EASTER 4 22 April 21

By Brian Reader

Acts 4.5-12; Ps 23; 1 John 3.16-end; John10.11-18

Good Morning to you all. Although this the fourth Sunday of Easter,
I promise I won’t mention anything about chocolate eggs, or Easter bunnies!

Today should also be St. Mark’s Day but because the Church considers his day to be less important than the message for Easter 4, his festival day is moved to tomorrow. To me this seems unfair, so I will be mentioning St. Mark later in the sermon.

I wonder if any of you have noticed that all the readings after Easter have included a passage from Acts which describes the work of Jesus’ followers after the Resurrection.

At first, today’s reading may seem a little out of context unless you also know something about what went on before.

At the start of the chapter we can read how a lame man came to be cured by Peter and John in the temple. They then explained what had happened and spoke to the people about the risen Christ. The priests, the chief of the Temple police, and the Sadducees then arrived and they were extremely annoyed that they were preaching to 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.

Why was the high priest so angry? You would have thought that it would be great news to know that God was alive and well and was providing a wonderful rescue operation for all through his chosen Messiah?  But, NO, 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. In a similar way we will see how this 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.  There the system of animal sacrifice had been practised for a thousand years and it was where the one true God had promised to meet with His people. In so doing the priests exercised great power economically, socially and politically.


The Roman governor would normally do business with and through the high priest and his entourage. They could get things done, or stop things happening; and that is why they strongly disapproved of the idea of ‘resurrection’.

So why doesn’t the Gospel message make such an impact today? Well 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. 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.


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 bad news for the chief priests and the Sadducees, however it was exactly what plenty of others wanted to hear. (About this time, St. Luke, recorded in The Acts of the Apostles 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, telling people to guard against false prophets leading them 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’.

The last verse also reminds us: –


         There is Salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

Referring now to St. Mark who was the writer of the earliest Gospel and the first Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, and we use his Gospel as the main source of our Gospel reading this year.

St. Mark is mentioned as John Mark in Acts, and simply as “Mark” in the epistles St. Paul and St. Peter.

He accompanied St. Peter on his journey to Rome, and it is said he wrote his Gospel at the urgent request of the faithful of Rome, who were anxious to have an enduring record of what St Peter had taught them by word of mouth.

The Gospel is simple and direct, and, it is the primary source of information about the ministry of Jesus, parts of which can be found in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke. As St. Mark may never have heard our Lord, he does not exactly follow the order of events in his narrative. He follows the order in which he heard them from St. Peter, who adapted his preaching to the requirements of his hearers, without following the exact order of the discourses or actions of Jesus.


St. Mark, however, took care to write nothing except what was strictly true, as he heard it from the lips of St Peter, and he committed all to writing under the inspiration and impulse of the Holy Ghost. There is however a problem as there appears to be a missing column or a page at the end of the Gospel regarding the resurrection and the events which followed.


It is obvious that two later writers have added text to try and fill this gap in order to give the Gospel a conclusion.

This absence of Mark’s resurrection story could be the reason why his day is not celebrated on a Sunday in this post Easter period. Mark was not one of the twelve close apostles of Jesus, but he did leave a short but gripping account of the life, and death of Jesus Christ which represents the heart of the Christian story and the truth of our faith.

I will finish by reading the collect for St. Mark’s Day.

Almighty God,
who enlightened your holy Church
through the inspired witness of your evangelist Saint Mark:
grant that we, being firmly grounded
in the truth of the gospel,
may be faithful to its teaching both in word and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, AMEN

Mark, the famous winged Lion, is for everyone the symbol of Venice. The link between St. Mark and Venice comes from an ancient legend, according to which the Evangelist Mark, during his journey from Aquileia to Rome, found a storm and he took refugee in a small island of the lagoon.

Second Sunday of Lent

By Brian Reader

A very good Morning to you all on this the second Sunday of Lent. So how has Lent been for you so far? With the current lock down rules there has been little chance of any wildly extravagant excesses!  

Lent is a time of reflection, of learning anew about Jesus and what he wants us to be. 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.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said,

“I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,

“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”

God also said to Abraham,

“As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

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”.

Abraham was not surprised as this is the fifth time that God had made promises to him. However, many years had passed 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.

Even though it appeared that Abraham and Sarah would never have a child, God continued to repeat and add details to the original promise He had made to Abraham. And St 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.

It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Romans 4:13-25

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; 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. It is the entire Law.

And secondly Jesus showed, by his whole life of obedience to the Father, from start to finish, that this was how we should live our human lives. His death on the cross ushered in God’s new promise for all mankind. So the way to salvation, is by receiving God’s forgiveness through Christ. Jesus, and not the Law, opens the way between the Father and us. The Law may be fulfilled in Jesus Christ but this does not mean we can ignore it.

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.

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

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

Mark 8:.31-38

Let us now consider the reading from Mark. Just before the passage set for today, Jesus asked the disciples,      

“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 implies that it was quite a new point that could only be taught, 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 of the Peanuts cartoon said,
winning ain’t everything
but losing ain’t anything.


Jesus seemed to be saying he was going to lose. Worse, he was inviting them to come and lose and die alongside him. The strong negative reaction of Peter, who had just told Jesus that he and the rest thought he was the Messiah, is not surprising. Messiahs don’t get killed by the authorities. A Messiah who did that would be shown up immediately as a false Messiah. St Mark explains in the later chapters of his Gospel why Jesus said that all this had to happen. But what does it mean for us today? There and then it meant being ready to die, but here and now it means ‘dying to self’; and it is still costly. ‘Having a cross to bear’ does not refer to a bit of rheumatism or an awkward relative, but involves self-sacrifice.

