Hilltop banquets – an Advent Sermon (Isaiah 25:6-10a and Matthew 15: 29-37)

Our OT reading this morning, sees all the peoples of the world gathered on a mountain top for a great celebratory feast, one at which only the very finest food is served. This abundance of the best is an image of the grace of God who wants to gather everyone to himself, so that they can feast together and with him.

The mountain in question is Jerusalem, Zion, the place that at the time of these prophesies was the ultimate image of God’s peace and presence with his people. Yet, it was also under frequent constant attack due to the disobedience of God’s people, and in a few short years the people of Israel would be in exile in Babylon. The prophesy looks forward to a time when the shroud of death and destruction that must at the time have seemed all-enveloping, would be torn apart so that people could encounter the sort of healing that overcomes the worst that sin and disgrace can do to distance lives and communities from their need for God’s presence. It is a prophesy of hope for which God’s people must wait patiently, and which they must be willing to share – for a mountain-top banquet with God is to be offered to everyone, not simply the Jews; all are called to the feast.

On a mountain top adjacent to the sea of Galilee, an area where both Jew and Gentile lived, we can assume perhaps that representatives of several ethnic and religious groups are gathered at Jesus’ feet in our Gospel reading. Their tears were being wiped away by the power of his healing touch in the lives of those who were brought to him injured, ill or distressed.

But, beyond these miracles, there is something about Jesus that holds thousands with him for three days without a reliable source of food. They may have been attracted to the area for the headline grabbing spectacle of a miracle man, but they seem to recognise in Jesus the possible fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy for which at least some of them will be aware they have waited for generations; the presence of the God of Israel. The banquet he offers on this occasion may only be a few loaves and fishes gleaned from those that had had the foresight to bring sustenance, but as he gives thanks to God and asks his disciples to share it out among the throng, it seems that a little goes a very long way. Yet this initial vision of God’s abundant love, will become a reality only too soon when Jesus is crucified, the temple curtain torn in two and the stone is rolled away; only then will the abundant love of Christ be truly shared among all people by his disciples.

Each year, we are reminded in our Advent preparations of who God’s world is still waiting for. The point of Isaiah’s prophesy, God’s extraordinary birth as an ordinary baby, and Jesus mission of healing and sacrifice, was that God longs to be sat at a banquet with all people. Whilst it is perfectly possible to get the attention of a few through miraculous healings, there are many for whom the needs are more basic: they need to be reminded that they are hungry before they feel faint, and they need to be fed; people live not just by bread and fish, but by their spiritual hunger being met in Christ before they reach crisis point. And it is we, his disciples that are responsible for distributing the nourishment that he provides, in the sure knowledge that there is more than enough to go round.

It is tempting to think of the mountain-top of busyness and banquets that we call Christmas as being a special time for us, God’s faithful disciples, to come close to Jesus, and despair of having enough time and effort in the festivities to share with others who seem to only join us for the spectacle. We need to recognise that Jesus came with compassion for those who are not yet his disciples, seeking to meet their hunger and needs, and asks us to prioritise those over our own. If people are going to be fed spiritually this Christmas they need to be sat at Jesus feet and receive in simple ways the very finest nourishment, so that they do not go away empty. Our role, is make sure that we are aware of the resources both practical and prayerful that we can place at Christ’s disposal, and then be prepared to allow his grace and his blessing to make that a banquet through which all who are gathered can receive their fill.

P1210016cw
St. Mary’s Old Basing is hosting it’s first Crib Festival on 12th and 13th of December where many locals will be displaying treasured crib figures and new creations. The event also features music from our local schools, craft stalls, and our popular book stall and coffee shop.

 

For a different take on the same Gospel passage, here’s what Rev’d Ally said to the students of Westcott: it’s all about the crumbs!

