently called out all this golden-age talk as propaganda- no more than imperial spin. The prophets offered an alternative view of Empire- from the margins- and insisted that from this perspective Empire is BAD. Solomon’s military industrial economy extracted taxes and resources from subsistence farmers and made the elite in the city rich rich rich. And the urban elite consistently denied the voices and rights of anyone who wasn’t rich and powerful. As for ancient Israel, so for modern Britain…?

And so the prophets resist Empire, considering it a power/agency of ‘death’ – in opposition to God’s power which is all about life. And in Colossians we’ll read about God pronouncing a death sentence on death and all its minions.

Colossians 2:6-15

God has a different social agenda- God loves everyone stickers!
God’s kingdom is a kingdom of loving-kindness and social justice. God is not itching to exploit people or stop their benefits or deport them as soon as there’s a chance. Unlike most of the emperors of the ages, God is a loving parent who is longing for good things for ALL her children.

And this vision of God is what the prophets and Jesus lived out, to show what God’s authority looks like in human life- authority to bring about healing and justice and fullness of life. The gospels talk about Jesus having authority to teach, authority to heal illnesses and possessions of all sorts, authority over the weather, authority over demons and the devil, authority over Herod and over Caesar- Matthew 28 says he has all authority in earth and heaven. And then through the gift of the Holy Spirit, he shares that authority with his disciples…

Luke 11:1-13

Go’s approach to power is radically different to Empire’s. But Empire demands full allegiance through its rituals and flags and anthems. Empire can’t really handle opposition- and so the imperial machine inevitably killed the prophets and Jesus. Death is the ultimate power play of the Empire- killing someone is the most extreme display of authority over someone- we say you die and you die.

And so through the eyes of empire, Jesus looks like a failure. A messiah who is crucified can’t save anyone from anything. This power of love is WEAK compared with the military power of empire. BUT here’s the hopeful and extraordinary thing at the heart of our faith- God sees the empire’s power play of death and thumbs his nose at it- trumps it with an even bigger better power play. Jesus’ resurrection is the coolest act of civil disobedience ever- when the empire said die, he refused to submit to their authority and stay dead. Because he has a greater power on his side- God the source of all life and love.

And similarly today through the eyes of empire, the power of LOVE can seem like such a weak, ineffectual thing. But if we choose to see God’s reality through eyes of faith:
There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer, no disease that enough love will not heal, no door that enough love will not open; no gulf that enough love will not bridge; no wall that enough love will not throw down; no sin that enough love will not redeem. If only you could love enough you would be the happiest and most powerful being in the world. (Emmet Fox)

That’s Jesus. And his resurrection is God’s power set loose into the world. The Resurrection is not the resuscitation of a body; it is the beginning of the transfiguration of the world (Patriarch Athenagoras) Life and love are on the rampage- that’s what the Lord’s Prayer is all about (your will be done on earth) and that’s the ultimate power in this universe.

But this gets hidden from us by the Empire’s impressive alternative show. Guns and armies and buildings and ceremonies which wow us and demand our allegiance. And so the prophets invite God’s people to see through all the smoke and mirrors, and with eyes of faith see what REAL power looks like- take a peek into God’s throne room- the command centre of the universe. And what you see there is the throne of heaven and on it a Lamb that has been sacrificed. God doesn’t put ultimate authority into the strongest hands holding the biggest guns- God puts ultimate authority into hands that have scars because they’ve been through pain and suffering and vulnerability.

Empire says look at our guns and our money- vulnerability is a weakness. But God says look at Jesus- vulnerability is a wonderful strength. Because (Joan Chittister) if we need one another, we live looking for good in others, and without that we ourselves can’t survive, won’t grow, cannot become what we have the potential to be. With a crucified human being on the throne of heaven, vulnerability is part of the way God rules the universe. This is what REAL authority looks like.

