Category Archives: Sermon

Sermon by Paul Magnall 11th March 2018

Notes from the sermon by Paul Magnall on the 11th March 2018

Readings:

Psalm 37

Luke 6:20-49

What are the stories that we live by?

What are the stories that shape or control or direct our lives?

I don’t mean Harry Potter, James Bond or Little Women.

I mean stories like:

– Survival of the fittest – a story that has us trampling over everyone else, laughing down at those who fail and living in fear and awe of those who do better than us

– Perpetual economic growth – a story that has us accumulating more and more stuff that we don’t use and we then throw away. A story where we live as though there are unlimited resources. (there is no planet B). This story has it that we are all independent actors in an economic model of growth. In this reality it is money that gives us value, and we don’t need anybody else because we have to buy what we need. That is the society that this story portrays.

– And at the same time there is the story of a world of scarcity that helps to fuel the first two stories. This is a story where there is a shortage or lack of money or food or iPhones or tickets for concerts and so we have to compete to obtain them. We have to use power to overcome others in order to obtain the things that we want and that we believe to be scarce. At a personal level we see it in the January sales where people fight each other to get items on sale even though they don’t need them, and sometimes don’t actually want them! On a national and international level a perceived shortage of oil leads to wars in the Middle East, a shortage of water is likely to lead to fighting in the near future. And who knows, we may end up going to war to secure fertile land to grow food.

– Then there is the story of superiority, that “we are better than them”, “we deserve more than them”, “they are too different from us”, “you have nothing to contribute” – a story that has us building walls or barriers, rules and regulations, or attitudes and behaviours designed to keep foreigners or coloureds or women or gays or disabled people or old people or young people – anyone different to us – out of our country, our homes, our churches, our political system, our organisations, our sight. A story that leads to detention centres like Yarl’s Wood, that leaves elderly people alone in care badly run care homes

– The story of fear and security where we perceive someone to be a threat to us and so we need to be better armed than them. If we have the armaments that can destroy them should they attack us then we will be safe. A story of deterrence and Mutually Assured Destruction, of fear and paranoia. A story where our lives are more valuable than theirs.

These stories speak of separation, scarcity and powerlessness

• Separation – we are separate from each other, from nature, from the world. What we do doesn’t affect anyone else and we can’t change things because we are on our own.

• Scarcity – the things we need are in short supply. There is a shortage of wealth, of material goods, of love, of happiness, of good things and we have to compete for them if we want them and then hoard them and protect them at all cost once we have them.

• Powerlessness – we are powerless to change things because we are on our own. Even in the groups we form we cannot change things because the problems are too big. If I change the way I do something it will have no effect on the rest of the world so why bother?

Just some examples:

The story of our political system screams, “Us versus them”

The story of our economic system screams, “Scarcity!”

The story of our medical environment screams, “Be afraid!”

Together, they keep us alone and scared to change.

These stories are breeding ground for violence – not necessarily the use of guns or of domestic violence but the violence we find in competing for things where other people get trampled underfoot or the world gets trashed, where things of real value in the world are actively rubbished.

So how do we change this?

It is often said that we can’t change the world using the same stories that the world runs by. We can’t bring peace by force, we can’t bring equity through inequitable systems. There is a saying “You can’t grow corn by planting tomato seeds”. The story that we live by is born out in how we live.

So maybe we need a new story. A story that brings hope to our world, a story that brings healing, that brings

• interdependence instead of separation

• abundance instead of scarcity

• freedom instead of powerlessness

• peace instead of violence

This brings us to the story of the Bible and the story of Jesus. People over the ages have discovered that the stories woven throughout the Bible can transform and bring healing, not only to individuals, but to society, to the world.

The Old Testament has many examples of people trying to move from an old story of separation, scarcity, powerlessness and violence to a new story of interdependence, abundance, freedom and peace. A classic one that Heston has talked us through before and I believe you looked at two weeks ago is the Exodus story. The Israelites were in Egypt, separated from their homes, kept as slaves and in fear of violence by an oppressive regime. They had been swallowed up by the story of the land of Egypt. God, through Moses, leads them out of Egypt into the wilderness where they struggle to let go of the old story of Egypt and embrace the story of interdependence, abundance, freedom and peace. They keep falling back into the old ways – they worship a golden calf, they try to hoard the manna that feeds them, they argue and bicker and have power struggles. It takes a whole generation before they are ready to embrace the new story and move into the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey.

A similar story can be seen with the life of Jesus. Despite all the miracles and teachings of Jesus the people struggled to let go of the old story of Roman domination, of religious manipulation, of fear and violence. It takes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to change that story, to open the eyes and minds and hearts of his followers, to lead them into a life of interdependence where they share in the abundance, freedom and peace that they find in the new story.

“Before they are able to enter a new story, most people—and probably most societies as well—must first navigate the passage out of the old. In between the old and the new there is an empty space. It is a time when the lessons and learnings of the old story are integrated. Only when that work has been done is the old story really complete.” (Charles Eisenstein)

Lent and Easter are a time where we can examine the stories that we live by and take the time to bring them to a conclusion and move into the new story that God brings, a story that will bring healing to our lives, to society and to the world.

So let’s have a brief look at a bit of those stories that we see in today’s reading in Luke:

1. love your enemies

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.

This is so “other” to what we are brought up to believe. The story of the world is that the enemy is to be feared, to be resisted. We should arm ourselves to the back teeth to deter them and to threaten them with annihilation should they try anything. Whether it is the Germans, the Russians, Chinese, North Vietnamese, Iraqis, Iranians, North Koreans, Muslim extremists, hackers or aliens! This pervades our story books, our films, our whole life story. And yet here we are told a new story – love them. Love our enemies.

And this isn’t a passive love, it is an active love. We should do what is best for them – bless them if they curse us, pray for those that mistreat us. And verse 29 is an incredibly powerful verse. This isn’t saying “lie down and let them trample over you”, it is an act of resistance. A slap around the face was what the superior did to the inferior, the masters did it to their slaves, husbands to their wives, parents to their children, and Romans did it to the Jews. The point was to put someone who was out of line back in their place, to reinforce the hierarchy. But if you turn your other cheek you can’t be slapped (right hand only here!) you would have to use the fist – but only equals used their fists and the last thing the oppressor will want to do is demonstrate equality. By turning the cheek the “inferior” is saying: “I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won’t take it anymore.”

In that story of honour and shaming, the “superior” has been rendered impotent to instil shame in a subordinate. He has been stripped of his power to dehumanize the other. As Gandhi taught, “The first principle of nonviolent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.”

The new story is saying “Stand up for yourselves, defy your masters, assert your humanity; but don’t answer the oppressor in kind. Find a new, third way that is neither cowardly submission nor violent reprisal.”

2. Give your tunic

If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.

