Category Archives: Faith Matters

Sunday 22nd May

John 21: 1-14          The Resurrection Breakfast

Biblical scholars agree that the last chapter of St John’s gospel was added after the original ending; you can check this by reading the final verse of chapter 20. This attractive episode is only found here but there is a hint in Mark’s gospel where Jesus says: After I am raised I will go before you into Galilee (Mark 26:32 and repeated in Matthew 14:28).

It is significant that Jesus appears in the home area of his followers. Compare how you would feel about a report of Jesus alive in London and friends who told you he had fed them on Exmouth beach! Seven apostles had gone back to their familiar trade; perhaps for comfort, maybe to feed their families, but had caught nothing. Then a huge catch results from the advice of a stranger – and it is John who recognises him as Jesus. The 153 fish symbolise the inclusive nature of God’s Kingdom and the abundance of God’s gifts when we follow Jesus rather than our own ideas.

Predictably it is Peter who wades ashore while the others bring in the boat; we need brave leaders but the work of the Kingdom is sustained by a united effort to deliver the ‘catch’. Two of them are not even named but Jesus values their contribution equally; they are all to bring their fish to the barbeque that he has already lit, as we are called to bring our offering to him. He shares the bread and fish with them; a resurrection breakfast together. Jesus had eaten cooked fish when he joined the disciples in the locked room and there is an echo of the feeding of the crowd and a link with the Passover/eucharist meal. The theologian John Marsh joked that we could have a fish & chip supper for Communion, based on early Christian pictures of the Eucharist with fish on the table. We too can enjoy fellowship and blessing with Christ, each valued by him.

May each of us meet Christ in our familiar setting and receive his Holy Spirit.

Carolyn Keep

Sunday 15th May

Love to blow your mind!
Luke 6:27-38

Be merciful, just as your Father in heaven is merciful.” (vs 36)

It’s become quite acceptable these days to use exaggeration and hyperbole to make a point – especially a political point – but I have to say that today’s Bible reading has the capacity to truly BLOW YOUR MIND!

What Jesus teaches here, is so radical and so fresh and new that even today his words astonish us, as we hear Jesus open up such a different world view from our own that it leaves us gasping.

Luke has already made it clear that even before Jesus utters a word the “power came out of him” and he healed those in need of wholeness. Luke tells us that people found peace and liberation from whatever their anxiety or depression or despair or alienation or guilt, their pain and anguish – simply by being in the very PRESENCE who seemed to deal with what were called at the time, “evil spirits.”

That’s pretty mind blowing…? But we’re not there yet!

Luke has also reveals the MAVERICK JESUS, the law breaker, who dares to challenge the pettiness of the Pharisees and their insistence that the law be obeyed to the letter, a RADICAL RABBI who heals a man on the Sabbath – breaking their religious law and shaming his opponents by putting the needs of the poor first and by showing that LOVE has the final word.

That’s pretty mind blowing…? But we’re not there yet!

And then Luke shows Jesus choosing the 12 disciples – a right motley crew: Awkward and broken and argumentative and opinionated and prejudiced and lazy and arrogant and boastful, and ambitious and greedy… people just like US!

That’s pretty mind blowing…right?

And finally, Luke shows us Jesus saying: “I declare to you who are listening.”

Which, in his native Aramaic, Jesus could be saying: “Now, to you who are still listening!”  I like that! Because Jesus here begins to describe the way in which those of us who are still listening to him, and are in a loving relationship with God, are called to live.

And what Jesus has to say really shakes up his hearers. It did then, and it still does today:

In essence, this is it – God’s power, that flows from Jesus, will bring about a very different world, God’s world. That power will level the playing field no matter what human rules we have established to create and protect our positions of privilege and power over others. For all of God’s creatures to not only survive but to thrive in God’s Kingdom, there must be a very different ethos from those already in place. A radically different world view; a radically different political landscape; a radically different attitude towards others…

 And in listing the imperatives required of those of us still listening. Jesus tells us that Love comes first and last! Of course it does. He helpfully spells out what that looks like too: Doing good; accept others; forgiving enemies; being generous; praying for others; blessing them with company and companionship; giving; doing. Doing, DOING. In other words, making LOVE REAL. Showing the world TRUTH. Being LIGHT in all the darkness. And why? “You must be merciful,” he says, “just as your Father in heaven is merciful.”

MIND BLOWING!

Let’s be clear: The lesson here is that those of us who say they follow Jesus are called to love …AS GOD LOVES, and as compassionately, and generously, and unconditionally!

Doing GOOD means having an openness to the truth that all behaviour has a cause, and we are called to look beyond the behaviour to what might be causing it and addressing the cause. Meeting that person in their trauma or fear. Not judging or punishing, but doing GOOD. Doing the LOVING thing.

