Category Archives: Sermon

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.

Sermon by Paul Magnall – Palm Sunday 14 April 2019

Notes from the sermon by Paul Magnall on Palm Sunday 14th April 2019

Readings

Over the last few weeks we have been looking at “What do we value?” One way of identifying what people value is to see what they invest in. In what they invest their

  • Money
  • Time
  • Energy

But how do we know if we are investing in the right things? A popular way of deciding what might be the right thing to do is to ask WWJD or What Would Jesus Do? So this morning I am going to ask the question WWYV or What Would Jesus Value and contrast Him with some of the other major players in the Easter story.

Palm Sunday highlights a clash of powers, cultures, forces, movements that climax on Easter Friday through to Easter Sunday. To know what these powers valued we need to look at what they invested in and what they trusted.

So, let’s go to Palm Sunday nearly 2000 years ago.

Matthew 21:1-17

The geographical context of this story is Jerusalem. On the whole Jesus has avoided the big cities and towns in his ministry so far. He has travelled the countryside popping up in one place and another and then disappearing into the quiet and the wilderness with his close disciples. The crowds build up and then he disappears again. The authorities feel threatened by his message and seek to arrest or kill him and then he disappears out of their reach.

But now it is his time. He goes to Jerusalem for the Passover, the BIG religious festival of the Jews where they celebrate their exit from the Egyptian empire and their freedom from slavery.

Central to this are the religious leaders, mainly the Pharisees.

The Romans were the conquerors. They were in charge and everyone knew it. A big Jewish religious festival celebrating freedom from empire meant there was a huge probability of trouble, protests against the Romans, even an uprising. So Pontius Pilate, governor of the region, would leave his base in Caesarea with a substantial force of soldiers to travel to Jerusalem to keep the peace. Caesarea was a nice Roman town on the Mediterranean coast, not a crowded, smelly, provincial city. And so Pilate arrives along a Roman road from the west to enter by the West Gate of Jerusalem, the entrance lined by local people forced to stand and cheer their Roman conquerors.

Another group, ever present, and one of the reasons the Romans left their nice coastal resort were the rebels. There were lots of different rebel groups who wanted to throw the Romans out of Judea and claim it back as God’s own country. Their big uprising would come later but for now they were a thorn in the Romans’ side, appearing, causing mischief and then disappearing again. They could be anywhere! They couldn’t quite get their act together but one day they would and that would lead to a major catastrophe with the destruction of the Temple.

And so to Jesus. As I said earlier, he had travelled the countryside and avoided the big centres of population. But now it was time, a nursing donkey and it’s baby donkey were organised, Jesus gathered his disciples and followers and rode into Jerusalem via one of the Eastern gates – both of which have huge significance which I haven’t time to go into here. And instead of long faced locals being forced to cheer he was surrounded by people who were genuine in their cheering. Such a contrast to the Imperial forces entering the West Gate – do you think Jesus was making a big point here?

So, what did these different participants in the Palm Sunday story value? What did they invest in?

The religious leaders, the Pharisees

  • They valued the law. They invested their time in studying the scriptures in order to determine how to be pure and set apart for God. They wanted to be as white as snow and get every detail right. They believed that if everyone in Israel was pure then God would drive out the Romans and Jerusalem would be restored to its former glory. (And we know what Jesus thought of this – he called the religious leaders whitened sepulchres and condemned the way that they imposed their moral correctness onto the rest of society creating a burden for the already downtrodden)
  • They valued the Temple – the centre of worship, the place where God dwelt amongst them. This for them was the place to be. And having Jesus talk about the Temple being demolished and rebuilt in three days was a threat to them.
  • They valued peace. Even if it was Pax Romana. The Romans were clever, they allowed the Jews to have their religion as long as the religious leaders kept the peace. And the Pharisees were rewarded for keeping the peace with money and land (something that was actually against the Jewish law … but then they just reinterpreted the law!)
  • They valued order, hierarchy, control, everyone in their place and theirs was at the top.
  • The outcome was that the religious leaders kept their place and privileges, the Jewish faith and practice was tolerated by the Romans, order is kept but the poor and weak are trampled on and kept in their place. The prophet’s words of justice, mercy and humility are ignored. (The next few chapters of the Easter story after the entrance into Jerusalem are about Jesus challenging the religious leaders and what they valued).

