The sign of the Manger

When I give directions, I often point out landmarks, when people come to my house, I tell them 10th house down with a Blue Audi outside. When you get down my road, count roughly to ten and look out for a Blue Audi. There’s enough information in that direction to think this is about ten houses and the chances of there being another Blue Audi are slim, especially in the next 3-4- houses and the fact it was given to you as a signpost makes it very likely you have found my house…
The Audi signifies that this is my house.

That was the thing about the manger. A roughly carved stone drinking trough with a Baby inside was unusual enough that when the Angels said they would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in and there he was, they must have been sure this was the child Angel Gabriel had said to go see.
The other thing about the oddness of it, is that it sorts of proves they hadn’t lost their marbles, or the cold had not given them a funny turn, and an Angel really had directed them this way.

Even more importantly if we have seen an angel and he was right about this strange location for a Baby, and they had found them to prove they hadn’t imagined it. The angels were right about one other thing, and this was the messiah. What with the census going on it might be expected a few mothers and children might run away? But the manger was a signpost, this particular baby, in this location, in a rough drinking trough.

The manger was a sign.
This sign of the manger was given to Shepherds. Shepherds at this time were considered as very lowly people in society. They could not give testimony or be a witness, as they were not considered reliable. In a rigid honour based society, they were among the lowest..
So not only was the sign of the manger one of poverty, but it was given to the poorest and those regarded as the most unreliable.
These low born people were also his first heralds. They were the first ones to go and explain what had happened.

God’s and Messiah’s do not in our worlds view enter into the world like that. Our royalty leaves the king Edward hospital in the west end with the worlds press and world leaders as heralds and the woman looks very smart has her coiffured hair styled perfectly with. Dad in a very expensive suit, both smiling, holding the perfect baby as the cameras flash, and enter into a life of conspicuous privilege to lead a life detached from the day-to-day reality of all of us.
This view of royalty is one of detached, entitled perfection. It’s given to us as an aspirational thing. However, as Christians we recognise it is the precise polar and exact opposite of Jesus. But with that in mind we have to come to terms with the fact this place, this location, this poverty, displacement, and helplessness was a deliberate choice of God .God made that choice.

So we have to ask? this way God?
Why hasn’t Jesus been zapped out of the sky, been heralded by trumpets, prime ministers and princes, had roses thrown at his feet. Why hasn’t he turned up on a Gold chariot, with hangers on, mothers hair coiffured with Joseph in a Saville row suit in front of the worlds eager press .
Why has he not been led into glorious wealth, and led a detached life, while issuing ethical advice from said detachment about how we should all live? Why has god decided this way?

This is not an accident, God is complete, in every facet, in every part of his nature and being, he lacks nothing and is in everything. Omnipresent across space and time, knowing everything. However, not content with reducing himself from a thing with no boundaries in time or space, to an object, a creature with form and shape and limitations “the word” the ultimate, the alpha and omega etc. he joins us as a homeless baby

This is a god that instead of standing back and pointing the finger at everything bad. Joins us in it, born into poverty, on the run, placed in a drinking trough , literally in the mess made by animals, scared, met by and announced by societies outcasts. Totally reliant on parents, who themselves are exposed to danger, a refugee, essentially homeless,
That reason for that choice is the same reason I am a Christian, the reason for all the faiths for me this marks out our faith as unique.
Why Lord why? What should we make of this choice?
Because the only God I could ever worship, is one who met me at my lowest, who knows me at my worst, joins me in my suffering, loves me enough to die for, one who isn’t big ,scary and detached. But a baby who you could pick up and smile at, and who needs the care of a scared mother to survive. Who chose angels , a mum and the lowest of the low to announce him?

That’s the perspective the manger gives us, Christianity does not start with “Jesus saves you from your sins.” It starts with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This means we cannot reduce Christianity to a method of being saved. It is a way of viewing reality and the narrative of scripture should influence our view of reality, how it was made, what are we, where we fit, what are we to God, what are others, etc. This view of reality in today’s shows us a lot about our lord, who he is ,who he chooses, where he is.

I don’t think he ever left the manger really; I personally feel closest to him among the homeless in southend. We often feel him most strongly when we are lost or alone, or scared or vulnerable. This is because this God knows what that is like to be vulnerable, and reaches out. This is where he is today in our story a helpless babe among the helpless, hapless and unreliable

The other person of course who shared this story is his mother. This is a mother’s story. Scholars think by the way that it was Mary that gave Luke this story. Unusually Mary’s name comes before Josephs in the text, and the fact that her reflection is mentioned in this is Luke making it as clear as he could where he got this story from . This is a mother recalling a night no mother would forget a detail about. “ But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”. The other thing that indicates this is Luke making it clear she did these things.

This is a God for 2020 isnt it? When our lives meet the real mess of life. A mother remembering giving birth in a smelly place with animals, and placing your child in the animals trough, on the run, sore, scared, worried, with a fresh burden of a new mouth to feed.

Mary’s prince is probably clearing the dung in the stable, emptying the trough, staying with her despite his young wife having given birth in a very odd way and not really understanding whats happening. His vulnerability is a sign to us , same way the manger is a sign to us, that where we should be, not pointing a finger but with others, helping saving making whole, clearing up the dung. So when we and so many are at our lowest point, I have no doubt that’s where he is, right there with us. Not pointing a finger, but with us, helping ,saving, making whole, loving us.
That’s where our lord put himself. Not by accident, not by mistake, but because that’s where he chose to be. He hasn’t locked himself up on a private island to rule us from the internet. He’s in our pain, in our loss, emptying his completeness into our loss. The angels made sure the shepherds knew him by the very fact of his poverty. The manger marked him out. The mother passed on the story, The outcasts announced him.
Also
The shepherds show us we don’t need to be among the worlds elite to announce him, and that’s such a comfort to me personally. This story helps show that those who may feel themselves or may have been made to feel unworthy can be his heralds, and announce who he is. He doesn’t need the worlds press and the paparazzi, he can have a shepherd, an ordinary mum, or a slightly sweary east end boy.

