Sermon St Peter’s Milton Lilbourne, 24th December 2018, 11.00pm
Midnight Communion: Isaiah 9.2-7 and Luke 2.1-20
As a child, I often spent Wednesday afternoons with my grandmother. I particularly remember one afternoon: we were going to leave a message in a bottle. I don’t quite remember what the message was, but I remember well the sense of excitement as I stood in the middle of the bridge crossing the river, ready to throw my bottle into the unknown. I have remained fascinated by the idea of leaving a message for someone you don’t know.
So last week, my eye was caught by the story you may have read or heard as well. It was the news item that a young girl had found a message in a Christmas card she was about to write: a message that claimed to have come from within a Chinese prison. Someone wrote in English “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison in China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”
Continue reading “A Christmas message”
It is a little daunting to commit to writing a reflection for each day in Advent. It needs more systematic planning than my normal writing routine, which has become increasingly to work right up to the deadline. Whereas my early sermons were drafted and re-drafted well before the Sunday on which they were preached, latterly, I have found myself typing the last words early on Sunday mornings.
When I was at theological college, two ministers taught the course on preaching. During the introductory session, the Methodist minister explained how he read the readings on a Monday, had a first draft ready by Thursday to be finalised on the Saturday. His Anglican colleague then explained how he on a Saturday evening, often with some beers and possibly a cigarette, would put his sermon together. I have certainly moved from one method to the other!
Continue reading “Seeing ourselves”
Sermon St George’s Preshute, 15th September 2019, 8am
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity: Luke 15.1-10
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us two familiar parables: the lost coin, and the lost sheep. Deliberately trying to provoke, or at least to startle, He starts by saying “Which one of you would not …”. I’m not sure about you, but when I’ve lost something not so essential, I usually just wait for it to turn up again. If I can’t find the pen I was using, I’ll grab another one lying around. Unlike the woman in our reading this morning, I would certainly not spend hours looking for a missing coin, if I had nine others lying around.
This also applies for the shepherd. We may understand someone going to look for a vulnerable, fluffy, lamb. However, in the time that the parable was written and originally heard, shepherding was a profession like any other. It was part of the job to lose a sheep here and there, and certainly not something worth risking a whole flock, as it meant risking one’s livelihood.
Continue reading “God’s economy”
Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, 25th August 2019
Tenth Sunday after Trinity: Jeremiah 1.4-10 & Luke 13.10-17
Last week, rather by coincidence than anything else, I found myself watching the film The Lion King, which was recently produced making you feel you are watching real animals rather than an animation. It being our favourite film as I was growing up, I was rather familiar with the story, but nonetheless moved by its profound simplicity, and of course its beautiful music.
As in so many Disney films, we see the story of good and evil, with which we are so familiar in our human lives, acted out in the lives of fictional characters or animals taking on human features. The Lion King in particular teaches us about the difference between good and bad stewardship – a topic that is maybe even more relevant today than it was twenty-five years ago.
Continue reading “Our freedom through God’s love”
Sermon St John the Baptist Mildenhall, 18th August 2019
Ninth Sunday after Trinity: Hebrews 11.29-12.2 & Luke 12.49-56
Given 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.
Continue reading “Uncomfortable signs of the present time”
The text below is written by St Augustine of Hippo, sometime early in the 5th century. St Augustine is one of the most important writers in Christian history, and I have to admit one of my favourites. I find the best way to approach his work is not as a Religious Studies textbook for the fifth century, but on the contrary, almost like poetry. Words that try to give meaning to something we feel or believe, but is very hard to articulate.
As often the case with poetry as well, the first time, or times, you hear it, a lot of it doesn’t quite make sense when you think about it. But, most of the time, there is even on a first reading, something that strikes you and resonates. So, as you read the reading below, I’d like you to try and read it as poetry, trying to look out for something that connects; something that strikes a chord. Continue reading “Love with the love that is God”
A sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Amos 7.7-15 & Mark 6.14-29
Like last week, also this week’s readings, one from the prophets and one from Mark’s Gospel, lead us to think about prophethood, or about our ability to hear and speak truthfully. This morning, in Mark’s Gospel we hear the account of the beheading of John the Baptist, which I suspect is a story known to many of us. The story occurs in all three synoptic Gospels, in Mark, Luke and Matthew.
In all three cases, the story about John’s beheading is not placed chronologically, but is told as an explanation why Herod is so afraid of Jesus. Herod fears that John the Baptist is resurrected in the form of Jesus. This is not a resurrection as a healing miracle, but taps in to the belief that good or evil spirits could come back as another person, some sort of reincarnation, so to speak. The placement of this story has scholars led to believe that it is a court legend, a story about good and evil, about power and powerlessness. It also raises the question about complicity and taking responsibility for our actions. Continue reading “An opportunity missed: The tragedy of Herod’s decisions”
I will never leave you
The third and last of three reflections for Passiontide, based around the stories of Peter, Judas and Jesus, based on reflections for Good Friday, delivered at St George’s Preshute in 2017.
Hearing the Passion Gospel read this morning, it is hard to deny here that Jesus is aware of his own future, his death, whether it is imminent or not. Is that then the way to look at the Passion story: God’s plan unfolding, as a script being performed, whilst people like Mary, Peter and Judas play the part they have been allocated? Are they, and we, merely doing what has to be done for God’s plan to be fulfilled? In a way one could say that both Mary and Judas prepared Jesus for his burial: Mary by anointing him, and Judas by handing him over to those who would crucify him.
Continue reading “I will never leave you”
What makes us carry on?
The story of Peter
This is the first of three reflections for Passiontide, based around the stories of Peter, Judas and Jesus. They are based on reflections for Good Friday, delivered at St George’s Preshute in 2017.
Peter’s story is one of falling and standing up, falling again and standing up again. It was Peter who was one of the first to recognise who Jesus was when he said to Him: ‘You are the Messiah’. But it is only moments later that Jesus rebukes him for not understanding his teaching, and says: Get behind me Satan!
‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you’ (Matthew 26.33). I imagine that Peter genuinely believed those words when he spoke them. Not so much because he felt superior to his fellow-disciples and others, but because at the moment he spoke them, Peter was convinced that nothing could separate him from God; nothing could make him desert or deny that what was most important in his life: his friendship with God through Jesus. Continue reading “What makes us carry on?”
The Wedding at Cana: God’s glory revealed
Sermon preached at St Mary’s Calstone 21 January 2018: Epiphany 2 John 2:1-11
This morning we hear about Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. It is the first of seven miraculous signs told by John, and the only one unique to his Gospel account. That fact made can make us wonder: why would one have changing water into wine as a first miracle? Why use this specific story to start the revelation God’s glory made known in the person of Jesus?
One reason may be that it was historically the first miracle Jesus did. But why is it then not recorded in the other Gospels? I think more important than the historical question if it really was the first miracle Jesus performed, are the many theological undertones of the story. And maybe the first thing we need to do is to see where it fits in to John’s Gospel.
Continue reading “God’s glory revealed”