 

A neighbours first aid box – Luke 10 The Good Samaritan

My 'first aid box' is hardly an approved medical standard, but it did help me unpack the story of the Good Samaritan and what it means to love our neighbour.
My ‘first aid box’ is hardly an approved medical standard, but it did help me unpack the story of the Good Samaritan and what it means to love our neighbour.

Our Family Eucharist is a regular term-time feature of parish life attracting families with very young children because of it’s late morning service time (11.15am). It uses one of the Children’s Eucharistic Prayer and has a simple pattern of the same songs being sung weekly, except for a single one that reflects the theme of the Gospel. 

The Gospel for today was Matthew 22:34-end the first part of which is the two greatest commandments, but I decided to unpack the second of these actually using The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) in The Storyteller Bible (p80), and asking the children sat on the rug between the Eucharistic table and the lecturn: What does it mean to love your neighbour? Helping make them better? What’s in my FIRST AID BOX?

Tissues = mopping up the tears…. just giving someone tissues to dry their tears if they are really sad is showing love towards that person – it proves you care even if you don’t know or understand why they are sad. It might also mean praying with them, or it might mean going home and praying for them later.

Plaster = stops the bleeding when we cut ourselves – stopping the initial problem from getting any worse. If we just stop and look for a moment, we might be able do something to stop a problem getting worse – it’s what the priest and the other man didn’t do in the story! sometimes we don’t understand each other, and taking time to listen to what your parent, friend or sibling really means can be like putting a plaster on a wound to stop it getting any worse. Then you can go back to being friends again.

Bandage = for when things are really broken – it stops the bits that are broken coming apart completely. It’s what the Good Samaritan had to do before he even put the injured man on his donkey to take him to safety. A hospital will actually put a plaster over this. It gives time for the broken bits to heal back together so that the break is as good as new and whatever was broken can be used again. Sometimes it can take a long time for people to heal up.

Cotton wool = padding…. we can be someone who comes between a hard place in life and the person it’s affecting. It might mean going with them to a difficult place – like a parent who goes with their child to the Doctor, like the Samaritan put the injured person on a donkey and took him to a place where he could get better.

Witch Hazel = something to bring the bruising out faster so it doesn’t hurt for so long. Often we can’t make the pain go away, but perhaps by doing something with them to cheer someone up, we can give them something else to focus on, so the really bad pain of the nasty thing that happened to them doesn’t last as long. It can be why people buy someone flowers, or a present, when it’s not their birthday or Christmas! After all the Good Samaritan had to spend money to give the injured man a safe place to stay, even though he didn’t stay with him for the whole length of time that it took for the man to get better.

So, being a good neighbour means thinking about what we can do to help them when they need it. It means we’ve got to take time to be with people, and perhaps listen to them, even when possibly we’ve got into an argument with them. It means remembering that when people hurt it can take a long time for them to feel better. It might mean praying with them and for them, telling God how much we care and we want their lives to be made well, just as we want to get better when it’s us that’s hurting.

Because we can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube – Matthew 21v23-32

2014-09-27 22.06.59 cSermon for the 15th after Trinity (Proper 21)

Ezekiel 18:1-4 and 25-end, Philippians 2:1-13 and Matthew 21:23-32

On Thursday afternoon I watched as two of the children from St. Mary’s School, stood here in church during a Year 5 Act of Worship and drew faces on a piece of black card, with toothpaste. Their teacher made it into a bit of a race, but I was as mystified as the kids as to what the purpose of this strange activity was. Until that is, he asked them to try and get the toothpaste back in the tubes!

Of course, the children couldn’t do it, and there was considerable hilarity all round.

The key word for the last couple of weeks in school has been RESPONSIBILITY and the point was made that once we’ve said, or done, something, we have to take responsibility for the consequences, whether or not we did or said that thing deliberately.

It’s a tough lesson in life isn’t it? Whatever we choose to say or do in our lives, however minor, will have consequences for which we have to take responsibility. A lot of the time, things go smoothly. Sometimes however, we make wrong decisions, either because we simply haven’t thought things through for ourselves in the heat of the moment, or perhaps because we’re scared of the consequences of all the possible options, or perhaps we deliberately decide on something to avoid the embarrassment factor of having to admit that perhaps a decision we made in the past was the wrong one.

