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”.


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!


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.


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.


19th Sunday after Trinity 2017

Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?
Matthew 22.15-22
Brian Reader

Good morning to you all. Firstly on behalf of Anne Coomes and myself I would like to thank all of you who came to Chester Cathedral on 21 October to support the Readers who were being licenced, transferred or made Emeritus. I hope you found the service as uplifting and enjoyable as we did.

Today is the 19th Sunday after Trinity, and we are rapidly approaching the end of the Church’s year. Apart from it being the 109th birthday of St. Oswald Church there is nothing really special about today, which enables us to concentrate on the readings we heard from Matthew’s Gospel.

The story is well known but still important, and I was trying to think of a way to make it a bit more easily understood. Just imagine you are standing in the Palace of Westminster and the great British public asks, “Is it right that we pay vast sums of money to the European Union?” So the wise man (or woman), said, “Show me your coinage,” and he/ she was shown a pound coin with twelve edges. “Whose head is this on the coin?”, and the crowd said, “It is the Queen of England”. I will let you guess what was said next.

A country’s coinage is very important. Had we changed to the Euro some years ago, I doubt if we would or could have even contemplated Brexit today, as we would have been much more closely linked in with, and locked into, the European Union. And if Brexit fails, then the EU politicians have already said that their vision is for a European state with one currency, so the pound would have to go.

As I’ve said, the nation’s currency is very important and it is surprising to learn from this passage that the Romans allowed the Jews to use their own coinage, even if it was only to be used in the temple. The Romans even allowed Temple guards and this was one of the reasons that Jesus was handed over to be crucified, to protect the few perks the Romans allowed the Jews to keep.

But back to the story. This question, which the Pharisees put to Jesus, had an obvious double edge. The issue of paying tax to the Roman emperor was one of the hottest topics in the Middle East in Jesus’ day. Imagine how you’d like it if you woke up one morning and discovered that people from the other end of the world had marched in to your country and demanded that you pay them tax as the reward for having your land stolen! That sort of thing still causes riots and revolutions, and it had done just that when Jesus was growing up in Galilee.

One of the most famous Jewish leaders when Jesus was a boy, a man called Judas (a good revolutionary name in the Jewish world), had led a revolt precisely on this issue. The Romans had crushed it mercilessly, leaving crosses around the countryside, with dead and dying revolutionaries on them, as a warning that paying the tax was compulsory, not optional.
The Pharisees’ question came, as we would say, with a health warning. Tell people they shouldn’t pay tax, and you might end up on a cross. On the other hand, anyone leading a Kingdom-of-God movement would be expected to oppose the tax, or face the ridicule and resentment of the people. Surely the whole point of God becoming king was that Caesar wouldn’t be? If Jesus wasn’t intending to get rid of the tax and all that it meant, what had they followed him for all the way from Galilee? Why had they all shouted Hosanna a few days earlier?

If Jesus had been a politician on a television programme, you can imagine the audience’s delight, and the producer’s glee, when someone asked this question. This one will really give him a hard time.

Before Jesus answers, he asks them for a coin. Or rather, asking them for a coin is really the beginning of his answer, the start of a strategic outflanking move. When they produce the coin, the dinar that was used to pay the tax, they are showing that they themselves are handling the hated currency. Among the reasons it was hated was what was on the coin. Jews weren’t allowed to put images of people, human faces, on their coins; but Caesar, of course, had his image stamped on his and around the edge of the coin, proclaiming to all the world who he was, Caesar had words that would send a shudder through any loyal or devout Jew. ‘Son of God… high priest’ – was that who Caesar thought he was? How could any Jew be happy to handle stuff like that?

We watch the scene as Jesus takes the coin from them, like someone being handed a dead rat. He looks at it with utter distaste. ‘Whose is this… image?’ And who is it who gives himself an inscription like that?’

He’s already shown what he thinks of Caesar, but he hasn’t said anything that could get him into trouble. He has turned the question around, and is ready to throw it back at them. ‘It’s Caesar’s,’ they reply’, stating the obvious, but admitting that they themselves carry Caesar’s coinage. ‘Well then,’ says Jesus, you’d better pay Caesar back in his own coin, hadn’t you?’

Astonishment. What did he mean? ‘Paying Caesar back in his own coin’ sounded like revolution; but standing there with the coin in his hand it sounded as though he was saying: ‘you should pay the tax, and you’d better pay God back in his own coin, too!’ More astonishment. Did he mean that the kingdom of God was more important than the kingdom of Caesar, after all? Or what?

