Sermon John 5. 30-end

In my two years here as Youth Chaplain, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had two children in front of me going ‘He hit me’ ‘He called me a name’ ‘I was using that colour and she stole it’ Dealing with children can be a joy, but dealing with the squabbles and disagreements of the kids, especially when it’s one against the other, can be an absolute nightmare. And it’s in times like this that I really appreciate the method of dealing with situations as it is in Deuteronomy.

And we come across it in action in our second reading tonight as Jesus faces some of the Jewish leaders.

To put this in context. Jesus has just healed the paralyzed man at the pool, and it’s the Sabbath. So Jesus was in trouble with some of Jewish Leaders for doing what was not allowed on the holy day. But Jesus is also accused of claiming to be equal with God which causes some serious questioning.

It’s clear they don’t believe in him, and they are asking why they should. Which is fair enough. We all go through a time of questions about who Jesus really is and we all question if he is someone we should believe in, and follow in our lives. So this is the Jewish leader’s time of questioning.

Now I admit these issues are more important then who used the last of the glittery sticker stars or who pushed who when playing a game of football. But the Jewish law concerning accusations and witnesses says that ‘a single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. Which is what Jesus is saying when he tells them ‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true’. It is not that he is unreliable or a lair, but the evidence of one is not good enough.

Everything needs to be verified by two or more people before it can stand up.

And so Jesus brings to the leaders four witnesses which can speak in his favour.

The first witness that Jesus mentions is John the Baptist. They liked John. He preached well and brought people back to God through the baptism he offered. But John also spoke a lot about Jesus and said many interesting things, such as. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” “He must increase and I must decrease” “He is the one coming after me, whose sandal I am not fit to untie”.

Jesus calls John a burning and shining lamp

But Jesus has greater testimonies to offer.

The second witness he brings forward are his works, which are the works of the Father, and proof that God sent Jesus. I can imagine Jesus turning round and saying to them, with a little bit of attitude, ‘Look! Do you see anyone else round here healing the sick, or performing miracles and teaching with divine authority? No? I didn’t think so, so you should listen to the one who does. Me!

Thirdly, Jesus calls on God himself. Jesus says “You have never heard his voice, or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent” … which I don’t think would have convinced the Jewish leaders too much. This is a statement rather than an argument, and this could go round in circles for a while. But the point that Jesus is trying to get them to understand is that if they believe in the Father, they must believe in both.

And finally he brings in the scriptures as evidence for him. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me and have life.” Jesus tells them if they want to understand who he is, they have to read their scriptures. They have to go back in the Old Testament to learn about him. They would have to go back to Moses, who predicted the failure of the Israelites and promised a Saviour who would led them, if they paid attention and recognised the signs.

Unlike my kids who come telling tales with only their word against another’s. We have four witnesses to testify for Jesus, and to tell us who he really is. And yet the Jewish leaders still reject him, because of their pride, and their unwillingness, and their ignorance to what has been laid out for them to see. They see and they hear, but they reject it.

And there are many today who still do not believe in Jesus. And so here are Jesus’ four witnesses. But we have many more today, from the church and the saints, to the New Testament, the sacraments and the continuation of God’s works. These all speak to who Jesus is, if we but take the time to explore and learn.

The Jewish Leaders did not know Jesus, because they hadn’t given time to get to know him through the witnesses they were presented with.

How much time do you give to these witnesses? How much have you learnt from them about Jesus?

It’s easy to listen to one voice and follow it. It would be easy for my just to accept the first version of events that is presented to me by one of our kids. But it is not always right.

We have so many ways we can learn and explore the Son of God, and to understand who he is and what he did and how we are to respond. Give yourself some time to get involved in them, and find out for yourself.

 

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’.