So, to the Romans.

  • They valued Empire, power and control. Their empire dominated the known world. They invested in their military so that they could control the nations that they had conquered and could defend and even expand their borders. They invested in roads and transport so that they could move their troops quickly to any trouble spots. I can imagine Caesar reclining on his couch when a messenger arrives.

“The English are revolting!”

“I know” says Caesar “they never wash!”

“No” says the messenger, “Theresa Maydica has declared something called Brexit and they are going to leave the Empire”

“Quick” commands Caesar, “Send our legionnaires Merkel and Tusk to stop them!”

  • The Romans valued the wealth of the nations that they controlled. In Judea alone they invested in the fishing industry, vineyards and olive production just to name a few. Fisherman like Simon Peter and his brothers would have to provide the Romans with fish who barrelled them up in brine and transported them along their excellent transport system to the markets in Rome. Land was grabbed from local farmers to turn into vineyards to make wine for Roman consumption. When we read about miracles and parables involving fish or wine they may well have had a much deeper, social or political meaning!

The Rebels or Zealots

  • They valued freedom from Roman control, they wanted their country back. Different groups had different ideas of how to do this but they all invested their time and energy in finding ways to subvert and overthrow the Romans, usually at huge expense to life as the Romans would just string them up on crosses if they captured them, or send them to the amphitheatres to fight lions or gladiators, or even demolish whole villages.

And so to Jesus. What Did Jesus Value? What did he invest in?

  • People. Jesus seems to have spent a lot of time with ordinary people, sick, poor, people on the edge of society, the needy, those who knew that something was missing in their lives, people who were hungry for something better, who hungered for justice and peace (see the Beatitudes).
  • Jesus invested in these people by listening to them, caring for them, loving them, by bringing God to them. As Jesus said to John the Baptist when asked if he was the one that God had sent “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Luke 7:22 NIV
  • Jesus invested in ordinary people and valued them for who they were in the sight of God – part of God’s creation.

I believe Jesus had a vision, a dream of what the world should and could be like (Martin Luther King caught some of that dream). How the creator God had planned it to be like. Jesus wanted to share that dream by showing it happening, letting people know it was possible even with the forces of empire and domination against them. He was investing in what God had invested in when she created the Universe. It is a dream or vision that the prophets saw and spoke of ….

Micah 4:1-4

What Jesus was investing in is what he described as the Kingdom of God, not a place where the 1% live in ultra-luxury at the expense of the 99% (is there a parable there?) but where we all live together in the “Joy of Enough”, where there are no wars for control of oil fields, there are no climate refugees, no children picking rubbish off landfill sites, where we don’t have more plastic than fish in the ocean, people dying from polluted air or water. “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid”

As Jan said last week, God is passionate about Her creation, about us, about the world in which we live. This is why God invests in us!

 

On the sixth day God saw what he had created, what he had invested in and it was very good.

God so loved what He had invested in He sent His only son….

Jesus believed so totally in the Creator’s investment in us, in the whole of creation that he came and invested his whole life, even to death, for you, for me, for the whole of God’s creation.

Do we know our value?


Notes:

Some websites about Palm Sunday and the Eastern Gates. Apparently there are two Eastern Gates, the Golden or Mercy Gate (see websites below) and the “lamb” gate through which the lambs were taken to the temple for sacrifice. Both gates brimming with significance that we never seem to hear about on Palm Sunday!

Through The Eastern Gate

In through the Back Door

Shaken to the Core

 

 

Sermon by Dr Jan Betts 7 April 2019

Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts 7 April 2019

In the name of God, passionate creator, redeemer, sustainer.

Today is Passion Sunday. It’s traditionally about the beginning of the last two weeks of Jesus’ human life and the suffering which went with it.

But when we think of the word passion we don’t usually go to the word suffering. We think of things we care about very deeply, which we’re really, really committed to, and today I want to link those two meanings, of our deepest convictions and desires and Jesus’ suffering.