Let’s be clear. Jesus wasn’t trying to give an answer, for all time, on the relationship between God and political authority. That wasn’t the point. He was countering the Pharisees’ challenge to him with a sharp challenge in return. Wasn’t it, after all, they who were compromised? Had they really given full allegiance to their God? Were they themselves playing games, Keeping Caesar happy while speaking of God?

We can only fully understand what Jesus was doing when we see his answer in the light of the whole story. Jesus knew – he had already told the disciples – that he was himself going to be crucified, to share the fate of the tax-rebels of his boyhood. He wasn’t trying to wriggle out of personal or political danger. He was continuing to walk straight towards it.

But he was doing so on his own terms.

His vocation was not to be the sort of revolutionary they had known in the past. The kingdom of God would defeat the empire of Caesar, and the world, not by conventional means, but by the victory of God’s love and power over the even the great empire of death itself.

Yours is the majesty, O Lord our God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirt;
Yours is the kingdom and the Power;
Yours be the glory now and evermore.

Our Readers

Anne Coomes and Brian Reader have been with us for some time now, but at a special service at Chester Cathedral they were officially licensed to our parish.

A coach-load of parishioners were able to attend the service.



Eternal Giver of love and life,
Your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom.
Confirm us in this mission
and help us to live the good news we proclaim,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Second Sunday after Trinity 2017

I came to bring a sword:  Matthew 10.24-39
Brian Reader

Our Gospel reading is taken from Matthew, and it reminded me about a story we heard on our recent Chub meeting to Hope. (Chub just stands for Church and Pub). Well, a new vicar had been appointed to St Peter’s in Hope and on his first Sunday he preached from Matthew’s Gospel on the Sermon on the Mount, which was very well received. The next Sunday he preached the same sermon, and a few eyebrows were raised. Believe it or not, on his third Sunday, he again preached the same sermon. There were distinct mutterings in the congregation, and the Church Warden was delegated to have a word with the vicar.

But when asked, the vicar said he would continue to repeat the same sermon until the good people of Hope lived out the message of the sermon in their lives!

Like Jesus, the vicar wanted people to change their lives. Our reading for today, which is also from Matthew, has much the same purpose. Jesus came to change people’s lives, but some of the things we heard in the Gospel reading, we may not have expected. We know that God is a god of love and that Jesus, his Son, came into the world to proclaim that message. But in the passage we read –

‘Don’t think it’s my job to bring peace on the earth’ I didn’t come to bring peace – I came to bring a sword, I came to divide a man from his father, a daughter from her mother, and a daughter-in-law from her mother-in-law.’

Jesus had meant these words to cause a stir.

‘Sons against fathers, daughters against mothers’ – what on earth could he mean? Rejecting parents and children – not peace on earth, but a sword – can this be Jesus himself speaking? What’s going on? How can we get our minds around these strange sayings?

Now the New Testament also has a good deal to say about caring for one another within the family. But some have misguidedly taken passages like these as a licence to neglect their own dependants, to spend all their time on ‘the Lord’s work’. You may have heard it said about someone that they were so heavenly minded that they are no earthly use!

But these are stern and uncomfortable words which we can’t ignore. They echo down the years into the Christian church of today. Think of St Francis, leaving his wealthy home, despite his father’s fury, to go and live a simple life of imitating Jesus as best as he could – and setting an example that thousands still follow today. Think also of those who have faced terrible dangers for the sake of the gospel and have had to send their families to a place of safety elsewhere, while they have stayed to look after a church because there wasn’t anyone else to do it.

Jesus doesn’t say here that everyone who follows him will find themselves split off from their families; certainly not. Indeed, many of the apostles, in the days of the early church, took their spouses with them on their travels. But Jesus is once again talking about priorities, and is making remarkable and quite drastic claims. He isn’t saying (as some have tried to pretend that he was saying) , that what matters is following God in your own way. No. Jesus is saying, loud and clear, that what matters is allegiance to him: allegiance to Jesus must come at the top of every priority list. In our service today we have already heard the words that Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this: ‘The Lord our God is the only Lord’. “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”
‘The second is this’: “Love your neighbour as yourself’”
There is no other commandment greater than these.

As the story in the Gospels unfolds, we see how difficult this was, even for those who knew him personally: Peter denied him, Judas betrayed him, the rest all ran away and hid. But the challenge remains, embracing everything, demanding everything, offering everything, promising everything.

