Category Archives: Sermon

Sermon by the Revd Dr Angela Birkin 16th September 2018

Notes from the sermon by the Revd Dr Angela Birkin 16th September 2018

Luke 17. 1-19

May the spoken and written word lead us to the living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

At first sight, at first reading, Luke appears to have strung a number of sayings of Jesus together, with a healing miracle tagged on to the end. However, Luke’s stated aim in writing his gospel is to put down an orderly account for Theophilus, which means ‘friend of God’, and therefore for us, so it is definitely worth taking a close look at what he has written and thinking carefully about it.

Luke makes clear in the first verse of our reading that Jesus is speaking to his disciples, those who are following him, hoping to learn from him, not those who are disinterested observers or opponents. If we wish to learn from Jesus, then we need to listen to his words.

Jesus gives the disciples some tough teaching about leadership, against a mind-set that works against justice and compassion for the “little ones” that is for those in need, and against mind sets that obstruct the restoration of those who have done wrong to community of faith.

Jesus’ disciples, you and me, are to seek actively for the restoration of the person who has sinned, not stand at a distance and shun them. Moreover, the disciples, you and me, are to forgive without limit.

In response the disciples plead “Increase our faith”. They speak for us all I’m sure.

It’s very easy to read Jesus’ reply to the disciples as a rebuke said with a stern voice and even sterner facial expression. Unfortunately, the words written down by Luke don’t convey the body language of Jesus, his tone of voice, the twinkle in his eye. What if Jesus wasn’t being severe but playful and encouraging, kind and loving? It isn’t so hard to believe is it?

“Even with faith the size of a mustard seed – just a teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy, smidgeon of faith, you can do anything, even something as crazy as tell a mulberry tree to uproot itself and jump into the sea.”

If we hear Jesus speak with the voice of love, we hear him tell the disciples that they already have enough faith to do whatever is required of them. We hear Jesus tell us that we already have enough faith to do whatever is required of us.

And people of faith do move mountains, they do change the landscape. I think of Elizabeth Fry and prison reform, of Dr Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in the USA, and I also think of my Sunday school teacher way back when, Mrs Wowra, who was a lollipop lady and who is more than a little responsible for me standing here now. You I’m sure will think of others. People of faith at All Hallows’ have changed and are changing the landscape.

Interestingly Luke in his gospel portrays faith not so much as possession, something you have, but as a disposition, part of a person’s character or nature, something you are. For Luke faith leads to faithful behaviour, and so the disciples in effect ask Jesus to “make us faithful people”

This leads us to the parable of the slave and slave-owner in verses 7 to 10 of our reading, which is difficult for us to hear and learn from today.

We recognise slavery rightly as a great evil and a blight on the world. Jesus is not approving of slavery by saying this parable, he is not saying that God is a slave-owner and that we are God’s slaves, but he is using a well-known reality of village life in his time to teach us something about faithfulness.

A small landowner or farmer would have one slave to do all the various indoor and outdoor work. The slave who is simply completing his or her work does not by doing so place the master under any obligation to reward the slave in some way. In the culture of the time this was important because to thank someone, for example for the master to thank the slave, would not simply be polite but would place the master in debt to the slave.

The point that Jesus is making is that in living faithfully, in living lives obedient to God, his disciples, including us, should not expect a reward or honours, should not have a sense of entitlement.

To live faithfully is to recognise that remembering those in need with justice and compassion, and forgiving those who have done wrong, actively working for their restoration into the community of God’s family is the ordinary everyday stuff of being a disciple of Jesus, of being a Christian. It is not extraordinary work; we are not extraordinary people in doing that work. But we are loved, each one of us, by an amazing, extraordinary God, who loves us because God sees each one of us as extraordinary and lovable.

I love the healing miracles of Jesus, when we see the kingdom of God breaking into our fallen and needy world and we get a glimpse of heaven, of a time when there will be no more tears or pain or discrimination, and the healing of the ten lepers is a cracking miracle, but as Luke writes it the healing is almost incidental to the story of the gratitude of the one who was healed and returned to Jesus.

In Jesus’ day the term leprosy would have been used of any number of skin diseases as well as of the disease we know as leprosy today. People with leprosy were marginalised, separated from family and friends and unable to worship at the temple as they were considered unclean and impure. The ten men kept their distance from Jesus, demonstrating the isolation demanded of them, and called out to him for mercy, for healing, for salvation.

By sending the men to the priests Jesus was ensuring that they would be accepted back into their families and into the worshipping community, thus fully integrated into religious and everyday society. All ten were healed but only one returned to thank Jesus, the one who, as a Samaritan, was doubly marginalised. Jesus sends him on his way saying, “Your faith has made you well.”

In the way he writes this healing miracle Luke challenges us, for what can we do but approve of the action of the sole healed leper who returns to show gratitude for his healing, who behaves as a truly faithful person and who prostrates himself before Jesus as one would before God. Then in a surprise development Luke tells us that the one who returned was a Samaritan, a foreigner, an outsider, despised, not one of us.

Physical ancestry, nationality, genealogy and religious purity meant a lot in Jesus day. There are plenty of people concerned with them today. We humans seem to find it quite easy to point out what we think makes us different, what we think makes someone ‘other’, inferior, less-deserving.

When it comes to God’s healing love, to salvation, our so-called differences matter nothing. God loves us because God loves us because God loves us. God also loves the person who lives next door who we find difficult to like for whatever reason.

We have done nothing to deserve God’s love, we can do nothing to repay God for that love, but we can live faithfully and with gratitude.

We can say thank you to the one who gives us life and holds us in loving hands, who created this beautiful world and the dear people and animals who enrich our lives, and whose love was made manifest in our saviour Jesus Christ. And we can endeavour to love and forgive others as God loves and forgives us.



Sermon by Jan Betts 12th August 2018

Lord in your great mercy and love, may we hear your voice today in my words, and may your love be with us through them too.

You only have one thing to remember from this sermon and I will tell you what it is!

Jesus was born a gangster  – and that’s not what you have to remember!

The evidence for this is in Luke chapter 4. There Jesus’ impeccable pedigree as a Jewish man in his community is laid out by Luke. Jesus was entitled to consider himself part of a community with very stiff rules about who could belong and who couldn’t. He was part of a gang, that is, a group which defines itself by the people it keeps out. Us and them. Us and the enemy, us and those who aren’t like us, such as Samaritans or Gentiles. And St Paul was exactly the same.  Now of course it’s an exaggeration to call Jesus a gangster.  We wouldn’t  – on the whole – call ourselves gangsters because we’re British and make it hard for asylum seekers to be allowed to be formally British. But we are by our passports part of a group which is exclusive, and we know where the nastiness of arguments about Britishness have led us.

