We offer a welcome to everyone
Sunday 20th Jan 2019 the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
1st Reading: Angela of Foligno (1248-1309), The Necessity of Prayer
Whatever you want (or lack), Pray !
2nd Reading: Scripture: John 17.18-26
As the Father sent Christ into the world, Christ sends us into the world
… I pray that they may all be one
3rd Reading: Scripture: John 15.1-12
I AM the true vine … Abide in Me … Abide in My love …
This is My commandment that you love one another as I have loved you
This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – it doesn’t change – it’s the same each year – 18th to 25th January.
And I suppose the 1st thing to note is – that it’s a week of Prayer
We in the Church are sometimes not very good at Prayer.
In the URC at least, we’re pretty good at doing things and being active in the community, but
we’re generally not so good at the contemplative side of the Christian Life.
Unless we feed ourselves – fill-up ourselves
· on God’s Word – God’s Presence – God’s Love
o how can we share it – show it – to others ?!!
In our 1st reading – from a 13th century female mystic – we are urged to Pray !
Echoing Paul – Pray without ceasing – in everything Pray and Give Thanks
Whatever you want – Pray !
Whatever you need – Pray !
Whatever you lack – Pray !
I suppose then we should ask ourselves – What is Prayer ?!!
Essentially, Prayer is Recognising the Presence of God !
· God is here with us – anyway – all the time !
· But when we recognise His Presence – then we’re in a state of prayer
In Church, we tend to think of prayer as verbal – saying things
And how else can we have corporate prayer – how else can we join-in with what each other is praying?
But for individual prayer – God hears the crys of our hearts however expressed
in tears – in silence – in joy – God hears the cry of our hearts – however expressed
So, we’re in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Unity – what is this ?!!
For, there are different kinds of unity.
We think of people who have something in common – a common characteristic – it could be
· our nationality or culture
o when we lived in Brussels and Amsterdam – we lived as part of the ex-pat community
· could be our gender or our age
· could be the work we do or our politics
· or what interests us – art – music – sport – the football team we support
These are all types of unity – yes, but … they are also ALL divisive !
They split us into “us & them” – those who’re the same as us and “others”
And the point here is that Unity is not the same as Uniformity
Unity is not about being the same !
But about being different !
Unity is not the same as Uniformity
Unity is not about being the same !
But about being different !
We’re all different – we’re each unique
Unity is about being different in harmony – being different in a whole – a One-ness – a Unity – a Wholeness – well-expressed in the Jewish word Shalom !
We’re looking at the Unity of the whole of Creation
of God’s Creation – each and every part !
In simple terms, you could say that to pray for unity is to pray for God’s Kingdom to Come !
For God’s will to be done !
Praying for Christian Unity
Julian of Norwich – a 14th century English female mystic – says:
Prayer is – a true gracious and lasting will of the soul – united and fastened to the will of our Lord – by the sweet inner work of the Holy Spirit
To pray, she says – is to align our will with that of our Lord
& it’s interesting that we have many promises – assurances – that
if we pray in the name of Jesus then our prayer will be answered
And it’s obvious really !
If our will is aligned with the will of Jesus – How can our prayer not be answered ?!!
In our 2nd reading, Christ prays that His followers – you and me – the Church today and through history – may be One
If then we are praying for Christian Unity …
· this is Christ’s will
· this is our will
o so, how is it that we don’t see this fulfilled today – we don’t see Christian unity ?!!
& I suppose the 2 questions to ask:
1. do we pray for Christian Unity ? and if so
2. do we mean it ?!!
Do we actually pray … for Christian Unity; and if we do
Do we mean it ?!!
We can talk about Christian Unity
· in the local church
o do we want to be kind & loving to that person over there who rubs you up the wrong way ?
o do we not quite enjoy … criticizing that person … running them down – it makes us feel better – more worthy
· or we can talk about Christian Unity in the local churches or in the community
o don’t we want our church – the church we belong to – to be better than the others ?
o or don’t we want our work – good Christian work indeed – but don’t we want what we’re interested in – what we’re focussing on – to be recognised as more important than what other people are doing – or what other people think should be done ?
· or we can think of Christian Unity on a national scale … or on a theological scale
o do we want to be friends with someone who’s at the opposite end of the theological spectrum ?
Do we want to love our enemies ?
or not our enemies, but simply the people we know ?!!
It’s much easier to love and care for people we don’t know – with no history – no demands on us – with no relationship ! – than people we do know !
Do we want to love our enemies in the Church ? or the people we simply don’t see eye-to-eye with ?
We know we should …
We know Christ wants us to …
But do we want to – and the honest answer is, isn’t it – often not !
