Salt of the earth

Sermon 9th February 2020 St George’s Preshute
3rd Sunday before Lent: Matthew 5.13-20 & 1 Corinthians 2.1-12

The passage we hear this morning is set at the start of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. I suspect that the images are familiar to many of us. The phrases ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ have become very much part of our shared vocabulary. They are also particularly apt at this time of interregnum, moving  hopefully towards the appointment of a new Team Vicar, because the words give us an idea of what discipleship looks like. Not just for the crowds who were addressed two-thousand years ago, but also for us, here at St George’s in the twenty-first century.

salt of the earth

The first thing to not is that in this passage, Jesus addresses his listeners directly: ‘You are the salt of the earth’, ‘You are the light of the world’. These words are said to us, the challenge that following Jesus means is ours. Here in Preshute you have been very good in sharing this calling together, with a great diversity of services and events, as well as an impressive level of pastoral care for others. But is there still something we can learn from this passage? What might it look like to be salt and light, here and now?

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Go in peace

Sermon 2nd February 2020:
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Luke 2.22-40)

simeonThe story we hear this morning will be familiar to many: the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Following Jewish tradition, Joseph and Mary present Jesus, their first-born son, in the temple to give thanks and ask God’s blessing upon his life. They encounter two people, Simeon and Anna, who are often mentioned in one breath. But looking a little closer, it these two people do not have as much in common as we might think. This morning, I’d like to have a closer look at the person of Simeon, and what happens to him when he sees Joseph, Mary and their child.

Simeon seems to be a visitor to the temple, but apart from that, we don’t hear anything about the age or past of Simeon. That we don’t know Simeon’s age came as a surprise to me, when I heard someone preaching on this passage a few weeks ago. She pointed out that, although we often assume that Simeon was pretty old – just as in Rembrandt’s painting –, this is actually not mentioned in this passage, or elsewhere in the Bible for that matter. Yes, we hear that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, which may imply that he is of advanced years, but this is not made explicit by the text.

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Agree to disagree

Address Morning Chapel in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Every third week in January, Churches throughout the world participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It traditionally ends on 25th January, when the Church marks the conversion of St Paul, after his vision on the road to Damascus. I thought this may be a good reason to briefly think about unity and disagreement, particularly thinking about how we can disagree with each other in a way that is constructive.

disagreement

So let’s first see what Paul has to say about disagreement in his letter to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 4.25-end (The Message)

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretence. Tell your neighbour the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work. Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.

Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

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Expectation or Invitation?

Address Marlborough College Chapel
Second Sunday of Epiphany, John 1.43-51

invitationOne of the things I dislike is when someone tells me what to do, and I am sure that I am not the only one. Here at school there are quite a lot of things you are told to do, and I suspect that some of you feel the same about those things as I, when I am told that I have to do something. There are quite a few things in life you will just have to do. Not only when you’re at school, but also when you embark on your next stage of life and even beyond. Fortunately, there are also a lot of things you are invited to do, and often they have a very different feel to it.

For example, when I was in the last year of my Master’s course in physics, I was invited to go to an annual conference to present the research that I had been doing. It was a real honour to go and to be part of the ‘grown-up’ scientific community and I very much enjoyed the couple of days full of lectures and talks. The next year, when I had started my PhD research in the same field, attending the same conference was no longer an invitation, but an expectation. As soon as my supervisor told me to go, the conference lost its appeal, and I did no longer want to. Although my interests hadn’t changed, nor the topic and format of the conference itself, the fact that I was told to go, spoilt it for me altogether.

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The choice is yours

Homily Marlborough College Chapel 13th January 2019
The Baptism of Christ: Matthew 3.13-17

I’m sure that even if you’re in the middle of your mock exams, you may have had time to see some of what is happening in the news this week. Of course, there is the very worrying situation in Iran, and competing with this for the headlines has been the recent statement of the youngest son of Prince Charles that he and his wife Meghan are stepping back as senior royals. Looking at the newspapers, the statement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has caused quite a lot of controversy. Headlines range from “Harry digs in for a deal” to a caption stating that friends claim that the couple has been “driven out by Buckingham Palace”. I would love to do a quick survey what you think, but I guess that this is not the time nor the place.

choice

However, the whole affair raises some interesting issues that are important for all of us to consider at some stage in our lives. The first is the question in how far we should follow in the path that our parents, or our family have set out for us. It is of course a particular pertinent question for members of any monarchy for example, but also a question for each of us.

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The way ahead

Address given at Shell Chapel at Marlborough College, Wednesday 8th January 2020

It is your second term now at Marlborough. I am sure that coming back yesterday felt very different from coming here the first time in September. Probably it feels a long time ago, that first afternoon when you all went to Court to meet your teachers; your first experience of Norwood and being lost quite a lot of the time, if you’re honest. Not so this time. You have learned a lot and grown a lot, but that also means that the expectations are now a little bit higher. You will get a blue chit if you’re late, if you have forgotten where you need to go, or if you’re not wearing your uniform properly. You are no longer newcomers, you are now part of this community as much as anyone else.

way snow

Part of growing up means that as you get older, you get more privileges, but also more responsibilities. The two go hand-in-hand. In your first term, you made friendships and learned to get to know the workings of this place, hopefully enjoying at least most of it. Now starts the time to build on those experiences. You start to know what it means to have real friends: people who support you when you need it, but they are the same who will need your support at times too. Friendship is a two-way process, you cannot only take, you will also have to give.

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Welcome!

A sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

6 January is the day on which the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany. It is also the last day of the Christmas season. Many of us will have already taken down our Christmas decorations, or will do so in the next couple of days. Christmas is behind us, and the new year lies ahead of us.

magiThe Gospel reading set for the Feast of the Epiphany is the reading of the wise men visiting Jesus: a scene we often associate with the Christmas story itself. Indeed, it is the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel, who does not include shepherds or choirs of angels as in Luke’s version, but narrates the story of the Incarnation here. Hence, the Christmas story as we often hear it in nativities and see it in cribs is a conflation of the two different Gospel accounts.

Matthew does not tell us very much about these wise men. We know that they came from the East and followed a star. First the star leads them to Jerusalem, and later, on instruction of the scribes and Pharisees, the men follow the star to Bethlehem. It is a significant detail of the story, revealing Matthew’s purpose in telling it this way. The wise men are foreigners, non-Jews, gentiles. They do not know the stories of the Jewish faith, nor the God as revealed in the Jewish scriptures. But that does not mean that they don’t know anything about God, as they can see Him in the world around them. Hence, they follow the star.

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