This sense of being pure and apart and part of a gang was very powerful in Jesus’ time and now. I’ve been reading a book called Letters to a young Muslim, by the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Russia. In it he describes how hard it was when he was a teenager and a young man to be the child of an Arab father and a Russian mother in the UAE. (quote) The point here is that if you’re out of the gang your out and it’s really tough to find a way to live.  That’s true in any and every society.

Now let’s hear what Jesus has to say about being outside the gang. . READING Luke 14 25-35

Imagine – Jesus has turned towards Jerusalem on a journey which he knows is going to end badly, in horrific torture and death because he’s not part of the gang.  He’s got his mind on teaching the disciples everything he can between now and then

And after him come the crowds which are so like, as Heston reminded us in the last two weeks, the pressing, chattering,  gaping, gossiping  misunderstanding crowds who followed Brian in Life of Brian. ‘Can’t hear him from back here – what did he say – blessed are the cheesemakers?’

Unlike Brian, Jesus doesn’t say actually ‘go away’. What he does choose to say as he rounds on them, is something to sort out the serious from the gawpers, to challenge them all.

If you really want to follow me, he says you have be committed enough to leave some things behind.

 If you really want to follow me you have to stop being part of a gang. You have to leave behind thinking that you are defined by your family lineage, your privilege, you r community, your money, your righteousness.  You have to be first and foremost committed to the way of love and forgiveness which I am showing you. Your gang is those who do this. Again as Heston said, this is about nationalism. Your nationhood doesn’t define you.

Jesus totally smashes the social structure, tells people all that they are, deep in their Jewishness, is not  their defining feature.

If you want to follow me, says Jesus, count the cost. Think about it! When you build a house (Jews) or go to war, (Roman soldiers)  you calculate the cost.  Are you willing to pay it? Do you love me more than these other things?

If you’re not that serious, he says, go home, because t it’s really hard to be an outsider. Jesus has said this before. He didn’t   let the wise young ruler off the hook when his money was too important to let him be a disciple. He didn’t  let the Pharisees off the hook when they pulled rank over how to approach and understand God and put rules in people’s way – being their own gang. The Jewish nation, says Jesus, needs to regain its saltiness, its commitment to  being the people of a God of justice and mercy  for all, and if not  they will be discarded in favour of those who are salt, who do follow Jesus’ way.

Because blessed, happy in God,  are the poor, blessed are the humble, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the Samaritans and the Roman centurions who believe in Jesus’  Way, blessed are the children, blessed are all those who count for very little.  Following Jesus makes us part of a different gang, a no borders gang.  Isn’t this one of Paul’s great themes? He had all the privileges, and gave them up gladly, his pride swept away in the torrent of the love of Jesus not the rules of privilege. . And blessed are those in Iraq and elsewhere who have also given up their lives for Jesus or for the way of peace. My way costs, says Jesus, and it’s not something we talk about very often.

This is not a threat, it’s a clear and direct invitation into the astounding world of the love of God. The rich young ruler might have suffered more but he would have been happier in the end if he had been like the man who sold everything for a pearl of great price.

Now here’s what you have to remember.

 What won’t you leave behind? In which bit of our lives does the gospel fall on stony ground? Which gang do you stay in which excludes God?

And why is it worth hanging on to? What is it doing for you?

And what would happen if you gave it to God?

Money, time, status, pride in what we do, fear of the consequences?

Maybe we need to talk about it as a church because sometimes it’s only the outsider who can tell us how they are kept out. Is it our picture of God? Is it our security?

I was thinking about how we decide what something is worth.

We can make that judgement with our pockets

I have a bottle of water. Would you pay me £2 for it? No, because calculating with our pockets says no.

Would you give me £2 for it for the roof fund? Well maybe…

Calculating with our considered heart says maybe, because £2 isn’t a lot and we’ve done a good deed.   

Or we can make a judgment about what something is worth out of pure love and compassion. My teddy Henry is beyond any monetary value. The only thing that would persuade me to part with him is pure compassion, say if a sick child wanted him, a very pale reflection of the compassion of God for us in Jesus. Only God’s compassion can totally break down the places where we hang on to things for ourselves, and keep ourselves out of God’s kingdom.  This challenging loving person Jesus shows us that the kingdom of heaven is given us freely and is beyond any price except our love for God in return for God’s passionate love for us. We were worth Jesus’ death and Jesus walks alongside us in the way of com – passion, of suffering alongside. Our judgments about whether we are part of the Kingdom are made out of the love we have for God.  

A week or two ago Heston used a quote from Richard Rohr which blew me away.

“When we attach, when we fall in love, we risk pain and we will always suffer for it. The cross is not the price that Jesus *had* to pay to talk God into loving us. It is simply where love will lead us. Jesus names the agenda. If we love, if we give ourselves to feel the pain of the world, it will crucify us.”  — Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

The cross is where love leads us.

It’s cross shaped.

To make a cross you need two pieces and one is God’s love for us love and the other is what the way of love leads us into.

It is hard. Some of us are reading psalms ad so many of them are personal lamentations about how the writer feels abandoned, lost, apart from God, God has hidden his face. Jesus knew and loved these psalms, a hugely important part of Jewish worship. But the writer nearly always come back to how God is faithful.

It’s hard to see the faithfulness of God sometimes. But we are called to be disciples with all of our scared proud, little ourselves and that’s what this invitation of Jesus is about.

Sermon by Heston Groenewald 29th July 2018

Notes from the sermon by Heston Groenewald 29th July 2018

Reading – Luke 13:31-35

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32 He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[c] you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”’

Here is Jesus, with tears in his eyes proclaiming judgement on his beloved city. With its people (his people) keen to pick a fight with their Roman occupiers, in the name of Jewish nationalism.

Which is very very interesting in the light of our ‘Brexit’ situation today, with our (slim) majority of EU referendum voters who chose the ‘wide door’ – the popular path of reclaimed national sovereignty and wealth.

And of course 21st century Britain is not 1st century Judea, but there are parallels. In both cases the marginalised in society are the worst affected by a nationalist agenda. And in our day and age, we have a similar prophetic role to that of Jesus amongst his contemporaries.

Jesus’ message was, don’t get so caught up with Jewish national identity, that you lose sight of (or deny) God’s bigger picture – which is about fullness of life for ALL of humanity. And God’s intentions besides, you just can’t rebel against the Romans! If you stick to your guns (swords) there is only heartache and horror in store for you. They are far too powerful, and if you look for God’s kingdom down this popular path (through this wide door) there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and you will be thrown out. All of which happened as Jesus predicted, in 70AD when the Romans decimated Jerusalem and scattered the Jewish people.

Jesus said, my beloved people, please please look through a different (narrow) door for a glimpse of the far better future that God wants for you.

