Category: Uncategorized

How to find Paradise

Sermon Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint 20 November 2022: Christ the King
Psalm 46 & Luke 23.33–43

‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’. When I hear the opening line of today’s Psalm, Psalm 46, I always have to think of Martin Luther. It was one of the Reformer’s favourite Psalms, and it is recorded that in his darkest moments, Luther would say to his friends: “Come, let us sing the 46th Psalm and let them do their worst”.

Luther himself wrote and composed a hymn paraphrasing this Psalm: the famous Reformation hymn ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’. Many of us will have sung it at some in its English translation ‘A mighty fortress is our God’. Luther’s theology and therefore a lot of Reformation theology is very much inspired by Paul’s theology, but it is less known that Luther’s personal transformation began when he lectured in Wittenberg on the Psalms. Given Luther’s life,  in which he himself needed to seek refuge a number of times, it is no surprise that this Psalm became one of the most influential in his life.

Read more: How to find Paradise

Whether it was in the time this Psalm was written, whether it was during the years of the Reformation, or whether it is now, Psalm 46 says it as it is: the world is in chaos. In verses two and three, this is described in vivid language: mountains, normally an icon of stability, are moved into the sea and the waters roar and foam – I don’t think many of us made it out to the coast in the storms of this past week. 

Amidst this chaos, this noise, there is a river: calm and quiet – God is in the midst of her. This image is repeated in different words in the next few verses. Again, there is the description of chaos and violence: the nations rage, the kingdoms totter – but yet, the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. 

Whereas the first part of the Psalm, one could say, is very much about the present: God is with us in our chaos, the last few verses can be read as a prophecy: this is the final battle between good and evil, in which evil is destroyed. Instead of reading these verses as history, ‘look what this Old-Testament God has done’, they are better read as a similar genre to the book of Daniel, or the book of Revelation: a vivid description of the end times, in which God’s kingdom will come to earth.

The problem with descriptions of the ‘end time’ is that none of us really know what this will look like, and any human description will fall short of the reality of God’s kingdom. Yet, each week, each day, we pray: ‘thy kingdom come’. It made me wonder: what do we imagine the kingdom of God to be like? And maybe even more so: how long would it take for us to recognise it, and would it live up to our expectations?

That brings me to the second half of this sermon. Apologies, it is a little bit a sermon of two-halves today. Our Gospel reading this morning speaks about God’s kingdom as well: Jesus is mocked to be the king of the Jews. And as he is crucified he promises one of the criminals who is crucified with him says, prays, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus promises him: ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’. 

So what could this kingdom, this paradise look like? I think that I had a glimpse of this paradise a couple of weeks ago, during half-term. I was fortunate enough to go diving in the Caribbean. When I was imagining the corals, the sea life, the beaches and the sunshine, I was pretty sure that this would be pretty close to paradise.

And indeed, the sea life was beautiful: swimming amidst thousands of damsel fish, turtles and corals of every colour is beautiful. It really made me thankful for the beauty of God’s creation. But was it paradise? No, not really. Because despite the beauty of the underwater world, everywhere on the island itself were new buildings being built to make even more money, ruining the countryside. And amidst all the lovely food and luxury that I was enjoying, there was also a lot of poverty: neglected roads, and clearly a lot of people who had no access to the wealth of some.

What maybe struck me most was the antagonism, maybe even hatred between people. Those who had been on the island since generations, and the ever growing influx of people who settled there in early retirement to enjoy the sunshine and the sea. In so many ways, this was not anything like the kingdom of God.

But yet, I had a glimpse of what paradise looked like during half-term. Not in the Caribbean, but in Wales. Just before my holiday, I went with the choir on a trip to Pembrokeshire. We sung Evensong in St David’s Cathedral, and then a couple of concerts in local churches. The last day, the choir gave a charity concert in a tiny church in Mwnt: no running water, no electricity and with about 60 people in the congregation, the church was packed.

The money we raised was going to a local charity that supports people undergoing cancer treatment. Working in deprived, rural Wales, they make sure that taxi fares to the hospital are paid for, and that people have pyjamas to wear when they have to stay in hospital after their surgery or treatment.

