Sermon 29th June 2008

It is quite appropriate that as we gather here this morning, mindful that members of our congregation and church are in the cathedral to witness the Bishop ordain our New Deacon Alison we hear a reading from Matthews gospel. This chapter in Matthew’s gospel is one in which Jesus is instructing the Twelve disciples as he sends them out to preach the good news. The reading comes from the end of the chapter, and forms Jesus’ concluding words to them. These concluding words are to challenge and to comfort the disciples. The Challenge comes first: God and his Kingdom demands your highest loyalty, beyond all else in your lives, even your closest relationships. We can tie this to our old testament reading also as we remember the extreme call God puts on Abraham and his beloved son, Isaac.
Then we are reassured in Jesus second words. Words of comfort: you will be welcomed and cared for by those who hardly know you.

These 2 sets of words. Words of comfort and words of challenge come together by no accident. The comfort is the necessary balance to the challenge to set aside loyalty to families. To hear the real challenge in the call to loyalty alone to God, to hear the word ‘hate’, the extreme demands that God puts on our lives is almost enough to make us feel the task is impossible for us to do.

He is firing the most difficult request at us, to get our attention, to make us see just how serious and drastic the call to serve him is but he supports our fears of that impossible task in his words of comfort. In the Kingdom, Jesus says, we step beyond the natural human structures of care and support. We stop feeling that our family must come first, that charity begins at home, that we look out for our own before we look out for others. The challenge is to start to see all people as our family, all as deserving our special care.

And this is where the comfort fits in: once we start to do this, seeing everyone as being as deserving of the same care and consideration we would give to our own family, we will start to experience what it means to be part of the family of God: welcomed into the homes of strangers as if a newfound brother or sister, finding that people look out for us and feel concerned if our needs are not met. So Jesus speaks of prophets, righteous people and little ones, all ways of speaking about his disciples, who are welcomed and cared for just because of their name, not because they are known. We might talk in the same sort of way about welcoming another Christian and looking out for them just because they’re a Christian, without knowing anything about them.
There’s clearly plenty here that we could spend some time thinking about, but as we prepare to welcome Alison as our new curate, I want to focus on just one thing: what does this passage tell us about welcoming others? As I said, Jesus is speaking here to the Twelve, to those who are going to be welcomed, but I want us to reflect on what he might be saying to those who are going to be welcoming others. I think there are two main things Jesus might be saying: first about what God sees when he watches us making our attempts to be welcoming, and second about what might really be happening when we welcome others.

So, firstly, what does God see when he looks at us welcoming others? This may seem like an odd thing to think about, but Jesus’ words suggest something quite extraordinary: God puts a value on even our smallest actions of hospitality that is far beyond what we would assume. Jesus speaks of those who offer ‘one of these little ones’, by which he means his disciples, just a cup of water. Offering a cup of water in the heat of Palestine is the most basic and simplest form of hospitality, meeting the most basic of needs without greatly inconveniencing yourself. Any household would have water to hand. But Jesus puts it on a par with welcoming someone into your home – in God’s eyes even the smallest step has value.

The point is not that a massive sacrifice has been made, as if it was our deprivation that gave God pleasure, but that we have taken that step into god’s Kingdom – acknowledging those around us as part of God’s family, and our brothers and sisters. This helps us to see that even the smallest of things that we do when welcoming people in our church and community is important. The smile, ‘good morning’, the item picked up from the floor, the drink and chair offered. Nothing is too small an act of welcome and the small things matter.

The second thing we can learn about welcoming from Jesus’ words is that when we welcome his disciples we welcome Jesus himself. The various people Jesus illustrates in his reading- Prohets, the righteous person and the little ones tells us that people called to be disciples and who are then sent by Jesus/God into the world come in different forms and guises. Jesus may not come to us himself in a form we would expect and indeed those who the church recognises as ‘sent by God’ in ordination are not always likely candidates. So when we welcome people, we may be welcoming Jesus and we should perhaps welcome people in that knowledge, that we may be welcoming Jesus.

Jesus is saying that the family of God is the people who welcome Jesus in whatever guise he appears.
Welcoming those sent to us by Jesus and therefore welcoming Jesus himself is not an extra thing that we do on top of the other important stuff, it’s normal and just what you do for a member of the family.

So today, we have the opportunity to welcome others in church, we have also, the opportunity to welcome of new curate Alison, this evening. Are we challenged to hear Jesus instructions to us to stop feeling that our family must come first in order to benefit the comforts of a wider family in which we can be nurtured and supported in the task of our continuing ministries?
Wether we are called to ministry of service and word, to a sacramental ministry, to a pastoral or bereavement ministry to a children’s and youth ministry, to a smile and a coffee ministry- we are all called to be part of the family of God. It seems to me that God expects little of us in order to be members of his family, in that, all he expects is that we welcome one another- and our reward is that in return he considers us each one of his own.