There are in fact lots of reasons for making the wrong decisions, but the chief priests and elders of Israel seemingly manage to notch up several of them all at once in our Gospel reading this morning.

They are all out to get Jesus to state unequivocally that he is the Messiah, but they don’t want to raise the question directly. After all, Jesus has just had the nerve to make it look like he thinks the Temple is his, by turning over the tables, throwing out the money changers and sacrifice sellers, and firmly quoting scripture: “my house shall be called a house of prayer”. It’s a provocative act, and it inspires the chief priests and elders to try and get this upstart from Galilee to blaspheme in the way that others have done before him, by declaring himself to be the Messiah, God’s long-awaited, and chosen means of drawing people to himself.

Trying to trick people into declaring a particular stance that you want to be theirs, is rarely a good way of moving a conversation forward, as the leaders of Israel discover, when Jesus carefully uses one of their own, long-held, rabbinic forms of debate to try and get them to think through and declare the answer for themselves.

Then, by dodging that responsibility and taking the route of diplomatic uncertainty, rather than offering their own viewpoint honestly, they forfeit their own right to a straight answer to the original question. It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s an act of self preservation: they don’t fancy being lynched. Equally, they don’t want to suggest that John the Baptist was divinely inspired to baptise people, including this Jesus, because that leaves the door open to the possibility that he is exactly what they don’t want him to be, but they do want him to claim he is. If he were the Messiah, God’s anointed, it not only places him in authority over them, but it rather puts them out of a job with regard to the Temple! One could say they are jealously guarding their existing rights and ways of operating, and that’s an unhelpful motivation in anyone.

In the parable that Jesus goes on to tell, pointedly directed at the priests and elders themselves, what counts is not what we promise, but our performance, and for this we have to take personal responsibility. Jesus even gives them the answer to their original, unspoken question in a roundabout way, by pointing out that they have failed to recognise and acknowledge God’s saving action towards all people, including, and particularly the outcasts of their society. The point is of course that if the chief priests and elders had themselves believed that the baptism John offered was divinely inspired and directed, they would also be accepting of Jesus as the Messiah.

It’s not like their scriptures didn’t show that God had clearly and repeatedly asked them to take responsibility for their own misguided understandings in the past, including a tendency to blame God for their own mistakes. Our reading from Ezekiel (18:31) shows this as they are as to get themselves ‘a new heart and a new spirit’. Generations of leaders had it seems failed to learn from their own mistakes. It was a theme which is warmed to in our Epistle this morning too, as the early Christian community in Philippi are exhorted to ‘work out their own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12), to take seriously their own spiritual inadequacies!

Just like the chief priests and elders of Israel and these early Christians, we all do it, sadly. We all would prefer to avoid the responsibility of thinking for ourselves, taking the consequences for our actions, making our actions live up to our words, and making our daily lives live up the Christian faith we profess. We don’t like the fact that we can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube!

In the case presented in our Gospel today, the inability of the chief priests and elders to set aside their own prejudices, jealousies and unwillingness to seek a new heart and a new spirit before God, cost Jesus his life and fulfilled the ultimate expression of God’s love for us all, as is so beautifully expressed in the early part of the Philippians passage.

The key, I think, is in the very last words of that passage…’God is at work in us, enabling us to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:13). It is incredibly hard, but we have to give God free reign/rein in our lives, that is our prime responsibility. That’s why as a church we create opportunities for prayer and worship throughout the week, why we’re running the Pilgrim Course, we share fellowship together, collect for the Food Bank, care for the churchyard, seek new opportunities to share the Gospel etc.

