Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sunday 29 December 2013, Matthew 2, Christmas 1, Escape to Egypt, Bruce

“When they had gone …”  When who had gone?  Thus starts our Gospel extract, and it is a reminder to read more widely.  Matthew has started with a list of descendants from Abraham down to his present day and the birth of Jesus.  Mary has been found to be pregnant, and an angel has warned Joseph her betrothed to accept her and the baby and to name him Jesus.  They have travelled to Bethlehem where the baby has been born.  Magi, wise men, have appeared from the East, seeking the new born king of the Jews so that they may worship him.  This is an important theme for Matthew, the glory of Jesus, revealed to the nations – to Magi here at the beginning and by the apostles being sent out at the end (Matthew 28).
The Magi do the obvious thing and go to King Herod to ask where the new prince is.  Perhaps they thought it was his son!  they are soon put right, however, and the king sends them to Bethlehem to search for the new-born and to bring word so that Herod himself “might go and worship him”.  They succeed in their mission and find Jesus.  They present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Then they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod with the exact address where Jesus is to be found, but to go home by another route.
“When they had gone …”  This is where it can get confusing.  We have a system of special days.  25 December we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  26 December we remember Stephen, the first martyr.  27 December we remember John the brother of James, credited with writing a gospel, letters and Revelation.  28 December we remember the Holy Innocents, of whom we will speak more in a few moments.  Next Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the revealing of Jesus’ glory.  The traditional story to do this is the visit of the Magi, so Anne will be preaching about that.  This morning, I am picking up the thread of what happened immediately after.
Joseph has another dream.  He is urged to make a night time flit, to get away, to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.  People say that we should never mix religion and politics, but for Jesus, just being born was a political act.  He represented a new world order, and alternative to Herod and his regime.  He was in danger.  For Matthew he is a new Moses.  The Egyptians in the time of Moses felt threatened by the growing numbers of Israelites within their borders, and started a programme of ethnic cleansing.  They ordered the midwives not to let any boy babies live, but the midwives ignored them.  Then the Egyptians ordered that all Hebrew baby boys should be thrown into the Nile.  We do not know how many this affected but we do know that one Hebrew mother put her baby into a basket and floated it out onto the river where it was rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh and given the name Moses.  Eventually this Moses will lead his people out of Egypt.  So it is ironic that Joseph is directed by the angel to take his family down into Egypt for safety.
What follows is truly awful.  People have responded to this story in different ways.  Some have doubted its historicity – obviously Matthew made the whole thing up…  except that there is no evidence that he did.  There is no historical evidence either way. 
In a small village of a few hundred, there may have been somewhere between five and twenty baby boys of the right age.  They were not important people and so no historian will have been on hand write down their account.  The affair is sadly in keeping with what we do know about the character of Herod, who disposed of suspected rivals, killed all his relatives, built fortresses throughout his kingdom so he would never be far from them, and ordered the death of all political prisoners upon his death to cause the land to mourn.  The affair is sadly in keeping with what we know of the world today, where those in power are happy to accept so called “collateral damage”, whether of a car bomb or a drone, or a campaign of rape and pillage, and calculated starvation.  In fact, given what we know of turmoil in our world today, it seems that if it had not been for the testimony of Matthew this event might have passed unnoticed by practically everybody, except for the bereft mothers of Bethlehem.
The question to be asked is “Where was God in all this?”  I spoke to someone recently about the death of a relative; they were grateful for prayers, but had seen so much suffering that they themselves did not pray now.  We can be forgiven for asking why God allows such things.  We can also wonder why such a sad event is allowed to be part of the Christmas story, which should be such a happy time of the year.  Why didn't God warn the other parents of Bethlehem?  Did the advent of the Saviour bring with it the death of innocents?
There are no answers, certainly none that are easy.  It does seem to me that this is but one event, part of a much bigger story that goes back to the garden, back to Eden.  Just as Pharaoh was fully responsible for ordering the deaths of babies in his day, so Herod was fully to blame for this atrocity.  As I alluded to in my sermon about traffic wardens on Christmas Eve, good people can find themselves caught up in evil deeds.  Our whole world is need of redemption.
It is into this world that the redeemer came, and he was in danger and hardship from the outset.  No palace, no armed guard, no charmed route, no silver spoon.  He was, in effect, an asylum seeker.  Presumably with the benefit of the Magis’ gold, he was not forced to claim benefits while in Egypt, but otherwise how different was he from a refugee from Syria or Southern Sudan, or forced to leave his home in Belfast?  And as you follow his story through the gospel, look to see if Jesus ever had it easy.  You could almost say that the shadow of the cross has fallen across him from his earliest days.
And he feeleth for our sadness.  We do celebrate the birth of this baby boy, Jesus, but we do so giving thanks that he is here, that he knows us and all whom we love, that there is no hardship, difficulty or sadness of ours that he does not fully understand.  You might feel that there is no-one who can be a comfort to you, but there is one, and his name is Jesus.

Christmas Eve Communion, 24 December 2013, 11.00pm Hebrews 1, John 1, Bruce

The sermon on Sunday at the carol service was the one with all the jokes.  So tonight I thought I would be a bit more serious.
Well, ok, I will try one little one:
One day, a teacher, a dustman, and a traffic warden all died and went to heaven. 
St. Peter was there, having a bad day because heaven was getting crowded. When they got to the gate, St. Peter informed them that there would be a test to get into Heaven: They each had to answer a single question. 

To the teacher, he said, "What was the name of the ship that crashed into an iceberg and sunk with all its passengers?" 