So we can pray with our mouths for Christian Unity
But if our heart’s not in it – what sort of prayer is that ?!!
This is an issue – but how to get over it ?
Well, one thing that might be helpful here – something that I’ve found a help in practice,
is to … go down a level
· do we love our enemies – or perhaps people who’re just different to us ? Ok, No!
o do we want to love them ? – well, if we’re honest – No we don’t !
Ok – go down a level !
§ Do we want to become a person who wants to love their enemies – who wants to love people who’re different to us ?!!
§ We know we should – but do we want to become the person we know we should ? the person we could be ?
o do we want to love A, B or C in the Church – or at work – or in our school ?
do we want to love Donald Trump, President Putin, or depending upon your politics Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbin ?
No ! No we don’t – we don’t love them and we don’t care for them
nor, do we want to like them or love them
Ok – go down a level !
§ Do you want to become the person who wants to love A, B or C ?
· When we look at them – people we don’t like – we see in them aspects of ourselves – aspects of humanity !
And God still loves them – God still loves us despite all our faults
· God loves them – not what they do ! but God still loves them !
and so should we !
· It’s certainly in accordance with Christ’s will for us to love them !
§ Certainly we can pray in Jesus’ name for us to become people who want to love A, B or C ; and
§ We can pray that with our lips – and I hope and pray that we also can pray that with our hearts
And then we’re into an upward spiral
First, we pray:
§ We want to become people who want to love our enemies
And then we’ll become people who do in fact honestly want to love our enemies
o And then we can pray with our hearts as well as with our lips – to become people who actually do love our enemies
· And then … we’re praying for God to make us like Him – like Christ ! God loves everyone – and with His Spirit – so can we – love those people we previously looked at as enemies !
And Remember – in all this – the traditional definition of an “enemy” as – simply, someone who’s story we haven’t heard !
In the service sheet I put a picture (by Mary Fleeson) for this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and, in case you couldn’t read what’s in the ribbons floating away in the wind or smoke – I put the words underneath:
I bind my mind to the mind of the Creator God
And I loose from my mind all that offends God
That I may worship completely
I bind my body to the will of the Saviour Christ
And I loose from my body all dis-ease
That I may serve freely
I bind myself to the Holy Spirit my helper
And I loose from my spirit all that is not of God
That I may love joyfully
Christian Unity is when
When we align our minds, our hearts, our will – with Christ’s – with God’s
And that applies – whether we’re thinking of the local Church or the Global Church
Whether we’re thinking of work in the community here in Greenwich
or some theological discussion
It also applies – whether we’re thinking of Christians & the Church, or
whether we’re thinking of the whole of Creation
When we think of the Whole of Creation – what is our part to play ?
Our part as humanity – or our part as you & me ?
Well God’s answer is simple – Look to Christ !
How should human-beings fit-in to Creation ?
Well, God became one – God became a human being to show us !
We look to Jesus !
Having thought briefly this morning about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – we see
Prayer – Recognising the Presence of God – He’s already here !
Effective Prayer – Look to Jesus !
As per Julian of Norwich – Align our wills – our minds – our hearts – with Christ’s
And Christ’s prayer – that we should fulfil our part in His mission
· as the Father sent Me, I send you
· I pray that you may be One
creating Harmony and One-ness and Wholeness in the universe
& for us, How ?
In our 3rd reading, Jesus says – Without Me you can do nothing! I Am the Vine, you are the branches – Abide in Me – Dwell in My Love – and as you have experienced My Love – Love one another – Share My Love as I have loved you
Christian Unity is simply the Unity based-on – grounded-in – Christ’s Love
And it includes everyone ! There is no “them & us”
Christ’s love is for ALL of us
Let’s take the opportunity this week to Pray for Christian Unity
To pray that we experience more of Christ’s Love
Both us individually – experiencing it directly
But also, us experiencing Christ’s love through each other, and for each other
This is what the church needs !
This is what the world needs !
For God’s Love to flow
Look to Christ – and see his Love – receive his Love
And let God’s Love flow
Let God’s will be done and His Kingdom of Love – Come … through us !
Challenge & Blessing
Go out in the Love of Christ – and see the world transformed
Be transformed yourselves by the Love of Christ – the Love of God
and the Blessing of Almighty God
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit
By with you and upon you and those you love
This day and forever
Rev David Morgan
Sunday 13th Jan 2019 Remembering for the Future
If we think everything’s perfect in life, then … there’s no need for new year’s resolutions !
But … if this is not the case – and we can surely all agree on that !