Reading – Luke 13:22-30

22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, 24 ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” 26 Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” 27 But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’

The last will be first and the first will be last! Since the time of Abraham and Sarah, God’s chosen people (the Jews) had understood themselves to be ‘first’ – and therefore the Gentiles (everyone else) to be ‘last’. Jesus, in word and deed, announced that this understanding had had its day. He offered a different path, a different (narrow) door through which a different vision of God’s kingdom could be glimpsed. And in this kingdom, there was no room anymore for Israel’s national identity. God’s work within creation may have started with Israel, but was always for the sake of ALL humankind.

And so we find Jesus in the gospels challenging and expanding Israel’s ‘national identity markers’ – the Temple, the Torah, the Promised Land, and Jewish genealogy. Jesus tells his people to give up these ‘Israel First’ symbols, and to follow him through the narrow door into a far bigger future. The narrow door leads to a demanding and difficult road – the road of self-abnegation and trusting God’s power rather than the (more visible) power of the sword. But this road would lead in time to St Paul’s writing: ‘In Christ there is now no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free.’ Fullness of life for ALL humankind.

How do we apply all of this to ourselves today?!

There are many ‘wide doors’ through which we can seek God’s kingdom. Lots of distractions and tempting offers which promise ‘heaven’ when we buy this item, or go on that holiday somewhere faraway and sunny, or be more like this celebrity whose life is amazing. Anything but the real day to day life that we actually live. Similarly with friendships: we can have hundreds of facebook friends or twitter followers, but they never demand the real relational hard work of one-to-one day-to-day friendship – getting to know one another, annoying one another, forgiving one another, sitting down to eat and talk with one another.

But Jesus offers us a different (narrow) door to God’s kingdom. A door called Incarnation. God meets us in a specific human body, in a specific time and place, stays with us through our darkest sickest situations, bears our pain and overcomes our self-centeredness, and offers us a whole new kind of life – both before and after death. God commits to this creation, this world, this human race, this nation, this family, this set of circumstances and reality. It’s hard work and not as glamorous as the fantasies and faraway holidays (this is partly what Jesus’ ‘temptations’ are about) – but if Jesus is right, perhaps all these things that glitter are not necessarily gold.

In the words of a colourful wonderful desert anarchist (!) called Edward Abbey, ‘only petty minds and trivial souls yearn for supernatural events, incapable of perceiving that everything- everything!- within and around them is pure miracle.’

Within and around us is precisely where God wants to meet us and shape us into Christ’s image- in the daily situations and relationships and joys and annoyances and reality that we call normal life. There are millions of escapisms and fantasies on offer, but if we can narrow ourselves down to committing to this workplace, this set of people, these circumstances, these heartaches with a neighbour, this real present demanding tedious joyful miraculous life- this is where God wants to meet us.

And it takes discipline to shape our lives to better pay attention to God’s presence. But as we do, so we can be freed from distraction and fantasy to meet God in the present moment, and in the miraculous nitty gritty of real life.  ‘Am I centered, grounded, and ready to listen deeply? Do i prepare and come ready to share? Am i mindful and present to others? Choices around healthy eating and exercise, giving time to someone in need, turning off our radios TVs and mobile phones, being truly present to family and friends, and choosing to do without more possessions, are all [good training!] (Laura Swan OSB)

There is a corporate aspect to this discipline – the shaping our life as a church – and so I am excited about our All Hallows Vision Day on Sunday 25 November.

And there is a personal aspect to this – shaping our lives as individual disciples. Labyrinths are an ancient Christian ‘tool’ for symbolically centering our lives. Jesus said, ‘where I am there my servant will be also’, and tracing the labyrinth journey can help focus us on Jesus’ presence (God’s presence) WITH US in our journey through day to day life. Wanting us to know how deeply deeply loved we are – just for being who we are, not for the things we do or for how popular we are. God loves you. God loves me. God loves us. So so so so much.


Sermon by Toby Parsons 8th July 2018

Notes from the sermon by Toby Parsons 8th July 2018

Reading Luke 12:1-34

Let’s imagine three friends meeting each other. It’s a bright sunny morning, there’s not a cloud in the sky and even though it’s early the sun is warm. They head down to their favourite café.  There’s a great aroma of freshly baked pastries. They sit down and enjoy a coffee or a fresh orange juice.  It tastes good.  They share a laugh and a joke, saying how much they’re looking forward to the day.

Then they each go on their way – one hops on a bus, and heads into town to plead with the bank about extending their overdraft again. One flags down a taxi, off to the hospital to get the results of their biopsy. The third walks down to the college, to sit their final exam.

There are many things in our lives that cause us to worry – finances, health and exams, to name but a few.  And, for most of us, I suspect we don’t start the big, daunting days by relaxing and chatting calmly about how much we’re looking forward to what’s in front of us.  The scene we’ve just imagined isn’t realistic. It isn’t what happens day after day in the world around us.

So when we read that Jesus said “do not worry about your life or about your body”, we might dismiss it as a nice but unrealistic call. Or we might feel guilty that we do worry – I guess we worrying about worrying.

But what is Jesus really saying in that third part of today’s reading, when he says in verse 29 “do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it”?  What’s he teaching us about worry?

There are three points I’d like to think about in response to that question. Firstly, that God shows and invites acceptance. Secondly, that taking action matters. And thirdly, that Jesus’s death and resurrection are the ultimate way of God providing for us.


I guess that just before Jesus starts talking about worry in verse 22, his disciples have shown some anxiety about how they’re going to feed and clothe themselves as they continue on their amazing journey with Jesus.

His response is clear– worrying isn’t necessary and achieves nothing.  He invites us in verses 24 and 27 to think about birds and flowers.  The ravens don’t sow or reap, but they’re fed. The wild flowers don’t labour or spin, but they’re clothed. And we can’t add a single hour to our lives by worrying.  It’s easy to see these verses as simply an exhortation not to worry – a good aspiration, but perhaps not all that helpful. But Jesus is also making the point that we’re valued for who we are.

Ravens don’t get a great press in the bible or indeed elsewhere. They’re scavengers, feeding on the dead and attacking the eyes first. Even British Bird Lovers Dot Co Dot UK comments that the collective noun for ravens is “An unkindness”.  And in Genesis, we read that Noah first sent a raven out of the ark when the flood was easing. It didn’t come back.  But God created ravens and values them; they’re accepted in their natural form for what they are and I suspect Jesus’s choice of the raven is deliberate.

God values the wild flowers too, giving them fantastic colours, making them a truly vibrant display.    And we read that Solomon was valued in his splendour – but Jesus knew and accepted that despite Solomon’s wealth and wisdom, his appearance could never compare with the wild flowers. He was valued and accepted for who he was, and who he wasn’t.

