Category Archives: Sermon

Sermon by Anna Bland 13th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 2)

Notes from the sermon by Anna Bland 13th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 2 – Kingdom Economics)

Readings:
Mark 6:30–44
1 Cor 11:17–26

Hello for those who don’t know me I am Anna.
I’ve been asked to talk to you about kingdom economics and the Eucharist. The symbol of self-giving love and a meal shared by friends on that fateful night which has resulted in two thousand years if us doing the same.
The gospel reading today is about a different meal shared by 5,000. Thousands fed with a meagre 5 loaves and two fishes.
In my reading for this sermon I came across a theological view I’d never heard before.
Rather than Jesus doing a miraculous multiplication of bread and fish, Jesus sharing the generosity of the young boy to inspire all to share what was in their bags and all were fed as a result.

To quote Myers the theologian who shared this view: ‘the only miracle here is the triumph of the economy of sharing within the context of a community of consumption.’
I love this.
It speaks of a Jesus who isn’t showing off his miraculous power but inspiring a change in each of us.
Making everyone more generous with those around them.
He’s helping us to create community through generosity -something that I think many of us would admit we don’t find easy.
The crowd is likely to have been a real diverse mix of Galilean society:
young, old, male, female, rich, poor, people born in Galilee, people not born in Galilee.
But all shared as equals.
It made me wonder:
Where in our lives could we eat alongside those who different from us?
I believe in this story as in many others Jesus is challenging us to seek out and be generous with those who challenge our view of the world, making us all more well-rounded and compassionate people.
We’re part of a culture built around consumption and forcing us to desire more and more, so never has this been more challenging.
Economist Grace Blakely said at Greenbelt that capitalism as a system is broken.
It’s a system based around gain for the rich and with the poorest paying the price, something we see reflected around the world today.
Unequal trade deals, tax havens, extreme weather hitting poor regions and some rich governments doing nothing – I could go on.
Since the financial crash Blakeley states in Britain the only people who are significantly wealthier are the wealthiest, so the average worker is no better off, the vulnerable are often far worse off due to government policy but the richest few are richer.
How different this is from the generosity of those listening to Jesus on the hill that day 2000 years ago.
One word really stands out to me in that story: all were ‘satisfied’ after the meal.
Not some were stuffed and some remained hungry but ALL were satisfied.
It speaks to us of a system running in a different way, on kingdoms economics rather than earthly economics.
This idea is reflected in 1 Corinthians where Paul chastises them for their Eucharist meals where some, the richer individuals in the party, are full and drunk while others leave the meal hungry.
This has implications for us. Where are we greedy and full, leaving others hungry?
Or do we ever feel that we’re leaving the table hungry?
Where in our lives, in our local communities, can we adopt a system of kingdom economics rather than earthly economics?
One way is as a consumer, as Christians partaking in the Eucharist we are contributing to this global system: where is our bread produced?
Who made the wine?

Gorringe has some strong words for us on this topic: ‘bread which takes from the poor for the consumption of the rich is not the bread of life but bread of death.
In that case our worship is not a Eucharist but idolatry and worship of mammon.’
His words do offer a significant challenge to me and force me to think not only about where my bread and wine come from, but also my veg, tea, coffee, clothes -I could go on.
I believe we’re called to understand our place in the world and in this complex capitalism system and do the best we can to create a more beautiful and equal world from where we are.
One of the reasons the Capitalist system is broken, says Blakeley, is due to climate change and the ecological disasters which are already happening, and are predicted to get worse.
She shared a terrifying message for the future but also her more hopeful view that through this disaster comes opportunity:
because powerful people are now seeing that the capitalism system is leading us to death and destruction and we NEED something different.
It’s no longer optional.
Many here I think would say “about time, and they really need to hurry up.”
With 100 councils declaring a climate emergency and much talk around the green new deal she suggested things are moving in the right direction.

