Saturday, 29 November 2008

Sunday 30 November 2008 Advent 1, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37, Bruce

Welcome to the season of Advent. … he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

This is a season in which to live, consciously in the light of eternity. It is about the future, but is rooted in an historical occurrence.

Jesus in Mark 13 is answering questions about the future of the Temple. Far from being an impressive edifice that will last for ages, he prophesies that it will be totally destroyed. He uses the most extravagant of figures of speech, taken from Isaiah; the sun and the moon will be darkened, the earth will shake. We sometimes do the same kind of thing when we speak of a disaster of biblical proportions; we look at the current financial crisis and wonder if it’s the end of the world as we know it. It is still today a usual way of speaking in the east to talk of the mother and father of all disasters. The sky is falling on my head.

What generation would see all this? Those who were around at the truly earth shaking moment, when Jesus died and rose again. Is it true that he is the promised Messiah? Yes, he has taken over from the Temple as the focus of humankind’s relationship with God, and this was proved in AD 70 when the Temple was destroyed.

Daniel 7 talks of the coming of the Son of Man, taking his authority after a time of suffering. Jesus speaks of himself as the Son who has come into his authority, and inaugurates the period of God’s kingly rule here on earth. All of time since Jesus rose from the dead has been this new age, and we still live in it.

There is an alternative view that these prophecies of Jesus should be read with reference to current world events. This is relatively modern, going back to J N Derby in the early 19th Century, and popularised through the Schofield version of the bible; generations of readers believe the words of scripture and the copious footnotes that laid out the future history of the earth. This way of interpreting scripture had a boost in the early 1970’s with the publication Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth, and most recently with Tim LaHaye's Left Behind book series.

But we should always ask three questions when we read the Bible. What did it mean to the writer and first hearers? What does it mean to us today? And what should we do about it?

It seems plain that to Mark, Jesus was quite openly saying that there were some things he did know: Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, and it would be terrible. There were some things Jesus did not know: the exact time these events would take place, although that meant they had to be ready.

All of this was recorded faithfully, and in Mark’s case almost certainly before AD 70. The Christians were able to escape before the armies of Titus arrived to besiege the city, because they had kept in mind the words of Jesus.

However, the urgency and vibrancy of Jesus’ words echo down the ages to us. Heaven and earth may pass away, but his words will not. As we live in this age between the first and second comings, so we also must heed the words to keep watch.

Paul writing to the Corinthians thanks God for the Grace he has given them. They do not lack any spiritual gift as they wait for Jesus Christ to be revealed. From the rest of the letters to them, we learn that this was a church torn by power struggles, turning a blind eye to moral lapses, and confused and casual in their approaches to worship. And yet God has called them into fellowship with his Son, and God is faithful, able to keep them strong so that they will be blameless on that day.

And so we enter this season of Advent together. It is the reminder that this world is broken, far from perfect, and that we share in that imperfection. But a seed has been planted within each of us of Christ. We can hack back the undergrowth, lift out the weeds, pour in prayer and study of the word, and allow God to do a new work in us.

Things will not stay the same. Thankfully, there will be an end, when Jesus will ensure justice and goodness for all.

As three of our number are confirmed today, it is a celebration not of them having arrived, but rather that they have joined us on the journey. Can you remember your baptism or confirmation? Whether it was last year or longer ago than we care to remember, I call each of us to revisit our vows. This is a season in which to live, consciously in the light of eternity.

May we be filled with a spirit of trust and wakefulness this Adventide.

Discussion Questions
1. How do we respond to the often confusing words of our reading?
2. What do we think that these passages have to say to us as individuals and as the community of St Michael’s today?
3. What will during Advent do that is different or extra, so that we might become more like Jesus?