It may well be that following him has already proved more costly than you, first thought, not only in time and money, but in ‘wear and tear’. Sharing ‘the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings’ may involve facing apathy or ridicule, being misrepresented or abused, and it hurts. It may well be that following him has not worked out as you expected, and this surprising Christ has led you in unexpected ways. He still has much to teach us of his mind and of his ways. 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. And 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!

So as the grip of the pandemic appears at last to be receding, be of good courage, have faith and hope, and serve the Lord.

2nd Sunday of Advent 2020

A sermon by Canon Veronica

The Church of England has decided to post some encouraging messages for Advent under the overall heading “Comfort and Joy”. Not particularly original as a phrase you’ll agree, but then Advent is an ancient season in itself! And I expect many of you will now be humming away, trying to link up the refrain “Comfort and joy” to the first line of the carol in which it is embedded!

Yes – in our (temporarily shelved) hymnbook it can be found at number 254 (although the words are slightly different from this traditional version):

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
let nothing you dismay,
for Jesus Christ our Saviour
was born upon this day,
to save us all from Satan’s power
when we had gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy!

Of course the final verse will be especially difficult for us this year, as it seems to encourage us to go against current Government ruling when it says: “Now to the Lord sing praises, all you within this place, and with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace”… !

But nevertheless, despite all the sadness and restrictions that COVID-19 has brought over these last nine months or more, we are here and we can hear again the resounding words of the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,”… and that she is able to walk freely away from all that threatened to confine and imprison her, and she is able to go home safely. All obstacles to her thriving have been taken away, there is a smooth level path and “all people together” will be able clearly to see the glory of God revealed (as St Paul would later say) in the face of Jesus Christ.

The same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob stoops down in all humility and comes to feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them close to his heart, and gently lead those who have so recently been through the painful labour of giving birth to new life, and who seek to nurture the next generation. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep”, meaning not just those of this fold, but the whole human race.

The Good Shepherd and two angels. Mosaic (6th C)

John the Baptist in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:1-8) calls all who would listen to “prepare the way of the Lord” – to turn around, whether they considered themselves worthy or unworthy; all John’s hearers, just like all Isaiah’s audience in exile, whether faithful or unbelieving, all were called to take radical steps, to get themselves up to a high mountain and proclaim that a new Kingdom of gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, peace and joy was about to begin!

If you look on our Facebook page or on our website (link below), spend a few moments watching the short “Comfort and joy” animation encouraging us to celebrate what is at the heart of Christmas, necessarily pared down considerably as are all the trappings of the season this COVID year, and poignantly noting that in many or most households this Christmas there will be an empty chair around the table.

Isaiah and John the Baptist today call us to see beyond our limited horizons and to look out towards the great and mighty Wonder that is at the heart of the Gospel – that God stoops down in gentleness and vulnerability to bring us hope and light just when we feel plunged in the depths of despair or overwhelmed by dark waves of sadness. “I have baptised you with water” says John – which meant for his followers the distinctly uncomfortable experience of being completely plunged beneath the waves of the sacred River Jordan and repenting of all their sins, great or small – but having then been brought back up to breathe in the welcome rush of air above the surface of the river. John the Baptist confirms to the newly baptised that Jesus the Son of God “will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

But what does that mean? For an answer, since being a shy teenager in March 1967, I have turned from time to time back to a letter I was sent whilst at boarding school, from the parish priest who had been Vicar of the parish where I and my family had worshipped (St Paul’s Haringey in North London, where my father had been the church organist) and where on Christmas Eve 1960 my Dad had suffered a severe stroke on the way home from playing the organ at Midnight Mass. This proved to be fatal, as he died in hospital the day before Epiphany 1961. Six years later, the Vicar (now at a new parish) wrote to me to offer me this encouragement in my Christian journey:

My dear Veronica,
I will have you in my thoughts and prayers on Thursday when you are confirmed. I hope it will be a wonderful day, with a memorable and happy service, and that thereafter you will never doubt the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life even though times might be hard. You are old enough to be told that the times are going to get harder for Christians; our numbers are going to shrink, we are going to be increasingly considered old fuddy duddies, and to live a good Christian life is going to become more complicated. BUT God will not leave us comfortless (and you know, don’t you, that “comfort” means “strength” in the Bible). The power of the Holy Spirit which you will receive in his fulness on Thursday is greater than all the powers of evil and indifference. Ours is a great and loving Lord to whom it is more than worthwhile to offer one’s life.
God bless you now and always,
As ever,
Derek Bond

True “comfort and joy”!
(Incidentally, the late Derek Bond’s pastoral skills were later acknowledged by his being consecrated as Bishop of Bradwell.)

The Holy Spirit is known as “the Comforter”, the Strengthener who offers us eternally the inspiration for our lives. Today, 6 December, is also the feast of St Nicholas – patron saint of sailors, amongst others – and we will do well to remember today that we can all, in small or greater ways, offer a lifeline to others as we voyage together through the often turbulent seas of this world. “Speak tenderly,” says Isaiah – be gentle, reach out and offer even small acts of kindness to your companions along the way, old and young alike, and through even the smallest of gestures of love and care, like offering a friendly word, writing an encouraging letter, or simply smiling at a stranger who seems disheartened. In these ways we may embody the grace of God as highlighted in our post-Communion prayer for today, and maybe help others to know themselves forgiven and able to finally come home.

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that, when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him
with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Comfort and Joy on our website

Christ the King 2020

Brian Reader

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice…
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24

[The other readings for today are Ephesians 1.15-end and Matthew 25.31-end]

Today is the last Sunday of the Church’s year, and the Sunday before Advent. It is also the day when we think of Christ as the King.

