Advent 3 Evensong Malachi 3:1-4

We are over half way through this season of Advent, this season of preparation, this season of waiting, and it’s a good time to step back and look at our journey, where we have been, and to look ahead to where we are going.

For many, they share in the traditions that make up an emotionally difficult, stressful and expensive Christmas; decorating the tree and houses in a mixture of plastic, wooden and glass ornaments, tinsel, figures of Santa and snowmen, reindeer, sending out 100s of cards, many to people you hardly speak to for the rest of the year, attending and hosting parties, meals, drink get together; buying gifts for friends and family, neighbours and acquaintances; buying enough food to make an army obese, even though the shops are only closed for one day.

But none of these things does a true Christmas make.

Even those of us who commit to keeping a holy Christmas and to keep the true meaning of it can get bogged down in all of these frills that have become the tradition and if we’re honest, Christmas in this consumer society does seem to be all about the cards, and the gifts, the parties and decorations.

And it makes me sad to see so many committing to the hollowness of the fills rather then the holiness of the season.

Advent is a season of preparation, but if your Christmas is about the frills, then what are you preparing for?

We have a different understanding of preparation given to us in our scriptures. We are preparing for the coming of the Lord, coming to us in human form, coming as one of us, to live with and among us. And no amount of tinsel can prepare you for that.

We’ve heard it said again and again at our Advent services, that this is a time of preparation and looking at the four last things, death, judgement, heaven and hell.

But how are we to do this? How are we to do this when the rest of the world is in the ‘Christmas Spirit’ so soon? And why would we want to when the rest of the world preparations are so sparkly and attractive?

Mary Reed Newland has a wonderful quote about what our advent preparation should be, she says, :

“…you cannot just walk into such a blaze of glory without preparation… you must creep up to it, think about it, count the days, watch the signs, and prepare.”

Listen again to the words of the prophet Malachi who speaks one method of preparation:

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple… but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,
This is a time of preparation—but what a preparation!

Refiner’s fire!

Strangely enough, when given the option between being put in a fire and fairy lights and tinsel, most people opt for the fairy lights and tinsel.

Refiners fire is not a form of preparation that we often opt for. Not many of us like being put into the fire by God; or by life’s circumstances.

But we’ve all been there, when the heat is on, and we’re under pressure, when life happens

and we have to deal with the messy reality of our fragile and fallible nature, and when we have to deal with the messy reality of the fragility and fallibility of others.

When we need to suck it up, and tackle those things that hang over us, and weigh heavy on our shoulders.

When we’re faced with the choices that we’d rather avoid, and face with the people that have hurt us, and the people we’ve hurt.

And when we’ve experience loss, and death. In all these, we are people in the refiners fire.

We have a choice in those times, to use them, to refine, improve and purify, For the bad things to burn away, and to allow God to create something new and to do a new thing in us, or not.

‘but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire….. he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver

A friend of mine, who is a priest in a little Welsh town, was a silversmith in a former life and made very fine jewellery.

He once described to me the process to of how silver is refined.

He said, ‘the piece of silver is held over the fire to heat up. It needs to be in the middle of the fire where the hottest flames are so all the impurities, the dross can be burnt away. You need to carefully watch during this process, there is no room for slacking because if the silver is left a moment too long, then it would be destroyed.

The refiner needs to wait until their reflection can been seen in the silver, then it is ready to be made into something beautiful.

If God is the refiner, and we are the silver, we can know, and trust in a few things about this process of preparation.

We can trust that God is a good silversmith, who doesn’t just throw us in the fire and leave us there to be destroyed.

He holds us, watches us, he is always nearby, unwilling to let us be destroyed.

And we can trust that when we are ready, that the refiners reflection is returned to him, that we reflect outwards God’s image.

“…you cannot just walk into such a blaze of glory without preparation… you must creep up to it, think about it, count the days, watch the signs, and prepare.”

Advent is that time of preparation before entering the blaze of glory, before meeting God made man in the manger of Bethlehem.

How will use the rest of this preparation time? With tinsel and shopping, or with burning the dross, and reflecting God to the world?

Carol Service Sermon for Townsend School

It’s so easy at this time of the year to get caught up in the ‘Christmas Spirit’. We all have our favourite parts of Christmas, those parts that we look forward to the most.