Sermon for June 1st 2008

(Smoke alarm sounds)

Don’t panic- there is no fire.

I hope that didn’t alarm you too much. How did you feel when you heard the alarm? Did you suddenly panic? Were you looking for the way out? Were you looking to see if anybody else was looking for the way out? Or were you thinking ‘it must be a mistake’? Hearing an alarm is not a comfortable experience even if we know there is no need for concern. An alarm really can’t be ignored. It tells us there may be danger. It forces us to ask new questions, to set new priorities. Am I in danger? Do I need to leave? Where will be safe?

The reading from Matthew’s Gospel this morning is alarming. It is intended to alarm. It’s not just a general call to vigilance. These words were meant to alarm particular people. They were not spoken, remembered and written down in order to alarm those who have never made a profession of Christian faith. They were not intended to provoke someone who’s never given the Gospel a second thought. So they are not a fairly aggressive evangelical thunderbolt aimed at those outside the Church (because, after all, words to the stranger on Jesus’ part are generally words of invitation). No – these words are directed to us – to people who may never have allowed the thought to pass through their heads that they might be on the wrong track.

The parable Jesus teaches is that of two houses – one which is built upon rock and another which is built upon sand. It’s not a complicated image. These two houses then go on to encounter a storm and so on.

In its original context Jesus is talking about many ‘storms’ for example the coming destruction of the temple, the revolt against the Romans and of course more generally about Judgement and the end times. The parable does seem to carry through to a more general ‘how will you cope when things are not going well?’. Storms in our lives might take many different forms- illness, bereavement, self-doubt, financial stress , natural disaster or the breakdown of a relationship. The things that turn our world upside down. The point of the parable is that Jesus is saying ‘what are you basing your life on?’, sand or Rock? The choices you are now making in regard to this will determine how you cope when there is a storm or a crisis. Jesus suggests that listening to his teaching and embodying it in action is the firm rock that people should be basing their lives on.

So how do we know if our houses are built on sand or rock? Well, It’s only when the storm comes that you can see that the house is stable or not. Until that point it is not always obvious what substance the house is built upon or how resilient it will be in the storm. This is exactly the same point that is being made with Jesus harsh words at the beginning of the reading- he’s saying just because people say ‘Lord, Lord’ (his name comes easily to their lips) people will look at them and think these are disciples of Jesus, in fact he’s saying he never knew them. What is visible on the outside is not always a true representation of what is on the inside. How we respond during times of crisis will illustrate on what basis our lives are built and will indeed reveal at the same time, what is on the inside. But obviously we don’t want to wait for the storm to see of our house will fall down or not!! The key thing seems to be that Jesus wants us not only to hear his teachings but also to embody them in the way that we live. In other words he wants us to be the same inside and out.

What do we mean by the inside and the outside? The outside is that which we present to the world and to each other. It’s regular giving to church and charities, knowing the service well enough that we hardly need to look at a service book to follow it, having enough knowledge about our faith that we can discuss contemporary issues with others. All of these and others present the outward appearance of faith but they could potentially be little more than empty religiosity. The inside is the things other people don’t see. We don’t see how much each other prays. We don’t see the extent to which we each put our trust in God. We don’t see all the ways in which God is transforming our lives.

Not only is it impossible for us to truly see each other from the inside sometimes it’s pretty hard for us to see ourselves. The people who owned the houses in the parable may not have realised how stable or otherwise their houses were until the storm came. This is why Jesus is speaking so harshly and provocatively because he wants us to think about it before the storm comes! Not because we can avoid the storm, both houses go through it and I imagine even the house built on rock was weathered by the storm but because he wants to give us time to listen and to embody his words inside and out. To ask ourselves the hard questions so that we might survive the storm.

So what if when we ask the hard questions, the answers we get frighten us? What can we do about it when we feel insecure or concerned about our inner lives and whether or not they are truly reflecting our outer lives? Firstly I wanted to reassure you that it is quite normal to have doubts and that they can be a very healthy opportunity for reflection that sometimes leads to us making changes in our lives. Things we might do to develop our inner lives are – attending a course of study that will help us to understand our faith better, making ourselves accountable to another person for our inner life- a spiritual director maybe, borrowing a book from the Parish library and reading it, keeping a note in our diary’s of things we would like to pray for, meeting up with other Christians in our workplace with a view to thinking about how we can live out faith in that context (maybe sharing prayer concerns for the work context), building in a set pattern for reflection. These are just a few suggestions and I am sure you could add more to the list.

We have heard this story about the houses built on rock and sand. It was written for us. It was designed to place within us a germ of self doubt – a pebble in our shoe. Perhaps this story is an alarm for us today.