So there’s a call here to know we’re valued individually, for different things. Being accepted, and provided for, isn’t conditional on change – we’re accepted by God as we are. And in that context, the reminder that we can’t add a single hour to our lives by worry is perhaps an encouragement to accept ourselves as we are. Maybe we’re ravens, maybe we’re wildflowers, maybe we’re Solomon, but we’re all uniquely valued by God. And we’re all invited to accept ourselves – and, by implication, others – rather than worrying about how we could or should be different.

So… acceptance. An important part of how we think about worry. But not something that takes us away from action.

In the parable of the rich fool, from verse 13 to 21, we read about the futility of storing up earthly treasure. And you could chose to read verse 28 as a reason for not making an effort – it says “if that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown in the fire, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith”.  So God provides for flowers that do no labour and we’re told he’ll provide for us, so do we just need faith?  Can we put our feet up and relax, if only we trust in God?

Jesus’s words about worry are spoken to the disciples. A group of sometimes confused, sometimes doubting, sometimes amazed individuals at the centre of the most incredible phase of history. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to be living at the time of Jesus?   Surely it would’ve been mind-blowing simply to be one of the crowd, let alone one of the disciples?  So an instruction for them to take action was perhaps unnecessary – you feel it would have almost been impossible to sit still and not be moved by what was happening, by the energy and passion of Jesus.

But Jesus does call the disciples to action in the last few verses of the passage. The instruction in verse 33 – “sell your possessions and give to the poor” – is much-debated, and no doubt worth a Sunday in its own right!  The key thing is about responding to God and about what we have in our hearts.

The small phrase at the start of verse 31 is key – “but seek his kingdom”. For the mistake of the rich fool was surely to look inwards, to be selfish, to ignore the needs that would inevitably have been around him.

There was much in Jesus’ day that wasn’t right – from the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, to the people who were shut out of their communities as unclean.  And there’s much in our own day that we’d want to change – from an asylum system that dehumanises, to the prevalence of loneliness. But Jesus didn’t just sit there wringing his hands – worrying about what was wrong. He didn’t just teach his followers, although that was certainly important. He acted in practical ways, being the one who touched those that others wouldn’t, who spoke to those used to being ignored.

Worry in its negative form is stifling, restrictive, de-energising. It can lead us not to act through fear of the consequences or of getting it wrong.  But if our heart is focused on God, if our “worry” is about things that pain God, and if we can act on that, rather than being worn down by it, then that feels in keeping with Jesus’ words in this chapter, with his call to seek God’s kingdom.

So action, to go along with our acceptance.

And of course the final point to reflect on is God’s provision for us. Jesus tells us in verses 30 and 31 that God knows our needs and will provide for us.  Our experience of prayer tells us that this doesn’t always mean that everything we need – or that we think we need – just appears in front of us.  And we know that material needs simply aren’t met in many places around the world.  Where there isn’t enough food, water, medication.

And here it’s perhaps not what Jesus says that we need to look at, but what he ultimately does. His acceptance of death on the cross, his resurrection from the grave, and his offer of eternal life.  That overcoming of death – the thing we might naturally fear the most – is the way in which God truly and completely provides for us, offering hope and inviting us not to worry.

To accept who we are;

to accept others;

to accept that we are loved and valued individually …

to act on the things that cause pain, and that place burdens on people …

and to remember the ultimate hope set before us, through the resurrection.


Sermon by Nigel Greenwood 24th June 2018

Notes from the sermon by Nigel Greenwood 24th June 2018

Reading Luke 11:1-28

It’s interesting how certain words become popular for a time and then fall into disuse ….. I recall that years ago, when I was a child, antidisestablishmentarialism was often used in spelling tests – yet I have to confess I still don’t really understand its meaning!

But occasionally a word brings something really special as it summarises a particular theme or trend.  For me, one such word is “inclusive” – it can mean many things, but most importantly in a social context it has a profound, extensive and vital significance when referring to an “inclusive society”.  For us as Christians, it is surely central to how we put our faith into practice – loving our neighbour as commanded by Christ, and there is of course the organisation Inclusive Church – a charity, Anglican in origin working in partnership with different denominations and churches to explore ways of becoming more inclusive and today I would like to consider what it means to be fully inclusive in expressing our faith.

Our Gospel reading this morning describes the occasion when Christ was asked by one of his disciples how to pray.  In his reply, Jesus began with a single, powerful phrase: “Our Father” – surely the ultimate expression of being inclusive.  No if’s or but’s, no get out clauses – just two simple words which draw all God’s people together. Jesus goes on to express adoration then aspiration: “Hallowed be Your name – Your kingdom come” ….. before asking for food and forgiveness – but He then emphasises our own duty to forgive others – ending with our request to avoid temptation or a time of trial.  This is a familiar passage which covers not only one of the cornerstones of both our worship and everyday living, central to our discipleship, how we put faith into practice in our daily lives and our interactions with others and relationships – but also makes clear our duty to respond to need wherever it exists,

As always, we receive guidance and support in order to do so: “ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you”.   Inspirational words which draw together asking, giving and receiving – so as we are strengthened through our faith, we are also obliged to carry this through by living the Gospel in our responses to people in need … by being inclusive.

The Lord’s Prayer gives us a rule of life, but in his reflection on the text, David Rhodes goes much further, saying if we speak the word ‘Abba’, Father, and believe what we say, we are instantly out of our depth, for it means that the Almighty and Everlasting God, whose name is Hallowed, loves each of us personally in the sacrament of the present moment.  It means that there are no barriers with God – no barriers at all.   Everyone we meet is held within that over-arching love – for this God is Abba to them too.

This reflection both motivates and challenges us as it offers what is surely the ultimate concept of inclusion, before David goes on to describe the Lord’s Prayer as dangerous and revolutionary – because  in its first word, it demolishes the boundaries between all of us.

I really like this concept of the Lord’s Prayer being revolutionary, for in today’s troubled world, the demolition of barriers is central to becoming inclusive, whether physical or practical in our attitudes or responses to situations or people.

So, where do we start ?  Well, an inclusive church is built upon an open and welcoming congregation where all God’s people are treated with warmth, dignity and respect in a way which reflects God’s own unconditional love for everyone – where people are not subject to discrimination, not just accepted but appreciated, valued and cherished for who they are regardless of superficial considerations. If I may say so, here at All Hallows you certainly model this with a congregation among the most inclusive in the land, and I recall a previous Bishop of Knaresborough saying every diocese should have a church like All Hallows.

