14th Sunday after Trinity 2018

Brian Reader

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Ps 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

We have now reached the first Sunday in September and the 14th Sunday after Trinity – only seven more to go! So today my talk is part sermon, and part meditation.

Our readings speak about the commandments given to us by God, and how it is most important for us to be doers of God’s word and not merely hearers like those who still speak with unbridled tongues and who deceive no one but themselves.

It could be said that it is all in your mind, as your mind commands your thought, speech and actions. Let me give you an example: A lovely-looking girl got on a bus and most heads turned. She had a classical beauty and figure, and was most attractively dressed. The faces of other passengers registered wistful pleasure or delight – until she began to speak. Her voice was like the sound of many cement-mixers, coarse and loud and grating and the content was worse than the sound, crude, judgemental, blasphemous; it really was a real turn-off. If only she had given as much thought and care to her attitudes as to her appearance!

Now the Pharisees were most zealous in religious observance; they were not all nit-pickers or pettifogging lawyers; but when the hungry disciples ignored a traditional ritual, the Pharisees were quick to try to attack Jesus through his friends. Jesus made no defence of his disciples, but launched a scathing counter-attack on their accusers, by contrasting appearance with reality. In Isaiah 29:13, we can read: The LORD says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules that they have been taught.”

Jesus opened up the whole debate about the validity of traditions; minute regulations can often obscure the real principle. He contrasted the eternal law of God with man-made laws which are not sacrosanct. Simply because it seems good to us or we’ve always done it that way does not mean it can never be changed or has Divine approval.

With the crowd and later with his disciples, Jesus explained the truth about uncleanness and what really defiles a man or a woman. His appalling catalogue of sins and crimes, which are repulsive to us all, are all actions of an unclean mind and heart, not anything external; and they all can seed and reproduce themselves.

The heart of the matter, is a matter of the heart and mind. It is all a matter of personal responsibility. We would like to blame our genes, or poor environment, or inadequate education, or social pressures, or life’s unfairness; Obviously, we think, it must be something to do with other people! God has, however, given to each of us the dignity and the privilege of being responsible – and answerable – for our own acts and attitudes. It seems as if there is an evil twist within us; but how we deal with depends on us.

When a trainee priest once told an old and very wise saint that he found it difficult not to give way to temptation, the saint replied that, “I cannot stop birds from flying over my head, but I can stop them from nesting in my hair!”

So when we need help. Remember the power of prayer.

Lord,
you know us far better than we know ourselves.
You know how badly we react to criticism,
how quick we are to judge other people,
and even quicker to excuse ourselves;
we want to blame other people for our mistakes and faults and frailty;
we close up our minds and hearts;
and we cling to things that are not good for us.
Lord, help us;
we are trying to be honest with ourselves,
and with you;
help us to admit our faults and confess our sins.
Show us what spoils us, imprisons us, and enslaves us;
show us how we can be free within ourselves.
Lord, help us,
have mercy on us;
forgive us;
and set us free from the evil power of sin.
AMEN

13th Sunday after Trinity 2018

Brian Reader

Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18; Ps 34 15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Today’s three readings have sufficient material for sermons covering a month of Sundays; however, you may be glad to know that I will comment on only one theme this morning.

In just seven weeks we will be commemorating the centenary of the ending of the First World War. As the words of St. Paul reminded us, we are still at war today, but many fail to recognise it.

C. S. Lewis wrote a book about imaginary letters between the devil and his lieutenants called the Screwtape Letters.  Lewis says in his introduction to the book, that the general public prefers either to ignore the forces of evil altogether – to pretend they don’t- exist’ and to use cartoon images of a ‘devil’ with horns and a tail as an argument to that effect. ‘You can’t possibly believe in that nonsense’, so how can you believe in a devil at all?’ The other extreme is to take an unhealthy interest in everything demonic, which can be just as bad in the long run.

What we have in the present passage and what l believe is required again and again as Christians, is face the daily and yearly battle for the kingdom, with a sober, realistic assessment both of the struggle we are engaged in and of the weapons at our disposal. It is, of course, a surprise to many people that there is a ‘struggle’ at all. Yes, they think, we find it difficult from time to time to practise our Christianity. We find it hard to forgive people, to pray regularly, to resist temptation, and to learn more about the faith. But as far as they’re concerned that’s the end of it. They have never thought that their small struggles might be part of a larger campaign.

In the letter to his friends in Ephesus, Paul writes that they should keep alert and arm themselves against the wiles of the devil and that is still good advice for us today. Paul warns them that, ‘our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. The problem with that is you can’t see the spiritual forces of evil. During the last war it was easy. The German aeroplanes had black swastikas on them and the German soldiers wore grey uniforms with funny shaped tin hats and anyway the whole country was united in fighting them.

But in today’s war we can’t see our evil enemy, we can only recognise the evil effect the devil has on other people, or on the way he tempts us from the straight and narrow path as we try to follow the will of God. And today, not only is the country not united in fighting evil, but sometimes even the churches seem divided!

But even if we can’t see our foe, Paul does give us some very practical advice.  We must put on the armour which has been provided by God. Firstly he says fasten the belt of truth around your waist. That is very important. The primary thing about the Christian message is that it is true; if it isn’t, it’s meaningless. It isn’t true because it works; NO, it works because it is true. Never give up on the sheer truth of the gospel. It’s like the belt which holds everything else together and in place. And we should be true in all we say and do. On the television we see advertisements in which lying is seen as the norm – I’m thinking about the advert where a hostess passes off a bought ready meal as her own cooking.

And put on the breastplate of righteousness.  The Revised English Bible says
for a breastplate put on integrity; we all know what is right and wrong, so we should do good and seek the moral high ground. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. REB says let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you firm footing; Jesus proclaimed a Gospel of peace, yet he did not budge when things got tough, and he was prepared to stand firm – even against physical force when necessary.

With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. If we have a strong faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then we can be sure that he will help us resist all that the devil can throw at us. Take the helmet of salvation, GNB says accept salvation as a helmet. The devil tries to put doubt in our minds,
but if we know, if we really, really know, that we are saved, and that Jesus really loves us and that he died on the Cross for us, then the doubts sown by the devil will never be able to take root.

Ok, so that’s the armour, but how do we attack? Take the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you. God has given us the Bible, His Holy Word, as a great spiritual resource to help us defeat evil. It gives us great strength and encouragement and we should read it every day. And Paul goes on in his letter to the Ephesians to remind them that they also have another weapon which is prayer. God is spirit and we have been told to worship God in spirit and in truth. So Paul says – Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. And we know that in prayer we can ask God’s help not only for our own fight against evil, but also for our friends and family, and not only for our friends and family, but for our town and for the whole world.

