John the Baptist proven to be the humblest by st Benedict

Today I thought we could talk about John and humility. 

That’s because I love john the Baptist, one of the most humble people in the bible.

  You may wonder why I think that? 

Well

To prove that 

We are going to explore that connection in the most book of common prayer/Anglican ways/ We will delve into the world of St benedict, founder of the Benedictine monks in the 5th century an creator of the rule of benedict, which unchanged has been the bedrock of Benedictine monasteries.

If your wondering why that way

Well it’s because Benedict and anglicanism, are inseparable  its because we have to understand benedict to understand the church of England. Thomas Cranmer who created the book of common prayer and a large part of the way we carry on , Cranmer used Benedict as a framework, and shamelessly borrowed from him.


The Book of common prayer is basically  a softened version of the rule of Benedict.    For instance The names of our services come from Benedict, where Benedict has 7 services, we have three, 

Benedictine monks read the psalms in a week, cranmer spread that over a month. 

When we do lectio divina we most commonly read a passage 2-3 times, benedict gets it read 7 times and so on.   

Benedict wanted a community that was guided by and aware of scripture, cranmer used this idea and used it to power the English reformation and got everyone in church hearing scripture, and wanted the community of the uk led by it. However not everyone is called to be a monk so he softened it a bit.

So when we look at the word humility doing it from a Benedictine perspective is very close to doing so from an church of England one,


One of the core concepts that any Benedictine monk has to learn is humility, and I think like so much of benedict it provides us a good framework to build on to understand what biblical humility truly means. Then I think we will see that John fits the bill as a humble person.

Benedict explains his 12 pillars of humility in 5th century English, so we will use a modern day abbot (head man in a monastery) description of what we should do with it.  Abbott Christopher Jameson tries to help us understand what Benedictine concept of humility is about.  Lets see how it fits with John

  • The world Humble comes from the Latin Humus which means soil. So better interpreted being humble means being “down to earth”.
    • John is down to earth, he doesn’t wear fancy clothes, and he point away from himself at all times. He isn’t pretentious.
    •  
  • Being humble is not being passive, this is apathy.
    • John is very active but actively preparing the way and point to Jesus 
  • Humility is the task of remembering we are not the centre of the universe. Often when we come into conflict when you search for the cause, someone somewhere has seen their needs as greater, than those of others. It may be ourselves.
    • John always put himself second to Jesus 
  • In Good to great a book that has led to the creation of many successful companies the idea of a humble leader is seen as one of the core things that leads to success. Extreme personal humility paired with extreme personal self-will.  However the will is not for the self, but for the success of the company as a whole.
    • This is so John he is all about the success of the mission and not of himself. He was succeeding and built quite a following of his own
  • Being humble may not be being quiet or introverted.
    • I think you can see joh both ways when he was up in the mountain and the charismatic leader
  • The world rightly rejects humiliation, and we fear that pursuing humility opens the door to the other. Humility is being down to earth and pointing away from yourself it is not humiliation.
    • John was never see as a person that was humiliated, despite his humility we to this day see john as true to himself and Jesus a person of value.  As jesus said no greater man than jon
  • When the devil tempted Adam and Eve, he taught them the sin of pride. They forgot they were Humus, of the earth


So I hope that’s maybe shared a thought on what humility is, as the guys that built the framework of our church, many successful companies and Jesus put such store by it. Humility, remember jesus first words on the sermon on the mount were “Blessed are the meek”   for they shall inherit the earth. So much truth in that, and 2000 years later we find out it’s the core of building massive companies and in building a foundation for how to behave in the context of our faith!

Why did John call him the “Word” and the “Light”

Up until now all, our Christmas stories began at the stable, or with the wise men, or with Mary’s divine conception and so on.
John starts way before any of them , Johns’s story begins before he was called Jesus, before he joined us…John starts at the very beginning of everything , where Jesus started time, where everything came into being through him.
Before he was Jesus , So he calls him – the word,
The Greek for “word” is Logos, which means logic and reason.
So , Jesus is the reason, the logical reason it all began

And John calls him the source of it all. Cos next John days saying all life came from him, and began with him, . . Jesus is the source and the reason for it all. Without him, nothing came into being.

So when we start Jesus story at the manger, that’s very far from the truth. It’s just where he joined us . Jesus had no beginning, he was the beginning, and he will come again at the end.
Then he calls Jesus the light.

Which is another strange name . Why would you call someone the light?

I had a caravan when I was a kid and it was stupendously dark some nights. You woke up and literally you could not see a hand in front of your face, the proper absence of light you rarely see these days.

However we had calor gas lights, and even the first one coming on extinguished the darkness, the smallest match killed that darkness stone dead. The presence of light, killed nothingness of the dark, the absence of light was taken away by the smallest spark.
So really what we call darkness, like a darkness of the soul is really an absence, of anything. Darkness isn’t active it’s passive.

Jesus is the light, the reverse of an absence, a presence. His presence contains, love, morality, a path to eternal life, order, compassion, empathy, and salvation. All of these things are the reverse of nothing, and even a little of them where these things are absent totally changes things.

Is it any wonder then that people who live in the dark hate the light, because they know even the smallest spark ruins it totally and we can never now know it again.
Is it any wonder that albeit he was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him?

Because the dark which is an absence cannot know anything, because its an absence of reason, chaos cant understand order, the absence of love cannot understand love when it see it. All it see’s is its own demise. That’s why he wasn’t accepted by all and still isn’t. Because darkness cannot accept light, it can only be extinguished by it. Its such a dramatic change from even the smallest light, and Jesus was the source of all light and life and is.