Then, why don’t we resolve to change – or do we delude ourselves that the problems of this world are nothing to do with us !
So, why don’t we resolve to do something differently – resolve to change – to make a difference in the weeks and months ahead!
Our readings today – were all taken from the Lectionary:
1st we had Psalm 29 – Ascribe greatness, ascribe glory to the Lord our God – Why ?!!
Glory, Greatness is not something that’s ours - to dispose of as we may wish – for us to give !
We ascribe Greatness, Glory, to God, because it’s His due !
It’s right & proper – it’s just … What is Justice ? simply rendering to each one their due !
Simply rendering to each one their due ! To each other – yes ! AND rendering to God His due !
We ascribe Greatness – we ascribe Glory to God – because of
Who He is ! because of What He is ! Because of what He has done !
Our 2nd reading from Isaiah: I AM the LORD your God,
I have created you, I have formed you, for My glory.
Fear not! For I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name, you are Mine
Words of comfort from the Old Testament
Do we ascribe to God – the Glory, the Greatness He is due ?
Do we give Him the praise, the honour ? Do we give Him the credit, the recognition – that He is God
And for some of us, perhaps that should be Resolution No 1 !
For, if we – as Christians don’t give God His glory … who do we think will ? And this is important, not just as a justice issue. But because … we’re both rejecting, or neglecting - the comfort God’s offering us …
AND, we’re not letting other people know either - that God loves them and is calling to them too
that God loves and is calling to the whole of creation – to each and every part of HIS creation
We’re told In Deuteronomy – chapter 6 verses 4-7: Hear ye! The LORD our God, the LORD is one !
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength
Keep these words in your heart
Talk about them
And teach them diligently to your children
Or Psalm 78: Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD
And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done
Or in the NT, 1 Peter 3.15: But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts
And always be ready to give a defence – meekly and fearfully
to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is within you
Let us not forget, what God has done for us …
Let us not forget – let us not neglect … Almighty God –
who has created us – who has redeemed us – who sustains us
Our God who loves us … and who loves all of His creation
Do we talk about the things God has done for us ? (as we’re told to in Deuteronomy 6.7)
Do we speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs
singing & making melody in our hearts to the Lord
giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
as we’re encouraged to do in Galatians 5.19-20
It is important we do not forget !
It is important we do not neglect ! what the Lord has done for us
And, that’s why it’s important we come together … on a Sunday – and during the week …
to support – to encourage – to remind ourselves
It’s why God’s given us the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion
A living reminder – A living proclamation – of our Lord’s death until He comes – Immanuel – God with us
It’s important we remember – for ourselves … for the future !
And it’s important we remember – for others
– to pass on, to share our experience & our knowledge – to the next generation
And, actually, it’s very appropriate now, at the beginning of a new year – to think about the past … and to remember ! What we want to take forward from it ! What we want to leave behind !
Things that have happened in the past – can happen again … if we want them to … or if we let them!
In the musical Cats, there’s an interesting song:
All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again
Seems to beat a fatalistic warning
And the streetlamp gutters
And soon it will be morning
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn't give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin
Memories are interesting – sometimes they force themselves upon us – some times they’re good, some times bad. However, we can also choose to remember. In our lives (for all of us) we have a plethora of experiences to choose from:
For the present and the future, what are the experiences that we want to take on and develop, leaving the others behind ?
We can dwell on some injustice of the past or choose a time when someone pleasantly surprised us. We can remember special people and what they meant for us – and thereby what they still mean for us, or we can pretend that someone never existed. Memories are a gift from God which we so often take for granted and neglect. Whatever it is we want to do, we can find a memory for a starting point – even if it’s 10, 20, 60 or even more years ago – some of our oldest memories may be our most useful and valuable ones.
The simple passage of time, doesn’t affect the importance or unimportance of events
Or the usefulness or un-usefulness of remembering them
In our 3rd reading, we had the baptism of Christ. Something that happened a very long time ago, but an event we should remember. The early church obviously thought so – being described in all 4 Gospels
At Christmas, we celebrate God becoming flesh – God becoming one with us in our humanity – in a human being - Jesus of Nazareth
At the Baptism of Jesus, we celebrate God becoming one with us human-beings, in spirit
and we recognise the person of Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah – THE anointed One
which is all Christ or Messiah means – anointed – Jesus the Christ THE anointed One
with the Holy Spirit
and we as Christians are one in the flesh with Christ, and one with each other,
as we recognise our common humanity
and we become one with Him – with God – in our spirit – as we receive the Holy Spirit of Christ
=> which is what baptism signifies
- death to the old ways of what is wrong in our lives; and
- new life in Christ – recognising in Christ that part of our old life made in the image of God
The Christian Life starts with the receipt of the Holy Spirit of Christ
and continues as we grow in likeness – day-by-day … year-by-year … grow in likeness to Christ
People sometimes get all het-up about how you should be baptised – ie, how you should show you are a Christian – for that’s what baptism is – it’s a sacrament which visibly proclaims you are a Christian.
