Midnight Mass Sermon

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

How do you see faith?

St John saw it like a word, like a song. And this song, this rhythm has been playing since the dawn of time, it is a song that moves us, and people throughout the ages have heard this rhythm and played along with it… and when we do something mean or we gossip or we steal or we lie, it is discordant… and when we see something kind or loving, it lifts our souls because the person is playing the song, the song that is within our soul. And it can be that people who say they have no religion play to the sound of the song, and others who are very religious confuse us because they seem to be hitting all the wrong notes…. And the song just keeps on playing.

All through the Bible the will of God is like a breath and in this passage John doesn’t refer to Jesus and God’s Son but instead the “Word”, Jesus is like God’s breath. That is how intimate God and Jesus are related. I see “The Word” as God’s breath, God’s intention, God’s song, God personified.

The passage then tells us that in the Word was life and light and the light shines in the darkness…  I see this as the song playing, the rhythm of God being there, whether others are playing it or not… it resonates through everything.. through us…

Now John the Baptist came as a witness to the light… and that is the same for us. Our job is to try to listen to the song and to try to play in tune, even if we aren’t joined by others.. we need to keep playing. And we are the priesthood of all believers – each of us has a priestly duty to try to listen as best we can for the song, listen for God, look for the light and then to order our lives to that rhythm.

It is my belief that we are most “ourselves” when we are in tune with God. We are Children of God – it isn’t that we have to repress our personalities, or put a Christian mask on… when we are most in tune with God we are most ourselves. I don’t think that when we are in tune with God we are all clones of Jesus either, we are all created differently, unique, each like a different instrument in the orchestra, playing our little bit as best we can…

And so what is darkness? I believe that it is the places in our communities, in our families and in our hearts where that tune doesn’t seem to reach. It isn’t the odd wrong note, more it is the places where fear or hatred or hopelessness dominate. But we have hope – we need to keep playing the song.. and we have hope – in the words of St John “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” or in the words of Desmund Tutu:

 

Goodness is stronger than evil;

love is stronger than hate;

light is stronger than darkness;

life is stronger than death;

victory is ours through God who loves us.

Amen

All Welcome to Christmas Services in this Parish!

P1020463A vicar is reported in the Telegraph as describing people who go to church only at Christmas as hypocrites.  Well, I don’t agree!

People come to church at different times for different reasons and I see absolutely no reason not to welcome them – indeed I see every reason to welcome them.  Our role is to help people encounter God, and move forwards in their faith – whether that be at Christmas and Easter or a Wedding or Funeral.

So if you are in our parish come on in – you will receive a warm welcome.

Meditation on John 21: 15-17 (Lesley)

Restoration

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
 Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

 

I remember that day, on the beach.

Jesus asked me whether I loved him –

the word he used was agape,

the highest form of love, unconditional love.

 

I hung my head.

We both knew I didn’t love him unconditionally,

when the chips were down I had denied him.

 

‘Yes Lord, I said,

you know that I love you’,

but the word that I used for love did not match his,

it was philio,

a friendship love,

a lesser love.

 

‘Feed my lambs’, Jesus said.

What did that mean?

Why choose a man like me?

 

A second time Jesus asked me the same question

and I gave the same answer.

He asked whether I loved him unconditionally

and I replied that I loved him as a sort of friend.

 

He answered saying ‘take care of my sheep’.

I felt desolate, empty,

he knew me completely,

why was asking me these questions?

 

Then a third time he asked,

and I was hurt.

Hurt for two reasons.

Firstly, he now asked me whether I loved him using the word philio.

He had dropped his standards,

had he lost hope in me?

 

Secondly,

surely he was asking me this to punish me,

why else would he keep repeating the question ‘do you love me?’

 

Something inside wanted to scream

‘No, no you know that I don’t love you –

you know that denied you,

you know that I ran away when you faced your suffering,

you know I gave up on you,

you know I doubted you,

for goodness sake.. YOU KNOW’

 

And then something broke inside of me.

Yes, of course he knows,

and I know,

and yet he loves me still,

he loves me with the agape love,

he loves me unconditionally,

no matter what I do,

no matter how badly I let him down.

He loves me.

 

And in those moments of realisation my heart was stilled.

I was a forgiven man,

forgiven by Jesus

and forgiven by myself.

A peace passed through me.

I am broken and weak and loved unconditionally.

 

I looked up at the face of Jesus and for the first time I saw the love in his eyes.

“Lord, you know all things;

you know that I love you.” I said,

this time with conviction.

Jesus smiled ‘Feed my sheep’, he said.

 

And suddenly I knew

I was a new man,

and furthermore

the old Peter could never have fed Jesus’s sheep.

 

The unbroken and unmended Peter

would have fixed Jesus’ sheep,

would have forced Jesus’ sheep,

would have forged ahead and expected Jesus’s sheep to follow.