So in John Jesus is the source of everything, the reason for everything, and the thing that banished the darkness of our souls. And he decided to lay in the cradle tonight. Everything became contained in a small child. Why would he do this, through love. So that he can understand and know his creation, and save it from itself, from its absence of love.

he knew his message wouldn’t be enough, so he chose to die to forgive us our lapses, but now his message is a thing in this world, and like a small light in the darkness you cant ignore it, and we cant go back into darkness.

That’s what happened tonight, in a world where love was absent, love came into the world and joined us and we can never know a world without love ever again. This is why john called him the reason, the logos, because he is the reason we know what love truly is.

His life with us he explained what we had to do, showed us what we had to do and lived like we have to do. All of these things are the opposite of nothing, the example once set can never be unset, the darkness of the absence of knowing and now these things can never be unknown and defeated.

We all know this love in our lives, we all know his presence, we will know him forever for all eternity, that’s how long his light will last once it was lit on this night.

Our task is to share that light with whoever we meet, to be the reverse of an absence of love and make that light fill all the places where love is absent,

Amen

The problem with taking Christ out of Christmas

The streets are decorated with all manner of shiny things. The adverts are full of idealistic beaming relatives as some consumer good or another is bestowed upon them.  Every family is perfect, and every film is heartwarming.   People work hard to put lights up on houses despite the price of energy, and people stretch burdened finances further so that our kids have the latest thing.

On this very point, Peter Andre is pleading with radio stations to listen to what the British public asks and I quote, and stop broadcasting the classic Christmas song ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year – out of respect.  He says and I quote, While I acknowledge there are some extremely pleasant moments during Yuletide festivities, these are normally fleeting and often come with a busy schedule, an empty wallet and not much to show otherwise. “Strip back the gift-giving, tinsel and twinkly lights, and people are left with the stark reality that this time of year is cold, dark, and expensive.


Sue very soon is delivering a Blue Christmas service for those who find all this pressure to be happy, full of gifts, and expectations of beaming as they go around a crowded Tesco’s just too much when their reality is one of loss and sadness. The reverse of the image we are asked to aspire to and worse still – deliver.

Why has all this happened?  Because all the paraphernalia of Christmas has become exploited,
It lost its roots as a result. Give it a week after Christmas day and Cadbury eggs will be in the stores.

Contemporary Christmas has become just another impossible thing to aspire too, like women’s magazines that are filled with body shapes that are ruled as perfect. That causes so much harm as our kids try and conform.

None of this is Christian really; none of it has anything to do with the Babe in our story today.

However, they do have one thing in common, a request for a certain conformity, an ideal of how to behave, Jesus does have a very, very big ask.

 The Christian Christmas does have high standards.  The difference is we are asked to give to others, love and forgive to a ridiculous standard all year round, to conform to godliness as best we can.   That’s our universal conformity. That’s we know this is the only way the world works.

However, unlike in the Ads and films etc. There is a massive difference,  When it all goes wrong, it is not such a disaster.

Why?

Because

In reality, one very special thing is happening in today’s reading,

We are being forgiven our sins.  That’s it. We have grace, which the glossy ads lack.

We are being forgiven our sins.

We are being forgiven, and the ask is, we are being asked to forgive.

By a child who in our story today, has no consumer goods and yet carries the one gift we all need. Forgiveness and the gift of God calling us friend

There was a little part of me that wanted to stop my sermon here and just let that sink in.

So while both these ideas are both asking for conformity, one for an ideal Christmas, one for the ideal Christian.  The big difference is, the adverts don’t let us off, the pressure to conform is relentless and the price of failure a ruined ideal, not just for you but for all those you love.  A fearful thing that causes our kids to suffer such stress, as they can’t live up to Instagram perfect, or fit in that dress, or change shape.

In our version of conformity, the idea of conformity has been abolished by the act of forgiveness of a loving God.  We are asked to aspire and try hard, but we are forgiven as we are.


The forgiveness that is bestowed has many wonderful effects, bit here’s one I love to point out.

Emanuel, God with us joined us to forgive us for imperfection, in fact, to abolish the very idea because we are all made in his image, and every image is just how he wanted; this sets us free from the tyranny of failure to be enough. We are enough, all of us, every person born or yet to be born. We are enough; we are loved.

Because he made us as and loves us as we are, We are asked to come as we are and not as we aren’t; in messy families, in the arguments and the squabbling, the difference between our Christmas and the commercial one, they sell perfection. We come as loved, just as we are and only as angels as children of christ on the last day by a loving God.

This sets us free from any external valuation anyone or anything may place on us, including the valuation we put on ourselves. Nothing that happens on this earth can affect our value as human beings; nothing can make us any less in any way because we are loved enough to die for, to come down as a baby just to meet us where we are. We are enough

So as you step out of church today, I hope you feel released from the pressure of delivering a perfect Christmas because it was never the ask, in our Christmas, that was never asked for, in fact, imperfection was what god loved because he abolished the very idea.

.  Our Christmas has not even got the worry of a  dry turkey or the expectation of needing to be happy on the agenda, really. You are forgiven for not being able to conform to an idea of Christmas that God never made.  The idea he asks you to conform to is love and to forgive just as you are forgiven when you drop from those heights.  

Remember


It’s expected it was known that it would happen and he sent us his son to set us right with a perfect God. Through grace

So now know you are free from the expectation of being a  perfect person by the child that was born in today’s story. Born into a less-than-perfect world,  Born into a less-than-perfect situation, into a less-than-perfect family.  This is where God joined us to forgive us.

God could have joined us in the top suite of a hotel with more money than Elon musk, with perfect abs and an Aston martin and an Instagram model on his arm.

But he joined us here, as a baby, with refugee parents and in a stable, and he chose that place to come to forgive a world that needs it.

That’s it

That’s what happened in today’s story.

Faith and hope during advent

Romans 8  1-4 14 to finish

Three sayings on faith and hope.