At the end of the concert, it is fair to say that about three-quarters of the people in the church were in tears: there was something incredibly special about this moment. Someone came up at the end to thank the choir, and she said: ‘They say that Mwnt is a place in which heaven touches earth. I think that today we crossed that boundary’. That was enough to make sure that no one left the building with dry eyes.

That, to me, is what the kingdom of God might look like. That moment when we are able to still ourselves for a moment, and we know God’s presence in the midst of our chaotic world, and our often chaotic lives. That moment when we know when we are able to hear God’s voice ‘Be still, and know that I am God’.

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, the end of the Church year. Next week, as the season of Advent begins, we start to turn to our celebrations of the birth of Christ, the king of the kingdom of God. 

Maybe therefore the best way to know what this kingdom might look like it to look at its king: not born in a palace full of silver and gold, but born in a stable. Not a crown with pearls and diamonds, but a crown of thorns. Not being served by a great household, but the servant of others. Wealth in relationships, rather than wealth in material terms.

That is also what we are about to celebrate in our Eucharist: the simple elements of bread and wine become tokens of God’s kingdom as we pray and eat together, giving thanks and remembering the life and freedom that we have been given in Christ.

So as we seek the kingdom of God, we might realise that we have found it before we know it. After all, the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Amen.

Their lives given for our freedom

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2022
All Saints’ Church Highbrook

Today, throughout the country and the Commonwealth, we gather around war memorials and in churches to remember those who have lost their lives in conflicts past and present. 

Although our poppies and war memorials bring into focus those who died during the First and Second World War, there are still many who risk their lives every day to fight for peace and justice around the world. In 2021, 7% of households in England and Wales included one or more persons who had served in the UK armed forces. That is almost two million people who put themselves forward, risking themselves, to serve others. 

Not least thanks to medical advancements, the number of deaths has drastically decreased. More men lost their life in the Battle of the Somme than in armed conflicts in the past 70 years. But this does not take away from the fact that still many lives are markedly changed by the experience of war and violent conflict.

Read more: Their lives given for our freedom

And of course for many of us, our lives would not have been the same had it not been for those who fought in wars of the past.

Probably you have noticed by now that I am not English. I grew up in The Netherlands. This time last week, I was travelling back from a visit to family and friends. Seeing the famous ‘bridge too far’ in Nijmegen, made me realise once more that I owe my freedom to the people whose names are on the war memorials around which we gather today. 

Had it not been for those who left their country to go to France, Belgium, The Netherlands; to fight for our freedom, I would probably not have been able to travel freely, not been able to speak but certainly not learn Dutch in school. The world would have been a very different place.

And maybe that is what I find most remarkable about those we remember today: that their sacrifice was so often made far away from home and loved ones, that they fought and died for the freedom of others. They gave their lives, so that we may live in freedom.

With that freedom comes a responsibility. Not only to not forget those who made this possible, but also to use that freedom well. In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear about a freedom that comes with forgiveness, as Jesus tells the parable of the Unforgiving Servant. We hear of a man who owed a great debt. When he pleaded with his lord, he had pity and forgave him all his debt and set him free.

As soon as he was free, the man met one of his fellow slaves who owed him just a little. However, instead of treating him as he had been treated, he did not forgive him his debt, but had him thrown in prison until he would pay. Instead of using his freedom to set someone else free, he wanted what he deserved. 

The parable is as challenging to us, as it was to its original hearers. We live in a world in which we are told that we need to stand up for ourselves, so that we get what we deserve.

Jesus here is turning everything around. Instead of fighting for what we deserve, he suggests that we should use our freedom to set others free. I think that this is an incredibly powerful message on a day like today when we remember those who have given us our freedom. A summon to us to use that freedom to give others theirs.

What that looks like will be very different for each of us, and we might well disagree what it looks like for us as a nation. The idea that we need to use our freedom well, is not a political statement about our involvement in conflicts abroad. But it is a fact that with our freedom comes a responsibility. Freedom brings choice: we can decide how we use our time, our money and our talents.  