 

But the new Peter,

beaten by my own weaknesses,

wounded by my own words,

remembering always the suffering of the cross,

restored and forgiven by the man before me

and loved unconditionally.

This man,

this humbler man,

might be able to feed the sheep.

 

My heart swelled with thankfulness,

but no words were needed to express this.

I could see the tenderness in the eyes of my Lord.

 

 

 

All Saint’s Day Sermon (Lesley) John 11:32-44

Lazarus come forth

Lazarus come forth (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

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

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

How many English Heritage workers does it take to change a lightbulb?

CHANGE?????

Jesus came to change the world, and that is what I want to talk about today.

Today, we are celebrating All saint’s day. Sometimes people think of Saints as people with halos in stained glass windows. They aren’t. Saints in the bible are anyone who follows Jesus. Saints are you and me.

Sometimes people choose to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us on All Saint’s day, but I prefer to do that at the All Soul’s. Jesus came to change the world, and the church, the disciples, the saints… us… we are the means through which Christ changes the world.

Incredible as that seems.

Sometimes people tell me that Christianity is about being nice.

Sometimes those of us in the Church can give others the impression that the church is all about me, and my comfortable worship space, and the people who make me comfortable.

But it isn’t.. Archbishop William Temple said:

“The Church is the only organisation that exists for the wellbeing and fraternity of its non-members”.

Of course the church exists to bring forward, to bring into existence the Kingdom of God. The place where Love, Joy, Peace exist. The place where people journey towards loving God and one another. The Good News that we offer is that there is a pathway towards light, and not darkness, towards life and not death, towards love and not hate.

This is dramatic, life-changing stuff. Which brings me to the Gospel passage.

Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus could have come sooner, but he didn’t. Martha’s words ring like an accusation, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I guess anyone who has experienced grief has experienced that one.

“If only”

She is talking about the past, but Jesus is very much in the present. I believe that the resurrection isn’t a historical event on Easter Sunday, it is something within us, we are an Easter people.

And so Jesus came to the tomb, the place of death and called out:

LAZARUS, COME OUT!

And so “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

My old Bishop – Bishop Alan once spoke of the church like the figure of Lazarus – we are brought back to life by the power of Jesus – struggling towards the light, covered in grave clothes, staggering, hampered…

I was a lecturer at New College in Oxford and there was a sculpture of Lazarus by Henry More. A huge thing, grave clothes draped around this half dead, half alive body, head at some rather alarming angle, like some sort of zombie. I rather hated it, if I am honest. But since listening to my Bishop I have become more at peace with it. Yes, of course we are half dead, but we are struggling away from that and towards the light.

It reminds me of a quote from Howard Thurman
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.

So for you, for me, for us,

Where is the life?

Where is the fire?

And let us get unbound and let go. I can almost imagine Jesus laughing – for goodness sake let’s take all those bindings off and let poor old Lazarus free.

What is binding us? Individually or as a church?

Can we:

Unbind our prejudices and let us go with a new view of others.

Unbind our tiredness and let us go refreshed.

Unbind our thinking that the glory days are behind and let us go into a new vitality.

Unbind our fearfulness and let us go trusting God.

Unbind our smallnesses and let us go thinking big.

Unbind our hearts where love stops short and let us go to love everyone.

Unbind us, and let us go.

Amen.

All Soul’s Day Sermon

Grief

Grief (Photo credit: tombellart)

Alan encouraged me to preach at the All Soul’s services this year as one who has been bereaved in the last year. It has been a year when I lost my mum. It has certainly taught me more about grief than I learned when I was training for ordination.

I guess the word that sums up grief for me is “loss”. Initially, I was so shocked that I literally kept losing things. I couldn’t remember where they were. And there was the loss of control of my emotions. I descended into tears at the library when I returned mum’s book, at the dump when I took the contents of my dad’s shed there, at the charity shop where I give them both my mum’s and my gran’s clothes. Hundreds of things that I would see no more. But the objects were only symbolic of the people I would see no more.

We lose part of who we are when someone dies – one of our identities dies with them. In the case of my mum she was a touchstone, a voice who reprimanded and praised, a running commentary on my life really.

I did gain things when she died though. I don’t really mean the furniture or the extra glasses in the cupboard; I mean new insights into who she was and who I am. In reflecting on her life and writing her eulogy I recognised similarities between us that I had never spotted before. In ringing up her friends I noticed who she cared about and why. And her friends cried at the other end of the phone line, expressing their sorrow and telling me stories of her kindness that I never knew before. Of course, it would be nice to share these things with her, but it is too late.

Not that my mum was perfect. Amongst her quirks was a life-long struggle with anorexia. As her daughter, on the one hand she panicked dreadfully if I didn’t eat, and on the other hand she perpetually told me I needed to be thinner. This I hated, but now she is gone it seems odd to have no one carping at me about my weight!

