Friday, 21 November 2014

23 November 2014 Christ the King Anne Mitchell

Today is the last Sunday in the Church year; it is the feast of Christ the King (a red day!).  So today, we turn our thoughts and worship particularly to the Christ who sits at God’s right hand on his glorious throne, in the heavenly realms.

Artists over the centuries have created many images of Christ the King.  Some of you may recognise this 20th century image entitled Christ in Glory – it’s the tapestry by Graham Sutherland that hangs behind the altar in Coventry Cathedral.  It’s a bit like marmite, you either love it or you hate it.  Either way, it depicts Christ enthroned. (Notice too, St Michael defeating the devil.)  

As you walk down the aisle of Coventry Cathedral, the image watches you.  No matter where you stand inside the Cathedral’s nave, there’s no getting away from those eyes… Jesus on the throne, looking down.  And as you walk down the aisle, you get a sense that here is Christ the King, preparing to judge the world, looking down at me.  Deciding whether as you walk, you’re a sheep or a goat…

When I was ordained last year, a friend of mine gave me a present.  A pair of socks!  You might not be able to see from where you’re sitting, but there are goats on one sock and sheep on the other!  Guess what feet I’m meant to wear them on?  They are of course a reminder of this passage from Matthew’s Gospel we've just heard.  Have you noticed over the last couple of weeks how the atmosphere in the Gospel readings has been building?  Jesus is giving his disciples some instructions before he’s arrested.  He tells them to be prepared for his return, even though they don’t know when that will be.  He tells them to be watchful and to be ready, but he also says don’t just rest on your laurels, whilst you’re waiting, use the gifts God has given you to further the kingdom.

In our reading today, he comes to the crunch … the Last Judgement, when they will see him again.  What's going through your mind when you think of that word ‘judgement’?  It doesn’t rest easy with us does it?  Does it make you feel scared or uncomfortable?  Does it make you feel those eyes from on high, like the tapestry in the cathedral, are watching your every move?  Maybe it offends your sense of freedom, after all, ‘judgement’ implies restriction and ‘towing’ the line … or else!  Or, perhaps for you, it speaks of what Jesus says about judgement to us.  In fact, he talks a lot about us not judging others and yet here he is, on his throne looking at us from on high.  

When we read this passage, it is confusing.  It seems to suggest that our salvation – how we are sorted into sheep and goats on that day of Judgement - is dependent on our goods works, on giving food, drink, a bed and clothes to the needy, and visiting prisoners.  Notice though that in the parable neither of the groups of people know they are sheep or goats.  The sheep people are totally surprised and have no idea they’re doing good works for others, “when did we see you..” they ask.   Surely if they were trying to keep account, to earn their way into heaven, they’d have known!  Instead, they’re just doing what comes naturally to them as people of faith.  The goat people are also totally surprised!  “When did we see you … and did not help you?” they ask.   Maybe they imagine they’re doing all the right things – going to church, putting money in the collection box, doing the ‘religious’ things and they too are totally surprised!  If this passage is not about earning our way into the Kingdom, how then are we to make sense of it?

Jesus is Christ the King – he is on that glorious throne!  So let’s consider what it is to be a king.  We probably all have some preconceptions about kingship and what a king does.  Perhaps your perception is based on Fairy Tale characters; a king sits on a throne in a castle or palace, wearing a very weighty and jewel encrusted gold crown.  He wears royal red or purple robes edged in ermine and he issues commands and receives courtiers.  This image resonates with our perception of historical Kings too; warrior kings like William the Conqueror; power hungry kings like King John; controlling and murdering kings like Henry VIII.

The trouble is, all these things influence our thinking and so when we come to this difficult text, we have all these preconceptions influencing our thoughts about who Christ is!  Somehow we think that Christ on the throne is similar to those kings in our imaginations and that image of him in Coventry Cathedral seems to confirm that he has all the hallmarks of kingship that we might imagine.  He seems to be scrutinising us from on high; but if you look closely into his eyes in the image, you’ll notice a different side to this King, a side that Scripture makes clear. 

Yes, Jesus has royal blood; he’s descended from the House of David, born in David’s royal city of Bethlehem, but for a start he has no royal palace and neither was he born in one!  In fact the Wise Men who come to worship the new baby king go to Herod’s palace to find him, but he’s not there.  This baby King is in the least likely of places – a stable.  A place where there are none of the refinements, luxuries and opulence associated with royal courts.  Later on, when he’s older, the crowds do shout as if he were a king ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ as he enters Jerusalem, but he’s riding on a donkey rather than in a regal camel cavalcade.  When he’s arrested and comes before Pilate, he is crowned “King of the Jews”, but the soldiers don’t bow down to worship him; they bow down to mock him.  They do clothe him in robes of royal colour, but then they spit at him and hit him.  They do crown him, but his crown is made of twisted thorns, not of gold.  Ultimately, this King’s victory is won not through a military campaign, but through what to the world looks like weakness and defeat, his death.  This is not what you’d expect at all from a King.  This king is a servant King, a suffering king – a king who sets aside his position, makes himself nothing and is obedient to his Father, even to death on a cross.  Christ redefines what kingship is.  His kingship is characterised not by intimidation, coercion or selfishness, but by humility and gentleness (Matthew 11:29, 21:5).  That’s what you’ll see if you look into those eyes in that tapestry. 