This is the vision God gives us to see with the eyes of faith- to be captivated by and to shape our lives around. And we Western Anglicans have an interesting position in this whole power dynamic. We live in the midst of empire, and we’re deeply bound up with its power structures and privileges. The Romans have done tons of good stuff for us. But the prophets warn us- don’t be completely seduced by the empire and its comforts! Save your primary allegiance for God and God’s political agenda- peace and justice and GOOD FOR ALL- which is much bigger and bolder and more visionary than even a Labour or Lib Dem or Green Party manifesto. We Christians of the establishment have an opportunity to use the voice and power we DO have to stand with our neighbours who don’t have. Who are hurt by the laws of the land. And sometimes that means challenging the laws of the land (on behalf of asylum-seeking friends) and laws of the church (on behalf of LGBT+ friends) if these laws lead to anything less than fullness of life for all God’s people.

Through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, God has given a death sentence to death and all its minions. But that sentence needs to be put into effect: in Greta Thunberg’s words, Hope is something you have to manifest into the world. And we get to do that- by offering our allegiance and our lives to this God whose power is self-giving love that bursts the chains of despair and isolation and poverty and death. As we stand up to death and its minions, we release resurrection into the world- we release HOPE into a world that is starving for it.

You call us, God
You call us out of a captivity and into freedom
You call us out of despair and apathy
into a vision of another way of living

You call us, Jesus
You call us into hope and friendship
You call us to build your kingdom
You call us to break bread with you and with the hungry

You call us, Holy Spirit
You call us to transformation
You call us to shine into the darkness
You call us into the world to change it
Give us the strength to follow where you call.

Sermon by Toby Parsons 14 July 2019

Notes from the sermon by Toby Parsons 14 July 2019

Reading:
Luke 10, 25-37

In November 1953 Chad Varah, a vicar, writer and cartoonist, answered the first call to a brand new helpline for people contemplating suicide. A month later the Daily Mirror coined the phrase ‘Telephone Good Samaritan’. The name stuck and Samaritans today are probably one of the best known organisations for those needing compassionate, non-judgemental support.
In many legal codes, the concept of a Good Samaritan law exists to give protection to people who help those who are injured or at risk. It aims to remove any reluctance to help a stranger in need for fear of legal consequences.
So the concept of the Good Samaritan is really embedded in our society, well beyond the normal reach of most other parables we read in the Bible. And, even within a Christian setting, it’s a story we probably know very well. We may have heard many sermons about it, and we see in it both a call to show love in action, and a summary, if you like, of the whole gospel story…
We might think of ourselves as the traveller – someone making a difficult journey who, whether through misfortune or recklessness, ends up in desperate need of help. We might thing of the Priest and the Levite as the law, or religious traditions, which confirm our need of a saviour, but which in themselves do nothing to help. And of course we’re likely to see Jesus as the Good Samaritan who sees our need, who rescues us in the moment, who makes a promise to pay for our future care, and who does all of this even though we’ve done nothing to earn that favour.
And we might continue and compare the inn where the victim is taken with the church, for example.
There are so many things in this story that we could think more about. And if we were so minded, we could debate the subtleties and the application even of those comparisons that we’ve just heard.
But I’d like to pick out just a couple of ways in which, for me at least, this passage is affirming and encouraging. And then to think about one of the many challenges it presents.