We are told that with Christ’s death and resurrection he has won the victory, yet we still appear to see evil overcoming good all over the world.
How can this be? The only way I can think of explaining this is to liken it to winter in 1944-45. The war in Europe was virtually won yet because the allies let their guard down, the Germans had one last push, the Battle of the Bulge. It was their one last offensive, it cost many lives, it may have prolonged the war, but it was defeated, and by May of 1945, it was all over.

Have we as Christians let our guard down? Perhaps the devil is having his Battle of the Bulge. But he has already been defeated and Christ will come in Glory.

So next time you see a film or a programme about the war on the TV, remember, that we too have a war to fight against evil, and we have God’s armour to protect us if we will only use it. Sometimes we may have feelings of being restricted or let down, or inadequate. Remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote this inspiring letter to his friends. So take heart, never give in, and never forget to use our God given weapons of prayer and reading the Bible. They will Inspire us to tell the world of Jesus’ love for all and spread God’s kingdom and at the same time enable us thwart the devil and all his evil ways.

Amen

9th Sunday after Trinity 2018

Brian Reader

2 Kings 4: 42-44; Ps 145. 10-19; Ephesians 3.14-21; John 6:1 -21

In the past I have spoken about the story of the feeding of the 5000, so, I was a bit taken aback to find that the main Bible reading again related to that story; so today I will be asking you to think about the second part of the story where Jesus comes to his disciples when they are in trouble on the lake.

Just over two weeks ago the country was gripped with the Football World Cup fever, and even Veronica featured it in her sermon. Our team did well, but had they returned with the trophy I am sure that one of the newspaper headlines would have said that Gareth Southgate, or the winning goal scorer ‘walks on water’, acknowledging an almost superhuman performance. But that success in the world cup did not quite happen.

‘Walking on water’ has become an accepted sign of divinity since the evangelists recorded this story -which is exactly why they wrote it down. But the water he walked on was no ‘millpond’. Jesus was seen, striding across a tempestuous sea.

Now I believe in miracles. I believe in the really big ones, the Incarnation and the Resurrection; I believe that Jesus healed the sick and cured the lame, the blind, the deaf, the dumb. I believe in miracles, but I do not believe in magic; there is no place for magic in the Christian faith.
When it comes to the ‘nature miracles’, however, I have to pause and wonder; but I’ll keep an open mind.

You have heard me speak about Bishop Tom Wright, and he has written the book ‘John for Everyone’. The book is a very easy to read commentary on the Gospel of John and in it the bishop says he believes that St. John has already made it clear that this chapter is to be all about the Exodus, and so when we have this scene of Jesus walking on the water we should be prepared to understand it as part of the same story. The children of Israel began their journey to freedom by coming through the Red Sea, with the waters parting before them but closing again on their pursuers. It was, of course, Moses who led the way through the Red Sea, and the crowds have just declared that Jesus is ‘the prophet who should come into the world’ – the prophet, that is, like Moses.

Now, even though the crowds have misunderstood what such a prophet might have come to do – they were looking for another act of political liberation, but Jesus was offering something far greater and deeper – Jesus nevertheless does something which the disciples, on subsequent reflection, are bound to see in terms of the Exodus story, the Passover story.

They would see it like this – not least because the Jewish people were not very keen on the sea. They were not much of a seafaring race, unlike the ancient Phoenicians to the north. In some of their ancient stories and Psalms, the sea was associated with chaos, evil, untameable forces within the natural or the spiritual world. True, they sang psalms which celebrated the fact that YHWH, their God, was king over the mighty waters. But small lakes can make big waves as we saw on the TV last weekend, when the Duck boat sank on a small lake in America with the loss of all those lives. So even the fishermen in the story, used to squalls on the Sea of Galilee, could find themselves not only in trouble but in real fear of their lives, as the sea would suddenly become rough, and chaos threatened to come again.

All of this is in the evangelist’s mind as he tells of how Jesus carried on praying on the mountain, away from the excited crowds, until late in the evening, while the disciples set off back to Capernaum in the boat. The lake is about twelve miles long by seven wide at its widest point, and it looks as though they had rowed, through the storm, most of the way back from the east side of the lake to Capernaum on the north side, when Jesus came to them walking on the water.

This event is recorded by Matthew and Mark as well as by John – with all three of them locating it immediately after the feeding of the multitude – and there is no way of rationalising it. (People have suggested that maybe Jesus was standing on a sand bank near the shore, or something equally unlikely). You either come to the story with a firm view of what is and isn’t possible in the world, which won’t allow any fresh evidence – which is not, perhaps, the best way of approaching a book like John, which is all about the challenge of the gospel to all existing world-views – or you come with at least an open mind to new possibilities as yet unimagined. This isn’t the same as being gullible, or credulous.

Nor are the extraordinary stories in the gospels designed, as some seem to have imagined, to portray Jesus as being able to do anything and everything, simply for the sake of making a supernatural display. They are there, rather, as moments in the text when the strange glory of the Word-made-flesh shines through, not so much because Jesus can do whatever he wants, but because this particular act is so closely associated with what Israel’s God does at a key moment in Israel’s history.

The reaction of the crowd is explained in detail in the next four verses.
22 The next day the crowd that had remained on the far side of the lake saw that there had only been the one boat there. They knew that Jesus hadn’t gone with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves.
23 But other boats came from Tiberius, near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25 When they found him beside the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

John wants us to understand the fact that not only had the disciples seen what had happened but also that the crowds were puzzled. They knew Jesus hadn’t set off on the boat, and yet when they managed to get to the other side of the lake they found he’d already arrived in Capernaum. Last week, the Revd Rob Wardle told us about his night walk around the north-east side of the lake, so it is easier to understand that it would have been difficult for Jesus to make the journey by land in that time.

As so often, John leaves us with their puzzled question, to which Jesus will now give what seems an even more puzzling answer. This story of Jesus’ walking on the water can easily be used as a theme for meditation.
There are many times in our lives – and we never know when they will strike – when, metaphorically speaking, suddenly the wind gets up and the sea becomes rough. As we struggle to make our way through, sometimes we are aware of a presence with us, which may initially be more disturbing than comforting. (We may think ‘We’re already nearly drowning, and now we’ve got ghosts following us!’) But if we listen, through the roar of the waves and the wind, we may hear the voice that says, ‘It is me – don’t be afraid’.  And if we are ready then to take Jesus on board, we may find ourselves, sooner than we expected, at the harbour where we will be calm and secure once more.

