Friday, 30 December 2011

Sermon for Sunday 1st January 2012 - Kim

Galatians 4:4-7 and Luke 2: 15-21 - New Beginnings
Still waters, we are told, run deep. They also have another quality: the ability to reflect. Both those qualities, though in a somewhat different sense, are evident in the example of Mary at the birth of Jesus, and we do well to ponder them.

For a start,there was the natural euphoria of giving birth and of holding her child close for the first time, but, alongside that, there was more. There was the memory of Gabriel, telling her that this child was the Son of God, and then, as if to confirm it, the coming of the shepherds, no doubt blurting out their story of angels praising God and directing them to where a Saviour, the Messiah, had been born. She could so easily have been carried away by it all in such a way that she scarcely gave a thought to what was happening, but she didn’t – she stored these things up in her heart, pondering what they might mean. In other words, she looked deeper, beneath the surface, and she reflected on what God had done in her life. She made time to consider and to understand.

Do we do that today? Christmas is an exciting time for us too, though for different reasons. It’s an occasion for partying and celebrations, for family reunions and get-togethers, for giving and receiving presents, laughing and making merry. And why not? – those all bring some welcome happiness in the bleakest of years. Yet, how many of us pause to reflect on what it’s ultimately all about, on what we’re celebrating and why, on the thing God has done for us that gives the season its name. It’s good to make time for fun and celebration, but, above all, we should make time to think and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, for then we will truly find something
worth getting excited about.

But what about last year, what did God do for you last year? Yes, we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on Christmas Day and last night no doubt a drink or two was raised to the New Year – maybe you went back over the last year and celebrated all that God has done for you, as I did thanking and celebrating all, the good and the bad. When I look at the fact that God planted a seed of vision for this church, long before I came here and how He has blessed us over the years with an ability to put across what we envisage His church to be like when the renewal work has finished with other people, I find that amazing, exciting and celebrate that He has done this with our help. I celebrate that He has blessed us with lots of angels who donated money to get the project to this point of being able to think about raising the money, to implement God’s vision for this Church and all of us and the community of Camberley. That God has chosen this
time, with you all and me in it- to be part of that vision – working together to fulfil His purposes in our lives and in His church. I find that amazing and exciting and scary, a bit of a tall order, with questions like ‘what can I do’? ‘How are we going to get 2.6million?’ With doubts that we will do it! I’m human. But amazed, excited and think it’s worth celebrating. Don’t you?

And, ‘It’s from the old I travel to the new’- so runs the popular hymn of Sidney Carter – and those words perfectly capture a truth at the heart of the Gospel passage: that in Christ we see a new beginning. Yet, read the account of Jesus’ presentation at the temple,(Luke 2:21 onwards) and you could be excused for thinking that nothing was going to change after all. Jesus was brought according to the Law of Moses; presented at the temple as it is written in the law of the Lord, and
a sacrifice offered as prescribed in the law of the Lord. It was only when they had done everything the law required that Mary and Joseph felt able to return home. Maybe people might be thinking ok, we’ve got planning permission but nothing is going to change, after all, we’re in a recession. Who’s going to throw money at an old church? Where are we going to get the people needed? People have better things to do with their money and their time! It is only when we lay all things before God, including the doubts and apprehensions, and ask/allow Him to move that change occurs, that things beyond our dreams start to happen. Jesus said, ‘Trust in God, trust also in me.’ ‘If you have faith as big as a mustard seed,….you can move mountains and raise
lots of money’. I’m paraphrasing a bit here. You get the drift?

But do not be fooled, however, for once Jesus began his ministry it became clear that he brought a decisive break with the old. ‘You have heard it said’, he told the crowd, concerning various points of the law, ‘but I say to you’, after which he set out a new and revolutionary interpretation of established wisdom. This was a break with the past, a parting of the ways between old and new, but it was not a complete parting, for he was also able to say, ‘Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; 'I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.’ From the old had come something new.

Turn from the birth to the death of Jesus, for thirty-three years later he was
presented to God in Jerusalem once again, only this time there were to be no sacrifices offered on his behalf – he WAS the sacrifice! Here, supremely, is the Christ who brings new life out of old, transforming what has been into what shall be. He continues to do the same in our lives today, taking what we are and reshaping our lives day by day into a new creation. He will take our doubts and turn them in belief. He will take this building (the old) and transform it into the church for the future people of Camberley (the new). He will need our help, all of us, to do it. As we hold out our arms of trust toward Him – He will guide us through all the complexities, upheavals, disappointments, failures, attacks from the enemies, doubts. He will strengthen us when we will feel drained and he will give us courage. (the old). He will rejoice with us when things go well and comfort us when they don’t. He will provide all the necessaries and the
money for the Renewal of St. Michael’s. (the new). Why? Because He loves us and the people outside, He cares about the future for us and this church. Because He wants to use us, scary though that is; (the old) for His Glory (the new). That’s a cause of celebration at the beginning of a New Year. Isn’t it? The question is ‘what do we need to change about ourselves- doubts perhaps. ‘What can we give, what can we do to help with this project.’