Three people walked down that road from Jerusalem to Jericho after the man had been attacked. Only one helped. You could picture the modern newspaper headlines – “two thirds of people ignore desperate victim!”. You could imagine the social media comments about how selfish and uncaring most of society is today. And numerically that might be right – two out of three, the majority, didn’t help. But Jesus didn’t focus on the Levite and the priest. He talked in much more detail and at more length about what the Samaritan did do, rather than what the others didn’t.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t matter when need is ignored, when compassion isn’t shown. It definitely does, and there are times and places for challenging such actions, or rather lack of action. But the fact that Jesus doesn’t spend his energy and words condemning the priest and the Levite suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t either. And it reminds us that we have a choice about how we see things, what we comment on, what we’re inspired or frustrated by.
The first of the pictures on the piece of paper under your seat [at the end of the document] is from the cricket world cup. You might well have seen it in the papers or on TV. It’s just after India have beaten Bangladesh to qualify for the semi-finals, but rather than media interviews or celebrating with his team-mates, the Indian captain Virat Kohli has gone to greet 87-year old fan, Charulata Patel. We’re used to hearing about poor behaviour by sports stars, aloof actions by celebrities. And there may well be far more reports about those sorts of things than there are pictures of an old lady beaming as her cricketing hero crouches next to her. And of course this wasn’t rescuing a beaten up traveller on the verge of death. But it was a moment when joy was shared in humility – a form of love, surely.
It can be wearying to read of all that’s wrong in this world – the amount of usable items discarded and wasted each year; the number of people experiencing loneliness; the increasing levels of reported hate crime. Those statistics can, and should, challenge us.
But we can also chose to look at the ways in which love is shown, at the actions which do take place. That’s not to trivialise the hurt and the wrong, but it’s to actively notice the ways in which, through us, God is working in the world. And perhaps that awareness, that openness to seeing the good, can help us to take the opportunities to be the Good Samaritan which are placed in front of us.
One of the affirmations, one of the encouragements, that we can take from the Good Samaritan is that love and compassion can be found, and that Jesus notices and choses to focus on them. The ultimate answer to the lawyer’s question wasn’t about what not to do, who not to be like – it was a positive story about love in an unlikely setting.

So we do need to think about what we do. But one of the other affirmations we get from the parable of the Good Samaritan is that we don’t have to do everything ourselves.
We read of the Samaritan that “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return’.” Now, we don’t know where the Samaritan went that next day – Luke turns to the story of Mary and Martha for the rest of chapter 10. Maybe he was off to a meeting of the Make Jericho Road Safe campaign group. Maybe he was volunteering at a social action project to rehabilitate roadside bandits. But probably he was off on his own business, or visiting friends and family. So he tasked the innkeeper with looking after the traveller. Yes, he promised to meet the costs incurred, so he certainly wasn’t abandoning the man, but he didn’t feel that he had to do everything himself.
I wonder if we sometimes get weighed down by a sense that we have to sort it all out; that we have to finish, individually, everything that we start. Are we reluctant to ask others to help? Do we worry that we’re not committed enough, not good enough, if we say that we just can’t fit everything in?
The person who Jesus holds up in this parable isn’t someone who personally nurses a stranger back to health, either sacrificing their own needs and plans or else showing an impossible capacity for juggling different tasks. The Samaritan shows compassion, and then asks others to help, making use of the resources – in this case, money – with which he’s been blessed.
The middle set of the pictures centres on Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist who began a recurring but initially solitary “School strike for the climate” outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018. That campaign and her call to action drew worldwide attention, and the number of people involved increased hugely – the climate strikes in March this year involved almost 1.5m students from over 100 countries. And, as the other images suggest, different actions may well have been inspired or at least encouraged by Greta’s first solitary protest. The pictures of the famous pink boat from the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, as well as the fossil fuel divestment pledge made in this very space, both show many, many more people taking action.
Of course there are many differences between the two settings and between the outcomes – as far as we know, the
Good Samaritan of Jesus’s story doesn’t end up as the face of a mass movement (although had Facebook existed 2,000 years ago, who knows?!). But the principle is that whilst we do need to do something, we don’t have to do everything ourselves. And sometimes the relatively small, personal “somethings” will lead to more than we can possibly imagine. As Christians, I guess that’s part of the reason why prayer alongside action is so important – to ask the Spirit to work with what we do, and to make so much more of it.

