Sunday, 29 September 2013

Sunday 29 September 2013, ST MICHAEL, Genesis 28:10-17, Revelation 12:7-12, John 1:45-51, Bruce

Welcome to a sermon in three acts.  It concerns a troubled youngster, an old dreamer and an apocalyptic messenger.
When we meet Jacob, he is in trouble.  His name, Jacob, means deceiver, trickster, cheat, someone who pushes his way in.  At his mother’s instigation, he has managed to supplant his older brother and fool his aged father into giving him the blessing – that is, making him the heir.  This is true of Isaac’s earthly wealth, and it is true of that other blessing Isaac has to pass on, the promise given to his father Abraham that through them that they would inherit a land, have many descendants and be a blessing to the whole world.  His brother Esau wants revenge and is biding time till the aged Isaac dies and won’t be around to protect Jacob.  And so Jacob has been sent away to a far country to marry, make his fortune and stay out of harm’s way.  We can imagine that he is perhaps lonely, afraid, disappointed.  His grand plan to be the inheritor of his father’s wealth seems to have come to nothing.  He is a failure.
As he travels, he lies down to sleep and he dreams.  He sees a stairway linking heaven and earth, and angels going up and down it.  At the top he sees the Lord, who speaks to him.  God repeats the triple promise of land, descendants and blessing, but there is a difference.  Always up to now it has been the promise given to his grandfather Abraham, and to his father Isaac; now, for the first time, Jacob hears the promise given to himself personally.  It is for him.
Does Jacob believe and understand the promise?  No, I do not think he does.  We find out more in three weeks when we meet Jacob again on 18 October, and see his name being changed to Israel – watch this space!  So Jacob does not “get it” now, but he does seem to realise for the first time that there is more to reality than he has been aware of up to now.  The place where this occurs will always be special to him as a special location where heaven and earth seem to be linked.  Jacob called the place Bethel, which means “house of God”.  George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, called Iona a “thin place”, with only “a tissue paper separating heaven and earth.”  Many of us feel the same way about a special place like St Michael’s.  Prayer and worship have been offered here for 162 years.  It is only a building, and we can and do worship God anywhere.  Nevertheless we rejoice at the special places, filled with memories, that can help us to connect with God.
Someone who seems to have been worshipping God under a fig tree was Nathanael.  Rabbis of the period were known to sit under fig trees as places of contemplation and to discuss God’s word.  We will miss the first sermon here – that a man called Philip started to follow Jesus, went to his friend Nathanael to tell him about it, did not seem to be making any headway, and was reduced to issuing the invitation “Come and see”.  It is a great text about sharing our faith; we do not need to preach but merely to encourage folk to come with us, to “Encounter God and Grow in Him”.
So Nathanael comes.  Jesus comments that here is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.  In other words he is not a Jacob, a deceiver, trickster, supplanter.  He is rather an inheritor of the blessing promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (named changed to Israel).
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asks.  “I saw you under the fig tree.”  Jesus’ reply seems to make a big impression on Nathanael.  Did he feel Jesus had some divine, mystical ability to see at a distance?  Some have wondered if he was studying the passage about Jacob and his dream, and he is amazed that Jesus should refer to it, but this is conjecture.  Whatever the reason, Nathanael has come and seen, and recognised that Jesus “is the son of God, the King of Israel”.  Jesus replies that there is more to come.  What looks like an ordinary, everyday meeting between some people is in fact another “thin space”, there are angels at work.  Jacob had seen angels uniting heaven and earth in his dream.  Jesus says, in effect, that in me you will experience heaven and earth united, God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
