Saturday, 28 March 2009


All the Churches in the Camberley Group are spending Lent this year following a study course called “Building Better Relationships” which is based on Paul’s famous chapter in praise of Christian Love – 1 Corinthians 13. This week is the 6th in the series and we look together at the opening phrase of verse 4: “Love is patient.”

To put it in context I want to read the paragraph in my favourite translation, which is that of the New English Bible. How many hundreds of times have I read this a wedding services – and with very good reason!

“Love is patient; love is kind and envies no-one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.”

The study course has notes for each of the seven sermons, and (to my surprise) the notes accompanying this particular study – instead of concentrating on the positive phrase ‘Love is patient’ – choose to concentrate on the negative characteristic of anger and how to avoid it.

Now, of course, it’s true that if you are angry, your patience will fly out of the window. So let’s get this aspect of the study out of the way first. It’s true that we live in a society that is impatient, demanding, and wanting everything yesterday. It’s also true that part of this is because we have somehow become an angry society – although that is only part of the problem of impatience.

We need to be clear that anger can be positive as well as negative. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is indignant because his disciples try to keep children away from him. In the temple, he seethes with anger because the great building that God had intended to be a place of worship and prayer had turned – at least in part – into a den of thieves.

I sometimes feel that we are not angry enough about many of the things that happen in our world, and in our own society. We could often do with more indignation, especially when we see men, women and children – made in the image of God – being abused, neglected and without the basic necessities of life – usually through greed and the ruthless pursuit of power and wealth.

But Jesus also taught us that a violent response is not the answer. When it is truly a righteous indignation, our anger needs to be somehow turned into a constructive, assertive response that is channelled towards positive change. Easier said than done, and we can’t pursue that this morning, but when you feel angry over some injustice, it’s always worth sitting down and trying to work out how to make a constructive response.

But, having said all that, anger is usually wrong because it arises out of a selfish regard for our own pride, status, and love of self. The notes suggest five things we can work on, in order to become more controlled, and hence more patient.

1. Break the pattern of anger. We can fall into a pattern of anger at the world in general, which makes us react with instinctive impatience when something appears to cross us or irritate us – often actually quite trivial in itself. Our epistle from Ephesians 4 has wise words to say about this. Verses 26/27: “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” In other words, never let anger lead you to do something wrong, and – if you are in dispute with someone, try your very best to sort it out and reach reconciliation absolutely as soon as possible, and before it has any chance to fester. Proverbs 19:11 says: “People with good sense restrain their anger; they earn esteem by overlooking wrongs.”

2. Guard you relationships. Proverbs again tells us (22: 24/25) “Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.”

3. Release your worries to God. Anger and impatience often erupt out of an existing inner turmoil. When we are already upset, one more thing that annoys us is often the last straw that makes us explode. But in Philippians 4: 6/7 Paul tells us: “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.” If you release your inner turmoil into God’s hands, He is able to give you that inner peace which will enable you to act and react with measure and control.

4. Get some rest. Put another way – sleep on it – probably more than once – before reacting with anger. We live in a world that is irritable because people are tired, and when you’re tired, your patience snaps. The message of the notes is to get enough rest and eat properly, and then you will be better equipped to deal with all that life throws at you.

5.The 5th recipe for avoiding anger, and hence exercising patience, is called ‘Changing your Expectations’. If your attitude to the world and other people is that essentially they exist to serve your interests, it will be little wonder that you snap when this fails to happen. But Philippians 4: 8 calls us to a different attitude of mind entirely. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, what is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Set your mind, your attitude, on what is good, and the rest (so to speak) will fall into place.

That is, in summary, the theme set for today. But I really don’t want to finish without homing in rather more directly on the title ‘Love is Patient’. We need to develop a positive patience, as well as a negative resistance to anger.

Another translation for ‘patience’ is ‘longsuffering’, which originally meant to ‘suffer along-side’ someone. If you put it like that, it takes on a more positive meaning and becomes a positive action in itself, and not just a restraint on your natural irritability.

Love needs to be patient – to suffer alongside. To take simple examples, as we get older, our hearing begins to fail. Love is patient! We take longer to accomplish what seem to be simple tasks. Love is patient! Sadly our health fails – our physical health, our memory, indeed more and more often now than ever, our mental capacity. We need a love that is patient. If it’s our spouse, we need to remember that we promised honour and faithfulness ‘for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.’ That needs patience/long-suffering – you’re in it for the long haul, and you need people to be very patient with you, as well as the other way round! Dare I say that we also need to be patient with God, who will accomplish his purposes in his own way and his own time, and we are in it with Him together for a lifetime’s journey.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, the love that is patient will be kind, it will not be boastful, conceited or rude. Not quick to take offence, it keeps no score of wrongs – in humility hoping that other people will not keep a score of the number of times we wrong them.