Let’s pray: Father, as we stand at the beginning of a New Year, help us to seek you in all that we do. Help us to cast all our doubts and fears on you. Help us to Trust you in all things. Help us to look to ourselves and ask you to show us, our part in this wonderful renewal plan you have for each of us and the church of St. Michael’s. Help us to learn to lean more on you and less on
ourselves. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

SERMON FOR SUNDAY 18 DECEMBER 2011. CHRISTMAS EMBRACE Romans 1 : 1 – 7 Matthew 1 : 18 – 25 IMMANUEL – GOD WITH US, Robert

“The virgin will be with child, and will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us’ (Mat. 1: 23)

As Christians, we know that God is always with us, and always has been. God has never been confined to heaven, however much some have tried to keep him safely in an insulated box. But when the prophets, like Malachi, (Mal 3:1), foretold that: “Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple” – there was inherently the certainty that God would come to his people in a highly specific way, and at a specific time and place. But would he come in judgment or in mercy? As it turned out, the answer was both.

And everything that Isaiah and Malachi and the other prophets had glimpsed from afar, found its fulfilment in a way that was focused and specific in a way few, if any, could have imagined – although how remarkable it is to read Isaiah chapter 7, and wonder at his insight and spiritual discernment, whatever at the time he might have been expecting or hoping for. “The virgin will be with child, and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

I think you will probably agree that, when we think of God, we find ourselves imagining him as “sort of everywhere” but with multi-dimensional hearing-aids which enable him to tune in to our prayers. But this! - (‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us...’) – this is something quite different. If you want to know a technical theological term to describe it, it is sometimes called the ‘scandal of particularity’. No other religion in the world has anything remotely like it, and they would regard it as both ridiculous in principle and deeply offensive to their deepest held convictions about God – hence the word ‘scandal’. And it is ‘particular’ because it homes in on a particular and identifiable event in time and place.

Everything that the Old Testament had expressed about God and his relationship with us humans; everything that the Old Testament had prophesied and to which it pointed – had now become filtered and focused down into one pinpoint of accuracy. The whole reach and majesty and breath-taking risk of God’s plan for us, had become focused down into a new-born baby.

When we read that this new-born baby is to be called ‘Immanuel’ – it means ‘God is with us’, not in some general sense, but in a strictly particular and personal way. God came down to us in a new-born baby. And if that sounds absurdly miraculous, so indeed is the whole Christian story. There is no other religion in the world remotely like it. It is totally unique.

What was the purpose of this breath-taking event? As the Christian year goes by, we shall discover a wealth of meanings – forgiveness, judgment, faith, hope and love – which we tend to group together under the general term ‘Salvation’.

But at Christmas, we begin at the beginning – and we begin with an embrace – an embrace between a mother and her child.

Some while ago, plastic bags from W H Smith carried a quotation from the American author, John Cheever. It says: ‘I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss – you can’t do it alone.’

Virtually all the great artists of the past, especially in the great medieval centuries, had a go at painting Mary with Jesus. Each had a vision which was unique and beautiful and full of meaning. But what I find intriguing is that (to my knowledge) not one of them quite dared to go as far as to portray Mary doing the most obvious act of all – kissing Jesus. (The closest that comes to mind is John Everett Millais in his 1849 painting of ‘Christ with the Holy Family’ when Jesus was a young boy. And that caused spluttering outrage to the Victorian viewers!). And from the same group as Millais, we have, of course, Christina Rosetti’s famous poem/hymn ‘In the bleak mid-winter’ - with its verse:

Angels and archangels/ may have gathered there
Cherubim and Seraphim/ thronged the air;
But his mother only/ in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved/ with a kiss.

It seems to me that artists have almost always represented the feelings of the wider church in maintaining an instinctive reserve about the relationship between Mary and the baby Jesus. Jesus is held slightly apart, representing his divine status over against the human Mary. It is a psychological step too far for the embrace to become too intimate. Surely you must maintain a pious barrier, (expressed in churches as that between nave and sanctuary). You don’t even get what we would call a ‘cuddle’ and Mary’s expression is ‘holy’ rather than ‘motherly’.

Indeed the Christian doctrine of the incarnation is expressed in the New Testament in ways which rightly stress his divine nature. “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19) being a model example. It was crucial to the Christian Gospel that Christ must be fully divine, for if he was not God, he could not have won our salvation. It took the Greek Church over 300 years to work out how to express this, while maintaining also his full humanity. As we say in the Nicene Creed, Christ is ‘Very God of very God...being of one substance with the Father..’

So, with that in mind, let’s come back to the kiss. You can’t do it alone. There was much to unfold as the Christian story continues, through teaching and healing, to the cross and the resurrection. But where did it all begin – and without which none of the rest would have had the life-changing meaning we give to it?

My thought for you this year about the wonder and miracle of Christmas is that – when Jesus was born to Mary, and amid all the stage set of ox and ass, shepherds and wise men, something very intimate occurred which was of crucial significance to the whole world – then, now and forever. Humanity, expressed in Mary, kissed God. And God did what he had come to do; – in Mary, God kissed us. And all the rest is talk and Christmas presents! Immanuel – God is with us indeed.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Sermon for Sunday 11 December 2011 – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 and John 1:6-8, 19-28 -Positive or Negative?

Every time we open the newspaper, turn on the radio or TV, we are faced with negativity. War, famine, economies collapsing, fights, unrest, redundancies, illness, death, etc. All negatives about our world, our country, our town and there may well be some of us who are or who know of someone who is struggling at the moment, despondent, depressed, feeling down.

I think that most people would prefer to hear or see, or be positive. After all, we are Christians who believe what we read in the creeds: We believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God… We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life….. we make positive assertions of what we do believe. So when I read today Gospel reading and feeling a little down, it was the words, no, not, neither, nor that jumped out at me. Negative words – not something that jumped out of me in the past when I’ve read this passage before - an unusual text because of the negative statements.