Christ is both the object hoped for and the hope inspired by it, said Moltmann.   

The faith we have takes its stand on hope and hastens beyond this world, said Calvin.

 “Faith is about what is beyond the horizon of the humanly possible. Faith is exploring what people could never achieve by themselves. Faith is the mysterious need in us to get to where we could surely never go. Faith, in fact, is about what we call God. Faith is the inkling that we are meant to be divine, that our journey will go beyond any horizon at all into the limitlessness of the Godhead. Said mccabe

These ideas are all based on our reading today. They are more easily summed up by saying Christian’s  are people of hope.  We have been chosen since before we were born to know this hope, and we were led by the spirit to bring it into our daily lives such that we are here today.

  Our faith knows as McCabe said that we are destined beyond the horizon, like the sun,  just before it comes into sight, lights up the sky from something that is hidden from us for a short while just before it comes into view.

Knowing these things should, as Paul says , mean that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”.   

This does  not mean suffering is meaningless nor without value to god and we know  this because of what’s about to happen in advent.


Jesus  is coming to join us,  as a vulnerable child born into poverty destined to suffer. So  while his promise puts everything into perspective, we should see the, way he chose and chooses  to join us in our suffering to prove that he isn’t asking for anything he isn’t willing to endure or doesn’t care about, Both then and now  the Christ then and the Christ in us suffers with us present tense.

The fact that Jesus came and lived In Galilee are facts  indisputable such that even atheists would not argue with them,   we know however this is based on the narrow lens of science. 

However, Christians have a wider lens, and our facts are based on more than the things we can prod or measure with a ruler.

Our facts reflect the true nature of the human condition and true nature of reality.  Our facts also  rely on the knowledge the holy spirit imbues us with that lets us know the dawn is just below the mountaintops.  

This is why Jesus  calls himself the way, the truth, and the life. 

He shows us the way , we live the life  , because we know the truth 

Our faith  our hope is built on the implications of these facts , and goes forward  always in hope , on its promise.   

The promise of being made whole and  liberated from bondage and  decay by being brought into the freedom and glory  of wholeness by being the children of God. People who call god father and friend 

This is why ours is a joyous faith, not one obsessed by misery or one endured in sackcloth and ashes, but one that lives in joyous celebration of the journey our faith has set us upon.   

The perspective that gives to our lives. 

This is the joy our lord asks us to share with others and is something we can do much more easily at Christmas a time when gifts of all types are shared.

The greatest gift of all we share  is hope, because we are children of hope, and we bring all this world’s suffering into perspective for us and for those around us.   

As we come into a season where the light of the world is joining us, our job is to share that light and the hope it brings.

Amen 

Luke on Resurrection and Marriage


Luke 30 27-38

I am going to talk about how today’s reading I think it helps us In three ways?

One it shows us how to approach people who have a different world view on religion?

Secondly, it shows us the thing that’s coming next.

Third it does what I am going to do today which is leave you with a question

To explain some of what’s occurring, we have to get that this reading shows us how strange Jesus’s world was to our eyes. We have to work with the strangeness to understand what’s going on

In today’s reading, The Sadducees use their understanding of the world to try and catch Jesus out.

The Sadducees were really the aristocracy of the Jewish world, powerful people. In their world view they wanted peace with Rome and the Romans (who wants to rock the boat when life is good). They also did not believe in Jesus version of the resurrection. In their view the world sort of got reconstructed by God with the haves and the have nots still well in place (again why worship a God that rattles a world that’s working for you).

So when they speak to Jesus about divorce they are coming at it from a perspective of what was called levirate marriage. That looked after the women who would have been left with nothing if the husband died.

She essentially got passed down like an inheritance to the next nearest relative who already may have a wife and now he had another one. The sadducees wanted to know whose wife would she be at the day of the resurrection if this had been going on for 7 brothers dying. That way the poor woman when she’s resurrected won’t be any worse off. The world still works for them, justice is served because, She will still belong to someone, they just want him to work out who?

Essentially trying to catch Jesus out on a point of law, but seen from their world view. This is why they call him teacher. If you’re a teacher solve this riddle.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who thinks everything that we believe in is dangerous nonsense. It can be hard going, the two worlds sort of collide and you can only state your truth and see what happens, This is essentially what’s happening here.

This is Jesus showing what to do when we encounter a strange worldview. Simply state our case and make it clear, where we differ. That’s what Jesus is really showing us today. How to work with encounters with views that are so strange and so opposed to what we as Christians think. Just state your view, as truth,

Quite often we start from a place of ours being a truth, one among many. Jesus response shows his starting place is, his is the truth. Not one among many, his response shows he thinks the Sadducees simply mistaken and states the sole truth. There’s no apology, no equivocation , no heat, just his truth stated as truth.

That’s how to explain our faith thank you Jesus,

We need to learn from that

Then

there’s something else

I think more importantly, he gives one of the clearest descriptions of what happens to us when we are all resurrected on the last day.

He points out that all those that have become followers of him will be resurrected as children of God his term, but not as man and wife, not under the sort of societal laws that we have. These ideas of man and wife are no longer relevant as we are all essentially now true children of God, the same God treats Moses, . Like Angels as Jesus says. They can’t die, they won’t marry or be married (people on the living in love and faith course that was take note)!. The new reality is very different . The social structures are broken when we rise with him, even marriage is gone.

This is him describing what the source of Christianity here is. This is the thing that we often relegate to the postscript of our faith, the things that’s going to happen after we get through all this toil and trouble. This is Jesus describing the afterlife. It’s one of the very few places this happens

So we need to take special note here because Jesus rarely explains this. This is as clear as it gets .