These days it may be hard to imagine that the kings and queens in years gone by were all powerful; you may never have seen them, but what they said was law, and you did everything in your power to keep them happy. Woe betide you if you made the king angry, as your life would not be worth living, that is, if you still had a life! Today our Royal family has lost most of its mystery and virtually all of its power, and subject to constant media attention, the Royal Family has shown itself to be just as human and frail as we all are. That is apart from the Queen herself, who throughout her long reign has honoured her commitment to duty to this country and Commonwealth which she made before God at her coronation.

But today we celebrate and honour a different kind of monarch, God’s only Son, Christ the King. Christ, who is everlasting, and through the years has not had his power diminished or whittled down. Following his victory on the Cross and His glorious resurrection, God has given him all power to rule over God’s kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven. And this King seeks to save and enhance lives, not to destroy or belittle them. Perhaps now, just before Advent and the run up to Christmas, it is timely to remember that Christ is the all powerful king. We sometimes forget that when we celebrate his birth, when he laid aside all his glory, and rightful place in heaven, to come down to us on earth as a helpless babe at Christmas.
As we read in the Good News Bible translation, God is saying;

I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd, and he will take care of them. I, the Lord, will be their God, and a king like my servant David will be their ruler. I have spoken.

Ezekiel 34:23

And in The Message translation we read:

God raised Christ from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe; everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power is exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all; has the final word on everything: At the centre of all this, Christ rules the church: The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence:

Ephesians 1.20-23

And Christ is given the Power to defeat death and evil, we don’t mind that, it’s nice to have an all-powerful king to fight our corner, or a nice shepherd to care and look after us, but, Christ is also given the power and authority to judge. We don’t like that so much, especially as we all know we have all done much of which we are ashamed. And as Matthew, harking back to the images we find in Ezekiel, says;

When the Son of Man comes in his glory … he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Matthew 25.31-33
The Good Shepherd and two angels. Mosaic (6th Century)

Now those of you who have been to the Middle East will know that sheep don’t look like the fluffy white bundles of wool that we think of in this country. No, they look scraggy and thin, much like a goat, so when I was in Aden, Diana my first wife and I used to call them ‘shoats’. The reason for separating them was that goats are less hardy than sheep and have to be cared for in harsh weather. Oh! and if you have to separate them yourself, a lamb’s tail hangs down and goat’s tail points skywards!

And going back to Ezekiel, a good shepherd can also judge between one sheep and another. Perhaps that is why we are told not to judge each other; only God knows all, and he will judge all of us at the end of time.

Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.

Matthew 25.34

So Christ will be able to separate us as sheep from goats; or as chalk from cheese.

As inheritor’s of Christ’s kingdom, we must ensure that we are trying our best at all times to do what our King requires. In the reading from Ezekiel, verses 17 to 19 are missing. Have you wondered what they said? We are told that we should be satisfied with eating the best that the Lord provides and we must not trample down what we don’t eat. God provides clear water for us to drink, and yet we tend to muddy what we leave for others! God made us stewards of the world he created, yet we are greedy and tend to plunder, waste, and pollute this fragile ecosystem that is God’s world.

God says this about us, comparing us to sheep:

I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the injured and make the sick strong… I shall be a true shepherd to them.

Ezekiel 34.16

He rightly accuses us as the rich and fat sheep, of pushing the sick ones aside and butting them away from the flock. What an indictment!

In Matthew, Christ is telling his disciples that He is with the hungry and the thirsty and if we do not feed them or give them drink we are failing in our duty to serve him. In the same way, He is with the stranger needing clothing and shelter, and with the sick and those in prison, whose plight we ignore at our peril. This does not mean that we have to rush off and visit all the prisoners; although in the Middle East that is necessary, because if your friends don’t visit you with food, you go very very hungry! But if we are not all required to visit prisoners, we are all needed to fight for justice.

Remember as we say our Lord’s Prayer together:

Do we really mean that? Are we trying to do God’s will on earth? Are we like the Christians we read about in the New Testament? They were prepared to do God’s will on earth, and were even prepared to die for their faith. And we should remember that even today, Christians in other parts of the world are still dying for their faith. Or are we perhaps fair-weather Christians, a bit like our politicians, who will say whatever they think is needed at the time, but will go their own way when it suits them?

And there is another thing about Christ our king which is different from earthly rulers. He is approachable, He has lived on earth and knows all about our tribulations and trials. And Christ is real and can escort us to the throne of heavenly grace.

A boy once asked his vicar, “How do I know that Christ is real and alive?
The vicar said to the boy, “When you and your father came into church this morning, what were you doing?
We were talking,” said the boy.
And is your father real and alive?
Of course he is, I couldn’t have a conversation with him if he was dead,” replied the boy.
There is your answer,” said his vicar, “We are able to talk to God the Father, through God the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer, and if we give him time, and space and silence, he will speak to us. This is how we know God is alive and very real.”

Now God as three persons in the Trinity is a mystery, impossible to fully understand, yet we know in our hearts it is true, and that God is alive, working and caring in our world today. And we have to make the reality of Christ, come alive for us. Because although Christ is King, he still wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us.

Make sure that you get to know Christ and let Him rule in your life today.

And then Christ the King, will bestow his love and his peace and his purpose, to all you think, and to all you say, and to all you do.

AMEN

Remembrance Sunday 2020

Canons Veronica and Roy

Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of all:
govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Our Collect Prayer seems to strike the right note for Remembrance Sunday, as it brings to mind that it is sin which divides us and which causes wars, and that it is only when the world is subject to God’s just and gentle rule that then (and only then) wars will cease. Perhaps we forget that the point of remembering on this special day the trenches, the dead and the dying, the heartache, is that we don’t want anyone to experience such terrible times of war ever again. In sorrow we name aloud those who were traumatised, wounded or fell in battle (and recall that so many of them weren’t professional soldiers, sailors or air crew).