For the people who had come across John the Baptist for the first time, these negative words would have been important as they tried to figure out who John was. After all, the people whom John baptised had not heard of the Baptism of Jesus. So one can understand that there was some question about who was superior, John or Jesus.

Mark Gospel account gives a brief statement that John baptised Jesus. In Matthew we read of the hesitancy of John to baptised Jesus, John wanting Jesus to baptise him. Now as we read the John’s version of the event, we find a number of negatives to emphasise that John was inferior to Jesus. Interesting isn’t it. The question ‘Who are you?’ is asked twice. ‘What do you say about yourself?’ So ‘Who was John the Baptist?’

Through all of these negatives, we do get a picture of who John is. He is not the light. The Gospel makes it clear that Jesus was the light of the world. John confesses he is not the Messiah. He is asked if he is Elijah and John says ‘I am not’. Are you a prophet? ‘No.’ He replies. It is fascinating to read this negative portrayal of who John the Baptist was. John defines himself with negative statements rather than positive ones. It was a challenge for John to affirm who he was, just as it is for us, by stating the negative, what we are not. When looking as to whether I should be ordained, I could think of 109 reasons (negative ones about myself) as to why I shouldn’t but only two (positives) as to why I should. I’m guessing that we all have or do say more negative things about ourselves than we do positive.

So what statements can we say that Jesus is not? Well Jesus was not a great teacher. Many people will argue that Jesus was not the Son of God, but will admit that he was a great teacher. C. S. Lewis, pointed out the folly of such logic. Jesus said ‘I and the Father are one’ and ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.’ If he said that and it wasn’t true, then C. S. Lewis says that Jesus would have to be insane, there are a few people who say they are God, but only Jesus said it, and it was true. Either he was who he said he was or he was an insane person. He couldn’t have been a great teacher and not be the Son of God. For He was not just a great teacher.

He was not just a human being. He was an extraordinary person, but not just a human being. The people who lived with him day by day came to the conclusion that Jesus was not just a human being. Peter blurted out, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God!’ They knew he was not just human.

He was not the expected Messiah.’ Perhaps a shocking statement, but what I mean is that he was not the messiah the people expected. They expected a military Messiah who would overthrow the Roman government, but Jesus was not that Messiah. They expected a Messiah who would re-establish Israel in the greatness of David, but Jesus was not that Messiah. He was not the expected Messiah. He was a suffering servant.

‘Who are you?’ is asked three times in this passage about John. There’s a challenge. Who do we define who we are as Christians by using negative statements? We usually define ourselves with positives statements like, ‘My name is…’ or my job is…’ but if anyone asks us to describe ourselves or do something invariably we would say something negative like ‘I’m not as young as I used to be so I wouldn’t be asked to do that’, or ‘I couldn’t make tea because I’m so clumsy, I’d break all the cups.’ Implying a negative about ourselves. You are never too old and so what is you break a few cups. BUT

Christians are not afraid. When the angels came, they said, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be for all people.’ When we have Christ in our hearts, we no longer have to be afraid. Christians are not alone. We may have no family left on the earth, but we are not alone. Christians are not without faith. We have faith in God. We may not be able to explain what it is, but we know we are not without faith. We are not without hope. We might feel hopeless. Christians are not without love. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes him will not perish, but have everlasting life. Christians are not lost. We may be like sheep who wander off, but we have a Good Shepherd. That Shepherd will leave the ninety nine and come to find us! And that Shepherd knows the way home. Christians are not condemned. The world might condemn us,

So if we are not all those things listed above. We are able to share our faith, share our love, share the joy of the true meaning of Christmas, able to forgive anyone, able to be patient or wait for the unfolding of God’s plan for ourselves, the renewing of ourselves, for we are a work in progress. We are able to have faith in God that He will enable us to complete the Renewal Project that He started in 2007.

There will always be times in our lives when the chips are down and we are despondence, or we take three steps forward and nine back. When the project won’t go the way we think. BUT as we are not alone, nor condemned, nor without love or hope, forgiven we can begin the work God has given us to do. For we have a great High Priest who is there waiting for us to reach out to him. As Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, ‘always be happy. Never stop praying. Give thanks whatever happens. This is what God wants for all of us in Jesus Christ. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Grant, O Lord, that what has been said with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and that what we believe in our hearts we may practice in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


  1. Who are you? And why are you here today?
  2. Why is Christmas so important to you?

3. Advent is a time to stop and prepare for the incarnation of Christ. Are you stopping to prepare and if you are can you share what you are doing with your group? It may help others.

4. We all have a calling to be and do. Do you know what yours is and are you doing it?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Sunday 4 December 2011, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12, Bruce

A man offers to paint the Vicarage at a very reasonable price. He can do this because he waters the paint down as much as possible and slaps it on quickly. As he finishes, it rains heavily and washes all the paint off. The vicar leans out of the window and shouts “Repaint! And thin no more!”

Both our readings are about how you think, and therefore how you act.

The biblical word for a change of thinking is Repentance. This is not to turn over a new leaf, orto try to give up things that we do that we know are bad. That would not be an unworthy objective, but the experience of ourselves and countless others is that we are unable, of ourselves, to suffiently reform our lives.

What we need is a completely different world-view, a fresh take on reality. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ronald Weasley comes to believe that he has perfect luck and is bound to succeed. Consequently he loses all his nerves and finds himself unbeatable at quidditch. He was not suddenly more skilful. The only thing that had actually changed was his perception of himself.