I see a parallel with the child in the feeding of the 5,000 and the young people of today led by Greta Thunberg – the school strikes and their strong views on plastic.
I pray they are leading us to a better, fairer, greener future.
When I read back over this sermon I felt overwhelmed by our responsibility as consumers, campaigners, community members.
And I feared I was only contributing to the feelings of inadequacy many of us feel in the face of such overwhelming problems.
There simply isn’t enough time in the day, week, year or lifetime to make the difference we want in the world.
I believe God sees our intentions for good and even if we don’t hit the mark every time, when we buy something unethical or fail to invite our neighbour in for tea because we are tired, I believe there is always forgiveness and grace.
I leave you with this poem by Thomas Merton, which has relevance for us as individuals but also for our world:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


If you would like to find out more about this series then please visit Phil Gardner’s site.

Sermon by Paul Magnall 6th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 1)

Notes from the sermon by Paul Magnall 6th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 1 – Sign of love / Sign of hope)

Readings:
Genesis 9:11-16
Exodus 13:3-16
Acts 2:37–47 

Friday was 4th October the feast of St Francis, the last day of Creation-tide and the time when we focus specifically on God’s Creation, not that we should forget about it for the rest of the year! And Extinction Rebellion will be doing their bit this week to remind us about how we are treating God’s creation.

Today is when we celebrate harvest. We urban dwelling people are more out of touch with the seasons and so harvest might otherwise pass us by especially if we are not involved in growing and harvesting any of our own foods. I will be talking about food today (I never stop thinking about food!) but not so much in connection with harvest.

As I have talked about before, much of our lives, both individual lives and community lives, are guided and influenced by the stories that we tell or are told. If we are brought up to believe that we are superior to everyone else then we will live that way. If we are told that we are worthless when we are young then that is what we are likely to believe as we grow up. If we are part of a nation who believe that they were a great nation once upon a time and that now we have lost our influence in the world then we may well believe that we need to make our nation great again. Some of the stories that influence us are quite obvious, some are much more hidden and subtle.

So today “I wanna tell you a story”!

“Way, Way back many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began!” (Catherine plays tune)

The story of the Bible starts with Creation, something we have been looking at over the last month during Creation tide. The creation story ends with Adam and Eve walking with God in the garden, in paradise. But then things go wrong

Time passes and a very wealthy Jacob with his many wives and sons are living together tending their sheep. Joseph is brought up believing himself to be Jacob’s favourite son and so he acts in a way that really gets his brothers backs up and they try to do away with him. To cut a long story short, as we don’t have the time this morning and I can’t do the whole Bible in half an hour like Heston does, the whole of Jacob’s family end up abandoning their lifestyle and moving to Egypt where they are welcomed. Time passes, Jacobs descendants have increased in numbers and the Egyptians feel threatened by these “refugees” that they welcomed in and so they make them into slaves and all male offspring are killed. Along comes Moses and after some further amazing stories and not a few plagues the Israelites leave Egypt for the wilderness. A new story emerges of how God has chosen them and rescued them from slavery. This is a great new story to live by, they are chosen, special, loved. God is with them. But, and there’s always a but, how will they live in the wilderness? At least in Egypt they had a roof over their heads and some food to eat even if they were slaves!

But God has something else to teach them. The Joy in Enough! Every morning, except the Sabbath, there was enough food for them. It miraculously appeared. There was enough for the day, not too much, not too little, just enough. Except on the day before the Sabbath when there would be enough for the next day as well. We are reminded of this when we pray “give us this day our daily bread” – a prayer for enough, not too much, not too little – a prayer that we should be satisfied with enough.

And so for forty years the people of Israel wander in the desert learning to trust in God, learning how to live in community sharing what they have and that they could live on enough.

Jewish tradition grew from this. Every Sabbath the family would sit together and remember parts of the story of the Exodus using the food of their meal as symbols. For example, in the Sabbath meal on the Friday night they have two loaves of bread to remind themselves that God gave two lots of manna on the day before the Sabbath.

And each year Jewish families celebrate the Passover, Pesach Sedar, with a meal with even more symbolism. Examples include
• bitter herbs to represent the bitterness of slavery in Egypt,
• unleavened bread to represent the speed with which the Israelites had to pack up and leave Egypt, they didn’t have time to let the bread rise
• Salt water to represent the tears of the slaves
• Cushions on the seats to show that they can now recline in comfort at their meal since they are no longer slaves

Pesach Sedar, the Passover meal, is celebrated in many different ways across the world with added symbolism according to the history of that Jewish community eg an additional cup of wine known as Miriam’s cup is used in some communities to symbolise Miriam’s Well and the role of women in the Exodus story.