So, where does that leave us as followers of this Christ the King?  Well, Christ the King may not have a palace or the possessions associated with royalty, but he does have a kingdom!  But his kingdom is not what you might expect either.  When Pilate asks him “are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11, John 18:33), Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) because like his kingship, his kingdom is upside down too.  It’s a kingdom that’s already breaking through into the earthly realm.  It’s a kingdom where the poor in spirit are blessed and the hungry and thirsty are filled, and that’s where we will find Jesus.  We’ll find him with the “least” – with the hungry, with the thirsty, with the stranger or alien, with the naked, with the sick, with the prisoners.  There he is… the King ... in the midst of them, with the oppressed, with the marginalised, with the forgotten.  He’s with all those who wouldn’t be welcome in a palace.  He’s with the homeless man who sleeps sometimes in our church porch, he’s with the teenagers trying to break free from drug addiction, he’s with the Ebola victims in West Africa and he’s with the lady suffering from dementia in a nearby nursing home. 

If we believe Christ is King in our lives, if we are disciples, as he pours out his grace upon us, the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened.  We will grow to see people as he sees them, to love them as he loves them.  As a person of faith, don’t be surprised if you find yourself following him into places you never imagined you’d find yourself going.  That’s what it means to be a disciple – following where he goes.  Don’t be shocked when you suddenly realise what you’re doing is not at all like the old you.  Don't be surprised that when you look into the eyes of the least, you see the eyes of the suffering servant king staring back at you.  That’s what you can expect because what you do for the least, you do for him.  That’s what life is like because Christ is King


1.            What do you find challenging about the reading?  (Matthew 25:31-46)

2.            Who is the “least of these” in our community and context?

3.            What is your impression of how art conveys who Jesus is?  Have you got any examples of pictures that you find comforting or disconcerting? 

4.            Have you ever experienced God leading you into “a place you never expected to go”?

SERMON 16 NOVEMBER 2014. USE YOUR TALENTS & GIFTS! Romans 12 : 1 - 8 Matthew 25 : 14 – 30 ROBERT

The two readings we have heard this morning contain challenges which are highly practical and relevant to every one of us.

The parable of the talents contains two elements:- the first are the gifts and abilities with which we each have been endowed either by nature or by God as gifts. The second is the positive investment which the Master made in each of them (5 talents, 2 talents and one), and without which they could have achieved very little. To their natural abilities the Master added the means to put them to use. And notice the Master’s expectation that they would not be wasted but put to maximum use within a given time-frame. We need to apply this to ourselves and to our church.

So what are our individual gifts that we can maximise and offer to the church and to each other as individuals? God has made a big investment in each of us in terms of gifts and talents. We have to identify ours; develop them; and put them to the best possible use.

In the reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 12, he identifies 7 by way of examples. Prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, contributing money, leadership, showing mercy.  For this morning, just a sentence or two on each to show the wide range of gifts we share and can contribute, - and to start you thinking!

Prophecy. People tend to think of prophecy as predicting the future. It may include that, but it’s not the word’s basic meaning in the Bible. It means attending to God, and hearing him tell you that he has a special message for a church or perhaps an individual. It may be a word of encouragement – or of warning – or of challenge, and even of judgment. These are messages from God which we very much need to hear – and they can come to any Christian at any time. You don’t have to have any special knowledge, or pass any exam to be a prophet!

If you believe that God is telling you something the church needs to hear – or maybe someone in the church – you have a responsibility to make it known. Go first to Bruce or one of the clergy because it needs to be tested. It has to be tested against scripture and mature Christian judgment, because not all such messages really come from God. But check it out, because God’s Word needs to be heard, and God’s Word can come to any Christian, however humble they may consider themselves – God is no respecter of persons.

Service. Helping people in a practical way is just as much of a gift as the others. Many people have skills and time to share which can be invaluable assets. Think about what yours are, and how you might fit into a church team.

Encouragement. This is a gift which somehow remarkably few people possess naturally, but which can be developed in prayer and with practice. Most people only comment on someone else’s work or contribution to the church when they have something to criticise. Always think about what was good and went well, and tell people. It doesn’t have to be dishonest or ridiculously lavish – we must be honest. But especially if you have a word of implied criticism, make sure you also have praise for what was good. Encouragement is a wonderful gift – use it.

