Advent – looking forward not backward

Canon Roy Arnold

This is not the sermon I was going to write, but the postman arrived when I had just started writing that one, and what he delivered waylaid me. It was our latest Tesco club card statement which arrived and looking at it I realised (to quote George Orwell) that Big Brother had been truly watching me; because all the money-off coupons exactly matched our recent purchases, all entered into the Tesco computer. I suppose they even have my shoe size.

No surprise there I suppose. But then I got to thinking that if Tesco know so much about me, it is frightening to think what God or my recording angel must know about me. And about you. About our going out and our coming in; about when we sit down or get up, and what we are going to say even before we speak. Our good points, and our sins likewise. When we fail to do right, or when we are pleasing to God. And I thought about Jesus as our judge at the end of time with all this evidence to hand.

This is one of the major themes of this season of Advent – Jesus as our judge – so what will Jesus think about us? I believe he will search for our good points as well as the bad.

But what about our bad points? All the more reason why we should be totally grateful that Our Lord is letting us (and the rest of humanity) play extra time to get things right and on target before that dreadful day of judgement.

This patience of Jesus is a main theme of our epistle this morning. The early Christians thought the return of Jesus would be straight away, but 2000 years on we are still waiting. One disadvantage, however, of this extra time is that we can so easily forget to number our days and apply our hearts unto wisdom, but as John the Baptist taught in our gospel for today – it will be wise of us to prepare a way for the Lord. By telling God of our sorrow for our sins, and then trying not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Which is why we, as Christians must try to imitate Christ.

By all means let us remember and welcome the baby born on Christmas Day, but not forgetting it is what we do with the present and the future which really counts – the race which set before us.

The race that is set before us, unless, that is, like the Goons’ song, we are walking backwards to Christmas, which we can never actually do. Our journey carries us onwards, so…

not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by we shall see Him,
but in heaven set at God’s right hand on high.
Where like stars his children crowned, all in white shall stand around.


1 Corinthians 1 3-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 13 24-end

But in those days, following that distress,

‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’

Remembrance Sunday 2014

Brian Reader

I would like to thank Veronica for letting me speak to you today on this Remembrance Sunday; it also gives me an opportunity to thank all of you for making me feel so welcome since I moved to Bollington. My dear wife Jean has told some of her friends that I “will bore the pants off you”! Perhaps that is better than being told that “I will bore you all to death”! So I will be brief.

Now Remembrance Day awakens different memories and feelings in all of us. As a school boy some 75 years ago I had no idea what war entailed, and as no family members had been killed in the First World War I couldn’t think of anyone to remember. On looking at some notes I made in 1995, I could say then that no one under the age of fifty would have remembered the country at total war. At that time some believed that with the end of the cold war, all threats of war had been removed and that a day for Remembrance no longer served any useful purpose; saying that it glorified war and anyway, it was all too long ago.

People would not say that today. Not only has television brought home the horrors of all the recent wars, but there has also been much publicity about the centenary of the start of the First World War in all the media.

Now Remembrance Day is a time set aside when we remember the dead of the 1914 and all subsequent wars, but, as I will explain later, I believe it should be much more than just that.

What does remembrance mean to us?
The dictionary says that remembrance is “the power or the process, of reproducing or recalling what we have learnt.”

What have we learnt?
That war is wrong, that war is bloody, that war is wasteful and that war should be avoided, not at all costs, but certainly whenever possible. As I believe Churchill once said Jaw, Jaw, is always better than War, War.

Did you know that since the end of the 2nd world war in 1945, there has only been one year when no British soldier has been killed on active service?

Recently our troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan. When asked about their service out there, they did not glorify war; they had a simple pride in what they had done and they remembered their colleagues who did not come back, as well as those who had returned with appalling injuries.

I don’t believe in jingoistic nationalism which says that we must die for our country right or wrong, but I do believe that we have a duty to protect ourselves and our country from evil, both from within and from without.