We will be God’s children, as Jesus says great term the children of the resurrection

That we will become and I quote, people who no longer die; we will be like the angels. To God nobody dies, they simply join him, they are alive now to a god that’s alive and they are alive later a god that’s alive. To the same God that’s alive and with us when today when we are living and dead. He makes no distinction. As far as god is concerned your alive now and alive then.

We live with that promise and that’s something which should make our faith joyous because that’s what’s and that’s what’s here now because of our faith in him. Grace enables us to access this.

Everything we experience is experienced light of this fact. Like our children and grandchildren who live in the excitement of Christmas, and nothing can alter the crescendo of Christmas day. That’s what our lives and our faith is about. This hope doesn’t just exist tomorrow it exists today. Because the same Jesus who makes this promise real is alive today, and the promise of his present and future with us is our present and future with him.

However the next part of the journey with him is not like this one. In the new reality nobody dies, we are children of God. As he says He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.

if you have that hope, that certainty know that sole truth. What joy every day really is , what transient our troubles when we have a future of being like angels, that never die, when that’s what’s in store?

Jesus stated these things as a simple truth today. A simple truth, for Jesus, that I think would never lie to us.

If what Jesus is telling us IS the truth?

Here’s the question

What would you do for that?
What does that do for your daily lives?
It should affect it, but the question for today is that I would like to leave you with is.

How?

The parable of the persistent widow is all about relationships

Luke 18 1-8 Psalm 66 1-11 2 Timothy 2 8-15

The readings this week are about relationship and community. They are about family, they are about
loving someone enough to look after them, to make sure they are safe. To know they love you
enough so that when you give them bad news they will know you mean well and the other way
round.


I always remember It was on the 59th minute or so of a 1 hour interview someone told me that I
had done the whole thing with the tail of my suit jacket firmly tucked into my trousers. I had dashed
out the rest room and nobody thought to tell me.


Family tell you things like that, family calms you down when your flustered. Family stop you crossing
the road when the cars coming, tell you when your breath smells, encourage you when your
flagging. Let you know if you have been rude, and love you lots and lots through all those things. On
your good days and your bad days, the dialogue keeps us on the straight and narrow. You accept all
those things from family because they love you lots and lots.
They stop you eating too much chocolate.


How our families do that is by the constant dialogue of family life
We can understand exactly how Paul did that because of his letters. In todays reading the
community, he is talking to Timothy in Ephesus, which was in modern day turkey, about an hour’s
drive from Izmir where lots of people go on holiday.

The aim here is to help Timothy understand
how to create a good culture and deal with problems, and some problematic people in a very new
church, and a lot of Timothy must be seen in that light. That specific person, being told how to
manage that specific church, with specific people, in it causing it very specific problems. He
includes prayer in his letters as a thing to do and as a way, he was guided.
, so when Paul directs people, it we can read his letters?


When it’s family or friends they speak to us
How do we do that with God though, how do we talk to god and how does God direct us?
We could write letter or poem like the person that wrote the psalm has done.
A psalm is sort of a letter or a poem to God really. Looking at them they are people bringing their
joy, and Desires and complaints to god, the psalms also show us how god directs the writer, and
then by us reading them directs us.


The majority in fact of our psalms are mainly people complaining, moaning, asking for justice. So our
psalms show us God values and listens to our distress and takes it seriously. They are called psalms
of lament.


Jesus story today shows us another way we can do all that a psalm does with God, and that’s called
prayer. Prayer is dialogue with god, prayer is working directly with the greatest force in all creation.

Jesus also showing us how to pray shows also a very important thing about prayer, Persistence
often pays off.
Persistence can sound. hard, but like when I want a new set of golf clubs, or Mrs T wants a new
kitchen, you may want a new game, or a new phone, or whatever it is we want. When our family
wants us to behave better. Sometimes being persistent is the best way.

That’s what our reading says, be persistent. That sounds like taking great chunks of our day and
setting them aside, but Our heritage as Christian’s show there are lots of examples of different ways
to pray.
The way we can be persistent doesn’t have to mean kneeling and closing our eyes. These are good
ways of making God your center of attention. But Prayer can Take many forms , A dialogue as we
drive , or shower , or over dinner, or before we sleep or whenever is just as good. As long as you are
paying attention to God, then God is paying attention to you. In fact God is always paying attention
to you even when you are not.


That’s the thing about prayer it can take many forms, and be like many things. It can be at the
shopping Centre,it can be a letter , or a psalm, it can be as we walk, it can be eyes open or closed, it
can be happy or sad. Restricting prayer to that 5 minutes or so when we “do prayer” is like saying to
your family, I am only going to talk to you for one hour today when we do our chat.


They would wonder what’s gone wrong, and be very sad. Also you probably wont get those trainers
or golf clubs or kitchen. Prayer is a dialogue, spoken or unspoken,, written or unwritten, happy or
sad, angry or calm. But it should be just part of life. I quite often ask God into my business meetings
before I start and it does really help?


In the bible we do prayers of confession (we did that right at the beginning of the service today) of
adoration, people make promises to god, people ask for healing, prayers of thanks, and later we will
do the Lord’s Prayer which is us asking god for seven different things.


Prayer is that constant awareness of God, that can fluctuate and gods awareness of us which never
does. St Benedict says we can give whatever we do to God because Gods in it already, the washing
up , the cooking. We can say this is for you and offer it to him. Like the old song the little drummer
boy, we can make whatever we do a gift to him. Even playing the drums as best we can. God wants
us to involve him in everything we do.


That’s what Jesus means today, persistence, meaning the constant dialogue that goes on between
people we love. All the magnificent, moving, good bad, boring mundane stuff of our daily lives
shared with God.


and that as Jesus says today is when prayer really works, for us for God and we really become part of
Gods friends and family. That of course is what God really wants.
Amen

The parable of the shrewd manager and our late queen

Luke 16 1-13 The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Question 

Who in this last week of thinking about our queen has really thought about or been jealous of her money?