In this season of Advent, we are invited to consider how we live, and to order our lives in the light of the coming of Christ. This radical thought gives us such a changed world view, that all else pails into insignificance.

Money is not the most important thing in the world. Neither is your career. Nor, dare I say it, is your happiness. The central fact is that God has made this world, and that he himself has entered it in the person of his son, Jesus. Jesus died and rose again, and he will come again to judge the heavens and the earth. He calls us to mingle our lives with his, and to recognise and give him glory for all that he has created and shares with us.

At the beginning of Romans we read that God’s wrath rests on those who look at the wonders of creation and fail to see God in it. From that act of wilful blindness starts a downward spiral into selfishness and isolation, that leads to all the evils of this world. Now in chapter 15 Paul is bringing together the threads of his arguments, especially that in Jesus we have become a new humanity people of radically different backgrounds and cultures are made one.

In particular the task of praising the one true God, which has been the special preserve of the Jews with their heritage of temple and scriptures, now is shared with the Gentiles, and Paul brings forward several scriptures to demonstrate this. The key task of confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and of believing in our heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9), is all that we need, but it is also the one thing that really do need. This is the change of viewpoint, the new way of thinking.

There are lots of factors that influence us. In the time of Paul and the early church it was about keeping the Sabbath, whether a man was circumcised, to what extent it was necessary to keep the Jewish law. Today the questions that occupy us have changed, but we are gripped by the exciting fact that Jesus is alive and he is central to us, to the church, to the whole universe.

How is this seen?

Paul says it is revealed in how we accept each other. We have the same mind as each other, because we all have had our thinking changed to be like Christ’s. What the NIV calls a ‘spirit of unity’ in verse 5 is actually ‘the same mind’ among ourselves, as we follow Christ Jesus.

I wonder if Paul is acknowledging that this is not always easy? It is, in fact, excruciatingly difficult. He says that we will need endurance and encouragement. Why? Because other humans can be so infuriating. The polite, well-bred thing to do is to gently withdraw from those who irritate us. But that is not an option if I am truly Christ-centred, and if you are truly Christ-centred. I cannot just take my ball away to find another game. In real life, this means that we have to be prepared to express our different viewpoints, but always with humility and with a willingness to listen as we would like to be listened to. In Rome the Christians of Jewish background and the Christians of Gentile background needed the scales to fall from their eyes so that they could realise their essential oneness in Jesus. The result, Paul says, is ‘that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

As we accept one another, just as Christ has accepted us, then we bring praise to God. The Choir pray regularly ‘that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives’. This means that we are kind and loving and accepting to each other, just as Jesus is kind, loving and accepting of us. This lifts the words that we say and sing from being merely doggerel to being the motive power to praise God, live holy lives and become those of whom it is said: ‘Behold how these Christians love one another.’

But how?

First, we dwell on the scriptures. Second, we open ourselves to the power and work of the Holy Spirit – John said that we would be baptised in the Holy Spirit and in fire.

I think this means that as we spend time thinking about the encounters of God’s people with him, and allow ourselves in turn to encounter God through his Spirit, so we are changed. We find that the promises made to the patriarchs, made through the prophets, made through the apostles, are coming true in our lives today. First we are changed in our thinking, we are led to repentance. Then we find that we are being changed in our attitudes and our behaviours.

‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’

Advent Sunday 27 February 2011 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 12:24-37, Bruce

On this Advent Sunday, as the lights shine on the tree, our thoughts turn to pantomimes. At the beginning of Sleeping Beauty, the princess is visited by the fairies, who bestow gifts that will stand her in good stead.

In exactly the same way, Paul writes the Christian community at Corinth. He describes them as the “sanctified ones” (i.e. saints), those who are holy, who call on the name of the Lord Jesus.

He wishes them grace and peace. He give thanks for them (eucharises for them), because they have received grace from God, i.e. his unearned kindness and favour, and God has given them gifts of speech and knowledge.

In our baptism service today we do something very similar for Reuben. We pray for the blessing of God upon him, and we welcome him into the fellowship, the family of God, which finds its local expression here in an ordinary parish church.

How can we say this about a child? How can we speak of new birth, of repentance, of discipleship, in the life of one so young? Is there not a touch of unreality about this? Are we turning the event into a pantomime?

If it all seems unlikely, consider how Paul could say this about the Christians at Corinth? They were a fractious lot. Paul has to write frequent appeals for them to show forth in their lives what they apparently believed in their hearts. As a result, we get teaching about those who think they are better than others, those who are living together unmarried and worse, how to do Communion, how to worship, most importantly how to love, and the resurrection hope that is firmly promised to each one who has answered the call of Jesus. In the midst of all this, the fact remains that they are the saints, and that God has chosen to show them grace.

There is a “not yet” and there is a “now”.

The “not yet” involves the day of the Lord Jesus. It will be the day of his Coming, of his Advent. We should not fear that day of judgement, because God is calling each of us to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, and to receive his grace and his peace. There is not a single person here that God is not reaching out to. He loves every single one. And to each one of us who responds, he chooses to show his kindness. It will not depend on how well you live. The Corinthians would have failed that test; we fail that test. God gives us all that we need.

That is because there is a “now”. We are each called into fellowship with Jesus. This means to actively share our lives with him now, today. Eternal life, if you like, has started already.