Contributing money (and perhaps goods of one kind and another). If you have a little more than you need, give some away. It will be a blessing to you, and to the person or church that receives. And do it GENEROUSLY. Not the minimum but the maximum. Paul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. A church and its family needs generosity. God has been so generous with us. If we want to be like him, we will be generous too – if necessary to the point of sacrifice.

Leadership. You may not have been put in an official position of leadership, but many people have the gift of coming up with an initiative and taking a group of people with them. You may well have a gift of leadership which you never imagined until you gave it a try and saw what God can do with you.

Mercy. You are probably unlikely to be dispensing justice in a court of law, but I am going to interpret this word this morning in the sense of Paul’s famous chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13. Thinking the best of people and not the worst. Not keeping a record of past misdoings by someone, which can be produced like winning card to put someone down. Paul says in1 Corinthians 13: 7,8 : Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

These are a sample of the gifts and talents we may possess as gifts from God
and which we can develop and practise – with prayer and if necessary with some
training. Whether we are a five star talent person, a two star or a one star – think
of how this church could be transformed by God into a place of joy, peace and
blessing to us personally, to the church family, and to those who come in from
the outside, if each one of us learns to discern our natural abilities and the gifts
God has given us, and we all put them into full-scale use. It would be amazing –
and it would be absolutely wonderful.
-          - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


1. Discuss what prophecy means in biblical terms; whether we might have prophets in St Michael’s; and what difference it might make.

2. Pick out two or three of the gifts mentioned by Paul in Romans 12 and unpack them more than has been possible in this sermon.

3. Add to the list gifts which come to mind and which you feel are both important and relevant. Share and discuss.

Sunday 9 November 2014 Sermon for Remembrance Sunday on Romans 12:15-end , Kim

Having a Christlike Attitude and Learning to say sorry
Today is Remembrance Sunday and today we remember and give thanks to God for all the men and women who sacrificed themselves for the freedom we have today. We pay a special thanks for the men and woman of the World War 1. A freedom that for some people is being robbed from them as I speak. Why? Why are there still wars, between countries, tribes, races? Why are there what I call ‘Inner War/battles’. The war against internal troubles in our towns and countryside, in our homes. Political or otherwise. Drink, Drugs, Domestic Abuse, Child Abuse, Sex Trafficking, Homelessness, Disease and so on.  Why?

One could say it is all about one word. For there is one word that, could we learn to use it more often, has the power to change the world, but it is probably one of the hardest words to say. I refer, of course, to the little word ‘sorry’ – a word apparently so simple, yet one that sticks in the throat as few others do.  We can mean to say it and even look for the opportunity to do so but, when the moment comes, so often we are unable to spit it out. The reason I suppose is our reluctance to lose face, our unwillingness to admit publicly our fallibility. Yet, although some might see saying sorry as a sign of weakness, it actually requires great humility and immense strength of character. If only more of us had the courage to give it a go. But we know that saying ‘sorry’ is just a part of the whole business of wars and inner battles we humans are not very good at doing.  However, it is a start!

So many countless people wait for an apology for the hurts of the past which have changed their lives forever.  Countless disagreements over real and trivial things. Countless people oppressed, suppressed, depressed, facing torture, hunger, famine and epidemic disease, countless people on refugee status, homeless. Drug, sex and alcohol additions. Why?

The world’s attitude towards each other. Our attitude, our actions and our affections to the people we meet in the streets. Before I get shot! I realise that most people do have an attitude of love, forgiveness and kindness but there are people living in our streets and towns that like to offend, ridicule and abuse people in way you and I can’t imagine.

Jesus sets out exactly, how we should behave towards one another in our Romans passage. In the simplistic view from SMYLers. We should:
Love one another.
Do not think you are way smarter and way better than others.
Forget about getting even.
Treat with respect everyone you meet.
Be kind - even to those who are not kind to you.
Pay attention to the feelings of others.  
Care about them.

Jesus said we should WALK AS A FAMILY.  We are to operate as a family, with each member feeling the hurts and afflictions of another. We are never to allow ourselves to become aloof and disconnected from our Christian family. This is a plea for humility, unity and compassion among the members of God's family at all times!
Jesus said we should WALK IN FELLOWSHIP – No one in this family of faith should feel that they are better than another. We are all cut from the same cloth, saved by the same blood and headed to the same heaven. We are to stand together as one, working for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:27). There is no one in this church that has the right to think that they are better than anyone else. (Phil. 2:4).