Remember, God in Christ is with you; even in the deepest darkness.
Do not be afraid.
AMEN

God’s Hand Is Always There by Helen Steiner Rice

I am perplexed and often vexed
And sometimes I cry and sadly sigh,
But do not think, Dear Father above,
That I question you or your unchanging love
It’s just sometimes when I reach out
You seem to be nowhere about…
And while I’m sure that you love me still
And I know in my heart that you always will,
Somehow I feel that I cannot reach you
And though l get down on my knees and beseech you,
I cannot bring you closer to me
And I feel adrift on life’s raging sea…
But though I cannot find your hand
To lead me on to the Promised Land,
I still believe with all my being
Your hand is there beyond my seeing!

Trinity Sunday 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8; Ps 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Brian Reader

Those of you who were here last Sunday will remember that the service was taken by Rev’d Dr. Christopher Swift. He told me of a surprising headline in a Cambridge local newspaper which reported “Anglican Christians sunk by Trinity“. This extraordinary headline is explained by the fact that Westcott House, a Church of England theological College and Trinity College were engaged in the ‘Bumps’, a rowing race where boats are sent off at intervals and gain places by catching and touching the boat ahead. On this occasion the ‘bump’ was more aggressive than usual and the boat sank. And why did Dr. Swift remember this?  Well he was rowing in the Westcott boat, and got an early bath! Back to today.

When I first looked at the readings for today I was disappointed for two reasons. Firstly, it appeared to have no immediate link with the ‘Trinity’; the fact that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and secondly, because the subject matter was difficult to understand. So where would I start and what could I say?

Mind you I did have a connection with the verse John 3, 16. It was on Palm Sunday back in 1943, when a Beach Missionary came to visit the Plymouth Brethren Chapel where my family used to worship. At the end of the evening service, he did a ‘Billy Graham’, and asked if anyone wished to give their life to Christ, and I went up. Later we had a talk, and after I had convinced him that I was sure about the step I had taken, he showed me the text of John 3 16, saying that throughout his life he had found great strength in the words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I commend it to you.

Nicodemus

Now the reason that we may find the passage hard to understand is that Jesus was talking to one of the sharpest minds in Jerusalem. The passage has a lot about ‘new birth’, and some very active Christians go about asking, ‘Have you been born again?’ For some, the moment they accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour can be quite traumatic, like Saul on the road to Damascus. He went blind and changed his name to Paul.

For me, and I am sure it is the same for many, it was not traumatic, as although I was only a school boy, I had come to believe and trust in God over a period of time. What matters most, is not that you can remember and define the time when you were reborn or ‘born from above’, but that you are alive now, and that your present life, day by day and moment by moment, is showing evidence of health and strength and purpose of living in the way that God intends.

Where there are signs of life, it’s more important to feed and nurture it, than to spend much time going over and over what happened at the moment of birth. In fact, what Jesus says to Nicodemus is more sharply focused than we sometimes think. The Judaism that Nicodemus and Jesus both knew had a good deal to do with being born into the right family.
Being born from above is different.

To bring people into the kingdom-movement we have the baptism in water begun by John the Baptist and continued by Jesus’ disciples, and today we will be welcoming Natasha into the Church when she is baptised later.

Closely joined to the water baptism, is the baptism in the spirit, the new life, bubbling up from within, that Jesus offers. In this passage, Jesus is explaining how this double-sided new birth, which brings you into the visible community of Jesus’ followers, firstly water-baptism and then spirit baptism, which gives you the new life of the spirit welling up inside you, that both were now required for membership into God’s kingdom.
Indeed (as Jesus says in verse 3), without it you can’t even see God’s kingdom. You can’t glimpse it, let alone get into it.

But the point of this is that God’s kingdom is now thrown open to anyone and everyone. The spirit is on the move, like a fresh spring breeze, and no human family, tribe, or gathering can keep up with it. (It is interesting to note that the word for ‘wind’, in both Hebrew and Greek, is the same word as you’d use for ‘spirit’). Opening the window and letting the breeze in can sometimes be inconvenient, especially for the Nicodemuses of this world who suppose they have got everthing tidied up, labelled and sorted into neat piles. But unless we are prepared to listen to this dangerous message we aren’t ready to listen to the gospel at all.

In verses 10-13 we have the first of many passages in which Jesus speaks about a new knowledge – indeed, a new sort of knowing. It’s a way of knowing that comes from God, from heaven. It’s humbling for Nicodemus to have to be told this. He is, after all, a respected and senior teacher. But this way of knowing, and the new knowledge we get through it, is given by the mysterious ‘son of man’, God in human form. And I would suggest that it is from this new way of knowing that we get our first understanding of the truth about the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together in love.

Do not expect to fully understand the mystery that the Trinity is, just believe and accept that Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit work together divinely as one.  In the first chapter of John we are told that, Jesus is now the ladder which joins the two dimensions of God’s world, the heavenly and the earthly. If we want to understand not only the heavenly world, but the way in which God is now joining heaven and earth together, we must listen to him, and walk with him on the road he will show us.

Jesus then reflects back to the Book of Numbers and the time when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. They grumbled against Moses, and poisonous snakes invaded their camp, killing many of them. God gave Moses the remedy: he was to make a serpent out of bronze, put it on a pole and hold it up for people to look at. Anyone who looked at the serpent on the pole would live. The serpent entwined around the pole, is still used as a symbol and as a sign of healing, and is used by various medical organizations, including the medical branches of the armed services.
In this verse, Jesus is clearly pointing to his own death.

Moses put the serpent on a pole, and lifted it up so the people could see it;
even so, the son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. Humankind as a whole has been smitten with the deadly disease of sin. The only cure is to look at the son of man dying on the cross, and find life through believing in him. This is very deep and mysterious, but we must ask: how can the crucifixion of Jesus be like putting the snake on a pole?

But evil isn’t then healed, as it were, automatically. Precisely because the evil of sin lurks deep within each of us, for healing to take place we must ourselves be involved in the process. This doesn’t mean that we just have to try a lot harder to be good. You might as well try to teach a snake to sing. All we can do, just as it was all the Israelites could do, is to look and trust:
to look at Jesus, to see in him the full display of God’s saving love, and to trust in him. .