So the vision we have for Reuben is not that we baptise him today, and then wait ten, twenty or more years, to see what he does about it at some time in the distant future when he grows up. There is that aspect to it, and it will be a joy and a privilege to follow him in the future. Will he be a member of a youth group here at St Michael’s? Will he be used to going through one of the three doors into the new annex for different clubs and activities? Will he arrange to be married here at St Michael’s? Will he use the gifts of speech and knowledge to become a vicar? Or an estate agent? All this lies in the future.

The fact remains, though, that we mark the start of his Christian pilgrimage now, today. Carried and nurtured by his parents and godparents, he is on the journey today, and we travel with him.

Jesus wants to share Reuben’s life today, every day, just as he does for each of us and all of us. There is so much I could say, and want to say. Today marks the formal beginning of a journey of faith, of life-long learning. Will you join us, and especially Reuben, as we travel and explore together?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Sunday 20 November 2011 1 Corinthians 11 Liquid Church – Word Zone, Anne

Ever had one of those days when you can’t do anything right and everyone is quick to tell you?

The members of the church in Corinth were having one of those days … a letter had arrived from Paul and it did not make for happy reading. And some of the congregation were, well frankly, feeling a bit miffed – that sort of embarrassed, defensive indignation that you feel when you’ve been found out, because the truth really does hurt.

You see, they knew they were having problems. No one would have denied that; no one could agree on anything and someone had written to tell Paul. A real mixed bunch they were: different nationalities, from different religious backgrounds, those who preferred one person’s preaching and those who preferred another’s, some wealthy and well-heeled and some poor (Sounds like the 21st century not the 1st Century!). Like children in a school playground, they were splitting into cliques and the bickering, oneupmanship and boasting were getting the upper hand. And we won’t even talk about some of the X rated immoral stuff going on.

… and the one thing they all seemed to have in common was collective Amnesia.

Brains are funny things, amazing and yet infuriating. We’ve all had that experience of going upstairs to get something really important, only to get to the top to find you’ve forgotten why you’re there. And then you come back downstairs to retrace your steps and suddenly it pops back into your head. Brains are designed to remember but also to forget otherwise our heads would be cluttered with useless information and we wouldn’t be able to function. Occasionally it goes wrong though. But a whole community forgetting the most important thing at the centre of the life of that community? And hardly anyone seemed to notice? Now that’s strange.

You see the words and actions should have reminded them; they should have been the memory trigger. Each time they shared in the Lord’s Supper, the words should have been the clue: “The Lord Jesus on the night be was betrayed, took bread, and when he gave thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, which is for you: do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11.24).

Now if I say to you cast your minds back to 1988, what can you remember? You are probably struggling to recall anything but you might already have words going through your head. Words phrased into questions such as ‘How old was I then?’ How old were the childen? Where was I working? Or what year was I in school? Or maybe you weren’t even born then! And even single words can connect us with memorable images and feelings. In 1988, one word became synonomous with a terrible, sad disaster – ‘Lockerbie’. Even if you weren’t born then, the replaying of the TV images and the mention of the name helps us to have a collective memory of the horror of that Pan Am flight.

Words are powerful memory triggers and yet they didn’t seem to be for the members of the congregation in Corinth. Even though the length of time between Christ’s last supper and the time they were celebrating communion wasn’t very long (about the same time as between 1988 and now), they had forgotten. They had forgotten how the words linked them back to that Last Supper. They had forgotten how the words linked them back to Christ’s death on the cross – to his body given in that ultimate act of love; they had forgotten how the words linked them back to that ultimate act of self-giving. The breaking of the bread and distributing to each of them should have reminded them of the most intimate sharing in and participation with Christ. As they took the bread and broke it, that should have reminded them of the fellowship they share as members of the one body of Christ. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10.17 New Revised Standard Version)

But they had collective amnesia … they had forgotten and they were busy pursuing their own interests. The Lord’s supper in Corinth was a ‘bring and share’ – without the share part. The big houses of well-off members of the congregation were great places to worship together; big, and spacious with atriums and dining rooms. The small congregation could meet together in relative comfort. But the well-to-do arrived first and started to eat and to drink and drink. So by the time the poorer members arrived the food had all but gone, and some were already drunk. Imagine arriving at someone’s house for dinner, you’ve been told to arrive at 8.30pm and everyone else arrived at 7.00pm. You’re really looking forward to the meal and the company only to find when you get there, everyone’s finished and already snoozing on the sofa! You’d feel unwelcome and very uncomfortable.

In Corinth the very act of worship that could have been the focus of unity had become the focus of division because the congregation had failed to recognise the character of the church or themselves, as the body of Christ. If they had, that would have prevented the socially and economically priviledged members acting independently.

Life in the 21st Century doesn’t seem so different. Our society is as diverse as 1st century Corinthian society and in our Church, in our congregations we have people from different ethnic and denominational backgrounds, and different social and economic backgrounds. The words should have reminded the Corinthians of the life they were called to live together in Christ, to love one another. And by God’s grace, we too are are part of that same body. The words can remind us that we too are called to live together in Christ. At the end of his letter, Paul urges the Corinthians to “Do everything in love” (1 Cor 16.14). As we come together in Communion this morning, as we hear the words, as we think back to that last supper we remember that we are all members of the one body; Christ died not just for me, or you, or him or her but for us.


1. Our Church is ‘Open for All’. What do you think this means? The Church in Corinth appeared to be ‘Open for All’ but there were divisions within the community. Can we learn anything from their behaviour about ourselves or can we learn what to avoid?

2. Paul talks about receiving communion in an ‘unworthy manner’ (1 Cor 11.27). In Corinth this meant treating the less well off badly. Are there any modern day parallels in our church?