So, in addition to encouraging us to see the good that does happen, this parable reminds us that we don’t have to do everything by ourselves. For me, those are really positive things I can take from the story. But there are also challenges aplenty. And the one that I want to think about briefly is the one that’s obvious, but which perhaps gets diluted because we don’t truly feel the context of the characters in the same way that Jesus’s audience would have done.
The Samaritans and Jews were sworn enemies. Different commentators have likened the tensions to those between protestant and catholics at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, or between street gangs in some American cities. The roots of this hatred stem from the days of King Rehoboam and the division of Israel – we’d need to go right back to the books of Deuteronomy and 1 & 2 Kings to read about it all. But even if we just think of centuries of mutual suspicion, and acts of conflict probably within living memory, we start to get an idea of how hard it would have been for Jesus’ audience to think of “the Good Samaritan”.
The third picture is of Donald Trump shaking hands with Kim Jong-un in the demilitarised zone in North Korea at the end of June. Many people will have a strong reaction against one or both of these leaders. And yes, there are compelling reasons for those concerns. And of course a simple handshake isn’t an act of the same compassion or selflessness that we see in the Good Samaritan. But shortly after this meeting, Pope Francis said in his weekly address in St Peter’s Square “In the last few hours we saw in Korea a good example of the culture of encounter. I salute the protagonists, with a prayer that such a significant gesture will be a further step on the road to peace”. I wonder how easy we’d find it to say the same – not the prayer for peace, which is easy to echo, but the saluting, the affirmation of the individual human beings involved?
In his Lent study book “In God’s hands”, Desmond Tutu writes about seeing each and every person as being a God carrier. It’s a point he’s preached about multiple times, and it’s incredibly simple… and challenging. We all have God in us. We are all God’s stand-ins, whether we acknowledge it or not. And that means not just that we should show love and respect to each other, as if we were speaking with God – but also that that other person has the capacity to do the same, that they can show God to us and to the world.
I suspect we’re all happy to learn about God’s love from the incredible enthusiastic Heston; to acknowledge it in action amongst the committed volunteers who do amazing work in the Rainbow Junktion café; and to be challenged by wise and respected figures such as Desmond Tutu and Pope Francis. But if we do really want to respond to that challenge, and to that of this parable, then do we need to be more open to God being present in everyone, even those we find disagreeable and distasteful? So that we don’t just pray for them in a “please help them to do better” kind of way, but that we accept that they may sometimes be the Good Samaritan?

In a moment, we’ll have a short period of silence. Perhaps we can reflect on the Good Samaritan acts that we do already see around us? Perhaps we can be reassured that we don’t have to do everything ourselves? And perhaps we think of someone, whether in our local community or on the worldwide stage, who we might struggle to see as a as a God-Carrier, as someone with the potential to be a Good Samaritan?

Sermon by Dr Jan Betts 16 June 2019

Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts 16 June 2019

Last week we heard about the roaring flaming energy of the Holy Spirit which came to the disciples so dramatically at Pentecost. It just filled them with life in every way, and they went on to pour their hearts and lives out filled with that amazing energy of love of Jesus come back to them.

Today I want to think about another way in which we spend energy, the darker side, and how that dark side can be baptised in the energy which filled the disciples that day.

Very often the bad things people do are so much more interesting than the good ones, aren’t they. What sells newspapers? Crime and scandal, wars and hate. Michael Gove taking cocaine. Happiness and goodness, peace and reconciliation appear as ‘features’ but not as the main diet.

Two of the things I suspect are attractive about crime and scandal are firstly that it’s something hidden which has come into the light, so there’s a sense of being in the know about something which someone didn’t want you to know about – we may gloat a little and point the finger and feel indignant. The second thing is that we just may think silently that the bad things we do or have done are nothing like as bad as that. Someone else deserves blame more than I do.

I want to explore something of what he had to say about the things we do that we regret and which I grew up thinking of as ‘sins’ but which now I think of as ‘ disorderly places in my life’. It’s very clear that such disorder is a common wound: no one escapes doing something against their neighbour and themselves at some point. Jesus meets the way we put our energy into being disorderly and out of touch with Him head on, and it’s quite sharply challenging.