Jesus spoke this parable to the disciples: “The kingdom of heaven
will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Matthew 25:1-13

Every year, when we say “we will remember” all of this, we are in all good conscience saying “we won’t let it happen again”. But sadly, even as once more we bow our heads in silence before the memorial boards here in church commemorating our local lads, we cannot escape the fact that wars and killing still go on unabated across the world. Our Gospel for this Sunday reminds us that we all need to stay alert and awake, prepared to listen out primarily for God’s commands, and “with oil in our lamps” to respond positively to the deep yearning of humanity to be at peace… the sort of peace that passes understanding (whether in the midst of fears of conflict or coronavirus), the peace of Christ that we all long for.

The First World War was rounded off by a pandemic as deadly as the present one – exacerbated by the weariness of a world worn down by the fighting and hatred of war. Our present crisis may not have been brought about by wars, yet we may feel ourselves bogged down in the mire of divisive politics and entangled in the insidious barbed wire of different “tribes” seeking narrow self-interest above the well-being of “the other”. The world awaits the distant bugle call signalling that somewhere an effective vaccine has been found, while vainly hoping to “be home by Christmas”. But let us not despair: let us keep our lamps lit by being wise enough to go on replenishing the oil of human kindness, and in the gloom of our remembrances today, let us be determined to fix our eyes on the light of Christ, which no amount of darkness can ever extinguish, and so hold fast to the importance of God’s command to love one another.

Bible Sunday 2020

Brian Reader

If you had read my last sermon in Pulpit Perspectives in the St. Oswald’s Blog you may be surprised to see me here as my Reader’s Licence should have runout last week. However, I am pleased to report that I have spoken to the Warden of Readers’ and she has said that because of COVID all licences are indefinitely extended.

Now today is The Last Sunday after Trinity. It is also known as Bible Sunday, and the theme and readings link up with my last sermon as I was suggesting that we might give more time to reading our Bibles.

And if we had any doubt, then our collect for today makes the point very clearly.

Blessed Lord,
who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Do we read our Bibles and receive the comfort of God’s Holy Word? These days, our lives seem so full of distractions. We tend to turn on the television and leave it on, or reach for our mobile ‘phone or tablet. We all seem desperate to get instant news even though at the present it is rarely good news. We seem incapable of stepping back and reflecting on what our Christian faith has taught us to do in times of trouble.

All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Nehemiah 8:1-12

Our first reading from Nehemiah tells of a time about a century after the Jewish exiles were allowed to return from Babylonia to Jerusalem after a lengthy exile. Life has not been easy. The people have suffered from hostile neighbours and crop failures. While they succeeded in rebuilding the walls and a new temple it compares poorly with Solomon’s Temple that the Babylonians destroyed when they sacked Jerusalem.

Hardship has led to disillusionment and spiritual weariness. Now Ezra the priest has been told to read the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as an act of worship.

This took several hours and is clearly not a one-man show, but is instead a joint effort by Ezra and the other spiritual leaders to help the people understand the scriptures – to understand the Lord’s will – and to understand their own responsibilities in relationship to the Lord.

This was no time for tears but a time to rejoice.  They now have a temple and a city with walls. This is a holy day, a day when the Lord is present with them and a day when they can begin to rebuild their spiritual heritage.

So are we disillusioned and have a spiritual weariness? Did we feel a bit like that when we returned here to worship again after lockdown, only to find that the church is not the same? There is no singing of hymns and we can’t meet together the way we used to. We can’t even use the new kitchen to provide us with refreshments. But praise be, we are back in Church worshipping together again, and that is something for which we should all be thankful.

Let us now consider The Bible; it is a very human book. It is not only one book but a collection of many books, written in many different styles, at different times and in varying contexts. The Bible did not fall out of the sky ready-made and there is evidence that parts of both the Old and the New Testaments have been revised and rewritten over the centuries.

Within the Bible, God’s word is depicted in very dynamic terms – His word is his deed. When God speaks, things happen. We talk about God’s Word and this means His total message to mankind. God has used the Bible, down through the ages to reveal himself to us.

He has spoken through his prophets, whose words and deeds have been recorded in the Bible; he has spoken to His people through their history, by showing how he has acted throughout the ages, giving them support,
succour, and hope, during times of both their obedience & when they rebelled.

When you read the Bible you are aware of the truth that those who wrote the books of the Bible had faith in God; and that their understanding of God changed, as they reworked the Bible texts to cover changing circumstances. For it is from the Bible they learnt about God, and from God they learnt how to discover the truth in the Bible. 

However, without the help of the Holy Spirit and our faith to aid our understanding, the Bible is just old religious literature beloved of our fathers but dead to many of this generation. It is God alone who gives the Bible Authority and reveals it to be the Word of God. And Christ, who came to fulfil these prophesies, himself frequently referred to the scriptures.

In today’s epistle St Paul writes to  the Colossians:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17

We sometimes question why the world rejects the Bible. But why should the world believe and follow the teaching of the Bible, when some, who call themselves Christians, never open their Bibles at home from one year to the next?

A community of Christians that stops reading the Scriptures, will soon be deaf to God, and will try to fashion things the way they want. This is what must have happened in the early 13th century. 

Did you  know,  that at that time, the Bible was not the main basis for Roman Catholic worship and the synod of Toulouse in 1229 – forbade the laity to possess the Scriptures (Bible), except the Psalter, and such portions as are contained in the breviary, (their equivalent of our prayer book)  and especially denounced all translations other than Latin?