But quite simply the way you show you are a Christian is by showing you have the Spirit of Christ
We as Christians are under the anointing of Christ Himself – we are under the baptism of Christ Himself
And whether we’re baptised by … sprinkling or by immersion – whether we’re baptised as an infant or an adult – the important thing is, do we today have the Spirit of Christ ?!!
Do we today, show our family resemblance to God as His children by displaying the Spirit of His Son - Jesus ? Do we love God ? And do we love each other ? Do we have enemies ? How do we think of them ?!! Are we like Christ – God’s emissary of love and peace and reconciliation ?
Within the URC, we have a Confirmation Service available for those who were baptised as babies which gives them the opportunity to publicly proclaim they’ve adopted the Christian Life and made the Christian faith their own.
But we all have the opportunity every day – to publicly confirm our baptism – whether it was last year … or many years ago – whether we can remember it, or not – we have the opportunity today to confirm our baptism by how we choose to live our lives. We have the opportunity today, and every day, to pray for God’s strength and God’s Spirit – to confirm our baptism, or not to confirm it! – to confirm our Christian Faith & show whether we’re a Christian, or not – by what we say … by what we think … and by what we do … in our day-to-day life
The Spirit of Christ – our baptism of Christ – we can’t be a Christian without it!
– loving & forgiving, kind, gentle and forbearing, faithful & joyful
– Peace & harmony, goodness, rightness, wholeness
It’s not easy being a Christian – even in the good-times, but especially when the times are tough
But God is still with us – and because there are joys and sorrows – both good times and bad times in life – God has given us the gift of remembering !
When I’m finding things tough – and this last year has been tough – I like to remember times when
I felt God close to me – it helps my faith and also helps me recognise God’s presence with me today. Jesus never said life was going to be easy – what he said was that I’ll never leave nor forsake you!
If we draw near to God, He’ll draw near to us. If I find it difficult to pray, I remember times when God was near - when I felt His loving touch. It may be many years ago, perhaps even when I was a child, or perhaps sometime around the time of my call to the Ministry, or perhaps just a few weeks or months ago.
Interestingly, many of the times when I’ve known God to be close have been times that were difficult. One way of looking at the adversities of life is to see them as being like an extension paper of an exam. It’s actually a compliment for us to be asked the harder questions of life and what then is most important is not why have we been asked the question, but how we respond to the question –
whatever our circumstance, we can choose to love or to hate, to care or ignore.
The only way faith grows, the only way we know we love (or that we don’t!) is by being tested or by “having a work-out”.
When everything’s fine, it’s easy to be kind, loving and considerate (although even here we’re often not), but when we’ve got troubles, when everything’s going wrong, when we’re under pressure – that’s the time our Christian Faith has the opportunity to shine.
It’s when the herbs or seeds of our life, our very heart gets crushed, that the fragrance of our life is released – whether that be Love or anger & hate.
Many times we fluff it, but God still loves us and Jesus is still there with us – whether we realise it or not.
We can learn from the Bible – not just the NT, but the OT as well – Remember for example Joseph. God was with him just as much when he was in prison – Remember - he was falsely accused of attempted rape by his owner’s wife and without any trial thrown into prison – God was just as much with Joseph in prison, as He was when Joseph was free and had unparalleled power as the No 2 in the whole of Egypt with control over Pharaoh’s wealth and ware-houses
We can learn from the Bible – Remember …
We can learn from our own knowledge and experiences – Remember …
We can learn and stir-up and encourage each other – Remember …
NOT, Oh why can’t it be like it was the past !
BUT, we did this before, we can do it again
We did that wrong – let’s not do that again
We did that in part – we can do it differently this time
Remembering for the Future ! For the present and the future, what is the knowledge and the experiences that we want to take on and develop, leaving the others behind ?
Are we going to dwell on some injustice of the past or choose a memory of someone pleasantly surprising us. Are we going to remember special people and their example and be inspired and encouraged, or shall we pretend they never existed or that you couldn’t do that now !
Memories are a gift from God
And we can choose … what we will remember … and what we will forget !
What we will do differently in the year ahead … and what we’ll do the same !
And with all the wonderful things in life – in creation – whatever we do, let’s not forget the Creator !
Let’s Remember … to give Him His glory !