The teacher thought for a second, and then replied: "That would have been the Titanic, right?" St. Peter let him through the gate. 

Next, St. Peter turned to the dustman, and figuring that heaven didn’t really need all the stink that he would bring in, decided to make the question a little harder. "How many people died on the ship?" 

The dustman guessed 1228, to which St. Peter said, "That happens to be right. Go ahead." 

St. Peter then turned to the traffic warden. "What were their names?" 
Parking is a bit of an issue in Camberley at the moment.  Several roads in the town have been designated from 30 Minutes to Permit Holders Only.  The new signs look exactly like the old signs and quite a few folk have not noticed them.  I believe the number of tickets issued is approaching 1000.  This has upset quite a lot of people, and it does not seem fair to me.
I am talking about this now because I seek a direct link with the coming of Jesus.  I really do.
In John 3:16 we read: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The world, literally the kosmos.  This is a hard word to get a grip on.  Does it mean that God loves the rocks and earth that we stand on?  Does it mean all the people who live on the earth?  One translation reads For God so loved all of us that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  But that is to restrict the meaning which is wider than that.  Sometimes the word “world” is used to indicate sinful and perverse ways of operating: avoid the sins of the world.  Sometimes the word is used to indicate all of creation, the creation that Jesus was instrumental in creating – the way that Christians tell the story. 


The truth is that God has created a wonderful world system, that is literally beyond our understanding.  Physicists used to be quite blaze about how they had figured out the universe.  It appears that 95% of all creation – dark matter and dark energy – exists as a theory.  It might be there, and probably is, but we have not discovered ways to prove it.  I have noticed that physicists are tending to be quite humble now; it is the geneticists and biochemists who think they have it all figured out.  I await developments with interest.
If it is true that the world of the physical is wonderful and awe inspiring, then it is also true in the realm of human society.  The big claim, made in Genesis, is that God created us in his image.  We have the capacity to love and create and appreciate beauty.  There is so much to admire in humankind.
And yet we find ourselves shut out of the garden, estranged from God and from each other.  It is very rare to find a truly evil person.  And yet the world is full of people, good kind people, who find themselves to be part of systems that force them to act in ways that are less than human.  Organisations such as the armed forces, governments, health services, banks (I used to work for one), churches (I work for one today), are not immune from acting in ways that seem to ignore the needs and concerns of ordinary individuals.  This is what it means to be human, and it is why Jesus came to live among us.
Camberley has a good story to tell.  As more offices are being converted to flats, people are moving back into the town.  We might soon return to a society such as I observed in Northern Spain when I walked the Camino, where people lived in apartments over the shops and the towns were vibrant and alive.  As a Streetangel I am glad to see something that might improve the quality of nightlife in Camberley.
But these residents need somewhere to park.  It does not seem unreasonable to reallocate some spaces for their use.  But you have to tell people.  The way our world works is that the decision is made here by Surrey Borough Council, but the notices are the responsibility of Surrey County Council.  The enforcement then goes back to SHBC.  If parkers make a fuss and complain, and SHBC stop enforcing the new rules, the residents who have bought tickets will quite reasonably complain that they are unable to park.
It is a very small scale example of how our human relationships and interactions are so complicated and can lead to such difficulty.  In the area of benefits or education or health provision, we again and again find that real hardship can be caused as a result of decisions made or enforced by people who perhaps feel helpless to change the system.  It is a symptom of a world order, a kosmos, that is out of joint.

Tonight we celebrate a life.  A baby was born who grew to be a man who challenged the system.  He absorbed all the evil that could be thrown at him.  He is God’s gift to the world, precisely because he is a light that shines in the darkness.  We might picture a diseased organism, and a drop of antibiotic, or perhaps some stem cells, are introduced that spreads out and kills infection and restores health.  In the same way this one life, lived 2000 years ago, has made a real impact.  Ideas of human worth and equality spring from that one life.  Hospices and hospitals, schools and universities, the whole concept of welfare and democracy, have rippled out.  Jesus came to his own, and to as many as received him, he gave the right to become children of God.  He calls each of us today to follow him, to receive forgiveness and new life, and to part of his ongoing movement.  When we pray Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we are saying that we want this world to be better, that we want the weak and vulnerable to be protected, that we are willing to protest against systems that are unjust and unfeeling, that God loved every single person, including you, so much that he gave his only son that no one need perish but that all should inherit eternal life.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Sunday 22 December 2013, The birth of Jesus according to Matthew, Bruce