Overarching it all, the most important thing to remember is just how patient God is with us. If we begin to consider how often we repeat the same failures and sins, how consistently we let God down and fall short of the example he has set us in Jesus, how thankful should we be that God’s love for us is patient. And his patient love is new and fresh every morning. If we keep that in mind, our love for others will become more patient, more humble and much less quick to take offence. With God’s love for us as our constant example, we will affirm (with Paul) in our own lives, attitudes and actions that “There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.”

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Sunday 22 March 2008, 40 Days of Relationship, Love is Respectful, Luke 7:36-50 Bruce

Welcome to the fifth in a series called “Living Real Relationships – with God’s Love”. This is a programme which we are following at all five churches in the Camberley Group during Lent. Appropriately for today, Mother Sunday, our theme is “Love is respectful”.

We read in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love ‘is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.’ To sum that up, we would say that it is to treat people with respect.

The definition of respect that I would like to go with is “Showing value and honour to others by your actions.”

Most people today seem to demand respect be given to them by others, but we see in Jesus that he always treated others with respect. We see this throughout his life and ministry; we see it in the gospel passage that we are looking at today.

It might be helpful to look at this from the point of view of four road signs that can guide us, signs of respect.

First Sign - Stop talking and listen.
I talk to engaged couples about the importance of communication. It is important to be assertive, to be able to ask politely and clearly for what you want. It is equally important, though, to be a good listener. This shows that you value the person who is talking to you.
Jesus was a good listener. He listened to this unnamed woman, even though in the story she never says a word. He paid close attention to her, her circumstance, who she was; Simon the Pharisee saw her as a caricature, a type.

How often would mothers wish that their children really stopped and listened when the were speaking?

Second Sign – Keep your promises.
How good it is to be a person who can be relied upon, who can be believed. The road sign is No U Turn. We promise something and we keep going, we deliver. Jesus promised this woman that her sins would be forgiven; the bible is full of promises that god ahs made to us, and the good news is that she could trust Jesus to see this promise kept, and so can we.

In our own relationships, then, we also must aim to be promise keepers. This calls for judgement and planning; we often wish to do good things for others – but we must be careful to only promise what we can deliver. We honour and value people when we keep our promises to them.

Third Sign – Yield your rights and serve others.
This is the Give Way sign. If we are surrounded by colleagues or neighbours who are determined to get ahead, be served, then we do not feel respected. But if someone puts aside their rights and offers service to you, you feel that you matter to them. The woman in the story did not dwell on her status or reputation, she quietly got on with what she felt was important, the honouring of Jesus. Sometimes we can catch ourselves feeling that we are owed something because we have done something good for another. “If I do this for you, then perhaps you will …”

The antidote to a selfish spirit is to offer service and to give way. We do this by offering common courtesy. Simon withheld from Jesus the common, usual courtesies of a foot wash and a kiss of greeting.

Another way to offer service is to do our very best for others. The woman did not pour some cheap unwanted Christmas gift over Jesus. It was expensive, deliberately so. In the same way, sacrifices in the Old Testament were not to be of substandard quality. We should aim for our worship to be of the highest standard; we are not prefect and should not condemn ourselves if we feel deficient, but at the same time we should never be slip shod, or cheap in our attitudes. Worship of God is not a fringe, optional activity for the keen.

If that is so in our relationship with God, should not also be so in our relationships with each other? We unconsciously find ourselves going to great lengths, making great efforts on behalf of people we respect and value. My prayer is that will grow into a community that will value and treat all people of every background the same.

Fourth Sign – Slow down and take time to see others in the way that God does.
You cannot see the countryside when you are whipping along at 70mph. The sign that points to the Scenic Route reminds us to take a slower, more meditative route, to soak up the scenery.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:2 “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love.”

Everyone saw the woman in the story as at best an interruption, at worst a disgrace. Jesus saw her as a worshipper, a daughter of the kingdom.

One of the privileges of being a church leader is that I get to meet many different people in a short period of time, the MP, the mayor, the widow, the school drop-out, the rough sleeper, the millionaire. Christ’s command is not just to vicars but to all followers of his son that we treat all of these with appropriate care and attention.

May our prayer each day be that we will see each person as God sees them, and treat them as honoured and valued, no matter what their background or history.

Sunday 15 March 2009, Lent 3, 40 Days of Relationship, Love is Humble, John 13:1-17 Bruce

This is the fourth in a series of talks given as part of the programme Building Better Relationships with God’s Love. A sermon on this theme is being preached at each of the churches in the Anglican Camberley Group. Today we look at the topic “Love is humble”. It tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV) ”Love does not boast, it is not proud.” If you want to build authentic relationships, you’ve got to learn to be humble.

To be humble is a way of being, a series of actions rather than a feeling.

To be humble is not to be a wimp, or shy or bashful.

To be humble is to be secure, courageous, rather than feeble, insecure, cowardly.

HUMILITY: Not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of others instead and acting in their best interest, instead of your own.

To be humble is something we can get better at, by practice and by opening ourselves to the grace of God.

What can we do?