Passion v Enthusiasm

But when I talked to various people about the question of what makes them passionate we came up with the difference between passion and enthusiasm. People said they were passionate about things like curry or being in the mountains. I’ll talk travel or gardening or books with enthusiasm. But passionate?  I wouldn’t go to the wall about whether Jane Austen is a better writer than J K Rowling. But I would take a lot of abuse if someone disrespected me or other women as a woman, or if someone disrespected a homeless person. Passion, we decided was something else. It’s when you would be willing to really fight for something, where you feel anger and massive delight and hurt and you can be illogical or cruel or be willing to be abused for it.  That’s a bit different to enthusiasm. Passion is a kind of hunger. It’s about what is at my heart. And I could and do dream of being quite violent towards someone who has offended my passions and I can and do give way over the odds of myself to someone I am passionate about. Our passions, show us what is important to us, where we are wounded and where we laugh and love and feel alive and joyful and free.

We’re not often invited to think about either our passions in the light of our faith. But we do have longings and passions, because we’re made in the image of a passionate God.

Invitations to passion

There are some wonderful spiritual traditions which do ask us about our desires and passions. St Ignatius of Loyola has a series of quite gruelling exercises which are all about ‘what is that you desire’ and which take people  into some very tough places. The author of the Song of Solomon celebrates our physical passions. Alan Ecclestone, a committed passionate Marxist priest, wrote that it is the job of prayer – and so the job of life – to refuse to be disengaged, to be constantly passionately committed.

So point one. Our passions show us where we are focused. What we long for. We are right to listen to our desires and to ponder what our passions are, where is the heart of us. If we could ask God to do one thing what would it be?

Let’s listen to a passionate fearless woman …

John 12 1-8

Jesus sorts out our passions

Mary was the one who went and listened to Jesus when Martha was cooking. She was passionate to know and follow what he said, to treasure time with him.  Jesus said this was good and smiled at her and I bet in this story they also both enjoyed the wonderful small of the perfume – perhaps quite a sexy moment? Women must have loved Jesus passionately, even if he was unavailable – Mary Magdalene in the garden was desolate. But Jesus was there to show them that passion needs to be focused not on possessing but on giving. ‘Mary, he’s saying  I know we like each other but there’s another way, a better way and you have learned this, which is why you have done this to me now…..’

And now a man of a very different type but with his head and his passions turned around 180’ by Jesus

Philippians 3 4b-11

Jesus ministry so often pinpointed people’s passions and challenged them. The rich young ruler – you think your passion is to serve God but let me ask you what you won’t give up, let me turn your passion for being a good Jewish man into being a follower of life? The woman at the well – you think you want security with a man but let me offer you a different more challenging kind of security and see if that’s what you want? To the fishermen – you want to fish – but let me make you different fishermen and see what happens… Zaccheus you want money, you think, but let me show you what can be done with money when you don’t want it more than anything. Then here to Saul – your passion is to make people keep the law, to explain it to them as a Pharisee would, but let me offer your passion a different direction, a direction of life? Over and over Jesus found the passion and challenged it to be turned from self-serving, feeding our own hunger, to the service of others and of God. He challenged people to lose their slavery to passions which hurt them and others to passions which freed them for love.

What we want passionately is so often not bad in itself but we can often try to meet those longings in wrong, self-focused, disordered ways.  How can we find the good in our passions? We can want things – but not at someone else’s expense. Satisfying our passions at someone else’s expense leads to abuse. Often this happens because we are looking for security in the wrong place. We get scared and then we get focused on our own needs alone.  Asking God to align our desires with hers, to trust her to make them rightly ordered, is the first commandment.

And it’s tough. None of these biblical examples found it easy to give up their scared passion and just go for the one which led to a more risky life focused on giving as well as receiving. Even Jesus was terrified in Gethsemane. He felt abandoned on the cross. Wanting to be aligned with his Father’s will was utterly awful for him. But as he had said all through his ministry, this way of loving passion to be about his father’s business, the business of the kingdom, was the only way.

So point two: Good passion is focused on the good of all, on the spreading of God’s love for all including ourselves, not on possessing others in any way. We need before God and with God, to sort out our orderly passion from the disorderly. NOT necessarily the right from the wrong. And it’s not easy.

I said we are made in the image of a passionate God.

So point three and most importantly: what is God passionate about. Because this is what enables us to be rightly passionate.

God is passionate about you, about me and about all creation. God is passionate about helping us to live as she wants us to live.  That’s what connects our two meanings of passion, the joyful love which leads to suffering.  Following the passionate way of Jesus is sometimes about suffering and abuse, as well as about freedom and joy because it’s not the disordered way of satisfying our own passions above others, of always in whatever way seeking our own passions. The two go together.