Clearing my parent’s house was something sacred. Hundreds of pieces of paper, folded, treasured. The summation of a life, the sorrows and the joys. I felt like I was intruding – I would never presume to go through my parents things ordinarily. But it was my task; the one ordained to me as their child, no other could do it.

I have been surprised how much I have missed my mum. She was the one who I called for from the day of my birth. And there is something rather beautiful about the grief. For it tells me how precious we all are to each other. It gives me hope that my mediocre efforts do affect others for good and when I die I too will be remembered and missed. Each one of us is interconnected and each one of us loves and is loved, probably far more than we know. The corollary of all this interconnectedness and love is grief when a soul dies.

So remembering is good for those who have gone, for it is fitting and comforting to know we will be remembered. But it is also good for those of us who remain, not to idealise or sentimentalise the dead, but to remember truthfully. For we see ourselves more clearly in the light of those who have gone before us. This knowledge of our own mortality is humbling, but reminds us to leave the world a better place than we found it. And most of all to follow the example of those who we miss most in their loving, giving and caring.

Bible Sunday

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

A man was in a hot air balloon and lost, so he spotted a woman on a golf course below and reduced altitude.

“Hello”, he called, “can you tell me where I am – I promised to meet a friend and I have no idea where I am”

She looked up and said “You are in a hot air balloon about 30 feet off the ground, you are 51 degrees North and 0.7 degrees West”.

“Are you an engineer?” he called down?

“Yes” she replied, “but how did you know?”

“Well your information is absolutely true but I’m none the wiser” he replied. “Furthermore I am still lost and frankly you have wasted my time”.

So she thought for a minute and called up to him “Are you in Management?”

“Yes” he replied “but how do you know?”

“Well, you have made a promise you have no idea how to keep, you expect those beneath you to solve your problems and you have risen to where you are thanks to a large volume of hot air”.

 

I guess I tell that joke because I want to explore what we mean by the Bible being “True”.

Of course, first of all we have to determine what we mean by “true” in this context.

There is a statue of Abraham Lincoln at one of the American Universities and he is shown wielding an axe about to come down on the fetters that are binding a slave at his feet. It the statue true – yes. Did it actually happen – no.

I get fed up at the moment hearing about the rise of fundamentalism and in particular creationism at the moment. Since when did Christians need to leave their common sense at the door when they came to church?

And then, of course there is the problem of translation. When I was at vicar school I decided to try to learn Hebrew and Greek. Try being the operative word here. Anyway, we looked at some Hebrew texts. It is a rather tricky language for a few reasons, not least of all because they choose not to include vowels in the text. And then they seem to have dots here and there that mean something but get missed off a fair amount – the jots and tittles that Jesus was referring to. And then the language has only two tenses. Not like English which has loads – past, present, future, perfect, imperfect, conditional, and a load of others. No – Hebrew has two. And they aren’t a useful two like Past and Present – they are perfect (ie done and dusted) and imperfect. So we looked at the phrase when God says “I am what I am”. Well… it is in the imperfect. So it could be “I was being what I ought to be” “ I will be what I am being” “I was going to be what I could have been”. Truthfully, I think just about the only translation it can’t be is “I am what I am”.

You probably know that the New Testament was written in Greek and fairly early on that was translated into Latin, and later still the Latin version was translated into English, giving rise to the King James Version, which is quite a literal translation of the text, but carries quite a lot of errors because of the double translation.

Which reminds me of a story that Alan told me from when he attended a church that was debating which Lord’s Prayer to use – the traditional or the modern. One woman said that she wanted to use the traditional Lord’s Prayer which was in the King James Version because she wanted to say the very words that Jesus used.

So there are many translations now – I suggest that everyone should by one that they find easy to read. My personal favourite is the New Revised Standard Version, which is an update on the RSV which is a pretty faithful translation, I feel. My personal least favourite version is the New International Version, which I think has too much interpretation and anti-women interpretation at that.

However, whichever version of the Bible we use, we have to face the fact that it was written by men, for men. I was arguing with a man online a while back about gay relationships. He quoted Leviticus 18:22 at me – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable”, so I thought about that. “Are you telling me that the Bible requires me to be a Lesbian?” I asked….

And of course you may well notice in the Ten Commandments, especially if you are a woman, that whilst men are not allowed to covet their neighbours’ wives, there is no prohibition on us coveting our neighbours’ husbands. Not that any woman would ever do that, obviously!

I guess, putting aside the problem of who wrote it and why, and putting aside the problem of translation, the question is where one sees the Bible – does God use it in spite of human failings, limitations and errors, or is it exactly as God wishes it to be? Can it be true without it being literally correct, without an actual Noah, or without an actual Adam and Eve, or does it either have to be all true or if not it is not worth reading?

Let me quote a few verses from the Bible and you decide for yourself whether they are true:

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

Matthew 11:28-29

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Romans 8:37-39

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 14:27

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Rom 8:28

“All things work to the good of those who love Him”