Debt was a big problem in Jesus time, and is now as well. Debt is part of the old story of scarcity and the Bible challenges this again and again. In this verse where Jesus says “If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them” Jesus is not saying give them what they want, he is again saying use the system against itself. Don’t live the old story, live the new one. People were usually poor because they were in debt due to an oppressive system. The land grabbers of Jesus time imposed exorbitant interest rates to drive land owners deep into debt and eventually people were literally left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. A cloak was a very important piece of clothing. It was the way you kept warm in cold weather. It kept the sun off in the hot weather. It served as a blanket or pillow at night. So if you were letting your cloak go it was probably as a pledge – you are so poor you have nothing else you can offer as surety. In Exodus 22:26 God commands that if a man takes another man’s cloak as a pledge, the cloak must be given back before nightfall so that he can have something to sleep in.

So why give your undergarment as well as your cloak? This would mean that you would be stripped naked! In Judaism at the time nakedness was taboo but shame fell not so much on the naked person but on the person who saw you naked (Gen 9:20-27). The creditor here is being shamed, the poor man has turned the tables on him, he is protesting against the system that has created his debt, it is almost as if he is saying “You want my robe? Here, take everything! Now you’ve got all I have except my body. Is that what you’ll take next?” The story changes from one that shows a poor man down on his luck to a story that unmasks an unjust system that creates debt. The rich man, the creditor, is revealed, not as a legitimate money lender, but as a party to the system that impoverishes others. The action of the debtor changes the story and offers the creditor a chance to see what he is doing and a chance to change his ways.

I could go on. The next verse is verse 30 “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” There is a story here as well, this is rooted in the Old Testament and God’s teaching about borrowing and about the principle of the Jubilee which includes forgiving debt every 7 years.

The story that Jesus gives us is so different from the story by which the world operates. The story of the world is about separation, scarcity, powerlessness and violence – if we stop and look at how we live and find these things we know we are living by the story of the world. If we find that we are bring interdependence, abundance, freedom and peace then maybe we are starting to live the Jesus story and bringing healing to our fragmented and hurting world.

But doing this on your own is almost impossible. As we know from New Year resolutions and trying to commit to giving things up or taking things on during Lent, it is so difficult to do. The story of separation, scarcity, powerlessness and violence that the world gives us is shouted so loudly and whispered so subtly through everything around us that we often feel powerless to change things and to live that different story. It is like building a house on sand, everything keeps collapsing.

Charles Eisenstein says “usually, people cannot hold a new story by themselves. A story can be held only in community” and that is one of the reasons we come together. So that we can

• Share the story of Jesus, of hope and of healing, of interdependence, of abundance, of freedom and peace.

• Support each other and remind each other that there is another way,

• Encourage each other and cheer each other on,

• Stand with those who are naked and with those who are in debt, those who are threatened with deportation, those who are lonely and isolated, those who feel undervalued or worthless, those who feel they have nothing

• Celebrate with those who find release and healing, who have found abundance in life

• When we share the Feast of Life we are re-enacting a new story of hope and healing, a story of interdependence and reconciliation, of abundance and freedom, of peace. A story that contrasts with the old story of the world.

In short, by living the new story together we bring in the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.

The world tells us to seek success, power and money.

God tells us to seek humility, service and love.

— Pope Francis

References and resources

Jesus and Non-violence – A Third Way, Walter Wink

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, Charles Eisenstein

Inspiration from a withered hand

Ted Schofield has been inspired by David’s sermon on Jesus healing the man with the withered hand to produce these paintings. Ted says “the point that came across to me is that the man had the courage to stretch out his hand and reveal his weakness to Christ. I have created several different hands which represent different people and different kinds of pain.”

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Sermon by Rev David Randolph Horn 25th February 2018

Notes from the Sermon by Rev David Randolph Horn on 25th February 2018

Reading: Luke 6 vs 1-19

I think you are going to find this story of the man with the withered hand inspiring and encouraging.

It is one of those fabulous passage in which the love and challenging character of Jesus shines through. It is one of those passages that shows how inclusive Jesus was and is. We are called in the first commandment to love God and this passage shows Jesus wonderfully at work and shows how he works today in our midst.

In verses 1-5 the scene is set the Pharisees are out to get him for failing to keep commandments to observe the Sabbath and Jesus say he is Lord of the Sabbath the golden rules is to love God on the Sabbath and to observe it by being good to yourself and to others : (the second commandment) .   He says elsewhere the Sabbath was made for humanity not humanity for the Sabbath.  So we read that on the day the Pharisees were watching him. They had power over the people they were in bible language “oppressors” and these oppressors were watching him. Bob Marley in his song “downpressor man” is singing about these people. He asks on judgement day where are you going to run to downpressor man.

David sings  “Downpressor man where you going to run to? Downpressor man where you going to run to, ohhhh on that day “

Tom in his sermon a couple of weeks back introduced us to parallel gospels and I am passing one round and you may notice Luke alone tells us that the wounded man had a wounded right hand and only Luke tells us his wounded hand was his right hand.

Andrew Mustapha is going to help us think about it being his right hand that was withered.

(Andrew shared what the left hand and right hand are used for in North African cultures ie the right hand is kept for “clean” things)

In Jesus day there was no running water easily at hand all water had to be carried from a well. So the right hand was used for greeting people the right hand was the hand used to eat with.  And often they would eat from a common dish .The left hand was the one used to go to the loo and to clean your bum after wards or to wash yourself when you had a period.  And a right hand is crucial in doing many kinds of work where greater dexterity is needed.  A man with a wounded right hand would be poor excluded from society and regarded as unclean. He would have to eat alone. The Latin word for left is sinistra from which we get our word sinister. So Luke tells us something important and Luke all along includes stories about the often overlooked that is children, the poor, the excluded, the oppressed, the women, all get to be heroes in Luke.

So picture the scene! How do you see it?

I picture the man with his wound hidden. Perhaps you have wounds that you hide perhaps some things from your childhood. Perhaps abuse, perhaps incest, perhaps things your parents did and said which wounded you and which sapped your confidence.  Perhaps you discovered you were gay/bi/or Trans and were terrified of people finding out.

And Jesus is there but so are the Pharisees and you are not sure about Jesus disciples. But Jesus says come and stand here and then he says the most awful thing stretch out your hand show your wound. Bible study on Tuesday last was gripping… humbling…. awesome as people talked about deep wounds they normally kept hidden. God/Jesus/ Holy spirit alone is the healer of these things.

So who is helping who do what?

Jesus s healing the man

Jesus and the man are teaching the disciples who are about to be called Luke’s ordering of stories is inspired.

Jesus and the man confront the oppressors the downpressors the Pharisees.

Jesus does not just heal the man he calls the wounded soul to be his partner in challenging others.  In spite of your hurts and wounds Jesus is calling you. Because of your wounds Jesus is calling you!! Because of your wounds Jesus is saying stand here with me so oppression can be confronted and Liberation won.  Paul had a wound he asked Jesus to take away. He did not and Paul with all his gifts of healing was not healed but he was still used and used powerfully.

Isn’t Jesus fabulous? He is the same today so stand up and show your wounds and come be part of Jesus work of liberation.