One of the reasons for the reformation was the wish of Christians to return to a true Christian religion based on the Bible. This gave the impetus to Wycliffe and Tyndale who translated the scriptures into English some 400 years ago. Today the work continues with many Christian Biblical scholars of all denominations working closely together to produce the text of the Bible which is as accurate as can presently be achieved. 

This does not mean that the Bible is any easier to understand! God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. 

This is good news; the last thing we want is a God who thinks and acts like us.

Jesus said to his disciples: “The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Matthew 24:30-35

For example in today’s Gospel from Matthew Jesus is trying to tell his disciples about things which are outside their imagining, what Jesus’ ‘royal appearing’ will be like. Jesus takes us back, to images of the prophet Daniel. They will see, he says, ‘the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven’. This could be referring to the time after his ascension, when he returned to heaven, showing that he had been vindicated, and demonstrated that his suffering had not been in vain.

And the passage ends with Jesus saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

God has given mankind intellect and this great reference book, the Bible. The Bible does not contain pat answers to all the questions we have in life, but by careful study, the use of our minds, and guided by the Holy Spirit and our friends in Christ, we too can understand the truth and wisdom of the Bible for our use in our world today.

Don’t let the current limited thinking limit you. Negativity like the coronavirus is contagious; you have to pay attention if you don’t want to catch it! Even if you are the only positive person in your family, be the one with an optimistic outlook in every situation. What we call ‘common knowledge’, often is commonly wrong!

‘The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.’

Have people who are telling you it can’t be done factored God into the equation? If not, pay no attention. Instead of listening to people who increase your doubts, listen to the people to whom God has given wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

Oh yes! And don’t forget to read your Bible.

  • Helen Buchanan on Bible Sunday 2020Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Bible , it was very interesting. Bible reading is my weak spot...

Harvest Festival

Today we might look around us and notice the things we cannot do at church that we’d normally rejoice in doing…

  • singing favourite Harvest hymns,
  • admiring all the produce brought in in recent days by the children of Bollington Cross School – mountains of fruit, vegetables, tins, packets adorning every ledge and all destined for HOPE Central Foodbank
  • shaking our neighbours’ hands or embracing at the Sharing of the Peace
  • catching someone’s eye and smiling in acknowledgement (well – we can still do that of course, but the other person can’t really see you smiling behind the mask).

Then usually at Harvest we’d have an interactive sermon involving hordes of excited children, who’d then come around during the Offertory hymn to collect your money donations in little buckets, looking up at you like little baby birds – which one of you could refuse to empty your pockets, handbags and wallets in response to those pleading eyes?…

And those same children cannot freely roam round our church any more, nor assist at the altar for the time being.

Oh, and we cannot share the wine of Communion, only the consecrated bread. We must simply remain in our places instead of coming forward to kneel or stand at the altar-rail, whilst the Vicar in a mask comes round to serve each of us in turn where we are…

Yes, we can sit here contemplating all those things, actions, gestures, which we have come to value as part of our churchgoing, things we took for granted as part of our freedom to worship, even to the extent of not needing ever before to book our place here in advance, just assuming there would always be room for us when we turned up at the door in answer to God’s open invitation…

We can sit here today and mourn what we have lost, even if, God willing, only temporarily – but instead, from the strange vantage point of our socially distanced seat, we can choose to look around us and to take in the new perspective offered to us inside church, and to give thanks for the many blessings afforded to us by our building today:

  • the flexibility of having comfy chairs that can be arranged safely in a socially distanced way
  • much more floor space available round the baptistry
  • the unwonted burst of light now streaming into the nave from the previously obscured windows at the back of the church
  • the beautifully crafted solid wood of the new store cupboards and of the new kitchen and fire escape doors

And the new opportunities for better hospitality and welcome and nurture that our new kitchen space will offer when the time is right in the future to welcome everyone back in to share God’s banquet and those signs of the kingdom symbolised in us caring for the vulnerable, the lonely, the weary, the marginalised, the care-worn, as well as rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, over a glass of sherry or a cup of tea or coffee.

Harvest Thanksgiving is a time to notice our blessings, large or small, the “daily bread” God provides, the fresh water we are privileged to drink, the ease with which most of us reach into our kitchen cupboards and need not go hungry…

O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure… For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is.our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 25:1-9

Our Old Testament reading today reminds us of God’s ultimate plan to offer an amazing, truly “world-beating” feast for all peoples to share which will be “simply the best” – and which will celebrate the destruction of the shroud that is presently cast over all humanity, the grief and fear that surrounds us as mortals – the longed for time when death has been swallowed up for ever, and God will wipe away every tear and every degradation, and we shall be made whole again.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say. Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

Paul encourages us to rejoice – against all the odds and in spite of appearances to the contrary – “not to worry about anything” – keep praying, and your hearts and minds will be infused and guarded by God’s all-encompassing and healing robe of true peace, which is beyond all understanding… Hold fast to and keep in your sightline everything that is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise and keep on doing those small things that show kindness and create beauty, and share God’s rich harvest bounty with others around you who need to hear words of hope and receive your acts of generosity.

Once more Jesus spoke to the chief priests and Pharisees in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:1-14

In our Gospel parable Jesus speaks of how all those invited to God’s banquet need to be ready to accept the invitation in the first place, but more than that, we need to put on the generous gift of the splendid wedding garment that in Jesus’ culture every good host would have offered at the entrance door, and which in the story clearly was declined by one guest who thought it was somehow demeaning to be offered another robe. Let us not in our pride or any false assumption of our self-sufficiency, turn down God’s final gift of clothing us with His grace and His love, so much more splendid and effective than our own. And let us rejoice in being God’s guests, humbly being served here at his table and so empowered to go out into the world to share that banquet of kindness and joy and peace with others.