“Joseph was an old man, and an old man was he.”  Thus starts one of our carols that we sing at the carol service this afternoon.  It is a lovely carol, but we do not know if it was true.  What do we know about Joseph?
He appears in the stories about the birth of Jesus, and when Jesus is twelve going up to Jerusalem.  He does not appear in any stories about Jesus when he has begun his adult ministry from the age of about thirty.  We therefore presume he must have died by then, and that he was likely older than Mary.  But that might mean that he was 20 and she was 15.
Engaged.  In keeping with Jewish custom he had been betrothed to Mary.  They had had a ceremony at her house at which vows were exchanged.  He had said the words “I go to my father’s house to prepare a place for you; I will come back to take you to be with me.”  A period which was typically as long as a year had begun during which building work could be done to prepare the bridal home.  The young couple had a lot to look forward to.
Expectant. We do know that he was of the tribe of David.  Like all the people of Israel, he was waiting.  At some time in the future, God would send the promised deliverer to rescue his people.  Centuries before God had promised to King Ahaz that he would deliver the “house of David” from the threatened invasion by the Assyrians and Ephraimites.  He would do this quickly, in the time it took for a new born child to grow old enough to start eating solid foods.  Joseph was heir to this tradition, the way that we are to the Battle of Waterloo or the Battle of Britain, but with something extra.  There is the expectation that at some time in the future God will act.
Exercised.  Like a character in the new X box ad, Joseph is put on the spot.  God is acting now, and he wants Joseph to be involved.  Out of the blue his whole life and expectations are shaken up.
First, his intended is found to be with child.  There was careful provision made for this in the law in Deuteronomy 22.  It mattered whether the offence took place in a city or out in the fields.  It was a serious matter, and in ancient times could be subject to the death penalty.  Joseph reveals himself as a compassionate interpreter of the law; he will deal with her as gently and quietly as circumstances allow.
Second, an angel breaks into his dream with a warning and a promise.  It is as if you were suddenly called to join Wellington at Waterloo.  As if you were asked to climb into a Spitfire or help operate an operations room as enemy bombers sweep in.  What you thought was history, to be remembered and celebrated has become your living reality and you must make a choice. 
Joseph, remember when God appears to Moses and says I have seen my people’s troubles and I am with them to deliver them?  It is that moment now, and God is with us.  Joseph, do you remember when Isaiah promised that a young woman would conceive, and this would be a sign that God is with his people Israel?  It is that time now, and you are in the place of Ahaz.  Joseph, do not be afraid to take this woman as your wife, and this child as your son.  It matters that he will be the son of Joseph, because then he will be revealed to be the promised descendant of Abraham and David that we read about in the first 18 verses of the Gospel.  Joseph, call him Joshua (Hebrew), Jesus (Greek), because that means “Yahweh will save”.  It tells us all that we need to know about your son to be, that he will save us from our sins.  Joseph, what are you going to do?
It is striking that Matthew has his priorities.  There is no story about how Jesus was born, no stable or manger; Jesus appears half way through verse 25 and the story continues.  Neither Mary nor Joseph get to say anything in this telling of the story.  It is all about God.  God acts in history by promising long beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures (Romans1:2).  God sends the angel with the message that it is the Holy Spirit who has enabled Mary to conceive.
What can Joseph do?  He can be obedient.  There are subsidiary questions we can ask.  How was Joseph equipped to receive this calling from God?  A lifetime of patient study of the scriptures must have come into it.  A regular pattern of prayer so that he was familiar with God’s ways and could realise that it really was an angel speaking.
What can we do?  We are called to share that obedience that comes from faith for the sake of the name of the one who received the name of Jesus – Saviour.  We are called, like Joseph, to be open for all that God has for us, open for all that he would teach us, open to serve and help all who seek for him, and open to follow him wherever he leads us.  We will see in the next week where God was leading Joseph.  Let us also be open to see where God is leading us, and who he is leading us to.

Saturday, 7 December 2013


Isaiah 11. 1 – 10         Romans 15 : 4 – 13         Matthew 3 : 1 – 12

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what the word ‘Advent’ means – it’s Latin of course, and it literally means ‘To come towards’ or more simply in English ‘to arrive’. So Advent is ‘The Arrival’. Who is arriving? Jesus is arriving. Where is he arriving? On earth and – more personally – in your life and in mine. When does he arrive? There are three arrival times – past, present, and future.

His first arrival on the world stage was in Bethlehem. His exact date of birth? Unknown – but we celebrate his birthday on 25th December which is as good a date as any. The main thing is that we celebrate his birth for the right reasons and in an appropriate manner.  The year of his birth? Well, the scholars tell us – on the basis of the biblical evidence (and even more importantly) references to Jesus in outside sources – that those who worked out the first calendar didn’t quite get it right.  It was 4 BC or very close to that. The important thing is that we can place him in history with a great deal of certainty.

His second arrival is in the present. He comes to dwell in the lives of all who invite him in. Jesus doesn’t force himself upon anyone. Who you ask to come to stay with you is your prerogative. When your front door bell rings and you open the door slightly and peer out, who do you invite inside – and who do you politely send on their way to the next house and the one after that? That’s your decision. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. But Advent – his arrival – doesn’t truly come until you have opened the door widely and invited him in to stay. We call that invitation a ‘prayer’ but it’s really no more difficult than a conversation that starts with an invitation – ‘Come in, Lord Jesus, and stay with me’. Then it’s Advent. Jesus has arrived in your life.

His third arrival is in the future. When? No-one knows. It will be when God’s purpose for his world is complete.

C. S. Lewis has been much in the news recently as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of his death and laid a memorial plaque in the floor of Westminster Abbey on 22nd November. He became one of the best apologists for the Christian faith in the western world of the 20th century. But for very many years he was a convinced atheist. And one of the reasons for that was that, as a historical scholar of the highest standing, he knew very well that many ancient religions were based on the idea of the dying and rising God. If you understood that our main source of life comes from the sun, you could see very well that the sun appears to die as winter takes its icy hold, and then miraculously rises again in the spring, with the birth of new life.  We celebrate the birth of Christ in December because Christianity simply came to supplant the ancient yuletide festivities.

But C. S. Lewis eventually came to believe that, without doubt, Christianity was true because it placed the death and resurrection of Jesus firmly in history. It was not just a way of explaining the cyclical nature of the seasons, which repeated year after year. It concerned a real person, whose birth, ministry, death and resurrection could be placed in real time and not in cyclical myth. Its critical basis is in history, and now (as we shall be singing later in this service), ‘God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year’, and when that purpose is complete, the final Advent will mark the fulfilment of his plan, a glimpse of which is mirrored in all our hearts and longings. The day of our dreams, when justice, truth and love finally triumph, God wipes away every tear from our eyes, and a new heaven and a new earth is born. Christianity has nothing to do with repeating cycles which never end. It has a beginning in time, and it works its way through time, to a final victorious climax when time finally comes to an end.