Stretch forth your hand for healing in the prayer time set aside for healing. Stretch out your wounded place and come offer yourself to be in partnership with Jesus. Commit yourself with all your wounds to follow him for ever, for always.  Let him be your Lord your healer, your friend, your God. Love him follow him open your bible every day open your heart every day and of course come to Bible Study on Tuesdays. Can’t come Tuesdays tell me when you can come and we will start another group.  Don’t be shy…. be prepared to be amazed.

Sunday 18th February 2018

Readings: Luke 4 – Jesus in the desert testing his ‘Chosen One’ vocation vs. the Exodus story with the Israelites in the desert testing their ‘Chosen People’ vocation.

Heston took us through the parallel stories of the Israelites leaving Egypt and wandering in the desert for 40 years, and Jesus being tempted by the devil in his 40 day fast in the wilderness.  The desert sand tray and water effects were all very effective!

Whereas the Israelites failed to keep faith with God, and created the Golden Calf whilst Moses was up Mount Sinai receiving the the Ten Commandments, Jesus turned the devil away and resisted all the temptations.

The two pictures can seem to tell an unattractive story.  The people having a great time worshiping the calf are about to be thumped by Moses, whereas Jesus’s victory over the devil involves huge self denial.

The two images show the opposite reactions to this time of testing in the desert. The point that came through to me was that Jesus won through; whereas the Israelites lost heart, he showed he was stronger than the temptations of the world.  But I wanted to show that he really was hungry…..if he hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have been a real victory at all.

Ted

Jesus being tempted to turn stones into bread in the wilderness

The Golden Calf….can you spot Moses?

 

Pictures by Ted Schofield, inspired by Sunday’s service.

Sermon by Nigel Greenwood 28 January 2018

Notes from the Sermon by Nigel Greenwood 28th January 2018

Readings

James 2:14-26 and Matthew 25:31-40

Every time I approach Leeds coming from over the Pennines, just as the M-621 dips around Cottingley a spectacular vista opens up of our great city – a view which surely inspires all who pass this way.  Having been born and bred in Leeds, I feel totally at home here – it’s widely regarded as a great place to live, study, work, shop and relax.  Indeed, there was once a poster publicising our city taken from that very spot on the motorway, but with a caption headed: “Leeds – the promised land” and as the view unfolds, I am always drawn to the potential arrogance of this perspective – yes, we celebrate its prosperity, its diversity, its culture –  but behind this facade lies the reality for many of its citizens, who do not share its success.  Speaking at Diocesan Synod several years ago, a leader of the council referred to areas in which “conspicuous wealth confronts abject poverty” and sadly this remains today.  However, Leeds is also a city of sanctuary, a city of harmony, one where people of all faiths or none are fully committed to working for the common good.  It is surely this which makes Leeds such a great city, with a real sense of community, and I’ll share some stories from our city a little later.

It would be easy to say that Leeds is blessed with many organisations providing care and support for those in need – but even as I was writing these words, the realisation of an even greater blessing dawned on me if they were not actually required at all.  However, reality returned as I reflected further, and of course so many people and groups are regularly involved in their local communities and often city-wide, two local examples being Headingley Street Angels and the Wydan Night Shelter.

After our Christmas and New Year celebrations, it is fitting at this time of year that our thoughts are drawn to people whose needs remain throughout the year, as churches across the land mark today as Homelessness Sunday, followed in two weeks by Poverty Action Sunday.  Raising awareness among the wider community is of course important – but as Christians it is so much more – an integral and vital part of living the Gospel imperative to love our neighbour.

Our epistle reading from the letter of James makes it absolutely clear that both faith and works are inextricably linked, using examples to show how they go together and concluding: “just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead”;  so putting faith into practice is as much an essential part of being a Christian as our devotions and Mother Teresa tells us: “what matters most is the gift of yourself; the degree of love you put into everything you do”.

Clearly, all this echoes our Gospel reading, from a time of intense teaching by Christ, which underpins an obligation to social justice as central to our faith.  There is absolute clarity about what expected of us – but it goes much deeper in the last few words, saying: “truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”.  These words may challenge us, but it seems to me that they make two particular points – firstly we should treat everyone equally, but then give priority to those with the greatest needs. They leave us in no doubt about our duty to provide care for the most vulnerable members of our community. As ever, Christ’s teaching gives us much to reflect on and pray about – a vital part of our spiritual growth.

As we consider our priorities, they give us a sense of focus, purpose and direction.  This simple word “least” draws us to use our time, energy, resources and gifts where they can be most effective – where the need is greatest.  It moves us through concepts such as equal opportunity and parity of esteem – important as they are – to a deeper understanding of people and recognition that, just as we receive God’s unconditional love we must reflect this through how we care for others.  In this way, any boundary between faith and works disappears as they merge into simply living the Gospel. Kathy Galloway, former leader of the Iona Community and now head of Christian Aid Scotland observed “for churches, Jesus initiated the act of making visible those who were overlooked.”

In the version of the bible which I use at home, our Gospel passage is headed “the judgement of the nations” – as relevant today as during Christ’s earthly ministry.  We often judge society by its economic success and affluence, but our Gospel calls us to use a different standard, based on how it supports and gives a voice to those without power – echoing the statement by Jesus earlier in Matthew’s Gospel: “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.

On your website, I read with interest the notes from Jon Dorset’s sermon last Sunday and similarly I’m not trying to make any party-political point, but divisions in society are daily evident across the land – remains of Grenfell Tower lying within the affluence of Kensington and Chelsea; redundant workers trying to support their families when companies go bankrupt; conspicuous wealth still confronting abject poverty across the River Aire in Leeds.  Have you noticed how the political catchphrase “we’re all in it together” seems to have fallen into oblivion ?

On the BBC news only a couple of days ago, it was reported that homelessness in England is now at its highest level since figures were counted, approaching 5,000 people – but the real number may be higher, for homeless people are not always rough-sleepers, and even those without anywhere to stay often avoid sleeping on the streets for fear of being moved-on or attacked.  Our Gospel clearly identified needs – food, drink, clothing, care for the sick or prisoners, and we could add others such as shelter, warmth and company ….. but the vital question is surely how to respond, and perhaps we could start by considering if we might be part of the problem before moving towards solutions.

On radio before the memorial service in St Paul’s Cathedral for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of “the value of the human being”.  This surely compels us as Christians to follow Mother Theresa and give of ourselves, often by simply being ourselves.

I recall a conversation with a Big Issue vendor in Leeds several years ago – as usual, he asked me to buy a copy, but when I replied sorry mate, but I’ve already got this weeks, he simply responded “no problem – have a nice day” and as I said “you too” I could not help but wonder if his day would be anything but nice. However, in a longer chat with a vendor on another occasion, I was humbled to be told: “that’s fine – you’ve acknowledged me and talked to me – so many people just walk on and ignore me”.  A simple exchange of words, but they left the vendor feeling valued as a human being.

During a retreat on the streets, in which participants had only 50p. for the day, a vicar from a village in the dales had an even more profound exchange with a vendor.  When asked to buy a copy, she said she didn’t have enough money – bringing a quick response: “that’s what they all say !”  However, during the conversation which followed, she explained about her retreat and the vendor sold his last copy – saying to her “come on, then – I’ll buy you cup of tea”.  This gives a powerful insight into the human need to give as well as receive – surely based on our shared humanity.