Let’s not forget that Jesus was teaching this amazing stuff at a time when revenge and retaliation were seen as acceptable by many (as, sadly, they still are today by some) – “an eye for an eye…” So, what blew their minds was the way Jesus revealed this whole new way of thinking and behaving – and then gave them the nuts and bolts of how to live in this new Kingdom of compassion and justice for all.

But wait! Jesus goes further! (Of course he does!) He points to what ordinary people do, and do it well – even “sinners”, he says: “love, and they lend, and they do good.” In other words, they do the bare minimum, and they do OK.

BUT (didn’t you just know that was coming!) BUT for disciples of Jesus, for you and I, loving, lending, forgiving and doing good must be on another plain, another PLANET! Not the bare minimum, but the mind blowing MAXIMUM! And our motives should be pure… we’re not trying to score brownie points, or gain popularity, or be seen to be good, or even expecting to be paid back in return! WHAT?!!

For US, loving, lending, forgiving and doing good are about selfless, sacrificial service, and boundless generosity.  Why? Because that’s what God is like. And we are God’s people. What Jesus is reminding us that love is all about wanting the best for others and acting on that wish.  Making it real. Making it happen.

The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” which most major religions have enshrined in their writings, is insufficient for those who are children of God. What we wish for ourselves is not the benchmark for how we treat others. Rather, God’s own mercy, the way God loves, is the measure for how we treat others.

Jesus makes sure that we who are still listening are left in no doubt: that sharing that restoring love, and defiant hope is our calling. And THAT blows my MIND!

It truly is a radical teaching, and I know some of us might shy away from  anything too radical, but let’s remember that the very word “Radical” stems from the Latin word “Radius” which can mean “anchor” or “rooted”. These radical teachings – this radical lifestyle is ROOTED in the very heart of God. Anchored in God’s longing for the world.

Those who were still listening to Jesus when he first spoke these incredible words, listened hard, because they were desperate to hear some truth, as we are. They were longing for relationship, as are we. Looking for peace and purpose, as are we.

They were hungry for hope, and a faithful relationship, where promises are kept, and roots go deep, and the truth is spoken and people can be trusted.

A relationship that is healing because it is based upon compassion and justice. A relationship that produces joy and enriches the whole planet and the people who live here.

Jesus’ words to those of us who continue to listen, can be trusted. They are true. He promises that we have a part in that new relationship too. We are called to live in God’s world amongst God’s people, in tune with God’s own character, and the power is there for us to do it, to be anointed, to banish the hostile spirits that hold us captive, to speak the truth to those in power and unveil a very different, radically compassionate way of life.

There is no shortage of problems and challenges and prejudice and lies and suffering out there in the world right now. What the world needs now is Love, sweet Love! And God needs US  to be our very best. To love without limit or condition, as God loves. To live as if the Kingdom of God is here. Because when we do… it is!

MIND. BLOWN.

 Revd Martin Nicholls

Sunday 8th May

Acts 9:36-43; Revelation 7:9-17

The season of Easter continues and in our reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles the power of the risen Lord is rippling though the ancient world. Our passage takes us to a place called Joppa where we are told of the death of a much-loved seamstress called Dorcas. And we are told of the grief of the community there at her passing, and especially a group of widows who were no strangers to death and loss and who seem to have been especially close to Dorcas. Then we read of Peter entering the upstairs room where Dorcas is laid, sending everyone else out. And we imagine Peter alone in that room with the body of Dorcas. The late, great Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote a poem called Funeral Rites, set in the context of the troubles in Northern Ireland. In it he imagines himself lifting the coffins of dead relations:

They had been laid out
in tainted rooms,
their eyelids glistening,
their dough-white hands
shackled in rosary beads…
Their puffed knuckles
had unwrinkled, the nails
were darkened, the wrists
obediently sloped.

Maybe that is how it was for Dorcas, without the rosary beads of course. But suddenly her eyelids are open, her dough-white hands are moving, wrists reaching out as new life pulses through this body. And then the widows are singing as joy comes to Joppa.

The passage describes the death of a strong and much-loved woman. I know that death and funerals are not a topic we like to think or talk much about in our society, but I thought that this passage might afford an opportunity for us, especially in this Easter season, to reflect a little on death and funerals and what we are doing in them.

And the question I want to consider this morning is ‘who is the funeral for?’ Where is the focus of the funeral service? Is it all about the deceased, the person who has passed away? Or is it for those who are left behind, the loved ones and the mourners? And I would suggest that there is rather more to this than meets the eye and that in fact the funeral is in fact aimed in four directions.