You have heard this Gospel story read, preached and proclaimed this morning. It was remembered and written down for us – not merely to reflect on the fact that we face many storms but with adequate time on our hands this morning to reflect on whether the inside looks like the outside, to think about whether our houses are built upon rock or sand so that when the storm comes we might survive.

Easter 4 sermon/APCM

Today’s gospel reading shows us an episode where the disciples barrage Jesus with questions, though the questions they are asking seem to be the wrong ones and we see Jesus clearly guiding the discourse over to the area that is the right one. It’s not about where they are going or whether or not they see or will recognise the Father, it’s about how they are going to live without Jesus. These are the things that Jesus really wants to talk to them about. I find this quite intriguing in a passage commonly used at Funerals. That although death and what occurs after death is something Jesus shares information about, information that illustrates such love and abundance for eternity in mansions owned by God, he feels confident enough in his knowledge about that to be more concerned about the here and now (or the future after his death and ascension). So Jesus, confident in our eternal future, is most interested in our lives, as we live them. His confidence in our ability to live our lives well is illustrated in his saying: ‘the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father’. But do we share this confidence? Do we recognise our lives as lives that can hold greater works?

I am sure we all have ambitions and that those are a part of our Christian journey and vocation, so in some way, we all know we have greater things to do, things that bring enrichment and fulfilment to our lives in the way Jesus desired for us, even if it’s simple things like meeting up with someone new, reading a book, taking that next exam, learning to knit, learning to use the computer.

I am not sure that we approach these things with the kind of confident hopefulness that Jesus envisages for us. I am not sure we always see our lives’ plan coinciding with God’s plan and yet nevertheless, it does.

This means looking at our lives as a whole, in which all the parts are significant. Everything we do, all of our living, is important. Jesus calls us to do the works he does in all parts of our lives. We should live with the expectation that we can rise to the challenge. That might involve very different things for different people. Maybe something I’ve already mentioned, or starting a new organisation to support our mission and ministry through this building- the friends; or perhaps starting a new children’s group as need has arisen. Whatever it might be, we are called not only to do things: (to do Jesus’ works in every corner of our lives); but also to do things in the confidence that we can do even greater things than we imagine. Today as we reflect on how we are living as individuals and as a church in our APCM, we are challenged to think about whether we are living in the way that Jesus would have us, what we have achieved and what we might achieve next. That includes the expectancy that we can and will do greater works.

(John 14:1-14)

Candlemas Sermon 2008

How old am I ? Can you guess?

This little exercise may remind you of the TV program ’10 years younger’. For those of you that haven’t seen it- it’s where a person (usually a woman) is picked off the street and then members of the public are then asked to guess her age. after a good makeover and wardrobe restyle the woman is presented again to members of the public and we see how many years the restyle has ‘taken off’ her. Our society is quite youth focused when it comes to looks- old is not really beautiful- even those little magazines in the Sunday papers have younger models representing clothes marketed at the older lady and gentleman. We are led to believe that the newest anti aging creams can even smooth out those already well developed wrinkles and that both men and women should buy hair colour and hair loss products. As a youth I wore makeup to make me look older- yet now I wear it to cover up the signs of aging! In our society we are becoming top heavy, with more and more older people. We are rather superficial though in our appreciation of youth, aren’t we- because although we want to look young we don’t want to be young because we also caricature what it means to be young- youth is about not having lived (well, lived our experiences anyway). Young people are naive or immature.
So what about Age in the church? We may share many of the assumptions of our society at large, but age is an area where church increasingly feels different from the world outside the church. Our society is steadily greying, but our church is doing it faster. Although church regulations state that at 16 a young person is eligible for electoral role and therefore PCC membership- I have yet to meet a person who is much younger than myself on a PCC. In 1980 the average age of an Anglican congregation member was 36 (then the same as the national average age) now it is 47 (9 years older than the national average). So we know that if the current trends continue the church will become increasingly unrepresentative of the nation. Is church going to become a club for the older folk? It could very easily get out of touch with the experiences of the average person and increasingly unable to provide community or liturgy that meets arising needs.
Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not calling for old people to be sidelined or for younger people to take over. Research on church attendance shows clearly that a church full of old people with young people largely absent will not grow as well as a more well-balanced one. On the other hand though, it also demonstrates that a church full of young people will not grow as well either. Churches with an imbalance of ages either way do not grow. To be a healthy church, we need each other.
What does this mean? Well, in the centre of today’s reading we have an image that teaches us a lot about young and old coming together: the old people, Simeon and Anna, take the newborn baby Jesus from his young parents and praise God.
Simeon and Anna represent all that is positive about age and experience. They have lived through a lot and experienced a lot. They have led lives devoted to God and God’s people and are respected by all. They have ‘made it’, they have nothing left to prove. We may be able to think of people who would match this description: who grew up in a different time, lived through wars, have seen society change around them and have lived lives whose integrity and goodness speak for themselves.
The temptation, having ‘made it’, is to sit back, enjoy the respect and esteem that comes your way, and make sure things carry on the way that suits you. Simeon and Anna, however, do not give in to this temptation. We are told they are waiting for the Messiah, waiting for God to do something new. They see something in this young couple and their child because they have been looking. They are not sitting back, they’re active, looking for what God is doing. And when they see it, they proclaim it, even though its implications for the Temple and people that they love are massive. This child, destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel, will herald the end of the Temple and the community Simeon and Anna have dedicated their lives to. And they know it. But they rejoice, because they can see that God is at work in it.
Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus represent all that is positive about youth. They have had turbulent experiences of their own: they have been refugees, they have had to endure scandalous gossip because of the circumstances of their marriage, they have had to trust some incredible promises of God. And yet they are still young. Mary was probably a teenager. Joseph was older, but likely not much more than his early thirties. Their lives are ahead of them, and in a culture in which age is greatly respected, they are expected to defer to those who have gone before them. They know that the child they bring now is the promised Messiah, is God come to dwell with his people. They have been visited by angels and shepherds, all telling them the same story.
They could be forgiven for thinking that the child they were bringing was rewriting history – that conventions and traditional expectations need not apply to them. This, after all, is the temptation of youth – to imagine that the truth you have grasped, the gift you have been given, must sweep everything away before it because it is true. But they do not give in to this temptation. They fulfill the requirements of the law, they do not challenge the position of the older folk like Simeon and Anna, but listen respectfully to what they have to say.
There is a pattern of mutuality here, of balance between youth and age, where the young respect the old, but still bring the gift they have been given, being faithful to the one who gave it to them, and the old continue to watch and wait for the new things God is doing, giving thanks for them even when they undermine all that they have worked for.