We had our toddler service this morning with the Abbey’s big white teddy bear, predictably named, Abbey Bear. And we asked the tots what parts of Christmas they enjoy the most.

I’d like to see if you agree with their list, so put your hand up when I call out something you are especially looking forward to this Christmas.

  • All the chocolates you get to eat.
  • The parities
  • The music and carols
  • Decorating the tree
  • Spending time with family
  • The presents
  • Eating huge amounts of Christmas dinner

There are so many things to enjoy about this season, and its good that we have so many things during these cold and wet days to look forward to. But at the same time, it’s

really easy to get so distracted by the glitter and sparkle of this season that we can forget what it’s really all about.

We need to remember that Christmas is a birthday celebration.

It’s the time we get to celebrate being given the greatest gift of all. A gift that will not wear out, or break, or needs batteries changing. It’s the time we celebrate God coming down to earth, to live with us and as one of us.

We’ve just heard, read so well, the story of Jesus, starting with the predictions from Isaiah, 800 years before his birth going right through that story we all know so well. Angels, Shepherds, Wise men and donkeys.

I want you to think for a moment of what that really means. What does it mean that God sent Jesus to be born a human?

Thanks to the Victorians, we’re given a particular image of Jesus at this time of year of him being sweet Jesus, meek and mild, no crying or screaming. We don’t often think about the man that this quiet angelic child will turn into.

The man who walked purposefully from town to town, village to village, community to community teaching people about

  • Justice
  • Peace
  • Fairness
  • Forgiveness
  • Truth
  • Love
  • Charity
  • Hospitality
  • Generosity
  • Faithfulness
  • Healing
  • Unity

This baby will grow up to argue with religious leaders and public officials so that the poor aren’t ripped off, so the sick can be helped, that the hungry will be fed and those with nothing would be given the things they need.

But we are quick to forget this.

We forget that he called and asked us to do these things in our lives as well.

But we’re easily distracted.

How often do we think about those that today, right now, are poor, lonely, sick, or dying.

If our celebrations at this time of year are only about the tinsel, turkey and presents, then our celebration is hollow and empty.

Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate the birth of Jesus among us by making a special effort to demonstrate some of those qualities in our lives?

We’re still in the season f Advent. We’re in week 3 of 4 in our time of preparation. And it’s a time, not only to buy our gifts and party, but it’s also a time we can prepare ourselves and make ourselves ready.

In the time we have left before Christmas, think about whether you are prepared to celebrate a real Christmas, or a hollow festival of tinsel?

Are you ready to meet Jesus when he comes?

Are you able to celebrate Christmas by letting others see God working through you, and showing those qualities in your life that we taught us about?

How are you going to celebrate this Christmas?

Amen.

Christingle Sermon

Reading Hebrews 1.1-3

(I had a child read for the service). Thank you for reading so clearly. It’s important that this reading especially was read clearly because it talks about all those different ways God uses to speak to us.

He gave us the bible, and all the stories in it and speaks to us through them. And we’re told that he can speak to us through prophets and visions and dreams.

And today we’re going to see if he can speak to us and tell us anything special through some objects that I have here.

(Get 5 children up to hold the objects, questioning them in turn what each of them are.)

Firstly what is this? An orange

Secondly what is this? Some ribbon

Thirdly? Four cocktail sticks

Next? Some sweets (I’ve counted them, and I’ll be checking at the end to see how many there are)

And finally?  A Candle

Now, a really difficult question: if you put all of these things together what would you make? A Christingle

As you will probably know the various things that make up the Christingle all represent something and tell us, speaks to us something about God:

The orange represents the world in which we live. The four sticks remind us of the four seasons of the year. The red ribbon reminds us of the blood of Jesus and the fact that he died on the cross for us. The sweets remind us that God gives us a lot of great gifts in our lives, and of course the candle on the top reminds us of Jesus himself – the light of the world.

And so when all those ordinary objects are put together we have something through which God can speak to us, and He can tell us through this the story of creation, and of Jesus and his love for us.

But individually those things are nothing more than what they’re meant to be – the orange is an orange, the stick is a stick, the candle is a candle and so on…

And the same can true for all of us – as we approach Christmas we can all have a good time hopefully, we can enjoy giving and receiving cards and presents, but if we leave Jesus out of Christmas then we are missing out on the real purpose of all these celebrations and we’re missing the one thing that gives meaning to it all.
(Get the kids to assemble the Christingle while you tell the story)

There’s a little story about Mary, Jesus’ mum, she had a very strange dream one night

she sees signs lit up saying Happy Christmas, she sees houses decorated, and people rushing around the shops buying lots of presents and food and drinks.