Scripture abounds with relevant quotations compelling us to follow this vital principle of inclusion, so, if we are to reflect God’s own inclusive power and love in our daily lives as believers, living the Gospel as disciples, part of an inclusive church, we have much to learn.  Isaiah restates the depth of God’s decrees: my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Then, Jeremiah proclaimed God’s judgement on the nations “thus says the Lord – amend your ways and your doings and let me dwell in you”.  He then offers an underpinning principle of becoming inclusive, saying “truly act justly with one another”.   If only everyone were to follow this clear principle, the world would be a far better place, but too often our best intentions are compromised by human frailty.  Jeremiah’s clear words are reinforced by Micah’s inspiring phrase that the Lord requires us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses powerful words to cover God’s own inclusive power and love: “those who were not my people I will call my people – they shall be called children of the living God” … So, as refugee week again draws to a close for another year, it is particularly relevant as it compels us to welcome all asylum-seekers and refugees, not only on humanitarian grounds but as an expression of our faith – “those who were not my people I will call my people – children of the living God”.

You may recall a frequently-used political catchphrase from a few years ago: “we’re all in it together” – perhaps a euphemism for being inclusive and undoubtedly true at one level, but rather too simplistic to reflect the underlying divisions in society.  Everyone has moral responsibility to contribute to the common good in society, but for Christians it goes much deeper as a full expression of our faith, truly acting justly with one another as we are told by Jeremiah.  David Rhodes concludes his reflection on the Lord’s Prayer by saying: “this one, small word ‘Abba’ – Father, blows apart the idea that prayer is a religious activity disconnected from life – for while I pray as I live,  I must also live as I pray !”

This Gospel imperative sums up the essence of what it means to be a Christian in the world today … for our Gospel ends with a clear assurance from Jesus: “blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it”.

I pray as I live, but I must also live as I pray – and we can all surely say Amen to that.

Sunday Morning Worship 17th June

This morning we revisited the story of the Good Samaritan by all taking part in a drama of the story narrated by Heston. We were each given a heart outline with a break in it to write on a situation where someone was hurting, we then joined all the hearts together to make a heart “daisy” chain by mending the hearts with a small “God Loves You” sticker. For our prayers we wrote the name of someone we wanted to pray for on a plaster and stuck them onto a wooden cross.

And here are some of the quotes that Heston used during the service for us to reflect on:

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. It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble, how hopeless the outlook, how muddled the tangle, how great the mistake. A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all. If only you could love enough you would be the happiest and most powerful being in the world.

— Emmet Fox

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.

— Brennan Manning

You are loved strongly and relentlessly, faithfully and without reservation. Your God does not watch you undecided, she does not wait to be convinced, the jury is not out. The verdict in Christ is you, always. Without hesitation, deviation, and with endless repetition.

— Chris Russell

‘Welcome to the Real World’ by Godfrey Rust

I didn’t know
that Love is real life,

and everything else
just a more or less entertaining way
of dying.

And I didn’t know
that Love is like nothing on earth.

Love isn’t what you fall in.
It’s what pulls you out
of what you fall in.

Love isn’t a good feeling.
Love is doing good
when you’re feeling bad.

Love means hanging in
when everyone else
shrugs their shoulders
and goes off to McDonalds.

Love means taking the knocks
and coming back
to try to make things better.

Love hurts.
That’s its way of telling you
that you’re alive.

And the funny thing is that after all
Love does feel good.
People say Love is weak.
But Love is tougher than Hate.
Hating’s easy.
Most of us have a gift for it.

But Love counts to ten
while Hate slams the door.

Love says you
where Hate says me.

Love is the strongest weapon
known to mankind.
Other weapons blow people up.
Only Love puts them back together again.

And everything that seems real,
that looks smart,
that feels good,
has a sell-by date.
But Love has no sell-by date.
Love is Long Life.
Love is the ultimate preservative.

I don’t know too much about Love
but I know a man who does,
up there on the cross
Loving us to death.

Love is the key
to the door of the place
he’s prepared for you
in the kingdom of God.

If you’re beginning to understand
then welcome to the real world.


This coming week is Refugee Week, let us remember the story of the Good Samaritan and love and welcome the hurting stranger, whoever they are.

Sermon by Heston Groenewald 3rd June 2018

After sharing his thoughts with us about Luke 9:28-62 and being overwhelmed Heston left us with some quotes and thoughts to ponder over.

For pondering…

The simple fact is that the world is too busy to give the Holy Spirit a chance to enter in… (William Barclay)

A spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God: a life soaked through and through by a sense of his reality and claim, and self-given to the great movement of his will.  (Evelyn Underhill)

 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.  (Genesis 2:7)

 When Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’  (Luke 3:21-22)

 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.  (Romans 8)

 Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’  (John 20:22)

 The Holy Spirit is the manifest Energy of God in the world. She is, moreover, the Strengthener, Guide, Revealer, Consoler and Encourager who dwells within us and acts upon us. (Carroll Simcox)

 There are very few people who realise what God would make of them, if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace… (St Ignatius of Loyola)

 Developing Holy (Spirit) Habits: following Jesus in Luke’s Gospel

  • Bible learning/teaching
  • Fellowship and eating together – including (especially!) across social divides
  • Praying – communal and individual
  • Giving
  • Service
  • Worship – in ‘church’ and in the great outdoors
  • Gladness and generosity
  • Making more disciples

For praying…

Come, Holy Spirit;
send down from heaven’s height your radiant light.

Come, lamp of every heart,
come, parent of the poor; all gifts are yours.

Comforter beyond all comforting,
sweet unexpected guest, sweetly refresh.

Rest in hard labour, coolness in heavy heat,
hurt souls’ relief.

Refill the secret hearts of your faithful,
O most blessed light.

Without your holy power
nothing can bear your light,
nothing is free from darkness.

Wash all that is filthy, water all that is parched, heal what is hurt within.

 Bend all that is rigid, warm all that has frozen hard, lead back the lost.

 Give to your faithful ones, who come in simple trust, your sevenfold mystery.

 Give virtue its reward, give, in the end, salvation and joy that has no end.

 (Venite Sancte Spiritus – Come, Holy Spirit)

When the heart is hard and parched up,
come upon me with a shower of mercy.

When grace is lost from life,
come with a burst of song. 

When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides, shutting me out from beyond,
come to me, my lord of silence, with thy peace and rest.

When my beggarly heart sits crouched, shut up in a corner,
break open the door and come with the ceremony of a king.

When my mind is blinded by delusion and dust,
O thou holy one, thou wakeful, come with thy light and thy thunder.






Sermon by Jan Betts 20th May 2018

Notes from the Sermon by Jan Betts 20th May 2018 (this was a baptism service)

Acts 2:1-13
Luke 8:40-56

It was in September 2016 that we baptised Edie and Thor and it is very good to welcome all of you either back to All Hallows back or here for the first time, for the baptism of Edie and Thor’s siblings, Fraser Nye and Maeve Beatrice.