So firstly, at least for the Christian church, the funeral service is for God – or, put better, it is first and foremost an offering of worship. For the Christian church the funeral service is an act of praise and not primarily a celebration of the departed or an act of pastoral care for the mourners. So the first priority is gratitude to God and the proclamation to the world of Christ’s triumph over death – as reflected in this story by the raising of Dorcas. And here I want us to notice an important shift in our understanding and practice of funerals in recent times. If we were to go back to the Reformation in the 16th century, when various distortions of the medieval Roman Catholic church were being corrected, the whole service would have focused on God and the promise of resurrection. Nothing would have been said about the deceased. That was not the focus. Nowadays, however, a huge amount of attention is paid to the deceased. People give eulogies and tributes. A person might choose favourite hymns for their funeral or, more likely in this secular age, favourite songs or music. I gather that – at least until recently – the favourite songs that accompanied people out of this world were Frank Sinatra’s My Way and, at least with cremations, so I’m told, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’. In previous eras however this was not how it was done. The funeral was not the celebration of the life of the person who had died, it was a celebration of the Gospel. It was worship.

I am reminded of the Book of Job in the Old Testament which tells of how a man called Job lost all his loved ones in one tragedy after another, and when all this has been recounted we read, ‘then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped.’ And of course Job didn’t know anything about the resurrection of the dead or of new life beyond this one, yet in the face of death he worshipped God. And how much more should we who believe in the risen Lord? And of course it’s hard – very hard – when the deceased is young or the death has been cruel and it may take a long time to get there, but ultimately the Christian response to death is to worship the God who has defeated it. That is the primary purpose of the funeral.

But what, then, of the deceased? How do they figure in a funeral? In what sense is the funeral for him or her? And this is where we might see a legitimate correction to the Reformation practice. Yes, sure, the funeral is directed to God – but that need not exclude the deceased. The funeral can also be a celebration of the gift of this life that has been given by God. And it’s beautiful that in our reading the widows were getting out tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made because these were almost like sacraments – tangible embodiments of life, repositories of memories, symbols of who she was. And while the proclamation of the resurrection is common to all Christian funerals and in that regard there is a ‘one size fits all’, yet at the same time this is not just anyone who has passed on: this is Dorcas and every life is unique and the funeral must be theirs. And, let’s face it, sometimes it can be difficult to know what to say about the deceased, when the memories they leave behind are not good. People sometimes complain that the person described at a funeral is not the person they knew and a very varnished and dishonest picture is presented. And here we tread on sensitive ground, but the bottom line is that in a funeral a person is named as a unique child of God fashioned in God’s image and they are committed to the justice and mercy and grace of God.

And this personal dimension of a funeral is important for another reason. You see, all of us find it hard to come to terms with our deaths. We are all in some degree of denial. Most of us somehow think that we will get out of here alive, and many of us harbour deep anxieties about death. And one of the things that can help me come to terms with my death is the knowledge that my parting will be marked by a dignified and fitting ritual, one that will do justice to my mortal life and bring fitting closure to it. And even in cases where a body is unidentified and its identity unknown and where no relative or loved one is known yet still the church would give a respectful funeral – in recognition that this is a unique human life which bears the image of God.

So the funeral service is for God and for the deceased. But in the case of the death of a church member the funeral service is also very much for the church community. After all, within the church we are bound together with one another in a very special bond, the Holy Spirit. And that is actually an even deeper bond than family ties of flesh and blood. And we might think of those widows grieving Dorcas in Acts as sisters in Christ grieving a fellow sister and that adds another dimension to their grief. And you know the saying: you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, and church is family, and as in all families we disagree with one another and we fall out and there are conflicts and tensions, but the bottom line is we are brothers and sisters, the body of Christ. And as in any body when one member suffers the whole body suffers and when one member dies the whole body is bereaved. And so at a fellow church member’s funeral, even if we did not know them well, we join together in loyalty and solidarity and together we acknowledge our loss. And the funeral is therefore for the church, the family of God.

But then of course the funeral is also for all loved ones of the deceased, for flesh and blood family and friends. And returning to the way funerals were once viewed, there has been a clear shift in recent times from worship to therapy. What I mean is that in an increasingly secular and therapeutic society we are at pains to help people to cope with life and death. And funerals are increasingly less about worship and more about dealing with grief, coming to terms with loss, helping people ‘to move on’. And some might see this as typical of the way that God is being increasingly marginalised and displaced. But not necessarily. If we put the worship of God and the proclamation of the resurrection first, then surely a funeral can also be viewed as having genuine pastoral, therapeutic value. The funeral, after all, with its ritual, is one step in the process of coming to terms with loss. It is a step in the grieving process and an important one. People who are closest to the deceased and most affected by their death often recall little of the funeral service. They are somewhere else. Yet somehow the service still touches them, and the Spirit of God is present in worship to bless and to heal. And a good funeral can be an important step in the journey of bereavement. And I spoke earlier of when memories left by the departed are not good, and when they leave behind tangled and unresolved relationships and that can be hard. But the funeral can be a step towards letting go – letting go of the deceased but also letting go of hurts and anger. It can be a step on the road to closure.