1. Practice giving preference to others
“Honour one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10 (NIV)

2. Practice learning from others.
‘If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.‘ Proverbs 15:32 (NLT)

3. Practice admitting when wrong.
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 18:4 (NIV)

4. Practice surrendering your plans to God.
‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ James 4:6 (NIV)
‘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.’ Matthew 11:29 (NIV)
‘He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ Micah 6:8 (NIV)

Sunday 8 March 2009: Lent 2 Sermon Series Building better Relationships by God’s Love. Love does not Envy”. Matthew 20:1-16 Melanie

From God :

In the beginning it was just me.
Everything was in order, tidy, in neat boxes.
There was no one around to mess it up.
I enjoyed looking at the order – the symmetry that I had created.
But something was missing.
The order needed someone, something,
to give it life – to love and to be loved.

I wanted to create something special –
a family, a community that could grow together,
nourish and develop each other.
Gradually I scooped together the dust that had gathered ;
breathed and created.

He was wonderful, this new being that I had made.
He breathed, laughed, cried, and above all loved.
I loved him too, with a love from the bottom of my heart.
It was a love that knew no bounds –
from endless ocean to endless ocean.
We laughed together, played together, cried together.
It seemed as though our souls were permanently entwined.
I watched him learn to walk, talk, discover plants, animals, water.
I wanted to give him everything I possibly could.

Then one day I realised –
knew that he would need others to love besides me.
I was anxious at creating something that might replace me,
but I took more dust and breathed new life into the tangled mess.

This new being was just as perfect as him –
and I loved her just as much.
Gradually I introduced him to more and more creatures that he could love.
He grasped at each one,
his little hands clawing at them and grabbing
the air as he reached out towards them.
It was supposed to be perfect.
Perfect love shared – the child echoing my own heartbeat –
part of who I was.
I watched in wonder as the child grew.
He got stronger in every way, developed, matured –
hormones kicked in!

And then things changed.
This perfect child, my own creation, started demanding things.
At first it wasn’t much
a coat like the lion ;
a warm nest like the birds.
Then it got worse.
He wanted to fly like the birds ;
swim like the whale ;
have the power of the elephant.
He always seemed to want what other animals or people had.
He didn’t stop to think about the negative sides.
Would he want to fly like the birds
if he knew he had to make 3,000 flights every day to get food for the chicks? Would he want to swim like the whale
if he had to migrate across oceans each year?

I thought perhaps if he had his own money,
he could decide himself what he wanted.
I got him a job in a vineyard
you’d think he’d be grateful, with the recession and everything.
But no, all he did was complain
that I gave other people the same wage as him.
As an employer I think I have the right
to pay people whatever I want
and he got his fair wage for the day.
So it went on – he wanted to be as clever, kind, talented as someone else – he never seemed to stop.

He didn’t think to envy the gnarled old tree
that had learned to bend with time,
and that had come to see its scars as beautiful ;
or envy the mountain that had endured for years,
and had been ravaged and shaped by wind, rain and snow.
No, he wanted everything that he thought was good about everyone else.

The thing is, deep down,
I knew the only reason he wanted all these things was because he wasn’t happy with himself.
He needed to learn to love himself for who he was
but you can’t tell them that can you?
Children will never change – they’’ll never want to listen to the voice of experience.

I tried to tell him that he had everything that he needed.
That I had blessed him in so many ways
but he just got angry with me.
He complained that it was unfair
– why should he have to work all day for food when the lion could sleep all day and get food in one go?
He used to say ‘If you really loved me we’d be able to have whatever we want’,
and ‘It’s not fair’.

How could I explain to him
that having what someone else has isn’t the answer.
That happiness comes from being content within,
and seeing my love and grace in everything
even the bad things of life.
Or that this envy if it festers inside would end up eating him from within, and destroying every ounce of love that I had created.
That the answer isn’t to look for what he hasn’t got,
but to look at the beautiful gifts that I have given
and that make him so unique in my eyes.
I knew that would take time to learn
– and time is one of those things that this impatient child of mine has yet to discover.

I got angry with him too.
He treats the world like it’s a hotel and as if it owes him something.
He doesn’t clear up after himself or take responsibility for the mess he makes – and he’s made some terrible messes.
I’m always having to clear up after him and sometimes it takes ages.
And he doesn’t even notice!
He just makes more mess.

My precious child that I created is growing up.
He is pushing the boundaries, rebelling.
He struggles with envy one minute, and anger the next.
Then tries to anaesthetize himself with noise, overwork,
shopping, activity, drink, drugs
anything that distracts from the drive to exist and to love.

I long to step in and make everything all right.
But I have to let go and leave him to make his own way.
What kind of parent would I be if I tried to dictate his every step.
Yet I am proud of him,
and delight in every step he takes
even when there are lots of mistakes along the way.
I formed him, and he is part of who I am – and nothing can change that.
I still love him from the very depths of my being.

Based on Infinite Potential by Kathy O’Loughlin