How many  of all the eulogies we have heard have been centred on that fact?

They have been about her service, her faith, humour, but money

When her funeral happens in the morning how much will be about that.

Not any I have heard, a few republicans have mentioned it in regards to her role, but not her.

She got the subject of money correct among many things.

On the subject of money, we do need money…..

On the other end of the scale Ive been poor and having enough is nicer, it solves many issues. I recall one time needing to do some overtime to pay a utility bill, and I had an MOT, and that failed, and then I couldn’t use the car to do the overtime to pay the bill, and of course now I had two bills to pay.  Ive seen the shanty towns in Colombo, and in Johannesburg and my problems shrink further still compared to that.

 Having enough relieves that sort of stress, and in our story its that sort of stress all the people that owed the money were no doubt u under owing so much money.

Because all the people spoken about today who were owed money were rich?

All those that owed it were tenant farmers, and my uncle bob was one of those and he didn’t have much money I can tell you. Life was hard, hand to mouth, making their own food on an allotment to fill the gaps.

There are various interpretations of this parable, and I am comforted that Paula Gooder in places found it as confusing as me?  But here’s where I landed, the word used for squander is actually closer to spreading around, so a sort of wasteful sharing if you like.

I think its about recognising that which we sow on earth is reverberated in heaven, part of that which is reverberated is what we do with what we own, are owed, that make cake a difference. that is to say the manager is rewarded for spreading about the money and alleviating the stress that the tenant farmers were under by the landlord.    

Why? Because as he said you cannot serve two masters, your eyes are either on gathering in as much money as you can, or transversely while owed a lot, you can gather in as much as is fair, or as much as people can give when the bill is owed and the MOT’s due.  

The idea in this story is in not being a slave to money means you tend to be a little more generous and therefore spread a little more happiness around. The reverse leads to the reverse, you gather in every penny, are not generous, and you spread sadness.

I think also that a message comes across, that the landowner was less worried about the squandering of money, of that spreading around but that it had to have a purpose, to make his tenants lives happier, and less stressful.


So essentially this parable is saying, our lives can tell a different story than the money we have, or the wealth we accumulate if that isn’t the sole lord and master of our lives.  

This is why I think the queen albeit immeasurably wealthy, her life told a different story.  Her legacy isn’t all about that, it’s a fact but to most not the most important one. In fact I am not sure I or many  would swap my average  life of comfort, for her wealthy life of service to all.

As in this story its not not having money that’s the problem its allowing it to take over our lives, our society, our government etc. When we measure the treasures, we store up in heaven none of them will have pound signs attached, of that I am sure.  When we measure all those things that detract from them, how we treated others as a result of measuring the world as profit and loss will be part of it.

That idea extends into so many things, into our health system, social security, refugees, how we help those that are homeless and all those in need. Its why I always wince when we measure those things solely by money and not by real need.  Because as Jesus is showing us here, that is the real sin, not squandering the money, but where its squandered and how and why. 

We have a god of outrageous love and grace, and by any terms when love is given like that it could be measured to be squandered, but its not really. Because we get it back when we are in the phase of existence our dear queen is, where shis is inheriting all the rewards of her grace and kindness as we speak I am sure.

Money and how we treat people as a result of how we spend , share or withhold it , has ramifications far beyond our earthly debt. Jesus did just clear the debt because the landowner was owed it, but he also didn’t squash the people that owed it.  The landowner was owed money but not obsessed by it.

So much of our society is obsessed by things, and has lost the idea that sharing those things stores up treasures in heaven used well.

  How empty does celebrity or fame, or bling become when we see what we can really be given in return.  I used to get ever more guilty as I progressed in my career thinking its about giving everything away and living like a hermit.  But its not about that so when 

in Luke 6 Jesus says 

 anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Todays passage shows it doesn’t matter if you have another 2 coats indoors, if you give to whoever needs,


So our goal isn’t to necessarily become poor, but to not be defined or to define ourselves by what we have, rather by what money enables us to do for others,  how we can use that wealth to store up treasures in heaven.  

Our legacy is really when we are gone and people speak about us and we face his judgment, that the measure isn’t what we had, but whether it obsessed us, owned us , defined us.    Listening to the stories of the queen this week, I think she got that right, and made our world, our country our commonwealth a better place and that’s whats going to define her.

On a smaller scale perhaps  that what the goal of our lives should be

Jesus and come dine with me

Luke 14

In amongst the TV that my daughter sometimes watches, there’s one that truly boggles my brain. People go round people’s houses for dinner, and then the people who have been fed and watered clearly to the best of the host or hostesses’ ability are then rude about it! I watched one part of this, and I was like, bad manners are now a TV program?

But that isn’t a million miles from what Jesus was up to today!

Imagine being invited for dinner and then really lecturing them on how they decide to seat people. Especially when they have seated you at the seat of the most honour.

As much as that program riles me, it’s fair to Jesus is quite rude to his host today, and my sermon today is to maybe look at why.

In Jesus’s time, the Pharisees held dinners for visiting itinerant preachers that moved from town to town. This was just such an occasion that Jesus was invited to. The seating for said dinners was very much ordered by your standing in the community; the higher honour, the better seat, however quite often, people used to try and move up the social ladder or be seen too by moving themselves up in the order of seating.

In an Honour based society, the more honour you could have been seen to accrue, the better for you.

Loss of honour meant shame, and the word shame entomology can be directly routed back to being forced into a lower place around the table.

This jostling for position is probably what Jesus was watching going on when he spoke up


So we have to ask ourselves what’s got Jesus upset enough to be so forthright and blimmin rude really.

 how we work that out really goes to the heart of how we use the bible as a guide for our lives. What’s a rule, what’s a paradigm, what’s an ethic, what is moral? It’s work we should do because Confusing those leads to all sorts of trouble. Treating a paradigm or a metaphor as a rule leads to literalism, and that’s a path to madness.