How did Jesus deal with this? Our tendency to see the minor crime in someone else’s life and not the major crime in our own?

We have two stories to listen to about his reactions to what were seen and felt as sins.

The first is that of the New Testament chap I have a lot of sympathy for because he was short!

His name was Zacchaeus and you may well know the story but let’s hear it again.

READING Luke 19 1-10

This man was a wealthy tax collector, a man who was able to rip people off with out rebuke because he had bought and continued to pay for the right to collect taxes. He was hated, totally unacceptable. This is the equivalent of some of the stories we hear of many oppressors who can do what they like: it’s the stories we are hearing about in Sudan at present and it also reminds me of stories I have heard of some G4S guards in detention centres, able to do what they please without rebuke or redress. There are many more examples of such group brutality. Zacchaeus lives today. He knows he’s hated but the money and the power mostly make up for the hatred and some of the other oppressors will talk to him even if no one else will. Maybe he thinks he’s just smarter than those he rips off too.

So when Jesus comes to town Zacchaeus hauls himself up a tree away from and above everyone else – how symbolic! . He’s curious about Jesus, – I wonder why? Has been having some of those uncomfortable nudges that we so easily ignore saying to him that he really can’t go on like this? Whatever, there he is, at the back, craning his short little neck and clinging on to his branch until Jesus hikes into view.

At which point there is a terrifying moment. He is greeted by name. Maybe Jesus teased him lovingly a bit and paused a moment after he called everyone’s attention to him. Did they hope he would tell him off? Zacchaeus must have been wetting himself, with everyone looking at him. Is he going to be publicly shamed? Then Jesus says he wants to break all the taboos of Jewish society and enter his house and break bread with him. When we meet Jesus and he says ‘I want to come and be with you’ it is a terrifying moment. It’s life changing and that’s why we avoid it. But what an invitation. Jesus is daring people to say that he can’t go to a tax collectors house, that he would defile himself: as on another occasion Jesus is saying let the ones who are totally sinless speak first because I want to meet this man.

Jesus, like the Holy Spirit, works by gentle invitation and encouragement. Jesus is always and always about relationship and his invitation is always to put ourselves in a right relationship with him, to offer him hospitality. Life changing and terrifying but wonderful.

The rest of the story is not inevitable as we know from our own lives. We can hear the invitation but we don’t have to respond. Zacchaeus could have fallen out of his tree and run away or said no I don’t want that I only wanted to see you passing by and I might think about it for tomorrow or the next day ….but he doesn’t. He dances home maybe thinking ‘aha that’s one in the eye for all those snooty Jews’ who think I’m so unacceptable.

But when Jesus has finished with him he gets the message that he is finally acceptable as the person God has made him. The energy of God’s love replaces the energy of self love. He shows this by radiantly saying he will make recompense for the things he has done wrong to others. He realises that he can’t be in a right relationship with God and not do the same with his neighbour. If we meet the challenge of Jesus to have our eyes and ears opened to how we can be in a good relationship with God, then we will also be challenged about having the courage of the consequences.

The disorder in our lives may be hidden but it is never ever private. What we do when out of touch with God affects others in many ways both obvious and subtle. In the roman catholic church the confession begins ‘I confess to you my brothers and sisters..’ We are never alone in our prayers or our sins but always part of the body of Christ in the world. When we listen and respond to the invitation of Jesus, we are not so much redeemed from our sins as restored fully into the body of Christ.

What God wants first last and always is for us to be included in the marvellous work of love which is God as trinity, mother and father, redeeming and restoring brother Jesus and energising and guiding Holy Spirit. What lasts is not our sins but faith hope and love. The trinity encapsulates this, the ever flowing love between the three aspects of God which we are included in. God doesn’t want grovelling, she wants us to be full of life in relationship with her.