And we get managing our passions wrong. BUT God the passionate father/mother is always standing watching for us, day after day waiting for us to appear at the turn in the road leading back to the house where we belong. Always, all the time, God wants us to be in relationship with her, doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly and having fun. The passionate love shared between the trinity and all creation was what led to Jesus human passion, and suffering and then to resurrection. God trusts us to be passionate about being part of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, about loving fully and being alive to our passions. What are our passions and how can Jesus turn them for us into passions which free us rather than enslave us, get rid of our fears not feed them?

In the next two weeks we read with horror of the way in which political agendas were played out in first century Palestine to kill this man who stood for fearless passionate love, truth, life, and light? He was real and he was killed for it. And that still happens. We pray for peace but we pray also for those who are passionate about the way of Jesus and suffering for it to know God’s sustaining love as they hold to that passion. And we pray for each other to be challenges as we follow Jesus’ hard journey this Lent, and to be released into our own joyful passion for God.

Paul’s prayer:  Ephesians 3 14 – 19

Sermon by Angela Coggins 24 February 2019

Notes from the sermon by Angela Coggins on 24th February 2019, the third and final part of our series “building a house / church / lives where love can dwell”

Readings are from

Its lovely to be here and to be given the privilege to preach. Thank you to Tony for letting me pinch his sermon slot at late notice. A little bit about me as I am new to All Hallows, and I’m sort of passing through. I am in my third-year training to be a Reader, which is essentially a lay minister. I was encouraged to find a church placement that was different to my own church setting, and so I grabbed the opportunity to come here as I’d heard so much about All Hallows and my church, St Michael’s East Ardsley, donates our harvest festival produce to the Rainbow Junktion Café. You may have seen me dotted about the place taking notes, as there are so many wonderful things happening here that I don’t want to lose count. This sermon will be assessed by a variety of good folks in the congregation, and if you have any comments, observations, please do pass them on, as I’m learning and need to know!

This brings me to the theme at the end of this 3-part sermon series on Building a house/church/lives where love can dwell. There is so much already been covered by Jan, and Anthea and the readings also lend themselves to further explorations, so I’m just scratching the surface. There’s so much I want to bring in, but I’m going to try and be focussed and disciplined!!!! The 3 themes of construction connectedness and community came to mind. – how do we build, how do we keep going and how do we relate to each other? Using the parable of the two builders and the passage in Ephesians describing being built together with Christ as Cornerstone.

Construction. The story of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew is so well known, some of us can probably remember the Sunday school song -the wise man built his house upon the rock ……and sometimes when we hear a parable so often we might not be fully attuned to its dramatic reception for those original hearers.

The gospel reading from Matthew 7 comes as the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount,
Let’s just pause a while – the Sermon on the Mount, the radical humanifesto of kingdom values – Jesus’s call to moral and ethical living, confronting social injustice and the abuse of power, seeking the restoration of human dignity and honour otherwise known as “entry requirements of the kingdom”. The call to be not only hearers but doers. Jesus said “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
Construction – Jesus knows about construction, the importance of foundations, He was a carpenter and therefore in the building business. Living in first century Jordan valley, sudden flash floods, sandy river beds, were features of the landscape. We have all seen enough on our news screens to have an idea of the damage effects of extreme weather, rain, streams, winds. So obviously good strong foundations are vital. Digging the foundations requires effort, application and patience. Perseverance even. Digging right down to the bedrock.

It’s fascinating to see how many times the imagery of rock, of foundations, of cornerstones are used in connection with Jesus. There are huge amounts of study to be done looking into connection with the Temple but not time here this morning to pursue. Certainly, throughout the New Testament Person replaces Building. Peter declares Christ as the living stone, Paul in Corinthians Christ as the Rock, Jesus, himself, refers to the stone which the builders rejected becoming the chief cornerstone. The cornerstone, the precious stone, in construction terms – the stability of the whole building, depended upon it. Being lined up, using it as a measure – “the Holy Spirit level” as it were.
All Hallows is facing a time of construction, the building to be repaired, refurbished. So looking at foundations and what makes up the precious cornerstone, is rather apt. Jesus as our cornerstone, by which we measure all our actions, words, doings.
So the challenge to us is to hear and do – to be like the wise man building on the rock. All Hallows leads the way!
But this has a cost – This can appear so overwhelming, can’t it, to live a life of complete integrity, living by the standards presented in the beatitudes, loving enemies, not judging, not serving two masters, not worrying, always producing ‘good fruit’? Being tested, by the storms of life, utterly exhausting after a while in our own efforts. We soon come to the end of our own resources when faced with these enormous challenges. But Person replaces Building.
Jesus replaces the Temple.