Last time I talked about Jesus wanting us to love God more than family, a tough text. I wiped the sweat off my brow when I read todays much kinder reading!

We are reading through Luke’s gospel at the moment. Luke was a doctor, a physician, who cared deeply about people being well and ill, about healing and wholeness, and he recognises and highlights Jesus’ longing for such healing and wholeness in people. Maybe that was what drew him to be a disciple in the first place, because we do respond to the invitation of Jesus from our own needs and passions. So in the last two weeks we have heard how Jesus can come into the stony places of our lives and make them fruitful, and how he cared for despised people who were outcasts. .. Jesus cares about people being healed physically and more importantly spiritually and emotionally. Jesus wants us to be totally alive.

Today in what could be called the tale of two daughters, we focus of two people who thought Jesus could do some healing for them. Jesus thought so too, but as always what Jesus does as well as what he says has more than one layer to it.

Both situations involve emotions which instantly speak to us. We have a father who was desperate for his really poorly daughter to be well again, and a woman equally unhappy, with a physical disability. Both were willing to do anything to get what they wanted but they needed courage and what must have felt like some extremely risky trust. And this risk was shared, in his total generosity and love, by Jesus.

Jairus was a ruler of the synagogue, a respected Jew. Jesus wasn’t yet the really troublesome figure he was going to become to the Jewish authorities, but he certainly wasn’t part of the Jewish hierarchy and he was a slightly maverick teacher who was a bit suspect. By coming to this maverick Jesus, Jairus the respected Jew is risking ridicule and his reputation, but he doesn’t care. As parents we will dare so much for our children! There was no other option left but the one of risky trust. Please will Jesus come and lay hands on his daughter, he asks.  Jesus, who adored children, willingly went with him.

In the gospels we often find accounts of men and women running in parallel, underlining the way that men and women are equal before God. That’s the case here. There’s an interruption. The woman who interrupts Jesus and Jairus as they go to his house is as desperate as Jairus. She is permanently bleeding, perhaps from fibroids. Now bleeding women, – if you’ll pardon the phrase – were totally unclean in Jesus’ time, as they are in many countries today. They should keep themselves apart while menstruating, and were certainly not to be touched, or they made a man unclean. So here is a woman who is permanently outcast, always to be hidden, always feeling that she is unacceptable in public, in pain, and probably terrified. She can’t ask publicly that Jesus break the purity codes of the Jews and touch her. But there is no other option left. So she thinks that if she can only touch the tassels on Jesus’ outer garment, she might, just might, be healed, because Jesus was a healer and the tassels of his garment, the sign of his being an observant Jewish man, could be powerful. But she risked being rejected, and even physically abused if people recognised that she was touching a man while bleeding.

The woman was healed as Jesus was on his way to Jairus’ house. Helping and healing takes effort, on both sides. When our little ones are demanding and unable to access their emotions we need to listen carefully to find out what’s going on and it can be knackering to patiently listen and help in the way they want. So Jesus was aware of what had been asked of him, by being alert and sensitive to what was going on around him. Why does he not let the woman go away and go on his way with important Jairus?? He risks too: he acknowledges that he has been touched, and he very probably knows it was someone unacceptable because why else would it be secretive, but he still stops.

Because healing is about more than the body. Miracles are miracles of healed relationships probably more than of healed bodies. Jesus knew that anyone who touched him in need was probably unhappy as well as ill. He wanted the woman to be affirmed. He wanted her social isolation to be healed as much as her body. So Jesus shows immense courage himself, turning and acknowledging that he had been touched- and it turns out by an unclean woman, who he welcomes, and treats with dignity and calls daughter. And he probably looks at the crowd and dares them to molest the woman now he has said she is welcome to touch him, and dares them to say he has done something wrong in extending his love to her.

Then Jairus. He must have been so impatient, so longing to say to Jesus don’t stop, my child is ill and this is only an unclean woman and I am an important man. What are you bothering about? Jesus says effectively, ‘this daughter is as important as your daughter and I have time and love and courage enough for both’.. And then to underline Jairus’ point they hear the child is dead. ‘Hang in there’ says Jesus. I love you too.

Jesus is also willing to look like a fool, being mocked because the child is dead and what can be done for her? But he goes into the child and she is restored to her parents.

Jairus came and asked boldly, the woman had to be secretive. We can ask for healing up front so to speak, maybe even a bit defiantly, or we can creep to God and say maybe, if I just ask, just whisper, just go into a church and acknowledge God as God and say I’m desperate, or I’m stuck, or I’m really unhappy something might happen. God hears them both, hears the trust, the courage and the risk. Such prayer happens when we start unclenching our fists and reaching out, in vulnerability and need. Then God risks in return and trusts us to accept what is offered.

Life is iffy. It’s full of what if’s, especially at times of crisis. What if I did this or stopped doing that? What if I faced up to something? God is somewhere to go with the iffiness. What if I touched that hem and asked for God’s power to help over something? What would I lose? God asks us for the courage to trust and to open up to our what if’s. We need courage and trust to live life fully. Isn’t that the sort of life we would want our children to lead, to be absolutely willing to open themselves up to all that life has to offer, trusting in parents and friends and God.

These are two reflections of how Jesus is about life, and courage, and trust and vulnerability. We lay ourselves open to God and in return God can affirm us as people who have meaning, as people who matter. And God risks for us, risks our rejection.

Finally to underline the sense of life giving and changing that we have today it’s Pentecost. Jesus came as a baby at Christmas, God squashed down to live and experience as we do, God died at Easter, and was brought back to life – then left again. At Pentecost the spirit came, the new form of God with us, bringing courage and trust to frightened disciples cowering away in a little room not knowing what to with themselves. Life burst out in flames and then in the courage to preach about Jesus the risen God. Peter, the big blustering man who denied Jesus at his trial and crucifixion, had no trust or risk at all, rushed out and preached a totally fearless and absolutely cracking sermon on the risen Jesus.

What God did for Jairus and the unnamed woman changed their lives, as baptism today will change these children. There is no magic in the cross that they are signed with or in the water they are washed in but there is great symbolism. God has received these children through love, through the faith which brings you here and the acceptance into the family of God. The cross on their forehead will never disappear. It’s the mark of God’s love for them, of Jesus saying yes of course I’ll be there in your life, you are my loved children, trust me. It’s an act of God and we recognise that in our welcome of Maeve and Nye into our community.

What I said last time I say again

Nye and Maeve, our new brother and sister, we want to make you welcome. We want to say welcome to our Christian community here as well as to the enormous community of baptised people of God. We want to tell you that like your godparents who will make formal promises, we all want to support you and your parents as they bring you up in the way of Jesus, of truth and love, of life and trust and courage, knowing their – and our own – true place as children of God.