One day a year, we stop for two minutes silence to remember. But to really honour those who gave their lives, we remember by how we live our lives. For Christians, the way we live our lives includes remembering the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the Cross, giving us our ultimate freedom through the forgiveness of our sins.

Whatever decision we make, is it one that is made from a position of great thankfulness for the freedom we have been given? And do we therefore wish that freedom for others too? 

Let us remember and give thanks, today and every day. 

All is vanity?

Sermon St Wilfrid’s Church and the Presentation Church, Haywards Heath
Trinity 7: Ecclesiastes 1. 2, 12-14; 2.18-23, Luke 12. 13-21
31 July 2022

For those Churches following the three-year Lectionary, a cycle of set readings for each Sunday, this is the only time in those about 150 Sundays that a reading from the book of Ecclesiastes is chosen as the Old Testament reading for the main Sunday service. In many ways, this is not a surprise, as Ecclesiastes is one of the most controversial books in the Bible. Indeed, if you would read this morning’s text without knowing its source, you would not necessarily have guessed that it is part of the Bible, but it could have been written in our time by someone disillusioned with the world around them. 

Yet, Ecclesiastes is part of the Jewish Wisdom literature, and the Christian tradition has received it as part of the Old Testament. The writer refers to himself as the ‘Teacher’ or ‘Preacher’, and Jewish interpreters have associated him with Solomon, as he refers to himself as ‘King over Israel’ and elsewhere ‘Son of David’. 

The first words we hear in our reading this morning, are the opening words of the book: “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The Hebrew word that is translated here as vanity is the word hevel, which literally means ‘puff of air’. It’s the same word that is at the root of the name ‘Abel’, Cain’s brother, whose life was cut short like a puff of air.

So when we hear this morning that all is vanity, we could also say: all is just a puff of air, or maybe paraphrased even more liberally: what is the point of it all? And indeed, if you read Ecclesiastes as a whole, this seems to be the pervading question: what is the point, and why do we strive?

It is a question that most people will ask themselves at least once in their lifetime. I suspect that often this question comes up at moments of crisis or loss: when something happens in our lives that makes us question what we took for granted. When someone we love is diagnosed with an incurable illness; when we hear of a tragic accident, or when we are betrayed by those closest to us. At these moments, we can ask ourselves as well: why did we even try?

To me, it’s a great consolation that a text like this is part of our sacred Scripture. It shows that being a Christian, being a Jew, doesn’t mean that there is no doubt, no grief, and no questioning. These difficult questions are what make us human, and a belief in God does not ask us to pretend they no longer exist or apply to us.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we see another way paraphrasing that all is vanity, as Jesus explains in the parable of the rich man, or – as we hear – the rich fool. The parable is a clear warning, not against being wealthy as such, but against defining one’s life by one’s possessions: ‘for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’

It is a warning that is as acute for us, as it was for the original hearers of Jesus’ message. The problem with greed is that there is never enough. I think it’s not entirely unfair to say that our whole Western culture is based on this concept: all around us we are told that we need more. In our time, this more, is not just more possessions, although this is a part of it. It is also more power, more influence, more ‘likes’ on the many different types of social media, and more experiences: places to visit and things to do. Jesus’ warning here is not against these things per se, but against the real danger that more means never enough, and we easily lose perspective of what is really important.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who finds myself often thinking about ‘what’s next?’, rather than enjoying the moment. When I’m at work, I find myself thinking about the next break, and when I’m on holiday, I find myself planning the next few weeks at work. When I’m cycling, I find myself thinking of my next meal, and when I’m eating I begin to plan my next day. Just as with greed, the desire for more possessions, this pattern of thinking is based on the idea that life would be better, if … And, I would be a better version of myself, if …

But here, Jesus says to us: ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’. What if today would be our last day? Would we make the same decisions? Or would we suddenly realise what really matters? It is quite a good spiritual exercise to think what you would do if you had only one more day to live. I’m pretty sure that most of us wouldn’t go shopping, but would have more important matters to address. 