David Rhodes, author of the iconic book “Faith in Dark Places”, tells of a conversation with a rough sleeper in the early hours of a cold night near the markets, who told him: “many of us on the streets believe in God, you know – there’s often no-one else to talk with in the darkness”.

Although these stories are set in Leeds, they could take place anywhere in the country because homelessness is not confined to large cities.  In a wider context, Housing Justice is the national voice of Christian action to prevent homelessness and bad housing, believing that human dignity is challenged by the lack of a decent home, but recognising the worth of each individual and caring for the whole person.

Through the vital gift of ourselves we can affirm vulnerable people, so often ignored or rejected – valuing them as human beings, our sisters and brothers in Christ … for through our shared humanity, when it comes to the overarching care of our loving God, we really are all in it together … Amen

Sermon by Jon Dorsett 21 January 2018

Notes from the sermon by Jon Dorsett on Sunday 21 January 2018

Readings:
Luke 4:1-20

It doesn’t seem that long ago since the last election; and we can hope it won’t be that long until the next! The promises and pledges made at election time are designed to appeal to the segment of the public that each party hope to garner support from, as well as hopefully push forward some of their own particular ideology.

In the election last year we saw the Conservatives proposed policy on elderly care, (requiring those with assets over £100k being required to sell them to pay for their own care needs). A policy that could have been said to have some merit, if it meant those who have accumulated enough wealth to support themselves did so in order for the savings to be used to support those in need. However, the policy was quickly labelled the ‘dementia tax’, and with a massive backlash from the very middling sections of society that they hoped to win over, the Conservatives had to quickly backpedal, (and potentially lost their commons majority as a direct result). Labour on the other hand produced what one Guardian columnist described as ‘a cornucopia of delights’, promising increased funding for the NHS, A national care service, renationalisation of the railways, a lifelong education service free at the point of use, and capping inequality in pay. All paid for with modest increases in corporation tax and a small percentage extra for higher earners. And Labour did see a groundswell of support, particularly among younger voters who didn’t have the vested interests of those who over their lifetime have accumulated wealth and security from the status quo.

But this is a sermon, not a party political broadcast. So what is my point?

Political parties, whatever their colour, always have to take into consideration the interests of their voter demographic when shaping their potential policies and designing their manifestos. If they get it wrong, as undoubtedly the Conservatives did with the ‘dementia tax’ it can cost them dearly. If they can appeal to, and even shape the mood of the times, they stand a chance of being able to implement some of their proposed ideas.

In the second section from Luke that we’ve heard today, a section commonly referred to as the Nazareth Manifesto, we see that Jesus doesn’t care whether his message appeals to his audience. His message is not about seeking power for himself, or for anyone else, it is about God’s justice and true human flourishing for every person and all of creation. It is in the interests of the whole, and not a particular segment of society that this manifesto is concerned.

The word ‘Manifesto’ derives from the Latin manifestus which means ‘obvious, conspicuous, plain to see’. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary this Latin word is ultimately drawn from two other words ‘Manus’ meaning ‘hand’ and ‘infestus’ meaning ‘hostile’. It therefore is an open display of one’s intention.

So what was Jesus’s intention, and why at the end of this passage did his audience attempt to kill him?

Well firstly it’s worth noting that Jesus is quoting a passage from Isaiah that would have been very familiar to his audience in Nazareth. The passage was routinely drawn upon by the Jewish communities of the day to find reassurance and comfort in the justice God would bring. Freedom from being prisoners to their oppressors, whether the Romans, or the domestic authorities that colluded with the Romans. Significantly however, Jesus leaves off the end of this quotation which after proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord continues ‘and the day of vengeance of our God’. The original passage in Isaiah appealed not only to the righteousness and restoration of justice to the people, but also to their wish to see their enemies suffer retribution.

Jesus is having none of this, and his omission of the line of promised vengeance would have sounded alarm bells for his audience. Why isn’t he giving us the best bit, the bit we’re waiting for? It’s like watching a Hollywood film where the bad guy doesn’t get his comeuppance at the end – we’re programmed to want to see the narrative of redemptive violence played out.

So the Nazarenes were ‘amazed’ and shocked that this very nice young man who was known to them, would not share in their deeply held need to see their enemies punished. ‘Isn’t this Josephs Boy?’ they say. He’s one of us, why’s he siding with them? Why’s he not joining with us in asserting our righteousness and importance and ultimate vindication?

So Jesus goes on to say that no prophet is accepted by his own people, and cites the examples of Elijah and Elisha’s message only being heard and understood by outcasts, enemies and foreigners. He rams home the message that what he is speaking is not designed to appeal to their social and psychological need for being ‘better than, and righteous’, for creating divides of us and them, but was about the truly inclusive liberation that God’s justice and reign would bring, where vengeance and othering was no longer needed, but where all could be free from oppression and free from demonising the other to feel better about themselves.

Clearly the Nazarenes were not ready to hear this message and so they attempt to thrown Jesus off a cliff (a fate reserved for those who blaspheme).

I was trying to think about where we see similar reactions today? Where do we see such violent push back when a group’s privilege and sense of superiority is unveiled?
Metoo?
Black Lives Matter?
Trans rights?
Compassion for Refugees and immigrants?
Support for those in Poverty?
Whenever there is a movement that threatens the predominantly white patriarchal culture, there is a backlash of vitriol from those that benefit from that culture.
But lest we begin to ‘other’ straight white males, Let me just return to the section where Jesus is quoting from Isaiah.

There’s an interesting textual device being used here by Luke. Something called a Chiastic structure. We don’t immediately notice things like these when we read the bible in the form it is presented today, but as an literary device it serves a purpose to point the listener/ reader towards a specific point in the text. And it’s worth taking note of.

The lines mirror each other and point to the central verse…

on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.
He stood up to read,
    and the scroll
    of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.
    Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
        “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, he has anointed me
            to proclaim good news to the poor.
                freedom for the prisoners
                    and recovery of sight for the blind,
                to set the oppressed free,
            to proclaim
        the year of the Lord’s favor.”
    Then he rolled up the scroll,
    gave it back to the attendant
and sat down.
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.

Now it might seem to stretch the idea in places, but this structure is pointing to the rather odd verse about recovery of sight to the blind sandwiched between clear refences to the Levitical laws of Jubilee.

Jubilee for anyone not familiar with it, was a social structure codified in Israel’s past to ensure that no one could amass wealth and power at the expense of others in the nation. Every 49 year there was a Jubilee year when slaves were freed, land returned to those who originally held it, and debts were written off.

There is very little evidence of this ever actually being lived out in reality, but the intention and the understanding was that the earths resources belonged to God to be equally shared, and that a good society was one that didn’t allow some to become wealthy and powerful at the expense of others.

So Jesus is announcing his identification with the jubilee message as what his ministry is all going to be about.

But this is not a communist revolution.

The phrase about recovery of sight to the blind does not appear in the original Hebrew version of the Isaiah verse that Luke has Jesus quoting. Leading some commentators to believe that Luke has used this to make a point about Jesus’s ministry.