So Advent means that Jesus came; Jesus comes – to us in answer to our invitation; and, when the time is right in God’s sight, Jesus will come again.

We celebrate Advent in the four weeks leading us up to Christmas in order that we may examine ourselves and prepare ourselves for the arrival of Jesus. And the three readings we have heard – and have in front of us in our orders of service this morning -  have three key themes to guide us.

1. Repent. Advent is always linked with John the Baptist and our Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 3 shows him in action. His mission was to prepare the way for the arrival of Jesus, and his call was to repentance.

Now you will know well from many past sermons that repentance is much more about looking forward than about looking backward. No doubt we all have regrets – things done that ought not to have been done, and things undone which ought to have been done – and whenever we take part in a service, we confess our misdeeds and ask for forgiveness. But we can’t change the past. What we can change is the future – our direction of travel. Repentance means a change of mind and will, which leads to a change of life and direction. The Christian faith is always leading us forwards in a positive direction, not a wallowing in negative self-abasement.

So Advent is about an honest self examination to see what needs to be changed in order that we may receive the light of Christ shining in full brightness and become happier, healthier, holier people. We await the arrival of Christ the King. We must make ourselves ready.

2. Receive. Our first reading from Isaiah chapter 11 contains amazing promises. It tells us that Jesus will be full of God’s Spirit – ‘the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.’

As Jesus arrives at our door and we invite him to enter and stay with us, these are the qualities he brings. And they can’t be bought at any price, or acquired by good deeds, or by trying ever harder. They are gifts – Christmas gifts from Jesus which he brings into our lives. He will give us wisdom to understand the things of God. He will counsel us in how to lead our lives. He will give us the power to live as – in our hearts – we truly want to live. He will fill us with the life, the breath, the love of God himself. He is the channel of God’s grace and truth. People ask us what we want for Christmas. What greater gifts could we possibly request? And Jesus is the one who comes to us bearing these precious and wonderful gifts. Don’t turn him away. Accept with huge thankfulness these wonderful gifts he brings.

3. Re-Focus. This will enable us to re-focus our lives as we face the future. Paul tells us here in our 2nd reading from Romans 15 that our God is a God of hope. There are many reasons why hope may be in rather short supply this Christmas and as we look forward to 2014. Perhaps even ‘looking forward’ is the wrong phrase if we only consider our outward circumstances, health, resources and circumstances. But Advent is, supremely, a time of hopeful looking forward because when Jesus comes into our lives as the greatest Christmas present of all, he brings hope beyond measure. Hope of a renewed relationship with God. Hope of a glorious future which dawns on the horizon. Hope which is not bounded by death. Hope which is eternal.

Repent. Receive. Re-Focus.    If we can understand what it means this Advent to repent, to receive and to re-focus, then the love, the peace and hope in God becomes unbounded. And Paul’s prayer here at the end of our reading from Romans 15, will become true in your life and in mine. He prays for us: “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.” 

If you will follow these steps as God guides you, this Christmas will be very special indeed – you will be blessed by the birth of Jesus in your own soul, and the Christmas angels over St Michael’s will rejoice in the good news, and sing their praises to the glory of God, saying ‘Hallelujah’ Christ is born today in another soul here in this church.


1. Discuss how we can practically make time in these weeks before Christmas to reflect and pray and make ready to celebrate Christmas in the right spirit.
2. What first comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Repent’. Discuss its biblical meaning as a change of mind leading to a change of direction in life.
3. We hear about the need to ‘receive’ Jesus into our lives through ‘prayer’. Discuss what this means and how we can personally make such a prayer.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Advent Sunday 1 December 2013 Romans 13:11-14 Bruce