And when we look at all that’s wrong in life, let’s recognise that this is an opportunity for us to make a difference !
This new year, with all its impending conflicts and change
Let’s not forget Easter and the Cross – apparently the height of evil and injustice … and yet we see – a real victory of Love and Life over hate and death.
Let us remember the closeness of God to us in Christ crucified and risen!
Let us reflect and dwell on this – and then let us also remember times in the past when God has been faithful to us personally (or perhaps to someone we know and love)
and then bearing-in mind what God has already done and is doing for eternity, let’s look with expectation for what God will do in the coming months of 2019!
And whatever this may be, let us remember that whatever happens we know that our Lord both loves us and is with us – Christ Jesus! – both in this life, and ...
When the dawn of the next life comes
This year will be a memory too
And a new day will begin
Rev David Morgan
Sermon at St Mark’s for January 6th 2019
What day is it today?
Anyone here Russian? ….
According to them we got it all wrong TOMORROW is Christmas DAY
However for most of us it is
the first Sunday in the New Year so not a bad time to look at NYRs
New Year resolutions.
The practice of
making New Year’s resolutions goes back over 3,000 years to the ancient
Babylonians. There is just something about the start of a new year that gives
us the feeling of a fresh start and a new beginning. In reality, there is no
difference between December 31 and January 1. Nothing mystical occurs at
midnight on December 31.
What do we resolve to do better next year? What do we
want to learn? How do we want to live? Who do we want to be?
This time of the year can be all about making New Year resolutions. Now whether or not you consciously make an NYR I am sure that there is no harm in using this new year start up to RESOLVE to do or think or say something that can be repeated during 2019.
So let’s look at Resolutions.
--- a firm decision to do or not to do something.
Very often a resolution has a bearing on something that did or did not
happen in the past.
I resolve to eat less and drink less refers to what has happened in the
I resolve to be a better person refers to the person you were.
I resolve to be a better parent refers to inadequacies of the past.
Resolutions are often founded on past events…. But they can also be
dreams and aspirations
I resolve to keep my office tidy – now for those that know my office
that is a huge challenge…. What I need to do first is assess what can be moved,
or indeed thrown away then address my dream for what it could look like and how
it can help me to be more efficient.
Asses then address
Resolutions are made in the present, are influenced by the past and are
intended to have a bearing on the future.
Resolutions are often long term – one tends to resolve to do something
life changing, repeatable and continuous not just something that can be done
full stop. Resolutions are there to change our lives and the lives of others.
So we resolve to be more caring, more loving and to help those in need.
Resolutions need to be refreshed and New Year is a good time to do this
but, of course any time is also good. Resolving can be part of our daily,
weekly or monthly life. Resolving is pivotal to our forward looking activities.
Resolving acknowledges that there are influences beyond our current
actions there is something outside of ourselves.
Good resolutions and bad resolutions – what is the difference and how
can we tell which is most appropriate?
Here we are beginning to sail into the world of faith and belief.
What do other faiths make of NYR?
What could be the Jewish NYRs?
foundation of our faith and the greatest act of worship.
Let us try to begin the New Year by perfecting our prayer, our communication with our Creator.
Whenever in need, turn to your Lord, because no one will be there for you like the One who created you. A lot of us get bored easily and end up spending hours on end on sites such as Facebook, rather than using our time to talk to our Creator.
Both Muslim men and women need to improve on their hijab etiquette. We are slowly losing sight of the importance of Hijab and its significance in our everyday lives as Muslims. We might live in a society that is non-Islamic but we must try to maintain our Islamic beliefs and identities to the fullest, especially with our Hijab. It is more than a piece of fabric; Hijab is a way of living, a code of conduct.
What sort of New Year’s resolution should a Christian make?
The Bible does not speak for or against the concept of New Year’s resolutions. However, if a Christian determines to make a New Year’s resolution, what kind of resolution should he or she make?
Given that the word
Christian is derived from the existence of Christ I suppose that our
resolutions have to take that into account and so in looking at how others have
perceived, accepted and promoted the existence of the person and teachings of
Christ we have been steered towards the reading from Ephesians which finishes
with the observation that “In him and through faith
in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
There are those who
feel (myself included) that the existence of Jesus Christ underlines the
importance of the contemporary nature of our creator – God.
Paul was surely struggling to find relevance to the contemporary world, both Jew and Gentile for his acceptance of the nature and nurture of his view of Christ.
Attitudes and actions
2000 years ago can still provide a platform for our contemporary attitudes to
community engagement and action.