It IS about the inauguration of the Jubilee, but this is done not by seizing power, subduing an enemy, and the previously disenfranchised taking the place of the powerful, but by helping those who are not seeing whole to recover their sight. Those whose wealth, power, position make them feel ‘better- than’ or more righteous than others who are poor, weak, vulnerable, foreigner, or other. Helping those who hold themselves in higher regard than other people, realise that we are all human, that we all belong to the same family, to the same creation that belongs to God. That we no more deserve the wealth and privileges we have than those who are destitute and disenfranchised deserve the situation they are in. That we are all equal, and that we should treat each other as equal, as loved beautiful creations of God, both at an individual level, but also in the way we order our society.

But this message of recovery of sight, was and is, not only for the wealthy super-rich. It is meant for all of us. For the Nazarenes, it was their sense of righteousness that Jesus’ was targeting. The belief that because they believed the ‘right things’ that because they belonged to the right people group, that God would save them and smash their enemies with vengeance.

And it’s not nice to hear that we are part of the problem as well as part of the solution. That within each of us there is the seed of superiority, as well as the potential for genuine humility and community with all. (an interesting aside, the word humility comes from humus, meaning of the earth – as does the word human/ Adam – of the earth. We are all made of the same stuff, we are all connected to and part of the living system of creation).

It is not nice to realise that we are all guilty of othering, of thinking (consciously or unconsciously) that we are better than the next person. I’m cleverer than them. My job is more important than theirs. My right to do this is more important than their right to do that. I am wealthier than them, I’ve worked hard for it, I deserve it. I’m better than they are because I give to charity. I’m on the side of the righteous and they’re on the side of the wicked.

We all do it. I know I do. There is a time to polarise in trying to create positive change, but this has to come with the understanding that we are all part of the solution, and all part of the problem. We are all valuable human beings. We are all equally wonderful. You, me, Theresa May, even Donald Trump. Treating others as we would ourselves like to be treated, goes in all directions. And is as important structurally as it is socially.

Next week the Leeds Poverty Truth Commission is coming to a close with a large public event at the City museum. Over the last 2 years the Poverty truth commission has brought people with lived experience of poverty in Leeds together with civic and business leaders in the city, to build relationships and explore ways to tackle poverty together in Leeds. At the closing event the commissioners will be presenting their Manifesto to the city – or rather their HuManifesto for the city. The biggest finding of the poverty truth commission, and it’s challenge to the city, is that it’s the de-humanising effect of poverty and the systems and stereotypes that cause de-humanising that are the biggest problem. One of the Commissioners, Geoff from Seacroft, put it succinctly when he said ‘People think poverty is about having no money. It isn’t. it’s about having no love and respect’.

And the Poverty Truth HuManifesto has a challenge for Leeds – how can we be a more human city? How can the systems we have treat people as human beings rather than numbers? How can the way we talk about those experiencing poverty be respectful in the media, on social media, in the everyday? How can those working to change things for the better do those things ‘with’ people experiencing poverty and not ‘to’ or ‘for’ those people? How can those experiencing poverty not blame the ‘suits’ but find ways to build relationships to find solutions together?

I think the poverty truth HuManifesto embodies the heart and essence of the Nazareth Manifesto. It IS about a jubilee for those experiencing poverty; it IS about trying to create a city and society based on principles of justice and equity; but it is also about each of us realising our blindness to people we ‘other’, whether that is the ‘feckless poor’, or the uncaring ‘suits’. How can we humanise each other? How can we build relationships across social, cultural and geographical divides? How can we work together to be a truly human city? Like the Nazareth manifesto, it is not a manifesto based on appealing to people for their votes and support, but a HuManifesto that appeals to the part in each of us that knows connection to each other and creation.

So I have an invitation and a challenge…

Firstly a practical invitation… to the closing event of the Poverty Truth commission on Friday 2nd February. If you would like to come and hear more about the experience directly from the commissioners and get a copy of the HuManifesto, then come and ask me for an invite.
And a challenge…
Firstly a personal challenge. Who do you ‘other’? in what ways do you catch yourself feeling superior to others? And how can you find ways to build relationships with those people or that person?
And a wider challenge. How can we at All Hallows find ways to help others recover their sight? How can we challenge those who are blinded to the struggle for justice and equality of others, whether it’s gender equality, the struggles of refugees and asylum seekers, those experiencing poverty, those who seeking justice and acceptance of for their sexuality and gender identity. How can we play our part in changing the attitudes of those blinded to these struggles? How can we follow Jesus’s Nazareth Manifesto in not only proclaiming liberation, not only being with the captives, but in directly helping those who can’t see, or refuse to see their part in perpetuating these injustices, to see whole again?

Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 10 December 2017

Notes from the sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald on Sunday 10 December 2017

Readings:
Psalm 23
Matthew 11:28-30

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you O God. How true are these words in YOUR life??

God is the source of life and love for our souls. So said Jesus (‘I am the vine, you are the branches – remain in me if you want to bear fruit’) and so say the Psalms again and again and again:

Psalm 63 our souls thirst for God
Psalm 42 our souls thirst for God as the deer pants for water
Psalm 143 our souls thirst for God like parched land thirsts for water
Psalm 33 our souls wait for God
Psalm 25 our souls lift themselves up to God
Psalm 103 our souls bless God
Psalm 63 our souls cling to God
Psalm 62 our souls wait in silence for God

Clearly the Psalmists think that at a very deep level of our being, God is good for us! We need to be doing things that connect us to God’s grace and energy and joy. What are those things for you?? It might be walking or cycling around Yorkshire, going to the beach, climbing a mountain, listening to some heavenly music, spending time with friends – you’ll know what the things are that restore your soul.

Sometimes connecting to God’s grace energy and joy means doing NOTHING! Our souls are made for rest – but we usually have to work hard for this rest. Both against a prevailing culture that throws endless distractions and noise at us; and against our selves as we so easily become addicted to noise and distraction. This temptation is perhaps in part because stillness means facing up to inner realities which scare us- things like fear, anger, loneliness, failure…

But stillness gives God space to restore our souls. And so sometimes God ‘makes us’ rest. Makes us lie down in green pastures and beside still waters:

Reading – Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

We need to make space in our lives for God’s grace energy and joy, or we will end up with what John Ortberg (in his book Soul Keeping) calls ‘soul fatigue’. This ailment, he says, goes beyond mere physical tiredness- what the world of psychology describes as ego depletion. Apparently this condition literally slows down the part of the brain which enables self-control (anterior cingulate cortex!)

Meaning that indicators of soul fatigue are things like:

  • Constant tiredness and negative emotions- little things bothering you more than they should
  • It’s hard to make up your mind about even simple decisions
  • It’s extra hard to resist temptation to eat or drink or spend or crave
  • It’s extra extra hard to tackle difficult assignments or tasks. So you are more likely to take short-cuts and choose short-term gains- in ways that leave you with long-term high costs

God wants to restore our souls. Through the many ‘ego-depleted’ situations experienced by God’s people, the constant refrain of the prophets (as we’re in week 2 of Advent) is ‘Return to God!’ Zechariah, for example: “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts.

