Lord, I am not worthy Trinity 1

We all know that there are times when life is just hard.

Sometimes life feels like something is beating you up, draining you of your life, bringing you to the limit of your despair, to the end of your resources, where you’re holding on by the tip of your fingers. Nothing has worked to help the situation, and nothing can be said to make things better. There is nothing else.

It could be fear, pain, loss, illness, tragedy, exhaustion, or a whole host of other things that have brought you to that place, and it seems like all is hopeless.

This is the place where the Centurion from today’s gospel is, because his much beloved servant was ill and dying and there was nothing he could do, he’d tried it all.

We do not know the Centurion’s name. We know he is a man of great authority who demands the respect of the soldiers under his charge. He gives orders and they are followed. He says ‘Come’ and they ‘Come’, ‘Go’ and they ‘Go’. But you can’t order an ill person to be healed and healthy. He probably tried it.

We also know that the Romans were seen in a bad light by the locals being the invading political enemy and unclean non Jews. They were maybe second only to the Tax Collectors, who were just scum.

But there is something different about this Centurion.

He’d heard about Jesus. He’d heard the things Jesus had taught about, and heard the stories of miracles that followed Jesus around. And so, in hope, and faith, he seeks out a greater authority then his own, and send some of the Jewish elders to speak to Jesus and ask him to come, and heal his slave.

The man who is so use to giving orders and making things happen, hands over all authority to a preacher he has only heard of.

We learn a little more of the Centurion at this stage, because the Jewish elders speak to Jesus and start making a case for him. You quickly get the picture that this is not your ordinary centurion. They tell Jesus that he is worthy, because he’s immersed himself in the culture of Capernaum. He’d show much love for the people there. He’d shown much love for their God too, so much so he has built a new synagogue. And when his slave had become very ill, the Jewish elders had no problems with trying to help him out.

And so Jesus, on the authority of their witness, and inclined also to help, made his way over.

But on the way the centurion seems to have had some sort of realisation. Inviting a holy Jew into a gentile house, making him unclean was not a good thing to do. And so he sends friends to intercept Jesus on route with a message,

‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed’.

This was the convincing factor for Jesus. He was so amazed at this message of great faith in the authority Jesus worked with, a profession of faith he had not heard in all Israel, who were meant to be God’s special people. And so Jesus spoke, and the servant was healed.

These last words of the centurion are the defining factor of this story, which takes it from pedestrian to extrodinany. Such great faith, from a gentile, and a roman, Jesus found this amazing.

And these words of the centurion have had a much longer impact then I’m sure he intended them to. These words have carried through the centuries, and are as powerful today as they were then. They have found their place in our own liturgy, or orders of service, just before we receive communion, reminding us of Jesus’ authority to make us clean and whole with just a word from his lips.

As I read through this gospel, I pondered how my own faith would compare to the centurions. Would Jesus be amazed at my level of faith? Somehow I don’t think so, because, like the people Israel, in my familiarity, I sometimes forget to be amazed at God. I forget to be amazed that he would create this world and everything in it, and love us so much that he gave himself in Christ.

This morning I share in Christ’s amazement at the faith of the Centurion. And I take his words as my own ‘Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed’.

Because whether you are starting out on the journey of faith, like our baptism candidates are today, have no strong faith to speak of, in the depths of despair or are the holiest Christian here today, we are all, equally in need of Christ’s help and healing to make us whole.

 

‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed’.

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Sitting, Waiting, Watching – Sermon Easter 6

Jesus is in Jerusalem, when he come across this man. He has been ill for 38 years, and for an unspecified amount of time, he has been sitting near the pool near the sheep gate, waiting for the healing water to stir.

The legend of the pool was that, at certain seasons, an angel would stir the waters, and the first one in would be healed. This was believed to be true, and the pool attracted a crowd of the city’s poor, sick, lame, desperate and lost people.