She hears of parties being arranged, and thinks how wonderful it is to see people enjoying her son Jesus’ birthday.

But then Christmas comes and she realises that people aren’t giving their presents to Jesus, and in fact, they’re not even mentioning him – She is filled with sadness as she realises that people have forgotten to thank Jesus for all he’s done for them, even on his birthday.

We must remember in the middle of all of the celebrations that we’re going to have, that Christmas is about, the light in the middle of our Christingles, it’s about Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and Jesus coming to us, as the light in our lives.

and it would be wrong to leave him out of his own celebrations,

So today God speaks to us, through our Christingles and reminds us again of the story of the world as we prepare to celebrate Jesus, light of the world coming to us. Amen

Family sermon 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

A nice saying but not always true.

Even as adults most of us will be able to remember an occasion when someone said something mean to us, or about us

Words are really important, they can make us feel really good, or they can make us feel really bad.

I have a hat of words here and I want to see how you’d feel if someone said them to you.

  • Looking good
  • bad girl
  • good job
  • fatty
  • i want to be like you
  • loser

Words can make us feel good, or bad, and so it’s really important for us to think carefully before we say

In our reading, we heard a few words about how God wants us to be, and especially how he wants us to behave to each other.

It said we need to put on faith and love and we need to encourage one another, and build each other up.

I looked up what encourage meant in the dictionary. Although I think I knew what it means, sometimes looking things up can give us a better understanding.

And the dictionary said encourage ,Rams to give courage, and to give support and help.

And I think that idea is important, that we are to help other people become confident and courageous in what they are doing.

Sometimes it’s telling someone they have done a good job that encourages them. Or that the look really good, or praising something someone has done. It’s important to share these things.

Words are important, but so are actions.

But often, we’re encouraged, and we’re given courage by looking at what others do and taking our example from them.

There is a poem that I want to read for you about a child learning and taking their example from their parent. And so many of these could learn from ourselves.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator,
and I wanted to paint another one.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you feed a stray cat,
and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you make my favorite cake for me,
and I knew that little things are special things.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I heard you say a prayer,
and I believed that there was a God to talk to.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I felt you kiss me goodnight,
and I felt loved.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw tears come from your eyes,
and I learned that sometimes things hurt,
but it’s alright to cry.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw that you cared,
and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I looked….
and I wanted to say thanks for all the things
I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like…….. Matthew 22.1-14

The kingdom of heaven is like the wedding a slave owning king put on, that no one wanted to attend!!!

Thankfully not.

If I’ve learnt anything since my ordination, it’s the difficulties involved in organising a wedding. And for any of you who have been through this process, you can sympathize with the situation the king in our parable is in.

You might think that the most difficult part of arranging a wedding is dealing with the particular wants of the bride and groom. But it isn’t. One of the pieces of advice my old incumbent gave to the groom was ‘Remember, this wedding isn’t about you, you are the least important member of the wedding party, as long as you do and say nothing that will upset the bride or her family you might just survive this!’

The trickiest part of organising a wedding are the invitations. Who needs to be invited, and who should be left out?

Where should the all sit, and what protocols should be followed?

Who are the most important people and need to sit near the top table, and who should be sat in the far back corner of the room?

Who can’t sit next to who because they’ll fight, and who will sulk if they don’t get a seat to match their imagined importance.

Tricky stuff!!!!!

And for those of you who thought organising your own wedding was stressful, try organising one for the son of a king!

So the RSVPs start coming in, and the invited guests are all declining the kings invitation. The wedding of the year and no one wants to come! The oxen and the fatted calves have all been killed and cooked for the occasion, and it looks like no one is coming. Disaster!!!!!

There are a great many excuses in the building pile of declines. A farmer sends his apologies, he suddenly finds himself with too many chores. Likewise for the business owner, whose work comes first, before the king’s function.

We know all too well that there are times in life when we are just too busy to go accepting other invitations. And all those times when the possibility of encountering God arises, and yet we find good excuses for ignoring such moments. We don’t intentionally make light of these invitations, we just give more weight, more attention, more time into other things.

Although their excuses were all valid, the first century hearers of this parable now expect the king to lose his rag.