Peace is not something that just happens; we must strive and work for peace, just as much today, as our forefathers have always had to in the past. We must remember that we too have a duty to oppose evil and that it may be necessary for us, either individually, or as a nation, to stand and fight against the evil we see all around us.

I am old enough to remember the last war, and I am also proud to have served in the Royal Air Force and seen active service around the world. It was round about Remembrance day in 1966, when I was tasked to fly my helicopter to a forward hill fort in Borneo to pick up a casualty, a young Royal Marine Lieutenant. Only he died just before we got there, nothing could have saved him, he bled to death, he just bled to death! What a waste. A few weeks later, confrontation was over, and the border of Borneo was intact.

Christ opposes all evil. He was always talking about the evil he saw about him, not to condemn those who were doing evil, but to get them to change their ways.

Yes, as well as remembering those who gave their lives, on the land or sea or in the air, we also have to remember the sacrifice made by their loved ones, the children without fathers, the widows, perhaps denied children, the mothers and sisters, and the fiancées and girlfriends who never married. Today we also have to remember the families of the service women who have recently died.

And so as we remember all those who made sacrifices for us, we have to ask ourselves “What would they have require of us?”. To ensure that all those who were injured were well looked after? Yes, but more than that. I think that they would want us to live in peace and protect the rights of all to freedom and justice, and I believe that only by obeying Christ’s command to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves can we achieve that.

We also have to bring Christian hope to a materialistic world which has lost its purpose and direction. In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives hope to those who are grieving, and you may have recognized the reading as it is sometimes used in funeral services. Paul did not know, as we still don’t know, exactly what happens to us when we die, but he did know that Christ was crucified for all of us and that he rose from the dead. Paul therefore has a sure belief and faith that Christians too will be raised from the dead at the end of time.

So let us reflect on our own lives to ensure that not only are we striving to defeat evil in the world, but that we also spread the good Christian message of love, hope, forgiveness and peace, so that our children, and our children’s children, will be able to share those freedoms which we, through the sacrifice of many, and God’s abundant mercy have all enjoyed.

Amen


remembrance2

1 Thess. 4: 13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Michael’s first Sunday as Deacon

Canon Roy Arnold

Charlotte Bronte (who wrote “Jane Eyre”) in the opening words of her novel “Shirley” observes: “Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the North of England: they lie very thick on the hills. Every parish has one or more of them.” But, as it happens, it now seems quite a few years since Bollington shared in this bounty, which makes you, Michael, all the more welcome. This very time last week you were getting ready for the Ordination Service, and this very time 51 years ago I was getting ready to go to St John’s Church in Bollington to get married to Hylda Mary Brogden, spinster of this parish.

roy-and-hylda002

It is not a new thought that Ordination and Marriage are quite similar, not least because they both – ideally – entail commitment and love. Of course, being married (or not married) or being ordained (or not ordained) does not make us any different from what we were or are, for better or for worse, but St Paul (in our Epistle for today) says: because we are all too human we can still get things wrong and fall into sin. And sin (as I see it) is like missing the target, God’s target, and there are thousands of ways of missing the bulls-eye, but only one of hitting it. But, week by week, it is the privilege of all Christians to hear, and for clergy to announce: “This is the target to aim for” in the teachings of Jesus, like his word to us today, that we must aim to be, somehow, “like little children again”. Note, not childish – but childlike. “Like infants,” he says, “seeing the world and other people afresh.” And how I wish that we all could (more often) experience the world like that – New Every Morning…

But sad to say we very soon start waiting for the next hospital appointment. or worrying about the children, or the car failing its MOT, or the church roof falling IN, or the Parochial Church Council falling OUT.

St Francis de Sales says “Have patience with all things but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about mending them, and everyday begin this task anew.” I think that we might start by remembering those words Jesus gave to us this morning:

“Come to Me, all of you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”


Matthew 11.16-19 and 25-end

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

GOD WITH US

Canon Roy Arnold

Now let me see; is it to be socks or handkerchiefs for Uncle Tom this Christmas, like last Christmas (and the one before). Obviously, biscuits and talcum powder for Granny. Christmas is a time for list-making isn’t it? A list of presents to buy; a list for shopping; when to get the turkey; and the running order for cooking the dinner (don’t forget to make the trifle). Even fitting in Church at Christmas. Yes I know – they have even started getting get religion into Christmas now, whatever next?