In simple terms,

Jesus isn’t after you changing where you sit.

Physical seating only matters, in this case, if certain seats are seen as having more honour. So if the seats at the front of the church are seen as more honourable then the seats at the back are the place to be. But if it doesn’t matter to you, then it doesn’t matter.

I say this as someone standing at the top of the church has moved from a special seat. I’ll be honest with you, it bothers me greatly until I came to the realization that people do have to hear what we say up here and be able to follow the service and that’s best done in a place where people can see us.

Today’s story has many layers, and seating really disguises

what Jesus is actually on about today.

The story is  about who we invite to the table, and who  indeed invited by Jesus and  whom we should invite to whatever we consider as places of honour, the best seats, the greatest places, those who we show off as worthy or merit and honour

The occasion in the story is a feast, and soon we are all to be invited up here to Jesus’s feast, and as a church in this story, we have been shown here as to whom should be invited.   

Because The most crucial thing Jesus is asking  us here today is this question, the question we should go away from today with


Who  does Jesus want us to ask “Friend, move up to a better place.'”


It’s kind of the story of Luke, really, Luke is the gospel where Gentiles are invited to the feast. Gentiles were considered by Jesus’s audience to be unclean, beyond redemption, sinful and breaking rules that God cannot forgive. 

They were withheld from religious rites that religious law stated god does not want at his table, and those who’s sin debars them due to their breaking of certain theological or religious norms that meant they cannot be accommodated.

When Peter questioned the inclusion of gentiles god said to him do not declare anything unclean that I have called clean.

This brings us to the central point

Who is beyond Jesus’s grace is the central question being asked here.

Todays story shows us that , nobody is beyond grace, nobody is beyond his love. Everyone is invited to the table indeed to the places of honour, because of Grace, which is why  god has declared us clean.

Grace is why Jesus came, Grace is the central idea of every word in the bible. It’s the drop that encapsulates the meaning of the ocean . The roots of the word Grace mean  Rejoice I am Glad.

Grace is for those that are declared beyond the pale! 

So to drill right down to it the story today is actually becomes about us.

Those whom that are considered unclean by us, lower than us untouchable, aberrant, who are so far from what we consider acceptable that we don’t want them in that door.

What I would really love from today is if you go out of here and think about who and why you might choose to stop from some religious rite, baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, marriage whatever.

Think about  that and then realise. whoever you think of as beyond grace, Jesus is today saying these are  whom you should invite to the places of honour, and whom Jesus calls friend as well as you.

I’ll try and illuminate that story by a couple of stories


I read a story recently, and a lady of the night was asked to come to church and her response was “why would I go there it would only make me feel worse!. That’s the reverse of Grace.

A bishop and a curate once were going to see a man who’s wife had left him  after he had cheated on her. The Bishop asked the curate, could you ever imagine doing something so awful?
The curate said no of course not.
The Bishop said, you better stay behind then.

Nobody is beyond grace, nobody is more or less broken than one another and all are called friend, and invited to his table.

That is what Jesus is saying today,  nobody is beyond his grace.

That’s it.
Amen

The How, When, Where and Why of prayer

Luke 11- 1-13

Nobody really knows why Luke’s Lord’s prayer is shorter than Matthews. It’s just one of those things, but what both versions show us is persistence is vital. Each one a vital petition that we say on numerous occasions, I think the Lord’s prayer is mainly for us, it’s about keeping us on track and giving us a prayer to say keeps us persistent. That makes sense because prayer as someone said
Prayer IS God, it is the movement of God to man and man to God, the rhythm of encounter and response. The more we move back in focus toward God the more he responds.


The mistake we can fall into is to call prayer that moment we bow our heads and clasp our hands.
Why because even a passing thought as to what God might be is that he is always, has been and always will be, is that he doesn’t wander off. He is always present. That means there’s nothing we do that we cant give to God, do as if Gods with us, because he is.
Something that really reached me when I heard about it is Benedictine spirituality. The Benedictine monks lived lives of prayer and hard work. However, St benedict said that we never need to separate the two. Because we can bring God into all our mundane activities. This teaches that everything we do can be done to the glory of God, everything we do can be a sacramental object where God is made present. We don’t have to wait for a eucharist, we can turn the washing up into a eucharist. A thin moment where God is with us. I recall doing the washing up once and really making sure it was perfect, because this was an act that God was present in. Because its self evident God is always present, Paul knew the separation or lack of awareness of God was artificial.

Paul uses the phrase to be “In Christ”, and Christ tells us he is in us and we are in him. Christ can no more be separated from anything we do that to say our Leg isn’t with us on a walk. It’s us that sort of lose sight of him and forget he’s around. To say hes always watching, makes it sound creepy, but he cant not be around, hes every where at all times, in us and with us and around us. Ive been married 30 years this year and Mrs T has seen me at my best and at my worst, and that process deepens our relationship and bonds. Its no more intrusive having God around while I do the washing up and having Mrs T around. In fact that chatter while the mundane acts of life continue is truly relationship.
So This means if I do the washing up, and give that act to God, I should do it to the best of my ability because he is in that act. He’s there anyway, but we can make everything we do an act of prayer that we bring God into, share that moment with God. As st Benedict said we can make the Hoe and the scythe as holy as any sacramental object on our altar today.

To look at that point in a different way, The liturgy of a service is different between our three churches, and liturgy is the act by which we cultivate the feeling of a presence of God, the differences reflect not God but us, how we relate to him. Christ is in all our churches, but fair to say he is in the checkout at Aldi’s, and the car wash, and in dinner making, and the hoovering. It’s us who lose awareness. Our churches and our services simply heighten that awareness.
That’s why Jesus wants us to knock, not because God needs a wakeup call, hes not asleep, we are.