The kings of the day were political leaders – and figures the crowds would have been familiar with – kings being petty tyrants generally who would happily burn down houses and whole villages if their will was refused. And this is what the king does.

But, there is a twist.

The king also sends his slaves out and issues an open invitation to all – with only one catch.

You have to accept the invitation to join. Apart from that, there is no fees and no catches, you just have to show up. And we hear, the good and the bad show up and the hall was filled with guests.

The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding party that everyone is invited to.

And how could people not accept this offer? When all we have to do is say yes – but like the kings invited guests, things get in the way. Jobs and careers, families, hobbies, excuse, after excuse, after excuse.

If we jump back to the parable for just a moment, there is a problem. We’re told that one of the guests is not dressed properly,

‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’

And he gets thrown out of the party.

A little harsh we might think, but as many commentators remind us, most wedding guests didn’t have a large wardrobe and the guests would have been provided a robe by the host.

So wearing one of the provided robes would have been a response to the hospitality offered.

But he doesn’t respond.

And God is simply asking him, “Why are you still sinful, still refusing my love, still unrepentant, still cold towards me?”

‘He was speechless’

Who of us really has an excuse when confronted by God?

We are surrounded by God’s providence, we are taught by the church, those around us and the scriptures, we are fed by Christ’s flesh and blood, guided by the Spirit, and sought, and pursued in a million ways. What explanation could we possibly give for our ultimate failure to comprehend this invitation?

God invites all human life to experience the presence of the divine. And there is a welcome for all who want to be there. None are forced.

But there is a choice to be made.

Join the party or don’t. Accept all our host has to offer, or don’t.

There are no hurdles to jump or obstacles to overcome, expect the ones we place for ourselves.

The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding party that everyone was invited to, rich, poor, healthy, ill, good and bad, and all they had to do was accept.

You are invited. What are you going to do?

Sermon Matthew 22: 34-40

For the last two chapters of the gospel according to St Matthew, Jesus is constantly being questioned. He refuses to claim his identity as messiah and leaves people to figure out from their own knowledge and experience who Jesus is.


While I understand the motivation of the repeated testing of Jesus in these chapters, I can’t help but feel sorry for Jesus and the annoyance and frustration he must have felt. Especially when He becomes faced with questions that are posed as tricks to make Him stumble into being discredited.

First, the Pharisees send some lackeys to trip him up over taxes question. He avoids that trap. Next some Sadducees try to trip him up with a tricky question about the resurrection. Again he avoids the trap. Now, in our passage for today the Pharisees come in person with a question about the greatest commandment to test him.

The way the Sadducees and Pharisees act remind me of our many and varied game shows and reality TV programs.

Reality shows, test people all the time. The prize is prestige and money. The penalty is being sent home, one’s dreams destroyed, with lots of people watching.

Let’s see if Jesus can sing well enough to get through the X Factor, or answer questions correctly like the show The Chase. Let’s see if Jesus can dance for us like on “Strictly come Dancing?” Let’s see if he can survive in the wilderness like on “I’m a celebratory Get me out of here.” What chance do you think he’d stand on Bake Off?

I admit, these examples are ridiculous but in so many ways were the questionings, trickery and testing that takes place in this portion of Matthew.

It’s no surprise that Jesus passes with flying colours, even when a lawyer asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment.

On the surface, the question “Which is the greatest commandment?” doesn’t seem like much of a test. But the question about which of the 613 commandments in the Law was the greatest was hotly debated at the time. Some held that they were equally important; others that a graded scale was needed in practical application in daily life.

It’s said that the best teachers are those who show their students where to look for what they need, but won’t tell them what to see.

A good teacher will allow their students to see for themselves and discover what they need to learn.

But we’ve all had those times when what is discovered and learnt needs some tweaking and re-aligning.

I was leading a group of 10 older children through some confirmation preparations, and we had one session on the 10 commandment. We came to ‘honour your father and your mother’ and one of the boys asked ‘is there a commandment telling us how to treat our brothers and sisters’?

Before I had a chance to say anything one of his friends offered an answer, ‘you shall not kill’?

I had a certain amount of sympathy for this idea, if you’ve grown up with siblings you may have felt the same at times.

Jesus, being a good teacher, showed them where to look for their answers, but what they want to see is for them to choose and decide.
The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

And then it is followed by this: You must love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus has proved himself, yet again, that he knows the law and has authority with it.