This story is shared by the angels, the shepherds, Mary when she told luke, and me, and hopefully you.
All quite different beings but all given the same job.
Inthis story we are also shown how we must announce him, where we are to begin when we speak about him.
The manger marks our God out as one who’s selfless love meets us at the lowest point imaginable.
When we speak about him, we must begin at the manger, when the shepherds in our story did as was told in out scripture “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” , they were said to be amazed, almost certainly like us, amazed that God had chosen this way to enter the world. With the lost, placed in a drinking trough, with lowly scared parents, heralded by outcasts.
That gives us all hope , and shows us where to begin when we explain him, not from a lofty perch handing out great advice from above but from the perspective of fellowship of those who may not always feel worthy, but are worthy of being Christ’s heralds. We should be where the worlds at its messiest, and meet it with love, and see the world as inhabited by Gods precious creation worth enough to die foe

When we meet the outcast, the lost, the sad, the refugee, the desperate we have to meet them as if they were precious, parts of Gods creation , worthy of being heralds of Christ, because they are . So wherever you reach out to the lost, dispossessed, helpless angry, and bring peace through love that’s being Christ. Meet them at the manger, from the perspective of the manger, this is a God who met the world from the manger, used it as his sign. Share it from the perspective of the Shepherds,as someone who may be unreliable witness to some but chosen by God to share his good news, or the mother remembering her beloveds first day,
Oh and we share a helpless babe, that shows us that when we are at our wits end, when we are lost, clueless, worried, feeling unloved, scared by the future that’s being helpless is Christlike as well.
We have all had our days in 2020 when it all got on top of us, not known the right thing to do. Grappled with seemingly contradictory demands and tried to work out the least worst option. Felt pretty hopeless doing so, 2020 has reduced all of us to the vulnerability of a baby in a manger. Been made feel less than worthy.

Christ shows us its Ok to be vulnerable, to not be able to do everything. To not know whats going on, to just ad-lib our way through strange days. That’s the sign of the way he chose to enter, today he needs his mum, wants simply to be warm, and loved. He is vulnerable, helpless, reliant on selfless love . This is what our lord chose to be like on the day of his birth, reliant on love helped by people who don’t really know whats happening. Not even Christ can sort it out today, not until the time is right.

That’s the sign of the manger as well. Our lord the servant king, who came to love us enough to die , who today needs to be served by Mary and Joseph and has the both the angels and the low born of society as the messengers of his good news .

The only God that fits 2020, and every year
Amen

John the baptist and YOU are witness to the light.

Sermon john 1 6-8 19-28

What is a witness?

What should a witness do?

When do we get asked to be a witness?

I was in need of a witness once, I lived near a busy church and always went past it slowly on Sunday . Like St Catherine’s the car park was on the other side of the road. Once I stopped and a young lad on a motorbike swung past me impatiently hit a lamppost and fell off with the police who had arrived and they assumed I must have done something reckless to knock the bike over on an open road (I was young , it was a moped)  . . I did drive too fast in those days , but on this occasion, I was stationery, but it took the vicar and a few parishioners come out and explain what he had seen to get me off the hook.  So on that occasion I needed a reliable witness.

He was OK by the way.

In the bible witness is sometimes used a term for  a thing that stands as a reminder of a covenant, a contract between us and God, like the tablet of the ten commandments for instance. In which we are asked not to bear false witness or join hands with malicious witnesses.

The most common usage both here and in the bible is

Someone who tries to tell the truth of what they see, what they know, what they have faith in, they are mediators of the truth. They bear witness to their truth, what they know to be true.

Here we have John the Baptist declaring he is a witness

What was he a witness too?

He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe

8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

So, john was a witness who came to testify to the light.

We in advent are waiting for the light of the world that overcomes darkness to enter into it

This light should light everything we do as the famous author C.S.Lewis said

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. 

This shows what the truths and the light we are witness too in our lives and in scripture should do, illuminate it, and inform us.  As our scripture said the “true light, which enlightens everyone”

So, what do we do with that story?

We could for instance look at this passage and think, well done John 😊  that’s wonderful.

It’s really easy to put bible stories in a little box,  especially those we are familiar with and not look at what John the Baptist said and not relate it to our lives, however that would be a massive disservice to the bible itself and missing the point of a Christian life.   

The story of the bible is of universal truths given to particular people, and these people must share these truths, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob , David, all the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, the disciples, and us.

We are his modern-day disciples, the latest in the long line and we have our duty as they had theirs.

We are the particular people with universal truths to share, even in our dark days, some might say especially because whats the light for?

The disciples of old had  dark days, and we have seen ours in 2020

The thing  is, in the dark days of 2020 we have all been able to be witnesses to the light, indeed we can bring a little light into the world.

We are inhabited by the spirit, therefore we ourselves carry the light, we are not the light, but we can share the light, be the witness. Just like john

When we state our faith to others it is said we bear witness, when we act in a way that brings others to faith or make people curious, we are more than witnesses we are participants.  We are given the duty to share Christ by word and deed, to see Christ in all we meet. The child that we wait for in advent is what we share.