In the first chapter of John, he speaks of the great divide, which he describes in terms of darkness and light. Believing in Jesus means coming to the light, the light of God’s new creation. Not believing means remaining in the darkness. The darkness (and those who embrace it) must be condemned. It must be condemned because evil is destroying and defacing the present world, and preventing people coming forward into God’s new world (into ‘eternal life’; that is, the life of the age to come). ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’. The point of the whole story is that you don’t have to be condemned. You don’t have to let the snake kill you. God’s action in the crucifixion of Jesus has planted a sign in the middle of history.

And the sign says: believe, and live.

AMEN.

Fourth Sunday of Easter 2018

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’ Acts 4.5-12

Brian Reader

Although this the fourth Sunday of Easter, I promise I won’t mention anything about eggs, chocolate or real!

I wonder if any of you noticed that on today’s readings sheet, it says that ‘The reading from Acts must be read as either the First or Second reading’. So I thought I better look at this reading more closely. I found that I certainly had not preached on the passage before and that on reading it, it seems a little out of context unless you also know something about what went on before. In the previous chapter we can read about how a lame man came to be cured by Peter and John, who then started to explain what had happened and preached to the people in the temple. The priests, the chief of the Temple police, and the Sadducees then arrived and they were thoroughly annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming that ‘the resurrection of the dead’ had begun to happen through Jesus. So they arrested them and put them into prison. So that explains why they were under arrest, and why the Chief Priest thought it necessary to go mob handed the next day to interrogate the disciples.

Bishop Tom Wright retells the story about another bishop who complained, that he didn’t seem to be having the same impact as the first apostles. ‘Everywhere St Paul went,’ he said, ‘there was a riot. Everywhere I go they serve tea.’ But as we have seen, it wasn’t just Paul but the other earlier disciples as well, who caused trouble when they preached the good news. So why doesn’t the Gospel message make such an impact today?

Let us examine the facts. The message about Jesus as Messiah and rescuer meant trouble long before Paul started preaching in the name of Jesus and declaring that God had raised him from the dead. So what was it about this early message which got the authorities, and others so alarmed and angry? Wouldn’t it be simply great news to know that God was alive and well and was providing a wonderful rescue operation for all through his chosen Messiah? Well, NO, not if you were already in power. Not if you were one of the people who had rejected and condemned that Messiah. And certainly not if you were in charge of the central institution that administered God’s law, God’s justice and the life of God’s people. To understand all this we need to get inside what these people believed on the one hand and what the news of Jesus’ resurrection actually meant on the other; and in a similar way, and at the same time, see how it relates to the world today.

As we know from other passages, the Sadducees were Jewish aristocrats, including the high priest and his family, who wielded great power in Jerusalem and among the Jewish people. They guarded the Temple, the most holy place in Judaism, where the system of animal sacrifice had been practised for a thousand years and where the one true God had promised to meet with His people. In so doing they, exercised great power economically, socially and politically. It was with the high priest and his entourage that the Roman governor would normally do business. They could get things done, or stop things being done; and that is why they strongly disapproved of the idea of ‘resurrection’.

 

Today, the Gospel story is old news. It has been discussed, debated and denigrated. For at least the last 200 years in the Western world people have laughed at ‘resurrection’, whether that of Jesus or that of anyone else. Those who have stuck out against this mockery, lies and disinformation and declared that they do believe in resurrection anyway, have been thought of as ‘conservatives’ rather than the modern ‘liberals’. But resurrection always was a radical, dangerous doctrine, an attack on the status quo and a threat to existing power structures. Because Resurrection, is the belief which declares that the living God is going to put everything right once and for all, He is going to ‘restore all things’, to turn the world the right way up at last. And those who are in power, within the world the way it is, are quite right to suspect that, if God suddenly does such a marvellous, drastic thing, they can no longer expect that they will stay in power in this new world that God is going to make. What’s more, people who believe in resurrection as did the Pharisees (a radical populist group of the time), tended to be more ready than others to cause trouble for the authorities. They believed, after all, that the God who will eventually put the world the right way up is likely to bring about some advance signs of that final judgment, and they were prepared to die for that belief.

Resurrection, whichever way you looked at it, was not what the authorities wanted to hear about. So what made the authorities angry wasn’t just Peter’s announcement that God had raised Jesus from the dead. It was, as Luke puts it, a much larger thing: that Peter was preaching the resurrection of the dead, and also announcing this revolutionary doctrine ‘In Jesus’. In other words, Peter was saying not only that Jesus himself had been raised, but that this was the start and the sign of God’s eventual restoration of everything. This may have been be bad news for the chief priests and the Sadducees, however it was exactly what plenty of others wanted to hear. (St. Luke, who wrote The Acts of the Apostles, notes that a further 5,000 came to faith on the spot). But the really sinister thing about this section is the further question the authorities ask. ‘What name did you use to do this?’

This reminds us of the accusations that were hurled at Jesus himself: was he, after all, in league with Beelzebub? Was Jesus – and were the disciples, – the kind of people that they had been warned about in Deuteronomy. In Chapter 13 there are warnings to guard against false prophets leading people astray from the one true God. Jesus answered that question by reference to the holy spirit, at work in and through him to launch God’s kingdom project, so Peter, himself filled with the holy spirit, announces boldly that the ‘name’ in question is that of Jesus, the Messiah, from Nazareth. He continues, in words that would hardly endear him to the authorities: ‘You crucified him’ (not that they did, as we know; it was the Romans who did it; but the chief priests had planned it and pressed Pilate for a verdict to crucify).

The name of Jesus, in other words, isn’t just the name through which healing power can flow into people. It is a name which can change the behaviour of people throughout the world. It is not surprising that the last verse read, Acts 4 verse 12, is so unpopular within the politically correct climate of the last few generations in the Western world. That verse says:- There is Salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

‘No other name’? People say this is arrogant, or exclusive, or triumphalist. So, indeed, it can be, if Christians use the name of Jesus to further their own power or prestige. But for many years now, in the Western world at least, it is the secularists and the so called politically correct, who have acted the part of the chief priests, protecting their cherished ideas of modernist thought, within which no credence can be given to the teaching or the resurrection of Jesus.

And so we should answer like the apostles, Well, who else but Jesus Christ is there that can rescue people in this fashion, and offer them peace, freedom,
and a new life in this world and the next?

I pray that the Holy Spirit who was so evident in the lives of the early Christians, be within us, and embolden us, to tell all we meet, of the good news of the risen Jesus Christ.
Amen

Maundy Thursday 2018 – a reflection

Brian Reader

I don’t know about you, but some of us found the dramatic reading of the Passion Story from St. Mark’s Gospel last Sunday, not only moving but also quite harrowing. We have been through six weeks of Lent and it may have left some of us feeling a bit scarred or traumatised by it all. Recently I read a reflection by Gerard W. Hughes from his book ‘Oh God, Why?’ on the subject of the Pasion and suffering which I think puts it into a wider perspective. I would like to read that passage to you.

