Sermon for 4 July 2021 – Get up and Go

The text of my sermon preached at St Mary’s Bradley and St Andrews, Kildwick on Sunday 4th July 2021.

The readings were Ezekiel 2: 1 – 5 and Mark 6: 1 – 13

Travelling light?

As people begin to think of holidays,  I wonder how much packing do individuals take with them.

I know somebody who was going to lead an art group on a Greek Island and she boarded the train at Cononley with her luggage. As she got to the seat a person sitting opposite remarked to her “I see you brought the taps as well!” He was referring to the proverbial packing the kitchen sink on your travels. I tend to favour the approach of Phineas Fogg in ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ and just take a Gladstone Bag filled with pound notes as my only luggage. Very light and much less wearing on the arms. Not terribly economic.

Jesus commission to disciples

Sent out as six pairs and they travelled very light – just sandals and a staff. That might seem strange but if we check what Ezekiel was like then perhaps less so!

Ezekiel commissioned

Chapters 1 – 3 summarise Ezekiel’s commission to the Israelites.He was probably a priest and was deported in 597 BC when Jerusalem was captured and taken to Babylon and his prophetic period began about 592 and continued for 22 years. It is thought that he would have been about thirty when he started his work and a lot of his writing is about judgement on the land of Judah.

Just as Jesus was telling the people of his time, both himself and through the disciples, about the kingdom of God, Ezekiel was bringing God’s word to the people fo his time.

He had a number of visions and various metaphors some of which have been described as grotesque. 

Although some of the visions are placed in Jerusalem he was actually resident in Babylon.

Some of his feats include:

Laying on his left side for 390 days and then laying on his right side for forty days while eating a special bread cooked on dung – as a concession he was allowed to use cow dung rather than human!

Some of it has been likened to performance art: shaving his head and beard and burning it in a symbolic way.

Eating and drinking and getting the shakes at the same time.

Visions such as we had three weeks ago with eagles in the top of cedar trees.

Not being allowed to publicly mourn the death of his wife.

The vision of the valley of bones that came to life.

Some fairly graphic stuff, depending on the translation used, about donkeys in the story of Oholah and Oholibah.

The commission he had was on a scroll that he had to eat. No wonder some commentators describe it as weird.

But it was all about a sense of judgement, calling to the people to repentance and the fact that God really wanted to restore the people to be in a right place with himself and his creation.

He wanted people to take notice and turn to God.

Variety of approaches

The disciples had a much simpler task – cast out demons, anoint with oil and heal the sick.

Some would suggest that was the approach for then and it is not to be taken literally today – others say that demon-possession is still there around the corner and the problem for much of what is wrong. I have encountered both views and I suspect the truth is a lot more nuanced.

There is a view that the use of the word demons merely is the only way that writers in the first century could describe problems because of the state of medical knowledge at that time although the bible does refer to illnesses as well as demons. Was there more spiritual opposition as the son of God, Jesus, was there in person?

I could spend a lot of time expanding various views on this but more importantly I think we should look at the application for today.

What do we take from this for ourselves today

The idea of a commission for the disciples as for the prophets is a clear example for us today in the Parish fo Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley. As we enter a time of interregnum or vacancy then all are called to be active in promoting the values of the kingdom of God.

We all have a commission to proclaim our faith.

We need to demonstrate it in how we live.

The example we set

The actions we utilise

service to others

worship towards God

appreciation of what God has done

The words we use are important and need to match our actions – as St Francis is reputed to have said “All the Friars … should preach by their deeds”

We may not go far, Ezekiel remained in Babylon but exerted a lot of pressure.

We all have our part as disciples to be, dare I say, prophetic in our living out our faith. We may not be asked to do unusual things like Ezekiel, well I really hope so.

We may not cast out demons as such but we can bring God’s word through our lives and pray for others.

The world is very different to that of 2000 years ago when the disciples were sent out or 2600 years ago when Ezekiel was demonstrating by his actions vividly that God wanted a people who belonged to him and lived by his standards. 

So to paraphrase Ezekiel and Jesus the essential message is:

We need to rise up

Get on our feet

And go – family, friends and other folk we know

So that all the people know.

What we take is not a matter of a lot of luggage or little but – just the love of God. Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 13 June 2021.

This is the text of my sermon given yesterday at Kildwick St Andrews at 9.30 and Cononley United Church of St Johns at 11.00.

The readings were Ezekiel 17: 22 – 24 and Mark 4: 26 – 34.

What is your favourite type of reading matter?

Factual, technical or poetry, philosophical or stories?

Do you prefer thrillers or romances or historical accounts or like a more academic approach?

I have many books on my selves, when I moved house nearly two years ago I had to shed about a thousand books as there simply was insufficient room for my varied collections of reading matter.

My own experience is apposite here: I was unable to take English Literature at school as I had to study more academic material and get my O levels in four years. So I missed out and although I have tried since then to broaden my reading I can still sometimes miss the point in stories or poems or be totally baffled by them. 

Yet when we read the bible there are a lot of stories or parables and it is useful to remember that these stories whilst imaginary are depicting a reality – what I might call a myth. Not factually true in itself but presenting a truth. 

Modern day examples abound – C S Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles, Tolkien’s  Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings let alone Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress. Many others not necessarily outwardly Christian.

Ezekiel 17 starts by referring to the fact that is is a parable or an allegory or even a riddle. A series of extended metaphors about the cedar. So the idea of a parable is not just for the new testament but seems to have been part of the way truth was revealed through prophets and the writings. I think it is useful to be reminded that we can over-interpret these statements – rather than seeing them as part of the story teller’s art is capturing our attention and keeping it with tales which require suspension of the normal physical world and allow us to see things as dreams or visions – so we get the sense of what God is about rather than a literal word for word scientific treatise.