I wonder if you begin to see a theme emerging.  In the communion prayer we say “therefore with angels and archangels and all the powers of heaven, we find a voice to sing your praise”.  We are inhabiting that thin place, where heaven and earth are joined and we unite with all the saints of God to sing praise and worship.  But we are also celebrating that we are in the presence of God and his angelic messengers when we are at home watching tv, putting children or grandchildren to bed, out shopping, working at the computer or work bench, gardening or sitting at a loved one’s sick bed.  If we could just cultivate that ability to see and experience, we could encounter God and grow in him, ourselves.
As we turn to Revelation, we remind ourselves that it is telling a simple story, but in a dramatic and imaginative set of ways that can leave us breathless.  We might take a theme at a Liquid Church or Messy Church such as prayer; then the different zones or stations might present it in a variety of different crafts or activities that help us to fully engage with it and understand it.  In a similar way John the Divine tells the story of Jesus overcoming the evil one by allowing himself to die, and how our suffering here on earth is part of that heavenly victory, but he does it in a series of visions that seem to happen at the same time – clouds, angels, seals, trumpets, beasts.  It begins with Christ the risen exalted Son of God, and ends with Jesus welcoming us into the garden, the new heaven and earth, where there is no more sin, illness, crying or death.
To follow Jesus is not to adopt a Christian lifestyle or a specific set of morals.  It is not a bolt-on, an optional extra for some people who “like that sort of thing”, but which we can choose to do without if we so please.  When we meet Michael in Revelation 12, and also in Daniel 7, he is the warrior prince, protecting the Israel of God, defeating the enemy of God’s people.  There are books to be read and sermons to be preached about Revelation, and it is all to encourage us and firm us up in our faith.  The good news is that the battle has been fought and won, and the devil has been defeated.  This is pictured for us as Michael and his armies winning though in heaven, just as Jesus has overcome by shedding his blood on the cross, and as the martyrs have overcome by their steadfastness. The focus is not on Michael or his angels but on Jesus, the lamb who has shed his blood for us.
But the battle continues in real time, as it were.  The defeated foe has been thrown down here to earth, and we are the latest generation to find ourselves in the front line.  We get knock-backs.  Loved ones fall ill. Relationships crumble and lovelessness seems to abound. Governments, employers and human institutions seem to treat us in inhuman and ungodly ways.  We fight back with the word of God and with our testimony of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts.  The harder the fight, the more that we are driven towards God.  The greater the hardship, the more we encounter God and see him changing our character to be more in the image of his Son.
We might find ourselves under a fig tree, as it were, meditating on a passage of scripture.  We might become increasingly aware of the two worlds that we are called to inhabit, surrounded by heavenly messengers, and in that way come into the presence of Jesus the Son of God.  We might discover that Jesus is that “thin place”, that in him heaven and earth are united, in him we are made one with our Father God.  We might let him into our hearts.
Discussion Starters
1.     How much do you know or recall about the life of Jacob?  (Genesis 25-49)
2.     What experiences have we had of “thin places”, locations or occasions that have helped us experience the reality of God?