“Frequently we hear ‘The Cross lies at the heart of Christian life’ and ‘Unless we enter into the Passion and death of Christ, we cannot share in his resurrection.’ The phrases are true, but in what sense is this Good News to any except masochists?

Some writers of saints’ lives can leave the reader with the impression that the Christian journey is a kind of ‘sufferathon’, the person who suffers most winning the Olympic gold. We are still afflicted with this false belief, so that we can feel bad about feeling good, for we are told that suffering is a sign of God’s favour.

Some theologies of the Cross do not help, suggesting a God who can only be appeased by the shedding of blood, but who is ready to accept the blood of his Son in place of the blood of us all. This can leave us very grateful to Jesus, but less keen on his heavenly Father!

According to these beliefs, the most effective service of God would consist in our imposing the maximum suffering on ourselves and on others. Suffering, in itself is an evil and to be avoided. While it is true that some people are ennobled by suffering, the majority are diminished or destroyed by it. God’s will for us, as Scripture frequently says, is life, not destruction and death.

Jesus did not will suffering, he prayed to escape from it. ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by’. He declared himself to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy. ‘The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind sight, to set the downtrodden free.’

It was because Jesus lived out this prophecy that he suffered, for he threatened those whose power, prosperity and security depended on keeping the poor in their poverty and the downtrodden in oppression. If we let Christ be Christ in us, oppose injustice and speak the truth in love, we shall also suffer at the hands of those whose power we threaten, whether in Church or State.

This is to share in the Passion of Christ. To keep quiet in the face of injustice and oppression, doing nothing to oppose it, may be painful but it is also a refusal to enter into the Passion of Christ. Much of our suffering has nothing to do with the Cross of Christ, for it is not pain incurred through following him, but the pain of our own bruised ego when our own kingdom is threatened by criticism, loss of status, or financial loss. But if we can let God into this pain, show it to him, acknowledge its origin in our own egoism, pray to be delivered from our own false securities then the pain can become curative, leading us to freedom, from our false attachments and to the knowledge that he really is our rock, our refuge and our strength, and that we have no other.

Perhaps instead of trying to enter into the Passion of Christ, we should ask Christ to enter into our suffering, whether it is the suffering we endure through trying to follow him, or the pain we feel when our own kingdom is threatened. It is in our own pain that we can find him present and beckoning.”

AMEN

There is an ancient prayer on the Passion, called Anima Christi, meaning “Soul of Christ”. Here is a translation of it from the Latin:
May thy mind and heart be mine,
Thy body and blood heal mine,
Thy blood act on me like wine.
May the water from thy side cleanse me.
In thy goodness hear me.
Let thy wounds enfold me,
So that I become inseparable from thee.
From all that is evil protect me,
In my life may I always hear thee;
In death may I see thee invite me
To be one with all creation
In praise of thee and adoration.

AMEN

3rd Sunday of Lent 2018

Brian Reader

Exodus 20. 1-17; 1 Corinthians 1. 18-25; Ps 19; John 2:13-22

Today is the third Sunday of Lent and our readings direct us to think about the Law and Jesus’ action in the temple. I am sure you recognized the reading from Exodus as the Ten Commandments. Those of you old enough to have been brought up using the old 1662 prayer book will remember that the Ten Commandments were part of the old communion service and even if they were omitted for the rest of the year, they were certainly recited in Lent. My father-in-law, the rector of a small village church, loved to tell this anecdote of how he took a service in another parish in the early 1940’s and read out all the 10 commandments. One of the older ladies in the congregation was so impressed that she handed him a crisp 10 shilling note – which was a lot of money in those days – with the words “a bob for each commandment”!

A ten bob note

Let us now consider the reading from St. John’s Gospel. One of the first prayers I remember as a child starts – ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’. The record of Jesus overthrowing the tables in the temple is not the action of a meek and mild person. Before we look at what happened, we need to consider the importance of the Temple itself. The Temple was the beating heart of Judaism. It wasn’t just, as it were, a church on a street corner. It was the centre of worship and music, of politics and society, of all national celebration and mourning. It was also the place where you would find more animals (alive and dead) than anywhere else. But, towering above all these, it was of course the place where Israel’s God, YHWH, had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was the focal point of the nation, and of the national way of life. And this was where the then unknown prophet from Galilee came in and turned everything upside down. People used to this Bible story can forget how shocking it must have been. And it raises a number of questions. What was wrong with the Temple? Why did Jesus do what he did? And, when they asked him for a sign, what does his answer mean?

Before even that, there’s another question to be considered. People who know the other gospels in the New Testament will realize that they also contain a very similar incident. However in the other three Gospels it occurs at the end of Jesus’ public career, when he arrives in Jerusalem for the last time, rather than at the beginning as it does here. One reason for putting the incident at the beginning, as John does, is the fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t have Jesus in Jerusalem at all during his adult life, so the final journey is the only place where it can happen. John, however, has Jesus going to and fro to Jerusalem a good deal throughout his short ministry. And if he had done something like this at the beginning, it would explain why certain other things happened. Like why people came from Jerusalem to Galilee to check him out, and why, when the high priest finally decided it was time to act, he already felt they had a case against him.

Firstly, we have to understand what a dramatic and violent act this was, and, you might ask, ‘Is there a link with the Ten Commandments?’ Well Jesus was angry at the injustice and the downright theft – Thou shalt not steal. He was angry that the poor were being exploited. To buy a dove would cost a full day’s wage but a ‘guaranteed unblemished dove’, which alone was acceptable for sacrifice, well that would cost three full weeks’ wages. And it could only be bought in the Court of the Gentiles; it was a racket! The Temple tax was two days’ pay but Gentile coins bore ‘graven images’ so it cost another day’s pay to have your money changed into Temple coinage. And Jesus was even more angry that Israel, the so called ‘people of God’, were dishonouring the name of God, and were also denying its calling to be a light to the nations.

There was blatant exploitation of pilgrims! From all parts of the Roman world they came, Gentiles, attracted to the Jewish faith by Jews they met in their home towns. They were excited to come to their great Temple, but there they found that the only place they were allowed to go to pray was like a noisy market. It seemed that neither Gentile coins nor Gentile people were welcome. The Lord had suddenly come to clean out his Temple, just as Malachi had promised. So Jesus drove the sheep and cattle out, and overturned the tables of the money-changers.