Our second reading underlines this.

READING John 21 15-17

Peter had really really screwed up his relationship with Jesus, saying three times at that awful moment when Jesus was on trial, that he had nothing to do with him. How that must have haunted him but how much more does Jesus’ response restore him. The question Jesus asks isn’t ‘Peter are you sorry?’ He asks ‘Do you love me? Do you want to be in a relationship with me? Do you want the faith hope and love in me to be in you and flowing through you to the world too?’ being restored is not about cleaning up our lives but waking up to the invitation which Jesus offers. It’s not about sin management or whether God has enough love to go round for all of us, it’s about getting over our terrible preoccupation with ourselves and focusing on the light and love of God. Jesus says to Peter, ‘’ if you mean that you love me, go feed my sheep because I want you to show others what you know and have received from me.’ That’s the invitation to us as well. Jesus names us as he did Zacchaeus and Peter. Restoration and the consequence of joyfully and often at a human cost, sharing the love of God. Peter was crucified. Many others are dying for their faith in God today.

We live in a fallen world. We make mistakes and we pay for them and so do other people. We make the same mistakes over and over. That’s a matter for sorrow, but Jesus says come to me all who are burdened with the things which get in the way of our relationship, and I will give you rest from them. I once heard someone say that it felt like killing something in themselves as they turned away from an addiction. To which Jesus says yes, and I killed your death, the wound we all share, the wound of exploiting ourselves and others, by my own death and brought you all back to life with my resurrection.

Mistakes are transformative. Mistakes are where we grow, where any relationship grows. When we confess or forgive or are forgiven we release ourselves and others from the awful focus on our pride or our fear, or our shame or desire to shame them. All God is interested in is restoring us and she longs for us to want that restoration.

The invitation to restoration from our disorderly sins and the promise of the energy of the Spirit in the hard work of dealing with the consequences can happen now.. and now… and now.. and always.

Sermon by Deirdre Duff – Sunday 19 May 2019

Notes from the sermon by Deirdre Duff on Sunday 19th May 2019

Readings;

In the last few years many Christians – and people of other faiths – have taken up the fight against climate change as an essential part of living out their faith. I want to reflect on this today, and to tease out how our faith can both motivate us to take action for climate justice and also how it can sustain us – and even bring us deep joy – as we go about protecting God’s creation.

Many of the motivations that Christians have for taking action on climate change are shared with people of other faiths and with people of no faith. There is that basic question of justice.  Climate change is predominantly caused by relatively wealthy countries, such as UK in the global North. But it is people in the global South who are already suffering terribly from the impacts of climate change, despite the fact that they have contributed far, far less to causing the problem. The carbon footprint of the average UK citizen is equal to the carbon footprint of 65 Ethiopians. Yet it is in Ethiopia that people are going hungry because climate change is causing their crops to fail.  So there is a deep injustice there; an injustice that motivates people of all faiths, and none, to take action.

For Christians, there is also that story in the Gospel we just heard, where Jesus explains that whatever we do to the least of our siblings, we do to him.  That story always makes me wonder, are we in the global North now robbing Jesus of the crops he needs to survive – or flooding his island home in the Pacific?

But for now I want to go back to the motivations that many climate activists, regardless of faith, often share.

Some of us, especially if we still are relatively young, may be partly motivated by fear for our future, when climate change will affect us in the global North too. Older people are sometimes motivated by love for their children or grandchildren – by a duty to pass on a liveable world to the next generation.

Others are motivated by the knowledge that so many of the other great challenges that humanity faces – such as reducing inequities, ending extreme poverty, stamping out racism, world peace, gender equality, ensuring universal access to healthcare  – will be  deeply influenced by – and probably depend on – our ability to address the  climate crisis.

All of the reasons for taking climate action that I’ve just mentioned are  important to me;  I’m also very glad that I can share these motivations for taking climate action with people of all faiths and none – it allows me to feel united and connected with my siblings all over the world, who are different from me in so many ways yet share many of these deep motivations to fight for climate justice.