The absolute demand of Jesus brings us back to the Sermon on the Mount. It isn’t the case that there are some fine ideals in the mind of God, and that Jesus just happens to teach them a bit better than most people. Nor is it the case that Jesus came to show us the way through the present world to a quite different one, where we will go after death. No: Jesus came to begin and to establish the new way of being God’s people, and not surprisingly those who were quite happy with the old one, thank you very much, didn’t like having it disturbed.

He didn’t want to bring division within households for the sake of it. But he knew that, if people followed his way, division was bound to follow. We see division in our world today. Terrible things are happening, brought about by hate. Brought about by those who do not believe in a God who teaches us to love, not only our neighbours, but also our enemies, as we love ourselves. But with so much death and destruction we can become afraid and turn in on ourselves; frightened to be the outgoing and loving people that God wants us to be.

One of the most memorable moments for me in recent weeks has been the moving pictures of people giving out roses; people of all races, colour and creed making a practical display of their love and compassion to other human beings. What do you think is the command repeated most often in the Bible? You might imagine it’s something stern like: Behave yourself – -Say your prayers! – Worship God more wholeheartedly! – Give more money away. You’d be wrong. It’s the command we find repeated three times in our Gospel

‘Don’t be afraid.’

Yes, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ The people who gave out roses were not afraid. You can see easily enough why Jesus needed to tell his disciples not to be afraid. After all, he’s warned them that the authorities will be after them; that they will suffer physical and emotional violence; and, that people will start calling them the sort of names they have already begun to call him. So there was plenty to be afraid of! And yet he says, don’t be afraid.

If, as the Gospel is saying, God really takes note of every single sparrow in the sky, and every single hair of our heads, that means that, just as nothing is too great for him to do, so nothing is too small for him to care about it. The message is plain. You are worth more than a great many sparrows; so rest assured that God knows and cares about the details of your life, even as you face the temptations and dangers which are all around us.

Followers of Jesus are bound to experience attacks at all levels. But we must also learn that the one we are serving is stronger than the strongest opponent we will ever meet. If we accept the challenge of Jesus sayings, this is then matched by the remarkable promises he makes to those who accept His challenges and live by them. He will ‘own’ us before his father in heaven, and ‘Those who lose their lives will find them.’

That’s why Jesus’ challenge, to the disciples themselves and, through them to the Israel of his day, had to be so sharp – and it also has to be just as sharp today, where people still prefer comfort to challenge.

So follow Christ, love your enemies, and DO NOT BE AFRAID!


5th Sunday of Lent 2017

The Raising of Lazarus
Brian Reader
John 11, 1-45.

Today, the fifth Sunday of Lent, is also called Passion Sunday, and we had a long reading about Jesus’ friend, Lazarus and his two sisters. What did you make of it? We all get disappointed in this life when we think that friends have let us down, and if you are like me, then you too may show your annoyance. Did you feel annoyed like Martha that Jesus did not come immediately he got the message about his friend’s illness? Why did Jesus delay? Perhaps he was delaying so he could then do an even greater miracle of healing? I don’t believe that for a second.

When I have difficulty trying to unravel a passage from the bible, as well as praying, I also read a commentary by Bishop Tom Wright on the subject which usually gives a different point of focus. The bishop believes that the story gives us an insight into prayer. We pray for justice and peace, for prosperity and harmony between nations and races, and still it hasn’t happened. Why?

God doesn’t play games with us. His ways are not our ways. His timing is not our timing.

One of the most striking reminders of this is in verse 6 of the passage. When Jesus got the message from the two sisters, the cry for help,
the emergency-come-quickly appeal, he stayed where he was for two days. He didn’t even mention it to the disciples. He didn’t make preparations to go. He didn’t send messages back to say “We’re on our way”: He just stayed there. And Mary and Martha, in Bethany, watched their beloved brother die. What could be harder than that?

So what was Jesus doing? If we think about the rest of the story we can find the answer. He was praying. He was seeking to find the will of his father. He wanted to do what was right.

The disciples were right: the Judaeans had been wanting to stone him, so surely he wouldn’t think of going back just yet? Bethany was, and is, a small town just two miles or so from Jerusalem, on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. Once you’re there, you’re within easy reach of the holy city, and who knows what would happen this time if he had returned.