In v 1 – 10 a great eagle takes the top of a cedar tree and transports it to another land and more details emerge in this account; in v 11 – 21 we have God’s view of things which explain that it refers to Jehoiachin the king created by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (597 BC) when he captured Jerusalem and also comments on the wavering loyalty of Zedekiah his uncle who succeeded him who reigned 597 -587 BC when the city and temple were destroyed.

Then in the verses we had this morning we have God explaining that ultimately he will restore the fortunes of Judah. And tell us about an upright ruler who will thrive and restore the fortunes of Judah, and the king would come from David’s house. Most would see that this could be applied to the Messiah – Jesus.

There is a pattern throughout this period of God destroying the Israelites because of their corruption, their lack of obedience and not according God the rightful place in their worship. There are often prophetic words that talk of a period of restoration so that God’s sovereignty can be properly acknowledged. Judgement followed by restoration.

This is straight forward and not unique to Ezekiel, other old testament writers have written in a similar vein.

In Marks’ gospel we have two seed based parables which follow on from the very well known parable of the sower.

The first one is about a seed growing secretly. This is only found in Mark

The second is better known as the mustard seed and is found in Mathew and Luke as well.

It is often said that these refer to the kingdom of God. Because Jesus was coming in such a new and different approach to a kingdom it is little wonder that he used stories or pictures to convey his message.

The first seems to suggest the kingdom is present but hidden as a seed, minute at present but when it germinates it will be seen in all its glory.

Some have suggested that image of birds flocking to nest in the branches in the mustard seed parable could refer to the gentiles. A divine initiative and assurance of what will come to pass in the end.

Some believe the the kingdom of God will be only be established at the end times, in all its fulness but at present is more like a seed and thus hidden. Others say, no the kingdom is now and we are called to make it better known and the process has begun.

Another way that I prefer is to see the ministry of Jesus on earth the period when the seed was in the earth and secretly growing. The parallel can then be drawn between the seed coming forth and the resurrection of Jesus at which point the growth rapidly becomes obvious. A growth that started nearly 2000 years ago and continues.

At the end of the gospel passage we are reminded that Jesus seemed to only speak in parables but then explained it all to his disciples later. Unfortunately the writers did not always include these additional comments so we have to interpret them for ourselves.

It occurs to me that when we read poetry or a story we may all see the narrative differently and this will be partly due to our nature, our background and our experience. I suggest that it might be unhelpful to be too categorical about what things mean when there is potential for a variety of views.

Much of the Old testament is poetical and poetry is capable of being understood by individuals in many ways and at many levels.

I believe I have mentioned before that the Jewish rabbis were quite content with each one interpreting things differently and having a good discussion about it but it meant that they lived with disagreement and I am reminded of an article in the Church Times just over a week ago (dated 28 May 21) about a loving disagreement not just good disagreement which some have talked about more recently. Written by Rev Dr Christopher Landau, a pastor at St Aldates in Oxford

Quoting the Archbishop of Canterbury as having written  in 2014 about “if we love one another in the way that Jesus instructs us, we do not have the option to simply to ditch those with whom we disagree.  You do not chuck out members of your family: you live them and seek their well-being, even when you argue. Good and loving disagreement is potential gift to a world of bitter and divisive conflict.” 

Dr Landau goes on to write  that the challenge for the church is to recognise that this kind of charity really does begin at home: we are not merely called to love an anonymous food bank user in our wider community, but also the members of our own parish with whom we disagree profoundly about sexuality, Brexit or the church’s response to lockdown.

[I do get a feeling that we need to be prepared to accept one another not just in good agreement but in loving agreement. Last year the Anglican Church issued a book and a wealth of material entitled living in Love and faith. It is about how the church rightly handles the growing pressure from the LGBTI+ community as they seek to be fully included and given the same rights as the rest of the church in how they can live and express their faith whilst having, what for some, is a very different approach to sexuality. Many views from total condemnation to unreserved acceptance of the LGBTI+ agenda yet it seems that some how the church and that means you and me have to work this out so that we live in love and faith with all.]

There are, truly many ways of reading scripture and understanding what we read and how it relates to our present world but I believe we need to be able to accept that there are many views – all held with equal conviction, some of which are mutually incompatible.

There is a sentence in the Eucharist that reminds us “great is the mystery of faith” and to me there is the element of unknown. We need to accept that out faith has an element of the unknown – it transcends our human thought processes and ultimately it is about trusting God whatever.

May we as we ponder our part in the kingdom of heaven and its outworking in our lives and community  be prepared to work alongside those with whom we do not always see eye to eye but still to work for the greater good of the gospel – together in our faith and in our love for each other which will be a witness to those we meet. What a wonderful witness it is when we can work together in unity even when not in full agreement – a lesson to the whole world where so much division and suspicion of one another is evident.

*  *  *

Section in brackets [] not actually used in the service. I was told that the clock at St Andrews had struck twice while speaking which means I went over 15 minutes!

LIVING IN LOVE AND FAITH

During the earlier part of this year (February to March) I was privileged to attend a pilot version of the Church fo England course associated with Living in Love and Faith. They have produced a thick book, about 460 pages, and a plethora of resources available through a hub on the internet.

My background

The course was done entirely on-line and whilst the process was not without problems I found the overall experience positive. At the last review session, for some strange technical reason I was unable to hear what most of what one of the facilitators was saying but fortunately there was a caption option available which meant I could read the words.

The facilitators are to be congratulated as they have remained steadfastly neutral and supportive of whatever was said and shared.  I was glad that this course broadened out the scope to include some more generic idea on relationships which is useful when looking specifically at LGBT+.