Jesus said we are to WALK IN FORGIVENESS - According to Jesus, there will be times when we become offended by the words or deeds of another. (Luke 17:1). When they do we are not to respond by seeking to get even with the offending party. Instead, we are commanded to practice forgiveness one toward another. (Luke 17:1-4; Eph. 4:32).

Jesus said we are to WALK IN FAITHFULNESS - This is a command to live a "beautiful" life. We are called upon to be faithful in the sight of all men by living the kind of life that brings glory to the Lord. The life we live should be a thing of beauty to those who observe it and to the Lord, Who also sees every move we make. Nothing is more God honouring and beautiful than a faithful life!
Jesus says we should BE PEACEFUL - Here, we are commanded to see that there is peace in the family of God. Notice that God says that each person is responsible for their own actions in this matter. You are to go the extra mile, without demanding the same from your Brother. You are to offer the apology first, without waiting on him before reconciliation begins. You are to take the lead in seeing there is peace and harmony in God's family. The idea is that if each believer will do his or her part, there will be no place for trouble and disunity in God's House!

Jesus says we should BE PATIENT - Of course, the command here is obvious. We are not to take matters into our own hands. When we have been offended and our brother refuses to make it right with us, then we are to leave the matter in the hand of God. It is not our place to get revenge. It is not our place to extract our pound of flesh. It is our place to love them and to leave them in the hand of God. The Lord saw everything that happened and He will see that the record is set straight, whatever it takes!

Jesus says we should BE POSITIVE - Since the Lord will deal with fault, we are to take the lead in being a friend to our enemy. The Lord would have us to reach out to them in love and humility. If they rebuff us, that is between them and the Lord. We have done our part and that is all the Lord requires! So, instead of getting all hot and bothered when someone does the dirty on us, let us seek to be like Jesus Who literally blessed His enemies as He died. (Luke 23:34). That is godliness in action! That is Christ living in us for the glory of God. That is also something against which your enemy cannot compete. He will have an answer for your arguments, but he will have none for your love!

Jesus says we should BE PLEASANT - Don't be the kind of person who is always looking for something to be upset about. There are people like that! They love nothing better than for someone to offend them so they will have an excuse for their bitter attitudes. Be a pleasant person by being Christlike in every situation. You have no control over how you are treated by others, but you have absolute control over how you respond to them. You have absolute control over how you treat your fellow believers. Be pleasant and the Lord will bless your life!

Having a Christlike attitude may not stop a war from happening to start with BUT is has served us better since. There may be some ‘inner battles’ going on with our European partners, but we are not at the scale of destruction and wounding and desecration that was done during the First and Second World Wars.

As our SMYLers have said:

Love one another. Do not think you are way smart and way better than others. Forget about getting even. Treat with respect everyone you meet. Be kind - even to those who are not kind to you. Pay attention to the feelings of others. Care about them.

You will then find yourself being Christ to others in the world, making a better place for us to live in. Then we will be honouring ‘The Fallen’ – men and women as well as Jesus and letting them know they did not die in vain.


Monday, 3 November 2014

All Saints Sunday 2 November 2014, Revelation 7:9-17, Acts 2:36-47, Bruce

A long time ago (31 August) we started a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians by reading “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The question is how much we each see ourselves as one of God’s holy people.

Remember that this is not about what we have achieved as individuals.  When Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, he did not hold talent contests and elimination rounds to select the special people who qualified.  Almost anyone was able to come, if they believed in the one true God.

Today at All Saints we remember and celebrate the group of people who have followed God through the ages.  Some are great and famous.  We mentioned some in the proclamation that we read together earlier: John, Michael, the desert fathers, Ninian and the rest.  Countless more were not so well known, and their names are lost to us.  Our reading from Revelation takes a look behind the curtain of time to the throne room where God is receiving the spirits of the martyrs who have gone ahead of us.

The word hagios is the Greek term for a person who has been set apart or recognised in a special way.  We normally translate it as saint.  This includes those special individuals whom we remember in history and sometimes name churches after or write books about.  It is much more than this though.  It is the correct term that we apply to anyone who is a follower of God’s anointed and set-apart Son.  It is saying that we are on the Team, that we are Members of the family.

It can take a while for the implications of all this to sink in. Let’s think about the members of the Air Cadet Corps.  It can take some time for a young person to move from being vaguely aware that the ATC exists, to having some idea of who they are and what they do, to becoming involved.  However they hear about the ATC, they start to attend and find out more.  Over a six week period they learn the history and organisation and learn the rudiments of drill.  They are then faced with a decision: do they want to join?  If they do, they parade in front of their new comrades and are officially enrolled as members.  As part of this they have to recite the oath, where they promise on their honour to serve their Unit loyally and to be faithful to their obligations as a member of the Air Training Corps. They further promise to be a good citizen and to do their duty to God and the Queen, their Country and their Flag.  As evidence of this, the squadron padre has to sign their record of service.  If they have not been properly enrolled, they may not take part in squadron events and parades, and they can be refused flying or gliding activities.  They are either in or they are out.