We know they will be hurt, through their own desires and through the desires of others. We can’t always protect them. They don’t always know what is best for them. But we want them to learn to steer a course though life which is full of loving life, of trust ad of courage to reach out to others.  God has blessed them with his love. Let’s bless them with our love now.


Sermon by Peter Hemming 22nd April 2018

Notes from the Sermon by Peter Hemming 22nd April 2018

Acts 4:5-12
Luke 7:1-35

NT Reading Acts 4:5-12 is the story of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council) after healing the man at the Beautiful Gate. It ends – ‘there is no other name under heaven by which you must be saved.’ Unequivocal stuff.

Overview – Luke 7 …

Audience: Gentiles. Where Mt. gets tangled in the OT references, Luke’s writing to us. He writes good Greek –literary stuff. Greek was the best language of the day for reaching intelligent people.  He dwells more than others on women and other ‘non-folk’. The Gospel is LONG – almost a Coffee Table Book. (Cf Threads in Revelation): add Acts and it’s huge.

Luke presents Jesus: The Saviour of the World – all of us. What Jesus did/does is relevant to us/ now. Our humanity – everyone can be reached.

[It will be helpful too for you to know: My view of Scripture – how I read the passage for myself, and thus will preach! And My view of Mission! There is a risk of all my sermons becoming Missional!]


Jesus has just finished the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (contrast the Sermon on the Mount in Mtt.); 6:17-end covers the ground that Mtt did in 3 chapters. It ends, as does Mtt with the story of the Wise Man and the Foolinsh Man, building their houses on rock or sand. This passage, starting at 7:1 – 35 is at the beginning of the section 7:1 to 8:21 is entitled ‘The Good News’ in the BST commentary. It is the point where the Theory of the Sermon becomes the Practice in the real world. Wise men will …

Though the ‘bibles’ have three headings for the two ‘healings’ and then ‘the message from John’, I see five sections in the Gospel. If you have bible to hand keep it open at Ch 7.

Sections – points to make!

HEAL 1. The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant 1 – 10 (The Text for my confirmation)

Greek words matter. Sozo = save and heal: (As sotḕr = saviour and healer).

Going into a Gentile’s house would render a Jew ‘unclean’: Jesus was quite prepared to do this – the Centurion prevented him. The Jewish Leaders saw the Centurion as ‘worthy of Jesus’ attention, because he had ‘built the synagogue’: not sure how interested Jesus was in this, but Luke records it.

The phrase ‘under authority’ demonstrated that the centurion recognised that ‘the instruction’ mattered more than ‘being there’: Jesus recognised this as the Centurion’s faith.
The slave was ‘valued’: even the underdogs of society don’t need to be unvalued by their owners.

See Peter’s preaching to Cornelius (Acts 10) – the unexpected recipient of grace is not in mainstream church!

HEAL 2. The Raising of the Widow’s Son in Nain 11 – 17

Only in Luke – none of the other Gospels carry this story. A large crowd was there – did Jesus see through the mass of people who’d ‘come to the funeral’ to realise the utter desolation of the Widow?  Compare Elisha’s healing of the widow’s child. (2Kings.17) Luke saw this as an important story to tell, here.

JB 1. The Question from John the Baptist 18 – 23

John was in prison for challenging Herod over marrying ‘his brother Philips’ wife’. For John, the expected Messiah of Malachi was going to bring fire, a burning of chaff and gathering of wheat, a sword, a judgement and doom, a challenge to the Roman Authorities: a visible consumption of all that was evil.

Jesus just didn’t look like the coming one: He hadn’t spoken out loudly against John’s imprisonment – or other injustices. If Jesus’ work was not clear then, how much less obvious is it now!

Jesus’ answer is for John’s disciples to ‘look around’. The sick are healed, the dead are raised, (first two sections) and the poor have the Good News preached to them.  Both the first two sections example folk who were ‘poor’ in ‘church’ status – the Gentile and the Widow. Jesus illustrates that here is ‘Good News’ for everyone, particularly the marginalised.

What alerts you to faith? I am excited when I hear about someone who’s ‘come to faith’ – penny dropped!  

What do you look for? Cash in the plate? Numbers rising? Home Groups growing as folk seek to deepen their faith? More social action? Freedom for ‘captives’?

JB 2. Reflection on the Question 24 – 30

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you,” was a masterful amalgamation of the OT in Ex.23:30 and Mal.3:1: John was indeed the direct forerunner for Christ, yet John was still outside the Kingdom – he had not grasped the change needed to move away from Judaism (as it was) to discipleship (as it was going to be) following Christ.

The Pharisees chose to sit outside the sphere of John’s baptism, as it would have reduced their social status. There is a challenge here for us! Where do we sit in the embrace of the Kingdom?

JB 3. Soliloquy 31 – 35

John wouldn’t play ‘weddings’ and Jesus wouldn’t play ‘funerals’.

John expected everyone to have a hard time; Jesus wanted people to love God, His Father as He did.

John wanted a renewed Judaism, possibly; Jesus wouldn’t do things properly: he was too much fun – he wouldn’t discuss morals and religion, ethics and abstract things: he was too normal, too much fun.

For John, like the cat in ‘Oi Frog!’, ‘doing the right thing’ mattered. For Jesus it was not about doing the right thing by conventional wisdom but doing the right thing by God’s yardstick.

As the Kingdom breaks in, life is always unexpected and upsetting: it is hard to fit with men’s (the church’s, the bishop’s, our) preconceived ideas and prejudices. I just wonder if Jesus thought, for a moment, no-one understood him!

What does it say to us? (to me?) What do I feel are the challenges?

  1. Do we still acknowledge that Jesus has the power to heal? Do we crave Jesus’ presence, when his word of power is what is needed even in life and death situations? (Read bit of Judy Acheson’s story from DRC).
  2. If God appears inactive – then what? Jesus says that ‘by this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’. What ‘Signs of the Kingdom’ should we be looking for today…?

Are there times when we feel to be real disciples we have to ‘be like John’, real ascetics’?

Are we still concerned to be proper about our faith – and ‘Church’?  Are we afraid of breaking the mould – every time we meet together? Are we keen to be really different and present Jesus to others?

How can we, as a church, be more appealing for people to want to join us?


Questions for you! 2 mins. In 2s or 3s. Choose ONE question…

  1. What ‘Signs of the Kingdom’ should we be looking for today…? Growth in £p, numbers, depth … ???
  2. How can we, as a church, become more appealing for people to want to join us?

Seek responses! Pick up on things we do together.

What did Luke intend?

That folk such as us, Gentiles, could get to hear the story of the Saviour of the World. My hope is that from what I’ve said and you’ve thought this morning, you see how this some of this fits together. We can never know the full picture, but we can see Jesus at work and acknowledge his power.

What will you take away?