His new Temple has no need for animal sacrifice. John understands that all Jesus’ actions here are linked to the time of Passover. John has already told us that Jesus is God’s Passover lamb, and now He goes to Jerusalem at the time when freedom, and rescue from slavery in Egypt, was being celebrated. Somehow, John wants us to understand, what Jesus did in the Temple is a hint at the new meaning he is giving to Passover. But the action and the story as it unfolds, also point to Jesus’ own fate. Because when they ask him what he thinks he’s up to, and request some kind of sign to show them what it all means, Jesus speaks, very cryptically, about his own death and resurrection.

He is the true temple: he is the Word made flesh, the place where the glory of God has chosen to make his dwelling. The Jews had ancient traditions about the Temple being destroyed and rebuilt. It had happened before, and some thought it would happen again. Herod the Great had begun a programme of rebuilding the Temple, and now, forty-six years later, one of his sons was completing it.

The period of time, ‘In three days’ links with the wedding at Cana, when the wine was changed on the third day. Similarly their imperfect religion will be superseded; by and through his Resurrection. He is himself the spiritual Temple where God is truly worshipped. His friends recalled verse 9 of Psalm 69 about the Messiah, which says ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’; but the Sadducees were angered by his claim and used it in evidence at his trial. ‘Destroy this Temple’ he said – and they did; because by persisting in avarice and prejudice, they brought destruction on themselves. Jesus takes the traditions and applies them to himself. He is the reality to which the Temple itself points. His death and resurrection will be the reality to which the whole Passover celebration points.

In the two vivid scenes of this reading, John has introduced us to almost all the major themes of the gospel story, and has given us food for thought about where it’s all going. If profit matters more than people and prejudice more than unity, these things lead to death. So the story is not about church bazaars or dual-purpose buildings or even Sunday selling; it’s much more serious than that! Jesus still challenges his Church: if we set profit above people, if we let prejudice hinder unity, if we neglect our mission, we too shall bring judgement and destruction on ourselves. The Lord whom we seek has already come to his Temple. And the church and Christians fail
when they neglect God’s standards of holiness, justice and love. And if all this sounds too difficult to take in, I can do no better than to finish with the words of that great evangelist Dr. Billy Graham who consistently preached that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God who alone can save us from our sins”. Countless people found faith through his simple, clear message, and responded to his call to “pray to God for forgiveness and, by faith, receive Jesus Christ into your life”.

Amen

2nd Sunday of Lent 2018

Brian Reader

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25; Ps 22:23-31; Mark 8:31-38

Good Morning to you all. Today is the second Sunday of Lent and Lent is a time of reflection. Our Bible readings for today direct our thoughts to consider what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ and what it means for us to be a Christian.

The passage from Genesis talks about Abraham. Now he had believed in God and had been doing God’s will for some time, so when God spoke to him again “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless”, he was not surprised, as this is the fifth time that God had made promises to Abraham, so it is nothing new.

However, many years had now gone by since God had first promised Abraham that his descendants would become so numerous that they could be compared to the dust of the earth and the stars of the sky. But so far, Abraham and his wife had not had any children. They were both getting older, and it was looking like they would not have any children. So God took this occasion to remind Abraham that He would multiply him “exceedingly”.

At this time God also changed Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning he would become a “father of many nations”, and changed the name of his wife from Sarai to Sarah. Even though it didn’t look like Abraham and Sarah would ever have a child, God continued to repeat and add details to the original promise He had made to Abraham.

And Paul in his letter to the Romans makes reference to this promise. He reminds us that Abraham wasn’t righteous or doing the will of God because of the Law because the Ten Commandments had yet to be written, No, Abraham was judged righteous because he had faith, he believed, he did what God wanted.

In the same way, we can’t buy our way into heaven by doing good works or by just following the Ten Commandments. Which is just as well, as we will never be able to fully keep the first commandment, let alone the rest.

So how do we respond to God’s infinite love and Grace?

Well Jesus fulfilled the Law; firstly by showing that love is the fulfilling of the Law. In fact, Jesus gave us the double command to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your Soul, with all your mind’, and ‘to love your neighbour as you love yourself’, and said that this was the perfect summary of all the Commandments, in the world the entire Law.

And secondly Jesus showed, by his whole life of obedience to the Father, from start to finish, that this was how the genuinely human life should be lived. His death on the cross ushered in God’s new promise for all mankind, so the way to salvation now, is not by keeping laws but by receiving God’s forgiveness through Christ. He and not the Law opens the way between the Father and us.

Earlier in this service we used the Ten Commandments as a confession. Some may ask is the Law relevant for us today? The Law may be fulfilled in Jesus Christ but this does not mean we can ignore it. Its inadequacies are clear enough, and it was for this reason we were reminded about the positive sayings of Jesus as well as the negative parts of the Old Testament Law.

Rules cannot lead a person to God. Nevertheless they remain ‘holy, just and good’. The Ten Commandments are the essence of the moral law of the world, as we understand it. We are not made Christian by keeping them, but we heed them because we are Christians and we try to live as God has decreed. The church and Christians fail when they neglect God’s standards of holiness, justice and love.

Also, an understanding of the Law helps us to understand the Jewish culture of the day, and this in turn helps us to better understand the good news of the Gospel.

Let us now consider the reading from Mark. Just before the passage set for today, Jesus asks the question “Who do people say I am?”  And Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” But it is quite clear that Peter did not understand that God’s promised ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’, would have to be the Suffering Servant promised in Isaiah.

Now, Jesus’ friends and followers were used to danger. It was a perilous time. Anyone growing up in Galilee just then knew all about revolutions, about holy people hoping God would act and deliver them, and instead, ending up getting crucified for their trouble. Any new leader, any prophet, any teacher with something fresh to say, might go that way. They must have known that by following Jesus they were taking risks. The death of John the Baptist, will simply have confirmed that.

But this was different. This was something new. Mark says Jesus ‘began to teach them’ this, implying that it was quite a new point that could only be begun, once they’d declared that he was the Messiah – like a schoolteacher who can only begin the next stage of mathematics when the pupils have learnt to add and subtract.

And the new lesson wasn’t just that there might be danger ahead; the new lesson was that Jesus had to walk straight into it. Nor would it simply be a risky gamble that might just pay off. No, it would be certain death. This was what he had to do.

You might as well have had a football captain tell the team to stand still and let the opposition score all the goals they wanted. This wasn’t what Peter and the rest had in mind. They may not have thought of Jesus as a military leader, but they certainly didn’t think of him going straight to his death.