If they are in, they are fully in.  They are members.  They have all the privileges and rights of being a member.  They are also subject to all the disciplines and duties, irrespective of rank and age.  All who have been enrolled are called members of the ATC; they may be cadets or officers or civilian instructors, but we look at them all in the same way.  They are called the air cadets.

In the same way there is a word for us.  Our equivalent of enrolment is baptism.  If we have been baptised, we are one of the saints.  This is a word that has subtly changed its meaning.  If we call someone a saint today, we often mean they are an especially good person, out of the ordinary in their holiness.  We think of a Mother Teresa or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or a Nelson Mandela. But I will let you into a little secret.  The New Testament does not call anyone a saint.  Not one.  It does not call Paul a saint, or John, or Peter, or James or anyone. 

In fact the word saint hardly occurs in the New Testament at all.

There are, however, 63 references to the saints.  It is a word which describes anyone who has been baptised, enrolled, as a member of God’s family, anyone who is a follower of Jesus.  To be called one of the saints is not to be singled out as special or different from everyone else.  The saints are all of us who belong.  We have heard and believed the message that Peter preached on that first day of Pentecost, that God has made this Jesus, who was crucified, both Lord and Messiah.

We are part of the family that goes back to the time of Abraham and that includes the cloud of witness who have gone before us and upon whom light perpetual shines.  The family of all the saints includes all our brothers and sisters in Africa and the near East, in Europe and Asia, all of us and our children and all who are far off; all who have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The latest revision of the New International Version has tried to address the change of understanding of the word saints (hagios) by translating it as God’s people or God’s holy people.  I wonder if you find this helpful?  We have to think about the meaning of the word “holy”.  It means “set apart”, specially reserved.  If you are a member of the ATC, you are set apart on parade nights and you are not free to go to a disco.  If you are a member of Camberley Rugby Club, you are set apart on Sunday mornings and you are not free to go to church services.  If you are a member of Christ’s church, you are set apart to live for him; you are not free to tell lies, look at pornography, hold bitter grudges, or engage in any other self-motivated activities.

Those who are known as saints know that we are far from perfect, and we make mistakes and get things wrong.  We are, however, completely sure where our allegiance lies and whom we seek to obey; we are centred on Jesus Christ.

How can we make progress as part of the saints?

First, we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching.  We study the bible.  The few thoughts contained in a sermon on Sunday are no substitute for exploring and delighting in God’s word.  We can read it, listen to a recording of it, visit websites and study books about it.  We can join in small groups to discuss it and ask questions.

Second, we devote ourselves to the fellowship, the koinonia that we have mentioned before.  To be one of the saints is to have a personal relationship with God our Father through his Son Jesus Christ.  It is more than following a code of morality and ethics.  It is more than attending worship services in a special building.  It is more than serving in the church and undertaking tasks in the community.  These are all good things, but ultimately they will drain us of life and joy unless we have the life of God in our soul.  But if I have the life of God in my soul, and you have the life of God in your soul, we share the same life.  We have a connection.  We act this out when we share the Peace and we live it out when we share our lives.  As in even the closest family, we do not always get on with each other perfectly, but there is a bond of love, of fellowship, that marks us collectively as the saints of God.  Jesus said that outsiders, who are not saints, will know that we are his disciples if we love one another.

Third, we devote ourselves to the breaking of bread.  The simple act of sharing a meal symbolises our shared lives.  As we gather at a table where Jesus is our host, we take bread and wine as Jesus has commanded.  As we eat these every day food items with faith, it is as if we are feeding on Christ, and we strengthened in our inner lives.

Fourth, we devote ourselves to prayer.  We pray when we are on our own and we pray when we are together.  We pray reading words from a book and we pray making it up as we go.  We pray in silence and we pray listening to music.  We pray as we do art and as we undertake simple tasks.  We breathe in God as we inhabit the air around us.  This is for each of us alone, and it is for all of us to share as the saints of God.

The fellowship and “set-apartness” flows over into the way that believers share their goods and belongings.  As well as praying and bible reading and eating together, the early church had all their goods in common together.  This was not communism but a practical expression of shared belonging, that they were saints together.  Today we do this by our offerings.  The plate by the door is primarily there for those who consider themselves members.  It is a delight and very welcome if visitors feel that they would like to contribute to the work of God that goes on here and we are very grateful.  The vast amount of our income, though, comes from the regular generous and often sacrificial giving of the members, the saints, who either have standing orders or give through the numbered envelopes scheme.  We are profoundly grateful for that as well.