Of course we have to make sure that we’re allowing Jesus into every hidden part of our lives – that’s our individual, private responsibility day by day, that gives our outward actions integrity. We have to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and then ask for the strength to move forward and make changes in our lives, explain or face difficult truths or toughest of all accept that we can be wrong, and do wrong. After all the cross and resurrection offers us God’s forgiveness and the hope of new life with him, every time we come before him with honesty and ask to start again. He’s the only one that can, metaphorically speaking, put the toothpaste of our lives, back in the tube.

Calling of Matthew (Children’s Talk – Family Eucharist) Matthew 9:9-13

Our collection of 'funny money' great for telling stories like that of the calling of Matthew!
Our collection of ‘funny money’ great for telling stories like that of the calling of Matthew!

Yesterday saw my first talk at our Family Eucharist – a small, late morning, Sunday service in our chapel at St Mary’s during term-time, designed for infant and pre-school children and their families. We were celebrating the Feast of St. Matthew, so here’s my take on explaining his calling:

At the beginning of the talk I made sure each child had at least 3 coins each from my family collection of old and foreign money which we call our ‘funny money’ pot.

Read the bible story from the Lion’s Children’s Bible.

Matthew is a very bad man, collecting money from people to give to the Emperor and keeping some of it for himself.

So if I’m Matthew, you’ve got some money, and you’re going to give me 2 coins each to give to the Emperor, yes? Get the coins off the kids.

So I’ve got… count coins… and here’s me giving ….. count half the coins…. to the Emperor (set aside), and the rest is mine, right?

No? Not right?! What should I have done? …

But what you didn’t know is that the Emperor only asked for one coin from each person, and I made you give me 2 coins each so I could keep the rest for myself!

Which isn’t very nice is it. No. Does that make Matthew a bad person? Yes it does!

But Jesus asks this bad person Matthew to go with him and be his friend. In fact they even have a party together with a load of Matthew’s friends who possibly weren’t very nice either.

People couldn’t understand all this being friends with people who didn’t appear to be very nice, because they took money off the people in their town, and kept some for themselves.

Surely if Jesus was a good person he wanted to surround himself with other nice people, not nasty, bad people like Matthew?!

Wrong. Jesus deliberately wanted to have people around him who needed to be made better inside.
He wanted to make bad people into nice people.
He wanted people who were greedy, to understand they needed to become generous.
And to help them do that, he wanted to be their friends.
Jesus loved the bad people, especially the bad people, even when they had done greedy, nasty things.

We’re celebrating the Feast of St. Matthew today because he became one of Jesus’ special friends, someone who saw Jesus after he was killed on the cross and rose again at Easter, and went on to tell lots and lots of other people how the love of Jesus had changed his life.

So if I’m playing the part of Matthew, what do you think I ought to do with this money, now I know I’m loved by Jesus, and he’s my best friend?

Give it back! Here you are, here’s the money back. Give my share the money back.

Shall we pray? You can repeat what I say after me if you want to:Thank you Jesus,

That you want to be
the friend of everyone,
even when people
have done bad things.
Thank you Jesus,
that you love us so much,
you want to help us
be and do good.
Amen.

After the prayer I told the children that if they kept their ‘funny money’ safe until the end of the service I would swap it for some ‘special money’ before they went home if their parents were happy with this. The special money was of course chocolate money, and it meant I got to talk to every single child/family before they went home, and got our ‘funny money’ back for use another day!

PS: Sorry about the font changes… WordPress being weird; not used it for a while and stuff had changed, typically!

Patience for maturity – Matthew 13 v24-30 and 36-43

My first sermon as Curate at St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit for 8am Eucharist (BCP) and 9.30am Sung Eucharist (CW)

TRINITY 5 (PROPER 11)
Readings: Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43

The parable of the weeds and wheat as an inspiration to grow in patience and maturity.

The stinging nettles flowering amongst my rambling rose!
The stinging nettles flowering amongst my rambling rose!