I asked to join the course as I have been following the debates about LGBT+ individuals for some years and being very taken by the stance of the Inclusive Church about their standing up for all those who feel marginalised. I quote from the website of Inclusive Church which states the church should not discriminate against anyone because of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.

In some of my working life I was heavily involved with those who needed mental health services, had chronic debilitating conditions or the poor who were not always well treated by systems; I had family members with a diagnosis on the Autistic spectrum which is yet another example off how individuals can experience discrimination. 

I am a personal member of Inclusive Church and signed up to Accepting Evangelicals – although I dislike labels and have aspects of both liberal and evangelical in my personal theology. My stance has changed over time and I describe my spirituality as a journey:  developing working out of how my faith formulates my life and ideas. It is evolving and I expect the shape of my faith to continue to alter over time.

The group

The group of six turned out, I think, to be fairly homogenous in its approach. This was helpful as this meant that there was a supportive atmosphere which encouraged myself to be bolder than I might have been. Looking only at this group it would seem that  views on a strict scriptural approach are not as widespread as I feared and that there are those who are prepared to look again at the bible and work at how it relates to 21st century life. However this is a highly contentious matter and I wonder was the group membership biased to those pro positiver approach to LGBT+ matters? I would have found it useful, although uncomfortable, to have had some one with a more literal biblical interpretation as part of the group to be able to get the feel from both sides. 

We were self-selecting although I do wonder whether all clergy passed the news of the opportunity on. We represented just three churches out of a possible thirteen in the deanery which has eight parishes.

I have no evidence but do ponder whether those whose mind is already determined as negative towards the LGBT+ issue, might be less likely to promote something they see as wrong? 

Potential outcomes

I am less than optimistic about how much change will occur in a reasonable time frame. I think those who are particularly looking for a new approach to LGBT+ issues will be disappointed as the bulk of the church are probably not wishing to change what they see as inerrant scriptural statements. Our view of how much scripture has to be examined in each generation and building on material from the past will determine how comfortable we are with changing our theological perspective. From a personal point of view I have re-thought my own views several times in nearly sixty years of actively attempting to consciously follow the Christian approach; I see that we build on the scriptures given in the past and listen to what God is saying now in the present that broadens and develops the basic message. This is, however, not a popular view and there are many who emphatically state that the word of God is as written and “is inspiredly God” and suitable for doctrine and teaching. I would merely note that there is an alternative translation of 2 Tim 3:16 which states that “Every scripture inspired by God is … “ which implies, to me, that perhaps some scriptures were not inspired by God.

I think the church needs to seriously consider how it addresses these problems. If it does nothing there is a risk of alienating the LGBT+ community and also being seen as uncaring by the majority. If it accepts them but places conditions such as celibacy or civil partnerships on them then it will not have succeeded and this process will have achieved, sadly, nothing.

If we do not tackle this then it is likely that some churches will die out because it is not engaging with the modern world. To say the church should be countercultural is true, I have often written thus in this blog and stated so in my sermons. However sometimes we should and must question the culture within the institution of the church and we need to be countercultural towards the world  in the respect that we acknowledge that God is God and that the spiritual is vital for the well being of all the world.

At least the topic is being taken seriously and a great deal of effort has gone into the development of a good array of resources which this course highlighted. I would certainly recommend it to all when the opportunity arises in their own locality.

I have recently been reading through a Grove Booklet on the topic of what it referred to as the “Donewiths”, those who had done with church but not with God. (Leaving Church – Grove Booklet P162 published 2020) which suggest that those leaving he institution known as church may do so because what is important in their life is not part of the routine church agenda. The LGBT+ community could well be one of these groups who have become disaffected by what we do as a church, they feel marginalised and excluded..

RT

15 May 2021

Sunday 9 May 2021

The text of my sermon for Sunday 9 May 2021, preached at St Andrews, Kildwick at 9:30 and St Johns United Church, Cononley at 11.00.

The readings were Acts 10: 44 48 and John15: 9 – 17

I have quoted from parts of the Christian Aid week resources which are available under the heading “Sermon Notes”

https://www.christianaid.org.uk/resources/christian-aid-week-sermon-notes

Desert Island discs

Recently the parish magazine has carried some ideas from various individuals about their Desert Island discs. And I have been wondering about what my contributions might be. I could be very pedantic and point out that when the programme was devised in 1941 it would have only been possible to have played records using a wind up gramophone so perhaps my selection should only be old records!

As I was thinking what records I could list I recalled thinking how on my way home from school there was a group of us converged on a girl’s house where we sat around and listened to the latest records. One of the first of these was “Love me do”, “She loves you” and “Can’t buy me love” (1962 – 1964).

All you need is love

Many popular songs of my teenage years had love as a theme: I suspect that it was mainly about romantic and personal love but was summed up in the 1967 hit “All you need is love”.  It was released via a a world wide broadcast and because of the show’s international audience its lyrics were deliberately simple, in an attempt to capture the utopian ideals associated with what was termed the Summer of Love. It was very much an anthem of  the flower power philosophy. Did I really wear flared, purple cords – yes I was a dedicated follower of fashion – then!

All you need is love. I think that needs some qualification and I think that while it uses the word love some of the notions of the time are not those we might readily associate with the idea of love that Jesus mentions in one of his final teaching sessions with the disciples we read in our gospel today.  All they needed was love, but it was love as displayed by Jesus. And all we need is that love – but it takes rather more effort than might be implied by a pop song of 54 years ago.

Love in Action

This following week is Christian Aid week (10th – 16th May 2021) and if you check out their website you will find stories about individuals such as Rose and Florence who live in Kenya.