There is so much symbolism and storytelling in this meal and this has sustained Jewish communities over the centuries through all the good times and the bad times.

So let us go back to the time of Jesus and the stories that the Jewish community were telling themselves at that time, and the way in which Jesus wove old and new meaning into the story.

The Jews were again being oppressed. This time they weren’t slaves in a foreign land, they were living in their own homeland, the land that God had promised them but they were being ruled over by yet another invader – the pagan Romans.

The Romans allowed the Jews a certain amount of religious freedom but they were definitely in charge. They imposed their own rules which often contradicted the religious rules of the time. They taxed everyone. They took over land to grow food and wine to export back to Rome. They set about factory fishing the lakes for fish to in order to send them back to Rome. They were the supreme colonialists. And if anyone contradicted them or opposed them they had the military machine to impose “Roman Peace” and to remind everyone that Caesar was the all-powerful “Son of God”.

The Passover meal gained importance for many Jews as it gave them hope, if God could rescue them from the Egyptians He could do it again with the Romans. It inspired some to resist the Romans, every Passover festival the Romans had to send extra troops to Jerusalem in order to enforce their “Roman Peace”.

Into this situation came Jesus. He reminded the Jews of their story, often re-interpreted it and brought new meaning. Let’s look at a few examples:
• In feeding the 4000 and 5000 he reminded them of the story of God feeding them in the wilderness with manna from heaven, that God supplies all their needs, that they should have “Joy in Enough”. Their wealth was not in material things but in being a community walking with God.
• In listening to, speaking to and healing people from all races, all backgrounds, all walks of life – the untouchables, the women, the foreigners, the oppressors, the other – Jesus reminded them that God is the creator of all and the lover of all Creation.
• Jesus told them that to be the children of God you should love your enemies and pray for them since God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:45)

Jesus told a story of a chosen people that was different from the one that the Jewish community were living by at the time. The narrative of Jesus was about a God who loved all of creation, who provided for all and that we should all respond by loving and caring for all of creation and each other. And this narrative got him into a lot of trouble!

So, back to food!

According to the synoptic gospels the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples was a Passover meal or Pesach Sedar. Jesus took the meal that his fellow Jews ate to remember their time as slaves in Egypt and to celebrate that God chose them as a people and led them out of Egypt, into the wilderness and then onto the promised land, Jesus took that meal and gave it what was to become a new narrative, a new story for his followers. In the Jewish Passover those taking part would discuss the symbolism of the meal – the roasted lamb, the unleavened bread, the wine, the bitter herbs. In the meal that Jesus celebrated with his followers Jesus did the same but differently. He talked of the bread as being his body, of the wine as his blood – as I understand it he was redefining the symbols as speaking of what was happening to him. He was saying “I am bringing to this meal a new understanding, a new narrative, a new story. Use these symbols to retell my story in the same way that Jews have retold their story for centuries before.” Of course, the disciples were so wrapped up in their traditional narrative they didn’t understand until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The early Christian Church was mostly made up of Jewish followers of Jesus and they would have celebrated the Sabbath and the Passover in the traditional Jewish way but with a Christian narrative. As the church grew and non-Jewish Christians grew in number their practice would have been different as they wouldn’t have had that Jewish tradition, that Jewish narrative to guide them.

Here is a description of early Christian worship from the second century AD.

Early Christian worship
In the middle of the second century a Christian writer, Justin, explains
Christian practice to the educated Roman public, telling how ‘On that day
which is called after the sun all who are in the towns and in the country
gather together for a communal celebration.’ First the writings of apostles
and prophets are read, ‘as long as time permits’; then follows an
exhortation by the president:
Then we all rise together and pray and, when our prayer is ended,
bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like
manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,
and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to
each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given,
and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And
they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and
what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the
orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other
cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers
sojouming among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in
need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common
assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a
change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ
our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.
[From The Sign of Love, chapter 1, by Tim Gorringe]

Since that time, as Christianity has spread around the world and met different cultures and sub-cultures, been absorbed into the Roman Empire and other empires as the state religion new narratives, new interpretations and new practices have either sprung up or been imposed. Today all the different “flavours” of Christianity have their own emphasises, their own practices, their own narratives. I come from a background of exclusivity in the celebration of this meal. In the church that I first went to only those who were baptised and were members of that local church could take part in the meal, it was held once a month after the service once everyone else had left and consisted of tiny squares of white sliced bread and tiny thimble like cups of non-alcoholic wine plus lots of words. It had it’s good points and it’s bad points!