So that leads us onto Connectedness (a bit of a clumsy title – but it begins with C!) Thankfully the foundation is built on our relationship with Jesus. We are not about following some specific ethical formula but attending to a specific living person in Jesus. Who brings, through the Spirit, in union with the father and mother of us all, renewal and refreshment, who energises and replenishes. We are called into a relationship of intimacy and mutual affection, radical grace, and unconditional love. Which we live out in the power of the spirit.
Our daily challenge is to attend to this relationship, through prayer, through reading through being still before our Maker.
My weekday life I am an adult education tutor, teaching parenting, mindfulness and emotional well-being. Mindfulness is very much in vogue at the moment, learning to live in the present moment, being intentional, and paying kind attention to oneself and others. Where unconditional positive regard, non-judgemental acceptance, are recognised as vital for health, healing and wholeness. This is lots of counselling-speak for love. Where we are encouraged not to not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Sound familiar?
Our challenge is to be more mindful /still before God, to give space in stillness, to hear the Word of life, to be transformed into those Living stones where God the author of Love, can dwell. Some people find icons helpful, particularly this one representing the Trinity painted around 1410 by Andrei Rublev
The image is full of symbolism – designed to take the viewer into the Mystery of the Trinity.
Look at the colours, the gestures, the shapes,
Figures arranged with a space for viewer to complete the circle.
Hospitality, invitation, spiritual unity, mutual love, shared communion.
Come follow the Spirit up the hill of prayer.
Come, live in the shadow of the Son of God, rest yourself beneath his tree of life.
Come, journey to the home, prepared for you in the house of your Father.
The table is spread, the door is open. Come.

To connect and be made welcome. As the letter to the Ephesians says “and in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

So we move on to our final theme, Community.
The life of such a vibrant and eclectic RAINBOW community as All Hallows is amazing to behold. Have you any idea how exhilarating it is to be around such an affirming and loving and creative community??? Where one of your church wardens is 22 and chairs PCC’s with great flair? Where you provide a space for children to learn trapeze skills combined with knitting! Where your welcome and hospitality set the standard, and are what Henri Nouwen reminds us essential for healing and wholeness. The list goes on.

As an observer, there is so much to see and give thanks for. A community of ‘Living Stones’ where all are welcome, (the refrain from that beautiful hymn we sang a few weeks ago ‘All Are Welcome’ – which is like a pleasant ‘ear worm’ – I can’t get out of my head). An activist church, which hasn’t got a traditional congregation like other congregations, it has groups of friends meeting up together, so Jean described to me. A bunch of friends who meet up to share Jesus’s love. A rainbow group of friends drawn together to live out that humanifesto of Jesus, calling for social injustices to be righted, to proclaim better stewardship of this beautiful planet we call home. A safe place – just to be. A touching place. All Hallows, creating spaces where we can be reminded that we are made in the image of God, a son a daughter, never strangers but fellow citizens. Where hospitality is deeply embedded in your DNA .In community, in communion, sharing bread, sharing wine, sharing lives. Setting the table for the whole world.

What makes up community? I’ve just returned from Denmark after visiting my daughter who is studying there. I was reflecting on the description of Denmark being one of the happiest countries on earth and what constituted such a title. Something about the value and worth they give to people. Smallest pay differential in the world- from carer to doctor just over2x salary. Peoples roles are valued more. Families are supported way beyond we could ever imagine. Students are paid to go to university – because why wouldn’t you want to support young minds being stretched and challenged? The emphasis is on people meeting up around the table, sharing food and friendship amongst stylish furniture! (Even the students) Everything is ‘hyggeligt’. The land of lego and construction, Lego means to play well. Community -value -worth -sharing around the table. All Hallows has it in shedfuls. The challenge ahead as you grow and numbers increase, is to be able to sustain/maintain/ encourage this Christ shaped community to continue. All-inclusive worship, every member ministry, Rainbow groups and house groups, the Junktion café, the quiet conversations, the practical support, go a long way to establish this. Through Christ we are all intrinsically linked, we are all embraced by grace, and our prayers, like those of the Ephesians with Christ as our corner stone. “The whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”. That we may continue to be a community, connected and constructed Where love can dwell, and we can be fully human, remade in God’s image. Amen.