And do this, understanding the present time.  Do what?  And what present time?
The church in Rome in the late 60s of the first century were a mixed lot.  The gospel had been brought by Jews who had found faith in Jesus, but all the Jews were expelled from the city by the emperor Claudius.  When they were eventually allowed back they found that there was a thriving community of gentiles who had also begun to follow Jesus.  There must have been difficulties with different understandings of how the faith worked, differences in songs and prayers, and just suspicion between people who came from very different backgrounds.  You might be reminded of the Windrush generation arriving from the West Indies in 1948, or more recent examples of different communities moving in.
Paul has never visited Rome, but he sends this letter to introduce himself and to explain methodically all that he believes.  He starts in Genesis with God as creator, and relates the fall, and how all of humanity is in need of a saviour.  He goes into Exodus and explains how if we do not obey God, we find ourselves like the Egyptians worshipping strange deities that we ourselves concoct, and end up like Pharaoh, doomed to fail in the fight we have picked with God.
God delights to rescue us, however, and if we trust him and obey him, we were welcomed into his family.  This is what Abraham and King David found, that if we have faith in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection for us, we will be saved.
This salvation is about a life of glory with God in a new heaven and a new earth after this present life is over.
It is also about a life of glory here and now, as we encounter various trials and tribulations in this world.  We rejoice that we are fully part of God’s plan right now to ensure that his kingdom comes and that his will is done here on earth as it is in heaven.
This life is not about keeping a set of rules.  To be a Christian is not to be ethically good.  This is not because God does not care about goodness, but because we lack the ability, any ability, to do anything of a sufficiently high or pure standard to be counted as truly good.  Everything that we do is tainted.
But the blood of Jesus brings us complete and full forgiveness.  When we accept that and start to rely on it, when we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe it in our hearts, then he sends his Holy Spirit to take up residence within us, giving us the ability to live his way.
How does this work in everyday life?  The church is a community of individuals who are linked to God by his love and the work of his Spirit.  We are united at a deeper level than any apparent differences of age, race, class, doctrine.  What matters is that we love God with all of our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves.
Loving God and our neighbour means that we will continually be offering ourselves to God in a way that reminds us of the sacrifices in the Old Testament temple.  We will work hard at conducting ourselves with love and grace amongst each other within the Christian community and outside of it.  We will pay our taxes and be obedient to the civil authorities.  It is this love that defines us and is to guide us in every decision that we take and every person that we meet.
This all sounds so wonderful.  It is very likely that you agree with this to a large degree.  It is likely that most of the folk Paul was writing to in Rome also agreed with this.  So why are our lives not more different?  Because we do not understand the present time.
Paul says we need to Wise up! Wake up!  Dress up!
Wise up!  We need to realise the occasion!  We need to urgently work at understanding what is going on.  (We do not want a parking ticket because we did not know the rules had changed.)  This world is in a terrible mess, and we are part of God’s master plan to put it right.  The way that we live out the love of Jesus today, in Camberley and wherever else he sends us to live and work has a real impact.  It is important.  We need to really care that people encounter Jesus and surrender their lives to him.  This is more than just a game.  You could argue that for Spurs not to lose 6-1 or the Brits to lose the Ashes means they have to function as if they are not merely playing a game: victory is all.  It matters that we pray, often and for all sorts of people.  It matters that we unfailing respond with love and kindness even when we are wronged.  It matters that we feel able to speak of our faith when we encounter someone who is searching. 
There may have been things we were unaware of.  But now we are adjusting our shopping habits to take account of what we know about the way that workers overseas or farmers in our own country are treated.  There may be aspects of bible truth that seem strange or difficult to us, but now we are reading the bible for ourselves and exploring what is there.  Paul is saying: get a grip; this stuff matters.
Wake up!  The world has been in darkness but now that Jesus has come the dawn is breaking.  There are things that are appropriate for night time – sleeping, not doing much.  When the daylight comes, though, we want to be up and moving and active.  Paul writes to us all, saying that we should get the right gear for daytime activity.  Strap on the weapons, the equipment, that you need to make a difference, bringing in the kingdom, helping his will to be done.
Dress up!  We clothe ourselves in Christ.  Elsewhere the metaphor is that we are filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, that we are “in” him.  That belief in Jesus that Paul spoke about earlier in the letter comes out as positive, conscious act of union with him.  When I put on an Air Training Corps sweatshirt, I am saying that I am fully part of what they are doing.  When I wear a Streetangels coat, I am every moment representing all that Streetangels is.  When I walked as the Roving Rev I was conscious of eyes watching me, and that influenced who I was and how I behaved.  The outward clothing reflects an inner shift in thought and attitude.  This is more than asking in a theoretical sense What Would Jesus Do?  It is walking through each moment with him and in him.
I look at the antics of the people out on the small hours in Camberley and try to imagine the way that the behave in the office on Monday morning.  But then I remember the surveys that show that the lifestyle of most Christians is almost the same as their non-Christian friend or neighbour.  There is sexual immorality and drunkenness, bickering and jealousy within the church as well as outside of it.
This season of Advent is like a little Lent.  We take time to focus on the coming of Christ.  We rejoice in the memory of his first coming as a baby, and all the joy of the season.  We also think about his second coming, the end of wars and bloodshed, inequality and cruelty, and we allow they spotlight of his Spirit to shine on us.  Some people “spring-clean” for Christmas; we can all do with a spiritual makeover.
This Advent tide Wise up!  Wake up!  Dress up! Consciously seek to open not one door into your heart, but 25 doors, so that light floods your whole soul!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Sermon for Sunday 27 October 2013 – Luke 4:16-26, Isaiah 45:22-25 and Romans 15:1-6, Kim

Today is Bible Sunday and all the readings are for today. I could talk about The Bible and it is importance and I could talk about the important work that the Bible Society does but you may already know these things. I want to share with you one particular message that comes out of the Gospel passage and links with the other readings.

 In order to understand all the significance of Luke 4: 16-24, we must understand the Jewish synagogue system of worship. In the synagogue, sacrifice was not done. The synagogue was a place for teaching and reading. The temple in Jerusalem was the place for the priests to offer sacrifice to God, but in the synagogue, men came to learn. In the temple the priests were in charge; in the synagogue there was no priest, no preacher. Each man had an opportunity to participate in the time of reading and learning. A man would volunteer to read a passage from the scrolls of the Old Testament, and then afterwards, he would sit down and explain what those passages he read meant to him.

So on this day, Jesus was taking his turn in the synagogue to read the lesson and then to explain it. He picked a lesson that was very familiar to the Jews and contained a message that the Jews were passionate about.   The passage was from Isaiah, chapter 61, verse 2 - a passage of hope, of deliverance, that reminded the Jews that God was indeed still with them, still caring for them.  A passage that everyone in the world needs to hear today.

After he had finished his reading Jesus handed the scroll back to be put away.  He returned to his seat, and proceeded to explain the passage to them. Jesus begins his sermon with the most amazing sentence, saying, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus is saying that today he has fulfilled this scripture, and today he is God’s salvation to the world. The Bible shows me that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

Isaiah 61:1-2 was written 700 years prior to the moment when Christ read it.  The people had returned from captivity in Babylon. They were trying to rebuild their temple, but things weren’t going very well. The people were getting discouraged: they thought God had abandoned them. Times were hard, food was scarce, and hope for the future was in short supply. The people were so desperate so full of mourning that they even covered their heads with ashes, and wore sackcloth, the garment of mourning.  But Isaiah came and said to the people, “God is here; He will deliver; He will save; He will make you a mighty nation. Through you, God will keep his promise to bring salvation to the world”.