It is no secret that we are budgeting for a financial shortfall this year.  This can be avoided if 20 more folk were to become members of the Planned Giving Scheme.  The challenge is greater than that.  We should be budgeting to employ a youth worker, and that would enable us to do a much better job of serving not just our own young people, but also those in the uniformed organisations and in the schools of our town.

The Collect for All Saints is a prayer that we all may live as one of God’s holy people.  It picks up the thought that we can learn from the saints who have gone before us, so that we can live those lives that are set apart, to bring glory to God and to bring us to our new lives in the age to come.

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord …..

Discussion Starters
1.     Henry Scougal (1650-1678) wrote the book “The Life of God in the Soul of Man”.  What does this book title suggest to you about what makes someone to be one of the saints?
2.     “Saint”, “Holy”, “Set apart”.  Has this sermon changed the way that you think about these words, and if so, how?
3.     What were the practical ways that being one of the saints was seen in the life of the early church?  How do we live them out today?
4.     In what way does being baptised and sharing communion help us think about being one of the saints?
5.     How would you answer someone who expressed the view that “there are no real saints around today”?

26 OCTOBER 2014. PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL. ROBERT Isaiah 42 : 1 – 9 Philippians 4 : 10 – 23 Matthew 22 : 15 – 22

On these Sunday mornings through September and October we have been preaching a series of nine sermons on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Today we reach the end of the letter – and hence the end of the series.

To put this into context, we need briefly to remind ourselves of the context of the passage we read this morning from Chapter 4. Paul is in prison and the church he founded in the city of Philippi has sent him a substantial gift of money and, no doubt, the equivalent of what we would call a big food parcel. In those days, and no doubt throughout most of history, people in prison could not rely on the prison to provide food for ordinary people. Prisoners were reliant on family and friends.

This is Paul’s ‘thank you’ letter, and in this passage today he gets around to saying a grateful ‘thank you’ – right at the end of the letter. But the letter is so much more than the standard ‘thank you letter’ that we are accustomed to write. Four substantial chapters just glow with thanksgiving and praise, firstly of course to God, but no less for the fact that this church is alive and still seems to be thriving inspite of some disruption and persecution from outside, and some division inside. And thanksgiving perhaps especially for the affection and concern that flows to him personally and which the gift expresses.

The words that flow through this letter are thankfulness and joy. Considering he is in prison in far from pleasant conditions, and – as he tells us – possibly facing death, this seems to us surprising. But thankfulness and joy are deep characteristics of the Christian faith and life, and this letter shows us how they should be present in our lives whatever our outward circumstances.

Paul knows what it is to be content – and indeed joyful – whatever the circumstances. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether being in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who strengthens me.” (vv. 12,13).

I sometimes think of an organ, and the sustaining note on the pedal which undergirds everything and is rock solid, no matter what is going on the manuals above, where there may be all kinds of complications. When Paul was in prison in the stocks in Philippi, having been flogged, we read in Acts 16 that he and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God!

As he has been explaining in Chapter 3 of this letter, now that Paul knows Christ and the power of his resurrection, he is filled with such inner love and strength that he can cope with anything. There is a verse here which sometimes gets misinterpreted. In verse 13 he says that ‘I can do everything through him who strengthens me’. That doesn’t mean that he can overcome every problem and danger, like donning a batman suit. He still had to face flogging and imprisonment at Philippi. He still has to face weakness, and anxiety, sickness and everything that mortal flesh in heir to. He is quite open and honest about all that in his letters. But he can cope because deep down there is the presence of God and the peace and joy which comes through a personal relationship with Christ. It has been said that peace and joy are two sides of the same coin. Peace is joy resting – and joy is peace dancing!    We are not excused all the troubles that life can bring, but with Christ nothing can ultimately defeat us – not even death.

In this passage, Paul has set out to say ‘ thank you’ for their generous gift, and to this he now returns in verses 14 and following. It may well strike you that his ‘thank you’ sounds a bit convoluted – why can’t he just say ‘Your gift was generous and wonderful and I am very grateful’!

Well, part of the answer to that is that he enjoys word-play and he uses a lot of it here, and word play in Greek doesn’t translate very well into English. It’s very difficult not to make it sound clumsy. But there is a much more important reason.

He is determined to get behind the gift to the relationship that prompted it. We have a saying in English ‘It’s the thought that counts’. But there’s something much more important than the ‘thought’. If you give someone a thoughtful and precious gift then what you are expressing is love and friendship. And Paul wants to get behind the money and the food parcel, and acknowledge that relationship of love and friendship and affection which prompted their generosity, and which seems not to have been so evident in some other churches.