There’s something about training for ordination that means there’s much more willow herb and considerably more stinging nettles growing in my garden than there were two years ago! I could explain that it’s for the benefit of the moths and butterflies whose caterpillars thrive on both, but… er… that would be a fib, and I guess it’s best not to start my association with this pulpit by telling lies. So, no, it’s simply that there aren’t enough hours in the day, at least not ones with any willpower and energy lying around spare, for my garden to look as weed free as I would wish it to be.

Some would say that a weed is simply a ‘plant that is in the wrong place’, and to some extent that is true of the weeds in our Gospel this morning, growing among the wheat which the farmer has had sown. But, these weeds present a difficult problem.

The chances are that the weeds of which Jesus spoke, looked not dissimilar to the wheat that the farmer was trying to grow. Unlike my stinging nettles and willow herb, darnel, which some think this Biblical weed to be, is a plant that not only looks incredibly similar to wheat until it’s seed heads ripen to almost black, but it is very vigorous, has stronger roots than wheat, and is regarded as poisonous because it plays host to a nasty fungus. You can quite understand why this isn’t something you want mixed up in your wheat crop, and why, on discovering it, the immediate reaction is to get it out as soon as possible.

But no, the farmer is adamant that the weeds are there to stay until the end of the growing season when the field is mature and ripe for harvest. Only at that point, when it’s really obvious what is weed and what is wheat, and root damage to the wheat is immaterial, will the labourers be allowed to rip out the poisonous darnel and burn it. Then the wheat can be harvested and stored to sustain the community. It’s a management technique that requires patience, and an understanding of how both plants grow.

God has a habit I’ve discovered, of not being very good at conforming to any timetable that WE might wish to set him. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here to be honest; I’d still be tucked away in St. Peter’s in Yateley. As far as I was concerned, THIS (point to clerical collar) wasn’t meant to happen for several years yet, IF AT ALL!

God however, is just as adept at taking a lot MORE time than we might think ideal about sorting out some things. I am sure as we watch the news from Ukrain, Israel/Palestine, Iraq or Syria, or hear that another friend has been diagnosed with cancer, MS, dementia or some other debilitating disease, we wish and pray that God would simply get on with stepping in NOW, to solve the problems and diseases of the world. He doesn’t, because though he dislikes the weeds in the garden of his creation even more than we do, he doesn’t want to destroy the things that are maturing nicely before they are ready for harvest. Or, more accurately, he is active in the world, but he’s active in ways we perhaps find difficult to recognise or understand.

There is a reason why patience is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit – and it is because it forms part of the character of God that we are called to reflect in our own lives! God’s judgement is delayed because he is patient. This parable isn’t particularly about who’s going to be in, and who out, of the Kingdom of Heaven; who’s good and who is bad. Rather, it is underlining the fact that God is waiting for the wheat to mature into a crop worth harvesting, one that can be clearly distinguished by it’s character from the weeds that otherwise look similar but are different and have become poisoned.

Much as we want it to be, the evil in the world around us is not going to be weeded out overnight by an army of God’s labouring angels. We’re not going to be isolated from the rubbish of the world, we HAVE to live alongside it, with the same patience as God. But this isn’t an excuse to sit back and do nothing, to live, as our Epistle puts it, according to the flesh. Led by the Holy Spirit we are instead called as children of the resurrection NOT to be fearful, but to be adventurously expectant, to grow as strongly and as fruitfully as we can towards maturity, so that we will be recognised for what we are: children of God, affected, but uninfected, by the evils of the world; a part of God’s coming harvest.

This parable isn’t about the stuff we do wrong, or a finger pointing exercise about what others foul up. It’s about the stuff we do right, the stuff that reflects the faith we proclaim. This parable is saying there’s time to do MORE of it, BECAUSE God is patient.

For example there’s time to take part in the Pilgrim Course, to share and learn more about Christ, the how and where of his work in our lives. There’s time too, carved out though it might need to be from our own timetables of living, to make our faith more recognisable to others than it is already. On the world stage that MAY mean that those people who are appropriately placed should step out, trusting God’s strength, to help humanity change for the better; equally it probably DOES mean that we should hold those situations, and the people that can make a difference to them, in prayer.