Actually (as we know) it’s the reason for this season; mixing in some pagan midwinter celebration with the joyous story of the Birth of Jesus – of which birth we heard in our Gospel for today. But did you hear in the Gospel that other title (from the prophet Isaiah), that other sort of name for Jesus?
The name Emmanuel. “Jesus our Emmanuel.”

It means GOD WITH US, or GOD IS WITH US. That’s a particular reason for saying “Happy Christmas”; that God (in Jesus, or the Spirit of Jesus) is with us. Not WAS with us, “long time ago in Bethlehem” – but God is with us NOW.

Which thought set me off making another Christmas list – a list of how Jesus IS with us now. First on the list is that we can hear – in the here and now – Jesus speaking to us. We have his recorded words, telling us what to do and how we are to behave. And then I suppose another obvious one is that we can actually talk to Jesus – and to God through Jesus – which we do whenever we say our prayers. Then he is us with us in this very service, the Holy Communion. When we actually receive him. Going up to the altar for Holy Communion, we are going up to meet Jesus – God with us.

All of these are sort of churchy things, but I believe we can experience Jesus in our everyday lives outside church. So Jesus can be with when we are sad, when someone has died, or when we (or someone else) is ill. And Jesus is certainly with us when we are happy and full of the Joys of Easter. He can be there – if we let him – when we are depressed, or lonely, or tempted to go down the wrong road.

And do remember this: he doesn’t drop down to us from heaven. He comes to us mainly through our loved ones, or friends, our neighbours, other people. Or in something we hear on the radio, or read in a book, or a sudden memory of some good thing long ago… or even in a sermon.

And here is a really important thought: that other people might just find Jesus (Jesus with us NOW – OUR EMMANUEL) in you or in me; in our friendly words or actions. Yes, yours or mine. A smile, or a kind word (but not always easy and be real about it).

Talking of being real about this business of GOD BEING WITH US, there do seem to be lots of Gods around. The men who murdered the soldier in Woolwich thought that God was with them. And history is full of people following the wrong God – two World Wars are examples where Christian nations fought with one another.

So that when we say that GOD IS WITH US, we must be as sure as we can be that it is Jesus we are truly following. It is Jesus who is our EMMANUEL; Jesus who is truly GOD WITH US. Maybe then – another item for our Christmas List – remember to welcome Jesus into our lives.

GOD WITH US through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy. JESUS OUR EMMANUEL – God’s Son as our friend and our brother.


Matthew 1.18-end

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

 

Jesus is the same forever

Canon Roy Arnold

When we have been ill or sad, worried or depressed, but start to hope again, or recover…these are times of God-given New Life – our little personal Easters – like a new day dawning… and in the Springtime of the Year. Which is when it happened that Jesus was RAISED from the dead and greeting the women in the garden. Later on he met many more people in those Great 40 Days after Easter – and (unless they were all deluded) we have no reason to doubt that this DID actually happen. We have witnesses and written evidence for OUR BELIEF. This then is Easter Past.

And from this quiet starting point in that Springtime garden, Christians began to look forward to another Easter yet to come, believing that – as Jesus is risen from the dead – so shall we all AS WE SHARE HIS RESURRECTION. And as Jesus met his friends again, WE shall hope to meet again our departed loved ones and friends – and TRUE love will prove to be (as Paul said) THE GREATEST AND THE BEST THING IN OUR HUMAN EXPERIENCE. And, if we have loved enough, we may hope for heaven thereby.

But all this lies in the future – our Easter Future – which we believe depends on how we live today, our Easter in this present time, in which we gather up our belief in Resurrection New Life (past and future) into the experiment of living out Easter every day.

