Uncomfortable signs of the present time

Sermon St John the Baptist Mildenhall, 18th August 2019
Ninth Sunday after Trinity: Hebrews 11.29-12.2 & Luke 12.49-56

NYC: Extinction Rebellion Day OneGiven this morning’s readings, it would be so much easier if I was able to preach a good ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon. Ten minutes, or maybe more like twenty-five minutes of telling you how it is clear that we are a doomed generation and that God’s wrath is waiting for us. However, despite a promising start in the more conservative circles of the Dutch Reformed Church, my experience of God has been one of a God who loves us, and who gives us hope, strength and comfort when we most need it.

So, there is a bit of a challenge this morning, as our readings speak about torture, sacrifice, fire and division. How can we make sense of them, and yet hold on to the promises given to us as well? Before looking at our readings specifically, it is worth reminding ourselves of the promise we were given at the birth of Jesus. We believe in a God who was born as baby, bringing peace to the world. However, as much as Jesus was the promised bringer of peace, he was also the fulfilment of the prophets: standing in the tradition of Isaiah, Jeremiah and many others.

Also, and crucial for our understanding of this morning’s readings, Jesus was given the name Emmanuel: God with us. Jesus did not come into the world to fix it for us, but to walk alongside with us. In the Incarnation, God wanted to share the life of humanity, so that we could share in His divinity. So, God with us, not God for us.

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The seen and the unseen

How do we know what we know?

Sermon St Peter Milton Lilbourne, 11th August 2019, 9.30am
Eight Sunday after Trinity: Hebrews 11.1-3,8-16 & Luke 12.32-40

Today’s readings invite us to think about things seen and things unseen. Like last week, we are encouraged to put our hope in trust not in the material world around us, but in the things that really matter, things which are often unseen: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

man on the moonI would like to explore how we can put our trust in things that are unseen. How can we have faith, which as we hear is the assurance of things hoped for? How can we believe without seeing? It is a challenging question, particularly in a world that increasingly puts its trust in the truths acquired through science and the progress obtained by technology.

Being a scientist myself, of course I see the value of science in investigating and getting to know the world around us. However, I do not believe in the apparent opposition between science and faith, as what we can know through science is limited to the way it is used to look for patterns and regularities. Added to that, the God that is often opposed by the more vocal atheists, is a God in which very few people believe. So indeed, I think that there is plenty of room for faith.

The underlying question of both faith and science is ‘how do we know what we know?’ And that question applies both to the things seen and the things unseen, which as we will realise is not the same as the world of science and the world of religion.

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Thinking about money

Homily St Mary’s Marlborough, 28th July 2019, 8am
Seventh Sunday after Trinity: Colossians 3.1-11 & Luke 12.13-21

moneyOne of the things that makes me feel at home in the UK is a familiar awkwardness in talking about certain things, one of which is money. Whether it’s deciding how much to spend on a retiring colleague or a friend’s wedding, or the moment the bill at the restaurant needs to be paid, we feel a bit embarrassed having the discussion. For the record, the expressing ‘going Dutch’ was something completely alien to me until moving abroad! However, also on a more serious note, relationships have been broken and families torn apart when it comes down to money. I am sure most of us will have heard someone saying, or indeed said ourselves ‘It’s not about the money’, and we start wondering ‘isn’t it?’.

The first thing to realise then this morning, as we hear the parable of a rich man, is that we’re not the first generation or culture who have this problem. Greed is part of our human nature, and we all have it in us, the temptation to want more, and more, and more. And it is not just money that shows this tendency, but also food and drink, power and fame. We continue to want more, never being able to be satisfied.

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Marlborough under attack

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Address St Mary’s Marlborough, 28th July 2019, Civic Service
Ephesians 4.1-6 & Matthew 5.1-12

marlboroughI have to admit that writing a sermon for last year’s Civic Service on the theme of ‘Education’, was a little bit easier than this year, when the service is taking place in the weekend in which we commemorate and re-enact the battles that took place in Marlborough in 1642. For those interested, according to local tradition, the bullet holes can still be seen on the outside of the St Mary’s Church tower.

It may disappoint some of you – but please others – to hear that I won’t go into much of the historical detail of the Civil War. Firstly, because I am not an historian, but also because I would be too worried upsetting people by presenting a particular interpretation of history – something that is easily done, especially for someone of a different nationality.

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Sowing seeds in fertile ground

A short reflection for the second week of Marlborough College Summer School

sowing-seeds1The reading set for today is the well-known parable of the sower (Matthew 13.1-9). We hear how the sower’s seeds fall on different type of ground: a path, some rocky soil, amongst thorns, and some of them fall on good soil. It is a story familiar to many of us, I suspect, and there is a lot that can be said. In this short reflection, I’d like to apply the image of the sower and the seeds to our approach to teaching and learning.

As with many Gospel stories, we are presented both with a challenge and a reassurance. The reassurance this time is on the side of the sower: you can’t always guarantee that your seeds will flourish, as the soil needs to be receptive. It can be an encouragement for all those involved in some sort of teaching: we can sow the seeds, but their success will still depend on the soil in which they fall.

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Being vs Doing

Homily St Michael and All Angels Urchfont, 21st July 2019 8am
Fifth Sunday after Trinity: Colossians 1.15-28, Luke 10.38-42

martha maryThis morning we hear two very different readings. Paul in his letter to the Colossians speaks in abstract theology about the image of the invisible God. He reflects on Jesus’ divine nature, the Word that was from the beginning and was made flesh. The mystery at the heart of our faith. In our Gospel reading from Luke – the familiar story of Martha and May –, however, we encounter once more the human side of Jesus. The man who was always concerned about others, who spoke with a wisdom which we can still hear today. Indeed, in Paul’s words, that is how the image of the invisible God is displayed: through Christ in all his divinity and all his humanity.

That means that wisdom is not necessarily something that is difficult to understand. To be wise is not the same as to be learned. And so the message contained in the short Gospel passage is simple, yet significant and profound.

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Achievement or enjoyment?

A short reflection in week 1 of Marlborough College Summer School

“you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” – Matthew 11.25

The daily Gospel reading for today doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for the first week of Summer School. Surely we are here taking or teaching courses to learn, to become wiser and more intelligent? And here Jesus says that the important things in life are actually hidden from the wise and intelligent and shown to infants.

summer school 1However, when we think about it, we realise that they are actually words of wisdom, conveying a truth we intuitively already know. Because I think, or I hope, that most of us here at Summer School are not here to achieve something, but rather to enjoy the process. There is no certificate, no diploma at the end for most of us, but what remains will be hopefully the memories and the discovery of skills and talents we didn’t know we had.

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