So perhaps our
Christian NY resolutions need to focus on helping us to establish the relevance
of a belief in God within contemporary life. This is not something we do on
Sundays but all week - all month - all years. Only in this way can we claim
that Christianity is of today.
This is not to ignore
the Bible and our attempts to interpret stories of events 2000 years ago but to
give us a reason to scrutinize and discover meaning that is useful today.
One of the most important events in the Maggi story is the fact that they returned home another way thus prompting the slaughter of many children. I reckon that is quite an event and needs a little more that ‘they had been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod’ If that is the case then we perhaps need to RESOLVE to do things that we dream about.
I suppose the fact
that the wise men returned to their own country along a route that avoided
meeting up with Herod can be looked at in a number of ways. How would we
describe this ‘divine’ intervention today? Do we respond to dreams?
Or today would it be
a tweet or a text message?
How do we respond to
Do we still have dreams
that we listen to and act upon?
There are two sorts
of dreams – those when you are asleep and those when you are awake. Which do we
listen to mostly?
Day dreams we are
more in control of than night dreams.
I suggest that we
often dismiss our sleep dreams more than our conscious day dreams.
Our conscious dreams
can be part of our resolutions and our actions.
Now at the start of
this New Year let us turn our dreams into resolutions and actions … let us join
with our Jewish friends and study our Bible more and with our Muslim friends in
a determination to be closer to our creator and as Christians to align
ourselves with Christ’s endeavors to proclaim a new way of contemporary
community thinking and action.
Our conscious dreams can be our resolutions.
Let’s resolve to feed
our dreams ….
Tony Othen - Elder at St Mark's
Sermon Greenwich 6th August 2017
‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Ps. 34, v.8
Isaiah 55 v. 1 – 6 Matthew v. 13 -21
Do animals speak?
I’m sure that if I asked, most of you would admit that fantasy played a part in your life. Where would we be without Pooh Bear, Mrs. Tiggywinkle, Captain Spock … or even a fantasy football competition? We do need those opportunities to exercise our imaginations, because we are human and sometimes life is challenging and drear.
More than 40 years ago I did an OU course that involved a bit about children’s literature and its role in helping children to read. I remember considering fantasy writing and being introduced to the poet Coleridge’s comment that at times we have to “willingly suspend disbelief” if we are to get the full value from it, though I know now that he was really referring to poetry. In the adult literature and film world there have been some classic examples where much of the setting of our modern world has been abandoned in order to be able to set human relationships into a context that is uncluttered – Gulliver’s travels, Brave new world, and perhaps the whole of science fiction
They are a rich source, which we neglect at our peril, because many embody important truths that we might otherwise find it difficult to talk about. Should we then at least be more discriminating in how we view Scripture as a whole and accept that some elements of narrative may there for a similar purpose? The difficulty is in knowing which and where. And we will disagree, as readers have done over hundreds of years. So, when it comes to miracles – how do we deal with them? In discussing the miracles of Jesus, the Revd. Jeffrey John draws the distinction between those for whom everything that happened is a fact and is beyond discussion and those who suggest that with our 21st century, more scientific understanding we can probably explain away some of the more extreme elements of events. But either way, we fall short of the truth we seek and what the gospel writers may have been wanting to achieve for us, and there could be a spectrum of understanding between the two views described. Simply asking what really happened may be the wrong question.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we just want to be spectators, or participants and enter into a situation. Of course we cannot enter in as first century Jews – but we can be human beings wondering about this man Jesus. Could we see ourself as a one of the disciples, worrying about Jesus needing time to be quiet, or feeling responsible for all these people who have nothing to eat; do we have something to eat ourself but are reluctant to enjoy it if others have nothing, and there’s too little to share; or when suddenly there IS enough to pass round, are you suspicious of it – or are you suddenly curious and seriously determined to attend to what Jesus is saying?
And the same applies to listening to the prophet Isaiah. We are in Exile and after years we are doubtful that life will change – but here is the voice of God through Isaiah saying that life can be different if we will take what is on offer. We can be part of a new Exodus and enjoy manna from heaven rather than the junk food that comes from Babylon – the worshipping of false gods.
We can see what the answer ought to be … but why is it then rejected? Of course we can see in Jesus’ miracle the call to provide material food. We can leave it to the work of aid agencies and foodbanks, all be it with our support. We can decry a world which finds it hard to solve this problem and we can grieve over a society which seeks comfort in all kinds of riches that seem so unnecessary. Talking about this aspect of the miracle in the Methodist Recorder newspaper last week the writer commented that although material poverty needs attention, what is a more important concern for the world is spiritual poverty. I think we know what he means – and yet there seems to be a hunger for the supernatural in a whole variety of ways other than Christianity or other major faith groups.