 

But my faith has also played an essential role in motivating me to act on this issue – and in sustaining me to keep acting – and to remain hopeful and joyful -odd though that may sound – in the face of the existential crisis that is climate change. So today I’d like to explore what faith can bring to the climate justice table.

A few years ago I  underwent an ecological conversion that involved much more than just becoming an activist, it had a deep spiritual dimension. I’ll try to share some of  the joy that can accompany such an ecological conversion this morning – and dip into some insights from some of the people and theologians that have influenced and inspired me.

This Easter, the Resurrection has made me think about how  the risen Christ is present in all things – in the words of St Paul, “Christ is all and in all”…and “in him all things hold together” What a fantastic image!

Paul also says that Jesus is the “first fruit of all creation”– it’s intriguing stuff…

Long before Jesus physically walked on earth as a person God’s Spirit was somehow present in the earth, an Old Testament writer tried to articulate it in terms of the Spirit “brooding over the waters”

One of Ireland’s leading Christian theologians, Dermot Lane has proposed that it will be much easier to heal our broken world if we can “connect with the gracious Spirit of God given in creation and revealed in Christ.”

He argues that we need to rediscover the “Spirit of God as the source of life, as the dynamism driving the evolution of life, as the power holding everything together and continuously sustaining life on earth.”

Imagine if we really took seriously the notion that all of creation is imbued with God’s Spirit or God’s presence!  That the sparkling water of the river Aire in Leeds or the Yorkshire lakes or a bubbling stream were really imbued with the Living Water that the risen Christ has given us? Imagine the excitement of running our hands through that water, of feeling its life giving properties under our toes. Realizing this can be life changing. It can fill you with energy , with joy, and make you feel a deep connection to Christ! At least it does for me. And I think it gives me much less need to consume and buy more and more stuff to make me happy.

I’ve been quite influenced by the writings of the French scientist and priest, Teilhard de Chardin. As a paleontologist and geologist he had some fascinating thoughts  on the process of evolution. He argued that without matter, i.e. the physical stuff of the universe, we remain “ignorant both of ourselves and of God”. He proposed that matter is a “divine milieu, charged with creative power, as the ocean stirred by the Spirit, as the clay moulded and infused with life by the incarnate Word”.

Teillard argued that “All that exists is matter becoming spirit. There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter”

I do  think we can learn more about God as we get to know creation better. The book of Wisdom says that “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker”.

And Jesus reminds us that every one of these creatures is important in the eyes of God; speaking about birds, or swallows, in Luke’s Gospel he says that “not one of them is forgotten by God”

One Christian who cherished creation – and who saw nature as his kin rather than as something that was subordinate to him was St Francis of Assisi. I’ve enjoyed reading about him in Laudato Si’; Laudato Si’ is an encyclical letter – a small book really – that Pope Francis has written addressed to all people – and it’s about caring for Care for Our Common Home, i.e. the Earth.  It’s a really extraordinary document, it manages to get down to some of the root causes of the ecological crisis- and how they are interconnected with so many other social justice issues – while also bringing a sense of hope and joy. And it refers to Saint Francis quite a bit.

It describes how Saint Francis would “burst into song” whenever he “would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals…drawing all other creatures into his praise….He would call all creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.”

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis proposes that, if we can follow the lead of St Francis and “feel intimately united with all the exists then, sobriety and care will well up spontaneously” . I think he could be on to something there; if we can develop a deep connection with Mother Earth than surely we will then start treating her better.

But to go back to St Francis, it’s worth pointing out that his deep and joyful love for, what he called, Mother Earth and Sister Water and Brother Sun, was deeply rooted in his Christian faith – it wasn’t pagan worship –  St Francis was deeply devoted to Christ, and in the last years of his life even shared a mystical union with Jesus when the marks of the crucifiction became mysteriously  imprinted on his hands and feet. So he was deeply united with both Jesus and the earth; the two came together.