This legend is included in verse 4 of today’s gospel which the most observant of you will notice is omitted from our pew sheets, and from most modern bibles, and is included only as a footnote. That is because there is debate over this particular verse. This is partly due to the language it is written in, not fitting with the rest of the gospel of John, and so is thought to be a later addition. But there is also the argument that this angel verse distracts readers and hearers from the focus of this passage, which is Jesus. So, now you know why the ill man was there, I will distract you no longer.

Jesus is in Jerusalem, when he come across this man.

His life, is confined to a small, thin, mat, used as a bed for the very poorest. His life consists of sitting and waiting and watching. Every day the same. Sitting, waiting, watching. Sitting, waiting, watching.

This is how he lives his life. He has no other purpose but to sit, and wait and watch.

He believes that this is his only solution to being able to move on with his life. He is waiting for life to bubble out of this pool of water. He is waiting for life to happen to him, and he is blind to any other possibility.

So he is sitting, and waiting, and watching for his life to come to him. And that is the illusion of the pool. That life happens to us. That our life is nothing more than the things that happen to us. That life is found outside of ourselves. And when we believe that we find life externally, we start saying, as soon as….

As soon as this happens, everything will change.

As soon as the water stirs, and as soon as he can get off his mat, and as soon as he can get into the water, he will have life.

As soon as……

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard those words before. They are words that I’ve used myself in my own life.

We start off as children, as soon as I grown up, I’m going to buy a horse, drive a car, eat as much chocolate as I can. Then life will be great.

Then as we grow these things change, as soon as I have this gadget. As soon as I do this course. As soon as I lose weight. As soon as he apologises. As soon as I get this money. As soon as… As soon as….. As soon as…..

And then I’ll be happy. My life will be sorted. My problems will go away.

And until then, I’m going to sit, and watch and wait.

We can understand some of what the man has gone through. We are the same.

And then, Jesus comes along. And he sees, and he knows the man. And this is a message that St John wants us to understand, because it comes up time and again. Jesus sees and knows us. He sees and knows us better then we see and know ourselves. He sees and knows the man on the mat. And he says. ‘Do you want to be made well?’

Now, for someone who has been ill for 38 years, you think this would be a straight forward question. But instead of saying ‘Yes’ or No’, the man on the mat starts giving Jesus all these excuses. ‘I have no one to help me’ I keep missing my turn’ ‘the others cut in front of me’. It’s not fair. It’s not my fault. It’s everyone else who have held me back.

Oh, how often I have done this. A simple question which is met my excuses rather than an answer. But, but, but…. it’ not my fault!!!!

His circumstances are not irrelevant. And neither are ours. But our lives are more than our external circumstances. And so Jesus says, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’

And without touching the waters, the man is healed, he has everything he wants, and he gets up. He is freed from his imprisonment because Jesus has given him a new way.

The illusion of the pool is revealed and we are freed from our imprisonment. The life that Jesus offers is not a ‘as soon as’ life because our lives are not determined by our external surroundings.

What matters to God is who we are, and who we will become. We learn that life comes from God and the gifts and abilities from within us, and when we use what we have, we will no longer be, sitting, and waiting and watching.

‘Do you want to be made well?’

Then do the things that I have told you. Take action. Go, you are well.

All Age Easter 3 – Catching Fish

So, Easter has happened, Jesus has risen from the dead, and so far the disciples have seen him, but

Remind me, who did we hear about last week, who doubted that Jesus was alive?

Thomas.

They all believe, they’re all over their shock, and surprise, and life for the disciples has gone back to some normality. And they’ve gone fishing.

They’ve been up all night in the boat. The spray from the small waves making them a little damp. And they’ve have their net in the water ALL NIGHT.

(Bring them a rope from the left side of the boat for the kids to pull in – net attached to the end – no fish in it.)

In the morning, Jesus, standing on the shore shouts out to them, ‘You haven’t caught any fish yet, have you?’