We all have our own backgrounds. Some of us have no or very little experience of church practices. Some are from so-called “low” church, some are from “high” church, many of us are from Western traditions but some are from Eastern traditions. We all have our own stories, narratives, interpretations that hopefully speak to us through this meal.

Sign of love / sign of hope
Over thousands of years people have been sustained and inspired by the signs of love and signs of hope that they have found in the Sabbath and Passover meals and the Eucharist or Holy Communion. A meeting place for God and people – God and people sat down together, sharing food and wine, listening to one another and caring for each other, sharing one another’s joys and burdens, recapturing God’s plan for all of Creation. I believe that in these times of political and environmental crisis we need this sign of love and hope more than ever. For me, the story of a faithful God working throughout history, through all sorts of people, continually reminding us of His-Story, his narrative for the world, giving us our daily bread, continually breaking down the barriers between us, giving us new life, new hope – I am reminded of all of this in the simple sharing of bread and wine.

Over the next 6 weeks we would love it if we could share and explore our understanding of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Mass, Holy Communion, whatever you choose to call this meal. It is a central part of most, but not all, Christian traditions. It is so full of meaning and death and life and resurrection, of symbolism and of power and of the power to change.

Amen


If you would like to find out more about this series then please visit Phil Gardner’s site.

 

Sermon by the Revd Dr Angela Birkin 15th September 2019

Notes from the sermon by the Revd Dr Angela Birkin 15th September 2019

Readings:
Exodus 3: 1-15
Luke 3: 15-17

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

When I first heard that I would be preaching this morning on the theme of ‘fire’ as part of a sermon series following on from sermons on the themes of earth and air or wind, I have to admit that my first thoughts involved the song Boogie Wonderland, one of the great disco songs of the late 70s by the group Earth Wind and Fire. Thankfully my thoughts moved on, but I do defy anyone not to dance when that particular song comes on the radio.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘fire’?

Do you think of beautiful dancing flames, the delicious smells of a barbeque, warmth on a cold evening?

Or do you think of how humans have harnessed fire to cook food, bake pots and bricks, work metal, produce steam power, electricity and the internal combustion engine?

Or do you think of the destruction and terror and pain and loss of life that fire can cause when it is uncontrolled, or used as a weapon?

Maybe all these thoughts pass through your mind because fire can be comforting and useful whilst also being terrifying and hard to control.

Perhaps it is not too surprising that the writers of the books of the Bible use fire as one of the descriptions of, one of the metaphors for, God,

e.g. in the Old Testament:

Exodus 24:17 ‘The appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain.’

Deuteronomy 4:24 ‘For the LORD your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.’

And in the New Testament

Hebrews 12:29 ‘our God is a consuming fire.’

Fire is also written of as a weapon of God’s righteous judgment:

Isaiah 66:15-16 ‘For the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to pay back his anger in fury, and his rebuke in flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD execute judgment.’

And fire is a common biblical symbol of God’s presence:

Exodus again, 14:24 ‘At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army.’

So far, so terrifying and not very comfortable, but we should take notice and consider how this challenges us and our view of God.

Is our picture of God too comfortable, too tame, too small?

Do we play down the strength of the anger of God at injustice, cruelty, greed, and the desecration of creation?

Do we know that when we try to manipulate God, ‘if you do this for me God then I will do that for you’ we are playing with fire?

What does it mean to someone who has suffered greatly in this life at the hands of others to know that ‘by fire will the Lord execute judgment’?

Bearing all this in mind let’s look at our reading from Exodus. Moses is looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, and at Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, he comes upon a burning bush.