So what does it mean, when Jesus mentions being rich towards God? Being rich towards God expresses itself both inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly, that we realise that what defines us is being made in God’s image, with the gifts and talents he has given us. Realising that all that we have, including our life, is a gift, and that we should live it with thankfulness and respect. Respect towards ourselves, but also towards others, as each person is equally made in God’s image. 

If we are able to order our inner life in this way, how we live will follow. We will treat others with respect and dignity. We will be more able and willing to share what we have when we acknowledge that we have not earned things on our own accord, but that we have been given all that we have and all that we are. Living a life rich towards God, is the only way we can live a truly rich and fulfilled life. It won’t be a life without hardship, pain, loss, and difficult questions, but it will be a life worth living: a life with substance, a life in which not everything is vanity.

This all was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago, when I was on a trip to Zambia. We spent two nights sleeping under the stars. As I was looking up to the Southern Cross and saw the Milky Way, I realised that this was the most beautiful way in which I had ever spent a night. It didn’t need a fancy hotel, or even a comfortable bed, but only the realisation that here I was, looking into the vastness of the night sky and knowing that I am too a tiny part of God’s wonderful creation.

And therefore, I have to disagree with the author of Ecclesiastes that all is vanity. When God spoke and created, it was not just a puff of air, but from his breath the universe came into being, and we have a part to play. Together with those who went before and those who will come after, we have been created out of love and been given a purpose. Yes, it is a tiny part to play, but not insignificant. So let learn to be thankful, and ask, not for more, but to be shown ever clearer what is means to be truly rich: rich towards God, and rich in hope, faith and love.

Love one another

Address Hurstpierpoint College Leavers’ Service
1 Corinthians 13 & John 15.14-17
25 June 2022

The exams are over, the hard work is done, you have packed up your room in St John’s and the summer lies ahead of you. Today, our Prize Giving and Leavers’ service and next week’s ball, mark the end of your time here at Hurst, and the end of your time as a school pupil. And with that, you are no longer a child, but an adult. 

Of course, I’m not saying that you were still little children by the time you arrived in the Sixth Form, – although some of you arrived here in the Pre Prep as little children – but leaving school comes with sudden freedoms, and sudden responsibilities. No more school uniform, with rules on hair styles and footwear, no more clearings or detentions for being late or work not handed in. No more assemblies or indeed Chapel services where you have to be, even though you don’t see the point of it. From this point onwards, a lot of the choices are yours now.

And that is a great feeling: you can choose. It is up to you where you go, what you do and, in some sense, who you become. That is indeed a great freedom, but also a great responsibility, and I hope one that you have been prepared for by your time here at Hurst. To me, school is not about exam results, not about Grade 8 music exams, winning the netball finals, or playing county-level cricket, although they are all great achievements, and rightly celebrated, as we did earlier. However, the most important thing about your time at school is that you are ready to use your freedom.

That is the reason why I chose this morning’s readings. In our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples that they are no longer servants, but friends. At this point, it is no longer about being told what the rules are, but now, it is about knowing what the rules should be. Life is not about obeying laws for the sake of them, but wanting to follow a pattern of living, because you know it is the right thing to do.

That is precisely the point you are at now too. You won’t get a clearing any longer if you are late, but you know it’s right to be on time, because someone else is waiting for you. You have learned what it means to be a good person, and that means you know what is right and what is wrong. Although, that is of course not entirely true. Learning to make the right decisions is actually a life-long journey, and we are all still on it.  

But the most important part of this reading from John’s Gospel is the second half, where Jesus says: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.’ It is the message that is at the heart of the Christian faith that with all our freedoms and choices, we have already been chosen and appointed. Another way of saying this is that we all have a purpose in life, no matter where or when we were born. Each of us here have a purpose, and it is our journey to find and live that purpose.

What that looks like will be different for each of us, that is the joy and the privilege of the freedom we have. We live in a time and place where we can make those decisions for ourselves, and it is good to be reminded that this is not the case everywhere. Think only of Ukraine, where for many the end of their school time is the point when they will be conscripted, and for many young people their education has been interrupted and has been left unfinished.