It’s worth remembering that this parable doesn’t liken a farmers wheat field to the church, because in Jesus’ time the church didn’t exist! The wheat field is the world, the world of Old Basing and Lychpit, as well as further afield, and it is in THAT context that Christ will one day be looking at us to see whether we are discernibly different to the weeds that he knows he will sadly need to destroy. That’s why we are called to engage with our local schools, the food bank, and probably a myriad of other community activities I haven’t seen yet, in ways that mark us out as people of Christ.

There is a deep challenge to us all within this Kingdom parable; but rather than being a source of gloom and fear, this challenge should be a cause for hope. Whatever stage of life and faith we are at, because of God’s patience there is time to grow towards maturity in our love of Christ, and the degree to which we reflect God’s character. If we will allow ourselves the freedom to grow, the Holy Spirit is eager to be at work in us, enabling us to be part of the harvest that will be stored in God’s presence as part of his glorious Kingdom.

Be Happy #givingitup Matthew 4:23-5:4 15th March #Lent2014

Well, it’s been a couple of days. Thursday I simply conked out; we’d been to the school production of Cabaret, taken the lad’s girlfriend home (they’ve both been in the pit band) and I simply faded out with no brain left. Yesterday with the husband conked out at the end of his week of 5am starts to keep up with the workload, I did the Cabaret run and simply couldn’t face it afterwards with him snoozing happily at 11pm. I’ve never been great at late nights, and have always needed lots of sleep which I rarely get these days. I’m afraid however dedicated I might wish to be to God, Lent or blogging, the need for sleep trumps the lot. It’s also much easier to skip a second ‘thing you committed to do’ when you’ve already skived one.

Anyway, Graham caught up with his reflection on yesterday’s reading in Maggi Dawn’s “Giving It Up” here, but I’m jumping straight to today’s:

Listening to Craig Charles on Radio 2 just now he’s playing a re-working of the Happy Song that’s been so popular recently.  “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth… Clap along if you know what happiness is to you…” What is it makes us happy, and do we really know and do those things that build us up?

Maggi suggests that as Jesus’ fame and fortune started to spread people were coming to him particularly for the quick fix of what they thought would make them ‘happy’ which was their immediate needs, illnesses particularly. Important those though might be to people’s well-being, when Jesus settles down to teach them what we know as the Beatitudes, he’s hoping to draw them into something that deeper, something that will give them a deep well of ‘spiritual’ happiness for much longer than the initial impact of any ‘cure’ God might of his grace give to those who suffer.

Maggi describes the God-given happiness that Jesus’ offered as ‘peace and confidence that God is with us’. Sometimes that’s the only thing that has kept me going through ordination training, alongside the endless advice and prayers of friends, and even then I’m not sure it’s really been ‘peace’ just a sense that I am within God’s care and he will see me through as this calling is ‘of him’.

I was only saying to Graham this morning as we enjoyed a walk on Farley Mount that what is probably one of my greatest worries regarding curacy is being able to offer the same transition that Jesus makes in this reading: from being a conduit of God’s care for people in representational and sacramental situations, to getting them to make deeper personal connections to faith in God. That’s something I’m not convinced ordination really equips you for, thinking instead that it can only be learnt through actually doing it, and that I’m sure involves trail and error, and therefore an understanding of God’s forgiveness within the ministers own life.

So, hopefully you’ll forgive me for my silence the last couple of days, and I’ll hopefully get back on track again from here through the coming (slightly quieter, for me at least) week. We’ll see; there’s essay research lurking.

Graham’s thoughts for today are here – great as usual.

Power and Glory #givingitup Matthew 4v8-11 12th March #Lent2014

A card given me at the start of training showing the prayer of Mary Sumner, and inked by the calligraphers of Winchester Cathedral.
A card given me on my birthday last year, showing the prayer of Mary Sumner, inked by the calligraphers of Winchester Cathedral.