Sunday 23 November 2008 Christ the King Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 1:15-23 Melanie

I wonder if you have heard the childrens story about the blindmen and the elephant. It is about 6 blindmen, and their attempts to make sense of the elephant in front of them. The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. "How smooth! An elephant is like a wall." The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant. "How round! An elephant is like a snake." The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant. "How sharp! An elephant is like a spear." The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant. "How tall! An elephant is like a tree." The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant. "How wide! An elephant is like a fan." The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant. "How thin! An elephant is like a rope." It’s a simple story, but profound. Each man tried to make sense of the shape, but could only feel one aspect of the animal. We have a similar situation here this morning with two very different pictures of Christ.

In our New Testament reading we had the wonderful message in Ephesians where Jesus is described as the head of all things, and above every name that is named. All the fullness of God dwelt in him, and he reconciled all things to himself. This is an image of a divine king, with all the authority and power over creation.

The second picture from Matthew is quite different. Matthew shows us how Jesus sees his earthly journey as one of vulnerability, suffering and brokenness. Here is a suffering king who lives alongside us in our vulnerability and brokenness. He comes to us not in power, but in humility. This is the king who washed feet and touched lepers.

In your own journey of faith, I wonder which image of Christ you engage with, or perhaps it is a mixture of both images. Of the two pictures I would like to reflect a little on Matthew’s portrayal of Christ as the suffering king. It is an incredibly human picture, and it is worth spending some time on this human aspect of Christ at this time of year when we approach Christ coming to us in the form of a baby. Christ is portrayed as hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison. Yet the righteous who ministered didn’t recognise the face of Christ in those they met. Did they expect Christ to be all powerful? All consuming?

A bit like our picture in Ephesians
Rather than the broken, humble man that they helped each day.

Faith is not easy for many people. For myself faith is a precious gift that is both fragile and elusive. One moment it is clear and strong, the next it seems to have crumbled and vanished. The same might be said about our experience of the presence of God. One moment God can feel almost tangibly present, the next as if he’s disappeared, gone far away leaving us alone, empty, and frighteningly vulnerable.

Throughout tough times I have clung on to the picture we heard today of Christ as a suffering servant. Because it is in the vulnerability of Christ that we immediately get a sense of Christ’s compassion and strength. As we allow ourselves to be drawn into the familiar words we know that we are in the presence of a man of sorrows. Even in the light of his resurrection these images of sorrow cannot be taken away. This is a king who comes to us in the vulnerability and brokenness of the cross.

However we see Christ, one of the most uncomfortable things about having faith in God is the fact that we are called to live out God’s Kingdom in our own lives. The message for us is to share our journey with all around us - even those we would rather avoid. If we are witnesses to Christ in this world, then we have no choice but to come alongside the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner. We are called to see God in difficult places, not just when we get there, but there already, in the people living and dying there. This journey that we are following with God is one that we share with others.

Sharing the journey means opening ourselves to others as we come into relationship with them. Exposing our own feelings and vulnerability is not easy. There will be times when walking with others on their journey will mean sharing their pain and struggles. It will mean not being able to offer solutions, or ways out, from a position of power, but simply coming alongside in our own weakness - just as Christ did.

As we celebrate the festival of Christ the King today, we are on the brink of advent. We are waiting for a birth that has not yet happened. We wait and watch. We know that we wait with a king who has risen, one who draws us out of ourselves and calls us to live in relationship with him and with those around us. It is not an easy calling, but it is a road that brings great riches in this life and the next.