Rose is caught in a cycle of climate chaos. From severe drought to flooding, extreme weather robs her of what she needs to survive: a reliable source of water. Without water, every day is a struggle. Without water, Rose is thirsty and hungry. This is her climate crisis.….

In recent years, the drought has been so bad that it’s caused a hunger crisis. Crops wither and die. Rivers run dry. People struggle to survive.…

In times of drought, Rose sets out on a long and dangerous journey every morning to collect water for her family. She walks on an empty stomach.

….

‘We have to walk long distances. We are suffering,’ Rose said.

… But if she gives up, her grandchildren will suffer hunger and thirst.

With a dam full of water, Rose would be free from her long, painful journeys. She’d have time to grow fresh vegetables for her family to eat. And she could see her grandchildren grow up and live life in all its fullness.

Florence is full of life, love and laughter … because next to her farm, Florence is proud to show us something remarkable – a dam, full of fresh water.

It’s thanks to your donations that Florence and her community have built this water dam, …. Now, Florence is reaping a good life for herself and her family.

Climate change is a major issue: how many of us can remember the drought in 1976 or 1977? I do not know how many of you here have personally experienced being flooded. But I can tell you that it is unnerving, leaving your house in a boat and unsure of when our even if you will return and live in it again. It has happened to me and even with all the support available in this country you are faced with all sorts of feelings of total helplessness. The event did have its lighter side: when I got through to work to explain and apologise for my absence I was told “oh its OK we knew about it – we have seen you on the TV!” I can only imagine how a regular cycle of drought and flood can be so overwhelming for many such as the people highlighted by Christian Aid.

Inclusiveness of love

The passage from Acts is a reminder of how although initially a Jewish sect, the followers of Jesus took a while to expand to the gentiles. Although some gentiles do figure in the gospel accounts such as the Centurion whose servant was ill and Jesus healed, and various Samaritans who although having some things in common with the Jews were considered definitely not kosher.

The passage (v 45) tells us that “The circumcised believers ( Jewish believers) who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” seems that they found it hard to accept. Yet to me this is important: the gospel is for everyone regardless. Not only nationality or background, but also other divisive categories.

I notice that our Diocesan Bishop, Nick Baines, is noted in the Church Times of 30 April  as stating “to only stand up for the rights of Christians is an act of self-harm” in the General Synod debate on freedom of religion or belief. To be inward looking is contrary to what we should be doing. We should show no bias towards those of other faiths or none – we are to love unconditionally.

We need to be an inclusive church – one that welcomes all – regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, economic status, mental health or sexuality.  We have to love everyone, as God loves everyone – we are all created in his image.

We are social and need to live out God’s love

I started by mentioning Desert Island discs – occasionally for many the prospect of being alone and free from much of the routine might sound idyllic but I guess it would begin to pall. Humanity is primarily social and we live among others – family, friends, fellow workers and so on – some four contacts better known, some more akin to our way of thinking but a huge variety of types of people. Soem we may not especially care for but they are part of our shared existence.

We need to note these words from the Christian Aid website?:

Jesus’ parting words to his disciples are an encouragement to abide in the love of God and dig deep into consistent, uncircumstantial joy. And he knows that they are going to need each other to get through. Their love for one another and their sacrificial giving for their friends will strengthen them to endure. It is not duty, obligation or command that will enable them to remain faithful and bear lasting fruit. It is love, friendship and joy.

Love, friendship and joy is what we hope lies at the heart of our experience of Christian Aid Week. We hope that it is our love for one another that inspires our generous giving. That it is our friendship with communities we get to know through the stories of Rose and Florence that motivates us to sacrificial acts of solidarity. And it through our generous giving and sacrificial actions that we bear lasting fruit and know complete joy.

The joy that we participate in and experience in and through Christian Aid Week does not lead us away from suffering and struggle, but towards it.  We choose to look towards the pain and see the possibilities for transformation. Jesus goes on to explain to the disciples that even pain will turn to a joy that no one can remove (John 16:20-22). Alice Walker wrote ‘resistance is the secret of our joy’.

This Christian Aid Week, as we choose to enter into the struggle with Rose and celebrate transformed communities with Florence, may our joy be complete.

In the words of the hymn  “O Jesus  I have promised” we need to serve God to the end. To follow Jesus, modelling what we do on the example of Jesus. Our saviour and friend. 

As the spirit came down upon the gentile believers mentioned in the Acts passage so may we also be energised by that same spirit and live out a life of love. Love is all we need – God’s love expressed through us.  Amen.

Easter 4: Sunday 25 April 2021

Readings Acts 4: 5 – 12, John 10: 11 – 18

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Motivation and boldness

What motivates us? When I taught management to a range of students from industry they ranged from those who were team leaders to senior managers studying for an MBA. Classically people have cited money, tangible rewards, as well as promotion at work and so on.

A lot was covered in my courses about motivation and originally work based theories focussed on individuals needs (such as Maslow, Herzberg and McGregor which all look at external factors) but today it is more about what works for each individual employee – and a good leader or manager recognises that what motivates employee A will not necessarily be the same as for employee B. It is how what they do relates to the employee’s individual core values and beliefs and a good manager uses that knowledge to get the best out of the workforce individually and collectively.

I ask this question because on reading the Acts passage I was struck by the thought of what motivated the Apostles, as they were now known. I think I mentioned two weeks ago that the disciples seemed very different in the stories in Acts compared to their actions prior to the crucifixion of Jesus.

This boldness is very evident in this passage and I notice that this reading from Acts, according to the lectionary, must be used at a principal service so to me that implies it is important which is why I am concentrating on it rather than the gospel reading.