We praise and thank you, O Christ, for this sacred feast:
for here we receive you,
here the memory of your passion is renewed,
here our minds are filled with grace,
and here a pledge of future glory is given,
when we shall feast at that table where you reign
with all your saints for ever.

AMEN

16th Sunday after Trinity 2020

Brian Reader

The word of the LORD came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live.

Ezekiel 18:1-4. 25-end

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

Matthew 21:23-32

Some of us thought that we might be back in Church by now, but we will have to wait a little bit longer.

While we were in lockdown I celebrated my twenty five years as a Reader, and I now wonder if I will ever preach again as my licence to preach from the Bishop runs out in October. I wonder if the Bishop gives Covid extensions to Reader Licences like Road Tax and MOTs!?

This Sunday is the Sixteenth after Trinity, and as Veronica reminded me, we are also in the period of Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, which is celebrated on the 29th of September. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England it is one of the “quarter days”. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.

Victory of St. Michael by Raphael

St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin – the edge into winter – the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months. It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year. 

Traditionally, in the British Isles, a well fattened goose, fed on the stubble from the fields after the harvest, is eaten to protect against financial need in the family for the next year; and as the saying goes:
“Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
Want not for money all the year”.
So the day was also known as “Goose Day” and goose fairs were held.

In today’s OT reading we heard how Ezekiel was accusing the Israelites of saying that ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’’ Some have complained that the Covid virus has been sent by God as a punishment but this is not true. What were the Israelites complaining about? The prophet Ezekiel was speaking to the exiles in Babylon, sometime after 600 BC. As you can imagine, the Israelites were suffering in exile and they felt that it was not their fault. The law of Moses had said that God often punishes children for the sins of their fathers, and their prophets had often told them that the whole nation had to suffer because of the sins of a few. As a result, the Israelites were now complaining that God was not fair.

Last week we heard that Macclesfield Football Club had failed which is sad for the town. Football Clubs act as a focus and help communities to stick together. Now that fans are not allowed in to see the matches footballers are kept together as a bubble, they act almost like a tribe, all for one and one for all. That was how it was with the Israelites before the exile; they had a group or family identity, but no individual identity.

Ezekiel says that personal responsibility is just as real as national and family responsibility. At the end of the day, or your life, each of us is responsible to God for our own lives.

It is true that whole nations suffer because of the follies of their leaders, and often whole families are scarred by the sins of one member, yet God is just and will reward each of us for our own behaviour. “The soul who sins is the one who will die”

Today we hear a lot about freedom and choice, but freedom and choice also brings with it responsibility. Each of us has to be responsible for our own actions. We, like the Israelites, can try to hide behind the group sometimes. We blame our sin or our wrong doing on our upbringing, our environment, or our friends. You hear the excuses – ‘I never had a chance’; ‘It’s what everybody’s doing’; ‘I got into bad company’; or to use modern jargon,‘ I was influenced by peer group pressure’. As if this was any excuse. What rubbish; we all have free choice. The message of this passage is that we cannot side-step our own responsibility for our own behaviour.

The second half of the reading brings hope. What if a person wants to change? Ezekiel makes it very clear that if a man turns his back on his old bad way of life, God is waiting to forgive him, because God actually hates punishing the guilty. God is forgiving; He is not unjust. On the other hand, if a good man turns to a life of sin he can’t get by on his previous good record. God will judge him along with his new sin. The chapter ends with an urge to action. Repent. Turn away from the past. It also brings us to the core of the matter: You need a new heart and a new spirit.

And this brings us very much to our Gospel reading. Here Jesus is asking his questioners “John’s baptism (including the message he was proclaiming) – where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” Jesus often asked questions, sometimes they were rhetorical, but this wasn’t meant to be rhetorical, it was a simple question.  The scribes and the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by asking, “By what authority are you doing these things?” “And who gave you this authority?”

The Pharisees Question Jesus – James Tissot

And Jesus quite rightly assumed that if they didn’t know where the message of John came from, then they would not be willing to accept that he too came from God the Father, who gave him the authority to do all things. It is interesting to read how the religious leaders of the day squirmed to find – not the truth – but an answer which would not leave them open to attack! “If we say, ‘From heaven’, he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’ – we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”   What a fudge.  

Do we answer like that if we are asked about our faith or where we spend our time when we come to Church?  Are we prepared to tell the truth and not care what our friends may think of us? Those of the house of Israel in the time of Ezekiel knew the commandments that God had given them, they knew right from wrong. Regrettably, today, those about us do not seem to know what is right and what is wrong. Christian teaching is no longer the norm.

It is as if we are standing on, or knew where the firm ground was, while others floundered about in a quicksand which was gradually swallowing them up.    Two things come from that, we must not follow them into the quicksand or we too will be swallowed up and die, but we must make every attempt to rescue them. We can point to the firm ground where God’s love can be found, we can try to get them to turn around, because that is what repent means, to turn towards Christ and the safety and forgiveness he offers to all. And we can also throw them a lifeline, we can tell them about our strong faith to help them come to Christ.

“Oh! I couldn’t do that,” I hear some of you cry, “my faith is very personal.”  Or is that another fudge. Do we mean our faith is not very strong? I’m not sure if it would stand up to the hurly-burly of challenge or close questioning. Don’t be ashamed of that, because I was like that before I started studying to be a Reader. Like most people I had not really given my Christian life much thought since the time of my confirmation. My reading of the Bible was, I am ashamed to say, at best spasmodic and then very perfunctory. In plain words – I didn’t read my Bible much at all. I was prepared to say I was a Christian but I was not really prepared to have others question my faith or to tell them convincingly who Jesus was and why it was necessary for Him to come into the world and die for me on the Cross.