It’s important to realize that this wonderful story about Lazarus, one of the most powerful and moving in the whole Bible, is not just about Lazarus. It’s also about Jesus. And when Jesus thanks the father that he has heard his prayer, I think he’s referring to the prayers he prayed during those two strange, silent days in the wilderness across the Jordan. He was praying for Lazarus, but he was also praying for wisdom and guidance as to his own plans and movements. Somehow the two were bound up together. What Jesus was going to do for Lazarus would be, on the one hand, a principal reason why the authorities would want him out of the way. But it would be, on the other hand, the most powerful sign yet, in the sequence of ‘signs’ that marks our progression through this gospel, of what Jesus’ life and work was all about, and of how in particular it would reach its climactic resolution.

The time of waiting, therefore, was vital. As so often, Jesus needed to be in prayer exploring the father’s will in that intimacy and union of which he often spoke. Only then would he act – not in the way Mary and Martha had wanted him to do, but in a manner beyond their wildest dreams.

This story is all about the ways in which Jesus surprises people and overturns their expectations. He didn’t go when the sisters asked him.
But he did eventually go, although the disciples warned him not to. He spoke about ‘sleep’; meaning death, and the disciples thought he meant ordinary sleep. And, in the middle of the passage, he told them in a strange little saying that people who walk in the daytime don’t trip up, but people who walk around in the darkness do. What did he mean? He seems to have meant that the only way to know where you were going was to follow him. If you try to steer your course by your own under- standing, you’ll trip up, because you’ll be in the dark. But if you stick close to him, and see the situation from his point of view, then, even if it means days and perhaps years of puzzlement, wondering why nothing seems to be happening, you will come out at the right place in the end.

There is a great deal that we don’t understand, and our hopes and plans often get thwarted. But if we go with Jesus, even if it’s into the jaws of death, we will be walking in the light. The prayer of Jesus at the grave begins with thanksgiving as all prayer should; we take too much for granted. But if, like the Psalmists or Job, you have a complaint about arbitrary injustice or the unfairness of it all, it is right to tell him so. Martha certainly spoke her mind, and, feeling neglected, bluntly reproached Jesus.

A prayer of protest is quite proper. Prayer is a dialogue of learning; in the stillness you learn more about yourself, and God, and the way things really are. You may come to understand ‘Why should it happen to me?’ is answered ‘Why should it not?’ and ‘Why me?’ becomes ‘Why not me?’

‘Jesus wept’ is not an oath; it expresses his grief at the death of his friend and the distress of his sisters; for John it stresses the reality of the Incarnation. This man is truly flesh and blood, who understands a cry of pain and anguish, and shares the pain and hurt of bereavement; if ever you are almost overwhelmed by grief, he understands and shares; and comes to you as he came to Martha and Mary.

The long story about Lazarus whose name so aptly means ‘blessed by God’ is the crowning sign of victory over death. Here Lazarus is dead and buried and decaying, and this resuscitated corpse is a further sign. Jesus not only speaks of the word of life but he himself is the Resurrection. Often we hear a voice that reminds us that in the midst of life we are in death; but Jesus’ commanding voice insists: In the midst of death we are in life. Don’t worry about what happens when you die for he is Resurrection. And there is more to come.

Offering you a chalice, a minister may say: ‘The blood of Christ keep you in eternal life.’ – in other words – keep you where you already are. That’s John’s new theology and understanding after sixty years of prayer and meditation.

Eternal life is here and now; we have passed from death to life already. Yet sometimes you may feel half-dead through bereavement or despair, divorce, or disappointment, redundancy or being told about a life threatening illness and yet you find a new lease of life
that seems like resurrection, a life that is fuller and richer, more satisfying and fulfilling, eternal in quality as well as quantity, here and now. I certainly found that when working in the hospice.

As Easter makes plain, God is in the business of raising the dead. Life is a succession of deaths and resurrections; and when you come to the end of your days and he holds you through death into Life, it will be but one more in a whole series of resurrections.

May we pray. Lord Jesus, give us the courage and strength to follow you, especially when times are hard, so that we may experience your love and help through all our days. Amen

2nd Sunday of Advent 2016

Brian Reader

Isaiah 11: 1-10; Ps 72: 1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Some 10 days ago someone asked me “Why don’t we have flowers in Church during Advent?” I gave an answer but it raised other issues, and it set me thinking.

What is Advent, and what do we know about it?