  • Trying to be loving and kind (as we have been loved by God).
  • Trying to be forgiving (as we have been forgiven by God).
  • Trying to be generous (as we have been given so much by God).
  • Trying to be brave when things go wrong; remembering that Jesus is with us to answer our prayers (perhaps in his way, not always ours) – Jesus with us through all our days.

And when we need a word from him we may find it in the Bible; but more importantly meeting him (not in a book, or in history or in heaven) but in person; that is, meeting Jesus in other people. And maybe most of all when meet together as the Church – and especially meeting him TOGETHER in Holy Communion, the gift Jesus gave to us to remember him by. His love for us on the cross, and his gift for us of this New Resurrection Life.

THIS Easter Morning we remember that Jesus truly is THE SAME YESTERDAY…AND TODAY… AND FOREVER.

AND HIS PROMISE TO US IS: PEACE I LEAVE YOU; MY PEACE I GIVE UNTO YOU. SO LET NOT YOUR HEART BE TROUBLED, NEITHER LET IT BE AFRAID, FOR I AM WITH YOU TO THE END OF TIME.

Have we forgotten what Advent’s about?

Canon Roy Arnold

This sermon is delivered in absentia (by Veronica) because I have gone to our grand-daughter’s musical debut on the Double Bass at a school carol concert – so I know full well that we have to have school carol concerts in term time, and that they are very popular (sometimes ticket-only events).

And I know we feel that we must catch Christmas by its coat-tails, to keep up with the advertising, and the carols in the supermarkets, and the Salvation Band at Handforth Dean… but it does seem such a terrible shame to the let this marvellous, frightening season of Advent fly out of the window.

Strangely enough the liturgical framework is still there: O Come O Come Emmanuel… with clouds descending… and all the rest…. and the Bible Readings full of such terrible warnings about the end of the world… all decidedly un-Christmassy… these traditional Advent themes of the Four Last Things: Death and Judgement, Heaven and Hell.

And even when John the Baptist comes on the scene in these Advent readings we may mistakenly think that he is foretelling Jesus coming as an infant (Baby Jesus), but not so. John was preparing the Way of Lord… soon to come… as a grown man… of Jesus coming with his message of the Love of God… coming with this message of Love to a world just as unloving and as unlovely as it is now… a world of violence (personal and national), drugs and drunkenness, abuse of children (Jimmy Savile and others including clergy we must admit), lack of integrity (South Yorkshire Police Force and Hillsborough) and greed (the collapse of banking probity)… and we could go on. All of these crimes or misdemeanours happening because (I suppose) people think they can get away with it… keep their dirty deeds under wraps.

But – as we know – more often than not, THE TRUTH WILL OUT. Sometimes this may happen (as with Jimmy Savile) just after his death… or maybe a long time afterwards… Historical Crimes as we call them nowadays (such as landed a clergy friend of mine in prison). And I am going through this all too familiar territory because it seems to be the case (perhaps because of our putting traditional Advent teaching to one side) that everybody has forgotten the Day of Judgement… that one day all will be revealed to the loving and utterly fair Summing Up of our lives by Jesus, who knows all the secrets of our hearts (even yours and mine).

But all this teaching is smothered under a Charles Dickens Version of Christmas, and Ordering Turkeys, and White Christmases, while we leave it to the Jehovah Witnesses to knock on doors with their version of the Four Last Things. But then maybe we have left it too late to rescue Advent. I wonder what you think?