3. He offers 2 solutions – ‘a man ought to examine himself’ and anyone who participates should recognise ‘the body of the Lord’. What does he mean ‘recognise the body of the Lord’? (1 Cor 10.16-17 and 1 Cor 12.12-31 might give some clues)

4. If the Corinthians had not been abusing the Lord’s Supper, we might not have had these words which we still use in Communion today. Can you think of situations where unexpected good had come out of something bad?

Sermon for Sunday 13th November 2011 -1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 and Matthew 25: 14-30 The ‘Day of the Lord’ – Be Prepared. Kim.

Many years ago, I would look after my Grandparents dog Maxi, their garden and chickens, the plants while they went on the annual two weeks to Margate. The first time I looked after the place, I was rather casual with the plants, watering only sporadically, it at all. A couple of days before they returned I noticed that the plants weren’t doing well: the leaves were yellow and wilted. Frantically I watered them several times a day and prayed! Thankfully they revived. But I learned my lesson. On all their subsequent holidays, I was more careful and prepared to carry out the plant task diligently. I knew I would be held accountable upon their return.

‘Be prepared’ – two words that all Scout, Guides, Beavers, Brownies, past or present, will have indelibly printed on their minds. In theory, they should never be caught short, ready instead to respond to every eventuality. But life, of course, has a habit of catching us on the hop, and although that can be a problem, it is also a blessing. Imagine how dull life would be if we could know everything that was going to happen and had exhausted life’s ability to offer new horizons and experiences.

It is not just life, however, that can surprise us but, above all, God. Take, for example, his coming to the world in Christ. For years, the people of Israel had looked forward to his coming, yet when the moment arrived many failed to see it. They thought they understood what God would do and were unprepared for anything else. The words of Paul to the Thessalonians suggest that we can do much the same. At first sight, Paul seems concerned simply with the return of Christ, but that is to miss the point, for he goes on to stress that we do not know when that day will be, or what it will involve. We should live each day in a sense of expectation, recognizing that God is at work in a host of ways, constantly able to surprise us. Do that and whenever Christ comes we will be ready to meet him. Strictly speaking, we cannot be prepared for the unexpected, but we can be open to the possibility that God may speak to us and work through us in ways we have not even begun to imagine.

Be prepared! Proper preparation for the coming of Jesus takes into account that HE WILL COME AS A THIEF IN THE NIGHT FOR SOME, BUT NOT FOR OTHERS... It will be a surprise for many but for all who heed the warnings of Scripture, it will not be a surprise. They will be ready for His coming even though we do not know when it will be. FOR SOME, AN INESCAPABLE DESTRUCTION...He will come when people are feeling safety and peace. Not in troublesome times, but in peaceful times. Yet many Christians seem to think He is coming whenever there is tribulation. But when he comes it will be with sudden destruction like the woman in labour. There will no time to escape. This day will be one of glory for those who are ready.

Paul tells the Christians of Thessalonica and us how they can be prepared. He makes contrasts between the believer and the non-believer by using words like light and darkness, night and day, sleep and watch, drunk and sober. We should live like sons of the day, be watchful and sober. We should be children of light because we follow Jesus who is the light of the world. As we are now in Jesus, and have cast off the works of darkness, we should walk in the light. We should be watchful because we do not know when He will return. Our watchfulness is to include praying, repentance, building up our relationship with him – strengthening ourselves in the Spirit so that we won’t faint or become weary. Being of sober-mind, circumspect, watchful – looking out for the enemy and holding fast to the truth and take seriously the promise of the Lord’s coming. We should be ARMED AND WAITING... in all seriousness putting on "the armour of God". Such as the breastplate of faith and love because faith and love protect our hearts from much evil and faith comes from the word of God, and love comes from Him who is the Word. We should put on the hope of salvation as a helmet which protects our mind from much fear and doubt. We will be COMFORTED AND EDIFIED...We are to comfort one another - With the comfort we each receive from God - With the comfort of our hope we have in Christ - We are to edify (build up) one another, a goal we are to pursue.

When we look at Matthew 25, we see it is divided into Parables and it talks about The Judgement of the Nations. It too, talks all about Being Prepared. The first Parable is about Ten Bridesmaids and the second the Parable of the Talents. When Jesus Christ returns, it will be a time of separation: the wise will be separated from the foolish, the faithful servants from the unfaithful, the blessed (sheep) from the cursed (goats). The wise virgins had oil and were prepared to meet the Bridegroom. Many people profess to be Christians but do not have the Holy Spirit and are not born again. They may mingle with the saved, but they are not really one of them; and they will not enter into the marriage feast.

His coming also means evaluation. As we wait for the Lord to return, we must invest our lives and earn dividends for His glory. Christ gives us opportunities that match our abilities, and the one-talent servant is just as important as the five-talent servant. The tea and coffee maker is just as important to the working life of this church as the Vicar. The key is faithfulness, for God measures us against ourselves and not against the other servants. So whatever we do, we must do to the very best that we can, always remembering that we did it for the Lord as well as others around us. But are we afraid to step out by faith and take some risks for God? Are we prepared to come out of our comfort zones?

When Christ returns, it will be a time of commendation. We will be surprised to learn about ministries we performed that we thought were insignificant but that He will reward. This parable is not teaching salvation by good works. Christ’s sheep know that they are sheep, but they do not always realise what their service means to Christ. We will experience some surprises in that day!

As George Morrison once said ‘Great services reveal our possibilities; small services our consecration.’