Sermon for Sunday 16th November 2008 Second Sunday before Advent

Benjamin Franklin once said; "Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?" The reading is about how we should use the things that God gives us.
We know that God is generous. A talent in Jesus' time was a valuable sum of money worth about two years' wages. We see from this parable that God is generous giving, say, £200,000 to the first servant, £80,000 to the second and £40,000 to the third. Think of the many blessings that God has given you. Life, family, friends, a home, possessions, health, freedom, abilities, energy, etc... and Last Sunday we gave thanks for the freedom that was secured through the sacrifice of many people including those who died and suffered through two world wars and the seventy other conflicts since.
Also, God gives every believer at least one special gift to serve the body of believers. Do you know what that gift is? You might be better asking a fellow Christian who knows you they will be able to tell you what that gift is. And with our gifts and talents comes responsibility; God expects us to use properly what is loaned to us. Everything you and I have is on loan from God. We can't take it with us when we die! God expects us to use what he has entrusted to us for His glory, to further His ways. To help the poor, sick, oppressed, homeless, imprisoned, persecuted. To grow in our knowledge and trust of God and to share this with others. To put it another way we are the face of Christ and the church in whatever we do and where ever we are. We are the faces of Christ in our workplaces, homes, leisure activities, church, school, shops, in our communities.
We need to realise that this parable teaches that we have a responsibility to make our salvation visible and secure by using the gifts that God gives. This will involve us taking risks, stepping out in faith, relying upon God and the gifts that He gives. It will involve some or many failures. The person who hasn't failed has never really tried.
It is said that Thomas Edison performed 50,000 experiments before he succeeded in producing a storage battery. We might assume the inventor would have had some serious doubts along the way. But when asked if he ever became discouraged working so long without results, Edison replied, "Results? Why, I know 50,000 things that won't work."
We have been entrusted with this beautiful church, all the people in the parish and each other. We are all the face of Christ and of the Church. It is not just up to Bruce, Robert, Melanie and Kim its up to all of us to share the good news of Christ to those outside in the community. To make sure that this Church stays open and is fit for purpose for years to come. To make sure that this building meets the needs of the people even if it feels uncomfortable or daunting. We are the body of Christ and of the Church. And if God is for us who can be against us? Don’t answer that one! Anyone visiting the sick at home or in hospital, or lends a hand or takes on a job for someone, represents the Church, Jesus himself. It’s not just the job for the vicar or the curates. It’s not just up to individuals it’s up to all of us.
For like the third servant condemned by his master for doing nothing, so too will we. The servant had not given a second thought to even cautiously investing what had been entrusted to him for a guaranteed but small return. He just played it safe. This parable is a challenge to all who are complacent in their faith, thinking that they are 'safe' yet failing to live the life that God requires of them.
In the service of God there is one ability that is the greatest ability of all. It is not sociability, compatibility, accountability, adaptability, or reliability? Is availability! If we are not available to God, no matter what other kind of ability we have, it is no good. Ability without availability is a liability.
And that means to place one's self totally, absolutely, completely at God's disposal for Him to do anything and everything He wants to do in, through, with and for us, when He chooses. Anything less than that is putting restrictions on God and writing fine print in our commitment contract to Jesus Christ. It is His servant-like attitude that provides an example to us of how we should serve God the Father.
Last Sunday we remember those who sacrificed themselves for their country and for all this meant to them. How much more should we sacrifice ourselves for God who is so much greater than any country and has given us so much, materially and spiritually. He has opened the way to eternal life for us through the sacrifice of His only Son on the cross.
One day Jesus will return and, as we say in the Creed, judge the living and the dead. Everyone will be judged by their response to the Lord Jesus. Those who have acknowledged them with their lips but not their lives will be condemned. The third servant was denounced by the master, do we want to be denounced by the Jesus? And cheat ourselves out of heaven?
We may feel that the responsibility for restoring St. Michael’s, the community inside and outside the church too huge for us to do. It is BUT I know that if we all work together with all our different skills and talents and knowledge and with God on our side – then bit by bit, brick by brick, spiritual seed sowing here and there we will do it. It will take years, we may not be here long enough to see it finished – It will happen because we want to be like the first two servants who readily received their master's gift and joyfully set about trying to use it for his advantage. We want to hear these words for ourselves. `Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master's happiness!'
The master rewarded them by giving them further responsibilities and inviting them to share in his joy. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is saying "Use it! Don't lose it". Just as an athlete who disciplines himself, training hard and eating the right foods will improve so the believer who works hard serving the Lord and disciplines themselves will grow in spiritual stature.
Prayer: Lord you have given us so much, more than we deserve, give us hearts, minds and show and keep reminding us of our gifts you have given us so that we can make good use of them and help to further your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Three questions:
A] "What am I investing in?" One way of answering this is to examine how we spend our time, money and energy. If we were to construct a league table using these factors where would God be?
B] Where am I talented? What gifts has God given you, materially and spiritually?
C] How can better serve God? We need more people to help. Like many churches we have a small number of people doing the vast majority of the tasks within the church. We need people to help with the Sunday Club, SMYL, to welcome people at the door, to help serving refreshments, and many other things. Every member of the church is equipped and called to help to build it up, numerically and spiritually.
Don't doubt your ability, just give your availability and God will honour that and help you to fulfil the task he is calling you to.