Just another brick in the wall!

On yesterday’s wander around Fountains Abbey this weathered multi-hued wall caught my eye. Today’s Sunday message took in Pink Floyd’s bleak “just another brick in the wall” along with Isaiah’s call to be rebuilders and overcomes of injustice. #beautifulstones #uniquelyshaped #weathered #acidrain #fountainsabbey #sundaymessage #radical #renovation #nofilter

Janet Lindley

Sermon by Rev Anthea Colledge 17 February 2019

Notes from the sermon by Rev Anthea Colledge 17 February 2019

Isaiah 58:6-12
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke? 
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. 
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. 

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday. 
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters never fail. 
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
   the restorer of streets to live in. 

 

Matthew 16:13-18

 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

 Sermon

Thanks Heston for inviting me here today. It’s been a while but I always enjoy being around All Hallows folk. I work at the four central Leeds universities as their Anglican chaplain, but mainly at the University of Leeds. I’m also a part-time student at the University, so I’m really pleased to be here speaking today on Student Sunday. And of course it’s lovely to have faces I know from the University here today. And only very very slightly worrying that one of those faces belongs to one of the academics from the department where I’m a student…

So this is student Sunday, but I believe you’re also in a sermon series on the theme of building. So I had a think about how to bring those two things together, and what I came up with was – Pink Floyd. Anyone want to hazard a guess why?

The song – another brick in the wall. I was going to play it at the start of the sermon, and then I listened to it, and thought no, that’s going to depress everyone. But can anyone remember the lyrics?

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

Round where I grew up, all the schools had been built at the same time, and they all looked the same, and were all built out of those small red corporation bricks. So when I hear Pink Floyd’s song about a particular kind of rigid and oppressive teaching that’s what I imagine – walls of those red bricks, all looking the same, no creativity, just dull.

Of course, today’s students have decided that they do need education. And university education definitely isn’t intended to squeeze everyone into the same boxes, and it has nothing at all in common with the negative kinds of teaching Pink Floyd were talking about. But that fear of conformity, a fear of being all the same, of just having to accept the status quo – that fear still exists.

The stage of being a student is often a time of transition for people, maybe because they’re young and starting out in adult life, maybe because they’re older and changing career, maybe they’re not able to work and they’re studying part-time as part of their recovery. That kind of transition encourages you to think about your place in the world, and students often express that kind of fear that they might somehow end up becoming just another brick in the wall. But I don’t think it’s exclusive to students – from time to time we can all share those feelings.

So for anyone who shares that horror of being just another brick in the wall, there’s good news from our two Bible readings, both of which touch on this theme of building.

– Isaiah 58 is a text of dissent, an internal critique of the prophet’s own religious community that leads to an image of the community as creative and restorative builders

– And part of Matthew 16, that talks about being known and named by God as an individual, specifically Simon being called Peter the rock

Isaiah 58 was most likely written during what’s called the exile – at this point Jerusalem has been destroyed, the holy place, the Temple has been destroyed, and the people of God have been scattered, forcibly sent away from the places they call home. They still have a strong sense of being the community of God though, and twice a year have periods of fasting and prayer, setting aside time to give up some of the comforts of life and focus on praying and worshipping God. In fact it’s probably more accurate to say that the fasting wasn’t just a kind of spiritual discipline, as people might think of it today. The fasting was part of their worship of God and part of their life together as a religious community, part of being in a right relationship with God, not just as individuals but also as a community. They had lost their home, their sacred place, and their king, and they brought this before God in their fasting and prayers, looking for God to help them in their troubles.

For these people of God, everything had been broken down. The city of Jerusalem and the holy Temple have been reduced to piles of rubble.

In the verses just before our reading started, we hear them complain to God:

‘Why have we fasted,’ and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’

In other words, come on God – have you seen this mess? We’re trying our best here, we’re fasting, we’re praying, we’re worshipping in exactly the way that you told us to… We’re trying to rebuild this people, this community, and we’re being really careful as we do that we follow the rules for building – look, all the bricks are the right size and shape, the regulation size and shape, and still there’s no sign of you.

