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?