But you know there is an easy way to learn more about your faith.  Get to know your Bible. When you can, go to Church where a portion of scripture is read at every service, and read the Bible on your own. Today there are many good translations and commentaries. If asked, I would say start with the ‘….. for Everyone’ series by Bishop Tom Wright, who has written an easy to read and understand commentary for every book of the New Testament. Don’t continue to fudge and hedge.

Give Jesus another chance.

Heavenly Father,
we know that you have made us for yourself,
And that our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you;
help us to learn more about our faith,
so that we may share your love and your joyous Gospel with those who as yet do not know you.
We ask this in the name of your Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ. 
AMEN.

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity 2020

Brian Reader

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:13-20

Today is the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity and it is twenty three weeks since we were last able to join in a service in our church, St. Oswald’s.

Our Gospel a reading from Matthew contains a passage with a very unusual question from Jesus. “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” Or putting it another way, “Who do people say I am?” Now in all my long life I have never heard a question like that. I have often heard the reverse, “Who do you think you are?” asked when a person has stepped out of line, but never “Who do you think I am?”. Before we consider the question that Jesus asked, perhaps we should first remind ourselves what it would have been like in Jesus’ day.

Many Jews then (as now) would have been waiting for God to send an anointed king who would free Israel from oppression and bring justice and peace to His world at last. Nobody knew when or where this anointed king would be born. However, many believed he would be a true descendant of King David, as God had made wonderful promises about his future family. Some would have pointed to the prophecy of Micah 5.1-3 as indicating that the coming king should be born in Bethlehem. Now the word for ‘anointed king’ in the Jewish language, was the word we normally pronounce as ‘Messiah’. So what would this Messiah be like? How would people know that he had arrived?

Nobody knew exactly, but there were many theories. Many hoped for a warrior king who would defeat the pagan Romans and establish Israel’s freedom once again. Many expected him to be the one who would purge the Temple and establish true worship. Everybody who believed in such a coming king knew that he would fulfil Israel’s scriptures, and bring God’s kingdom into being at last, on earth as it was in heaven. But nobody had any real idea of what all this would be like.

There had been several would-be Messiahs who came and went, attracting followers who were quickly dispersed when their leader was caught by the authorities. One thing was certain. To be known as a would-be Messiah was to attract attention from the authorities, and almost certainly hostility. So when Jesus wanted to discuss his real identity with his followers he took them well away from the area they normally frequented. Caesarea Philippi is in the far north of the land of Israel, a good two days’ walk from the Sea of Galilee. This was well outside the territory of King Herod because he certainly would not take kindly to news of another Messiah promised by God and all that might entail.

Having set the scene, we should now consider this vital conversation, on which so much depended. It proved to be a watershed in Jesus’ ministry, as from that time nothing would be the same again. He had to bring into the open the differences between his understanding of his mission and theirs. You can imagine Jesus walking with them as he asked what people said of him; and, although he was regarded as a prophet, significantly, no one appears to think that he might be the Messiah.

And then the crunch question: ‘What about you, who do you think I am?’ and Peter, so quick it was almost automatic, as though speaking as the Spirit directed said, ‘Oh we know, we know you’re the Messiah. You’re the son of the living God!’

Now the Hebrew word ‘messiah’ means the anointed one. Its counterpart in Greek is, “christ” which comes from the word ‘christos’, and the two terms are used interchangeably in the Bible. We should also understand that at this time the phrase ‘son of God’ did not mean ‘the second person of the Trinity’. There was no thought yet that the coming king would himself be divine – though some of the things Jesus was doing and saying must already have made the disciples very puzzled. This perplexity would only be resolved after his resurrection, when they came to believe that Jesus had always been even more intimately associated with Israel’s one God than they had ever imagined. No: the phrase ‘son of God’ was just a biblical phrase, indicating that this king, this Messiah, was in a particular relationship with God, adopted to be his special representative.

Very soon after Jesus’ resurrection, his followers came to believe that the same phrase had a whole other layer of meaning that nobody had previously imagined. But it’s important, if we are to understand what is being said, that we don’t read more into the passage than is there. What Peter and the others were saying was – you are the true king. You’re the one Israel has been waiting for, the one of whom the psalms and prophets had spoken, to be God’s mouthpiece against injustice and wickedness in high places and who would lead Israel to victory and liberty.

And he told them to tell no one else because the information was dynamite and any suggestion of who he was would have drastically shortened the time he had to prepare them for His work that they would be required to carry on after the Resurrection.

But he had a task for Peter. It was not that he was the first to be called, or the cleverest, the most cultured, or the wisest; but he had become the natural leader. He was chosen and appointed by Jesus, and in his preaching at Pentecost Peter was the first to witness publicly to the Resurrection. Jesus’ renaming of Simon to Simon Peter, ‘the rock’ on which he would build his Church was probably a reference to the Temple Rock in Jerusalem on which the first temple had been built. The ‘keys of the kingdom’ are symbols of responsibility, because authority in the Church is always about responsibility.

Christs handing the keys to St. Peter, by Pietro Perugino

St. Matthew’s words, ‘The forces of death shall never overpower it’, will encourage not only Matthew’s persecuted readers but also the Church down the ages. The Roman Empire, and many others, have declined and fallen, and the Jewish people are now dispersed, but the Church of Jesus Christ still stands and grows. And starting with Peter, Jesus built a community, consisting of all those who give allegiance to him as God’s anointed king. We should also remember that Jesus’ new community, his Church, will after all, consist simply of forgiven sinners. So forgiveness has an eternal significance and we too must learn to forgive.