Friday, 7 November 2008


1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18
This morning we live in the present, and it’s very important that we do. The New Testament encourages us to live with the Lord day by day, trusting Him to guide us and to provide for us. We are neither to live in the past (whether filled with regret or loss on the one hand, or nostalgia on the other) – nor are we to be over-concerned about the future beyond the bounds of good stewardship. Christ commands that we be not over-anxious about tomorrow, but allow our lives to be suffused with his peace and joy which pass all understanding. Paul writes “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour; now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2). And so, today, we rejoice to say “The Lord is here – his Spirit is with us!”

Nevertheless, our Christian lives in God’s present have to be placed in a framework of God’s past and God’s future. God’s plan for his creation had a beginning and we are assured that it will have an end, in which all the mysteries, doubts, joys and sufferings of this world will find their final resolution. Last Sunday as we celebrated All Saints Day, we read from Revelation and celebrated that great day when Christ is finally glorified, we shall see his face, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. It is of that great day that Paul writes in our first reading from 1Thessalonians 4.

When and how God will bring all his plans to fulfilment no-one can say. The New Testament writers struggle as we do, because if you cannot imagine such a thing, you cannot describe it. You can only conjure up images and words which try to hint at what it will achieve, viewed from our perspective.

In this passage from 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul has one particular purpose in mind. He is writing to a group of Christians who expect Christ to return in glory very soon and establish his kingdom in all its fullness. And they have a problem which is deeply troubling them. As time goes by, a number of them are dying, and they are becoming very sad because they believe that these people will miss the Lord’s glorious return. Paul’s purpose in this section of his letter is to reassure them that they won’t miss out.

What they have forgotten is that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, so will all his followers be raised from the dead. And they will, so to speak, take precedence in the resurrection, and take absolutely full part in Christ’s glory. Moreover, we shall be reunited with those who have gone before us in the faith and (as he says) “So we will (all) be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Today we look back with thankfulness to those who gave their lives in the cause of justice, freedom and faith, and remember them with gratitude. But there must be few among us who have not experienced the loss of loved ones, and so Paul’s words speak to all of us. As Christians, we believe in the resurrection and that one day all our griefs and doubts and puzzles will be resolved, and we shall be together with the Lord who will wipe away all tears from our eyes. For those we love, this is what we can call ‘hopeful grieving’. One day we shall all be together with the Lord. Therefore, let us (like those 1st century Christians) encourage one another with these words.
Matthew 25: 1 – 13
The coming of the Bridegroom in Jesus’ story in today’s Gospel is clearly another reference to that great day when God’s Kingdom will come to its fulfilment. We are beginning to prepare for the season of Advent, the theme of which is the Coming of Christ, and so it’s appropriate that we are beginning to hear warnings about ‘staying awake’ – ‘keeping watch’ – and being prepared for the cry to go up that the Bridegroom is on his way, ‘Come out to meet him’ – when the great heavenly alarm clock sounds to herald the last day.