It is the greatest honour to know him, the greatest gift to share him. J.C.Ryle a great preacher of the 18th century describes what we share when we bear witness to our truth like john

Christ is to the souls of men what the sun is to the world. He is the centre and source of all spiritual light, warmth, life, health, growth, beauty, and fertility. Like the sun, He shines for the common benefit of all mankind – for high and for low, for rich and for poor, for Jew and for Greek. Like the sun, He is free to all. All may look at Him and drink health out of His light.

The child that comes very soon is light and salvation to the world, salvation translates to whole, being made whole. Being made who he planned us to be, not the diverted things we are in this life.
Not the compromises we are, not the precious things that God loves but that can never be all he wanted us to be, salvation brings his plan to fruition.  Knowing the light opens the door to that salvation. That salvation does not reside in this building, nor with anyone in it, its strictly between you and God, made achievable by the gift grace. The thing that allows us compromised creatures to be something clothed in splendour and come before God made whole.  But its up to us to let him in and our job to bring others to this light. To be witnesses like john.

That is what I try to do whenever I speak about him, its all I want to do with my life.

J.C ryle says it better than I can

Christian ministers are, not mediators between God and man. They are not agents into whose hand’s men may commit their souls and carry on their religion by deputy. They are witnesses. They are intended to bear testimony to God’s truth and especially to the great truth that Christ is the only Savior and light of the world.

Today john showed us he knew he was a witness, and he spoke about him.
The man that was predicted by the prophets, made possible by the deliberate action of God, the greatest gift we will ever be given will come into the world very soon.

Jesus Christ, the best news we will ever have even in the worst year for many a year.

This means our job as witnesses is more important than ever, more needed than ever, the world is more broken than its been, its in mourning for its dead, it’s mourning for family unseen that wont be together this Christmas, its searching for Good news.

We bear good news in a world looking for whats next, looking for the end of pain, looking for the end of loss.

Our lord eases the pain of all these things in this life and ends them totally in the next.

When we bear witness  it may not be easy, we may get asked a few questions like John has been?
Who are you? John was asked to sort of explain by what power he was using to be his witness.

John was using the same power we have been given, the holy spirit, the thing that will put into your mouths the very word to say. Have faith 😊 I’ve seen it and experienced it, it feels like very thin ice at times, but that’s us not trusting him. Looking back, I was standing on a rock that goes back to the very beginning before the beginning was the word. My words were resting on the word, yours will be too.  Trust me you’re not on ice at all, your foundations are the cornerstone, and you won’t be let down 😊

If you feel unlikely, your probably not less likely than a someone who has probably come down from desert mountains from a life of isolation,  dressed in camel hair, and eating handfuls of honey and locusts 😊. I think we are a little less out there than that.  

But more importantly

It’s our job, those that know him, those that carry him in us, to carry him openly this Christmas.


Tell them about the light that’s coming into the world, to expose the weakness of darkness, the temporary nature of it when exposed to light of Jesus Christ that puts it all into perspective. That makes this mess whole, in his time, in this life and the next.

Better still be the light, shine a little love into the darkness.

Be the reminder of the covenant between all humanity and our lord

Be a witness just like John, he was the first, now its our turn.
Amen

Intercessions for this sermon

Lord we thank you for this day

We thank you for our health and our families

We thank you for the chance to praise you again

We thank you for the chance to be your witness,

Lord as we wait for you help us wait with love and kindness.

And look after our families lord, look after them all for us.

Look after those we worry about, the sick and the young, our children who we never stop worrying about

Help all those that grieve in these dark days, grieve for loved ones, lost jobs, lives they wish they could go back too.

Bring them all back to you lord, and give them succour in the shelter of your love.

Make them whole

Bring them peace

Help us bring your light into all of the dark places lord, help us be your witness, help us participate in bringing your light to all.

Where there is rancour, help us bring harmony

Where there is anger help us bring peace.

Where there is ignorance, help us make space for the voice of wisdom

Help our leaders bring wisdom to all they do.

Help our leaders as the work through the final days before Brexit to come to the best decision for all.

Help our clergy bring your light and be your witness, help them shine your love into our community.

Lead them to where your light is needed the most.

Help us all to be the example of your love and bear witness to the changes you have made in us.

Help us all to make the changes we need to bring more to your church.

Help our church grow lord, help us plant the seeds of growth every day, and make space for growth.

Lord in a moment of silence we bring our private prayer to you.

Merciful father

Sermon Matthew 16:21-end

In certain respects, our weekly readings can be like watching a film in segments, ten minutes here, then minutes there. Like any film if you watched it that way you would either not understand whats going on, or, perhaps get the wrong end of the stick, or it may be because you have seen the film before you know roughly where we are.

I think this week reading requires a long view, see why people have reacted this way. Essentially to get under the skin of todays reading I think we have to work on a little context. 

Imagine it, a chap comes wandering past you while you’re at a steady job fishing, collecting taxes.

He asks you to follow him

You sense something, drop everything, follow him every day for three years.

Eat, Sleep, talk, pray, wander with him as he preaches in town after town.

You learn to love him with all your heart, and all your soul.

You learn that in fact he is the son of God, the Messiah.  

That means different things to different people. The saviour of your people, or the one that is going to bring back the land from brutal oppression.

Messiahs were expected to bring power back to Jerusalem,  deliver political and military victory over the current occupying force.  . You totally believe in this one. Previous claimants had ended up with
with roman justice, roman empire , roman peace celebrated because the Jewish leader had been killed 

Various Prophets all died, having had their say, tried to get the word of God to be listened too.

But this one , this one was different. He performs miracles, feeds 4000 people , heals people, comes out with stuff that makes the world make sense.

He asks you, one of the chaps that’s dropped your steady job, left your family, followed him for three years.