So on that day in Joppa, in the upstairs room in the house of a woman named Dorcas we can discern the ingredients of a good funeral. There’s the worship and praise of God, and the celebration of a life, and the grief and support of fellow believers and loved ones. And in the words of our reading from the Book of Revelation which are read at many Christian funerals, our hope for the departed is that

‘the lamb who is at the heart of
the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to the springs
of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear
from their eyes. Amen.

Revd Sabrina Groeschel

Sunday 1st May

John 21. v 1-19               Peter

 I had to come back; there seemed no point in staying.
Jesus was gone, our work with him finished.
I had to rebuild my business, and my life.
Try to forget the last three years.
Good while it lasted, but all good things come to an end.

I have started fishing again;
not doing too well at it either.
My hearts not in it, and somewhere in the background
a voice nags:  Fishers of men, not fish for their plates”
I have to get back to being Simon the fisherman,
not Peter the Rock of the Church.

We had been fishing all night and caught nothing.
Failed – just like my life!
I can’t get anything right any more.
I smelled a fire burning, and saw the man on the beach
Just as John said “It’s Jesus!”
(Trust him to know – he always was the favourite)
“Got any fish?” he asked. “None” I said
“Fish on the other side” he called. So we did –
and caught so many the nets broke.
I jumped into the water and waded to shore.
“Bring some fish, Peter and we’ll eat” he said.

When we finished Jesus beckoned me to walk with him.
He stopped and looked at me, but I could not meet his eye.
“Peter, do you love me?” he said.
I looked at my feet and whispered, “Lord, you know that I do.”
“Then feed my lambs” And that was once.

We walked on, and he stopped and said again
“Peter, do you love me?”
I looked at him and said, tears in my voice,  “Lord, you know that I love you”
“Then feed my sheep” he said.   And that was twice.

We walked a bit further and he stopped again, gripping my arms.
When I looked into his face his eyes held mine.
“Peter, do you love me”
And I knew! I was back to another early morning, when the cock heralded a new day.
Three times!
Three times I denied  and three times he has asked.
I looked straight at him, my voice firm and confident.
“Lord, you know that I love you” He smiled. “Then feed my lambs” he said.

And suddenly the world was right again.
Whatever he led me to do, I could do.
I can look God in the eye, because he has forgiven me.
He didn’t have to say it. I know that I am!

Revd Barbara Bennett

Sunday 24th April

READING:    John 20: 19-31

Celebrating Doubt…

The story of “Doubting Thomas”, so familiar to many of us. And that phrase – Doubting Thomas – we tend to use it to heap scorn on anyone who questions some truth that is obvious to others. Poor Thomas! Do we do him a disservice every time we use that phrase? Let’s see..

Tradition has it that Thomas eventually makes his way as a missionary, first to Persia and then on to South India where he is eventually martyred. The mark of one perpetually paralyzed by doubt?

As John tells it, after all Thomas is entitled to his doubts in that, unlike the other disciples, he has not already seen the risen Christ.

Doubt can be corrosive, of course, but here Thomas uses his doubts in a constructive manner. His requirement of not believing in the risen Christ unless he meets Jesus in the flesh is portrayed by John as a test by a doubter – and yet John leaves us wondering how what Thomas discovers is enough to inspire him to become a missionary. Could this be a case of doubt and firm faith solidly linked?

Why despise Thomas for his initial doubts? If we put ourselves in Thomas’s place, doubting might seem more rational than credulity. The equivalent for us today might be watching a good friend die – then later going to the funeral home to pay our respects, only to be met by a stranger telling us “Sorry, he’s gone. He came back to life and he is out there somewhere.” Be honest. Would you accept that without question? And even more to the point, would Thomas have been wise to accept such an outrageous claim without question? Are those claims not still outrageous?

It is true that Thomas’s doubts do not seem to have been remembered with affection by Christians through the centuries, yet we might wonder if this has its root in the gospel writers’ respective theological differences. The Gospel to which the name of Thomas is attached predates the other New Testament gospels. It interweaves mystical traditions with teachings of Jesus used by the other gospel writers. That may help explain why his gospel was voted out of the final collection of books we know as the New Testament.