This passage is one of hope, of freedom, of release, and of salvation. But up till that time it was only a message of hope.  People dreamed about the day that hope would be realised.   So when Jesus said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus was saying the same thing. Jesus is saying to the people and to us that He is the one to bring God’s salvation to the world. Jesus is dropping a bomb shell on this congregation.  He is telling them/us that he is God’s salvation in the world. Through him God’s deliverance, God’s promise of hope, of freedom has come to his people.  Jesus is was revealing something about himself; he was making clear his mission, his calling, his task as he goes about his ministry on this earth.  Jesus is telling them that he is the one to bring hope and salvation to all people. We have been given this ministry.

We all acknowledge that we believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour but I sometimes wonder if we have  got so used to the terms ‘Lord’ and ‘Saviour’ that they mean very little to us?  And this is why we have to be reminded of them over and over again. We need to know why Jesus came into the world. Verse 18 gives us some answers.  Jesus came into the world:

To share the Good News of the Gospel to the poor.  People who do not yet know the riches of life in Christ.  Not just to preach to them but to speak to their hearts. Sometimes "the poor" can be really hard to talk to, especially those who are looking for something else to make their life meaningful.  So we are to bring the Good News to them in any way we can.

God has sent Jesus to heal the broken-hearted. Jesus is the Great Physician not just to our bodies but to our souls as well.  There are thousands of broken-hearted people around us... most don’t understand why they are broken-hearted and they are helpless to deal with their problems. The question is, How can we heal them?  We are called to tell of the Good news of repentance and forgiveness.  Our task is to help people know what is wrong with them, and help them to understand that the way to God is a humble spirit.  Jesus said in Matt 5:3 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven “. And in Ps. 147:3 says, “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds”.  

To give freedom to the captives. Captives are not just prisoners of war.  They are also people who are in need of forgiveness and deliverance: those with destructive habits and addictions, or hearts filled with anger, hatred, unforgiveness and revenge.  To put it plainly; not believing in Jesus puts you in the worst captivity ever.  This is why we are needed in our community – to share the Good News.

To bring recovery of sight to the blind. We all know that Blindness can be a handicap.  In those days the only means of survival for the blind was to beg for money and food.  So to be blind in those days was to be a nuisance for others, and very often suffered rejection.  But Jesus accepted the blind whenever he came across them, healed them and set them free from their prison of both poverty and blindness.  And because of what he did, blind people were able to live normal lives.   What does this mean to us today?  People are not just suffering from physical blindness but there are also people who are spiritually blind. And like when people are blind, people who do not know the true God, they too grope about in darkness.  They need their sight to be restored so that they can know the true God.   Another reason why we should share the Good News.

To set free those who are oppressed. As Christians we cannot be possessed by evil spirits, but they can still influence our lives.  And I have seen with my own eyes how the Devil can control a person physically and emotionally, I can tell you it is a sad sight because the person does not even know it or admit it.  There might be times in our lives when we have given up on our dreams, our hopes. BUT Jesus never quits on us. Jesus is always there waiting and wanting to set us free. There will always be those times in our lives when we feel broken-hearted and life seems hopeless and we look for the day that Jesus will lighten our burdens and free our spirits. But 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. 

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD. This is the year of Jubilee, the year when we are restored and set free.  What year is that? Well you may have already had your Jubilee but there are many who have yet to have their Jubilee year. It is the year when you know the Lord and see the truth.  It may be right now. All those/these years you were or may be wandering in the dark.  Your prejudice with people may or may have put you in the dark. Your anger at your predicaments has or may have blinded you. Or you may or have been blinded by your wealth and position and life of comfort.   It all starts with the year you accept your condition without Christ;
the year you accept the fact that you need a Saviour;
you accepted that the blood of the Lamb of God has atoned for our sin;
you accept that your life is no longer your own but brought at a price;
you accept that you are going to serve, praise, worship, honour, seek and obey Him for the rest of our life.
That is your jubilee, the year of your release.   And we should proclaim it everywhere we go. Another reason why we should share the Good News.

The Isaiah reading it says ‘Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.’ Unless we share the Good News, people who don’t know God won’t know this. The Romans reading said that we should bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. We should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. We don’t know what God will do when we share His character with others, I do know from my experience, it is very good.

We come to Church every Sunday, just as Jesus went to the synagogue each week, to hear God’s word for our lives.  But we need to hear the message of the Bible so that we may be filled with it to carry the message of hope and grace into the world around us, as well as into our lives.  We are Christ’s instrument in this world, but before we can be effective instruments we have to be sharpened by the Word of God. We have to be living the freedom Jesus brings us. How can we bring freedom to others? – next door – down the street – in our town – in our world? By showing others what it looks like to live in the freedom that Jesus died to give us. In all aspects of our lives we can make decisions that show we are living free from fear of death, anger and jealousy. Our words and actions can either enhance or detract from other people’s freedom. So let’s live in such a way that brings the true freedom of Christ to those around us by the words that we use, the things that we do and the way in which we live. Jesus also gave us His blessing,
‘May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind towards each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice (God’s mind and voice) you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.