As Charlie Brown once said, “winning isn’t everything but losing isn’t anything”; and Jesus seemed to be saying he was going to lose. Worse, he was inviting them to come and lose alongside him. This is the heart of what’s going on here, and it explains both the tricky language Jesus uses; it was tricky for them to puzzle out at first hearing, which explains the strong negative reaction of Peter, so soon after telling Jesus that he and the rest thought he was the Messiah. Messiahs don’t get killed by the authorities. A Messiah who did that would be shown up immediately as a false Messiah.

So why did Jesus say that’s what had to happen? St Mark explains this in the later chapters of his Gospel, but already there is a hint, an allusion. ‘The son of man’ must have all this happen to him, declares Jesus; only thus ‘the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him’: It is the only way for the kingdom of God to come. Jesus is half quoting, half hinting at, themes from the prophetic books of Daniel and Zechariah. He will eventually be vindicated, after his suffering, as God sets up the kingdom at last.

Jesus is both warning his followers that this is how he understands his vocation and destiny as Israel’s Messiah, and that they must be prepared to follow in his steps. So important is this message that opposition to the plan, wherever it comes from, must be seen as satanic. Even Peter, Jesus’ right-hand man, is capable of thinking like a mere mortal, not looking at things from God’s point of view.

This is a challenge to all of us, as the church in every generation struggles not only to think, but to live from God’s point of view in a world where such a thing is madness. This is the point at which God’s kingdom, coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ will challenge and overturn all normal human assumptions about power and glory, about what is really important in life and in the world. The coming of God’s kingdom with power has a lot more to do with the radical defeat of deep-rooted evil, than with the destruction of the good world that God made and loves.

Jesus understands that evil will be defeated, and the kingdom will come, precisely through his own suffering and death. But despite this, the passage makes it clear that following him is the only way to go. Following Jesus is, more or less, what being a Christian means; and Jesus is not leading us on a pleasant afternoon hike, but on a walk into possible risk and danger. Or did we suppose that the kingdom of God would mean merely a few minor adjustments in our ordinary lives? Yes, suffering is also part of being a follower of Jesus – it may be as simple, yet as difficult as saying ‘No!’ to oneself, or bearing hardships or being at risk to life and limb.

We should remember Abraham and be like him. He had faith, he believed, he did what God wanted. God made promises to Abraham and these were kept. In a similar way, God, through Christ, has made promises to us, which he will keep. Our Lenten reflections should show us that a true understanding of what it takes to follow Jesus, will involve hardship, and, sacrifice
but the rewards will be everlasting!

AMEN

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 2018

Deuteronomy 18.15-20; Revelation 12. 1-5a; Mark 1.21-28

Brian Reader

As well as it being the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, it is the Sunday before Candlemas, and the end of the Christmas Season; the time when we lose the Crib and the last of the Christmas trimmings. Today is also listed as Leprosy Day & Homelessness Sunday, but I could find nothing about homelessness or Leprosy in the readings. However, the story of Jesus curing a Leper can be found in verse 40 if you continue to read chapter 1 of St Mark’s Gospel.

So what message can we learn from our readings for this morning. On first a reading they seemed strange. I found them difficult to understand and seemingly lacking any link which would give a single theme.

The first was a passage from Deuteronomy. In it the writer, traditionally thought to be Moses, says ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.’ And in the New Testament, in John, this passage is seen to be a reference to the prophet ‘par excellence’ – that is Jesus himself.

For our next reading we had a bit from The Revelation. When I was in Sunday school, I was warned off reading Revelation as it was considered too difficult, but here it is, as our reading so we better try and understand what it is saying to us. Revelation is unique in the New Testament. Its message is of the final victory of Jesus Christ over all the forces that oppose God, and this is conveyed in a series of visions. John was writing for a persecuted Church, and these chapters are full of encouragement to enable the persecuted Christians to take heart.

The woman stands for God’s chosen people, from whom the Messiah Jesus, and through him the Church, was born. The red dragon does not represent Wales but Satan himself, who is hell bent on destruction of all that is good. If the reading had continued, the main message would have become clearer. Although Satan is strong and powerful and his attack fierce – his time is short. He has already been overpowered by Christ: so he can be overcome by Christians. Satan is destined for destruction, and the Church is destined for eventual triumph. God’s people are at all times, and everywhere, under His sovereign protection.

Our Gospel reading tells us of Jesus and how he taught and healed with great authority, the authority of God himself. So we see that all three reading do have a link – it is Jesus himself – our Lord and Saviour.

Let us try and imagine what it would have been like on that Saturday, the Sabbath in the small town of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. Here in the synagogue is a man, not one of the recognized teachers, who begins on his own authority to tell people what God’s will is. Although Mark gives no record, you can imagine what he said. It was certainly not what they expected. He announced the coming of the Kingdom, spoke of God’s mercy and forgiveness, of help and hope and liberty, and joy in believing.

It was like a breath of fresh air. The manner of his teaching was more astounding than the content. If he caught your eye, it was arresting; each one felt that he was talking just to them. And he spoke with such authority. The usual teachers – the priests and scribes, the literate ones, the self-appointed scrupulous guardians of Jewish ancestral traditions – they didn’t teach like that. They always said, ‘as Moses said’, or ‘as Rabbi so-and-so said’: but Jesus presented no argument, just a simple statement of fact. Jesus spoke with a quiet but compelling authority all of his own. And with the same authority he spoke words of healing, like a message straight from God. They had never heard anything like this before.

One man was especially affected. Most of the time he was fine, or he would have been excluded from society and the synagogue. Today, the electric atmosphere and excited buzz around him, aroused his nervous tension and provoked the outburst. You may not believe in demons and ascribe his symptoms to hysteria or epilepsy or some other disease that we would recognise today. But demon-belief was common in the ancient world, and would have been in this congregation and the man himself. The wonder in this synagogue was not only that the man was cured; but the manner of it was more surprising than the fact. There was no incanted list of spirit-names to find a stronger or higher spirit, as was standard practice for the many exorcists; Jesus simply commanded and it was done.

Sometimes people for whom life had become a total nightmare – whose personalities seemed taken over by alien powers confronted Jesus; indeed, they seem to have had a kind of inside track on recognizing him, knowing who he was and what he’d come to do. He’d come to stop the nightmare, to rescue people, both nations and individuals, from the destructive forces that enslaved them.