In terms of objectivity the gospel attributed to Thomas consists mainly of sayings of Jesus and is clearly less mystical and more down to earth than a good part of the Gospel of John. Some scholars have even suggested John’s version of Thomas as a doubter was added later to undermine Thomas’s credentials as a rival gospel author.

One set of traditions claim Thomas was not only sometimes known as Didymus (the Greek for the twin -and the Aramaic for Thomas also means twin) but some have gone further and claimed that Thomas’s twin was no less than Jesus himself. This raises all kinds of interesting possibilities. Were there two babies in the crib at Bethlehem..? The notion of Jesus being uniquely born of a virgin suddenly becomes the subject of more doubt – if doubt about that did not exist already…

As always, there is a health warning here… Doubts about the literal truth of some of the events and stories associated with Thomas – as with much of the Biblical narrative – do not mean the stories have no value. All significant figures in history have a degree of accompanying mythology and, like Jesus’s parables, the deep truths that emerge from the stories are where their real worth may lie.

Not so long ago, during the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, a church in the town took it upon itself to stage a creationist festival on the beach to proclaim the earth is 6,000 years old – during the Fossil Festival… The United Reformed Church has contributed a nicely subtle counter-narrative in that our old church in Lyme Regis is now a dinosaur museum…

Yes, there are still people who dare not question lest they find that their comfortable certainties are threatened. Let us not be among them but give thanks for everyone who continues to use their doubts to help sort out their thinking and who insists that all assumptions are tested. They are a blessing. Are we brave enough to do our own testing and allow it to extend the horizons of our own faith? Thomas did – and we are still talking about him today!

Revd Iain McDonald

Easter Sunday 17th April

Luke 24:1-12; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

The Gospel writer Luke, whose account of Jesus’ resurrection we have read this morning, has one detail that is unique to him and missing in other accounts. It’s the phrase that occurs when the disciples receive the news from some women that Jesus has risen, and we’re told that they considered this ‘an idle tale’. That’s Luke’s unique phrase and I want to consider it this morning.

These women, we are told, had gone at early dawn to the tomb where they had witnessed Jesus’ corpse being laid a couple of evenings earlier. They had come to the tomb, after resting on the sabbath, to anoint his body with spices. And there follows the description of the stone rolled away and no body to be found, and the two men in dazzling clothes declaring, ‘He is not here his is risen!’ Immediately the women rush from the tomb to the other disciples and they blurt out their story. ‘But’, v.11, ‘these words seemed to them an idle tale…’ And there are two things to note about that phrase. Firstly, there is the word ‘but’ – ‘but these words seemed to them an idle tale.’ The word ‘but’ occurs twice in this passage as we shall see and it is an important word. The word ‘but’ introduces a kind of tension into a sentence, a sense of contrast: for example, ‘I used to be young – but now I’m old’. Or, in this case, the women told the disciples their news – but they didn’t believe it. The disciples had a big but…

The women told their story but to them it was just an idle tale. And the original Greek for the phrase ‘idle tale’ is very strong. It has the sense that the women seemed delirious, deranged, detached from reality. And of course they did. In Jesus’ time the word of a woman counted for little. Their testimony was not accepted in a court of law – they couldn’t be trusted. And incidentally and by the way, if you were making up the story of the resurrection – if you were inventing it – for this very reason you would never credit women with women being witnesses. You’re asking for your story to be disbelieved, and the fact that women were the first witnesses is therefore a mark of the authenticity of the account, and of God’s upside-down ways in which the first come last and everything changes. But the fact that the women’s story was regarded as an idle tale also shows that people in that time were not gullible. We in our sophisticated 21st century often regard people in ancient times as credulous and prone to believing anything. But this shows that they weren’t. They weren’t stupid. They knew nonsense when they heard it. Many Jews in Jesus’ day believed in a general resurrection at the last day when all the dead would rise, but the idea that one person, alone, would rise didn’t fit with anything they believed. It made no sense. It was an idle tale. Idiotic.

Not, however, entirely. Not to Peter – and here we come to the second ‘but’ in the passage. After reading that the disciples believed the woman’s story was an idle tale we read in v.12, ‘But Peter got up and ran to the tomb…’ Here again is the tension introduced by the ‘but’ word: the other disciples dismiss the women but Peter wants to check it out, to make sure. Maybe the women should be trusted! And so he runs to the tomb – and then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

When we turn to our other reading form Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth we find something similar. People there were doubting the resurrection of Jesus. To them to it was an idle tale and Paul is standing his ground: ‘if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied’. In other words if this is an idle tale then we Christians are pathetic. And what comes next in this passage? Yes, that word again: but! ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…!