Power. Something the devil offered Jesus, and he turned down. At least it was a certain sort of controlling power that, as with the second temptation of Jesus, wasn’t remotely related to the sort of power he had been given as God’s Son. As Maggi Dawn explains in the reading from Matthew 4 she selected for today in her book ‘Giving It Up’, Jesus’ was a power that was harnessed to serve others, to heal, and to bring justice, not to bully people into submission.

Power. It’s something that we rightly fear when exercised by others over us, especially when it results in injustice, suffering, and abuse. But I wonder if we’re becoming over sensitised to it? More suspicious of power than we need be, or should be, especially in the context of Christian leadership.

During some conversations that I’ve had this week, all revolving around the same set of circumstances, people have talked a lot about ‘top down’ management as a bad thing, a form of power to be feared. Why, I find myself wondering, is this worse than a ‘bottom up’ approach, or one that takes more account of consultation with a broad spectrum of voices and opinions?

For me, this gives rise to a series of questions to which I don’t have answers, and to which I am sure the answers vary from case to case:

  • Is our increasing concern and fixation with how people exercise ‘power’ (for which you can read ‘those in authority’) actually motivated by a desire to have our voice heard, our needs met, our ideas and priorities to be the ones that are taken up and used by those with power?
  • If this is the case, does it fly in the face of a humility that knows we might not be best equipped to see the big picture, and the need to employ some level of trust as servants of God, in the wisdom and discernment of those whose job it is to lead us in his name?
  • Is there also a danger that if we’re constantly doubting the integrity of our leaders, we might be limiting their prophetic power in situations that are crying out for change?
  • In the very act of challenging people’s power, are we in a paradoxical situation of actually exerting too much power ourselves, when it’s not ours to exert?

I know that when I think of, or become aware of something that I don’t feel is an appropriate decision or use of power, I’m often among the first to question it; and I probably shouldn’t give that up completely for Lent, or at any other time, because I’ve done that not so long ago, with distressing results. But perhaps I should be a little more aware of how God might be perceiving my words and actions, and the power that they are trying to exert over others – whether I relate up, or down, to them!

Graham has I suspect, given the music he’s been looking at, come up with some rather different thoughts, so I do encourage you to go and look at them too.

Fame and fortune #givingitup Matthew 4v5-7 11th March #Lent2014

Some wonderful scented narcissus that Graham had bought me to come home to on Sunday filling our house with a beautiful scent (sorry we've not got smellavision yet!)
Some wonderful scented narcissus that Graham had bought me to come home to on Sunday filling our house with a beautiful scent (sorry we’ve not got smellavision yet!)

Today has been somewhat gentler. I few chores, a gentle drive back to college and a very long chat with a good friend. Not much work done, but a definite sense that I’ve been frantically on the go without a break longer than Sunday afternoons rugby match on the TV. Really looking forward to a #dayoff with Graham on Saturday though it comes with an early start getting our son to his oboe lesson and youth orchestra rehearsal an hour from home by 9.30am.

The second temptation of Christ, in Matthews ordering of the events, seems to suggest that should Jesus fall, he will be saved by the angels of God. We’d all like that wouldn’t we, someone to save us every time we make a mistake, take a wrong turn, trip up? But life’s not like that, and we have to live with the consequences of our actions, whether they be intentional or not.

What also strikes me before reading Maggi Dawns reflection on Matthew 4:5-7 was that the Devil was offering Jesus something he didn’t actually need. He wasn’t going to fall, to fail, to branch out and take risks on his own, because, apparently unlike the devil, Jesus understood exactly who he was, the Son of God (Matthew 3:16-17).