If we look around the church this morning we do see a mix of ages here- we might not be balanced but I would say that we are not entirely unbalanced. We have our Marys and Josephs, and our Simeons and Annas. It’s just a case of how faithful we are to God in living together. We have the characters – but can we enact the story?
If you are a Simeon or an Anna, are you looking with anticipation for what God is doing? Are you willing to give thanks for the new, even when it challenges the old? Even when the new things God is doing might tear down the temples you are fond of and feel safe in.
If you are a Mary or a Joseph, are you trying to be faithful to the gifts and truths God has given to you? Are you finding ways to bring those to the church so that others can share in them? And are you doing so with a respect for those who have gone before you who have gifts and truths of their own?
Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph, all played their parts in the story. Each of them, for a brief moment in time, had the privilege and responsibility of holding the light of the world in their hands: Jesus, the light that has come to reveal God. We remember this today by lighting candles and holding that light in our hands for a brief moment in time. In doing this, we commit ourselves to playing our part in presenting God to the world in our different ways, whether that is by being a Simeon or an Anna, a Mary or a Joseph. All of us play our part in presenting the same light to the world.
But there is another way we can understand the significance of these candles and of the calling of God on our lives. We are not merely called to hold the light in our hands for a brief moment in time. This light is not a mere candle, nor is it extinguishable with our breath and as we look at that light and hold it this morning, looking back on the promises fulfilled in the Birth of Jesus- in God’s incarnation and looking forward to the story of Jesus Passion and Resurrection we know that this light, Jesus has overcome all darkness. We are not merely called to hold this powerful light in our hands for a brief moment in time but to be lights ourselves. Our whole lives should be a presentation of God to the world. So when we look at these candles we remember not just the light of God they represent, but our own lives in which that light is seen by others.

I wanted to end this sermon, as we think about our roles in the story of God’s light in our world with a poem by Thomas Merton.

The Candlemas Procession – 1943
Lumen Ad revelationem gentium.

Look kindly, Jesus, where we come,
New Simeons, to kindle,
Each at Your infant sacrifice his own life’s candle.

And when Your flame turns into many tongues,
See how the One is multiplied, among us, hundreds!
And goes among the humble, and consoles our sinful
kindred.

It is for this we come,
And, kneeling, each receive one flame:
Ad revelationem gentium.

Our lives, like candles, spell this simple symbol:
Weep like our bodily life, sweet work of bees,
Sweeten the world, with your slow sacrifice.
And this shall be our praise:
That by our glad expense, our Father’s will
Burned and consumed us for a parable.

Nor burn we now with brown and smoky flames, but
bright
Until our sacrifice is done,
(By which not we, but You are known)
And then, returning to our Father, one by one,
Give back our lives like wise and waxen lights.

100 Books

Nicked from Lucy’s blogVia Tracy’s Blog!

Look at the list of (100) books below.
Bold the ones you’ve read.
Italicise the ones you want to read.
Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.
Movies don’t count.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)

2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25 . Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie(Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)

59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)

80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce

Sermon 21st January 2007: The Body of Christ/ Christian Unity.