But in fact the idea of staying awake and keeping watch doesn’t catch the right translation here. Notice that the wise as well as the foolish girls became drowsy and fell asleep. The difference was that the wise ones had enough oil with them, and the foolish ones didn’t. So the right translation is “Be Prepared”, because if, as a disciple, you are prepared, then you can lie down and sleep in confidence, rather than trying fruitlessly to stay awake in anxiety.

Having enough oil must therefore refer to a steady relationship with the Lord which lasts over time and doesn’t run out. We keep this relationship alive by embracing him as he speaks to us through his Word, through Prayer, through meeting with him in our Worship, and taking him to ourself in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We keep it alive by listening to his commands and keeping them – caring for the needy, loving one another and being united in his Body which is the Church. That way we keep the relationship alive and close, and no distance can insinuate itself between us and our Lord.

Notice the test at the end. The Lord says to the foolish maidens: “I don’t know you.” In August I was preaching about the test of the disciple in John’s Gospel being whether we ‘recognise’ Jesus when he appears among us. Now it’s the other way round. When he comes among us, does He recognise you – or me?

It can easily happen in life that you have a great friend, but – over the years – you lose touch. Perhaps the years go by, and gradually (subtly, imperceptibly) the relationship fades to the point where the other person no longer really knows you, and eventually fails to recognise you. If that happens there will come a point when it is too late to re-establish the relationship. What once was precious, has gone. We must never allow that to happen in our relationship with Jesus.

On this Remembrance Sunday we look back with gratitude, and we look forward with great hope. But both the beginning and the end belong to Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega, and so the summons is to stay close to the One who holds in his hands both our beginning and our end, because he holds the key to life, death and resurrection, and in him is our present, our future – our hope and our salvation. Stay close – and live each day in faith and in hope.

What does the oil that keeps the lamp alight signify for you today?
Compare Matthew 7: 21 – 23. What makes the Lord recognise and know us personally? Can you think of other relevant passages such as Matthew 25: 31 – 46?
Thinking personally, what is it that makes you feel especially close to the Lord so that you recognise each other?

SERMON : 26.10. 2008. OCTOBER SERIES: “LEARNING TO TRUST HIM” – 4 : “HE WILL GO ON PROVIDING” ROBERT. Philippians 4: 4 – 20 Matthew 6: 19 –

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...” One of the most clearly focused, memorable and challenging of the commandments Jesus gave us.

Let’s take a closer look. What treasure is he talking about? It seems clear he has primarily in mind material wealth in whatever form we might choose to keep it. The sort of wealth that moth and rust can destroy, or which can be stolen. If he were preaching today, he might rephrase it: “Do not store up your worldly savings in banks where it will be gambled away faster than if you had put it all on the horses, or in stocks and shares where irrational fear will somehow impel people and institutions you are never likely to meet to sell it all off under your nose at bargain prices. Neither put it under your bed in cash where some opportunist burglar may snatch it away the moment your back is turned.”

What is your greatest treasure? It may, of course, not be a material possession at all in the normal sense of the word. It may be a relationship. A husband, wife, son, daughter, friend. That treasure, too, can be snatched away as sadly we hear too often on the news – by a landmine in Afghanistan, a knife or a bullet in the street, or a careless driver on the Motorway. Life and health can be only too fragile; fortunes can be made and lost remarkably quickly; hopes and ambitions blossom but often crumble over time. The pessimistic (not to say ironic) verses of old Omar Khayyam echo down the centuries:

“The worldly hope men set their hearts upon
turns ashes – or it prospers; and anon,
like snow upon the desert’s dusty face
lighting a little hour or two – is gone.”

From a Christian viewpoint, this is not gloomy pessimism – it is simply realism. Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, but store up treasure in heaven, is good advice both for the present and the future. It means right priorities both for this life and the next.

We now have a strong atheistic advertising campaign launched in London to counter current Christian advertising. So on the side of London buses we have the advertisement: “God Probably Does Not Exist. Don’t worry - Enjoy Life!”