This is not an unusual sight in a hot, dry climate, think of the moorland fires which break out during spells of dry weather here, and the wildfires which have occurred in Europe, the Americas and Australia. But something makes Moses turn aside to taka a closer look. The bush was blazing but was not consumed. The energy producing light and heat was not due to combustion using fuel and oxygen, but due to the presence of God.

God has come to talk with Moses because God has heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt and has a plan to save them, a plan involving Moses.

In the ever-burning shrub God comes down to Moses’ size, meeting Moses where he is, but at the same time the inextinguishable flame is the sign of God’s awesome and powerful holiness. ‘Take off your sandals Moses’ says God, ‘for this is holy ground. I am going to send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt. I will be with you’.

The fiery holiness of God; attractive ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up’ said Moses, and dangerous ‘Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look at God’, frightening and yet comforting, untamed but reassuring, ‘I will be with you’ God said to Moses. Fearful and wonderful.

In our passage from Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist says that the one who is coming, Jesus, ‘will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’, and at Pentecost when all the believers were together in one place, ‘divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Acts 2.3-4

Fearfully and wonderfully, the Holy Spirit of God came to the believers where they were, frightening no doubt but also comforting, in John’s Gospel chapter 14 the Holy Spirit is called the advocate, the comforter or the helper.

Untamed – the believers started to speak in other languages and were accused of being drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning- but reassuring for it was just as the risen Jesus had promised before his ascension, and they knew that the risen Christ was with them.

‘I will be with you’ God said to Moses from the fiery bush.

‘I am with you always, to the end of the age,’ said Jesus to his disciples. Matt. 28:20

God had a plan involving Moses, came and met with him and equipped him.

God in Jesus Christ had a plan for his disciples, came and met with them and equipped them.

God in Jesus Christ has a plan for us, comes and meets us where we are, whoever we are, no exceptions, and equips us fearfully and wonderfully. And God’s plan always involves salvation, mercy and justice: freeing those who are enslaved by poverty, war, famine, abuse, and violence.

But we need to be observant like Moses. We need to look for God’s presence in people and all creation, and if we notice beauty and strangeness and holiness we need to be prepared to turn aside to take a closer look. If we don’t we may well miss an encounter with the divine.

Poets say things so well in few words:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning from ‘Aurora Leigh’,

‘Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.’

R.S Thomas, priest and poet: ‘The Bright Field’

‘I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.’

God in Jesus Christ equips us to serve God’s kingdom of love and mercy and justice with Godself, the Holy Spirit so that everywhere we walk is holy ground, is burning with the inextinguishable fire, the unquenchable fire,  of God who is love.

Words of Woody Guthrie:

‘That spot is holy holy ground
That place you stand, it’s holy ground
This place you tread, it’s holy ground
God made this place his holy ground.

Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk, it’s holy ground
Every spot on earth I traipse around
Every spot I walk, it’s holy ground.’

Amen.

Sermon by Graeme Hay 8th September 2019

Notes from the sermon by Graeme Hay 8th September 2019

Creation Season part 2:Air

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

Creation: Fearfully and wonderfully made Air and Breathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause for time to rest and receive from Holy Spirit.

AMEN

 

Sermon by Toby Parsons 1st September 2019

Notes from the sermon by Toby Parsons 1st September 2019

Creation Season (Earth)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon by Rev Angela Birkin 25 August 2019

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

Luke 13:10-17

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

Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 18 August 2019

Notes from the Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 18 August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon by the Rev. Tony Whatmough, 11 August 2019

 Notes from the Sermon Preached by Tony Whatmough

Readings

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

 

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

Easier said than done!

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

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

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

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

And it’s something that affects Catherine and me.

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

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

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

And what is Jesus’ antidote to this fear?

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

That also rings bells with us as well!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where the letter to the Hebrews comes in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Store up treasure in heaven.

Get rid of your fear – give to the poor.

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

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

 

Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 28 July 2019

Notes from the Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 28 July 2019

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

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

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

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

Colossians 2:6-15

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

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

Luke 11:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon by Toby Parsons 14 July 2019

Notes from the sermon by Toby Parsons 14 July 2019

Reading:
Luke 10, 25-37

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

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

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

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

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