Advent is so much more than a delicious chocolate calendar counting down the days until Christmas. In fact, the Advent calendar gives a wrong idea about Advent, as it assumes that Advent starts on the 1st December, when we all know that this year it started last Sunday on 27th November, and next year it will start on the 3rd December.  I therefore decided to speak this morning about Advent and I make no apology for using some of an article by Justin Holcomb which I found on Christianity.com.

For some of us there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. The word “Advent” just means “coming”. So it is reasonable to assume that the Advent season focuses on expectation and to think that it serves as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is part of the story, but as Anne explained last Sunday there’s more to Advent than just that.

We should also understand that Christmas, the “Christ Mass”, was not celebrated until 350 to 400 AD. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for their baptism; in a similar way that some new Christians today use Lent as a time of preparation for their baptism at Easter.

So originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas. By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds in Glory as the judge of the world. So Advent was a season that focused on waiting.

It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was also explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Advent is now the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and each Sunday is commemorated by the lighting of one of four coloured candles in the Advent wreath, with a fifth white candle being lit on Christmas day. Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days”, that we read about in Acts and Hebrews: as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom.

The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration, while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people.

In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season. While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.

But the world we live in seems to take an Advent-free leap straight from All Saints Day to Christmas Eve? WHY?

Perhaps because Christmas is about celebration, and celebrations can be a time to move products off the shelves. Advent is about waiting, and waiting is considered a waste of time in a materialistic world.

In the Western religious setting, new believers seek to use Jesus to provide them with their most convenient lives in the here and now, and Advent is a particularly awkward intrusion.

Advent links our hearts with those of ancient prophets who pined for a long-promised Messiah but who passed away long before his arrival. In the process, Advent reminds us that we too are waiting.

Even on this side of Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, there is brokenness in our world that no shopping trolley full of Christmas bargains can fix; there is hunger in our souls that no plateful of Christmas pudding and brandy butter can fill; there is twistedness in our hearts that no terrestrial hand can touch.

As the apostle Paul declared, “The whole of creation, has been groaning together for redemption.” In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning and recognize it not as hopeless whimpering over the failings of the present moment but as an expectant yearning for a divine banquet that Jesus is preparing for us even now.

In Advent, the church admits, as poet R.S. Thomas has put it, that “the meaning is in the waiting.” And what we await is a final Advent that is yet to come. In Advent, believers confess that the infant who drew his first ragged breath between a virgin’s knees has yet to speak his final word.

Advent was intended to be a season much like Lent, a time of fasting, and reflection and there are a variety of ways that this time of mourning works itself out in the season. That is the reason that traditionally we have no flowers in Church during Advent, and why some Churches delay their carol services until after Christmas.

Today it is difficult to keep in mind the true meaning of Advent in the midst of parties, shopping, lights and decorations that we see all around us. Some may view Advent like the season of Lent, where you can celebrate it or skip it, waiting instead for the big holidays like Christmas or Easter. I can’t help but feel, that when we skip over these waiting periods in anticipation of the real meaning of the holiday, we come up a little empty when the big day arrives.

So what should we do?

Reflection on the violence and evil in the world cause us to cry out to God to make things right -to put death’s dark shadows to flight. One catechism describes the spirituality of Advent beautifully:

“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’

It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense.

We are between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming. It is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation.

Faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; He has come, and He will come again.

So Advent reminds us to listen for the message that God is speaking, even in the waiting. This is the essence of Advent.

Are you listening for God speaking to you, through the Bible, or prayer or quiet meditation? Are you giving yourself space to hear what God is saying to you in this busy world?

What better time to start than this Advent?

And the winner is…

eggwinnerIn early Lent, the Rotary Club of Macclesfield Castle obtained 20 very large chocolate Easter Eggs; one was raffled at St. Oswald, with the proceeds shared between Rotary charities and Church funds. The last ticket was sold after the Palm Sunday Service and the draw was made at the Faith Hour on 23rd March.


Judi (who never wins anything) was delighted to have won the Easter Egg competition with ticket no 43.

Some of the non-winners expressed concern about the calorie content of the prize.

The Rotary Club of Macclesfield Castle raises funds to help charities both locally and abroad. You may have heard of ‘Shelter Boxes’ which are sent out to disaster areas, and ‘Water Aid’ which delivers clean drinking water, and also ‘Polio Plus’ which aims to eradicate polio in the world, all funded by Rotary Charities. Locally the club has supported a Youth Speaking Competition, organized a Swimathon here in Macclesfield and recently sponsored a residential weekend for Secondary school students to help them develop their leadership skills.