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/)

Sermon – St Luke the Evangelist

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, cure the sick who are there, and say to them “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Today, the church celebrates the feast day of St Luke, gospel writer, doctor and patron saint to those in the medical professions. So when he wrote those lines from Jesus, ‘cure the sick, and say to them “The kingdom of God has come near to you” I’m sure he saw no problems.
To me, half of that command seems a lot easier than the other.
Richard, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you’
Kirsty, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you’
Everyone, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you’
Simples!
That’s half the work done, surely?
So that just leaves me with, cure the sick.
Being a doctor himself, for St Luke, curing the sick was a common occurrence, heck, without it he’d be out of a job.
But as far as I’m aware, I do not possess any special gifts of healing. It would be quite cool if I did. I could walk around, laying on hands, perform some miracles. Regrettably though, I’ve not been able to speak to someone in a wheelchair and convince them to stand up and dance around.
But this is the command that Jesus gives to the 70 odd as he sends them out to the villages and towns ahead of him. He doesn’t say, if you have the gifts, cure the sick. No, no, no. Jesus says ‘cure the sick, and say to them, “The Kingdom of God has come near”’. So there must be more to this.
For many, Luke’s gospel is the cream of the crop when it comes to the gospel writers. He is a great story teller for one. Theological discourse is all well and good, but it’s the good story, told well that we remember and recall most vividly.
And partly due to his skills in storytelling, Luke gives us a gospel that can directly challenge us, our culture and society today.
And that is because, he deals in everyday life.
The gospel he recounts to us, deal with human frailty, and family life. He speaks to the core of our engagement with the world. He brings to life, the holiness of our everyday lives.
Chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel makes up his longest musings on the nature of mission and ministry, and becomes one of the foundational blocks for the churches mission for centuries to come.
Cure the sick, and say to them “The Kingdom of God has come near”
Go and act, go physically, practically and help them, and then tell them to word of God.
Action & Word; the mission of the church.
Neither fully bring people to God when they stand alone.
How helpful is it really, to tell the family struggling with mounting debts, or the recently bereaved, or the homeless person in need of a hot meal that the Kingdom of God is at hand? Simply telling them doesn’t do very much.
And likewise the other way around, acts are lovely and helpful, but if the recipient doesn’t know that you work for God, how will they ever know where to direct their praise?
Action and word go hand in hand.
Cure the sick, and say to them “The Kingdom of God has come near”

Without special, specific, gifts for physical healing, we need to find another way that this command works.
But the one thing I do know, is that all of us in this world, in varying degrees, and at particular times in our lives, are sick. We are all sick, and we are all in need of healing.
And our illnesses come in a wide myriad of different forms. From coughs and colds, to illness’ that debilitate us.

Loneliness and isolation, even when surrounded by hundreds. Depression. Despair.

The inability to switch off, even in times of holiday and supposed rest.

Separation, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

That feeling that sits in the pit of your stomach when you’ve done wrong to another, and that feeling that injures when another has wronged you.
Our illnesses can take more forms then we can count.
And Christ has come to heal every one of them, and restore us to his image again.
A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out.
A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”
An objective person came along and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.”
A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.”
A mathematician calculated how he fell into the pit.
A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit.
A government official asked if he was paying taxes on the pit.
A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.”
An optimist said, “Things could be worse.”
A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.”
Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand, lifted him out of the pit and said go on your way!
Action and word is the work of this church. And if we are truly the body of Christ in this world, then this is our work.
We all fall in pits from time to time. What counts is what we do to help get each other out.
And for any of you who feel in the pit, after this service there is a time of anointing and prayers for healing in the shrine.
Jesus said, ‘cure the sick, and say to them ‘the kingdom of God has come near.’ Yes Lord. Amen.

Children’s Church: I am the resurrection

6th August

Game: In small teams, one member is wrapped up in toilet roll to look like a mummy. The team that does the neatest job with their roll wins.

Story: Sitting down, the story of Lazarus is read from a children’s bible.

Possible questions to ask after the story:

  • What’s amazing about this story?
  • Can you think of any other stories where Jesus bring people back from the dead?
  • Do miracles still happen today?
  • What miracle would you ask God for?

Craft: Each child is given a small cut out person (Wilkinson) and they are to decorate it into a mummy using some of the toilet roll from the game.

Children’s Church: I AM the light of the world

Activity: Blindfold a volunteer (sensible one). Give then face paints, or girls make up. Sit someone opposite who will have their face made up by the blindfolded child.

Give a min or two for creativity to take place, at the end of the time, give the victim (child with make up on face) a mirror and let the blindfolded child take the blindfold off.

They should both be horrified at the sight!

Give out baby wipes so that they can clean their faces.

Activity: Give all the children a piece of paper and a pen, get them to close their eyes (no cheating) and get them to draw something familiar (a house). See how well they’re able to do it without being able to see.

