Tag: Peace

Peace be with us?

Sermon Holy Trinity Church Hurstpierpoint 14 August 2022: Trinity 9
Hebrews 11.29-12.2 & Luke 12.49-56

There are many aspects of my ministry that I really enjoy, but preaching is certainly one of my favourite things. Actually, it is not the preaching itself that I particularly like, but I love preparing a sermon. Because it is a way to really engage with Scripture, and trying to listen to what God is saying in this place, at this time. Often, I discover something new about God myself, something that I didn’t know before, or something that I suddenly know on a deeper level.

And especially this week, I was really looking forward to writing a sermon. Firstly, because I could return to a reasonable length sermon, after having been told to preach for at least an hour when I was in Zambia a few weeks ago. But also, because I had just returned from a retreat in North Wales, spending a week with the Jesuit community at St Beuno’s. In their spirituality, rooted in the teachings and practice of Ignatius of Loyola, the personal encounter with Jesus is central. And, as one of the brothers said on the last day, the hope is that this encounter makes us a little more open, a little kinder and a little gentler.

So with great expectation I turned to today’s readings, to see where I would find this gentle and loving image of Jesus. Well, the Lectionary clearly wasn’t on my side this week … There is a lot to say about today’s readings, but we don’t see the image of the Good Shepherd or the little baby Jesus readily appearing. Today’s readings speak about judgement, conflict and persecution. For many of us, they are challenging our Sunday-school image of who Jesus is. But it is good to be challenged, so let’s see what these passages may have to say to us in this place at this time.

I’d like to start with the letter to the Hebrews. We continue today where we left last week, with a series of examples of people and peoples who achieved things through their faith. However, what they achieved through their faith, we may not particularly aspire to in the 21st century: the destruction of cities, victories over foreign armies, and let alone the sacrifice of a child. The crucial verse to understand this is the opening verse of Chapter 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” 

This verse explains that yes, we should indeed take courage from all that God has done in the lives of our ancestors. However, it also points out that we need to run the race that is set before us. Our challenges are different from those of which we hear in our reading. One of the greatest differences between us and the people Israel, is that we trust in the universality of God’s love in Jesus. No longer is there a distinction between God’s chosen race and those who are outside, there is no longer an us and them in the same way. Indeed, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians we read that there is neither Jew nor Greek, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

But wait, Jesus doesn’t particularly speak about unity in this reading from Luke’s Gospel either. On the contrary, he says that he has not come to bring peace, but rather division. And indeed, one way in which this reading has been explained is that there is now again a division between people: some Christian traditions maintain that there are people chosen by God, and others not. Other Christian traditions strongly emphasise the division is between those who have confessed a believe in Jesus, and those who have not. 

I find both explanations at odds with what I believe about God, both on a theological level, but also much deeper. Indeed, one of the reasons is mentioned in this very passage: the division of the household. My parents are not churchgoers and have never been. Because of their upbringing and personal experiences, they feel that the church has very little credibility. But yet, I don’t believe that they are fundamentally different from who I am: they are as much human beings, created in God’s image and love, trying to make sense of what they believe and who they are.

So where is the division? When we look closer to the text, Jesus says, I have not come to bring peace to the earth. The Greek word for earth here can also be translated as land. So one way of understanding this passage is that this is not a prophecy, but a reality: the division between faiths, understandings of God, and understandings of our humanity is real, and the Christian faith – a belief in Jesus – is a part of those divisions. It is indeed one of the reasons people use for turning away from religions: the divisions and conflict they have caused in human history.

And it is not just between religions, or between those of faith and those without that divisions exist. Anyone who has seen any news about the recent Lambeth Conference knows that also within Christianity, even within the Anglican Communion, divisions run deep. Maybe that is the division of which Jesus is speaking: a very human division. That means that the peace he is speaking of here, is also a human peace – a peace on earth – he is not referring to God’s everlasting peace: the peace for which we long, the peace we share in our service a little later, and the peace we see glimpses of in prayer, service and worship.