Maggi talks about the use and more specifically the abuse, of spiritual gifts, to gain money, fame and fortune. We’ve probably all seen tele-evangelists doing their thing, and I can remember how shocked we were travelling in Uganda in 2006 at how much of that style of imported television was being made available on Ugandan TV. She goes on to make the point that whilst material wealth is a far cry from life as a non-stipendiary minister, the dangers that go with local fame for spiritual gifts are no less of a danger.

Here’s something that’s a special challenge to me, given that only on Friday, I said once again that the creative act of writing sermons and leading worship, is one way in which I feel close to God. That’s not a bad thing of itself, but what Maggi is highlighting is the danger of that being the only reason why I would chose to preach and lead worship.

I have on my desk currently the Liturgy of Ordination for Deacons, in which they

“called… to serve as heralds of Christ’s kingdom… to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love… [and] to serve the community… with their fellow members…”

Being a deacon, and even when ordained priest, you always remain a deacon first and foremost, is about service to others working collaboratively alongside fellow ministers, ordained or lay. In all the excitement of being ordained (which was a key emotion in yesterdays events), feeling as though a long journey of discernment and training is finally being fulfilled in God’s sight, I must remember that this isn’t about MY calling and MY place in the mission and ministry of a particular community, but about God, what he’s doing, who he wants me to reach out to in Jesus’ name, and the joys and burdens of other peoples lives, not my own spiritual gifts and preferences.

Who’s going to miss the party? A sermon on Matthew 25:1-13

We all have to live with the consequences of our decisions, which is why I didn’t go to a firework display this year, and why five virgins didn’t get to go the bridegrooms banquet in Matthew 25.

We are all waiting for God’s ultimate party, aren’t we? We’re all prepared for it with our party hats, our streamers and the champagne?

My sermon last Sunday focused on the need for us to be prepared for Jesus to come again in glory, for the Kingdom of God to be fully revealed to us.

After much prayer and thought, I did talk about the fact that Matthew’s Gospel seems to suggest that there will be a point of judgement, where God’s grace may no longer be his dominant characteristic.

Since the passage comes in the lectionary as part of our post-Trinity preparations for Advent, I also suggested that when we approach the manger this Christmas we should not do so alone. We should bring our friends with us.

We must not judge whether God will welcome either us or our friends into his Kingdom, but if none of us are waiting, and if we haven’t brought our friends, then none of us are prepared to welcome Jesus the bridegroom.

The full text of this sermon is here: Sermon Matt 25v1-13 (10 virgins) (and yes I really did take a bottle of champagne to church!)

Does God’s grace stop at the parousia? #lectionary

Cartoon by MUF

This is just a quick chuck out thought as I grapple with the Lectionary Gospel for this week – the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

The question that’s bugging me is this: does God’s grace stop when Jesus returns in glory (what some posh folk call the parousia)?

Last week my friend was preaching on Jesus as the vine (John 15:1-17) and raised the tension in the Bible between the doctrine of God’s abundant grace and the idea that those who do not remain connected to Jesus the vine, will not only wither but be collected together and burnt. It’s almost like no second chance is offered – which is not what grace says. He didn’t find a resolution to the question.

We’re now turning from a sermon series through the “I am” sayings to the lectionary as we start to turn towards the Advent season. And here I am looking at the young ladies waiting for the bridegroom in Matthew 25, and struggling with the same sort of issue because of course those that were unprepared are left shut out by the bridegroom from the wedding feast.

Here’s what I think, please tell me if you disagree or can teach me more:

God’s grace and forgiveness are unlimited in the world as we now experience it – a place where God’s Kingdom is breaking through but not complete. We constantly have the opportunity to seek Jesus, to turn to God for forgiveness and to receive his love because of that beautiful word GRACE.

But, there will come the point where this will no longer be true, because when Jesus comes in glory to create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1) those who have not prepared themselves by playing their part in the breaking through of that Kingdom, will find themselves shut out. They will no longer have a chance to change their minds, seek forgiveness, or go off an make suitable preparations by accepting Jesus as their Saviour.

So, does this line of thinking hold theological water?

[More of MUFs cartoon are here]