What the future may hold?

Sermon St George’s Preshute, 28th October 2018, 10.00am
Second Sunday before Advent: Daniel 12.1-3 & Mark 13.1-8

brexitI think that I have managed so far this year not to mention Brexit in a single sermon. Today, however, I will. Don’t worry, this won’t be a ten-minute long political manifesto, nor an analysis of what I think post-Brexit Britain will look like – or whether there will be a post-Brexit Britain.

What I would like to do is draw some parallels between the readings this morning, and our own current political situation. I won’t focus so much on the issues at stake as Britain renegotiates its position within Europe, but on the process, and what it tells us about ourselves and possibly our relationship with God.

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Be Real!

Sermon preached at Keble College Oxford, 21st October 2018
Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity: Isaiah 53:4-end, Hebrews 5.1-10, Mark 10.35-45

First of all, thank you to the Chaplain for inviting me to preach here at Keble College tonight. Writing a sermon is in many ways not unlike writing an essay. You read, you think, you read again, and despite your intention to be well-prepared and organised, eventually you realise that still, you haven’t started writing yet the day before.

essay.jpg

I myself come from a physics background, so for a long time I was blessedly unaware of the process of writing essays – although working to the deadline wasn’t that uncommon for myself and most others! What struck me when writing essays was that some of them, in which I had invested a lot of time and effort, were subsequently marked disappointingly low. Others, which I thought were far less well-researched, would sometimes get marks much higher than expected. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had this experience.

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Art: A thing of beauty

The role of arts and the First World War

Sermon preached at the Calne Music and Arts Festival Evensong
14th October 2018, Genesis 4.3-11 & John 20.11-18

It is remarkable that in an era where society calls itself more and more secular, music, arts and literature festivals are increasingly popular. I would like to suggest this evening that a reason may be we are facing a level of disillusionment, and that arts, music and literature are a beacon of hope and truth. I would also like to suggest that this disillusionment is in many ways not dissimilar from where we were a century ago, at the end, and during the aftermath of the Great War.

David Jones
Copyright The Estate of David Jones

Of course, there are many ways in which our society is completely different now from the 1920s – as historians will be very able to point out. However, when I came across the following quote from the artist and author David Jones written in 1926, I sense that there are some parallels to be drawn too. In his first published essay since the Great War, Jones wrote that art must express contemporary culture and that, since today – 1926 – we are generally unable to create ‘a thing of beauty’, the only hope for authentic art is a counter culture determined ‘to avoid … the general decline.’[1]

Art: a thing of beauty, determined to avoid the general decline.

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Those whom God has joined together

A sermon preached at Marlborough College Chapel
7th October 2018, Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Mark 10.2-16

hands marriage
Photo credit Matthew Brown

Quite a controversial reading this morning, I suspect – I hope! When I looked at the reading suggested by the lectionary, my first thought was to choose another one. Although some of you may agree with my interpretation of this reading, I am almost sure that what I will say this morning may upset and offend some people. Others may think that I am plainly wrong. For someone who doesn’t like an argument, that’s not great.

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We are the Body of Christ

Reflection on the local Church
30th September 2018, Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

James 5.13-20 & Mark 9.38-50

saltAs some of you reading will know, Marlborough is currently without a Rector. It is a strange thought that the local Church is currently without a leader. However, todays readings remind us that being the local Church, being the Body of Christ in a place, is a responsibility in which we all share. We all have a role to play in the local Christian community, each in our own way, as well as together in relationship.

Starting at the end of the Gospel reading, I’d like to work back toward the reading from James’ letter, making some observations on the way. The Gospel reading set for today ends with the phrase ‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another’. At the face of it, two competing principles. Having salt in ourselves: standing up for what we believe in; and yet being at peace with one another: making sure that relationships are harmonious.

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Living with integrity

Sermon St John the Baptist, Mildenhall, 2nd September 2018
Trinity 14: Deuteronomy 4.1-2,6-9 & Mark 7.1-8,14,15,21-23

Listen and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. (Mark 6.14-15)

The week before last, I spent on retreat in Alnmouth in Northumberland, and walking along the North Sea shore, I  found myself thinking quite a lot about these words: it is not what is outside that defines us, but what comes from the inside. It is not our situation that determines who we are, but how we respond to it.

justiceIn this passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus specifically speaks about laws and customs around food. The Jewish had and still has rather strict rules about what can and cannot be eaten under certain circumstances, and how food is to be prepared and eaten. In the verses that are omitted from the reading this morning, Mark makes the comment that Jesus has now declared all foods clean.

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An opportunity missed: The tragedy of Herod’s decisions

A sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Amos 7.7-15 & Mark 6.14-29 

herodLike 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”