NO! – kids say

Jesus shouted over to them – ‘throw your net to the other side, and you will find some’

(Bring them a rope from the right side for the kids to pull in – net attached – full of fish)

So they did it, and when they tried to pull the net in, they were too heavy, because the net was so full of fish, but the nets didn’t break and they knew it was Jesus calling to them.

Now, this wasn’t the first time that Jesus had seen some of the disciples’ fish. Can anyone remember another point in the bible where Jesus meets the disciples fishing?

When he called them to follow him.

When Jesus first met some of the disciples, some of them were fishing. We’re told by St Luke that Simon, who was later renamed Peter, had again been fishing all night, and caught nothing, but, by doing what Jesus told them he ended up bringing in a lot of fish. So many their nets broke. And Peter tells Jesus to go away, because Peter thinks he’s too sinful, but Jesus tells him to follow him and he will make them fishers of men.

Both of these times in Jesus’ life, he asked the disciples to follow him. And that exactly what they did. Not just when Jesus was alive, but also after he ascended to join our Father.

And now, at the end of our gospel for this morning, Jesus asks Peter over and over ‘Do you love me?’ and asks him to look after his people.

Who are his people? We are.

And do you think this call to follow Jesus and to look after his people was just for Peter? No. We can read this as a call to us as well, that we are to follow Jesus, and love him, and care for his people.

Let us pray: Jesus, we thank you for your call to follow you, to love you and to look after your people. Help us to understand what you want us to do, and to do it with all our ability. Amen.

Please go back to your seats.

Sermon for Evensong Eatser 2

After the 9.30 service this morning, I got talking to a parent of one of our Sunday Club children. I asked what plans they had for the Easter holidays. She replied that she didn’t feel right calling it the Easter holidays because Easter was last week, and the kids have been in school this week.

So I felt I had to remind her that Easter isn’t just one day, but it’s a season. We have 50 days of celebration, 50 days of celebrating Easter, 50 days between Easter and Pentecost.

And I think we need this time. This time is important. Because, the mystery of the empty tomb, the victory over death, sin and destruction, the overwhelming joy of the disciples, the boundless love of God, and our salvation through Christ, deserves more than just one day of celebration.

However, among all this Easter celebration, tonight’s readings, remind us of the wider story, from our first knowledge of sin, to our adoption as children and heirs of God’s kingdom through Jesus.

Tonight is also an anticipation of the feast of the annunciation, and I would feel remiss if I ignored it.  Because, as our Genesis reading reminds us of our beginnings, the annunciation takes us back to Christ’s.

From the end, to the beginning.

The Annunciation is traditionally celebrated on the 25th March, except for when that date falls in Holy Week or Easter Week, then it is deferred.

Which is exactly what has happened this year, because otherwise it would have fallen on Good Friday, which we can all agree would have been just  wrong.

The contrast between the joy of the angel’s message, and the sorrow of Holy Week seem to be worlds apart, but there is a common thread that runs through the annunciation, Holy Week AND Easter.

Without the Annunciation, without God embodied in human flesh and living our lives among us, the events of Holy Week and Easter are meaningless. Without Christ’s incarnation, the cross has no power.

The same is true if it were the other way round, the annunciation and incarnation, without Good Friday and Easter makes Jesus just another good, wise and holy man, because death would still reign.

These two events need each other, they are part of the same story, the same plan. In the annunciation, the womb creates and brings birth to life, at the resurrection the tomb recreates and brings rebirth. Beginnings and ends, God’s presence, power, and love; revealed, and visible, for all who wish to see.

And through them, the thread of our own lives has been changed forever.

This extended time of celebration helps us to further recall and reflect upon the turbulence of those few days through Holy Week to last Sunday.

And should help us to assess the implications of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in our own lives. Individually and collectively.

In our early days, we sinned. We moved away from the will of God, but through Christ, our sin has been taken away, and we should now be able to move closer to the values of God’s Kingdom.

We all know though, that this is not always an easy task. Even for the most pious among us. We live in a world where human value is constantly being judged against the measures of productivity, financial worth, and personal ambition.