3.     “Rejoice you heavens, but woe to the earth …” (Rev. 12:12)   Are you more likely to be found rejoicing or in woe, or both?  What are your reasons and your requests for prayer?

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Sermon 22nd September 2013. Luke 16: 1-13 Anne

There’s always a villain in a good story - wicked stepmothers, Sheriff of Nottingham…..  So, who’s the villain in this story Jesus tells to his disciples? He them about a dishonest manager.  He’s the sort Del boy would probably admire, not maybe quite up to the standard of the wheeler-dealers we’re used to reading about in the press, but nonetheless, he’s a scoundrel.  He’s losing his job because he wastes his master’s possessions, and he’s not too keen on the prospect of having to do a job that’s too physical (he’s not strong enough to dig) or on doing anything that might damage his pride (he’s too ashamed to beg).  So he tries to save his skin, to make friends and influence people, by using his boss’ money.  After all, he needs to secure his future.  He calls in the people that owe his boss money, and does deals with them.  “How much do you owe?” he asks the first one, “Nine hundred gallons of olive oil”, he replies.  “Take your bill” he says, “sit down quickly and make it four hundred and fifty”.  That would be a real result if you owed the debt and you would want to return the favour – you’d want to welcome the manager into your house.  You would be indebted to him.

I don’t know about you, but with stories like this, I want to read on to the end to hear what happens to the villain; to when the villain gets his or her comeuppance because then the moral of the story becomes clear just as the baddies get what’s coming to them.  But hang on … something’s not quite right in this story … something shocking happens … this scoundrel’s plan actually succeeds!  His boss, the one whose estate he’s mismanaged, the one whose wealth he has just shared out to feather his own nest, commends him, “because he acted shrewdly.”  That doesn’t make sense.  This is the manager who disseminates his master’s investment portfolio to protect his own future!  You wouldn’t want this guy looking after your pension plan (half of it might disappear) and yet here’s his boss commending him, as if he were some sort of business genius!  

But then what’s even more shocking is that Jesus says this dishonest manager is more shrewd in dealing with the world than the believers, the people of light.  Puzzling isn’t it… Jesus tells a story about a dishonest manager and then praises him and commends him to us – and implies that we should act like him! 

In his parables, Jesus uses illustrations from everyday life, but they don’t always portray normal everyday actions – it’s not unusual for Jesus to tell stories where the unexpected happens, where he connects the ordinariness of everyday life with the extraordinary nature of God.  He often leaves his listeners pondering on the meaning – and this parable certainly needs a lot of pondering.  It has the reputation of being the most confusing of them all!  One commentator calls it “the problem child of the parables!”  So, if we’re confused, that’s normal – everyone else reading it this morning probably is too!  I know of at least 6 other newly ordained curates who are preaching on this passage this morning.  We sat together last Thursday lunchtime on our first curates’ training day together, debating the meaning of the parable.  We all had different ideas about the manager’s actions; we wondered how the story would have sounded to the first listeners; we thought about how the parable fitted in with the rest of Luke’s Gospel and even discussed the nuances of 1st century financial systems.  We all agreed too that in 3 years time, when this reading comes up in the cycle of readings again, we’re all booking a holiday!  But, joking aside, despite our different ideas, we all came to a similar conclusion.  We came to the same end, but not necessarily by following the same route.  One route might be …

…to consider, that maybe what Jesus says, isn’t quite as shocking as it first sounds.  The master commends the manager, not for his dishonesty, but for his ‘shrewdness’.  Jesus is not saying, “be dishonest like this manager”, he’s saying, “be shrewd like this manager”!  Hmm … still sounds a bit dodgy to me.  But maybe that’s because today, if we call someone shrewd, it can have negative connotations.  To be shrewd is sometimes interpreted as being crafty or canny, but a shrewd person is really someone who’s good at judging a situation; it actually means astute or wise.  So, maybe this parable should be called the Parable of the Wise, Dishonest Manager.

But what is he doing that’s shrewd, that’s wise?  In his precarious position, he uses what he has, to secure his immediate future.  He manages the resources he has at his disposal to secure an earthly home.  How much more then, should God’s people, be shrewd in using their resources for God’s purposes, to secure their eternal future, their eternal home?  Jesus says, if we cannot be trusted with worldly wealth, we cannot be trusted with true riches. 

Every morning on Radio 5Live there’s a programme called “Wake up to Money”; it’s a programme about the financial markets and the economy.  The title of the programme, “Wake up to Money”, is clever.  It’s a play on words – the programme is on in the early morning (it starts at 5.30am), but it also means “to be savvy about money” to be aware.   And as a group of assistant curates sitting round discussing this parable, we all came to the conclusion that Jesus was telling a story urging us to “Wake up to money”.  “Wake up to how we use what we have”.  Be shrewd, get real, we’re in a world full of the stuff – we can’t operate without it, so as people of the light, how do we deal with it – how do we deal with ‘worldly wealth’?

Well, not as the Israelites did that’s for sure.  Approximately 750 years before Jesus shares this parable with his disciples, the prophet Amos warns the Israelites about their behaviour, about how they’re dealing with their worldly wealth.  As a society, they’ve never had it so good; the country was going through a period of relative economic and political stability and yet they were exploiting the poor, and businessman and traders were cheating in the marketplace.  So Amos warns them, and us, of the consequences.  To treat others badly, by using what we have to exert power in our relationships, offends God and he will not trust us with true riches.  As people of the light, we serve God.  And serving God means that loving others, not money, is always the bottom line.  Therefore, we should be using our worldly wealth, whatever it is, to bless others.  Not just as individuals, but as a church community and as a society. 