1. How often do you read the Bible? If not often, what stops you from reading it?
2. We all acknowledge that we believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour but I sometimes wonder if we have  got  so used to the terms ‘Lord’ and ‘Saviour’ that they mean very little to us?  Is this true or false for you?
3. How do you feel about being God’s instrument today in the community, world?
4. Are you able to communication in whatever manner (talk, action etc.) is comfortable to you, Jesus to others?
5. What stops you doing so? How can we help?

For Extra Study:
Freedom people  - Here are just some of the things Jesus gives us freedom from:
• Freedom from sin, death, condemnation, guilt and shame – Romans 8.1-17
• Freedom from our weaknesses (anger, jealousy, gossip, bitterness) – Galatians 5.1
• Freedom from fear - Romans 8.15

He gives us:
• Freedom on the inside – see Psalm 40 1-3
• Freedom to live life to the full – see John 10.10
• Freedom to know God – see Hebrews 9.15
• Freedom to be God’s children and to call him “Abba” – Daddy. – Romans 8.15
• Freedom to be the friends of God – John 15.15
• Freedom to be filled with His Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – Galatians 5
• Freedom to do the things that Jesus did – John 14.12

Who is this freedom for?
The Jewish people were longing for political liberation from the Romans. But Jesus came to bring spiritual freedom for everyone today and in the years to come.

Just sometime to smile about.

They lie on the table side by side, The Holy Bible and the TV Guide.
One is well worn and cherished with pride.
Not the Bible, but the TV Guide.
One is used daily to help folk decide.
No, not the Bible, but the TV Guide.
As the pages are turned, what shall they see?
Oh, what does it matter, turn on the TV.
So they open the book in which they confide.
No, not the Bible, but the TV Guide.
The Word of God is seldom read.
Maybe a verse before they fall into bed.
Exhausted and sleepy and tired as can be.
Not from reading the Bible, from watching TV.
So then back to the table side by side, Lie the Holy Bible and the TV Guide.
No time for prayer, no time for the Word,
The plan of Salvation is seldom heard.
But forgiveness of sin, so full and free,
Is found in the Bible, not on TV.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sunday 20 October 2013, Genesis 32:22-32, Luke 18:1-8, Bruce

(A sermon for a Zone at Liquid Church)

Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.
Our opening hymn this morning is a powerful reminder of God’s grandeur, power, holiness and might.  And yet – Jesus told us to call God our Father.  He lived a life of trust in his Father, and encouraged us to do the same.  Luke tells us the story of the Prodigal Father, who lavishes love on his wasteful and disrespectful son, and gives us many examples of Jesus consistently in prayer and telling us to do the same.
Our gospel reading today is a parable that might at first seem strange.  Can God really be compared to an unjust judge?  I would say no. 
The judge in ancient Israel had absolute power.  He could do what he liked.  There was no jury or court of appeal.  The widow seems to have had no family to speak for her or help her.  She is powerless and helpless.  It is an uneven contest which she is bound to lose.  Except for one thing.  She is shameless and tireless in calling for her wrongs to be put right.  She pursues the judge relentlessly.  In the end the judge gives in.  He does not turn over a new leaf, or become a better human being and more just judge.  He is just worn down by the widow going on and on and on.
Can God really be compared to an unjust judge?  I would say no.  Jesus had earlier talked about earthly fathers being asked for a fish and handing over a snake, or being asked for an egg and giving a scorpion. (Luke 11:11)  His point there was that if an imperfect human father might do try to do his best, then we can count on our heavenly Father always to answer prayer.  His point here is that we should always pray and never give up.  Even if our situation seems hopeless, we should carry on and on.  God is on our side; it is just that sometimes we cannot see it.  Sometimes we seem to be surrounded by trials and difficulties that grind us down.
Why then do we not get easy, instant answers to our prayers?
First, creation is in a fearful mess, where good and evil fight each other in heaven and in this world.  It took the death of Jesus to win the victory and the aftershocks of that conflict are still being played out in real time.  When we announce Jesus to you as the light and hope of the world, we are not commending a philosophy or way of life for you to consider and debate, and adopt if it takes your fancy.  This is a battle of life and death and we are all caught up in it.  Jesus told this story to remind us to “Never stop, never stop fighting till the fight is done.”
Second, we are in a fearful mess.  When we come to faith in Jesus, we become part of the new creation, children of our heavenly father and members of the family.  We still have a lifetime of habits and worldview that fill our minds and colour our thoughts.  Look at the life of Jacob.  His name means “one who grabs the heel, supplanter, cheat”.  As a young man he stole the blessing – the birthright and moral authority to inherit all his father Isaac’s wealth.  It wall went wrong and he had to flee.  He has been an exile and has got rich, apparently by tricking his uncle Laban, and he is on the move again.
In this mysterious story, Jacob has a fight.  Is it with a man or an angel?  It is unclear but at the end Jacob announces that he has seen God.  They wrestle each other to a draw, but Jacob will not let go.  “Bless me!”  “I have fought and manoeuvred and tricked all my life but I know that I am missing that true birthright, that true blessing which will make me whole.”  If you read back over Jacob’s life, he has never really encountered God for himself before; it has always been the God of his father and grandfather, it has never been personal to him.  The struggle seems to have been needed to bring Jacob to the place where he could really Encounter God for himself, and start to grow in him.
God is looking for justice and mercy to be all over his creation, and he looks to each one of us to keep seeking him in prayer, for his name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  We should continue to seek him to provide all our needs and to keep us from the time of trial and to deliver us from the evil one.  One day we will be in the New Jerusalem, in the presence of the immortal invisible one.  Until then we are called to pray at all times and for all people.  Never stop, never stop fighting till the fight is done.
Discussion Starters
1.     Both Jacob and the widow seem to have reached a point of desperation.  What does this suggest to you about the nature of prayer?
2.     How comfortable are you with the idea that struggle and persistence are an essential part of faith?
3.     How do these stories help you when thinking about God and your relationship with him?