He ask you Who do YOU think I am – you tell him – you’re the Messiah, and you KNOW he knows what that means, what each and every one of you has invested in that word.  You’re going to put it all back, get rid of the romans, put Israel back on top! You’re going to be all that those very dead prophets promised.

He tells you a simple fisherman, the impetuous one, the one that always gets it a little wrong, that you are the rock he is going to build his church around. Hows that going to make you feel, promised that by the Messiah.  That’s trust way beyond anything a fisherman ever expected.

Then he says – don’t tell anyone I am the Messiah.  Which isn’t denying it at the very least, and confirms it in most peoples  way of thinking about that, and you know in your heart that he is, you dropped everything for him, got more than you ever imagined, saw things that will stay with you forever. This is the son of God.

THAT’S where we step into today’s segment of the story, that’s where we restart the DVD, or pressed play on the Netflix movie.

So with this context we move on to todays reading

From that time on he starts telling you he has to go to Jerusalem, the seat of power that hates him, the most dangerous place any of you could go. Then he says and here’s the kicker.

When I get there I am going to suffer and die!

Because your Peter, the rash one , You sort of grab him by the arm and say “God Forbid it lord this must never happen”!!

So many things would elicit that response, Love for the man in front of you, the fact the man you left your home for just calmly said “I am going to suffer and die” 

The man you believe is the messiah, who said your going to be the rock! Is going to die, messiahs don’t do that! They don’t die!

His reaction is a rebuke, Get behind me satan! Then he calls you the stumbling block to him, (the very opposite of a rock your going to build on).

Then he says, the thing that we still struggle to get because we are human.

The only way to follow me is to deny yourself.

(which sort of works, because you denied yourself a LOT to get here)

Then he says the real mad strange thing

The only way to save your life is to lose it.

Save your life is to lose it,

I don’t know about you, I like to win at things. Scrabble, Monopoly, win at work, win arguments with the wife (albeit that never happens).  I like my football team to win , albeit I support west ham and winning happens only slightly more often than I win arguments at home…

On one level Jesus just said, the only way you win is by losing.  In Alice through the looking glass, Alice finds out the only way forward is to step back, the only way up to go, is to go down. This is like that isn’t it? It makes no sense, sometimes even to us who have the fact of the resurrection, who are post Emmaus.

 For The disciples following Jesus logic meant he just stepped through the looking glass.

Actually what Jesus did was explain the actual only way Christianity makes an ounce of sense. Without this idea when you boil it down none of it works. Get this idea and everything fits, miss the point and it whooshes past in a whirl of confusion.  Things contradict, and jar with the world and his message. Get it and everything sort of works, what he said , and what we are supposed to do.

My mission today is to try and work towards that point, that Jesus was making.

Don’t get me wrong  I dont think we can relax after we get this; but what Jesus was talking about today we have to grasp to make the rest make sense.

It’s a bit like when I was a kid and I missed a lot of maths classes through being ill.  You cant do Algebra if you don’t know how to add up, subtract and divide.

There’s still algebra to come here, but the essence of this story, the principle is right at the core of our faith

Jesus is the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. Why;  because he is an immortal, eternal God , complete in every way, needing nothing, that made  himself small enough to be a man through love. Dying and resurrecting opens the way to salvation for us all, and he has to do that for us all.  Gave us victory over sin, defeated death. 

The mysteries and models of atonement are another day’s conversation.

But there’s also the question of what do we, here today do with this story;
And that’s the other thing  also he’s showing us the only way the world works; and that’s where I want to spend the rest of my time.

He knows that when everyone gives everything to everyone,  then nobody wants. If we give everything to each other regardless of whether we like them or not, nobody wants for anything.   The only way to reach that point is when enough people break the chain of taking from each other, and share love from the limitlessness of God.

We as Christians are taught the only way to make it work is to give to each other, the only way that we make his kingdom come is when give to each other because then we receive from each other as well; to give when we don’t want to, to give when we would rather hold on to what we have.

Fortunately, Paul takes Jesus point and explains it long hand for us,  what does this giving achieve. That is exactly what Paul is explaining today, what Jesus was doing times a million and what we have to do to replicate that in our small way.



Marks of the True Christian (Romans 12:9 – end)

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[b] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[c] for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 
So when Jesus said “get away from me Satan” its because in protecting life, protecting what we have, we take life, protecting Jesus from Giving was being overcome by evil, and he wanted to overcome evil with good.

The limitless giving of our god,  has as Paul explained to be replicated by limitless giving,  giving to each other?

Limitless giving is how our lord saved us, and gave us salvation and

Salvation most academics think is better translated as making whole or healing

Our lord gave everything to make us whole,heal us to be who he wanted us to be

When we give to each other we make each other whole and he wants us to give without limits

That’s the way the world works, do I think we can do that?

I know I can’t, but I have faith my lord will help me try, and that faith gives me access to grace.

Grace overcomes the shortfall, in my efforts  and Ill rely on that.

Jesus knows we can’t, we aren’t able the worlds too broken but he wants us to try. To try and give as much love as we can to each other to try and lift each other up and make the other whole.

So, to conclude
Peter had Grace when he missed the point, and grabbed Jesus arm and said “no that’s not happening” 

We all have grace when we miss the point, that’s why we need grace so much. We as Christians must keep trying, we try because we have been shown how to make it work, how to make each other whole by giving..

Thy Kingdom come is Jesus asking us to do that, make each other whole.

Grace is for the times we miss the point

Father Jo once said to me if I get to heaven I want our lord to say nice try.

I say
Amen to that.

Christ as Sister

The other day I ran a prayer session and referred to Christ as mother, brother , father and sister.

It raised an eyebrow or two

Why did I leave that in?