The process of knocking helps us to wait for an answer, to expect or hope for his presence.
God does not sleep, if he does, hes not God. Its about practicing his presence, the more we practice the greater we become at being aware and guided by him. Prayer brings us into contact with the greatest force in all creation, a force that loves us enough to die for that wants to be with us, and for us to be close to him. Really, however, we do that is fine by God, because the formulaic prayer we say in church, or the whispered prayer at work, or the practice of awareness of him is really all he wants, he wants us to knock.
This continuous prayer, that we bring into all the nooks and crannies of our life, may bring God into places we would rather he not be. Bit we are a little ashamed of, that we wouldn’t look at too much because we don’t like what it shows us. So this in turn demands we need to lose our scruples when praying, As alain fenelon said Just as water quenches fire so do scruples act on prayer. Without going into the full quote, basically what he means is that if we are so eaten up with how to pray, and our own self loathing or guilt we become self-obsessed, or obsessed with detail. The object of prayer is then lost, and the well spring of grace emanating from prayer because we are put off prayer. The lack of prayer is far more crass than any sin we will not bring before him, because we cut ourselves off from him. The word sin means moving away from God, and lack of prayer does indeed move us away.

This isn’t news by the way St Benedict knew it, and St Ingatious as well. The examen from st Ignatius takes all those parts of the day and lays them at the foot of God, we give thanks for everything we get, we petition that ourprayer be fruitful (so pray our prayer is good and helpful, , we review our day and bring all of it too him , the we ask for and receive forgiveness taking on board we have been forgiven, and we try to move on with all those things supported by grace doing our lives a little better than before.
Hopefully what you can see is what Jesus is asking for here, persistence, practice, and praxis, the doing of a thing.

That point is essentially what today’s reading is all about, God wants us to pray. Pray in church, pray with out hands clasped, eyes shut or dancing, or driving, of fishing, or golfing, or watching our footy team (as a west ham fan they need a lot of prayer) , playing with our children, mowing the lawn.
God wants is to come as we are, lose our scruples and bring whatever we are to him, whatever we have become, whatever he made us to be, to the greatest power in creation.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

The thing that will be given to us is the wellspring of Grace waiting with just a small change in focus on him. The Lords prayer is an excellent tool for doing so and it’s a way of pestering God for these things, and as in the way of prayer those things get turned back on us as we enable others to have their prayer answered with daily bread and sins forgiven, with a sincere desire to make his kingdom come a little closer with each deed we do guide by him. This idea in Benedictine spirituality of being present in every little thing we ensures this is a constant ebb and flow throughout the day. We never need to leave him.

Its why our Christian life is so blessed with mindful meditative forms of prayer, such as the jesus prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living god have mercy on me – a sinner, said repeatedly out loud or to ourselves and like all good meditation we focus back on those words alone. The aim is to practice the presence of God. The journey this takes us on is described in one of my favourite mystics Terese of Avilla , we journey from conversion to companionship and ever deeper into a relationship with God, into every more interior castles, were we open ourselves ever more to God, removing those scruples that Fenelon so despised.

But hopefully, what today was is a few thoughts about what prayer is or. Its certainly about more than clasping our hands and bowing our heads, that as well, but its more about bringing him into every little thing we do. Imagine this for a moment, when you next speak to whoever your significant other is you say to them, in this relationship I am only going to really be with you for 2 hours on a Sunday, and when I want to speak to you or feel drawn too during the week. I think they may think you had just lost your noodles.

We all know that’s not how relationships work, not how they survive, not how we learn who the other person is. Relationships happen over a thing that just is, all the time, day on day out. Over the small things of life, and the big things. Sometimes we need that chat over the dining table, but mostly its just about being there.

That’s where he has asked to be, simply with him as much as we can. Like the child that asks for attention, knocking , asking, so he can share his love and his wisdom. We don’t give our children or loved ones, windows where they have to ask for our time, we want them around us and in a free and easy relationship where we are simply with each other the whole time.

Like any good relationship really. That’s it, all there is to it.

Amen

Who are we responsible for in the good samaritan?

I’ve been fortunate in my life and met many good men (and women too by the way) that have for some reason gone out their way to help me, show me love and been there for me. Their blessings go on through many lifetimes, and I hope I share a little of what I have been given.

I hope if you think for a moment, you can think of a few.
and In simple terms

Today’s story at first glance is simply about a good man, doing what a good man does. Nothing more complicated than that really. A bloke needed help, and someone found someone like that and helped them.

Its also about a lawyer wanting to clarify what he was legalistically supposed to comply with to work out where his responsibility ended.
He was trying to understand what he needed to comply with to get the payoff!
The software I work with these days helps people understand what they sign up for in a contract. What are the clauses that might cause us pain if we sign on the dotted line and we don’t like what happens as a result? I’ve seen companies go under because a company discovered a loophole in the contract and we didn’t get the payoff.

But contracts that we don’t like are hideous if we sign them and that’s a fact.

Is it any wonder this is what the lawyer, the expert in the law, who would have looked at the world in a very similar way was looking, or trying to understand if he knew all clauses in the contract? Its basically what he says.

So what do I have to do to inherit eternal life? I love the lord god with all my heart etc and my neighbour as myself. Jesus affirms this as correct. But to make sure that this is enough to fulfil the law, and get him into heaven the lawyer checks.

29 so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
What’s the contract regards who is my neighbour. What do I have to do to fulfil said contract and get the payoff of eternal life? Who am I responsible for?
Lets look at the story in jesus used in reply and then lets at the answer?

First off….
He could have just said “everyone” and left it at that.
Why didn’t he do that?