So we are also told where to look. And what do we see?

As for Jesus, He saw that it would be more loving to give those Pharisees  a bit of His heart than to give them a piece of His mind.

(And I’m sure he could have given them a good piece of his mind!!!!!!)

We too would be happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.

But when we look at the people around us, those at home, those at work, those in Church, it would be easier to give them a piece of our mind than a bit of our heart.

And here lies the lesson of life – Nothing and no one ever goes away until they teach us what we need to know.

God doesn’t give us the people we want. He gives us the people we need – people who will hurt us, people who will leave us, but also people who will help us and people who will love us, so as to make us into the persons we were meant to be.

When we can see that, then we would have understood the lesson of life.

And with that, we will be able to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.

All Saints and Baptism. Matthew 5.1-12

We are here today to celebrate. And we have two main things to give thanks for today.

Firstly, we are joining with the church around the world to celebrate All Saints Day, where we give thanks for the saints, their work, lives and their examples.

Secondly, and of great importance is the baptism of …..

It’s always a great celebration for the church when we can baptise and welcome new members into our family.

And in my mind, these two celebrations work well together. Where we give thanks for the lives of those who have gone before us and those who have ensured that knowledge and belief in God has continued down the generations.

And where we give thanks for the potential of these new lives, and pray for their role in this clear continued line as their parents, godparents and all of us gathered here make promises to guide them.

It is equally as important for us to look at the future as it is at the past, and i know all too well that we in the church may like to look at the past a little too much at times. But at other times there can be great lessons for us waiting to be re-discovered.

I don’t know what you think of when I say the word saint.

Possibly you think of the names of people in the bible, or of the stained glass windows around us. Maybe you can think of some historical saints and a story or two of what they have done. But I’d like to offer you two definitions I found a few years back of what a saint is like.

The first is ‘Saints are people who aren’t afraid to live with both the gruesome and the glorious. They are not embarrassed to struggle with the great division between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell. They are called forth into the unknown and return home not only safe but triumphant.’

We may gulp at this, and think to ourselves that we could never be saints, but I ask that you don’t make that judgement too quickly.

The second came from a little girl and was an ‘out of the mouths of babes’ moment when she was looking at a stained glass window and said, saints are people who let light shine through them.

We are given some guidance in our readings for this morning. In a dramatic reversal of the customs of this world, Jesus foretells the truth of what we’re in store for, and what we need to be working towards.

Unsure of your direction in life? You’re blessed.

Caught under the weight of grief and loss? Joy comes in the morning.

Undervalued and not heard by those around you? God hears you.

Groaning with longing for a moment of respite? The comforter has come.

Campaigning for peace and righteousness, only to be trampled down by violence and abuse, and those spreading lies to discredit you? God is travailing right alongside you.

The saints, Jesus reminds us, aren’t simply those who seem to have it all figured out, whose prayer life is perfect, whose service to church and community are faultless, and who have left a legacy that the rest of us will spend a lifetime aspiring to realize for ourselves.

On the contrary: The saints, Jesus tells us and John reminds us, are those who have suffered – and some who suffer still, even in our midst – and yet are able to praise God all the more.

The saints are those who have known the pain of grief and the sting of death, and still manage to find a way to sing, “Alleluia!”

The saints are those who have been excluded and ignored by every corner of society and yet still find ways to seek and serve Christ, loving their neighbour as themselves.

We are just as much saints as those we first call to mind as being holy and saintly, we are the saints of today and so on this day of All Saints, we not only celebrate the saints that have gone before us, and those who seem more like myths then historical figures of inspiration, but we are also celebrating the saints who are around today, those who have encouraged us in our faith, inspire us to be better Christians, and to follow God with a stronger faith.

In a few moments Richard will be blessing the good and holy St Albans tap water that we’ll be using to it to baptise our six and we’ll be using many symbols which date back to the earliest of times, and I believe they are incredibly fortunate that they not only have the saints of old and the traditions and symbols of the church to guide and teach them into what it means to be a Christian.

But they have the saints on earth in their family in the church and their families at home.

Those of you who have come as part of the baptism party have been asked today to be as saint like in your life as you can for the sake of that child, you are asked to be the best example to them you can be and to teach them all the important lessons you can which will help them grow into the people they will become.