Because faith is what saves us, through relationship with the risen christ,

Christ was male whilst on earth, because he came down into a society where unless you were male it would have been hard to be listened too.

While we was here

He said that we can call him a friend, He is called a light, a lamb, . the alpha and omega, the narrow gate etc. The saints often called christ names that transcended gender? Julian of Norwich referred to christ our mother? This is because she saw the relationship of the trinity as more than gender specific and wanted to explain aspects of his love.

Indeed when john said “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” – John 1:29. John the baptist was most likely Essene and would have spent his days buried in scripture. As such he knew the Scriptures perfectly well, and knew what he was saying, he would not have called a man the Lamb of God, when in fact, the offering for sin is a female lamb.

He was making a leviritical reference

Leviticus 4:32 If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish.

In regards to a prayerful relationship, I think if your male relationships are broken, invested with ideas of the patriarchy, unwholesome etc, loving christ, coming into relationship with him in whatever way opens the door for you? That’s what counts?

He said we are made in our image, plural, more than one gender or type.

If he can be a lamb, he can be a sister, because I don’t he’s a white guy sitting on a cloud?

Maybe all our metaphors lack something? How much of gender do you think is preserved when we die, and rise again, if we join him in heaven?

More importantly for me however

Christ wants us to love him the very best that we can, that’s what really matters? As a subject for prayer, a way of coming closer if your male relationships are broken, come to him as a sister, its the agape love that counts. Because his love includes aspects of love that are mother, brother, sister, father, light, lamb etc. We can love him in all of those ways…

IE what paul said in galatians

Galatians 3:26-28 New International Version (NIV)
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Come to Jesus whatever way you can but come to Jesus because in him there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This kingdom is within us…

Sermon BCP 28-06-20 Luke 17:20-37

When I was a kid growing up in the east end of London when it was probably as rough as it can be today, I found that if you found yourself in a tight spot often a way out of it is to say something that’s a little in context but off the wall.

Make people go “what did he just say”?? and they lose their anger and you can talk to them, and more often than not get yourself out of it. They don’t compute for a second and your off and away 😊

Once I was confronted by a gang that were building up for trouble and I offered them all cigarettes 😊 They were so non plussed,said thank you and they sort of wandered off…

Jesus does just such a thing today

When an angry mob of Pharisee’s are trying to catch him out, saying COME On whats the date, so they can yell “heretic” and cart him off.

His reply was you cant see the kingdom?

The kingdom of god is within you  

its that phrase I want to examine

Within you

The worod used here for within is Entos

The Greek word  Entos is  disputed among translations

Entos  >> our KJV: of God is within you.

GRK: τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστίν
NAS: the kingdom of God is in your midst.
INT: of God in the midst of you is

Entos is used in once more in matthew 23:26 and everyone agrees its “inside”

New International Version
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Jesus used that word and it must have thrown them, did he mean, within, in our midst, etc.

I think he meant all three

Like the KJV within, connotations for in our midst, in the midst?

Paul tries to use that idea when he uses “Being “in Christ””

To do justice to the full spectrum of Paul’s thought and language, the terms union, participation, identification, incorporation

So when Christ says In the midst of or within he means truly in something even more fundamental than your dna, more fundamental than your atoms.

Fused like milk in your tea, irredeemably part of you.

Some shy away of this translation of Entos as “within” because he’s is speaking to the pharisees and how can he be inside those who hate him, or won’t follow him.


That’s a poor reason because he’s inside all of us sinners that’s for sure. He joined us physically, spiritually, experienced our condition in every way and left us the spirit.  Truly

In our midst, within, inside,

I think that’s where jesus wants all us sinners to look for the kingdom of God, in our midst, and inside, and within.

That’s where we find the kingdom of God

Maybe that adds a little tension to our most common prayer.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done

That’s not a petition not to make something external happen, or maybe not just external.

Thy kingdom come has to happen in all of those ways, inside, within, in our midst and among us.

For me thats the take away from today

With his help, thy kingdom come is up to us.

We are people of hope.

Evening prayer BCP 24-5-20 Ephesians 1:15 End

I think todays reading should give all of us hearing this in lockdown great hope.

Albeit the world has gone a little mad, and nothing seems normal, that which fills everything in every way has risen and has created the hope which we all share.

Albeit we can all become lost in our circumstances, we can all become lost in fear, we all become disoriented Paul has shown all us Christians today our true north, the well spring that nourishes us.

Nothing has really changed, nothing is truly broken, that which was broken has healed and we who believe in him have had the separation healed. We are no longer broken or enslaved, or held ransom but we have been given the greatest gift ever.

I would like to pray Pauls prayer for you today
This is the prayer
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,

That’s a wonderful prayer for Christians, that the eyes of our heart be opened, by his spirit, and we know that we are never alone

and no matter where we are, or whats happening to us we know the hope for which we are called, and the inheritance given to those that know the way the truth and the life.

I pray that whatever circumstances you are in as you hear this today. That all think of all the people doing BCP today and praying to have our hearts opened, so that we can see hope, have been given it and know hope.
We are people of hope, Christians are people of hope and with all the people praying Pauls prayer today, I pray that you feel that hope, wherever you are. I hope you do, because hope is whats been prayed for all over the world today 😊
In Jesus name – Amen

Sermon on Colossians 1:15-28 and Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42)

To Prepare for this sermon I took a ball of string and passed it through the entire congregation from the back to the choir.

Please sit down

May the words of my mouth

And the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in the sight of he who Protects, saves and redeems

Thank you for having me.

What I want to do today is join two of our readings together Colossians and Luke

To do that I need a piece of string shared out

(start at the back and wind to the front)

Once done ask them to get the notices page and let’s look at today’s readings together.