Well, I have to say as a Christian that (on the whole) I don’t worry, and I certainly do enjoy life. And my Christian faith is central to that enjoyment. But I remain conscious that I am mortal and this world is my temporary home. And so I try my best to hold everything I have dear in an open palm of the hand. There are two ways to hold things you treasure – in a clenched fist, and with an open hand, palm up. You actually enjoy it more in an open palm. You can see it better, enjoy it more, and you look with a greater awareness because you know that (like a beautiful butterfly) it may not stay long.

Our first reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians which he wrote while in a Roman prison – hardly the place you would choose for a holiday. Yet it is one of his most joyful and thankful letters. Today’s reading begins with the exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again ‘Rejoice’.” Now that would be something to put on the side of a London bus!

And because he is writing in a time of hardship, he has wise words for us in difficult circumstances. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

He then goes on to tell us to focus our minds – not on the negative, the worst case scenario, or in escapism – but on everything that is noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.

That is clearly the focus he has achieved in his enormously difficult circumstances in prison (and, remember, he had done nothing wrong), because he then recommends the frame of mind he has achieved: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” May I strongly recommend that you read this passage again – and again – and even commit it to memory.

This is the fourth in our October series of sermons under the heading “Learning to Trust Him” and the title for today is: “He will go on providing.” In the midst of an uncertain life, the Christian learns not to be anxious because our trust is deep in God, who is our rock and our strength, the same yesterday, today and forever. Whatever your circumstances today, and whatever problems or uncertainties you may be facing tomorrow, may the peace of God, which transcends understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.

I would end there this morning, but this October series requires us to focus this trust down on to one area of our life, and the life of our church in particular – and that is the Renewal Project for St Michael’s. Having received two presentations at the beginning of this month, we are now in a period of reflection, prayer and choice. How does today’s theme relate to that?

Come back to the overall title: “Learning to Trust Him” and the particular theme for today “He will go on providing”. A moment’s reflection will show us immediately how relevant they are. The proposals we have seen outlined are difficult – difficult to envisage, often difficult to understand, difficult to decide, certainly difficult to put into practice let alone pay for. But if we follow Paul’s words, we are not to go milling around, probably getting more confused in the process, especially at a time when it is essential that the church is totally united in faith and vision. We are not to be anxious, but we are to pray with thanksgiving and focus on everything that is noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable. We are to trust God who has guarded and guided this church for the past 150 years and who is not going to stop now, unless we drive out the Holy Spirit with our own set ideas and prejudices and ambitions.

And as we can’t even take the next step of examining the scope and cost of the various elements without spending a very considerable sum of money, we need to learn to trust God with our giving in a new way. If we truly believe that God will go on providing for us personally, then we will feel generous and confident enough to provide God’s church with the means for him to lead us forward.

This project is going to be a great test of our practical faith. He is going to ask us to put it into action probably in ways we have not contemplated before. We must not fail the test. We certainly do not need to fail, because the God we are here to worship today is utterly trustworthy. If we put our practical trust where our spiritual mouth is, He will certainly not fail us – and what He has in store for us both personally and as a church, is more wonderful than we can begin to imagine.

What does it mean to store up treasure in heaven? How do we do it?
What is the connection between your treasure and your heart?
How are we called to put this into practice (a) in our personal lives and (b) in our church?

Sunday 19 October 2008 1 Timothy 6:6-10 Luke 18:18-30 Melanie

We pray that God would meet us where we are and move us on to where he would have us be. Amen

I wonder how many of you have ever played this game? Hands up those who haven't done this? Thrown a stone in a still clear pond, and watched the ripples go out and out. Further and further. Everyone here must have done this - Thrown a stone - to see how far you can throw, or competed with someone else. All of a sudden that one action causes endless activity in the water - and yet at the centre is still that one stone, that one place where things are still.

In a way it's the same as we have done today - come away from all that activity that surrounds us, busy lives, things to be done, the ripples and activity of day to day life. We've come away from all that activity, for just a short time, to this place of stillness and quietness. To a place where we can come to God. It is an action that goes against society - against the busyness, the constant movement that surrounds us every day.