It’s difficult – we don’t always know where our money is going or how it’s being used.  The Church of England having shares in a company that backs the payday loan company Wonga, is a prime example of how we get it wrong!  In our own parish, the statistics from the 2011 Census paint a picture that may surprise you.  9% of the population are on out of work benefits and shockingly, 12% of children are defined as living in poverty.  To be a child living in poverty is tough, it means you don’t go on school trips, or to the Arena for a swim; you don’t have your friends round for tea or go on holiday.  We can speak out against such social injustice, we can speak out against payday loans, we can support credit unions, we can buy ethically produced goods.

Money is powerful – it can ensnare us, but if we serve wealth for its own sake, we will be poor, even though we are ‘rich’.  But if we serve God and shrewdly use what we have for his purposes, he will give us the greatest treasure.  He will give us true riches.  We will enjoy the blessing of life with Him … and that life promises peace, forgiveness, justice and joy.  So, let’s wake up – let’s wake up to money!


1.         Is there really a ‘villain’ in the story and if there is, is it the ‘rich man’ or the manager?  You            might want to consider what it means to be a ‘rich man’ in the Gospels.

2.         What do you find challenging about the Parable of the Shrewd Manager?

3.         Walter Brueggeman says that in the Gospels “letting go is to have and keeping is the way            to lose”.   What do you think this means?  Why is ‘letting go’ so difficult?

4.         How would you define ‘wealth’?  Is it more than money?

Statistics taken from:

Monday, 16 September 2013

Sunday 15 September 2013, Luke 15:1-8, Bruce, All that’s missing is ewe

(A sermon for the Word Zone at Liquid Church)

What was special about that sheep? 
Was he (or she) especially cuddly, like a pet?  Or particularly meaty, and so would give succulent lamb chops?  Or perhaps with lots of wool?
No.  The reason the sheep or lamb is the centre of the story is that it is lost.  All of a sudden it has become the centre of attention for the shepherd.  The sheep is lost and there is no alternative for the shepherd – the sheep must be found.
In the same way the coin really matters.  It seems almost certain that the set of ten coins was a headdress presented to a woman when she became a bride.  To lose one coin was like losing a wedding ring.  She was compelled to find it.  Every piece of furniture was moved, every corner was swept, she kept looking and looking until – she found it.
What is the point of the stories?  That God is a God who rejoices when what is lost is found, when what is bound is released.  We rejoice today at the news that the Archbishop of the Niger Delta, the Most Revd Ignatius Kattey, has been released.  In the same way, God rejoices when we turn to him.
There is a challenge though.  God is most welcoming to every sinner who repents.  This does not mean that in a syrupy way he will accept any and every one without question.  Those who persist in sin and enjoy sin do not see themselves as lost.  Indeed they are usually the first to be upset at any suggestion that they need to amend their ways.
But God rejoices over each and every sinner who repents.  Each of us who would like to be good, who wants to turn away from being evil and self-centred, who is seeking after God: each and any of us who realises that we are lost will be found.
Not everyone believes this.  Jesus told these stories (and the one immediately after this about a son who ran away) precisely because he was being criticised by some so-called righteous folk who disliked the people he was mixing with.  As far as they were concerned, there are some people who are better than others.  People like ‘us’ do not mix with people like ‘them’.  Not so!  Jesus makes this very clear.  God chooses whom he will welcome and accept, and he seems to want to accept everyone.  The only people who seem to be outside of this acceptance are those who see themselves as so good and upright that they do not need to accept the forgiveness that he offers.
There is another group who struggle to accept Jesus’ message.  Often I meet people who say, in effect, I would like to start coming to church when I get my life sorted and I am living better.  In other words, I am a bit lost at the moment but when I find myself and get my act together, then I can come to Jesus.  The problem is that we are lost and we cannot find our way back with outside help.
The step forward comes when we accept that we are lost, and allow Jesus to find us.
It can be as simple as praying a prayer, asking Jesus to reveal himself and to forgive us and to come into our lives.  Then, Jesus tells us, the celebrations start!
Discussion Starters
1.     But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered,  Who do you think these are, today?
2.     I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.  What do you think this means?
3.     there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God  Who do think is doing the rejoicing?  How can we join in?

