Sermon 2nd February 2020:
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Luke 2.22-40)
The 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”
The parable of the dishonest manager
St Mary’s Marlborough, 22nd September 2019
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity: 1 Timothy 2.1-7 & Luke 16.1-13
If you feel that this morning’s parable in Luke’s Gospel is a little bit confusing, you are certainly not the only one. For centuries, Christian theologians have been puzzled by the structure and meaning of the story of the dishonest manager. I even consulted my German compendium on Jesus’ parables, which doesn’t happen very often, witnessed by the eight-year old bookmark I found … Some themes are obvious: the parable has something to do with honesty and our attitude to wealth, but its overall message is by no means entirely clear.
It is even not clear where the parable ends. In the translation we heard this morning, the parable ends at verse 8, concluding the story by saying that the dishonest manager is commended by his master. However, an alternative, equally plausible, translation could be that the parable ends a verse earlier, and that the Lord, in other words Jesus himself, comments on the actions of the manager.
Continue reading “From crisis to blessing”
How do we know what we know?
Sermon St Peter Milton Lilbourne, 11th August 2019, 9.30am
Eight Sunday after Trinity: Hebrews 11.1-3,8-16 & Luke 12.32-40
Today’s readings invite us to think about things seen and things unseen. Like last week, we are encouraged to put our hope in trust not in the material world around us, but in the things that really matter, things which are often unseen: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.
I would like to explore how we can put our trust in things that are unseen. How can we have faith, which as we hear is the assurance of things hoped for? How can we believe without seeing? It is a challenging question, particularly in a world that increasingly puts its trust in the truths acquired through science and the progress obtained by technology.
Being a scientist myself, of course I see the value of science in investigating and getting to know the world around us. However, I do not believe in the apparent opposition between science and faith, as what we can know through science is limited to the way it is used to look for patterns and regularities. Added to that, the God that is often opposed by the more vocal atheists, is a God in which very few people believe. So indeed, I think that there is plenty of room for faith.
The underlying question of both faith and science is ‘how do we know what we know?’ And that question applies both to the things seen and the things unseen, which as we will realise is not the same as the world of science and the world of religion.
Continue reading “The seen and the unseen”
Homily St Mary’s Marlborough, 28th July 2019, 8am
Seventh Sunday after Trinity: Colossians 3.1-11 & Luke 12.13-21
One of the things that makes me feel at home in the UK is a familiar awkwardness in talking about certain things, one of which is money. Whether it’s deciding how much to spend on a retiring colleague or a friend’s wedding, or the moment the bill at the restaurant needs to be paid, we feel a bit embarrassed having the discussion. For the record, the expressing ‘going Dutch’ was something completely alien to me until moving abroad! However, also on a more serious note, relationships have been broken and families torn apart when it comes down to money. I am sure most of us will have heard someone saying, or indeed said ourselves ‘It’s not about the money’, and we start wondering ‘isn’t it?’.
The first thing to realise then this morning, as we hear the parable of a rich man, is that we’re not the first generation or culture who have this problem. Greed is part of our human nature, and we all have it in us, the temptation to want more, and more, and more. And it is not just money that shows this tendency, but also food and drink, power and fame. We continue to want more, never being able to be satisfied.
Continue reading “Thinking about money”
“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them.” A third reflection on the nature of friendship, looking at the importance of sharing our experiences.
One of the first things one learns when undertaking any pastoral training, is never to say “I know what you are feeling”. None of us know what someone else feels, particularly not when they have experienced something we have not. However, I suspect many of us have also been in situations when we did have the sense that the other knew what we felt, and were indeed much comforted by this experience.
In those conversations, our experience mirrors the encounter between Cleopas and the other disciple as they are on their way to the village called Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35). It is the day of the Resurrection as they are discussing everything that has happened in the last few days. Presumably still scarred by the reality of the Crucifixion, the two disciples are trying to make sense of the events and seek their significance. Continue reading “The Road to Emmaus: Companionship”
Sermon St Mary the Virgin, Calstone, 19th May 2019
Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 11.1-18 & John 13.31-35
I remember a Church meeting a few years ago, in which there was a disagreement over the right course of action. I don’t quite remember what the conversation was about, but maybe it was something rather trivial like the colour of painting, or maybe more precisely, the shade of white we were going to use to paint the church hall. It was clear it was hard to find a way forward as too many people had a too passionate opinion about the matter. Until one person said “Well, I have prayed about this and we need to go for ivory white.” So, the decision was made: it is hard to argue with God’s word.
Maybe on a first reading, we are left with a similar feeling about Peter’s vision in the Acts of the Apostles. In the early days of the Church, the question whether Gentile converts had to follow the Jewish law, including circumcision and the avoidance of certain unclean foods, was hotly debated. Some Church leaders, such as Paul, felt that faith in Jesus Christ alone was enough to obtain salvation, whereas others placed a greater significance in the adherence to the law of Moses. Peter, being a Jew himself, may have been one of them.
Continue reading “The way of truth, life and love”
Homily St Mary’s Marlborough, 17th February 2019, 8.00am
Third Sunday before Lent: Jeremiah 17: 5-10 & Luke 6: 17-26
Both readings set for this morning speak about what it may look like to be ‘blessed’. In the passage from Luke’s Gospel, hardships in this life – poverty, hunger and suffering – are contrasted with rewards in the life to come: great is our reward in heaven. I guess, in isolation it is a confusing message for us: for those who on the whole have led a life in which we have been well-fed, not without a roof over our heads, and a reasonable amount of happiness.
However, it will be very different to hear this passage when you are poor, when you have not got enough to eat, or when your life has consisted of more suffering than many of us can imagine. In those cases, this is not a threat, but a message of hope and consolation: a message that tells us that ultimately justice will prevail.
Continue reading “Blessed are those who …”