"Preparing for the Day of the Lord" cannot happen without diligent application of God's Word and active participation in the Lord's church. Are we using the gifts and talents that we have been given? Are we preparing enough for Christ’s return? Have we got in the habit of putting things off?

We are the children of the day and light, we are sober and watchful, we are wearing faith, love, and hope, our eternal destiny was God’s salvation, we know Christ died for us and we know we will live eternally with other believers and live eternally with Christ. In knowing all of this, brings responsibility, we have a responsibility to make sure others, non-believers are aware of their true destiny. Amen.


1. How do you feel about the fact that Jesus will one day return? (Does it frighten you, why? Are you looking forward to it? Why? etc.)

2. "Preparing for the Day of the Lord" cannot happen without diligent application of God's Word and active participation in the Lord's church. Are you using the gifts and talents that you have been given? If not would you like too?

3. Are you preparing enough for Christ’s return? If not, how can we help you to start being prepared?

4. Have we got in the habit of putting things off? How can we help you get started?

5. Do you let others know you are a Christian, and why? Would you like to?

Sunday 6 November 2011, 3rd Before Advent, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13, Bruce

It’s great to have a celebration. Yesterday Sir Alex Ferguson marked 25 years in charge at Old Trafford, and the crowd sang “every one of us loves Alex Ferguson”. That is how we feel whenever we say the Creed. “He is seated at the right had of the Father, he will come to judge the living and the dead.” “I believe ... in the resurrection of the body.” The “coming of the Lord” is meant to encourage us.

“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” There is always sadness at a death, and at a funeral. We might very well grieve, and it is right that we do so, but we are not without hope. It is always easier when we believe that the one that we have lost shares our hope in the resurrection.

Paul is addressing a pastoral problem. The first generation of Christians have staked all on Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again for them, gone into heaven where is praying for us, and from whence he will come to meet his faithful ones, his saints. But what will be the fate of those who die before Jesus comes? Will they be left out? Certainly not, and they will not be shunted into second place by we who are still alive when Jesus comes. Jesus said in John 14 that in his Father’s house there are many rooms, literally inns or temporary resting places; those who have gone before us are said to be sleeping, and they will awake on that special day. Interestingly, after a betrothal ceremony, the bridegroom would say to his betrothed: “I am going to prepare a place for you, and when I have done that, I will return to take you to my Father’s house to be with me.” There would then be a delay before the bridegroom returned, but you had to be ready.

In giving his answer, Paul also spells out the Christian hope that we all share. It is the summit and completion of the Christmas and Easter story. Without the coming of Jesus, it would all be in vain, as if you cook a splendid meal but do not get it to the table, or carefully select a special outfit but never go to the wedding to wear it. The Christian faith sees all of human history heading to this climax, where Jesus gathers in all of his own, to be with him for ever.

What will it look like?

The word translated here as “coming” is parousia, which also means presence. Tom Wright argues that we should see this as a political comment that Jesus is lord of all, taking the top spot from Caesar. When royalty comes to a province, it is a mighty occasion as the one they only ever hear about at a distance is now visible and exercises his/her power in person. So a citizen of Thessalonica or Philippi would look forward to this royal visitation. I wonder if there would have been a special loo? When Jesus comes we will meet him, and be transformed to be like him; we will be given our resurrection bodies. This is such a remarkable prospect that it is described at the very edge of language. We will “meet him in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17), “we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:51), he will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). This is the glorious prospect for all those who have been chosen, clothed and conjoined. This is what it means to be included in the number of the saints – those who belong to God. This is what we included ourselves in, when were baptised and confirmed; this is what we affirm whenever we take communion: Jesus died, is risen, and will come again – for us, each of us.

Many are troubled at the thought of the end of the age, and the possibility of wrath and judgement. The good news is that God has sent Jesus to provide for us a certain way through to eternal life with him. To trust him is not just an intellectual puzzle or a choice to be made between competing possibilities. It is an unconditional offer by Jesus of all that he is; it is a proposal of undying love. But for some, there seem be other priorities that get in the way.

In a slightly different context, Jesus tells the story of the ten bridesmaids. There role seems to have been different to a bridesmaid’s role today, and involved lighting the procession with a flaming torch. No-one knew when the bridegroom would reappear, and they all fell asleep. Interestingly, like those who sleep in Christ, when the shout goes up, they wake and are caught up in the festivities.

Only then does it become apparent that there is a difference. Some have taken the proceedings seriously, and invested time and money in preparations – they have bought a reserve supply of oil. Others have been more cavalier. Perhaps they wondered if the groom would ever appear? Perhaps they meant to get around to making preparations, but there was always something else that seemed more important (does this remind us of seed sown in weed infested ground?)? Perhaps secretly they were not keen on the whole enterprise anyway (although they seem to be genuinely upset to be left outside)?

As in most parables told by Jesus, there is one main point and we are not well advised to labour each detail to have a special meaning. Jesus himself tells us to keep watch, to be ready.

Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonica to be encouraged, but also to spur each other on lives that bring honour to God. At the end of chapter three he writes 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” And earlier in Chapter four he continues that we should live as sanctified ones – saints- given over to the service of God. “...make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

There is a clear distinction to be made between the saints, the sanctified ones, and those who are “outsiders”. There is also the clear implication that we are not happy that there are any “outsiders” – we are open for all to be included.

This leads directly to our present passage: 13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death...” No, we want to be fully informed about our birthright, that we have been born again into a new and living hope, that Jesus is coming for us and we are going to live with him forever, together with all those who have ever loved him. Is this not something that we should encourage each other with?