Imagine that piece of string Is Christ, and as it says in our readings today, he is the beginning and the first born. So although we began our piece of string here in this church it really begins with Adam, the firstborn. And it goes on through creation.  as we say when we  pray as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever

So if you have hold of that string you have hold of eternity

Also like the string which is holding us together it says in scripture in him all things hold together


The other thing about that string is that like all metaphors its not perfect because if that string was really Jesus then it would be IN you!

So that’s what paul means when he says the
Christ that’s IN YOU – Christ in you, the hope of glory

Cos that bit of string starts at Adam and goes on for eternity. Have that string in you and you’re joined to eternity. If I pull this string that’s the pull of eternity.

Also in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. So if that the metaphor that string represents is Jesus, and that string is in you then God is in you, eternity is in you.

Paul uses the term “in Christ” in many ways Union, participation, identification and incorporation.

I think we can see many of those themes in today’s reading.

Also the other imperfection of today’s metaphor is that the string isn’t a living, sentient thing.

Christ of course IS. He is a LIVING LOVING GOD in all things and like that string through him all things bind together. He is the string that makes creation whole.

Also when we feel pain, when we suffer he suffers. People sometimes ask where is God, in suffering?

He’s in that string? He’s in us, he suffers with us because ha cannot suffer, he HAS to suffer with us as he is IN us. He takes that pain, that suffering, that sin and absorbs it into the string that binds us called Christ.

Also, Christ is the cure for loneliness because we THINK we are separate human beings. But I want you to TUG that string a bit.

When you tug it, the person next to you feels it, because the same thing IN you, the Christ IN you is in the next person, so the interplay the action, the reaction is shared by others. 

Christ resolves the incognito of the other, we are ONE with every single human being here today that lives and will ever live.   Our lives are ripples, everything we do ripples along eternity , felt by those around us.


We truly never suffer along, because the suffering lord suffers with us because he is IN us.

He created us, planned us; there is NO break in that string, he knew your place in the string that binds creation before you were born.

Because he present tense  IS  simultaneously in every person that ever lived, and ever will live he knows every person you knew, know and will every know right now simultaneously.  Because the string is unbroken through every single person ever. He knows them present tense.

This string that binds us absorbs our sin, our hate, our anger and shares love.  Makes us right as me move along our place in the story towards the eternity he has prepared for us and knows already.

This string that binds us to eternity knows it and is in us, we know eternity and we feel its pull.

As it says in our reading today, the Christ in you is the hope of glory, attaching you to eternity, presenting you to god mature in christ

Lastly to tie the Martha and mary reading,
I think we imagine ourselves as either Martha or marys, too busy to really be with Jesus. Or happy to sit and listen to him. The active or the contemplative. Truth is we are all mixes of both.  Sometimes we bustle about, sometimes we contemplate, as the rhythm of life slows down and speeds up.

Also we look that this story an almost historic, a thing of the past a bible story.

We cant see Jesus like martha or mary, so it’s a nice metaphor but they had Jesus in the room?

  I want you to do a very unbritish thing.
Take a real look at the person next to you, look at them holding that string, That string that represents Jesus.  Know that string is in them. In every person you meet, will ever meet has ever met, That string created, planned and loves them. And he did the same for you.

so when we contemplate our fellow man we contemplate the Jesus in them.
when we love our fellow man, the Jesus in us that loves us, loves them too,

we can join in that story too real-time. The Jesus that was present in the Martha and mary story is present here today and goes on like a continuous thread through all creation

Let us pray.
Lord help us to know you at all times in everything we do.
We know that you bind us together and are in all your creation, that as it was in the beginning , is now and will be forever .
You Our lord are present,  When we love you, we love all your creation because your love is in all creation for all time. Help us to to take time to notice you in everyone we meet and love them as we love you. In Jesus name  Amen

Why is Bonhoeffer even MORE relevant today?

We live in a world where God is no longer central to our culture.  We live in a world where angry voices sometimes make being a voice of peace much harder.  History shows that others have faced these challenges before. Their experience can help us to understand the role our faith has in a society that has gone far away from God.  This is the story of one of the great theologians of our time who faced just such challenges.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on the 4th February 1906 in Breslau Germany into a middle-class family. The First World War saw the Bonhoeffers lose one son and another wounded. They suffered the privations of the Allied blockade and the treaty of Versailles for which Dietrich never forgave the allies. Dietrich was given the best education and it was a great surprise to his family when he chose to study theology.

 As Hitler’s power and persecution of the Jewish people grew in 1933, he spoke out on their behalf calling them “Worthy Citizens”.   This open opposition of the tide of hatred robbed him of a blossoming career.

It was perhaps unsurprising then that Dietrich saw Christianity as a faith that has a cost to its followers. In 1937 he wrote “The Cost of Discipleship” which spoke of, Cheap and Costly Grace. “Grace” can be defined as unconditional love toward a person who has done nothing to deserve it”. “Cheap Grace” essentially is grace where we know we are forgiven and carry on how we like, and it’s the grace without the following, grace without the discipleship. However, then he talks about the flip side, costly grace.

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.

He then says “Costly Grace” may call us to do things we may feel unworthy of or unprepared at the time we are called. Our job is to follow the call.


“‘Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours.”

One thing that makes this journey easier is that with Christ as our mediator we become one humanity.  This binding of us through Christ makes intercessionary prayer the most powerful thing we can do. The Christ that mediates and acts in us, exists and acts in our brothers and sisters.   

“However loving and sympathetic we try to be, however, sound our psychology, however frank and open our behaviour, we cannot penetrate the incognito of the other man, for there are no direct relationships, not even between soul and soul.

Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbours through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbours, and corporate prayer offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship” (Take a look at Ephesians 2 and see how Paul explores the same theme of “One Humanity” mediated by Christ).

His explanation of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 shows that this fellowship extends beyond the tribe we belong too.  The first mistake Bonhoeffer thinks the lawyer made was to ask, ‘who is my neighbour?’   I think you can hear that question being asked today in our time, and of course, Bonhoeffer could hear that question in his time. Bonhoeffer’s response to this question is as follows.

We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbour or not. We must get into action and obey – we must behave like a neighbour to him. But perhaps this shocks you. Perhaps you still think you ought to think out beforehand and know what you ought to do. To that, there is only one answer. You can only know and think about it by actually doing it. You can only learn what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions; for it is only through obedience that you come to learn the truth.

In simple terms, Bonhoeffer says that discipleship should always cost us something and change the way we behave.  That Christ is in all humanity, and that means we share in the suffering of Christ and of our fellow humans. That all of our fellow humans have Christ in them and as a result become our neighbours. That like Peter as he left his nets, this call and response should be immediate and without question, as should our love for our neighbour.

As Hitler’s power grew, he created “Reich Churches” which removed bibles and replaced them with Mein Kampf. In response to this Bonhoeffer helped create the illegal “Confessing Church” and became the leader of a seminary in Finkenwaldein.  Here he wrote “Life Together” that still influences Christian communities on what it means to live a life before God.

The major themes of this book are that Christian communities have been built to become a dwelling in which God lives.  Various ministries should be present in these communities, Meekness, Listening, and Helpfulness, Bearing one another’s Burden, Proclamation and Confession.  

At one point he escaped to America but felt he had to come back because he felt that he could not lead the church in Germany after the war if he had not tried to do so during it.   He was at arrested on a minor charge in 1943 and taken to Tagel Prison.   While in prison it became clear he was involved in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler. His correspondence became the posthumous “Letters and Papers from Prison”. 


In them, he wondered what a Christian’s role is in a Godless world where God isn’t needed for answers.   Where God is no longer “A Priori”, that is to say, a given, or an automatically assumed truth. How should Christians behave in a world where God isn’t used for guiding our ethics, science etc.

On July 18th 1944 he wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge in response to this question

“The human being is called upon to share in God’s suffering at the hands of a godless world. Thus, we must really live in that godless world and not try to cover up or transfigure its godlessness somehow with religion.”

The conclusion he reached from this is that

“It is not a religious act that makes someone a Christian, but rather sharing in God’s suffering in the worldly life. That is “μετάνοια,” not thinking first of one’s own needs, questions, sins, and fears but allowing oneself to be pulled into walking the path that Jesus walks, into the messianic event, in which Isaiah. 53 is now being fulfilled!”

This is the relevance of Christ in a Godless world for Bonhoeffer. Humanity is unified by the Christ in all of us. “Religious” rites do not make us right with God. Our Lord wants our discipleship, our following. Our Lord suffers because his children suffer, and as we have the suffering Christ in us, we share his suffering.  The only resolution, therefore, is to love our neighbour and to know that everyone is our neighbour. We must do this openly and, in the world, not cloistered away, letting the world see, this is why we are as we are.

If all that has left, you thinking Bonhoeffer was some sort of “Superman” that we can neither aspire to nor learn from?  My last words are a poem he wrote shortly before his execution on the 9 April 1945.

Who am I?

They often tell me

I would step from my cell’s confinement

calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I?
They often tell me

I would talk to my warders

freely and friendly and clearly,

as though it were mine to command.

Who am I?
They also tell me

I would bear the days of misfortune

equably, smilingly, proudly,

like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I know of myself?

restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,

trembling in expectation of great events,

powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.


We only have Bonhoeffer’s early work as he was murdered at age 39. 

I hope you learn to love him as much as I do.

Lets Focus on Lent

Please sit down
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your sight.

So here we are on the first Sunday of Lent?

The traditional thing for lent is giving something up, chocolate, or something we will miss.

Last year I tried a “bad words” box, but I have a teenage daughter, a stressful job and I commute on the M25 and I support west ham. So the odds were stacked against me.

Also on reflection I had sort of boiled lent down to giving something up, I wasn’t thinking so much about how we should approach lent, or how this tradition added to it, why was I doing this, and all the other things we do?

Then I got the sermon on the first day of lent and thought maybe we could here today think about that, maybe we could wonder, whats it all about?  Not just the tradition of giving something up thing, but  “what is lent about”?

Whenever I hear the word tradition, I hear rowan Williams, he says it’s something we should take notice of but not be bound by.  That’s very true some traditions are very old, and very grounded in great theology, and some need to be sort of rounded out,  are we doing this today for a good reason, what was the reason it became tradition, is that reason still around today, have we forgotten why we do a thing, have we simplified the tradition too much, or made it far too complicated.

Our new testament reading which is why we sort of deny ourselves in lent has Jesus fasting that’s where your pining for chocolate comes from, or the being off caffeine or beer or bad language and that hitting the buffers on the m25.

It shows that a famished jesus was for forty days was “supposedly” tempted by food and by power,

I think jesus wasn’t even looking at them, the bread that rots, and the power that fades had become something much less than what Jesus actually had his eye on. He had his eyes on what is spoken about in the other two readings today. The inheritance prepared for us, things that have been made ready for us,  the generosity of the love that saves us. He had his eyes on a greater story than anything the enemy had to offer.

The story today shows us is that when we are focussed on our lord, the enemy loses his power, his words and deeds become empty to us.  That really when we have our eyes on our lord the enemy will just depart until an – wonderful phrase – an opportune time, and we as fallible people will give him an opportune time. But that’s why he came because he knows we will do that, we will wander off, lose focus, forget the promise and see the thing in front of us.