Now note what is happening here: everything is reversed, everything turned upside down, inverted. The ‘idle tale’ turns out to be true and the claim that Jesus couldn’t possibly have risen – well, it turns out to be the idle tale, the nonsense. There is an exchange, a reversal as what is claimed to be wrong turns out to be right and what was assumed to be indisputable and rock certain turns out to be wrong. Everything hinges on that word ‘but’. And the Christian faith does this again and again. It pulls the rug out from under what is considered to be reasonable and rational and plausible. It reconfigures what constitutes an idle, idiotic tale.

So consider us this morning, Easter Sunday here at Glenorchy URC. For some centuries now our lives have been caught up in a story that we have been telling ourselves over and over again, and increasingly more and more people have been believing it. It’s a story that really took off in the 17th and 18th centuries in the period we call the Enlightenment and it’s a story that says there is no God, or if there is it is a detached and distant God who has no involvement in the world or in people’s lives. The real God, the God who is active in the world is Reason, and if we can only jettison all that religious nonsense then the world will come to its senses and we be led out of the dark night of superstition. And then history will be a tale of progress that will lead us to the sunny uplands of peace and prosperity for all. And that story goes on to tell us that the chief end of human beings is to shop, and that fullness of life consists in how much money you earn, and that society flourishes when it is single-mindedly committed to endless production and consumption. And we stop and we look at our world today, a world where armed conflict rears its ugly head again, and where governments are in shambles; a world where people are deeply divided against one another– and we have to ask, is this really a credible story that we are following? This Enlightenment, western story of reason and progress and materialism and consumerism – is it really true? Is it not perhaps the idle tale?

Well, the raising of Jesus Christ from a grave outside Jerusalem makes that claim: the God who raised Christ is real and active in the world. There is that threadbare story we have come to believe – BUT there is another story, a better story, which renders that one an idle tale!

Two last points, briefly… thinking of that phrase, ‘an idle tale’ brought to mind a quotation from Shakespeare from his play Macbeth where, having heard that his wife is dead, Macbeth describes life as ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ Well, if not just Lady Macbeth’s but Jesus Christ lies dead then then Macbeth may be right. Life is indeed an idle tale told by idiots… signifying absolutely nothing. However – there is a big BUT: Christ is risen, alleluia, and everything is changed.

And lastly, what about your life? What story does your life tell this morning – what tale? Even apart from the pressures and the strains inflicted upon us by our frenetic, enlightenment world – and they are bad enough – life has a million other ways of declaring that your life is an idle tale: just a worthless, empty fiction to be dismissed and of no consequence. Well, if you have reason to feel that way this morning listen for the Easter ‘but’: Christ has been raised from the dead. That verdict upon your life as an idle tale is subverted and undone. Christ is risen for you and me and he meets us here at this table. So come – and then, with Peter, go home, amazed at what has happened.

Amen.

Revd Sabrina Groeschel

Palm Sunday 10th April

‘What kind of King is this?

Readings: Philippians 2: 5-11, Luke 19: 28-44

Jesus was travelling to Jerusalem, a journey which would end with betrayal, arrest, torture and death on a cross.

Jesus had journeyed from Jericho, where he had healed blind Bartimaeus, to Bethany which was about 13 miles. So from Bethany he had only two miles to go to Jerusalem, so he had almost reached his goal.

The prophets of the Old Testament had a regular custom which they used when people refused to listen and take in their spoken message. They resorted to drama, to paint a picture in people’s minds and a drama was just what Jesus had in mind as he travelled into the Holy City. He proposed to ride into Jerusalem in such a way that the very action of it would be an unmistakable claim that he was the Messiah, God’s anointed King.

This entry into the city had been prepared long before, it was no sudden, impulsive action. Jesus did not leave things to the last minute. It teaches us a lesson in preparing well when we are doing God’s work. The most important preparation is prayer to ask God for guidance in every detail of our lives but especially when we are preparing to do his work.

Jesus had made arrangements with the owners of the colt and a password had been agreed on. He sent two of his disciples ahead of him to collect the colt and bring it to him. But they couldn’t complete the task without the password which was, ‘The Lord needs it.’ When the disciples returned to Jesus with the donkey, they threw their cloaks on its back and Jesus climbed on.

It took incredible courage for Jesus to enter the city in the way that he did. By this time there was a price on his head. It would have been natural for him to slip unseen into Jerusalem. But he entered in such a way as to focus the whole lime-light upon himself and to occupy the centre stage. It is impossible to exaggerate the sheer courage of Jesus.