Together this morning as we begin the week of Prayer for Christian Unity we begin by praying for unity, separated in different churches. We will struggle to acknowledge we are members of Christ’s Body in the world because we are conscious of the divisions between us. It is not only in the world wide context that this is difficult, even within the individual church acknowledging the we are all members of Christ’s body can be just as fraught and difficult. Understanding the diversity and value of every member and finding a shared vision is just as important to us at St George’s as it is across denominations. The parish consultation on the 10th of March will give an opportunity for us to recognise the diversity of our church and move towards a shared vision. In the context of our world wide church and our local setting we and others will take an opportunity to contemplate what it means to be that Body of Christ and how we can in fact be that body at all.

The reading we have heard from 1 Corinthians is a very useful place to start thinking about what it means to be the body of Christ. Paul is writing a letter to a church with divisions. Divisions caused by the different social backgrounds of the members of the church (it contained Greeks and Jews, Slaves and Masters). Divisions caused by the different gifts and roles that people had within the church (some of which were seen as signs of great spiritual significance and others of which were not valued). None of these divisions are ones that we would find particularly surprising. Such divisions still mark society and the church today and I am sure you can think of examples. Paul seeks to address these divisions by looking to a common analogy that people within Corinth would be familiar with. Many ancient writers used the analogy of the Body to talk about human societies and therefore it was natural for Paul to use this well known image in relation to the church community. Paul however, seeks to do something new with the analogy. Generally the way in which ancient writers used this analogy was to show how people should stay in their place within society thereby supporting the sorts of divisions that were causing problems in the church. Paul on the other hand is deliberately taking this analogy and subverting it. Instead of suggesting that those who are less important in society should know their place he says that in the church these divisions are irrelevant. The church is a body with many members which despite their difference are all of vital importance. ‘The head can’t get by without the feet, the eye can’t get by without the hand’ and so on. So in the church those social divisions that seem so significant in our daily lives are meaningless. But Paul goes further than this, he is concerned not only with divisions in the church that are caused by different social backgrounds but also by divisions that are caused by different roles within the church. He is concerned in our terms with the divisions caused by Leadership and ordination, Musical ability, committee membership and so on. Paul says that we should not think just because some of these roles are more prominent than others or get more attention that they are somehow more important to the functioning of the body. All members of the body are indespensible and all need each other if the body as a whole is to remain intact and therefore take on the task of continuing Christ’s mission as his body on earth. Paul says ‘Just as the body is one and has many members so it is with Christ’ when Paul says Christ- he is talking about the church. In Paul’s point of view the Church is Christ on earth- it IS the body of Christ and is here to carry out his mission.

So what is the mission of Christ? As the Body of Christ here and Now, what is our Mission? Our gospel reading today shows us Jesus setting out what his mission is to be as he begins his earthly ministry. Jesus opens the scroll and read the words of Isaiah. It is clear by Jesus final words in our reading that when he spoke the words of Isaiah he intended them to be understood as describing his own ministry.

It shows us his intentions and focal points in that ministry. Jesus puts the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed at the heart of his concern and therefore, by implication our concern also. It is all too easy to say ‘yes yes we know those people’ and restrict them to the Newspapers and Urban Priority areas in our society… but this is to misunderstand and take the language far too literally. To be blind or Poor or oppressed or even captive can be a physical, spiritual or emotional experience. Therefore the mission we have been entrusted with is to bring the Good news of the Gospel – to proclaim God’s presence with people now in whatever situation they are in. If we are honest all of us would have known sometimes of spiritual, emotional or physical poverty, blindness, captivity or oppression. This is the mission of Jesus to others that we can be involved in but it is also his mission to us.

Looking back at those words written by the prophet Isaiah – I wonder how many of us can hear and speak those words for ourselves? I wonder how we feel as Christ’s body here on earth today about standing up and owning those words of the prophet as our own. I don’t know how you feel but I find those words a little daunting and always have done but I feel they are as important for us as they were for Jesus.

It is important to have as a Body an idea of the task to which we are called. It is important to figure out together how we might fulfill that task in our context. It is important because with this knowledge we can begin to function together as members of Christ’s Body. Ultimately it is in the fulfilling of this mission that we shall see the value and necessity of every member of the body.

So what does this all mean for us at the beginning of the week of Christian unity and what does this mean for us in our context as the Body of Christ based at St George’s, Jesmond??

The image of the body is a great challenged to all the churches as we begin the week of prayer for xn unity. It is a challenge because it highlights how wrong our divisions are and challenges us to move beyond those divisions towards unity. But the image of the body also teaches us to value that diversity which we find in our xn brothers and sisters and not to feel that we or they need to conform. It may also encourage us to think that the final test of wether we are working as the body of Christ is not how visibly unified we are but how effectively we are able to work together in the task of fulfilling his mission.