A man is stripped naked and beaten by robbers. So at this moment, he is an anonymous, vulnerable bloody mess. A man without tribe, country, or creed. Vulnerable and needing a neighbour he has no identity apart from human and male.. Like the tomb of the unknown soldier, his anonymity means this man represents us all, he could be any one or any one of us.

Then a levite priest, , passes by. Levites are those chosen by God to serve in his temple, so chosen in amongst Gods chosen people. Hes a levite, those who set and ensure others abide by the law. His law declares this man unclean, and anyone who touched him would be ritually unclean. This Levite priest hurried by the poor man leaving him lying naked in a bloody heap on the floor.

Then a Samaritan arrived . A Samaritan
The context of Samaritan mustn’t be lost on us.

Samaritans to Jesus audience did not belong on the land they occupied. They were of a strange culture, they dressed differently, probably sounded differently. They had occupied the land while the jews were in exile, and now they weren’t going back, in fact they had no back, they were 2nd, 3rd, 4th , generation. They practiced a strange version of the religion of the jews.
For all these reasons they were despised looked down on and considered unclean by the jews. They seen as taking resources, and land, and were disliked simply for being Samaritans . In another story the woman at the well who was a Samaritan was shocked that Jesus even spoke to her, both because she was a woman and a Samaritan.

So we have gone from one end of the scale to the other. From the lauded to the dregs. Those people we rather look down on and would rather not be around, those whom we blame when it goes wrong by default, those with less privilege and standing in our community, those we find very few of on a day-to-day basis, and don’t know how to talk with them when we do, where the culture gap is hard to bridge, the religion strange. The disliked, distrusted , unwanted, bottom of the pile. Mostly they are anonymous to us, invisible, when we think of them, very few kind thoughts might arise.

But this Samaritan He stops on the road from Jericho when he found the injured man.

and he stops on the road to Jericho….

The road to Jerusalem from Jericho was known as the way of Blood, because so much blood was shed by robbers. It’s a winding road with steep sided and lots of twisting turns as it drops a 1100 foot from above to below sea level.

In certain respects I can sort of relate to this. Like those estates in the 80’s that had so many perfect hiding places for muggers that the council like to give them in the 80’s.These were places that you had your ears and eyes open, you certainly never stopped and moved as fast as you could. When I used to catch the late train home in forest gate I always breathed a sigh of relief when I got past certain known mugger hotspots. I avoided the steel bridge at all costs., Rushed past places that had deep shadows where people could come from all of a sudden. So I sort of know that feeling.

But the Samaritan

He stops and shows real –

and the word I am going to use is Altruism,

The word Altruism is defined as when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves.

He definitely shows more than pity, the priest showed him that but , pity demands no action. The Samaritan, journeys between pity and altruism and he acts, taking one more step into dangerous altruism on this fearful road.

Jesus making the man naked and anonymous means he has to show universal altruism. Altruism of a sort that goes beyond the boundaries of his own tribe.

Then he gets him safe at the inn, and pays his bills to get better. 2 denarii, about £50, at that time about 2 weeks wages on average, so costly in every way.

There’s no law here forcing this man to take a risk, no law forcing him to do this, indeed the priest who knew the law rushed by, not wanting to be made unclean, not wanting to be next, let alone give up 2 weeks wages.
This is Jesus defining who is our neighbour and who is worthy of altruism.

In this story Jesus has told us there is no clause in the contract t, no boundary to love, no end date to the contract, in fact don’t seek a contract.
Its just outrageous love we are asked for. Jesus tells us that example can be set by anyone from any culture, and also that can be asked from anyone from any culture.

By making the injured man vulnerable and stripping him of all associations with creed, tribe religion etc . Jesus makes him every and anyone in need, We are simply one race, the human race. Whether the refugee comes over on a dangerous boat ride, or from a war-torn place. We have to show altruism that may put us at risk. How can there be an illegal immigrant, if Jesus just threw away the contract ? When in Jesus example where this man came from , why etc is deemed unimportant, in fact its actually deliberately stripped from him. this story shows we are simply asked to stand up for, stand in for whatever human happens to be around.

They were going down that road…. That’s all we are shown. Then we are shown what love is. Its more than altruism, or dangerous altruism, its excessive, it costs us, to risk out lives, to travel more slowly with an injured man on our horse while we work, it costs. It takes time and trouble. Its excessive well beyond anything that could reasonably be asked of us and it’s given without question to whomever we meet that needs our love.

The joy of this story is that whoever we are and from whatever standing in our or any community, we can still shine and be lauded and laudable in Jesus’ eyes.

Also to answer my earlier question.
That’s why when he was asked who is my neighbour, Jesus didn’t just say everyone. Because Jesus wants active, not passive love, he certainly doesn’t want sympathy, but active dangerous outrageous altruism.

Bonhoeffer said the biggest mistake we make is to try and work out who we are responsible for.
This parable shows we are all responsible for each other, in the human race.

it was that realisation was one of the key moments for me, this is why it’s the only way the world works.

In simple terms, Jesus asks us to obey the unenforceable clause, go beyond reason, beyond risk, beyond culture creed and religion actively not passively.
To stand up for and stand-in for whoever needs our love, out active love.
That is what the kingdom of God is like. We have been given the task of showing what that sort of love is like, in our lives as Christians. That’s what we are asked to witness to others by our behaviour. It’s when we bear witness to the kind of love Jesus asks us to show when we see our neighbour as Jesus asks us to as simply human and nothing else? When we stop asking who are we responsible for. That our faith becomes powerful and stands out.

I really wish the Lawyer hadn’t asked that question, because now we can’t say we don’t know, But he did and now we know, all of us do, and now as Jesus’s followers of the way, we know the way. All of us.

Amen