Maybe we ought to designate another time of the year for this season… and this teaching. Maybe early in Lent might be a better time (for us personally and in our teaching the faith) to remember Richard Baxter’s prayer which goes:

Keep us O Lord, while we tarry on this earth,
in a serious seeking after You,
and in an affectionate walking with You,
every day of our lives;
that when You come,
we may not be found hiding our talents,
nor serving the flesh,
nor yet asleep with our lamp unfurnished,
but waiting for our Lord,
our Glorious God for ever.
Amen

Ask me about Christmas

Canon Veronica Hydon

Dave and I called in at the Cock & Pheasant last weekend after our Parish Winter Fair and I noticed that the bar staff were all wearing new black T-Shirts with a small snowflake motif on the front and a bold message in striking white lettering on the reverse. I asked the landlady if I could buy one: she said, “Not at all, don’t be silly, please have this one as a gift!” The bold message on the T-Shirt says: “ASK ME ABOUT CHRISTMAS”. Perfect for when I’m doing my school assemblies I thought (and remarkably, although it was a size smaller than I’d normally have picked out for myself, the T-Shirt fits!)…

On this day, when we look forward to the start of the Advent season beginning next Sunday 2 December, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, Lord of all creation and Prince of peace. But today also is traditionally known as “Stir Up Sunday” because of words of the old Collect set for this day in the Book of Common Prayer, the same prayer we have now in modern form as our Post-Communion Prayer: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Interestingly, even this week’s Weight Watchers’ leaflet of encouragement recognises we reached “Stir Up Sunday” in the calendar!) Today was supposed to be the day you stirred up all the good things into your Christmas pudding and everyone in the family took turns to wield the wooden spoon in the mixing bowl and make a wish. Then you’d let the well-mixed ingredients rest quietly in the larder for several weeks to mature, before cooking it on Christmas Day as the crowning glory to the Christmas feast, with its halo of holly and flaming brandy.

This week we’ve had the misfortune to witness the family of the Church of England wearily mixing together long rehearsed and stale arguments as diverse ingredients into a stodgy clerical pudding, and at the end of the day, rather than bringing out a rich and tasty pudding to be proud of (notwithstanding the variety of wishes fervently stirred into the General Synod Mixing bowl), we witnessed the wooden spoon becoming the only prize and are faced with the gloomy prospect of an irrelevant and bitterly disappointing pudding that fails to satisfy anyone’s hunger for justice, equality, grace and new life. Certainly no amount of brandy can now make it light up to produce even the faintest “wow” factor in the world outside the church, which looks on astounded and dismayed.

The current advertising campaign launched by a well-known supermarket starts off in a very promising way: “At Sainsbury’s we know that Christmas is about more than just one day. It’s about a whole season of days. So far so good.. and it goes on: There are so many special days in the run up to Christmas and this year we’d like to celebrate every single one of them.” Oh good, you are tempted to think: at last the commercial world is picking up the real message of Advent! At last, we can celebrate the powerful witness of the prophets and saints who through their feast-days over the next few weeks point us to see afresh the miracle of the Christ-Child. There’s a whole rich variety of them – St Catherine with her fiery wheel, Isaac Watts the great hymn-writer who gave us “When I survey the wondrous cross”, St Andrew the go-between brother of Simon Peter who took seriously the offer of five loaves and two fish from a little child, Charles de Foucauld a 20th Century hermit, missionary and martyr, Francis Xavier a Jesuit missionary to the Far East at the time of the great explorers in the 16th Century, Nicholas Ferrar, founder of the Little Gidding Community (which has influenced my own spiritual journey) and who was neighbour and friend of the Anglican priest George Herbert (who wrote “Let all the world in every corner sing” – the hymn we sang before the gospel today), then of course there’s the great bishop of the 4th Century, St Nicholas, generous and unassuming friend of the poor and patron saint of seafarers and pawnbrokers (and of anyone who takes a punt at something and takes risks in life I guess!)… The list of saints celebrated in the run up from now until Christmas goes on, and I’ve only reached 6th December! But, of course, Sainsbury’s did not intend to point us to any of these hallowed feast days: they have instead produced a list of their own: there is “Putting up the decorations Day”, “Buying the Christmas tree Day”, Ordering the turkey Day”, “We’re going to need a bigger fridge Day”, “Being good for Santa Day”, “Impressing the neighbours Day” (I don’t quite get that one, though the next one I do: “Opening the chocolates early Day”) and one they didn’t think of “Switching on the Bollington Christmas Lights today Day”!!!!