So whether it was shrieking demons, or simply whatever diseases people happened to suffer from, Jesus dealt with them, all with the same gentle but deeply effective authority. This is how Mark begins to tell us both about how Jesus became so popular so quickly and of how the course of his public career, pointed unavoidably to its dramatic conclusion.

There is no doubt that Jesus quickly attracted huge crowds, and that his authoritative healings were the main reason. That in itself would have been threatening to the authorities; but, there was more. Jesus had joined in a struggle against the forces of evil and destruction,
forces that still exist in the world today. Jesus came to be the human bridge or ladder across which people could climb to safety. And in the process, he himself paid with his own life – the price of this saving authority, Christ on the Cross, a human bridge with outstretched arms carrying people from death to life; that was simply part of the integrity of his healing action which now stretches to eternity. The demons had their final shriek at him as he hung on the cross, challenging and mocking for the last time the validity of his authority. On the cross he completed the healing work he began that day in the synagogue.

When the church learns again how to speak and act with the same authority, we will find both the saving power of God unleashed once more and with it a similar opposition from the forces of darkness. Similar, but not the same. The demons recognised Jesus, and knew he had come to defeat them once and for all. They can still shriek, but since Calvary they no longer have authority. To believe this is the key to Christian testimony, and saving action in the world, that despite its frequent panic and despair, the world has already been claimed by the loving authority of God in Jesus.

So to return to Leprosy Day & Homelessness Sunday… Well we know that Jesus heals and since my childhood great steps have already been made to bring a cure for the crippling disease of Leprosy, although it is far from being eliminated. Homelessness on the other hand is different. We know that it sometimes results from mental health issues, including the breakdown of relationships, and addictions to alcohol, drugs and/or gambling. These can all lead to homelessness. Also we know that the greed of individuals, and poor decisions on house building, land usage, and social injustice can all be factors. Jesus has the necessary power in his own strength and person to heal individuals. We should continue to pray for God’s guidance, and give what we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Remember, God has supplied the world with everything sufficient for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.

And so today our theme has been Jesus. There was never anyone like Jesus. He speaks the truth about God. He can meet your need; He can set you free. And if you allow him to work through you, you can help change the world.

AMEN

Remembrance Sunday 2017

Brian Reader

Good morning to you. I don’t normally go off script, but this morning at our short Remembrance Service I was quite moved as all the names were read out.  I recalled what I had heard, (at ‘A Concert to Remember’ arranged by Rotary at St Michael and all Angels Church in Macclesfield last night) when we were told that since 1914, eighty million had been killed by war or terrorist acts. Eighty million – that is more than all the people in the United Kingdom including all those we don’t know about.

Looking back I found that I preached my first Remembrance Sermon 22 years ago today and it was interesting to read what I had said then, and on subsequent Remembrance Sundays. One thing I discovered was that I could never preach any of those sermons again as the world has changed so much during those 22 years.

For the past three years we have heard a lot about the First World War and I am sure we will hear much more about it next year as the centenary of the armistice is approached. In re-reading those sermons I was reminded that it was only in 1995, that I fully grasped what effect the carnage of that war had at a personal level.

I had been on holiday up in Scotland, and we decided to go and have a look in the Doune Motor Museum. We had the place to ourselves and could look at this large collection of interesting cars which were nearly all roadworthy. One car took my eye,  It was a small 1913 Sunbeam 3 Litre sports car.  I can picture it now, British Racing green, a lovely swallow tail, an outside hand brake and a leather strap over the bonnet. A car any young man would have been proud of. But something was wrong. The number plate; it was modern.

I then looked at the plaque which told you something about the car. It had not been registered until 1974. A farmer’s plough had hit it, and it had been dug up and restored.

It had lain buried for nearly 70 years. Can you believe that?

Someone had just buried that lovely car. Imagine the grief of that family, the father mother, wife or sister, who could not bear to have the prised possession of their son, husband or brother about them, to remind them of their great loss. So when they knew that their loved one was dead, they buried his car just as he had been buried on a far-away battle field.

But although we all know a lot more about the First World War it appears that this modern generation knows little about the Second World War, the Battle of Britain or the Battle of the Atlantic when many brave lives were lost to bring us food. As shops are open every day with food flown in from all over the world children, cannot imagine what it was like during the war, with rationing and vital food being brought in convoys across the Atlantic fighting their way across with the constant threat from submarines, enemy warships and bombers.

A paper recently reported, that when school children were questioned, they thought that we had fought alongside the Germans in the last war!!   I wonder what history is taught in schools!

Although we are not at war, we still live in troubled times. There are threats of terrorism and unrest and in the Far East, North Korea is threatening the USA with nuclear rocket attack. It also appears that the morality of prominent members of our society, including our politicians is under suspicion and is being investigated.  Much of society seems ‘Hell bent’, (and I use the words advisedly,) in getting the maximum out of the system with the minimum of effort. It makes you think that if the call came today, few would be willing to sacrifice all to defend what they believed in. It is therefore not surprising that some of those who fought to bring freedom, question where this modern world is headed.

Where will it all end? What is the point of carrying on?

On this Remembrance Day we need to look around and see if this country and the world is worthy of the sacrifice of those who fought in wars to end all wars.

Jesus said, ’Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  How was Jesus able to say this? It was because He himself was to give his life to be a sacrifice for all.

Twelve days ago, in Faith Hour we heard this read. ‘During Old Testament times, the high priest’s work was never finished! Do you know why? Because the people where always sinning, so lambs had to be constantly sacrificed to atone for their sins.

However, when Jesus died, rose again and went back to heaven, the first thing He did was to sit down, because the work of salvation was finished! The Bible says: ‘Christ did not have to offer himself many times. He wasn’t like a high priest who goes into the most holy place each year to offer the blood of an animal. Instead, he offered himself once and for all, so that he could be a sacrifice that does away with sin, and because of Christ’s ‘once and for all’ sacrifice on the cross, you have direct access to God at any time. The moment you say, ‘Father, I come in the name of Jesus,’ you’re made welcome and all your needs are met.

There’s a story from American civil war days about a soldier sitting on a bench outside the white House looking depressed. A little boy passing by stopped and asked what was wrong. The soldier told him he needed to see president Lincoln but the guards wouldn’t let him in. Hearing this, the boy took him by the hand and led him directly into the president’s office. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘this man really needs to speak with you.’ That boy was the president’s son; he had direct and continuous access to his father, and because you belong to Jesus, you do too!

So today let us approach the God the Father, through Jesus his Son, and ask that we can be made agents of God’s love and peace to help this world become a better place for all.

AMEN.