God doesn’t say, yes I’ll rebuild this for you. Instead, the prophet Isaiah offers quite the criticism of his own community. Isaiah points out that while the people are careful to fast and pray in the way that they’ve been commanded to do, they aren’t so careful about the rest of their behaviour. Even on the day of fasting they’re exploiting their workers and behaving violently to each other. Is that the kind of fasting God is looking for? Isaiah says not. Instead, we have the words that we heard just earlier:

THIS is the kind of fasting I have chosen:
loosening the chains of injustice and breaking the yoke of oppression, sharing your food with the hungry and not turning away from your own flesh and blood.

And then a promise to the community: IF you do this kind of fasting, then your light will rise in the darkness.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of broken walls,
   the restorer of streets to live in.

The Matthew reading is a different kind of dissenting text. In Caesarea Philippi, a town named after the emperor Caesarea Augustus, Jesus asks his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” It’s Simon who dares to step forward, answering, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Quite a political claim to make in that place of empire.

And Jesus blesses him, and then calls him Peter – sometimes translated as Cephas, or in Greek, Petros, the rock. “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Jesus sees something in Peter and names it, with a joke – you are Rocky and on this rock I will build my community. Tradition tells us that Peter was initially an unlikely candidate for a nickname implying stability and solidity – he rushed in impetuously, spoke before thinking, and denied Jesus. On the other hand, a rock might crush some things on the way down but once it’s in place it’s not likely to move… On another day perhaps we would want to think about what Jesus might see and name in us as he builds us into the church. But for today it’s enough to see that the kind of bricks that God uses to build God’s church are never ‘just another’ brick in the wall.  We are individually known and named.

Far from the oppressive red brick wall of my imagination, these readings are about liberation. A life-giving and generous community in which food is shared, injustices are challenged, and heavy burdens lifted becomes known as the builder and restorer of broken walls. Peter recognises Jesus as Messiah and in turn Jesus recognises Peter as a rock, one that will be built into the church.

So having talked about red brick walls, I want to leave you with a different image. This isn’t one where all the bricks are the same and a wall can be put up in a day if you know what you’re doing. Think instead of a dry stone wall where all the irregular shaped stones are carefully chosen, and then fitted together, and a wall takes weeks even when you know what you’re doing. I’ve known more than one person going through a divorce take themselves off on a dry stone walling course. There seems to be something about the process of choosing and then fitting stones into just the right place that’s almost like meditation. And of course, the walls will withstand the wind and rain for what, decades, if done well. When we talk about building and being built by God, that’s the kind of building we’re talking about.

Amen.

 

Sermon by Dr Jan Betts 10 February 2019

Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts 10 February 2019

This is the first of three sermons on building, which lead up to Lent and further into the future to our AGM and on beyond that. We want to think about what kind of church we want to build and are building and how we go about building.

We’ve done some building already, literally, in our toilets and a big hand for the building group, if anyone wants to join it hurray!!!!! And we have a leaking roof.

But today I want to focus on a really exciting Old Testament story where they had a similar problem, of communities which needed encouraging broken buildings which needed fixing . We don’t often focus on the OT but Jesus was steeped in it and built on it, no pun intended….

The two books of Ezra and Nehemiah are really one book, a slightly confused book in terms of timeline but telling a real story about two men who were prophets and builders.

Both these men were exiles. They had been swept up into the great empire of the Assyrians who held sway about 4-500 years before Jesus was born. It was a tough time for the Jews – remember ‘by the rivers of Babylon’? That was the Jews in exile. They were ruled by some ruthless and very clever kings, who actually respected local people and customs and who seem to have been impressed with some of the people who came from Jerusalem because Nehemiah we know was the king’s cupbearer, a very trusted position as he could easily poison the king if he wanted to – not that he’d have lived long afterwards!

Really importantly, both Ezra and Nehemiah seem to have kept their faith in God alive in exile, and for it to be known about and accepted as long as they were still loyal to the king. The problem of what to with minority groups was a live issue then as well.