church house002

To most of the world, as the Bishop of Leicester said towards the end of the General Synod debate last Tuesday, all our churchy internal discussions seem irrelevant to those being bombed in Gaza and Syria, or those millions suffering from persecution, famine, drought, flood and war. The Archbishop of Canterbury designate also spoke of the real role of the Church being that as Christians we hold as a treasure God’s Peace and Grace for the world. This week we seem to have opened our fingers and dropped that treasure, shattering it like a precious glass Christmas ornament, and the ordinary churchgoer and the secular world can only look on in despair. When we celebrate St Andrew’s Day this coming Friday, we will still dare to say as Andrew did to his own brother and to those Gentile strangers wanting to meet Jesus, “Come and see!” But our invitation may sound hollow, unless we in our turn, even within the flawed institution of the Church, can demonstrably live lives of true inclusiveness, saintliness and graciousness and keep the flame of Advent hope burning in our hearts.

The Hillsborough report

Canon Roy Arnold

Away from the “More tea Vicar and can I tempt you to another slice of cake” image of the Clergy of the Church of England (and other denominations), there are many dark places where the clergy find themselves. One of the darkest places in which I found myself was in the midst of the Hillsborough Football disaster in 1989, now firmly back in the news after a twenty-three year struggle to disclose the truth about it all. I was not at the actual football match, but (as Vicar of St Oswald’s Sheffield at the time) I went to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield shortly afterwards to see what help was needed. There I witnessed football fans desperately searching for friends, among the chaos of a hospital overwhelmed by it all.

Later still, I was in the Gymnasium at the Sheffield Wednesday Football Ground which had by then been turned in a mortuary with 96 body bags in neat rows, and photographs of the dead displayed on the walls. A team of Clergy and Social Workers met the families and friends who by then were arriving from Liverpool and other places. They were taken to the photograph wall and then to identify dead loved ones. I was there principally in my other role of Sheffield Diocesan Press Officer. Later in the week the then Archbishop of York (Dr John Habgood) came to visit Police and Emergency Workers who were pleased to accept his praise for their efforts. Little did we know that some of those same senior officers were cooking up a cover-up plan to shift the blame for the disaster from themselves to the football fans of Liverpool by, among other things, the alteration of reports of what had gone wrong.

Sadly, it almost natural for all large organisations to do this, like the Police in South Yorkshire and the Ambulance Services. Governments do it, and Doctors and Hospitals certainly do it, to protect their own skins. And of course the Church does it, as witness the cover up in the Catholic Church, and in the Church of the England, about the abuse of children. It seems to me that Systems and Large Organisations can became somehow evil, unless they are led by people with integrity (who are not easy to find). It is interesting to note from today’s Gospel passage (Mark chapter 8 vv 27-38) that Jesus he calls his contemporaries “an adulterous and sinful generation”. Well, it seems that things haven’t changed all that much in two thousand years: maybe because we prefer to ignore the Church’s teaching – the teaching of Jesus no less – about the Day of Judgement?

The release of the Hillsborough Report this week has been like a mini day of judgement, with cover ups and lies out in the open, apologies all round from the (then) editor of The Sun, and from politicians and senior police officers: so many people colluding with lies and half-truths. But the secrets of many hearts have been disclosed, and the truth is out, as it will be on the Day of Judgement, if what we believe is true. Our Epistle for today (from James chapter 3 vv 1-12) reminds us of the importance of integrity in leaders such as preachers and teachers – and, in fact, in each and every one of us. What we do not want is for Jesus to be ashamed of us when he comes with his angels. What we want Him to say is: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”, so that, as it said in today’s Psalm (116 vv 1-8), “we may walk in the presence of the Lord and in the land of the living”.

It is often difficult to end a sermon, but this morning these words from St Paul spring to mind: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians Chapter 4 verse 8)

Not only think about these things but try to put them in action, in both public life and in our own personal lives – and then we shall perhaps deserve to hear our Lord’s “Well Done!”.

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Mark chapter 8 vv 27-38

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

James chapter 3 vv 1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.