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sermon 9th September 2013. Deuteronomy 30 : 15 – 20 Luke 14 : 25 – 33 Choices and Priorities. Robert.

If I had to sum up in one phrase the essential theme of the two readings this morning, it would simply be ‘choices and priorities’, so that’s the title and theme I have chosen for today. Choices and Priorities.

In our first reading,  Moses is coming to the end of his long life, having led the Israelites for 40 years across the Sinai desert, they are now on the verge of entering Canaan, the land that God had promised them. God is not going to allow Moses to cross the Jordan into Canaan himself, but he will climb Mount Nebo, and from that vantage point he will see right across the plain, and laid out in front of him, stretching to the sea, is this fertile land that God has promised them – a land which the Old Testament poetically describes as ‘flowing with milk and honey’. It will bring material riches, but with that will come the temptations common to any materialistically rich society, then as now:  – we think we are self-sufficient, that we have no need of God, and that the good times will last forever. There will also be the strong temptation to be seduced to worship false gods – in our case what we simply categorise as ‘Mammon’, and in the case of the Israelites, the local Canaanite gods whom they believed to be responsible for ensuring a good harvest and material prosperity.

And so Moses calls the people together before he dies, and issues a challenge and warning in the strongest possible terms. It is the choice, he says,  between life and death, blessing and curse, prosperity and destruction. If they will love the Lord their God with all their heart, and worship and serve him alone, they will be blessed and prosper. But if, in their prosperity, they forget the Lord who brought them there and begin to rely on their own strength and fall into the false worship of the land they inhabit, they will reap the bitter fruit of that way of life, which will lead them to destruction. They are called to choose – to determine their priorities – there is a way that leads to life, and there is a way that leads to death.

We ourselves live in a country and culture which has largely forgotten God, and believes that what matters most is material well-being, and relies on its own strength and wisdom. Moses’ challenge and call to choose could have been spoken by any 21st century prophet – and we should take heed. A society that fails to put God first, and follow the two great commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves, is inevitably heading for disaster. The call to obey those two great commandments which we rehearse at the start of every Communion Service can seem like a formality. But it is, in fact, a ringing call to remember our calling – and to restate our choice and priority – to worship God alone and to walk daily in his commandments – to choose life and not death.

In our Gospel reading from Luke 14, Jesus issues a similar challenge – he calls for our total focused allegiance and trust in him, whatever the cost.

We have at this point just to pause briefly to understand the use of the word ‘hate’ in verse 26.... The language is Greek but the thought is Hebrew (or its very close relative, Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke). It is a language which expresses itself in vivid contrasts and, for those of you who like grammar, a language which does not have a passive tense, so every contrast appears to us overstated and extreme. It is a way of making a point very strongly, without taking the verb in its full literal sense.

Jesus is calling for total allegiance to himself, and this will often bring conflict which can penetrate even into close family bonds. We would express the thought in English perhaps something like this. ‘If you hear my call and choose to follow me even to death, the result may be a rift even in close family relationships’. Some of us will have experienced that for ourselves, and currently many are experiencing it only too painfully in Muslim communities.

Now we need to put this saying of Jesus into context. Jesus is not in the least like the kindly guru with long hair, cuddling children and feeding birds, as he is sometimes portrayed. If you come to the church hall to watch the showing of the 1964 film by Pasolini ‘The Gospel according to St Matthew’ on Monday evening 28th October, you will see a very different Jesus from that Victorian-type parody.

Jesus came in the great tradition of the Old Testament prophets, who were called by God to pronounce God’s condemnation on Israel both in its social injustice and in its religious institutions. But if the people would hear the message and heed the call, then God would be merciful.