All through the scriptures, but especially in the New Testament, God doesn’t just sit around waiting for us to return. God comes looking for us! Adam and Eve in the garden, Moses in the burning bush, Elijah in storm and silence, God’s presence in the tabernacle and temple – and most of all in Jesus. Jesus tells parables about lost coins and sheep and sons- these are about God going looking for God’s lost children. And they find the fullness of their meaning in Jesus’ own life: in the Incarnation – in this Christmas miracle/mystery – God takes on human flesh and is born in a manger to come find us. To offer us the life and love of God.

That life and love was the source of Jesus’ own ministry. At his baptism, God’s Spirit rested on him and assured him of God’s love and acceptance: You are my beloved child’. And that’s exactly what God offers us too: the life and love and acceptance of heaven, to sustain and empower our lives and activity. We are loved! You are loved! I am loved! We are loved to the core of our being! As we grow to understand this deep truth, we gradually grow in our ability to be still and allow God to find us and refresh our souls. Silence becomes less scary, because we realise that this perfect love trumps fear and anger and loneliness and failure. In the words of Brennan Manning: ‘Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is your true self. Every other identity is illusion.’

Jesus must have had something similar in mind when he said:

Reading- Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus isn’t promising an easy life! He says this in the middle of a tough ministry which demanded all of his energy and time – and ultimately his very life. But he is promising that with him (‘connected to the vine’) our souls can be sustained for a life of demanding ministry and activism.

We just have to let God find us. Which means, like Jesus, consciously arranging our lives to make room for God’s support and sustenance:

  • Jesus worshipped regularly in the synagogue.
  • Jesus had a circle of close friends who shared his life.
  • Jesus soaked himself in the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • Jesus prayed. A lot.
  • Jesus enjoyed God’s creation and went for long walks.
  • Jesus welcomed and blessed little children.
  • Jesus enjoyed partying with non-religious types!
  • Jesus did NOTHING from time to time.

God did amazing ordinary and extraordinary things through Jesus’ life. And God wants to do amazing ordinary and extraordinary things through our lives. For that, like Jesus, we need our souls to be sustained and restored by God…

Sermon by Dr Jan Betts 12 November 2017

Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts on Sunday 12 November 2017

Readings:
Romans 8:28-39
Psalm 139

Where are we up to in Romans, this book that is a long argument about how the reason for hope and joy in our lives is the love of God in Jesus NOT obeying an angry God?

We’ve heard about Paul being unashamed to say he is a follower of Jesus and of his passionate longing to know God which made him accept being humbled by Jesus and utterly wrong about obeying the law as the way of salvation.

We’ve heard that although we will die, if we trust God that’s not a scary thing

We’ve heard that doing good things is hard work but that’s what we are called to do with God’s help.

These are all amazing things.

And here in today’s reading  Paul breaks out into poetry, because he is so overwhelmed and passionate and knocked out by his vision of God. He’s straining for the words to talk about how much God loves us. It is an amazing vision.  It’s deeply personal and close and warm and loving.

What is our vision of God? When I try to think of God I go dizzy.  I think about what kind of being has made the complexity which is this universe, which we don’t understand. I think about the complexity which I carry round every day in my body which we don’t understand.  I just go dizzy and feel like Job faced with God thundering at him ‘where were you when I made the universe?’  A bit scared. Well actually I – and you! – were in the mind of God, astonishingly and incomprehensibly. As the psalmist said, you have known me, you know all my days (Ps 139)

What is our picture of God? If we were to describe God what would we say first? A demanding person who we feel we fail all the time?

Paul is aware in every fibre of his being, his mind, his body his heart, that God is not the God of keeping rules.  God is as he is in Jesus who showed us that the way of love is THE foundational principle of the universe. Paul   draws a picture in fireworks of the explosive multi-dimensional love of God. This love  made God, the dizzying God of creation, fold and squeeze herself into the tiny limits of a human body, which felt pain and loneliness and hunger  just to show us the way of love, and save us when we fail to live in the freedom we have been given.   So often in the bible this tremendous God announces her arrival with the words ‘don’t be afraid’ because we are created in love. We are loved by, and matter beyond measure to, the creator of the universe.  Pray over that for a week and see what happens.

But we don’t live very much in the consciousness of this amazing love. Because, as Paul says there are things which can make us feel that actually quite a lot separates us from the love of God on a daily basis. What did I experience this week? Well we heard about Ntambe being under a deportation order. Where’s the love of God in that? but more to come…We heard about more random shootings by troubled Americans where people’s lives are ripped apart for no reason. The horror stories from the Middle East and from North Africa never stop. The abuse of women in Westminster revolts us. Where is God’s love in this?

When Paul talks about what or who can separate us from the love of God, he isn’t talking  about the things which we cause to ourselves. He’s dealt  with our deliberate self sabotaging actions, by talking about the love and forgiveness of God and our need to follow Jesus by focusing on doing good, on being wheat and salt and light in the world. He’s talking here about two sets of things: the  things which happen to us through our following Jesus,  and  the just plain random things which  happen in the world and which we bump up against.  It may be a car crash or cancer, flooding the house, or depression, or loneliness or constant pain or poverty.  And he also talks about principalities and powers, and today we remember the way in which the evil of war, sparked by fear and greed, is always with us, and what it cost so many people.  The principalities and powers he talks about here take many forms. And where is God in all this?

Bad things happen to good people all the time. I don’t for one instant believe that these things are sent to ‘test’ us or to punish us or to purify us or just to torment us. The problem is how to frame them in a way which allows God’s love to be in them. And of course we know that Jesus also suffered. We don’t focus much on Jesus as a suffering lonely hungry unhappy person but the gospel writers do speak of him weeping and being hungry and tired and finally betrayed for no good reason. Bad things happened to him as to us.

If we are never ever separated from the love of God in Jesus, how does that work?

I’ve been led in this to read a book written by a Jewish Rabbi whose son suffered from premature aging and as a result died as an old man at 14. His father didn’t know how to cope and wrote a book, to help himself and to give his son the years which he might have expected and didn’t have. He explores how we make sense of the persecuting things in our lives.

One of the ways in which we experience the love of God is through community and through prayer. The rabbi  writes ‘Human beings are Gods language’.  We can bear suffering longer if there are others around us, who communicate just by being there. If you are asked to hold your hand in very cold water for as long as you can bear it, you can do it longer if there are others cheering you on!

We are God’s language, her Word on earth to bring comfort and the love of God. To be salt and light,  defenders of the oppressed, the comforters, the ones who do that vital thing of making  people feel they matter and that there is some meaning  when meaningless things happen.    I read an article this week by a journalist bemoaning the fashion for ‘thoughts and prayers’ on face book and twitter and saying that it also takes hard work. Yes.  And we have that seen this week with Ntambe, that hard work supporting the oppressed works!  So does the quiet work of taking food to those who are ill, or even being faithful in prayer for others. Jesus isn’t here but we are and we are called to be his language on earth. Of course those who die alone are not separated from the love of God and we have countless testimonies from the stoning of Stephen under the approving gaze of this same Paul, to so many ordinary Christians in our own day and age. I would put in a plea here for bible study or at least finding a book which teaches you something. We are books to each other as we share our faith too.