Background to account

This part of the story picks up a longer account that began at the start of chapter 3. A man is healed – asks  for alms and receives legs as we used to teach in Sunday school. This followed by a speech or sermon from Peter to explain about the reason for what they had witnessed.

The action takes place within the precincts of the Temple and Peter and John, the two protagonists are arrested and jailed. The group that arrests them is the same as those who arrested Jesus before his trial. In fact this is the first in a whole series of arrests that Luke chronicles in the book of Acts.

Caiaphas is the High priest (18 – 36 AD) the son-in-law of Annas deposed in 15 AD but still active behind the scenes head up the judgement party.

If you read the account of Jesus’s trial in John you will find Annas and Caiaphas mentioned and that Peter was following at a distance: he would be only too aware of how they acted then and that must have been in his mind. 

Peter is recorded as making some salient points about their faith in a risen Jesus and suggesting that their actions that resulted in the death of Jesus were not particularly good but it fulfilled the old prophecies about a Messiah who would bring about a restoration which the Jews had long expected.

The idea of resurrection, as you will know, was abhorrent to the Sadducees who were an aristocratic group very much part of the High Priestly clan. 

One other encouraging note in the reading is that the number of Messianic believers was increasing – a number of 5000 was mentioned. To put that into context the population of the Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley Parish is shown as 5086.

Corner stone

The quote from Psalm 118 used by Peter amplifies the idea of stone to become a head stone or corner stone.

The resurrection is a key part of our faith. Whether we take the idea of Jesus being the cornerstone (Acts 4:11) as the translation or keystone – the basic premise is much the same. The cornerstone indicates a solid foundational structure and the keystone (an alternative reading) is a final piece that holds an archway in place unable to deform and take the weight above. As I read the commentaries it really reads the “head of the corner” Jesus is the foundation. 

The risen Jesus is the foundation.

Placed at the corner of the building at ground level a cornerstone is seen as a foundational part of the structure. These stones were common in many churches and public buildings halls often inscribed “Laid by Alderman Smith on 1 April 1909” or something similar.  

Application

So how does this relate to us today?

The question I ask myself, and hence yourselves as well, is how does our relationship with Jesus affect how we live out our faith. What is it that motivates us to be bold in our approach in being Christian, being “salt and light” in the world?

What is foundational? Going back to my initial thoughts about motivation – it is not “one size fits all” and I would contend that each of us has different core values and approaches to faith.  Although all believe in a resurrection as this is central to the whole gospel message and non-negotiable, other aspects of faith are nuanced and will, naturally, vary between different people because of experiences, backgrounds and personality. So what drives us to live out our Christian life will be different from others – but we are all Christian and living out a common life of worship, of service and obedience to the way of the cross. 

Just as a modern manager must be aware of the different approaches of each employee in motivating them individually and as a group , that person is also aware of how all have to be motivated for their efforts to be effective.

So I would suggest we all need to respond to our different motivators that enable us to collectively move forward; exactly how is for us but to respond boldly.  We share a faith in the risen Jesus and this should embolden us in our wish to be more positive disciples.

In this country I do not think we would be at risk of arrest for stating our beliefs openly so not as scary for us as it would be for Peter who would recall the pre-crucifixion events only too plainly, but we might wish to take note of that example from 2000 years ago and be prepared to give a good account of our faith. And in doing so we bless others in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus the  one who makes things right with God so that we can live in a right relationship with him, because we are filed with the Holy Spirit.

May we be truly motivated by the power of God’s spirit to live as Jesus lived, love as Jesus loved – the one who laid down his life for us to be known to the father – God. Amen.

Sermon for 11 April 2021 – Easter 2

The text of my sermon preached at St Andrews, Kildwick and St Johns, Cononley on Sunday 11 April 2021.

The readings were Acts 4: 32 – 35 and John 20: 19 – 31

Simon, Andrew,James, John 

Philip, Bartholomew (Nathanael)

Matthew (Levi), Thaddeus (Judas)

Judas, Simon, Thomas, James.

THE DISCIPLES – WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THEM?

I get the feeling they were a mixed bunch and not always depicted as good role models in the gospel accounts. For example:

Ran away – when the going got difficult

Fell asleep at crucial moments

Missing the point repeatedly when listening to Jesus

Not understanding what Jesus said

Complaining

Jewish mother looking for special favours for her sons

Denying they even knew Jesus with oaths

And that is just among the twelve we have names for. Some barely mentioned in the accounts we have – just their names and the briefest of biographical details. Some are totally un-named as we read that 70 or 72 were sent out at one time so that is 58 or 60 totally unknown to us.

Note there are also a number of women, how many we do not know,  often called Mary, who followed.

Giving Thomas the soubriquet “doubting Thomas” to my mind seems a little unfair. Judas Iscariot the traitor, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector also have a tag.  Why not denial Peter or sleepy James and Sleepy John?  Why has that rather negative tag stuck?  Why has poor old Thomas got that epithet?

True he wanted actual proof and in that he resembles modern humanity in that it wants facts, hard evidence.Yet this was the first time Jesus was addressed as God in the recorded events – so is such a negative view of Thomas fair?

It is pointed out, if we take the view that chapter 21 was a later addition, that this is neatly towards the end of John’s  account – it certainly reads like a conclusion. The gospel started with an acclamation that the Word – or Christ – was with God at the beginning and here is doubting Thomas at the end being given the words to round off the whole book. Even John when he looked into the tomb, as recorded earlier in this chapter, saw and then believed. Thomas had not had that  advantage.

I like to think that this was meant more as encouragement.

So why not Believing Thomas? He needs a makeover.