Jesus came with the good news of the advent of God’s Kingdom in himself, calling people to repent and believe the good news. But he came with a new covenant which would replace the old religious order, and therefore from day one of his ministry – and while we read how ordinary people heard him gladly – those who represented the status quo and the religious organisations both feared and loathed him and it wasn’t long before they began to plot his death.

Jesus was therefore inevitably a divisive figure – you either heard him gladly and followed him with complete loyalty, or you were totally opposed to him and wanted to silence and destroy him. And that division could strike at the heart even of friends and family. It was, of course, not Jesus’ intention that this should be so, but it was inevitable.

Jesus is now on his way to Jerusalem where he knows full well that the powers that oppose him will triumph, and he will be the subject of a show trial and an arbitrary and cruel death sentence. The pressure is on, and the tension is rising with every day that passes. We have to try and imagine the experience of this last terrible journey on Jesus, resolutely making his way towards a horrific climax, and the urgency of his call to the crowds travelling with him. ‘Make up your minds!’ is his call. If you decide to believe in me and be my disciple, be aware of the cost – the cost to yourself, and possibly also to those around you. To believe in me and be my disciple is the way to life and true fulfilment. But sit down and count the cost, because it could cost you everything – even your life.

Even as I speak, Christians in Syria, Egypt and other parts of the world are dying terrible deaths for their faith in Christ. He has never promised an easy option. How great is the pressure to convert to Islam when you live as a Christian in Syria where fanatical Muslim rebels have come across from Iran; how great is the pressure to take the easy option and convert to Islam when you are part of the Coptic Christian Church in those parts of Egypt under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood.

For us, how easy quietly to disguise our Christian identity when we want discretely to be absorbed into secular British life. How hard for those especially in public life, whether celebrities, captains of industry or armed forces, politicians or others in the public eye, to admit to a true Christian faith, when they know they will be quietly, if not publicly, mocked, and their words and actions closely observed so that any slip or action perceived to be out of line with the media’s warped view of Christianity, can be pounced on.  There is no bar to being a full-hearted Christian in Britain today, but it can come with a cost, and – as Jesus predicted – lead to division within families as with work colleagues, friends or neighbours.

So, as I suggested at the start, it comes down to choices and priorities. Moses issued a clear and urgent challenge. So did Jesus. As Moses’ successor Joshua was to restate that challenge later: ‘Choose you this day whom you will serve...’ (Joshua 24: 15)

The commentator William Barclay writes of a man meeting a University professor. When he heard the professor’s name, the man said: “Oh, my friend Tom was one of your students” – to which the professor replied: “Tom attended my lectures, but he was never one of my students.”

There are many, many people who profess Christianity and attend Church, but they are not real disciples. The challenge “Choose you this day whom you will serve” is the call from Jesus to commit your life to him totally and whatever the cost. Count the cost, and then make the decision. If you say ‘Yes’ to that call and challenge, the result will be life, not death; a blessing not a curse; fulfilment not frustration; a new life, not a slightly mended old one. Jesus is no man’s debtor. He is the bringer of good news. He comes to set us free. Believe it – and say yes to his call.

Joshua ended his challenge “Choose you this day whom you will serve..” with a clear commitment of his own: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”.

In today’s world, this is not a game, it has consequences. How will you answer Jesus’ call to be his disciple – whatever the cost – not just in name, but in reality and in truth, in life and in death? Listen to his call, count the cost, and say Yes. Perhaps as you come up to communion or for a blessing this morning, you will just quietly and prayerfully say ‘yes’ to Jesus.


1. Both readings call us to stark choices and big commitments which set the disciple of Jesus apart from others. How do you view this? How far do you see your Christian faith as setting you apart from normal worldly values and ways of life, or as integral to the normal British way of life? Do you think the relationship between the two has changed over the course of your lifetime?

2. We have become a multi-cultural, multi-faith society. Do you have experience (directly or indirectly) of Christian faith causing division within a family or community? Do you see any possible solution?

3. How can we best respond to the suffering of Christians and others in the Middle East in the face of the situation in Syria, Egypt and parts of Africa such as Nigeria?