I had time to kill in a shopping mall recently and, dangerously, found myself in the shop of a well-known bookseller. As I browsed I found three whole tiers of books on “spirituality” … but could see nothing there or anywhere else on what would normally be labelled “religion” … nor under “health and well-being”. So, if we as Christians are meant to be major players in the spiritual business what are we up to?
Some years ago the Methodist Church produced a report and study guide entitled “Time to talk of God” – aimed at improving the Christian ability to talk about God in the everyday – and so to make easier ordinary conversations with non-Christians about God. If we can’t do it in church, then where can we do it? And so how, when asked, can we talk easily about the feeding miracle? I’m sure we’ve all heard of that quotation from the first epistle of Peter: “Always be ready to justify… the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3, v. 13) It’s a very personal question … and we may not feel confident to give a fluent answer, because we know we do not have the whole truth and most of us are still learning … but we should try and be as prepared as we can. In that same study guide a comment was highlighted: “Many long for God, yet are prevented from finding him.”
Advice on how to give answers about faith and miracles can also be too pat to help. Last week I was given a Christian magazine – not one I would have automatically chosen to look at, but one article caught my eye, about both saying and doing the gospel. Suggestions discussed included keeping a pile of tracts at hand, ready for any visitors who might call, and having an evangelistic message on your answerphone …
Those would certainly be being upfront about your faith … my feeling though is that generally Jesus was much more subtle in his approach, thinking about the sensibilities of people.
If we take his approach on the mountainside, when the disciples posed the problem of the need for food, he said “You can do it … between you” and it was then seen that only a little was needed to solve the problem. That ‘little’ however was first offered to God: Jesus took the bread, thanked God, broke it and then the disciples could take it back and distribute it. In this account we had no further mention of the fish and it seems fairly clear that Matthew wanted his readers to make the link with the Eucharist – the celebration of which would probably have become quite standardised by the time he was writing. Both Jesus’ listeners and Matthew’s readers, as Jews, would have been familiar with other accounts of miraculous feeding – manna in the desert with Moses, the oil and flour that never ran out with Elijah … and a less well-known account of Elisha, in a time of famine:
So he set it before them, and they ate, and had some left over, as the Lord had said. (2 Kings 4, v.42 -44)
We can see the link – but there is more. Twenty loaves for 100 men is not too impossible, even though each would have been more like a roll than a large sliced! But Jesus fed 5000 plus the women and children with just five loaves – a super abundance by comparison. So are we here being shown God’s final outcome – the messianic banquet – prepared for all, with the 12 baskets of pieces for the inclusion of the 12 tribes of Israel.
But should we today be too mystified. The God we worship is He who in Christ did that much greater miracle in Jesus of giving himself up to death and rising again. We celebrate that most especially in the Eucharist, but through God’s compassion and forgiveness we can be in a special relationship day by day. We don’t understand it fully but perhaps we can give our neighbours a taste of it in our conversations of the spiritual, and in our trying to be the body of Christ in resolving material needs.
Today Anglicans celebrate the Transfiguration. That was a special revelation to a few – but for all our benefit. We here can put ourselves on another hillside, and be participants in Christ’s abundance if we so choose. How the miracle happened then we don’t know – but the point is that it did. Let’s get on with it. And let us taste and see that the Lord is good.
Sermon – 21 February 2016
St. Mark’s United Reformed-Methodist Church, Greenwich
Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18
Luke 13: 31-35
Identity – Out of Darkness Comes Destiny
“My father was a preacher. My grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher. My only brother was a preacher. My daddy’s brother is a preacher. So, I didn’t have much choice.”
With those words, Martin Luther King, the great American campaigner for racial equality, explained not just his career choice but his vocation, his life-long commitment.
He was clear about his identity as a Christian preacher. He understood the context in which he lived – segregation in the United States based on racist policies – and he understood God’s call to love, and Jesus’ loving ministry.
And he was brave in the face of unbelievable hostility.
At a time when he was being bombarded with death threats and battling fear and weariness, he prayed aloud telling God he could not go on.
But then he felt an inner voice saying, “Martin Luther King, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even to the end of the world.”
Talking about that experience later he said: “I tell you I’ve seen lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roar. I’ve felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone… My fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
And face it he did. Because Martin Luther King understood the mind of God, his mission and ministry was one that came to personify non-violence. He identified with the love of God - not racial hatred.
He felt an inner voice saying, “Martin Luther King, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for the truth. And, lo, I will be with you. Even to the end of the world.”
Martin Luther King knew who he was, understood his destiny and because of that he did not give up hope.