The image of the Body is also a great challenge to us here at St Georges. It makes us ask questions such as- are there divisions caused by social background or church role in our church? Is there a sense in which every member is as important as the vicar or the organist or the church warden? I am no more important than any of you just because it is part of my role to stand here 10 ft above contradiction and preach… in fact I seriously considered preaching today’s sermon amongst you- the body of which I am just a member. There are more questions we could ask. I think for us here at St Georges as we prepare for the Parish consultation it is good to be reminded what our task is- it is good to be reminded that- our mission is to bring the Good news of the Gospel – to proclaim God’s presence with people now in whatever situation they are in. It is also good to be reminded that every single one of us is vital, that all the different opinions, stages of life, physical and spiritual gifts are necessary. The great diversity we have is an asset- just think about our context and how every single person can have a purpose within it- there are many people here who can be in places and with people I cannot. I like everyone need those people to go where I cannot- I am dependant on their contacts, their experiences and their gifts no matter how small or great they may seem. So it is vitally important that as many of you as possible take part in the consultation on the 10th of March. We are all vital members and each member is needed for the Body to work.

We are members of one body, we are Christ present now on earth, in Jesmond. Each one of us is vital and we need each other. Together and only together can we begin to achieve the mission that Christ has entrusted to us.

I’d like to invite you to stand with me. To take your place in Christ’s Body and to pray the word’s of the prophet Isaiah together as our own.

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Sermon Oct 29th 2006

”I’d like you to close your eyes, if you feel able”. The world is a very different place without sight. So much that we take for granted depends on our eyes. When you came in, you may have looked for the people you know, or to see where you could sit down. You may have read the words of the service from your service book, or sung from your hymn book. Could you find your way home from here without relying on your eyes? Now imagine that you aren’t in St George’s, and you aren’t in the 21st century. You’re in Palestine, 2,000 years ago. There is no Braille, there are no guide dogs. Living an independent life is almost impossible if you’re blind. You can’t get a job, you rely on charity to get by. What’s more, most people will think you’ve been cursed by God. But you have to rely on their good will if you’re going to survive. Maybe there are some people who will help you, but you don’t like to impose yourself. After all, it’s not as if you’d lost your arms or your legs. You can still walk by yourself if you use a stick to make sure you don’t fall over anything. You can dress yourself – though you know people sometimes laugh at the clothes you put on, and it sometimes takes you a while to realise you’ve worn a hole in something. You can feed yourself, though you have to trust the traders at the market not to rip you off once they realise you can’t see the food you’re buying. There’s more than once you’ve come home to find out that none of the sack of vegetables tastes like the one they gave you to try. You try not to make a fuss or cause too much trouble. You sit by the side of the road in a dignified way with a sign a friend made for you, to see if people will take pity on you. It isn’t much of a life.

Sometimes, as you’re sitting there, you hear things travellers are talking about on the road.

That’s how you started to hear about him. Jesus. They said he had healed the sick and restored sight to the blind. They said the prophecies about God returning to his people were being fulfilled. They said he might be the Messiah, the son of David, the promised King. It was almost too much to believe. Then you started to hear more, he was coming this way, going to Jerusalem. Surely he would come through Jericho.

It starts as a muttering, a commotion somewhere down the road. Someone is coming. People are excited, running past, kicking up dust. Everyone’s too busy to tell you what’s going on, but you hear people talking about Jesus. Could it be him, come to Jericho with his disiples? You start to hear more people, it’s getting busy by the roadside, people are crowding round, trying to get a look at whoever’s coming up the road. You’re getting dirt kicked in your face, so you pull yourself to your feet and stand there leaning on your stick, trying to hear what’s going on over the din of the people crowding round you. You think you hear a man speaking in a Galilean accent. Didn’t someone say Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee? Where is he? Is he there? Was it his voice you heard? He could walk within a few feet of you in this crowd and you’d never know. You lean closer, straining to hear more. Someone brushes past you, pushing you back, you’re leaning out across the path. ‘Out of the way, you blind fool!’ You feel hot, embarrassed. But this is your only chance. If he can heal you… Maybe he’s already out of earshot. It’s so hard to tell. You draw a deep breath: “Son of David! Have mercy on me!” you yell, at the top of your voice. You feel people recoiling next to you, surprised to hear you shout out. Are they all looking at you? Is anyone looking at you? Did he hear? Are you even facing the right way? “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!” you yell again. “Shut up!” someone yells at you. You feel the spit on your face. Was it all a mistake? Was he there at all?