Talk: Explain that that when we are in the dark it’s not easy to see and most activities become really hard. Ask if any of them have ever gone out wearing something that looks bad because they got dressed in the dark and couldn’t see what they were doing? – But in the light we can see everything that looks wrong!

Story: Find a story from a children’s bible, maybe one of the healing stories of the blind man or using John 8.12

Activity: Divide the children into small groups and give each a piece of lining paper or they could do individual sheets. Ask them to draw a line across their paper to make 2 sides. On one side they should write “light” and on the other, “Dark”. Ask them to make 2 pictures – one about light and one about dark! They could put the things people do in the light and the dark as well as what things actually look like.

What will you ask for? Sermon Trinity 14

Picture from Oxfam

In our gospel reading today we have two different stories we could look at. Firstly of a mother pleading for the healing of her daughter from a demon. And secondly, the healing of a deaf man with a speech impediment.
Both of these stories hold important messages. Both with deeper meanings to convey.
But after the course of this last week, it’s the story of the Syrophonecian woman that I am drawn to the most.
This week has brought to mind for most of us the importance of our children and has brought home how precious and fragile life can be.
We’ve all see the tragic pictures of the migrants struggle to find, hope and peace in this world, and in particular of the little boy washed up on the shore.

His image, and the many other images that have been included in media reports have, I hope, changed the course of this crisis as governments, agencies and individuals are now stepping up their efforts to provide support, and in finding solutions for those searching for a new life.
In the preparation of this sermon, this crisis has been made more real to me through the reflection of our gospel. Of a mother, begging for and fighting for the life of her child.
Jesus is travelling. As he is often depicted in the gospel of Mark. He is getting away from the business of the crowds who have been following him. So he travels to Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile region to find some peace.
Although news about Jesus, and stories of the things he’d done for people had been travelling, it was unlikely that many of the people in this region would have heard about him. These were classed as unclean lands, no go zones for the Jews. Jesus wasn’t well known in this area. And so he found a place to stay, and asked that his host to tell no one he was here.
But a woman sort him out. And now, as this story continues, for us it gets a little confusing. Because this image we tend to have of Jesus, a loving, caring, healing Jesus, doesn’t match the one we have of him here. For the majority of us there is no question that Jesus will heal the person in need, he never refuses to help. Like with the deaf man, there wasn’t a hesitation that Jesus would heal him. But here, something different seems to be going on:
She begged him to cast the demon out of her child.
He said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Wait, what?
“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Did our nice, kind Jesus just call this woman a dog? Surely not!
Surely our Jesus isn’t that harsh. Surely our Jesus isn’t siding with the prejudice of the time? Putting women to one side, ignoring the poor, turning backs on those who have the wrong background, nationality, skin colour, religion??
Jesus was called, ‘King of the Jews’ and its made clear throughout the old testament that the messiah, the chosen one of God, would come for the Jews. And that Jesus came to find, ‘the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel’.
So, is he saying that because of this calling, and because she is a gentile woman he shouldn’t heal her daughter?

But think for a moment, if Jesus had not healed the girl, because her mother was from the wrong area, or believed the wrong things, salvation would be limited for the few. And that is no saviour at all. So there must be more going on…
“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
The woman understand what he is saying. And isn’t nearly as offended as I would be if I’d just been called a dog. And so she comes back at him, she doesn’t challenge the comparison of the gentiles being dogs compared to the Jews being the children, instead she takes up this description and uses it to her benefit:
‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’
She says that there is room, even for the Gentiles at the feast of the kingdom. The Jews may come first, but there is a place for Gentiles, too, at the banquet.

For the faith and understanding she shows, Jesus tells her that her child is healed and she is to go on her way.
I have great respect for this woman, because instead of accepting the social norms, she is willing to do whatever it takes to save her child. Even argue with the son of God.
She asked for crumbs, and she was given the bread of life.
Millions of parents are currently crying out for lives of their children, many of them running scared from situations we can hardly imagine and will never experience.
And I have a huge amount of respect for them. And pray that they too will be given more then they can ask for or imagine.
It is good and right that today we celebrate today the precious lives of
Who are being brought by their parents and godparents for baptism, so that they can share, not in the crumbs of the banquet table, but from the bread of life also. And that as we celebrate today, they will continue to pray for their children.
The mother asked for crumbs and got the bread of eternal life. What will you ask for today?