Both Ezra and Nehemiah were concerned in their exile about the state of Jerusalem, about the worship which was happening there and the state of the buildings. We know more about Nehemiah, who one day had a message that the walls of Jerusalem were falling down and no one was doing anything about it. The temple was OK, but the great walls which were important as part of the city of God were in pieces, crumbling and making it very vulnerable. The walls were as much part of the city as the temple, illustrating the protection Of God for his people. Without walls, the people of God are disgraced and look defeated, as though without a protector.

So Nehemiah has a tense moment about what to do.

Reading – Nehemiah 2: 1-10

This is our first point about building our church. Nehemiah trusted God. His building had solid foundations. Let’s go on and see a bit more about how this works.

Nehemiah was sent back to Jerusalem as a Governor in Judea, with a promise to return, and was given all the resources he needed to build the walls. He was clearly a man who absolutely kept his word.

When he got there he was really clever because he’d learned from a master ruler. He was very quiet about what he was up to and took a small group of men out to inspect the gates by night, walking round the walls from the northeast corner to see how they were and he was horrified. In the same way Ezra had been horrified a few years earlier when he went back and found the temple worship in disarray and spent time teaching the people the history of their nations covenant with God and beginning to set in place the great story of the Jewish nation and their covenant with God. They both knew that the basis for their faith was the faithfulness of God and no building would ever last without this knowledge.

Jesus made this clear to his disciples too when he called them in Luke

READING – Luke 2 1-8

Jesus says to the disciples ‘look you think you know stuff but actually unless you trust me you can’t do it’. if we are to build anything, be it ourselves, our community our building we start by remembering the faithfulness and love of God in Jesus, as E and N remembered the covenant of God with his people.

Last week Graham asked what we were expecting when we came to church and that was a beautiful thing to ask. Today I want to continue that theme by asking are you here because you trust God to be here with you in some way, that however bad or good you might be feeling God has given us her love totally and we believe that? Are we here because we know through the work of God’s spirit, however dimly that God loves us and is the foundation of our faith? ‘Except the Lord build the house they labour in vain who build it’. ‘Build your house on rock not sand’ says Jesus. What happens to our sandcastles….

The foundations are the key to any building. Nehemiah called together those who still trusted God and they set to work.

So here comes the second bit of building principle. Nehemiah made the people work together, in Rainbow groups, the known as tribes, to do stuff. He gave them each other to help get the work done. We can’t build alone. We need each other to build up our own knowledge and experience of God and to do practical stuff. Ezra made the people read the law together – principle one, we are grounded in what God has done – and Nehemiah made them work together, principle two.

Did we come to church today as an individual? Or did we come as part of the body of Christ to support and be supported by each other? How willing are we to give to the work of God, building the people and building the place? This is a real practical plea in the year ahead when we are losing about a third of Heston and we need to keep building our church literally and spiritually.

It wasn’t easy going for those people of Jerusalem. They were harassed by enemies and Nehemiah made them work with a spear in one hand and trowel in the other, scared but determined ad encouraging each other. If you want to build a wall and only have one hand free you have to work together.

They fell out with each other, people were lazy, sometimes they grumbled like mad or even fought or didn’t feel like doing it, but this was their community and they worked hard because they were loved by God.

While they were working there were horrible political shenanigans going on. Their enemies wrote to the King that the Jews were plotting rebellion, and Nehemiah and Ezra had to fight this with shrewd political responses, getting the king to read back into old decrees and find out the truth. Nehemiah eventually went back to make sure the king knew he was loyal. They had to be brave and to look out for each other. Which led to more trouble as some Jews had been exploiting the labour and property of others and they had to be publicly called to account and remind them that God, their God didn’t allow this and that had to be sorted out with repentance and practice. Nehemiah had to face trickery from his enemies who tried to get him to enter the temple as eunuch which was forbidden. It was a really tough time which they got through by being supportive of each other and willing to admit where they had failed to live up to their own standards.

But eventually the gates of Jerusalem were put back into solid walls. Then principle number three comes into play for us. We have our foundation in the love and inclusivity of God. We build ourselves up, the walls. AND THEN we put the roof on. The roof which welcomes everyone who comes under it, which allows us to build for a wider community than our worshipping one and which helps us literally and metaphorically to be a ‘tent’ which covers and shelters and welcomes all. This is why we build community and church, to be the place and the people who share the love of God in Jesus.

We can’t and shouldn’t try to build alone. And that means every one of us matters, as Toby reminded us, we are the body of Christ. We work together with God, with each other and with our community.