Running right through this letter is the theme that I like to call ‘partnership’. In chapter 1 verses 3-5 – right at the start of the letter – he sounds the note which is going to pervade everything he writes. “I thank my God every time I think of you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.”

The word translated ‘partnership’ there is the Greek word ‘Koinonia’. This has become a favourite word in Christian circles over my lifetime, often translated as ‘fellowship’. What we experience in church – especially since churches everywhere have begun to speak more and more about the Holy Spirit, and the experience and the change the Spirit can bring to a church – is ‘fellowship’ – a real love for one another. It finds its expression in this service especially in the Peace which we share. And it is indeed a wonderful thing. I don’t mean to caricature, but there was a time when people would come to church and hardly speak to each other. You were lucky to get a polite ‘Good Morning’. And indeed people would take care not to sit too close to one another, as you wanted your own personal space (often quite a large space!) to concentrate on what was going on at the altar, and directing your gaze forwards and upwards to God, never casting sideways glances at others. Times have changed – and certainly for the better. We have become more conscious of the Risen Christ in the midst of us as we gather round, rather than a distant God somewhere at the east end. We express that with our seating, our body language, our interchange of conversation, our home groups, prayer groups and much else.

But it’s important to get clear in our minds that ‘koinonia’ (fellowship) is more than just a warm glow, a hand-shake and perhaps a hug, although it should never be less than a deep sense of being in the presence of people with whom we have in common a deep bond through our faith.

To be genuine Christian fellowship, this Christian bonding has to be followed through and put into practice in at least two ways which Paul draws attention to in this letter. First, it is a partnership in the Gospel. It has to show itself in action. We engage together in mission. We act together as a team, whether it’s in the 24/7 prayer coming up this week, or as we look forward to taking part in the major mission to Camberley next year. The handshake at the Peace has to translate into teamwork in mission.

Second, Paul goes out of his way to express his thanks – not so much for the gift – but for the ‘koinonia’ – the partnership in love which he feels deeply, which results in the gift as its tangible expression. The handshake at the Peace has to result in practical generosity. As need arises, we have to be ready both to give practically, and to receive. As the church finds that needs arise, we need to join hands metaphorically in partnership to meet those needs, and to do so with the generosity which expresses our joy and love in Christ. The person who loves much will be generous in giving, because our love is rooted in the love of God who has so generously loved us in Christ.

It is these themes of partnership, joy and unity which permeate this letter from its beginning, and are now so evident as Paul draws to a close. He has such a deep affection for the members of this church, as he receives and benefits from their gift, that his heart overflows with thanksgiving to God who has bonded them together. And it is on this note of loving and practical fellowship that, for the time being, he bids them farewell.

It has been a good exercise to look in more depth at one of Paul’s most joyful letters. But our former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, makes a very important comment about Bible study. He points out that, as the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, for us it has always needed to be translated. And as we study it in translation, there is a further step. He says that the most significant translation is the ‘translation of our lives. We have to let the Bible captivate our hearts, our minds and our imaginations.’ We must now put the key messages of this wonderful letter into practice in our lives, and in our church. Partnership in the Gospel, unity, joy and generous giving that express our bond of love.


1. Suggest ways in which we can put into practice in St Michael’s our partnership in the Gospel.

2. Discuss the main points you have learned from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

3. Consider and discuss the following passage from Henri J. M. Noumen’s book “Circles of Love” : “Many people hardly believe anymore in the possibility of a truly joy-filled life. They have more or less accepted life as a prison and are grateful for every occasion that creates the illusion of the opposite: a cruise, a suspense novel, a sexual experience...This is happiness in the house of fear, a happiness which is ‘made in the world’ and thus is neither lasting nor deeply satisfying. The joy that Jesus his own joy which flows from his intimate communion with the One who sent him. It is a joy that does not separate happy days from sad days, successful moments from moments of failure....This joy is a divine gift that does not leave us during times of illness, poverty, oppression or persecution...It is truly ecstatic, always moving us away from the house of fear into the house of love, and thus proclaiming that death no longer has the final say, though its noise remains loud and its devastation visible. The joy of Jesus lifts up life to be celebrated.”

19th October 2014 Wide Angled or Sharp Focus? Anne Philippians 4:2-9

We’re now in week eight of our nine week sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  At the beginning of this final chapter, Paul comes back to the main themes of unity, joy and of being in Christ.  As he now begins to write his conclusion, there’s a sense of urgency in the series of commands he gives the Church as he deals with both personal and practical matters. 

One of the commands he gives to the Philippians, and to us, is to Rejoice!  Rejoice? What’s there to rejoice about in our world I wonder?  In the newspapers this week we’ve been bombarded by anxiety-inducing reports – the threat of Ebola; home-grown potential terrorists being arrested and apparently, there might be a hurricane heading in our direction!  Our personal trials also cause us to be anxious; when our plans crash and burn, when our bubble of good times bursts, we can be overtaken with anxiety and worry.