It was a deliberate fulfilling of the picture painted by Zechariah. But even in this, Jesus underlined the kind of Kingship which he claimed. The donkey in Palestine was not the lowly beast that it is in this country. It was noble, because only in war did kings ride on a horse; when they came in peace they came upon a donkey. So Jesus by this action came as a King who comes to his people in love and in peace and not as a conquering hero which the mob expected and were waiting for.

Jesus was prepared to do whatever it took to save us. Ridicule, pain, torture, even death on a cross. His was total commitment because he knew there was no other way.

Today we remember the servant King riding into town in triumph tinged with sadness. As we come to Holy Week and re-live the last supper, the arrest of Jesus, his trial and suffering. May we remember that it was our sin that he suffered for and may we commit our lives to him and come to know the risen Jesus and let him reign in our hearts now and always Amen.

Revd Jim Thorneycroft

Sunday 3rd April

Readings: John 12:1-8,  1 Cor 13:1-13

John 12:5 Then Judas…said ‘Why was this ointment not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?’

How many of us have a sneaking feeling that we’d have said just the same thing as Judas, had we been there in Bethany?    Mary’s perfume is worth a year’s wage – maybe £10/20K in our terms.   Just think of the cheque to Oxfam. Lord, you told that guy to sell all he had and give to the poor: look what this thoughtless woman has done!  But Jesus says, Leave her alone – Of course I want you to care for the poor – and someone like Mary will always do that tomorrow and the day after– but today – she has done well, she’s anointed me for burial.

So let’s try to make sense of this.     Mary loves Jesus, maybe she is in love with him.   Jesus has brought her brother Lazarus back from the dead.   Now Jesus is going to Jerusalem on a long last lonely journey into danger and almost certain death.   And Mary wants to say I love you.   She wants to say thank you.    She wants to say “Jesus I want you to know on your last walk on the dusty road to Jerusalem that someone cared”

What can she do?     She has a jar of most precious perfume.     Does she stop to decide how grateful, how much in love she is?   Does she count out a few drops?   Should she measure out a teaspoon or tablespoon of thanks & love?   No – Her life is just thanks and love, and she breaks the neck of the flask and pours the lot over Jesus’ feet.

Judas calculates, “What a waste!”  Jesus says “Let her be.  Her love is worth more than all your calculation.”

“Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess and give my body to be burned – If I am without love, it will do me no good whatsoever.” (1 Cor 13): Cold calculation has its limits.    Cold calculation could have told Bach and Mozart not to waste their time composing music – when did music ever feed the hungry?   Why weren’t they out growing potatoes?  But “reason not the need”.     “Man does not live by bread alone”.

But, Jesus says, the big cheerful, open handed, joyful gesture doesn’t mean we should forget the complex needs of the poor and the destitute.    You always have the poor with you, and tomorrow you shall feed them!

A congregation gives cheerfully and recklessly to build a great ornate Cathedral.     They could of course have given their money to feed the poor – but perhaps precisely because the Cathedral is built in a spirit of joyful generosity, this means that it will naturally become a place for open handed people who will give to the poor in the same spirit of reckless love that has adorned their offering to God’s house.

Decisions about use of resources are of course not always easy.    Maybe we may not always get the answers right.
Many years ago now I was involved in strategy discussions in the Dept of Health. Huge decisions to be made about where to put limited resources.   Civil servants doing cost benefit analysis regarding particular drugs or interventions, assessing their benefit in terms of Quality adjusted life years (QALYs) to be gained by each patient. Judas would I think have done that job well – though how else can you justify the use of NHS resources?

One answer comes from Sheila Cassidy –one of the founders of the Hospice Movement.   She says “The Bethany story is particularly important to many of us who work in the hospice movement, for we too pour out the precious ointment of our time, our skill and our love over those who are dying, and who therefore in human terms are of no further economic worth.”    No cost benefit analysis here – just washing the feet which will not walk tomorrow.

So – what does this mean for the decisions we make in our lives?    We all have an alabaster jar of great worth.   Mary gave but one year’s salary.     We have a whole life at our disposal.

Revd Andrew Sails

 

I watched yet another heart-breaking video from Ukraine last week – Dr Kondratova caring for tiny tiny premature babies in incubators in a Kharkiv hospital.  She said staff had decided to stay on the ward with the smallest babies, even in the midst of air-raid warnings.    “You can’t take a child of 600g to the basement,” she said. “It would be a one-way trip. So we stay with the children & live through the bombings with them.”
This gift costs potentially more than a year’s wages – it may cost their very lives

We are not in Ukraine, but our help is needed – Maybe we can offer to share our house with a refugee family, or offer time or money to work with others to support refugees – and of course we can send money to relief agencies.