You only have to glance at the news to see the extent of global injustice, of wars being fought over greed, and where people’s lives are risked because of our selfish want or because ‘it’s just not financially viable to help’.

And to speak out, against these things that diminish the will of God, can be difficult. It seems like a lot of the time the world doesn’t care for our calling to be to be fair, caring, loving, generous, humble, inclusive, and at service for each other.

Speaking out against injustice has always required a certain amount of courage but it’s something that St Paul gives an example of.

Paul wrote to the Galatians because he feared that the new Christian community there was losing its way. There were confusions over the importance of the Jewish law and people pushing their own agendas.

What did the gentiles joining the church need to do to share in Christ’s victory?

Paul saw the possible danger for the new believers. But as Paul says earlier in his letter to them, ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.’

Barriers had been broken down and divisions cast aside.

So if adherence to the laws of the Jews was a necessary condition for belief as some were preaching, then Christ’s death was in vain.

Paul argues that we are no longer slaves to the law because of the power of Christ.  We are released and there is no turning back to the old ways.

But we have become Children of God and a new way of living has been reviled to us through the resurrection of Christ.

‘And because we are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God’.

So where do we go from here?

Our Easter celebrations take us from our earliest beginnings, through to where we sit today.

And we have 43 days left of celebration. 43 days of reflection on the events from our first encounters with sin, to the annunciation through to Easter, 43 days of working out how being Children of God translates to our lives as individuals and as the church.

You are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Today’s gospel (as well as being the longest gospel I’ve ever had to sing) is one of the most famous of Jesus’ parables. It has been used time and time again and reinterpreted for different genres of expression, Kipling wrote a poem about it. Scott Joplin turned it into a ballet. Britten and Debussy set it to music. Rembrandt painted it.

It is so well known and loved by us that I’m sure I hardly need to say anything at all…….but I will all the same.

Because when a story becomes well loved, we can stop seeing the details.

One of the things I love about this parable is the dynamic between the characters, how they interact with each other and how we can interact with them.

In all good stories there are different types of characters, we have the hero, a role we’re familiar with in stories, then there is the protagonist around whom the story revolves, (sometimes these are the same person, but not always) and then there is the anti hero, generally my favorite character, because they are the ones who are flawed, who creates disruptions and conflicts, in the story and in your own feelings, they’re often the characters you like but shouldn’t. And of course there are support characters who help the story move along and the extras.

So, who is who in our parable?

Lets get the easy ones out of the way first, we have the servants and the pig farmer who are support and extras.

So then we have the father and his two sons. And now things become a little more tricky because who is placed in each role depends on how you read it.

It could be the younger son coming to his senses, seeing the light, and returning home.

Or, it could be the older son being shown that bitterness against his brother is no way to live, and that everything that the father owns is his anyway so he too should rejoice.

Or it could be the father, after searching for his child, giving the response of complete joy and forgiveness at his younger sons return.

What do you think?

You may change your mind when you consider the parables that have gone before because Jesus tells two other parables to the Pharisees at this time. We’re told that the Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and the scribes and they unhappy at Jesus’ friendships with sinners, they grumble when they come close to hear Jesus. So Jesus tells them a series of stories to get them understanding why he spends time with them.

I give thanks the lectionary compilers didn’t include these other two parables this morning. They are the lost sheep and the lost coin.

All lost things will be found, and in these other parables it is made clear that the shepherd who found his sheep and the woman who found her coin are the heroes of those, so, the father who found his son must be the hero.

So now we have our hero identified, we can put the others in their place. We have the protagonist around whom the story revolves as the younger Son, who goes away, blows everything, and comes crawling back.

And then my favorite, the anti-hero, the older son, who puts the twist into the story at the very end.

Because if this story was just about sinners repenting and coming back to the father, the story could end when the younger son returns home.

But Jesus goes on to tell us about the reaction of the older Son, who is resentful and bitter towards both the Father and his brother.

“Listen, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never gave me anything.

But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after wasting your property gets the fattened calf and a party to go with it”.