It is an action that reminds me of the bestseller book ″The cellist of Sarajevo″. It is the true story of life in a war torn city. Sarajevo was surrounded by snipers, who would take pot shots at anything that moved below them in the city square. Buildings were destroyed - architecture gone; ruins of houses were all that was left. The opera house had been burnt down. In the middle of all this sat a young man. He used to be a cellist in the opera house. All he had now was a burnt stool that he had recovered from the opera house. As he sat in his room he gazed out across the square, and saw people queuing up to buy bread - that most basic of food - just queuing for bread. As he watches this little group of people, a sniper opened fire from a rooftop and killed 22 of them. 22 people dead in an instant. Something snapped in the cellist. He took his stool and his cello, and went to the burnt out remains of the opera house. He sat on the remains of the stage, now open to the elements, and played. He played an adagio by Albinoni. The first time he played, some people came to watch. At the end they didn't clap, they just quietly went away. The next day he did the same - took his stool, and cello, sat on the stage and played. A few more people came, but again no one clapped - they quietly went on their way. The cellist did this for 22 days - one day for each of those that had been killed. Each day, more people came to watch and listen. Each day they all went away silently.

But the miracle was that during that time he played, none of the snipers opened fire. It was as if they recognized that this was a sacred moment, a moment that they could not touch or harm; a moment when God was truly present in that war torn city.

What was even more amazing was that one action was replicated across the world. In New York 22 orchestras joined together to play. All over the world people came together in recognition of those 22 anonymous individuals. The one action by the cellist reverberated throughout the world.
We may never know the consequences of our own acts of kindness. Neither should we. They are there and are held with integrity before God. They are often simple actions that ripple outwards towards others.

Let's go back to those ripples. The interesting thing is that the deeper we throw the stone, the more ripples there are. Unless we get the depth, we don't get the impact of the stone in the same way. With God too, unless we have that deep still point at the centre, our actions are not going to be as effective.

How does this fit into our readings today? Both speak of what lies in our deepest heart. One speaks of what it is that we love most. If we love money beyond other things, then our roots, our heart will be in the wrong place. The other tells of the rich young man. For him, he seemed to have everything in his life in place. But his heart was fixed on riches rather than on what was really important. If our hearts are shaped by wealth rather than the deeper mysteries of life, how can we expect our actions to ripple out and have any real impact on those around? Unless we take time to know God at our very deepest level, we will struggle to make an impact on the world around us.
The readings we have today do not speak against those who are rich or wealthy. Rather they ask difficult questions about where our hearts lie. In which country do we dwell? What drives our innermost thoughts? What will be our answer?

Are we to be like the cellist who had nothing to give except music? Or are we, like the rich man, to turn away with sadness because in our deepest being we prefer to dwell with riches?

Material wealth and security or the unfathomable riches of God - the choice is ours.

Sunday 12 October 2008 Matthew 6:1-4 Learning to Trust Him - Step by Step Bruce

Earlier this year I was helping my daughter with a topic in her A level history – the USA. We looked at prohibition, and then at the 1929 Wall Street Crash. I wonder if in 80 years, school pupils will be doing projects on the economic situation in 2008, what the governments and bankers did wrong (or right), and how ordinary people lived through it all.

When we planned this series “Learning to Trust Him” earlier in the year, we had no idea that the rollercoaster ride would be so scary and bumpy. As Kim reminded us last week, there are many in the lesser developed world who must literally pray “Give us each day bread enough for today”. There are many in our own society, perhaps in our circle of family and friends, who have fears about their job, their home, their heating, their retirement.

The good news contained in the bible and still speaking to us today is that we can trust God to provide for our needs. This is true for us as individuals, and it is true for us as the community of the church of Jesus Christ.