And what of Simon Peter? There’s a bit of Simon Peter in all of us. Simon is the sort of man that Jesus uses to make his Church: a mixture of inspiration and self-interest, of insight and ignorance, of rock and sand, sometimes with flashes of inspiration, sometimes the very devil. He is so reluctant to change his ideas and has still so much to learn. He can make great promises of loyalty, yet can fall asleep and deny his Lord.

But he is capable of great courage and commitment – just as you are. Just as we all are. Jesus is relying on us all to be his Church, to spread his message of forgiveness, and to show God’s love to all.

O God,
you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
mercifully grant to us a measure of your grace,
that we, following your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
AMEN

7th Sunday after Trinity

Brian Reader

Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Matthew 13:31-33. 44-52

Today is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday, the day when we thought about God as being Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are still in the pandemic, although there are signs that things are getting better, as we cautiously ease out of lockdown. We have all experienced a time for which we were not prepared and certainly never expected. The norms of life have been overturned, and probably the hardest thing has been that we have not been able to gain direct physical support from friends and family; even the comfort we got through worshipping together in Church has been denied us. But Christianity and faith have not been dead and many of us have worshipped at home with Bible reading, pray and even hymn singing and services on the television or the internet. What do today’s readings say to us in these difficult times?

For the last three Sundays the Gospel readings have been taken from St Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is talking in parables about the Kingdom of heaven. The reason for this is that although the people were expecting God to deliver them, they had no idea how this would come about. In fact earlier in the Gospel Jesus’ disciples had asked Jesus why he was speaking in parables and he answered, “You have been given the gift of knowing the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they haven’t”. Last week the passage spoke of the wheat and the weeds growing up together, and it explained the mixture of good and bad in this life, and how it will be sorted out at the time of judgement.

Today we heard about the mustard-seed, and how from a very small seed it grows into a big shrub. In a similar way, although the kingdom of heaven started in a small way with just Jesus, here on earth it will grow and continue to grow. How from small beginnings, quietly and unnoticed, the kingdom will grow and continue to grow. The kingdom of heaven is also compared with hidden treasure, and the best pearl. So valuable is the kingdom, it is worth giving up all we have to make sure of it, and about the fisherman’s net, which again describes the sorting out of good and bad at the end of the present time.

One of the main points of Jesus’ message was his announcement that the ‘kingdom of God’ or the kingdom of heaven, had already arrived. The ‘kingdom of God’ meant the rule of God in people’s lives. That happens when people realize that God is the ruler of the world. It also meant the ‘realm’ or community of people where God’s rule is obeyed. The kingdom of God had, in fact, already arrived with the coming of Christ – for he was the first who fully obeyed the will of God. So he could say to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is among you”, as it was present in the words and works of Jesus.

Note that the kingdom is also a community of people, a body of Christians who meet together to worship and pray, to listen and learn, a place where we can support and be supported by other Christians, all of us seeking to follow and obey the teachings of Christ.

So yes it is important and necessary to meet, to come to Church, not necessarily here at Saint Oswald’s, but anywhere where Christ is recognised as Lord and king, because we are all one in the body of Christ. We all hope that we will soon be able to return to our own Church and together partake in our communion again.

Before the pandemic some were pointing to the so called decline of the Church as evidence that the Christianity has failed and that there is no point in coming to church anymore. Is the kingdom of God failing – never! While the numbers here in the British Isles have been down, there are vast increases in the numbers of Christians in other parts of the world. Jesus’ parables show God at work in the world, quietly, almost secretly. Yet ‘the kingdom’ goes on growing and spreading from small beginnings like the tiny mustard seed. When you think of the few who followed Christ just after his crucifixion and the vast numbers now of Christians all over the world, well the parable turned into a prophesy which we have seen fulfilled.

“The kingdom of God is near!” said Jesus. “Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!” Yes! We must all ‘repent’, and have a total change of heart if we are to accept the rule of God in our lives. We must believe the good news that Jesus came to bring. God offers new life to all who believe, – all who will leave their old way of life and follow him. And Jesus told us another thing about the kingdom, it is valuable. It is worth everything that anyone has. Finding it is like finding treasure hidden in a field – and selling everything to buy that field.

It means giving up all we have clung to for security, and trusting God alone. It also means being sorry for our sins and changing our ways. This is not something we can manage just on our own by trying hard. But in Paul’s letter to the Romans we read about The Holy Spirit – and God’s eternal purpose for us. The Holy Spirit of God is alive and actively at work in everyone who belongs to Christ. He helps us to keep God’s law. It is his presence that convinces us we really are God’s children; that we can call him Abba, our father. He is our foretaste, or the first instalment, of the glory to come, a living well of hope within us. And the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray, when we can’t find the words and don’t know what to say. It is God’s intention that every one of us should be like Christ. Like him in character now and like him in glory eventually. In other words, God is recreating us ‘in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27). And every little circumstance of life is worked into this great overall purpose. Nothing can shake it. No one can ever make him write us off no matter what we have done or how far we stray – we have Christ in heaven to plead our cause. You may remember the words from the Alternative Service Book, which said – ‘for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate’.
And Paul reminds us, “If God is for us, who can be against us”, and “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” There is no power in heaven or earth that can cut us off from his love.

So whatever life may bring, we can win through. These are the great certainties of the Christian faith and life. These are the treasures of the kingdom. Are they not worth any price, any sacrifice during the short time we have here on earth?

Heavenly Father, help us recognise your kingdom in the world and to keep your laws,
To love you with all our heart and soul, and to love our neighbours as we do ourselves.

Amen