That I have talked too long or have taken the stories at their face value, and not challenged their authenticity, and I have not been rigorously theological and can therefore be ignored?

Or: ‘We must learn to see Christ at work – together.’ In Acts, the Sanhedrin saw that ‘They had been with Jesus’: not Peter alone, but They, plural. We are included; we have been called. It’s not up to you or me; it’s up to us.

What do I intend?

Luke, in Acts, put uncompromising words in Peter’s mouth – ‘there is no other name under heaven …’.

Jesus’ demands on us are also radical: they change everything for us – they changed everything for me.

Today, people don’t respond to the Good News by reason alone. They must be loved into the Church.

If we try to present God to ‘them’: we must remember that God is at work in the hearts and minds of our ‘audience’. Our task is to ‘join in’ trusting that Jesus/ the Holy Spirit will do their bit too.

Whatever you have thought, keep thinking. God’s thoughts don’t go away – SD…

We all see growth differently.

We must become disciples together.

Amen? Amen.

Sermon by Richard Barton 25th March 2018

Notes from the Sermon by Richard Barton 25th March 2018


Zechariah 9:9-10

Luke 19:28-40

“As they were untying the colt its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt” They said “The Lord needs it”

Can anyone here recall an incident, maybe when they were young, or perhaps older, when they were caught doing something that they were not supposed to be doing! This is a rhetorical questions, unless anyone feels the strong urge to confess!  When I was about 5 years old and at school with a pair of scissors and for some reason decided I wanted to see if they would cut my socks! They did but my mother was not impressed with the result of one sock with a long slash at the top and she said something like “What did you think you were doing?!” I tried to get out of that one by saying that another child had done this when I was “playing dead during a playground game, and my mother told me to find the other child and get the cost of new pair of socks from them, which lead me to return home the next day to confess!

But this phrase, What are you doing?! Is one we have all probably heard at one time or other, sometimes the verb to think is often added in “What do you think you are doing?!

This little incident before the triumphant progression into Jerusalem, is a curious one but recalled by all three of the synoptic gospel writers. The disciples asked to go the village ahead, find a colt and take it, Jesus needed some transport to get into Jerusalem, and if they were challenged as they were to say “The lord needs it”. No wonder that the colt owers said, “Why are you untying the colt” “What do you think you are doing?!” Or perhaps even the implied questions was “On what or on whose authority are you doing this?

I don’t know about you but fear that if I was one of the disciples tasked to do this, I might have said… “Eh Jesus, you cant just take peoples animals, I mean, do you know these people,?”

On this Sunday, Palm Sunday – we reflect on the day when Christ’s ministry, went from being tentative at times, wandering around Galilee carrying out acts of healing and teaching and sparring occasionally with the Pharisees and Jewish authorities to going into Jerusalem openly, defiantly, ultimately fatally to be arrested, and tried and crucified, before rising again on the Sunday.

This is part of a poem called coming to a city nearest you by the Canadian Mennonite paster Carol Penner imagining the events of Palm Sunday now.

So he goes into Jerusalem as a King, but a strange one, not on a horse but on a colt or donkey depending on the translation. He is fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah “Shout for joy you people of Jerusalem, Look your king is coming to you! He comes triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey – on a colt, the foal of a donkey”

Lukes version of Palm Sunday is not only notable for not mentioning palms(!) but for the focus on peace, the crowds shout, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven. Again echoing the words  of Zechariah, “The Lord says I will remove the war chariots from Israel and take the horses from Jerusalem; the bows used in battle will be destroyed”. And  the Pharisees are looking on and saying “What does he think he is doing!” Or more probably “Who does he think he is?!” “On whose authority is he doing this?”

And rest assured, when in the next section of this chapter, Jesus goes into the temple to overturn the tables of the money changers to speak with a passion that’s probably unique in the gospels about the importance of justice. The corrupt stall holders and money changers would have been saying “What are doing? What do you think you are doing?!” Who gave you the authority to do this!

And this is the questioning that we may have to face when we are called to go head for Jesus,, to untie the colt, – what are you doing, what are doing going to church, why are believing fairy tales, why are you trying to buck the system, turning the words of Jesus – that are probably the most misunderstood against us – the poor will always be with us, why are bothering with such people?

But perhaps its also important to realise that some of the antagonism, particularly towards the established church comes from the negative experiences of people to religious or other authority. Linda and I have been watching a programme about pilgrimage where a group of people, some celebritys, take the pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela across northern spain. One of the pilgrims is a journalist Raph Rowe who for 12 years was wrongly imprisoned for murder and robbery and who has a real distrust of authority including religious institutions and did not want to go into any of the churches on the pilgrimage, but in part from an admitted mistrust of peoples motives, and in part from a curiosity he would often get into conversation with other pilgrims asking “What are you doing” or “why are you doing this?”

And perhaps Im getting it all wrong about the owner of the colt. What if the tone of the questioning is quite different. More What are you doing, why do you need the colt, who is your Lord, tell me about him? And this kind of questioning, not an aggressive challenging one but a curious, interested questioning is perhaps for some of us even harder to answer? What do we say when people ask us, What do you believe in, why do you go to church, Im curious, why does your church believe its important to stand up for asylum seekers, why does your church seek to provide a place where people can come and worship regardless of their sexuality, tell me about your belief? And if you are like me you find it just so hard to talk about belief about God about Jesus about religion, with friends and work colleagues and relatives and the people you meet.

In the British Social Attitudes survey of a couple of years back half the population said they belonged to a religion – and of those about 90% said they were Christian. And on the matter of belief in another recent survey one third said they believed in God, one third had no belief in God or any higher power, and one third either did not believe in God but did believe in a higher power or just didn’t know.

So it seems to me that the people of this country are finely balanced in what they feel and believe about matters of religion and faith. And like the crowds during holy week maybe some of the time we get shouts of Hosanna, and some of the time Crucify him.

Pope Francis seems to me to be a person who certainly has many people in the Catholic church saying (probably in private) What does he think hes doing! But also is someone who has got people talking about matters of faith and humble living.  Last year he was given a gift of a very fancy Lambourghini sports car, he auctioned it and gave the money to various charities including one that supports women trafficked into prostitution. So the world at large was asking why he was behaving as he does, whats behind the desire to live very simply and to place more emphasis on issues of peace and justice.

So when we go out into the world beyond the church walls, and into the wonderful, crazy, mixed up, scary world, and we are called by Christ to service, whether we face the ridicule and aggression of those who just don’t understand a life of service to Christ and question its value, or we get to meet people who are curious about our values and our beliefs and want to learn more, may we, through the spirit have the strength, the courage, the humour and the sensitivity to share our faith and our conviction of the God of Love in Christ, in everything we do and everyone we meet.