I use that language of community, fellowship, involvement, and yet I am aware that we each have our own understanding of what it means to be a Christian. A friend of mine has suggested that there are six ways to think of Church:


We are not all the same. It is important to start from where we are, not where someone else thinks we ought to be. So I bring to you three questions:

Where would you be at your happiest?
Where in fact are you?
Would you like to take a step forward?

So, what do they look like, these six ways of seeing church?

“I give a bit when I am asked because the church ought to be there in case I need it”
Church can sometimes feel a bit like a lifebuoy. There in the background, for emergencies. I’m really glad its there for important times in people’s lives and to support those who are having a rough time. I know it does a lot of good. I want the church to be there for me when I need it too but I realise it costs money to keep it going. I am willing to help out when I am asked, but I don’t think it is necessary to get involved any further than that on a regular basis.
Am I ready to give money to help ensure that the church is there whenever I might need it for myself, my family or my friends? If so, how should I work out how much and how regularly is appropriate, given its value?

“I’m happy to pay towards the cost of the bits of the church that I want and enjoy”The church offers lots of good things which help many people. I see myself as a customer, and I am happy to pay for those things that the church does that benefit me or that I approve of.
Am I ready to give money to help the church do all that it does? How can I work out what is worth paying for, and how much is my fair share?

“The work of the Church is important to me, so I will support it.”
Supporting the church is important. I might not go very often myself, but I feel strongly enough that it should be there for others. So I make sure that I support the church. I am a member, just not a very active member.
Am I ready to give money to help ensure that the church is there whenever I might need it for myself, my family or my friends? If so, how should I work out how much and how regularly is appropriate, given its value?

“I see myself as a member and I wish to contribute to my fair share of the costs”
When we are committed to an organisation, we agree to pay the annual subscription costs. We recognise the value of belonging to that group and that ultimately members carry the responsibility for the costs involved. It is all part of being committed. By contributing to the church on a regular basis, we underpin our sense of belonging and commitment to its upkeep and ongoing work.
Have I taken the trouble to discover how much it costs for our church to carry out its mission? Have I thought and prayed about how much I could contribute towards that cost, having regard to my own financial circumstances?

“My understanding of being a disciple is that I should put God first in my life”
‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ asks the Vicar of every godparent and parent at a child’s baptism. ‘I submit to Christ.’ each replies.
Submission is about recognising a higher power and giving in to that power. Submitting to Christ means putting him first in my life. My desires do not dominate my life but my response to Jesus Christ does. Jesus is in charge of my life and my giving responds to God and his mission rather than just meeting the needs of the Church.
Is my professed submission to Christ in my life reflected in how I deal with my money so that it is used first for his mission and his purpose for us? What would submission mean as I look at my income, my wealth and how I spend it?

“I am called to be Christ-like, and so I give both joyfully and sacrificially – following Jesus Christ”
Jesus had it all - a place in heaven next to his Father and honour and respect to which he was entitled. He did not need to strive for recognition and success, it was his to command but he turned his back on it all and gave it up to become a human baby, born illegitimate, to a teenage girl. He became a refugee and was brought up in a very undesirable area of the Middle East where he spent his ministry touching undesirables, healing the sick, performing miracles and pointing towards the Kingdom of God. He was falsely accused and crucified. He did all of that for us – so that we could see just how much he loved us.
We recognise that we cannot repay Jesus’ amazing sacrifice for us, but we can give praise and thanks by offering ourselves and all that he has given to us in humble adoration.
When I consider the sacrifice Jesus made for us, what is its practical influence on the decisions I make about money and other possessions?

This about you. It does not matter what others are doing. It does not matter what others think of you. Each of us might be feeling better or worse about this subject. The fact remains that God loves us completely, absolutely, as we are, not because of what we do or how much we give.

My request to you today is that you resolve to learn to trust him, more and more, day by day. Take a step forward, even a small one, in prayer, in reading the scriptures, and in giving.
Where would you be at your happiest?
Where in fact are you?
Would you like to take a step forward?