Messiah – reclaiming the original plan

So the Messiah, the son of God, is turning out, for the disciples, despite their fears, to be Jesus, the very one whom they had lived and listened to over the last two to three years. The source of their spiritual existence and also ours.

Jesus had come from heaven, to reclaim humanity in accordance with the covenant that God wanted to be a right relationship be for us. Julie has spoken about the various covenants prior to Easter and Jesus by being victorious in death helped to accomplish this, then and now.

Now in his resurrection state seemed to be able to move between our world and God’s world – being part of both kingdoms.

Fellowship and living out the covenant

We read that this had a very real practical result in the fellowship of the early church. The apostles, or disciples as I have referred to them already, gave their testimony with great power. A very different bunch from the gospel accounts. Of course they had been emboldened by events at the time of Pentecost and we have not got there yet in our telling the story in our church year!

However there is this notion of having ‘things in common’ and nobody was needy. This was not new – back in the Torah, the Law of Moses, there had been the idea of release from debts and freeing slaves every fiftieth year being a year of Jubilee. You can read about it in Leviticus 25. But through this provision, this law the plan was that nobody would be permanently poor and ancestral  lands sold would be returned and slaves set free.

Some have wondered whether the common ownership in the Act 4 passage was an early form of communism – I do not think so: it is thought here was no  suggestion that people sold the houses they lived in but rather let go of old family property and used the proceeds for those less fortunate. So, as in many cases, the result of Jesus was a re-establishment of all that was good in the older covenant. Not abolishing the law but fulfilling it. As I understand it the Year for Jubilee was not mentioned thereafter in the Bible and some suggest it was hardly ever practised, if at all. Certainly it was not around in the first century having died out totally when the northern part of the Israelite kingdom was taken into captivity in 740 – 720 BC.

For the Jews sharing their property was a cultural shock and against all that they would have done formerly. They looked upon their ancestral homes as part of their tradition and inheritance so we can see this as very new thing with the idea of fellowship with all, not just your family or tribe. This was renouncing a central Jewish symbol alongside the setting aside of the Temple and the old sacrificial law as necessary qualifications for faith – being prepared to be led by Jesus and the spirit of God.

It would have been counter cultural for them.

Applies to us – all about attitude

We might say that was all very well in the first century – life is very different now, different culture, different problems, much more complex. Very true: but I think from the Acts reading we can pick up the idea of having a right attitude. Being prepared to change.

There are a great many ethical concerns that are important for Christians to engage with – both internationally and within this country and how we relate to the world and the many, for whom, the bible and faith are a mystery and which is shunned by some. Although I am aware of an increasing awareness of spirituality amongst individuals: how it is outworked may not be in the same way as the church has done previously.  

Back to Thomas who called Jesus God, the first to do so. He was sceptical at first but he believed. He also got three mentions in John’s gospel which is more than others get such as Thaddeus, for example.

May we all, as we behold Jesus in our bibles, in our reading and listening, in our reflecting on the mystery of his love (as in the hymn ‘The head that once was crowned with thorns’ v5), be blessed because we have believed. May we each echo Thomas and proclaim ‘my lord and my god’ in what we say, what we do and how we live out our faith in love and truth. Amen.

Palm Sunday 2021

The text of my sermon given via Zoom in the Parish of Kildwick, cononley and Bradley.

The readings were Philippians 2: 5 – 11,Mark 11: 1 – 11

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Palm Sunday. A time when Jesus and his disciples were going up to Jerusalem because it was the time of the Passover. The passover this year started yesterday and will be observed by Jews in remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt.

200 years before

On the assumption which seems supported by quite a few commentators that the crucifixion took place in 30 AD (Jesus then being 33 or 34 years old having been born 6 – 4 BC) a  good Jew would on reading Mark’s account of waving leafy branches (Mark does not actually mention Palms) would think back nearly 200 years (164 BC actually) when Judas Maccabaeus cleansed and restored the Temple. He was a victorious leader who overthrew the Selucid (Greek) occupiers under Emperor  Antiochus Epiphanes. The actions of Judas  resulted in the establishment of the festival of Hannukah  which is still celebrated today by Jewish communities.

They celebrated by waving ivy and palm branches.

1000 years before

On seeing Jesus riding on a colt (sorry does not actually say a donkey in Mark) the Jews would see an echo of another historic moment in their history about a 1000 years earlier.

In 970 BC actually, Solomon ascended to the throne and he came into Jerusalem riding on a mule belonging to his father, for his coronation as king.

Treating like Royalty

A lot of symbolism in this arrival at Jerusalem which would have been evident to the crowd.

With those thoughts in mind it is little wonder that they treated Jesus as if he was royalty. You do not lay down your cloak for anybody, it is reserved only for the very top people. They were acclaiming him as the Messiah crying out Hosanna – which means “save Now” – a sense of urgency. Apart from the brief period 200 years ago they had been subject to occupation by other powers for 600 years. Their days of glory and having their own king were a cherished memory. Herod who ruled was a puppet of the Romans – described as a client king for the Romans.

Interesting that this entry with all it presaged did not, apparently, arouse the suspicion of the Roman authorities.

Messiah

The crowd saw Jesus as the messiah who was going to overthrow the Romans.

The crowd were expecting a traditional Messiah. For them the important thing was the overthrow of the occupying forces for once and for all. They saw this as a a person bringing vengeance and retribution for  all the wrongs they had experienced. They certainly did not expect a Messiah whose principal message was one of peace and love. Jesus told them to love their enemies and he went to  his death in a state of forgiveness to them for what they had done.

Divinty – as in Philippians

If we look at the Philippians passage we Jesus being reckoned as truly divine since the beginning of time stepping aside from this and becoming incarnate as a human. He did not lose his godly nature but he accepted the role that he alone could be the one who could overcome the force of evil and thus bring about the only antidote to its devastating effect on all.