Not after he was imprisoned many times, not when he was sentenced to 386 days of hard labour for organizing a bus boycott, not when he and his family were threatened with violence, not when the laws of the land were pitted against him. Instead he fought on and got those laws changed. The U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that Alabama’s segregation laws were unconstitutional.
Martin Luther King said: “We have lived under the agony and darkness of Good Friday and with the conviction that one day the heightening glow of Easter would emerge on the horizon. We have seen truth crucified and goodness buried, but we have kept going with the conviction that truth crushed to earth will rise again. Now our faith seems to be vindicated.”
This is the second Sunday of Lent, a time to reflect on our identity as followers of Jesus, our destiny as Christians in world filled with injustices.
Today, both texts are about identity and vocation. Through the solemn and strange ritual, Abram belongs to God and his mission. So does Jesus. Whatever the powers-that-be think, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to fulfil the meaning of the ritual that Genesis 15 (our first reading) narrates.
Identity is not just a matter of biology and culture. At its root, identity grows from our relationship with God. Both Abram and Jesus encounter this in the darkness. But the darkness does not overwhelm them, because they are certain of who they are, because God has told them.
So both are able to embrace the vocations that grow from their identity, vocations that grow from their identity, vocations that will lead, through darkness and death, to the salvation of the world.
Jesus was heading to Jerusalem to his death, his destiny. It was an act of love. That’s why he likens himself in our Gospel passage to a mother hen gathering her chicks about her. This is a picture of a God who cares intimately about his people.
He identifies himself with the God of love, the God who care for every one of us, especially the poor, the vulnerable in our communities.
His coming sacrifice in Jerusalem heralds a new kind of thinking, a new kind of Kingdom where love is supreme, love conquers. We see many prequels of this kingdom in the ministry of Jesus as he heals the sick, feeds the hungry, gives hope to the hopeless.
This is our story. This is where we get our identity. This is our destiny.
Lent is a good time to focus on our identity – both as a church community and as individuals.
On my way to Bible Study on Ash Wednesday I saw a man emerging from the Blackheath Railway Station with ashes on his forehead, a perfectly formed cross. It surprised me a bit. He really stood out from the crowd and I give him credit for that. He knew who he was and wasn’t afraid to say it.
We don’t have that kind of tradition in our church so how do we identify ourselves?
A couple of weeks ago a young woman from Brazil came to the service with me to see what a Protestant service in a small church in Greenwich was all about. Afterwards she said how delighted she was to see a woman in the pulpit, two women reading Scripture, a woman lighting the candle at the beginning of the service. Surely that says something about who we are – open to all people sharing their gifts of ministry and service in this place.
This is certainly part of our identity at St. Mark’s.
Some of us have volunteered in the Greenwich Winter Night Shelter over the past few Thursday nights, welcoming guests who would otherwise be sleeping on the cold concrete of this very wealthy city.
Surely we are saying as a congregation, along with other churches in Greenwich, that these are God’s children, our brothers and sisters, and that they deserve shelter, warmth, food and companionship.
This too is part of our identity in this congregation.
The signs out front of the church and the Website also reflect our identity - as a small congregation wanting to be part of the community, to serve by offering our building to community groups at nominal fees.
In May we will have an opportunity to look even further still by raising awareness and funds from Christian Aid, which reaches out to communities in need around the world with emergency relief and development assistance.
All these acts on our part help illustrate who we are as a community of faith, trying to be mindful of God’s call and Jesus’ ministry of love.
Perhaps we can do even more.
Maybe we need to begin to raise questions with political leaders as to why we have homeless in this city, constant war in the Middle East, refugees streaming to Europe fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa.
And in our personal lives we might want to look at how we treat our family and friends. Can we sing the words of the hymn – “And they will know we are Christians by our love” – with integrity?
Where does our Christian identity lead us today? What is our destiny as followers of Jesus?
Martin Luther King, who was assassinated in 1968, spoke these words the day before he was shot in Memphis, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”
He knew who he was. He identified with God, with God’s will that we love one another. He put his life on the line.
Where does our Christian identity lead us today? What is our destiny?
There is no easy or simple answer, it is something individuals and churches wrestle with all the time. And we need not be intimidated by Martin Luther King’s grand destiny, just inspired by it to find our way.
In the Gospel reading Jesus is convinced that his destiny and calling are in Jerusalem. He will not allow Herod, or anything else, to stop him.
Whatever we feel called to do (big or small, at home, in the community or in this congregation), wherever we think we may end up, continuing, day in, day out, to work for God’s kingdom is always going to be the right thing to do.
Thanks be to God.