I do think, though that, we can also draw inspiration and wisdom from other faiths and traditions when it comes to caring for creation and becoming more united with it; in particular indigenous peoples can teach us a lot I feel.

A few years ago, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota  provided a real example to the world as they peacefully fought to defend their water and sacred lands from  the fossil fuel industry trying to build  a pipeline through their lands. Their water protection camps were saturated in prayer – and reverence for Mother Earth. And they delayed that pipeline for a very long time;  despite having dogs set on them and being brutally repressed by pipeline security and police. Standing Rock is a well known example but all over the world, predominantly in the global South, indigenous people and other people of colour are resisting the fossil fuel industry in similar struggles.

Time and time again the most unpopular and harmful fossil fuel extraction projects and pipelines are inflicted upon the lands of indigenous people and people of colour, instead of on the lands of the white people who profit from these projects.

UK fossil fuel companies – funded by UK banks and UK shareholders are heavily involved in this modern day colonialism. So I would say that not only should we learn from the wisdom of indigenous peoples but we also have a duty to find appropriate ways to stand in solidarity with them as they fight so hard to resist these fossil fuel companies. Getting involved in fossil fuel divestment is one way to do this –but of course there are other ways too.  I’m so happy that All Hallows has divested itself of fossil fuels – and we have lots of opportunities to do more work to support further divestment by contributing to the campaign to get the giant West Yorkshire Local Government Pension Fund to also stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

And this Wednesday, there will be a debate in Westminster about the parliamentary pension fund’s investment in fossil fuels – so the next few days will be really important in terms of encouraging as many MPs as we can to show up to that debate and to support the campaign to divest the parliamentary pension fund from fossil fuels. There are sample tweets, phone messages and emails that you can send your MPs  in the sheet under your chairs. After worship today we’ll also be doing some guided letter writing to support fossil fuel divestment; so do join in, if you can.

I really think we can achieve a lot if we campaign together to change big systems. Individual action to modify our own lifestyles is certainly important, we should all try to live more simply, to consume less, to try and avoid really carbon intensive activities like flying. But this crisis has got to a point where changing individually one by one, while important, is not enough. I want to recognise too that it can be difficult or expensive for  people to be green in some areas of their lives; for example it can be difficult to fuel our lives with renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Not because renewables are not up to the task – but because the Government continues to support fossil fuels over renewable energy.

That’s why campaigning is so important – we need to campaign to change the entire system of how we fuel our countries and our world, so that everyone, whether they are concerned about God’s creation or not, automatically uses renewable energy when they flick on the switches in their homes or cars. We need to make it easier for people to do the right thing by changing the whole system.

I’m going to finish up now with a little poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett. Celtic spirituality can be beautifully sensitive to the presence of God in creation and I think this poem shows this as it recognises Christ throughout the natural world;

I see his blood upon the rose

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice-and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

 

Easter Sunday 2019

Easter Sunday morning started early for some with a sunrise service at St Michael’s Church in Headingley.

Beautiful St Michael’s

Not sure why Heston has a bottle of Bucks Fizz!

At our main Easter Service Heston took us on a quick run through of the whole Bible (again!) from Genesis to Revelation stopping at every point that a river or a sea separated God’s people from where God intended them to be and, as you can see from the photos, we had a visual representation with a ground sheet liberally sprinkled with water!

The people of Israel cross the River Jordan

“It was so wide!”

So many times God has led His people from a place of separation to a place of relationship with Himself, so many times the people have had to cross the waters that divide. But the Easter story tells of that division being crossed once and for all by Jesus, no more slavery in foreign lands, no more wandering in the wilderness. And the vision or Revelations where there is no more sea to divide (Rev.21).

Thank you Heston for a memorable (and slightly wet) Easter service and Casper for singing such a beautiful song.