So today we give thanks for All Saints, those we know, those we don’t for their lives, and for the inheritance of faith that has been passed from generation to generation. And we give thanks that we have the chance to pass it on to a new generation.

We pray for those being baptised at the start of their journeys, and we pray for ourselves that we can be the persons through whom the light of God shines and who turns the world workings upside down.

Family Service, Holy Cross, 14th September 2014

As you’ve heard this morning, today is the day we set aside to give thanks for and to celebrate the cross.

Usually we put days aside to remember important people. Very few objects get their own day in the Christian calendar.

So, why is the cross so important? (Take answers from the kids)

Yes, Jesus died on the cross and it is how we know that God loves us, because he gave us the most important and special thing he could. Our gospel reading reminds us that God gave us his one and only Son to save us, so that we can be joined with him, because he loves us.

And St Paul says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Because he is Love, God does what Love does: He unites himself with the beloved. He enters his own creation, not sending a substitute but going himself to the bitter end, sharing in the worst of suffering and grief that life can throw at us, and finally sharing our death, so that he can bring us through death to life in him.

The cross is important because through it we learn that god always wants to be with us, and understands when we are scared or hurting or fearful. Jesus on the cross reveals that God is with us even in some pretty scary times and places.

The cross is so important because it has become one of the most recognisable symbols in the world, even for those who know little about Christianity know the cross is the sign of those who follow Christ. We’ve had the cross as a symbol since very early on.

The cross helps us to remember.

Because people often forget. We forget if we’re not reminded of things
Which is why we fill our lives with pictures and objects that remind us of certain people or places or times.

We need the cross to help us remember all the things that Jesus has taught us, and all the things the God has promised.

The Cross is a symbol
Of Gods love that he gave us everything
Of Gods understanding of the things we go through
Of Gods eternal presences

The cross is so important that not only do we use it to decorate places, or wear it as jewellery, but we also can use it as a prayer. And it’s one of the oldest but simplest prayers we have.

If you’ve paid close attention to our services, or any other service you’ve been to, you will have seen people making the sign of the cross on themselves. And this is a type of prayer.

We often say the words with it, ‘in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’ or can. be used without any words, and we use it in many different ways.

To invoke or call upon God worship and in other situations.
To strengthen ourselves
To remind ourselves that Jesus is a part of us, and that we are part of a much wider body in the church throughout the world.
It helps us make holy some parts of the day and helps us to focus on God

The cross is important, because of the actions of Jesus, because of the symbol it has become for our faith and all the things the cross reminds us of. And because of the things it tells others of. And it’s right that we have a day set aside to celebrate it and to remind us of its importance.

Townsend Church of England School – Dedication Service

Readings: Job 28: 12-19 & 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23

Well, for those of you who might be new to the cathedral, welcome and for those who have been here before, welcome back.

I don’t know about you lot but I’m having quite a good week. I hope you are as well. I’m getting excited about this Saturday because that’s when I officially, properly start working here in the cathedral, and officially, properly start working in other places, like with you in Townsend.
The beginning of the new academic year is a big event in the diary, and a place where there is so much potential.
Actually, It’s a new start for all of us. And big starts, and big changes bring with them all sorts of different things. Excitement, and happiness, challenges and test, and also possibly fear, and nerves.

And I’m sure that some of you would have gone through, or are going through some of these, whether you’ve:
Just started secondary school
Or joined the sixth form from another school
Or you’ve just come back from a life changing summer

Whether you’ve realised yet that moving up in school also means longer and harder work
Or you’ve taken up a new job in the school

A few weeks ago a moved to St Albans, and I’d never been here before going to the interview. I have a new job in a very, very, very big building (I mean, have you seen the size of this place?). New house, new area, new place to work, new job, new people to work with (and i don’t know if you’ve met them but some of them can be a little bit…..weird). And that’s all exciting, but its also a bit scary.

And that’s ok.

Because these moments in our lives bring with them possibilities. Right now we have the chance to be whoever we want to be this year. And the beginning of this term gives us the chance to re-invent ourselves or resolve to become a better person. You can become the person who tries hard, when maybe you didn’t before. You could be the person who isn’t afraid to ask questions any more. Or the person who isn’t scared of standing up for something you believe in.

But its up to us what we make of this opportunity. No one will sit through this year for you. No one will make your friends, or do your work, get involved in your groups for you. No one else can decide your attitude. Its up to you what you make of this moment, and this year.