Maybe THAT ’S what lents all about, Focus, maybe its all about Focus?

The tradition of denial is less about the denial in and of itself, but about clearing away distractions finding our true north, following our leader, our king, our saviour, and our shepherd?

That we should copy Jesus not so much in denial but in that focus on him that lessens the noise and the distractions the world brings to drag our eyes away from him.


SO how do we do that, how do we get to that point of being that focus on our lord?

Lent is a 40 day march

Christ being hunted by Herod,  parables of fig trees that have to be looked after to bear fruit and children that sin, mary washing jesus, kings that arrive on a donkey, the betrayal of our closest, to the worst death the world knew, to the greatest victory ever known.


it takes time to work through the story of it.  Maya Angelou said stories are a persuasive means of relating to the human spirit, and stories take time to tell


I think perhaps that might show us a clue about how to do this thing called lent,.  Lets go on the journey.    In these days leading to Easter, “be” in the moment of the story, don’t lets let ourselves off with “Sunday’s coming”, its all going to be alright.

Be focussed on him, where he’s going, why he’s doing what he’s doing, stay with the narrative.

We should celebrate as he comes triumphant, on a donkey,

Maunday Thursday, imagine yourselves washing feet, or having your feet washed,

In the last supper be a disciple that’s not got to the point of this story, and listen to Jesus as he alludes to whats coming.  When Jesus is arrested imagine the fear of being his disciple, knowing your now an outlaw.

and when the crowd says, “let him be crucified” and we know hes innocent?. Let yourselves feel a little outrage at an innocent man being murdered for messing up the system, for saying things that challenge the powers that be, for making claims that undermine earned status.

What will the affect of that be, if we immerse ourselves in the story and take it step by step?

Maybe that might lead to a different sort of lent, one where we see what it means to be his disciple in a way that’s much more true, to the story that’s being told,.

I think doing that will show us what a man called deitrich bonhoffer means by what he calls “costly grace”, bonehoeffer knew what he was talking about as he stayed true to his faith and the ethics it espouses to the point where he was imprisoned and mudrdered by the nazis.

“grace” by the way is  “Grace is unconditional love toward a person who has done nothing to  deserve it.”


We are all recipients of grace,

But Bonhooeffer says there are two types cheap and costly,

He says…


Cheap Grace essentially is grace where we know we are forgiven and carry on how we like, it’s the grace without the following, grace without the discipleship.

But then he talks about the flip side….


Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ,


it’s that idea of keeping your focus on him, following him, being a disciple, re centering I think Is what lent is might be all about.

By doing that, Lent can make the distractions of the  world recede to the point where the enemy loses all influence and simply melts away,  help us receive a love that brings us back, brings us home, that makes, fishermen leave their nets, tax collectors to just get up and follow as  boenhoffer says … not because he thinks that he might be doing something worthwhile, but simply for the sake of the call.

because they know,  he leads us to safe harbours, to lands prepared.  


That’s Grace.

Lent should help us remember, and remind ourselves all the way through,  that it’s not about what we give up,

It’s about keeping our focus on him

so we know what he gave up for us


and what we are being given

I hate to disagree with Ghandi but..

Ghandi said

“In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” That sounds great until you think about it.

For us as christians we need to always know it is grace that leads to prayer being connected with our lord, not our prayer, not our “quality” of prayer.
Whether we feel our heart isnt in it, or our heads are working against us. Whether stress is in the way, or we are angry with our lord

Nobody would disagree that some of the most fervent prayer can be found in our psalms. However the Psalms of Lament make up quite a large chunk of them. These are psalms written in times of massive disorientation, pain, anger, sadness, jealousy, fear, illness poverty of most kinds.

We in our daily lives when we feel anxious, fearful, lost, angry, jealous, unworthy, distracted etc. We take ourselves away from prayer, we dont want to do “bad prayer”, come before our lord feeling unworthy.

That mistake contains two mistakes. The first is that we require grace at all times, on our best day and on our worst. Our Lord’s love abolished the power of sin and death when we came to him and asked him into our lives. His atonement for our sins borne from love, and a continuing outrageous love means that however worthy or unworthy we may feel we are our Lord brings us close to him with a love that has no memory.

The second mistake is that the power of prayer lies totally with our lord and so even our weakest prayer is heard,because of love. Our lord is self sufficient, he wants us close to him. So whether our prayers are like the most wonderful music and poetry intertwined with a sincerity that comes from our innermost being, or whether to our ears they sound brittle and insincere, fake, unworthy, the power in them comes from our Lord. So head or heart, one or the other or neither. Our lord has the grace to hear them

Do we love our children less as they learn to talk, or try to come to us falteringly across the kitchen, do love them less on their worst days as they try to come close to us when angry, or sad, or bitter? I think we love our children every day, and our love is less perfect than he who gave us the gift of love. The fountainhead of love never falters, the source and the creator of love never runs dry.

What does this mean?

It Means dont “quality control” your prayer. Yes, on the days where we can pray like the angels, enjoy the joy that brings as you draw close to a loving God.

But on the “other” days and they will come, rest assured the power of your prayer rests solely with the Lord your praying too. They rest within his grace, within his boundless love that has wiped out your sin and wants you to heal and draw close. That treasures every step towards him, and calls you home.

Prayer is the Lords gift, the most powerful thing you can do, but the power of prayer is the Lords, and your prayer isnt graded by him. Its simply loved and answered with love.

So mister Ghandi you were correct our Lord see’s what in our heart more than the quality of our words.However to disagree slightly, his grace overflows our weakness, and the power of prayer lies with him and him alone.