The older son feels hard done by, deserving of reward for his years of faithful service but going without. But he is blind with jealousy and misses the fact completely that he already has everything in his possession, everything that the father has is already his. His wealth and property and love are already in his possession, but he just can’t see it.

 

Jesus doesn’t tell stories for our enjoyment, so the question is, where are you in this parable?

Are you a lost child, feeling unworthy, too sinful for the love and forgiveness of the father? Are you painfully making your way back, searching for the right path to lead you back?

Are you a slave to faithful work, but without the joy of the reward? Or are you full of jealousy for those around you who seem to be given better gifts?

Where is your relationship with the Father? Are you on speaking terms? Are you shouting or scared to talk?

This reading is important because it makes us question, our sinful actions and need for repentance, and also about the attitude we practice our faith with.

This is a calling, in the middle of Lent, for some further self assessment, and perseverance for the journey so that we can be the children that return confident, and with joy for each other too.

 

 

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Lent 2

 

In these words of Jesus we hear the voice of God’s lamenting, we hear the sound of God’s heart breaking for his children who reject his love.

Throughout the Bible we can trace the story of God’s relationship with us, the only creatures made in his own image, made from his love and for his love.

We see how he entered time & time again into covenant relationship with his people, just as he did with Abraham, promising his protection & his blessing.

Time & time again he sent prophets, his messengers, to warn of the folly of turning away, of thinking we can live without him, yet every time these warnings were rejected.

How could this be?

How could the people of Israel have been so foolish, so un-naturally rebellious, especially when God had protected them & rescued them so many times?

As Jesus turns his face resolutely towards Jerusalem he does so in the full knowledge that he too will suffer rejection, that the religious establishment is already planning how to silence once & for all this uncomfortable prophet with his uncompromising message of God’s love & forgiveness for all people.

We might well wonder why Jesus did not take the warning & return to Galilee, lie low for a while, perhaps even return to the desert until danger passed. Surely the temptation must have been strong.

We know that his human instinct shrank from the mental & physical suffering that lay ahead.

Yet he knew also that God’s love for his rebellious children would only be fully revealed when he absorbed our hatred, our greed, our anger on the cross.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets & stoning those who are sent to you! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!”

 

But if it’s hard to understand why the Jews, God’s chosen people, rejected his freely offered love, even harder is it to understand why we still reject that love so clearly shown & offered to us from the cross.

For God still longs to gather us to him as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. His covenant with us has not been broken, and through good and bad.

And yet we, like the Jews are still reject him, how often, when we are in need of his protection, do we seek security in the false gods of fame & fortune, of worldly prosperity & success even though we know that these things so quickly fade away & can never satisfy our deepest longings.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets & stoning those who are sent to you! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!”

God’s lamenting cry still rings in our ears because we too are not willing to trust our worries, our pain, our sinfulness to the forgiveness & protection of God.

So this Lent let us pause & listen to God’s invitation, “Come to me all who are weary & heavy laden, & I will give you rest.” for even now God bids us to come, to trust.

Rather than some empty promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us, God’s promise assures us that whatever does happen to us, whatever pain or problems may plague us, whatever fear we may face, whatever sin may assail us, we will never be defenceless or alone.

For we stand under the protection of God’s wings, strong in his covenant with us, shaded by his forgiveness, and strengthened by His body and blood.

Temptation – Lent 1

I’ve always found it a source of comfort that we have our gospel for this morning, the temptation of Jesus, because if in his humanity he was faced with temptation, then it’s ok for me to struggle with mine.

However it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to see the Judean wilderness for myself, that I came to appreciate how difficult the physical wilderness there is.

This limestone desert is well-named Jeshimon- the Wilderness of Desolation.

And it’s a warped and twisted landscape, shimmering with the heat. The rock is scorching to the touch as if there were some vast furnace beneath it. It’s hard to see how anyone, or anything could possibly survive for even one day. Let alone 40 days.

Yet it’s here that many of the Bible’s prophets, including John the Baptist sought solitude.