4.     Is there a prayer or concern that continues to bother you, which you could share so that others can join with you in prayer?
See also:

Seecern that continues to bother you, which you could share so that others can join with you in prayer?

Sunday 13 October 2013, Trinity 20, 1 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15, Luke 17:11-19, Bruce

a.        We are going to examine two characters today.  Together they give us clues about the meaning of life and help us answer a key question:
2.       How can I be a true worshipper?
a.        We operate with the Purpose Statement “To Encounter God and Grow in Him.
b.       Many of us may find ourselves questioning how real our experience of God can be.
c.        How helpful are buildings, songs, forms of worship?  How do they connect with real life?
d.       As we look at the lives of Naaman and the ten lepers, we discover that:
3.       It all starts with desperate need.
a.        Naaman was a powerful, favoured warrior, in the kingdom of Aram (today’s Syria), but his life was in tatters.
b.       A skin disease that was then feared and incurable put you on the edge.  You could not take part in regular society and life.
c.        The ten lepers would have been forced to leave family and friends and live in the wilderness, on the edge of society. 
d.       They may have been a disparate bunch of Jews and Samaritans, people who would normally have stayed clear of each other, but who had banded together for mutual support and protection.
e.       Although this may not have been exact condition that text books defined as leprosy today, their disease made them the most pitiable of outcasts.  They were truly desperate.
4.       Our need is met by God’s mercy.
a.        The servant girl belonging to Naaman’s wife tells of a God who can save.
b.       The king of Syria assumes that the channel will be through the king of Israel.
c.        Elisha announces that there is indeed a prophet in Israel.
d.       The ten lepers meet Jesus!
e.       He was walking along the border between Samaria and Galilee: he meets people on the edge.  Are we sometimes too comfortable?
f.         The lepers do the right thing: they stand at a distance.
g.        They cry out to Jesus for mercy, for favour, eleison.
h.       Jesus tells them to obey the Old Testament Law and show themselves to the priests, so that they can be declared clean.
i.         All ten of them did what they were told.  I wonder what they were thinking?
5.       Our response
a.        At different times we may each respond in different ways to God’s love.
b.       Naaman is perhaps obedient and hopeful as he travels to Israel in search of cleansing.
                                                               i.      His first thought is that God’s cleansing will come to him in a way that matches up to his high opinion of himself.  It will be the king of Israel that God uses, or he will be commanded to undertake some valiant quest.
                                                              ii.      The reality of encountering God seems to be a bit beneath him, and his first response is to go off in a huff.
                                                            iii.      He seems to have been a lovable man, though, because he has servants who plead with him, and he submits.  He baptises himself the required seven times in the river Jordan, and emerges – cleansed!
                                                            iv.      His response is to declare that Jahweh is the true God, and later in the chapter we discover that he has become a worshipper.
c.        All ten lepers set off to find a priest, in obedience to Jesus’ command.  On the way they discover that they have been cleansed.
                                                               i.      One, and only one, of them turns back.  In doing this he seems to be disobeying!
                                                              ii.      He throws himself at Jesus’ feet and thanks him – he eucharizes him.
                                                            iii.      Jesus notices that this is a Samaritan, a foreigner (like Naaman was), one on the edge.
                                                            iv.      The fact that he thanks Jesus for God’s cleansing seems to put the seal on it.  “Rise and go, your faith has saved you.”  A thankful heart is what unites us with God – it makes us into true worshippers.
d.       We hear no more about the other nine, except that Jesus wonders about them.
                                                               i.      They have been separated from wives, children, and parents.  In their joy and delight, have they very understandably forgotten everything else, grabbed their certificates and gone home?
                                                              ii.      They presumable went to the temple to worship, but Jesus obviously feels they should have come to him.
                                                            iii.      There are so many benefits to being a part of the church community.  We get friendship and support, we receive teaching and guidance, we can experience delight at the beauty of a building or a piece of music.
                                                            iv.      All of this is good, but can leave us missing out the most vital thing, to truly have a heart’s encounter with God.
e.       What see in both Naaman and the unnamed but thankful Samaritan leper is a heart that has been deeply touched.  They have truly and encountered God, and they have been changed.
f.         In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.  To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.
g.        Naaman immersed himself in the Jordan, and that was a symbol of him being immersed in God’s love and cleansing power.
h.       The cleansed leper immersed himself in a river of thankfulness for the new start in life that Jesus was giving him.
i.         We are called to immerse ourselves in God’s grace and mercy.                               
                                                               i.      Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
j.         All           It is right to give thanks and praise.
k.        Today we rejoice with Catherine as she is immersed in God’s love during this baptism service, and together we join in a thanksgiving, a eucharist, we share in a public act of sharing in God’s presence through the symbols of broken bread and shared wine.

Discussion Starters
1.       How much do you know about leprosy and how affected people were treated in ancient times?
2.       A quote from New Wine this year:  “When we hear of miracles in overseas countries, I do not think that they have more faith than us, but that they are more desperate than us in prayer.”  What do you think of this?
3.       If asked to define what worship is, how would you answer?  What examples would you give?
4.       What do you think about the place of foreigners or those “on the edge” in these stories?  How would you answer the opinion that we are sometimes too comfortable with the familiar and safe inside our church buildings?

5.       Have you any specific suggestions about things that hinder your worship that we could see about changing?  Or are there any things that we could do more of as they are a blessing to you?