Discussion Starters

1. What, in your opinion, are the main reasons that Christians can live discouraged, unhappy lives?

2. How does Paul writing to the Thessalonians seek to raise their spirits?

3. What is the main thing that you take from this passage?

4. How can you use this passage to encourage others?


1 Corinthians 15:50-57 New International Version (NIV)

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the

victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:19-21 New International Version (NIV)

19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

The problem of the delay of the parousia is a modern myth. The problem is caused by liberal Christianity’s no longer believing in the resurrection, which means that the weight of God’s activity is pushed forward in time. There’s not much evidence that the early church was anxious about this. First-century Christianity didn’t see itself so much as living in the last days, waiting for the parousia, as living in the first days of God’s new world. We are still awaiting the final outworking of what God accomplished in Jesus, but there are all kinds of signs to show that, though the situation is often bleak, we are in fact on the right road. Tom Wright

In N.T.Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope (p. 128), he notes that the Greek word parousia “is usually translated “coming,” but literally it means “presence”-that is, presence as opposed to absence.” He goes on to discuss two meanings of the word in non-Christian contexts which would have influenced the Christian understanding (page 129):

The first meaning was the mysterious presence of a god or divinity, particularly when the power of this god was revealed in healing. People would suddenly be aware of a supernatural and powerful presence, and the obvious word for this was parousia. Josephus sometimes uses this word when he is talking about YHWH coming to the rescue of Israel. God’s powerful, saving presence is revealed in action, for instance when Israel under King Hezekiah was miraculously defended against the Assyrians.

The second meaning emerges when a person of high rank makes a visit to a subject state, particularly when a king or emperor visits a colony or province. The word for such a visit is royal presence: in Greek, parousia. In neither setting, we note, obviously but importantly, is there the slightest suggestion of anybody flying around on a cloud. Nor is there any hint of the imminent collapse or destruction of the space-time universe.

Wright then applies this meaning to the Parousia of Christ, saying that the Early Christians believed that while Jesus was present in spirit, he was absent in body, and they waited for Christ to come in body and make his powerful presence known to the everyone. Secondly, the Early Christians were evidently proclaiming that Jesus was the true Emperor of the world, who would soon rule not in absence but in person, and that Caesar was a “sham”.

Farewell to the Rapture
(N.T. Wright, Bible Review, August 2001. Reproduced by permission of the author)

Little did Paul know how his colorful metaphors for Jesus’ second coming would be misunderstood two millennia later.

The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated. Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behindbooks appears puzzling, even bizarre[1]. Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.” This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith.

This dramatic end-time scenario is based (wrongly, as we shall see) on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, where he writes: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first; then we, who are left alive, will be snatched up with them on clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

What on earth (or in heaven) did Paul mean?

It is Paul who should be credited with creating this scenario. Jesus himself, as I have argued in various books, never predicted such an event[2]. The gospel passages about “the Son of Man coming on the clouds” (Mark 13:26, 14:62, for example) are about Jesus’ vindication, his “coming” to heaven from earth. The parables about a returning king or master (for example, Luke 19:11-27) were originally about God returning to Jerusalem, not about Jesus returning to earth. This, Jesus seemed to believe, was an event within space-time history, not one that would end it forever.

The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines[3], and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation. This is taught throughout the New Testament outside the Gospels. But this event won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account. Understanding what will happen requires a far more sophisticated cosmology than the one in which “heaven” is somewhere up there in our universe, rather than in a different dimension, a different space-time, altogether.

The New Testament, building on ancient biblical prophecy, envisages that the creator God will remake heaven and earth entirely, affirming the goodness of the old Creation but overcoming its mortality and corruptibility (e.g., Romans 8:18-27; Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 65:17, 66:22). When that happens, Jesus will appear within the resulting new world (e.g., Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2).

Paul’s description of Jesus’ reappearance in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a brightly colored version of what he says in two other passages, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and Philippians 3:20-21: At Jesus’ “coming” or “appearing,” those who are still alive will be “changed” or “transformed” so that their mortal bodies will become incorruptible, deathless. This is all that Paul intends to say in Thessalonians, but here he borrows imagery—from biblical and political sources—to enhance his message. Little did he know how his rich metaphors would be misunderstood two millennia later.

First, Paul echoes the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Torah. The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait Moses comes to see what’s been going on in his absence.

Second, he echoes Daniel 7, in which “the people of the saints of the Most High” (that is, the “one like a son of man”) are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up to sit with God in glory. This metaphor, applied to Jesus in the Gospels, is now applied to Christians who are suffering persecution.

Third, Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province. The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city. Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world.

Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere.

Paul’s misunderstood metaphors present a challenge for us: How can we reuse biblical imagery, including Paul’s, so as to clarify the truth, not distort it? And how can we do so, as he did, in such a way as to subvert the political imagery of the dominant and dehumanizing empires of our world? We might begin by asking, What view of the world is sustained, even legitimized, by the Left Behind ideology? How might it be confronted and subverted by genuinely biblical thinking? For a start, is not the Left Behind mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon? Wouldn’t this be overturned if we recaptured Paul’s wholistic vision of God’s whole creation?

[1] Tim F. Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind (Cambridge, UK: Tyndale House Publishing, 1996). Eight other titles have followed, all runaway bestsellers.

[2] See my Jesus and the Victory of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996); the discussions in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, ed. Carey C. Newman (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999); and Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), chapters 13 and 14.

[3] Douglas Farrow, Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).