In today’s gospel we’ve heard how Jesus, guided by the Spirit, went into this wilderness knowing that in this raw, untamed place, he would be alone with God.

Jesus wasn’t the first, and certainly wasn’t the last, to realise that when we need to come to terms with our inner being, when we want to free ourselves from everything that crowds us in and prevents us from being still, then it’s good to withdraw for a time.

Many have been drawn to a wilderness for that very reason. And in our own day, many people still seek out retreats of solitude.

For in the wilderness we’re stripped of all the things that protect us from ourselves and from our mortality. In the wilderness we find God but we also find our demons.

Jesus went to the wilderness to be rid of all the comforts he’d known.

Standing on the brink of the start of his ministry, for forty days and nights he stayed dedicated to the task ahead, the unflinching life of self-giving, the life of obedience even unto death
When John Milton, in his epic poem, Paradise Regained, wrote about the story of Christ’s temptations in the Wilderness, he let his imagination run free.

And if you have a fancy for 17th century poetry, this is a good one for Lent.

At one stage it’s described that Satan is faced with what for him would be for him a disaster, the prospect of Jesus’s life and ministry being a success, as the beloved Son of God, so he calls together a council of demons to work out how best to stop Jesus in his tracks.

The Council rejects a whole series of possible temptations as far too easy for Jesus to detect. The best way of subverting his mission, they conclude, is to tempt Jesus into quick fixes and short cuts. We should pay heed; we’re prone to the same kind of temptations.

First Satan tempts Jesus to use his powers to turn the little limestone rocks that litter the Wilderness into bread.

That doesn’t seem an unreasonable thing to do. Surely there is no harm in using his God-given power to provide food for the hungry?

Didn’t the Lord’s own mother praise the God who “fills the hungry with good things?” and is this not the same Jesus who will transform a boy’s lunch into a meal for 5,000?

But to have done so in these circumstances, Jesus would have been taking gifts he’d been given for the service of others and using them to serve himself.

Jesus countered this by reminding us that food and possessions are not the only things we need to live our lives. ‘One does not live by bread alone’

Next, Jesus battles with the temptation of power.

Seeing all the power and wealth in the world and the enticement to pursue glory and authority, fame and wealth is still attractive today.

There must have been some temptation for Jesus to respond to the evil oppression of the Roman occupation with a show of supernatural force must have been enormous.

Jesus was very aware of the Jewish expectation that God would send his messiah to vindicate his people, to free them from tyranny & the yoke of oppression.

At his Baptism God had confirmed him as his beloved Son- he knew that he was the longed for Messiah, with all that title meant for his own people.

But he refused to use evil to overcome evil.

Instead he chose to confront both religious & state oppression with the ultimate power of His love, the cross.

Finally having been defeated on this front Satan now tries a different approach.

Let’s try a circus act; give people a bit of excitement. No need for a safety net, after all that word of God you’re so fond of quoting says if you’re the Messiah you won’t even stub your foot on one of these stones.

Jesus responds “You shall not put God to the test.”

To test God is to refuse to trust him, to fail to take the risk of true faith in response to his love.

It’s a temptation that is still around. Many want God to perform “magic” and liberate us. This is why there is a hype around certain churches and tele-evangelists who offer the high energy excitement of spectacular so-called miracles

Attracting people, yes, but what’s bringing them is what they can get out of it.

And it is very different from having true faith in God who calls us to be at service for one another.

We are only a few days into this season of wilderness. And if you haven’t started some form of discipline this Lent, it’s not too late.

Lent is a time for self examination and for re-balancing. It’s our time to enter the wilderness so we can be faced with the things that distract us, and separate us and tempt us.

It won’t be easy, facing our demons never are, but this is the task that is put before us, so that we can be strong in our own ministries, strong in our own discipleship, and strong in our own relationship with God.

How are you going to use this time of wilderness?

 

(Image from http://www.gracevine.com/sermon/the-temptation-of-jesus/)