Everything is different when you can’t see. Everything becomes an act of faith, an act of trust. Open your eyes. We’re in the 21st Century, we can see, but we, like Bartimaeus the blind man, are putting our faith in someone we can’t see. Where is Jesus? It’s a question we might ask ourselves. We can’t see him either, and like Bartimaeus we might feel we’re stumbling around, maybe shouting the wrong way, going on hints and rumours and risking looking stupid.

This is a story about the miracle of seeing Jesus and what that does to you. But the real miracle doesn’t happen when Jesus restores Bartimaeus’ sight. The real miracle happens before, when Bartimaeus sees Jesus with the eyes of faith. He hears rumours of what Jesus could do and he believes them. He starts to hope. He has faith in Jesus. He is willing to risk looking stupid, risk getting it wrong. The real miracle happens in the confusion and doubt and darkness, when Bartimaeus finds the faith to call out to someone he can’t see is there.

We will probably not see Jesus with our eyes in our earthly lives. But we, like Bartimaeus, can see him with the eyes of faith. And like him, we try to do it in the middle of the confusion and doubt and darkness of our lives, in the times when we find ourselves saying ‘Where is Jesus?’ and wondering if he is there at all. Maybe it’s at work where we struggle to make any connection between what we do from Monday to Friday and the God we come to worship here on Sunday. Maybe it’s at home where we find being Christian is hardest to do with those we share our lives with. Maybe it’s in the church where we try to understand together what God is calling all of us to do and be in this parish. In all of these places and many more, whenever we make the effort to try and see Jesus, we soon find we’re deep in doubt and confusion. Maybe we catch some hints and rumours about where he is and what he’s doing, we think we catch a glimpse, but then he’s gone. He has the knack of being absent from the places we most readily expect him, whether that’s speaking in ex cathedra statements from the pulpit in the Vicar’s sermon, or helpfully supporting our point of view in family arguments. Instead, he turns up where we aren’t looking, in the face of those we’re arguing with, or in the insights of our non-Christian work colleagues.

Like Bartimaeus, then, we must rely on the eyes of faith to see Jesus. But, also like Bartimaeus, we must do more than simply watch for Jesus with the eyes of faith. Watching Jesus is not a spectator sport. We look for him because we seek to follow where he leads. This, ultimately, is what Bartimaeus did, he followed Jesus. He didn’t seek Jesus out as the magical curer of his blindness, he sought him out as the Son of David, the Messiah, and once he had been healed, he followed him. Jesus doesn’t reveal himself to us so that we can sit there wisely aware of his presence. He reveals himself so that we can follow where he leads. This is risky, probably as risky for us as it was for Bartimaeus. Because Jesus may take us places we do not want to go, prompt us to do things we and those around us will think are foolish, just as he did with Bartimaeus.

I don’t know what that will mean for you. Maybe it means taking the risk of letting colleagues at work know more about what your faith means to you. Maybe it means allowing the vicar to hold up his mirror to the congregation and refusing to give easy answers about the future of the church. Maybe it means trying to relate to those we live with in a different way that leaves us far more vulnerable. It may mean something completely different. But whatever following Jesus means to you, in the situation you are in, it will probably feel risky. It will probably feel a lot like it did to Bartimaeus to stand up and shout out ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’.

I started by trying to get you to imagine you were blind, to try and understand what Bartimaeus felt like. But maybe that wasn’t really necessary. Because the story of Bartimaeus isn’t really a story about somebody who was blind and then was given their sight. It’s about someone who had to find the courage to act on what they could see by faith but not by sight. That’s a struggle I hope we’re all familiar with. The fact is, that Bartimaeus could already see the most important things, he could already see who Jesus was, which those around him often couldn’t. So it makes sense that Jesus would say to him ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ After all, this blind man had shown he had better eyesight than the whole crowd of sighted people. It must have felt to Bartimaeus that what he was doing was very risky, but in fact he couldn’t have done better if he’d had perfect sight. Finding the courage to act on our faith can feel very risky, but like Bartimaeus, we may find that in following Jesus our faith is a far more accurate guide than our eyesight.

Amen.


Belonging and Believing- May 6th 2007

Does Easter seem a long time ago? Kids are back in school, work moves on, even the vastly reduced multipacks of cadbury’s cream eggs have now largely disappeared from shops, and Easter seems a distant memory. What difference does it make? We stood together at the foot of the cross and outside the empty tomb, great foundational moments for the church, but what difference does it actually make to us? Our readings suggest it makes a massive difference. The reading from Revelation gives us a glimpse of what a massive eternal difference easter makes: we are saved, we are amongst those standing in the glory of God’s presence. The reading from Acts shows us Peter taking up the mission that Jesus had started – performing a miracle that echoes Jesus’ raising of the dead to life. And John’s whole gospel is based on the idea that it makes a massive difference. The difference between those who follow the crucified and Risen Jesus and everyone else is as great as the difference between light and darkness. John is perhaps more extreme in his terms than we would feel comfortable with, but he wants to stress the way in which Jesus’ life and death and resurrection have changed everything – they have split the human race into two, and you are either in or you’re out. And although we might be tempted to think he’s thinking about your eternal destination – do you get into heaven or not? – he’s being even more radical than that. In the here and now John says there is a division between the followers of Jesus and everyone else. Before we think that maybe John represents an extremist position, however, it’s worth reminding ourselves that all the New Testament suggests this way of looking at things, even if some writers are more inclined to stress the fuzzy edges on the division that John. Remember Matthew’s parable of the sheep and the goats, or Luke’s parable of the great banquet, where those in and out of the banquet subverts any normal expectations.