This passage is seen as a very early hymn expressing our faith and is sometimes used as a form of creed (see E9 in the Common Worship book). Jesus was the one who died in self-giving love on the cross – for all. 

Counter-cultural

Sadly for the majority at that time, Jesus was not behaving as they expected. The crowd were looking  for a warlike warrior who would overthrow the vicious Romans and give them their independence just as Judas Maccabaeus had done. 

He was not what what they expected in a King, because he was talking about bringing in a kingdom founded on peace. Much has been done by nations in the in the past that has used the idea of a “just war” to right wrongs – in other words a war is to be preferred against allowing a greater atrocity to exist. But here  Jesus here is stating, that he comes in a peaceful way. Yet he got angry – the overturning of the money changers tables in the temples two days later. But he was not to be drawn into a plan that would systematically kill in order to achieve his objectives, which were those of God.

The High Priests could not appreciate Jesus, whose concept of a Messiah was not a sword wielding king: it was alien to their minds. 

Pilate, as a Roman Prefect, would not have understood it. Totally against the approach Romans adopted to bring about their aims.

Herod, the puppet king was not of that approach either.

And the crowd, it seems, soon turned on Jesus when they realised he was not going to deliver the goods. I often wonder how many of the disciples, at that point, were still expecting Jesus to suddenly quit talking and start physically fighting?

Their war-based mentality just did not get a gospel of peace and forgiveness. Were they threatened by it? 

As an aside do we have trouble really accepting a gospel of peace? How many conflicts are we involved in which are warlike in their nature? Not killing, but for example: acting to ‘teach some one a lesson’; lacking in compassion in our approach; bent on ruining a person’s reputation? Or do we always seek to do all we do peaceably in the name of love?

May we all be constant in our allegiance to Christ. Not fickle like the crowd who proclaimed one day and wanted him crucified by the end of the week.

Following his example and seek to set aside our selves to truly be those who love and forgive, and live in peace and understanding with all humanity

May we indeed have the mind of Christ and put on his approach. Be prepared to stand out and be different. We do not have to make an ultimate sacrifice as he did, but it may mean we have to reach out in love and faith to those around us. To accept those perhaps, with whom we do not totally agree and whom have other viewpoints and unconditionally love them, support them and work with them, to further the gospel?

Amen.

Mothering Sunday

The text of my sermon for Mothering Sunday given via Zoom for the parishes of Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley

The passages were 2 Cor 1: 3 -7 . John 19: 25b – 2

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Relationships

Any one know some one who is a  true reclusive?

Really happy being on their own?

Many have been forced into a life style more akin to being reclusive than they would have liked  in the last year with social distancing and restrictions.  We are generally social beings and work best when in relationships and in groups. Single people often put a radio or other sound on as soon as they get home as being on your own can seem daunting. that could readily be e approach if we allowed it. Fortunately the technology has provided some respite – but how many feel Zoomed out as the digital platforms do not quite replace proper socialising.

A neighbour was recently saying (more than six feet away in her garden)  she has yet to hug her new granddaughter and that is typical of the reaction to the lockdown measures.

We all need relationships.  When I used to lecture in management we had trite acronym for a team – together everyone achieve more – which underlines the importance of relationships in work, but the same is true across all aspects of life including church.

At the start of his second letter to the Corinthians Paul is hinting at his relationship with the church there –  nine mentions of the word ‘console’ or a derivative. Some would translate that as comfort: Tom Wright suggests that the word can meant call some one to come near’ or ‘to make a strong appeal or exhortation’. This suggests encouragement, new hope or insight which will help the recipient to better face whatever it is that is troubling them. Meeting people where they are and giving fresh hope, fresh ways forward – something that should characterise our lives as Christians in this time of pandemic problems.  Whilst we do not know what was the affliction Paul experienced it seems it was serious. Given some of his life events I am guessing something extreme.

A sense of a form of solidarity as part of the Christian body, a deep concern between Paul and this church. It speaks of a relationship. Relationships built on love, understanding and trust – a central part of true friendship.

Example of Jesus

Jesus – although in one respect was God was also, paradoxically, human and as such he needed relationships. He had his disciples – there were perhaps 70/72 in the bigger looser group, then the 12 and then the closest three – Peter, James and John.

He had his family, and although they did not follow him during his lifetime, we know that some of his brothers did become believers later on – James, Jude (letters), Joseph and Simon as well as un-named sisters. (Mark 6:3 or Matthew 13: 55-56)

We do not hear a great deal about them in the gospel accounts but there is this glimpse in today’s gospel from John. At his most vulnerable, being crucified which was a torture designed to be as painful as possible; to be as drawn out as possible and as undignified as possible, Jesus does not forget he is in relationship with people

His mother was there, and no doubt she was feeling vulnerable as here son was being slowly executed; she was not forgotten by Jesus.

He ensures that the  “disciple he loved”   who we believe to be John was given the instruction to care for Mary.

We should take comfort that as we are often vulnerable in our lives, our work, our hopes, our fears, our future that we can be sure that God is still concerned about us.

Mothering Sunday

I was going to comment on the use of the word Mother’s Day compared to Mothering Sunday but Chris Wright has already done so in his article in the parish Pinnacle magazine which I would commend to you. The key element being that this day is half way through Lent and thus this Sunday was seen as something more special. It was a time to go to the main or ‘mother’ church and that often allowed the chance to take a small gift home.

The evidence of care seen within Paul’s comments speaks of a church that might exercise mothering.

Mothering can be thought of  as:

To watch over

To nourish

To protect

This might be a good person specification for God! And Paul was convinced that god was at work amongst all that was afflicting him. Truly a mothering.