If you were listening closely, you will remember that our first reading from the book of Job asked the question, where can wisdom be found?
Where is the ability to know what is right and true?
Where is the ability found, to make the right decisions?

And Job says that wisdom can’t be bought. It’s not something you can go to the shops for or order off Amazon. No amount of gold, or silver or jewels can buy wisdom, not even the rarest or finest of jewels. And nothing can make up for it.

Job says that wisdom is only found in the ways of God, that in following His ways, we can become wise. And we know from Jesus’ teachings, that involves loving God, ourselves and each other. And that when we move away from doing wrong and evil things, we show understanding.

Our actions display our understanding.

If you’re rude, and insulting, then it shows you have little understanding, and little wisdom.
But if you’re kind, accepting of others, and respectful, that shows that you not only understand the school policy about respecting all which Mr Wellbeloved will remind us of later, but you’re on the right path to gain true wisdom.

Paul reminds us however not to go in the other direction. In our second reading from one of his letters to the Corinthians he reminds us not to deceive ourselves, that we’re not perfect and that we ALL, and I do mean ALL, you, me, everyone sat up here, your teachers and your parents, ALL of us have things to learn.

And its good to be reminded of this.

This is your year.
Decide what you want from it.
Whatever you want to do with your year, know that you have your teachers, friends, parents, and all of us here in the cathedral to support and pray for you. And I look forward to getting to know you, and finding out what you do with this year.

 

Sermon John 11. 1-45 Bound by fear, released by love.

Here is my draft reflection/ sermon for the morning. I think I’ve rambled too much in the middle, and lost concentration by the end, but I’ll look again at them before I preach it. It’s very short, but it never stays like that when I preach.

John 11.1-45

Fhew! I hope you would excuse me if I took a few breaths after reading all of that! Our gospel today is one of the longest in our lectionary. Sometimes, I don’t understand what they were thinking when long readings appear on a Sunday morning, but this week I’ll forgive them, because the story of Lazarus can’t really be divided.

“Lazarus, come out!”

And the dead live.

I don’t blame the on-lookers for being astonished when Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, death is usually so…..final….that for someone to command the dead to walk, and the dead actually responding must have been something beyond belief, and if we’re honest, quite frightening.

But even though his is called to new life, he is still confined, and constrained by all the trappings of death.

“The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” John 11. 44

Alive, but bound. How many of us would that describe?

There are many things in life that can bind us, that can constrain us, that can keep us [as prisoners] in darkness, and away from the true light of life.

Even when we hear Jesus calling into life, and the joy he offers us, there are many things in life that weigh us down. I wonder what are the heavy things that are trapping you today?

Maybe the expectations of others? The heavy load of work we took on because we couldn’t say ‘no’? Maybe you’re bound by the limitations you set yourself, by continuing to carry a burden from days, months, years ago? By believing the unkind words of others, or dwelling on a hasty judgment from the distant past.

Maybe you are limited by your fear of failing. Or scared of what others will think?

There are many things that can bind an individual.

What things do you think are currently binding the church?

Fear of change as we continue down the path of ministry areas? Fear of sharing the little we have with others and spreading our resources too thinly. Nostalgia for the past? To a time when church going was in the basis nature of society? Maybe it’s our fondness for our buildings, and the buildings being our property which stops us from re-imagining what church can be for those lost generations?

What about the churches fear of upsetting people, and our need to keep unity above all else?

There are so many things that bind us, that trap us, that keep us in a state that is not life. Bound in our grave clothes, unable to move, unable to see what is around us.

[There has been one passage from Isaiah 61 which has been floating around my head for the past few weeks, it’s one you should know quite well by now because it’s been read at every PCC we’ve had in the last few month.

“ to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners”]

Death, or lack of life can come in many forms.

Jesus calls us to life. We are called not just to release ourselves, but also others around us.

“Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”” John 11.35-36

Shaking off those things that bind us can be a difficult possess, but not an impossible one. Jesus brings life, not just to those who are dead, but also to those who are dying due to the things that bind them.

Love can release so many burdens, and release so many binds. It is love that can cast away the fear that holds us so tight. It is love that can “Take off the grave clothes and let [us] go.” John 11.44

On this Passion Sunday, pray that God will once again put a new life within us and that during this passion and Easter season we might be transformed to live by God’s spirit and create the kingdom of God on earth.