This idea that Easter has divided humanity into two, those in and those out, is obvious in the passage we heard. Not only does Jesus say that those who follow him have eternal life and are safe in his hands, he also says that they are the only ones who really know who he is. The Jews come to Jesus asking him to say if he is the Messiah. His response seems an odd one. He says ‘I’ve already told you and you don’t believe, not only that, but just looking at who I am and what I’ve done it should be obvious, and yet you still don’t believe. You don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep.’ We tend to think that believing in Jesus must come before belonging to his sheep – we decide that we believe in him and then we join the church. Jesus is saying it’s the other way around – we belong to him, we join his flock, and then we will be able to believe in him. Believing in Jesus, seeing who he really is, is something that comes through faith, from being part of his flock. If you’re in then you see, if you’re out then you don’t.

In some ways, however, this shouldn’t seem as strange a way of understanding things as it might at first glance. Although we might like to think that we make decisions by being completely objective, standing outside of the situation and weighing up the pros and cons before committing ourselves a lot of the time we have to admit that isn’t how we really operate. Although we always strive to be fair, what we see, what we think, and the decisions we make are often heavily influenced by where we stand – the commitments we’ve already made. Interestingly, research that has been done on the process of coming to faith or belief suggests that in most cases people do not come to believe because of a decision made at a single time or event. It is often a longer process with many significant times and events, which is not only a process of coming to believe, but also a process of coming to belong to a community or church. In other words people often find that by the time they really come to believe, they have already come to belong. People learn to believe from the rolemodels and experiences that they encounter through being part of a group of people who belong to one another and to Jesus.

I think sometimes, amongst some Christians, there is a feeling that belief is about intellectual matters, theology, doctrine, creed etc. Jesus doesn’t think so. That’s not to say that these things are not important or that there aren’t times when it is important to be able to say what we believe, and important to ensure that we are united in our beliefs, but perhaps we need to recognize that it is not believing in a set of ideas that makes you a Christian. What would your definition of a Christian be? Someone who believes x, y, z? Someone who acts in a certain way? Someone who goes to church? Well the definition that Jesus seems to be suggesting here is this: A Christian is someone who belongs to Christ, who is one of his sheep. It is about relationships not about knowledge or behaviour.

Perhaps it’s clearest if I put it in a way that all of us have experienced. As a child, you are indisputably part of your family. But you aren’t a part of your family because you believe in a set of shared family values, or because you behave in a way that your family expects. You are a part of your family because you are your parent’s child. It is because of the relationship you have with your parents that you belong.

So, if the point of Easter is that we belong to Jesus’s flock, and this makes a massive difference in this world and the next, what does this mean for us? I think that the really important thing to hold on to is that it reminds us what’s really important to us as Christians. We are not Christians because of our grasp of theology, because of our wonderful church buildings, because of our perfectly sinless lives or because of our rich spiritual traditions. If we allow these things to define us it is a sign of the weakness of our relationships- especially to Jesus. It is a sign we have lost our way. Where we know we have done this, we need to learn how to let go of these things and focus again on Jesus. We need to do things that nurture us in our relationship, learning more about who Jesus is and how he responds to our needs and others- in prayer, reading the scripture and through the examples of other people who belong.

But I think that holding onto this truth isn’t just important for us, it’s also important for how we relate to others. It often isn’t easy to join the church, to become a Christian. And often that’s because although being a Christian should really be about belonging to Christ, we try to make it about other things – having the right theology, living the right way, creating the right sort of community. We need to stop putting barriers in people’s way that Jesus does not. We have to allow others to belong, entering into relationship with them ourselves, in which we are open to the fact that they are in a process of coming to believe through belonging to the flock of which we are a part.

Easter is not just a passing season, it has more importance than that- it is a celebration of Jesus’ act of reconciliation, of drawing people in to himself, taking upon himself those things which damage our relationships, put up barriers and exclusions to belonging, his sacrifice made once for the sins of all and his rising and drawing us beyond into new life, new relationships and new beginnings. All of this is vital, because the Easter message is that Jesus wants us to belong, not for the high and holy days or just for heaven but for now- and every day.