Another way we experience the love of God is to believe that this event which is getting you down  is not something you did to yourself. As long as it isn’t!  We sometimes have a nagging voice accusing us of being responsible and it may not be true or the responsibility is so tenuous that it’s mad to believe it. We can  say ‘God hates what is happening as much as I do, but because creation is not perfect as well as people not being perfect, it has happened.’ And we can choose how to respond. We can say ‘it’s not fair’ and indeed it probably isn’t and God knows this too. But God in the crucified and resurrected Jesus stands with us and nothing separates us from this.

I want to share something here which I’m a bit shy about and I only say it because I shared it, only once,  with a devout Buddhist friend and it seems to have stuck with her.  I have increasingly come to understand that for me and for those who I work with sometimes, the collapse into hard times is  always something of an invitation to share more deeply with God. God doesn’t want suffering, let’s say that loud and clear,  but it can be redeemed.  Jesus’ invitation is to know both him and ourselves more clearly, to know that when we hit rock bottom Jesus is still there with us, in whatever form.  And often that form will be us.  But dear God – and I say that very reverently – it takes faith to see it sometimes in the darkness and we need to help each other to know that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not  overcome it.

Finally the thought that has really stayed with me over this time of preparation is this: If we are loved this much what can we not do? Over and over you read about successful people saying ‘my dad or mum said I could do anything and they believed in me and I believed them’ .  They were more than conquerors because they knew they mattered. Do we really believe we are loved this much?

Amen

Sermon by the Rev Bob Brooke 22nd October 2017

Notes from the sermon by the Rev Bob Brooke on Sunday 22nd October 2017

Readings:
Romans 6:20-23
John 14:1-7

Many years ago, long before I got into any official kind of ministry among people with learning disabilities, my wife and I were friends of the then newly formed L’Arche community in South London.  L’Arche is a Christian organisation that welcomes people with learning disabilities and others to live together in community.  These days the L’Arche community in South London is quite a big organisation but then it was just one house where about eight people with learning disabilities lived together with some young people who assisted and supported them.  One of the people who lived there was Little Brian – he was called that because there was another Brian living there – Big Brian.  Little Brian was about 4ft 10ins tall.  He had spent most of his life in a long stay hospital.  He couldn’t see or hear very well and only spoke a few simple words.  He enjoyed playing bongo drums.  Meal times were always important in the house and Little Brian’s contribution to them was to ring a hand bell very enthusiastically with a great big smile across his face to announce to everyone that the meal was ready.  One night, totally unexpectedly, Little Brian died peacefully in his sleep.  The whole community gathered round his bed next morning with candles and flowers and prayed and sang for him and with him.  It was a time of great anguish and great sorrow for everybody there.  It was the first death that had occurred in that little community and they were going to miss Little Brian very much, and yet there wasn’t a feeling of gloom and despondency, but rather a sense of peace and contentment.  John, another man with learning disabilities who lived with Brian, he tended to just sit quietly taking everything in and then occasionally would make some profound comment ….. as the hearse was taking Brian’s body away and everybody was waving goodbye, John said “Have a good time in heaven, Brian, see you there”.  Despite their sense of loss and sadness there was peace and contentment in that community because it was all very natural – there was no fear.  Brian’s death was sad, but his friends had a deep sense of faith and trust that whatever was happening to Brian and whatever was going to happen to the rest of them in this life and afterwards, they were all safe, secure in the hands of a loving caring God.

In his Letter to the Romans, Paul invites us to make a choice between life and death.  Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  When he says “the wages of sin is death” he’s not talking about some sort of punishment but observing that a life spent pursuing our own selfish desires and needs and neglecting other people inevitably leads to a kind of self destruction.  Paul talks about sin as something which enslaves us, something that can take over people’s lives and control them.  Paul says if we chose to sin, then what we have chosen starts to take control over us.  He says we’re not free to choose this or that or the other for now and then tomorrow choose something different.  What we have chosen has power over us.  Every time we choose in favour of one thing we choose against another.  What we choose today controls us and directs us and will make it hard to choose differently tomorrow.  But Paul reminds us of the Good News that God chooses us and frees us from the power of our other choices and enables us to choose again, to choose God and turn our back on sin.  He invites us to choose and to go on choosing God over sin, life over death.

I started by telling a story about a death.  If we choose life, if we seek to live a fully authentic life, we have to take death seriously.  Etty Hilesum was a young Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation.  Many Dutch Jews were sent to the Westerbrook transit camp and many of them went from there to their death in the extermination camps.  Etty was a member of the local Jewish Council and sought to care for those who had been sent to Westerbrook.  By her vitality and warmth and compassion she became a source of life and hope to others.  She was eventually put to death in Auschwitz in 1943 when she was just 29.  For the last two years of her life she kept a diary and wrote many letters.  I want to read you something she wrote about life and death.

“I have come to terms with life…  By “coming to terms with life” I mean: the reality of death has become a definite part of my life; my life has, so to speak, been extended by death, by my looking death in the eye and accepting it, by accepting destruction as a part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or the refusal to acknowledge its inevitability.  It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life, we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life, we can enlarge and enrich it.”

(Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life, the diaries and letters from Westerbrook)

So choosing life means taking death seriously.

I was a great fan of the long running BBC comedy programme “Last of the Summer Wine”.  The actor Bill Owen who played Compo the scruffy little man who always wore wellies – Wellington Boots – Bill Owen died in the middle of the filming of a series.  The producer and writer of the programme decided to incorporate the death of his character Compo in to the programme.  They called the episode “Elegy for Fallen Wellies”.  They managed to combine a sense of sadness and loss for the actor as well as the character with humour and some serious theological insights.

Truly and Clegg, Compo’s friends have not been able to sleep and have gone out for an early morning walk on the moors where they had often walked with Compo.  They see the sun rise and Truly says “Do you think the dead ever see a sunrise?”  Clegg says “Yes I do, actually”  “Even those who don’t get up very early?”  “Even them.  Maybe that’s what Paradise is – a place where the sun doesn’t come up until you are ready.”  “You think he was heavenly material do you?”  “Certainly.  To be as little children – that was him.  Never lost it did he?”

Nora Battye, Compo’s next door neighbour and the love of his life was talking to Edie, played by Thora Hird.  Edie asks “Did he go to church?”  Nora replies “Well he used to go on Remembrance Sunday.  He never missed a Remembrance Sunday.”  “Well that’s not exactly a season ticket, but I expect there’s room for a few cheap day returns.”

I remember at the funeral of another man with learning disabilities, a man called Nick, the minister leading the service referred to the words of Jesus in John chapter 14 that we heard earlier  “in my Father’s house there are many rooms”.  The minister said “God has prepared a special room for Nick in heaven – a room with his name on it.

There’s a song we sing at some of the services with people with learning disabilities that goes:  “There is room for all in my Father’s house, where there’s joy, joy, joy.