SERMON FOR Sunday 1st September 2013 Young People's Camping Weekend

LEFT OUT – Jesus doesn’t leave anyone out and neither should we.
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ Luke 14: 12-14
Make sure a selection of people have been given invitations.
Look what I have! I received an invitation to a party. It is going to be a really great party. Listen to this, ‘You are invited to a party at St. Michael’s Church hall on Friday 6th September at 6.30pm.  There will be games and fun for all ad plenty of delicious food.’
Did you receive one of these invitations? You didn’t? I wonder why you were left out? How does it make you feel to know that you were left out of what promises to be a great party? Are your feelings hurt? Do you wonder why I got an invitation and you didn’t? it isn’t a very good feeling to be left out, is it?
Do you ever leave someone out when you are having a party or doing something special? So you only invite your very best friends? Do you perhaps leave out the child who doesn’t have much money and wears old clothes? Or maybe you leave out the child who is physically handicapped and has to get around in a wheelchair. Maybe you leave out the child who isn’t very smart and the others kids make fun of him. Maybe you leave out the child whose skin is a different colour. Maybe you don’t invite a child because others do not like them and you don’t want to be singled out for inviting them. Maybe there is someone at work who is annoying and no-one gets on with them. Maybe no one invite them for a drink after work.  Or maybe you don’t think it is the right thing to give someone begging on the streets anything!  How do you think those children/adults feel when they are left out?
You probably know how they feel – most people at one time or another will have been ‘left out’ of something, somewhere in their life time.   So knowing what it feels like, why do we leave people out or walk on by a person who is in need?
Jesus commands to love as he has loved. How did Jesus love? He loved until it cost him. He loved all the way to the cross and death. That is love. If he had stopped loving before Calvary then it would not have been love at all. It would have been only for what he could get out of it. But love, in the sense that Jesus means, is loving even when it means undergoing suffering for the sake of the other. That is real love, loving for the good of the other. Like hugging a tramp or extending a hand of friendship to the family in your road who every Friday night has one or the other child brought home by the police and who are notorious for drinking  and being anti-social at all hours. That is precisely how Jesus explains his love in the next line of the Gospel you chose. Jesus said,
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
Again and again we give God all sorts of reasons to turn his back on us but he keep on loving us because he made a covenant with us, not a contract. You can use all sorts of legal means to wiggle your way out of a contract but a covenant is irrevocable. That is precisely the love of God we see for us in his covenant with us. And he expects us to do the same to others we meet on our journey in life.Don’t let anyone you meet miss out on being made welcome in God’s kingdom here on earth.
Today Jesus is saying that when we are having a party, we shouldn’t just invite our best friends or the most popular kids in school. In fact, he said that we should be sure to invite the very ones that we might leave out – the poor, the crippled, the homeless, the drunk, and those who are less fortunate than we are. He said that if we only do good things for whose who can do good things for us that we already have our reward, but if we do good things for those who cannot do good things for us in return, that we will receive out reward in heaven. Would you rather be rewarded now, or in heaven? If you want to be rewarded in heaven, be careful who you invite to your next party.
Dear Father, help us to be loving and caring toward those who may not have as much as we have, or are different from us in some way. Help us to include them in the special things that we do. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Oh, by the way, you know this invitation I told you about? It isn’t a real invitation. I just made it up to help us to understand how it feels to be left out. It feels pretty good to know your haven’t been left out, doesn’t it.
  1. What are the things that stop you from reaching out to those in need? (for instance – man begging in the street – you walk on by because he probably on drugs or drink – if I give him money – he will spend it on that).
  2. Sometimes events of the past stay with us in later life. Being left out or teased because of some problem or illness. (Alison Teague had very severe eczema all over her body – people would call her scabby and never invited her to events and often singled out other who spoke with her). Such scars can prevent us from coming forward or being the friend to another – someone once said (can’t remember who) ‘that scars are reminders of where we have been and not where we are going’. Maybe there are scars that that needs Jesus’ healing touch. Pray for each other that Jesus will heal and enable you to reach out and touch others in a way that lead them to Jesus and His kingdom.