So when we see these divisions amongst ourselves, we should not attribute them to Jesus, but rather accept our inability to understand and to know fully. Ultimately, it is not Jesus who is the cause of these conflicts, but we are. Through our limited understanding shaped by our culture and tradition, or at times through our self-centredness, we find ourselves disagreeing painfully, sometimes with disastrous consequences. 

Maybe that is where Jesus is referring to when he calls the disciples, when he calls us, hypocrites: we can forecast the weather – and so many other things – but we cannot understand our own motives, nor how we are complicit in the conflicts and crises of our time.

One of the ways to counter our short-sightedness is to remember that we are not alone, to remind ourselves that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We are not the first generations to experience all this, but we stand in solidarity with those who have gone before us, those in whose lives God has been at work. That gives us comfort, not to become complacent, but to know that there is hope, to know that through faith we can find the perseverance to run the race that is set before us.

One last thought on that race, I suspect that one of the things on our minds is the current drought and the alarming signs of climate change. There is no time to be complacent, and we need to change our behaviour. But, this drought itself is no reason to despair and give up: in any historic account, we read of droughts, and the terrible effects they had. We are not the first, and I trust that with the appropriate action, we won’t be the last.

So with confidence, let us run that race that is set before us, in this place at this time. Always looking to Jesus with sure and certain hope that he will be with us, and he will never let his people go. Amen.

The doors are locked

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
John 20.19-31

IMG_1366This passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter Day. It has striking similarities with the preceding passage, which we heard last week: Jesus’ appearance to Mary on the first Easter morning. Maybe one of the most striking differences, however, is the setting: where it takes place. Whereas Mary went to the tomb, searching, the disciples are in a house, hiding.

We hear that they have locked their doors, for fear of the Jews. Some commentators argue that the reason ‘for fear of the Jews’ was added in a later version of the narrative, as it does not appear when Jesus appears a second time a week later to reveal himself to Thomas also.

Continue reading “The doors are locked”

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.

Continue reading “Go in peace”

“I do not give to you as the world gives”

Sermon St George’s Preshute, 26th May 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 16.9-15 & John14.23-29

The Easter season is drawing to an end, with Ascension Day this coming Thursday and Pentecost ten days later. Our readings this morning invite us to start moving our focus from the celebration of the Resurrection to the reality of living in the knowledge of that Resurrection; the reality of living the life of faith, both as individuals and as a Christian community. He, I would like to reflect on what this may look like for us today. As we do so, our focus will be on the unexpectedness of God’s gifts to us. As Jesus reminded his disciples: God does not give to us as the world gives.

last supper.jpg

We have already seen in our readings over the last few weeks from the Acts of the Apostles, that the life of the early Church was not always easy, but punctuated by moments of grace and hope, unexpected conversions of individuals, such as Lydia this morning, and unexpected moments of insight of what it means to be a body of believers, such as Peter’s vision to include the Gentiles last week. Continue reading ““I do not give to you as the world gives””

Peace be with you

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, 8th April 2018
Acts 4.32-35 & John 20.19-31

This past week, I visited a friend in Belfast for a few days. Apart from the stunning views at the Giant’s Causeway somewhat further north, we had a tour of the city. It has been twenty years since the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, but still there are walls up in the city, and gates that close at night to make it impossible to go from one side of the fence to the other, even for emergency services.

peaceIt has been estimated during those thirty years of the Troubles that over 3,500 people were killed. That number made me realise that the scale of the recent violence in London is not very different, with already over fifty murders in the first three months of this year. Whereas in Northern Ireland, the conflict has been very much associated with Christianity, the violence in London seems to be of a different nature. This, I suspect, is not unrelated to the fact that Christianity in Ireland is still much more prominent than it is in our capital city nowadays.

Continue reading “Peace be with you”