Later Jesus said “If you know me, you would know my Father also”.

The late David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham used to have a very simple kind of credal statement:

God is

God is as he is

God is as he is in Jesus

Therefore we have hope.

Jesus shows us that love is at the centre of the universe – that the whole creation and everything in it including you and me was brought into being as an act of love.  This means that the last word is not with corruption and death and nothingness but with love.  I believe we can trust in God who having allowed us to find the meaning of life in his or her love and forgiveness and to be totally dependent on him or her for our very existence will not then at our death destroy that meaning or take away that existence

Sermon by Jan Betts 15th October 2017

Readings: Romans 5:1-11 and Mark 10:17-22

Holy spirit may all that I say and all that we hear lead us closer to Jesus.

Sarah’s lovely introduction to Romans last week told us that Paul was writing this letter to a church which was divided. It was divided between a group who thought that salvation came from obeying the law, as good Jews in Jesus’ tradition did, and those gentiles who thought that obeying the law, especially being circumcised, wasn’t necessary for salvation. Paul hasn’t met these people but he wants to try to sort out this dispute. So the letter he wrote to the Roman church, like the letter to the Galatian church in Turkey, was all about the question of what is the place in the life of those of who follow Jesus of non negotiable rules dictated by church authorities? Does that sound familiar? Are we ever oppressed by rules? I grew up with no putting on swimming costumes in the garden on Sundays…seems unbelievable now…but the principle was good, about making the Sabbath different. We have other rules now which may seem equally ridiculous in due course.

Let’s bring Paul to life. As Sarah indicated he was a passionate man and a clever privileged man. Those two things don’t always sit easily together. He could be bossy and opinionated, and pretty demanding. And he did things with enormous energy and conviction and love for the people he was engaged with.

Two huge things drove Paul. One, in the early part of his life, was his upbringing as a Jew, as a dedicated keeper of Jewish law. He was happy to hunt down and kill the Jewish Christians who were preaching against the Law as the one way to reconciliation with God. Does killing because you think you are right sound familiar? Obeying the Law was a tough call but if that’s what it took to be right with God Paul would do it. Like my silly Sunday rule what Paul was trying to do was good; he wanted to be right with God through obeying every law from Leviticus to Deuteronomy. That was exhausting: every day you were riddled with guilt and hatred and superiority towards those who argued against you. But what Paul knew very well, what we all know and what he argues here in Romans 1-4 and in Galations, is that keeping a set of rules is impossible. Rules are only there to keep all our base human stuff of jealousy and egotism and revenge and selfishness and laziness at bay, to let us live together in some way as human beings. We all disobey them, jump the traffic lights, whatever but they hold society in check. They don’t make us happy, or give us a reason to look forward to the day, they work to make us guilty.

The second absolutely related thing which drove him, the crossroads of his life, is when this all got blown away on the road to Damascus when Jesus met him and challenged him and blinded him and turned his life upside down. What he found there was an overwhelming freedom from all that bigotry in a God who was love, and who brought salvation through faith not the law to everyone. You can’t get much more upside down, nor can you eat much more humble pie than Paul had to do. Paul’s utter conviction about faith in God’s love being the way to reconciliation, his great goal, let him do some remarkable things. One of these was to not be ashamed, as Sarah told us last week. Paul wasn’t ashamed to say he’d been wrong! I’m reminded of people coming out as gay – learning not to be ashamed is hard.

This root of Paul’s passionate conviction about faith in the redeeming love of God as the only way, has to be in our mind as we read and understand his words. It’s of huge importance to us too as we examine our own inner convictions or hidden assumptions about our faith, for ourselves and others. What do we think is ‘necessary’ for us and others to do in order for God to love us and others? Only faith, says Paul. Will that shake us too?

Such faith is what brings us peace, the peace and joy which Paul never knew as a law keeping Jew. We too can be at peace with ourselves before God because God has accepted us just as we are through our trust in Jesus. Paul rejoiced for his whole life in his release from law keeping. Who, he asks, would die for a righteous man? Maybe someone…but Jesus died for us while we were still rebellious and uncaring and selfish and failing to keep the law. No more retribution, says Paul, skipping with glee and joy, no more of that thing I used to dread and used to hand out to other people in spades. Yes we have to keep the commandments – but we do it from love not from fear.Jesus challenged Paul on this but he challenged someone else. 

 READING Mark 10 17-22

This young man was loved by Jesus but it wasn’t enough. He knew how to be restrained and follow rules. But when Jesus challenged him by saying that’s not enough, you have to leave all that privilege behind and become totally dependent on me and the grace I bring you, then this lovely young man went away sorrowful because he was very wealthy. God isn’t viciously full of demands, except that we accept the love which Jesus shows God has for us and trust him and act accordingly.

And so says Paul, we have hope, hope which comes pouring into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Such a hope! Hope is in short supply often but we have it through our trust in Jesus through whom we are reconciled to God. We don’t have to earn it, just believe it.  

This hope leads to rejoicing. We rejoice in God’s glory and in our salvation through faith in Jesus.

But then there’s the tough bit, the bit where Paul has a flash of the old self. His nature is extreme – he never does things by halves.

Paul says we rejoice in our hardships, because they build us up and give us a ‘tested character’ . Paul knows this from the inside. He’s been through such a lot, but he rejoices in it because that’s the walk with Jesus. It’s not fluffy joy, it’s utter conviction that we are inseparable from the love of God in Jesus.

Rejoicing in hardship sounds like very muscular Christianity and I need to say that I know much less of physical hardship than many here, but there is a deep truth in what Paul says about perseverance. We lay the spadework of our faith each day, and I have challenged myself through this sermon to think how I can find something of God, find God reaching out to me, in each day. We are such poor creatures of our wills and bodies: we don’t do what we know we should and our bodies betray us very often. Habits are a good thing when we are troubled, habits of prayer and habits of knowing what our trust is based on, of rejoicing in the solid fact of our salvation. When tough times come the habits of trust can count for much. I’m reminded of Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered in prison under Hitler to die for a young man who had been chosen for a retributive starvation group – and how he kept the faith in sharing Jesus with the rest of the group. There were many people who died for their faith in the early church as there are now and we need to pray for all those threatened for their faith, for them to have an upholding knowledge of God as Paul outlines it here. What are our habits of meeting God each day?

We don’t need to be people of great saintliness. We just need to recognise and be thankful and acknowledge that God is with us in the frantic rush and mess of our lives. It may be a quick prayer for strength or patience or for someone you meet or remember, but Paul is saying that as we consciously bring the hardships to God it encourages us to see God at work, and to remember that however tough it is God is there at work in us by the spirit. It’s not Pharisee stuff, making a song and dance: it’s just each day recognising that like it or not – and we should like it! – God is with us and we can act in ways which reflect the love of Jesus. I recently was worried about my son and as I was praying for him I found myself saying ‘you love him more than I do – can we do this together’. Our great gift of God’s love expressed in Jesus happens all day, every day.

So we have faith in the one who died for us, who calls us like Paul to an overwhelming joy in our salvation through faith in him.

Amen