Two debts forgiven – Children’s sermon

Luke 7:36-8:3

(Two volunteers for props. Get them to stand, arms out holding the bags, one heavy, one light. Get the rest of the children to keep an eye on them to see if they drop their arms all the bags at any time while I’m talking.)

Our readings today give us an important message. It’s a message about living The way that God wants us to live, and what happens if and when we break the rules.

In the gospel Jesus is at a party and a woman has come in, she has done things wrong in her life and the man throwing the party, Simon, was not happy she was there. He didn’t think she was worthy to be near Jesus, or at his party.

Now, there is a lot written in the bible about how we are to live our lives. There are rules written down and there are stories to give us examples. Can anyone think of any rules or commandments they know, any stories they give a message about how we are to live our lives?

Examples – the 10 commandments, the great commandment, parables, letters.

Jesus said that the most important of the commandments were to love God and to love other people. But we know we don’t always treat each other like we love them. Sometimes we cause hurt by the things we say or the things that we do.

And what happens when we break these laws and commandments? What happens when we don’t live like God wants us to live? What happens when we don’t love like God wants us to?

We become sinners. We hurt ourselves, others and God.

And sometimes those things get in the way of our relationship with God. They can create a barrier between us and God, a wall between us and God.  And sometimes other people don’t want to be around us because of the wrong things we have done.

And sometimes the wrong things we do we end up carrying around with us. We keep thinking about them, the shame and disappointment we have in ourselves and the consequences that they had. They become a burden, a heavy weight that we carry around with us. Sometimes the wrong things we do can get in the way of the things that we really want to do. Sometimes the wrong things we do can stop us living. And this is like the woman at the party, whose host didn’t want her their either, because of the things she had done

But God does not want us to live like this. He doesn’t want us to carry a heavy weight around with us. And God certainly doesn’t want us moving away from him or other people. So he tells us that whenever we do something wrong if we admit it and say sorry then we are forgiven. And when we are forgiven we no longer have to carry that weight around, we no longer have to be separated from each other, and we no longer need to be separated from God.

This is what Jesus teaches Simon at the party. He tells the story of two men Who owed money. One owed lot of money, and one owed a little and neither could pay off their debt.

When you’re older and when you owe a debt to somebody else, like when you owe a lot of money, you will learn this can feel like a heavyweight, a bit like the heavyweight of knowing you’ve done something wrong. They are both things you think a lot about and worry about and get nervous about.

Which is why I think Jesus used this image of a debt owed being like sin to teach about forgiveness.

And we have two people who have been holding a heavyweight for a little bit of time now. One holding a lot, and one holding a little. How are you feeling? Are your arms aching? Would you like to let go of your heavy weight?

(Take the bags off the volunteers but ask them to keep standing on their chairs)

Ask them how they feel now? Are they happier? More comfortable? Relieved? Lighter?

Jesus asked which of the two will be most relieved to have the debt paid off, which will be most relieved, to have the burden taken away?

The person who throw the party for Jesus answered, the one with the heaviest weight will be the most relieved.

And he was right.

Jesus then talks about the woman again, because she had sinned, she has done many many things wrong, and this had made her feel guilty and separated from other people. But she wasn’t sinful forever, she was forgiven. Jesus said ‘I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love to me’

We all do things wrong sometimes, we all say and do things that hurt ourselves, that hurt other people and that hurt God.  And the wrong things we do can have serious effects. But when we say sorry, we are set free to do all the good things again, without carrying a heavy weight of guilt and shame around. We are free again, like the woman to Jesus to show each other love.

Let us pray: God help us to love you and each other as you taught us through the Bible. And when we do things wrong, help us to say sorry and receive forgiveness so we don’t have to feel weighted down and so we can love again like you taught us. Amen.

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’.

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.