I wonder how careful and calculating we will be in disposing of the riches of our life??    Will we pour out just a few drops and then place the jar back upon the shelf –  there to gather dust and be a reproach to us in years to come,
that when Christ walked to Calvary we just let him go without our loving gift?    If we can but give rashly, lovingly, recklessly – then will God will accept our gift.   And who knows what miracles he will work with our offering?

O Lord, may I smash the jar and pour out my gift for you –
for “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Mothering Sunday 27th March

Mothering Sunday marks the fourth Sunday in Lent. Few of us make significant changes to our routines for Lent these days. But when Mothering Sunday was invented more than a thousand years ago this day marked a genuine relief from the privations of the extended fast. Even so, we can glimpse something of the mile-post signified by today. Half-way through Lent we sense our destination. Even for us comfortable Christians it gets serious from here on in.

These next weeks are overshadowed by the inevitability of suffering and death facing Jesus and the connected fact of our own mortality. Of course we cannot fully appreciate the sense of impending crisis facing the disciples who had heard Jesus foretelling nothing but death and dishonour at the end of the road. As Sabrina was reminding us recently, Jesus likened himself to a mother-hen longing to keep her brood safe from harm but knowing that they would not come when he called. Love would pay the price for that. On another occasion Jesus compared his suffering to the birth-pangs of a mother; yes there is joy at the new birth but at that time many women died in labour. Such mother-love is as far from sentimentality as you can get, whatever it says on the cards on your flowers.

Which bring us back to where we are, half-way through Lent, thinking ahead to the suffering and death of Jesus himself, the labour pains of eternal life. What we need to know is not only that God in Christ somehow took our part in the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth back then, but that God continues to share with us in this present time. There is an illogical almost foolish way through the valley of the shadow of death and that is the way of relationship with God himself, inside our human story for the duration of time and space. God in Christ gives us not an answer but a partnership; Jesus remains Emmanuel, God alongside, through everything. This is the kind of God God is. Love pierces the heart of God, not only Mary’s heart. Mothers can glimpse this. Love hurts; but love prevails. Let it be your treasure, received with thanks and shared with all, for Jesus our mother’s sake who has brought us to life and hope.

Revd Peter Brain

Sunday 20th March

We’re called to be Kingdom-spotters and Kingdom-builders!

This June, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee will be celebrated marking, among other things, the fact we belong to a kingdom – and not a republic.

There are at least superficial parallels  between earthly kingdoms and the realm the Bible calls the ‘Kingdom of God’ or ‘Heaven’. Certainly both Judaism and Jesus himself used it as a metaphor for God and God’s presence.

As you’ll recall, there were two main interpretations. One was that a Messiah would throw off foreign tyrants and set up a divine kingdom. The second was the apocalyptic belief that God would personally show up ‘making Israel happy and proud’. In both cases, it involved a relationship between God as King and the individual as subject.

By parable and dialogue, Jesus claimed the Kingdom: was open to all, Gentiles as well as Jews; it would grow; it manifests itself as a disturbing but transforming spiritual energy; it is of priceless value. Most strikingly,  those with discerning eyes and mind, there are signs of God’s rule all around – the ‘Kingdom is among you!’ Yet its completion is unquestionably yet to be.

What might all this imply for the world of 2022?

It implies, I believe, that aspiring disciples of Jesus should be both Kingdom-spotters and Kingdom-builders.

 Being a Kingdom-spotter means being spiritually perceptive, trying to discern, like Jesus, how God really is active in the present – and often in unlikely people and unexpected circumstances, both ‘churchy’ and secular.

‘But surely’, someone could well retort, ‘The Kingdom’s more elusive than ever: God’s more AWOL than present’ No, no, the world’s a thoroughly evil place and to say “the Kingdom’s among us now” is pie-in-the sky!

The hell inflicted on Ukraine supports such a response. Yet the compassion shown within that stricken nation and beyond its borders, together with so much empathy and generosity evident all over the world, day in and day out, is surely vindication of Jesus’s cheering observation that ‘the Kingdom of God is among you’ – then as well as now.

If God’s Kingdom often appears to be more absent than present – so clearly yet-to-be – it’s surely vital that individuals or groups claiming, in some sense, to be agents of God, should also be Kingdom-builders. Basing such endeavours on the foundation of Jesus’s life, teaching and self-giving, this means, I suggest, among many things: offering as credible an understanding of Christian faith as the very concept of faith allows; getting involved in community life (including, for some at least, the messy world of politics); supporting all sorts of worthy causes; along with being kind neighbours, good citizens, considerate travellers, and judicious caretakers of our planet. So: may we be both perceptive Kingdom-spotters and diligent Kingdom-builders!

Revd Edward Hulme