We know from what we’ve already learnt of Paul’s situation that he too has much cause for worry and anxiety.  He’s in prison in chains for Christ in danger of losing his life (Phil 1:13).  He’s also concerned for his friends in Philippi; he warns them of evil doers (Phil 3:2), of enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil 3:18) and he knows there is disunity within the community (Phil 2:3-4).  Doesn’t sound like a recipe for rejoicing to me… and yet, that’s exactly what Paul does.  We can hear his joyfulness throughout the letter; he uses the words joy or rejoicing fourteen times.  We know his joy is unaffected by all the happenings in his life because he keeps on telling us how joyful he is!

What causes him to be joyful?  For Paul, joy is not dependent on his circumstances; it’s not superficial happiness or a cheerfulness that can easily be swept away by the pain of his suffering or his concerns for his friends.  It’s a confidence in what God can and will do through Jesus Christ.  It’s the joy of knowing he’s forgiven.  It’s a joy that acknowledges the realities of life, but looks beyond them to the joy of knowing that Christ has overcome death; death for Paul holds no fear.  His joy is rooted in faith, in a deepening and trusting relationship with the Lord.  Christ is the source of his joy.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that sometimes our lives are a bit like one of those panoramic photographs – you know the sort that requires a wide-angled lens and it captures the whole scene.  Our ‘panoramic wide-angled’ view on life might include the global crises and the national issues I’ve already mentioned and it might include our own hopes and fears.  All these take up most of the picture and at the edge, somewhere on the periphery, is our Christian lives – Christ on the edge.  But Paul challenges that image.  “Rejoice in the Lord always” he says “The Lord is near” (Phil 4-5) - Jesus in sharp-focus in the centre, Christ in the middle of all life’s happenings, present now and our hope for the future.  That’s what ‘being in Christ’ means.  Christ at the centre. That’s what gives joy, but it also comes with some other implications.

In our relationships with one another, we are to have the “same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).  We know when we looked at chapter 2 that some in the community are having difficulty with putting others before themselves.  More specifically now, his beloved friends Euodia and Syntyche, his co-workers in spreading the Gospel in Philippi, are in dispute with each other.  By naming them it’s as if he is with them face-to-face as he pleads with them to be of the “same mind in the Lord” (4:2).  Notice Paul doesn’t take sides, but asks for another member of the community, his ‘true companion’, to support them.  The danger is the community will be divided if people begin to take sides, but the very act of working it through and supporting each other together, creates a unity of effort, a common purpose.  Christ at the centre, in sharp-focus, means having the same mindset as him; putting others before ourselves and supporting one another to overcome our human disagreements.

But, can we manage to make space in our panoramic view of life for Jesus?  For God?  How do we stop the everyday issues filling up the frame?  The origin of the word ‘worry’ comes from the Old English word wyrgen, which means to strangle.  Quite appropriate really; worry and anxiety can choke us.  It affects our thinking our feelings and robs us of joy.  It crowds-out our relationship with God because we want to carry the burden of the future ourselves and exercise control over things we have absolutely no control over.  Paul tells us how we can be free from anxiety.  Christ at the centre, in sharp-focus, means trusting in the Father who loves us enough to give His Son. 

Trust in God means we can present any request to Him.  We can bring “every situation” to Him in prayer.  Paul says, “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.  (4:6)  Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.  Talk to him, about the little things, the big things EVERYTHING!   Let God know what’s troubling you, not because he doesn’t know already, but because in a relationship, we share our thoughts, feelings joys and sadness.  And he says, be thankful.  Have you noticed how turning our attention to thanks lifts our mood?  Instead of directing all our attention to our needs and worries, thanksgiving shifts our hearts and minds to the blessings God gives us.  It puts him and not our worries to the forefront and as we pray – “the peace of God” counters any anxiety because it protects us or “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7).  That’s total wellbeing and inner peace from God.  That’s what we can expect when we focus on Christ, when we put him at the centre.  Let’s rejoice in that!


1.         What makes up your ‘panoramic’ picture of life? Would you say Christ is in your peripheral           field of vision or in sharp-focus?

2.         Does Paul suggest any ways we can make Christ the Centre of our lives?

3          This section of Chapter 4 concludes with “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true,    whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is             admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil 4:8-9)              Why do you think Paul tells us to think about such things?  How might the ‘panoramic    view’ of our lives change as we think of such things?

4.         Have you had any experience of falling out with someone in our church community that, without naming names, you could in a general way share with others?  How was the issue             resolved?

5.         Make a list of your worries and anxieties and all the things you are thankful for.  Bring       them to God in prayer.