Although, as I said, what we will end up doing will be different for each of us, there is one thing that we all have in common. That is that whatever we do, we don’t just do for ourselves. Our Gospel reading finishes with Jesus saying: ‘I am giving you these commandments so that you may love one another’. Whatever we end up doing in life, we do it with care, consideration and indeed love for the other. That, ultimately, is our purpose in life, in whichever way we live it, to love one another.

I would like to finish by some words from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. He writes that: ‘Love is a cosmic force. Love is responsibility of an I for a You: in this consists what cannot consist in any feeling – the equality of lovers, from the smallest to the greatest.’

We will only be able to find our true purpose in life if we dare to love one another, to really care for the people we encounter, from the smallest to the greatest.

So as you go from here to continue your journey, my hope for all of you is that you will find and embrace your purpose in life. And we would love to hear from you, in two, ten, twenty years time. To tell your story, interwoven with the stories of those who were here before you and those who will come after. The story of what has made you who you are, which is the story we share and the story we live. Amen.

Expect the unexpected

expectationAdvent is not only the time to prepare for Christmas, it is also the start of a new Church year. On New Year’s Day, 1st January, my sister, my parents and myself used to go and visit my grandmother. She was not always a ‘glass-half-full’ person to say the least. One year, as we arrived, the first thing she said was ‘It’s going to be a difficult year’. It quickly became our family mantra on New Year’s Day.

Of course, the sad truth about a prediction like this is that it may well become reality for those who expectantly wait for difficulty to arise. Not always: we may be pleasantly surprised by that which lies ahead of us, but our expectations do colour our experience.

Continue reading “Expect the unexpected”

Try it, just one more time!

Sermon Marlborough College Chapel, 10th February 2019, 8.30am
Fourth Sunday before Lent: Luke 5.1-11

I guess we all know that moment: when we have tried, and tried and tried, and we have reached the point we know we cannot do it. Whether it’s the further maths problem: a proposition impossible to prove, or the perfect short corner in hockey: something that looks so straightforward when you see someone else doing it. We have tried, not once, not twice, but many times, and we’re ready to admit: we just can’t do it.

SONY DSCWhat’s your first reaction when someone then says “Try it again, just once more.”? I suspect that you also, just like me, are tempted to say something better not repeated in Chapel. “It’s not for a lack of trying, isn’t it? There are times when things don’t work, and we need to give up,” is what we’d like to say.

That is precisely, I think, how the fishermen in the boat in our reading this morning are feeling. Frustrated, tired, and ready to give up. So when Peter says to Jesus “We have worked all night, but have caught nothing. Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets”, we can almost hear him saying: “Yes, whatever” in a similar way we ourselves would do, or indeed have done. But then, a miracle happens: when Peter and his companions let down the nets once more, they catch so many fish that they can’t even pull them back into the boat themselves. Their success, so to say, is beyond imagining.

Continue reading “Try it, just one more time!”

A Home for everyone

A Reflection for Holocaust Memorial Day
Marlborough College Morning Chapel

homeThis coming Sunday is Holocaust Memorial Day, and the theme this year is ‘torn from home’. It gives us an opportunity not just to remember all the people killed in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, but also to reflect on how we, how you, can make a difference.

I wonder, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘home’? Is it the smell of the home-made lasagne that awaits you when you return for a weekend or longer break? Is it a particular place: your own bedroom with your books, posters and photos? Or maybe the first thing you think of is people: your siblings, parents or friends;  or maybe your first thought are your pets, who are always happy to see you when you return.

Continue reading “A Home for everyone”

How beauteous mankind is!


It is hard so sum up a day of pondering on the complexity, the beauty and the ‘messiness’ of human nature. Today, Canon Mark Oakley invited us to look at the human and divine nature through the lens of Shakespeare’s final solo play, The Tempest.

As with any truly worthwhile conversation, the more one understands of the other – in this case the characters in the play, or even the play itself – the more one realises how much we have in common. Particularly it struck me today that the answers we look for in the play, belong to questions that we need to ask ourselves and the world we live in.

What would a graceful life look like? Is justice what the most powerful enforce? Can we be truly free if we hold any power over others? What does it mean to forgive those who have hurt us and those whom we have hurt? Continue reading “How beauteous mankind is!”