The idea of mothering I would broaden out to encompass female and male, young and old, single and married, parents or those childless – totally inclusive.  We can all exercise “mothering”.

God, although we speak of him as Father and use masculine pronouns God is really both male and female and “mothers” us in his love and provision. We do not have a gender singular neutral pronoun for referring to a person in English which is something that has exercised grammarians for the last three hundred years.

Our relationship with God

Jesus in his death throes was still concerned about relationships. So we whatever the background, whatever the context we need to consider our relationships with family, with friends with those whom we meet. Do they meet the ideal represented to su in Paul’s letter and in the words of Jesus on the Cross?

Many will still use today to affirm their relationship with their mother through gifts such as flowers, chocolates or actions. Making them feel pampered and appreciated.

But for all of us a  good time to pause and take stock of our relationship with God. We need to  affirm our relationship with God, we can truly begin to understand something of his promise to us of his kingdom, heaven, here on earth.

In all our vulnerability, in all our needs, when things look desperate then God can still reach out to us. We have all needed that care, that mothering during the last fifty one weeks of restrictions.And we have all been called upon to offer that care.

Shortly we have an opportunity to consider our own relationship with God, as we say our creed, or affirmation of faith together Because God cares for all of us, so we should reflect that love to others.– not just mothers.

Let us look to God to relate to us. May we all be thankful that God wants us and enables us to be in a relationship with himself which will promote action that will make a difference to those around us” in our families, amongst our friends and all we come across.

Amen.

Sunday next before Lent – 14 February 2021

Below is the text of my sermon for this Sunday – next before Lent 2021.

This was broadcast for All Saints Keighley on their Facebook page and also at a Zoom gathering for the Parish of Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley.

The readings were 2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 6 and Mark 9: 2 – 9

Pancakes ready? Shrove Tuesday this week and then its Ash Wednesday.

Quinquagesima to use the Book of Common Prayer designation means the 50th day before Easter. Lent actually has 46 days (40 days plus six Sundays) and if we include both days it is 50 days until Easter. 

Transfiguration is the reading every year on this Sunday, next before Lent. So we read it in Matthew, Mark and Luke over the three year cycle of lectionary readings. Also celebrated on 6th August each year as well. Must be important as it is set before us every year.

This event follows on from Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. It seems especially as we read through Mark that it took a while for things to dawn on the disciples. They needed to know how the story would unfold before they could really understand.  How often do we find that we need to take our time to appreciate what it is God is saying to us?

So here we have these dazzling clothes. I recall soap advertisements from the 1950s – I guess that all the scientific knowhow of Lever Brothers at Port Sunlight could not have got the whites as bright as depicted in this account!

I understand that the idea is that their garments were glowing – a real brightness that our laundries could never achieve! . A number of times we read in the old testament about how when people were in the presence of God their faces glowed. The idea of a bright light is central to our gospel message, shining in the darkness.

The words from heaven echo those at the Baptism of Jesus we heard a few weeks ago – telling them to listen to Jesus. Elijah and Moses represented the old order and now this was something new.

I always used to wonder how they knew it was Moses and Elijah?  Divine illumination or being told by Jesus after the event are what I have been told but I now understand that Moses and Elijah were often thought of together in the minds of the faithful so not surprising that any self respecting Jew would know it was them.  Moses representing the law, the scriptures and Elijah the prophetic voice – two strands of God’s revelation to us. Also in Jewish traditions Moses is regarded as the greatest prophet. But he died and was buried. He had lived a full life yet we read his sight was undimmed and his vigour unabated at the time of death.

The old testament reading for this morning tells us about Elijah who was one of the few who did not die 

11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 

Very different for Jesus – he would have to die, in a public execution that was designed to humiliate and be as painful as possible but he would be triumphant , victorious over death. But for now there was this vision of Jesus talking with two great figures of Israel”s past – Moses and Elijah.  And just three witnesses.

Perhaps that is why Peter’s idea of three dwellings or as some translations have it booths.  Possibly the first thought that came to the mind of a good Jew, such as Peter, for whom the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths would have been well known. The feast is still practiced today amongst the most strict of orthodox Jews who live in a tent for the eight days – it is celebrated after the harvest and was a time of rejoicing – we can read about it in Leviticus 23.

This feast also pointed them to a time when God would again dwell with his people, in the future. As Christians, we might refer to this as the kingdom of God. The temple was illuminated to remind Israel of the pillar of fire that had led them in their wilderness journey.

Reminded them of how they lived during the wilderness years following the Exodus which also looked to the day of the Israel’s deliverance as. The feast was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

The Jews knew that the messianic hope was symbolised by light. The idea of light is central to the gospel as seen in the reading from the second letter to Corinthians.  It was an Indication of the glory of God as noted in the Feast of Booths.

From Paul’s letter he sees himself as a servant of Jesus and this idea underscores the notion that the Jesus is truly the Messiah, the one who bring about the ultimate purpose of God’s kingdom. We can be sure in that hope. 

The Transfiguration is a bridge between the incarnation of Christmas and Epiphany and the preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus which we observe in Lent followed by Easter.

May this revelation of Jesus in his glory be with us, in our minds and hearts as we move into the period of Lent. The Disciples found out more about Jesus as they journeyed on in their faith and this moment of brilliant illumination was a pivotal point when they were told very simply to listen to Jesus. May that be so for each of us.  Amen.

Candlemas 2021

The text of my input to the Zoom service for 31st January 23021 for the Parish of Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley. The readings wereMalachi 3: 1 -5, Luke 2: 22 – 40.

Candlemas – we can remove the crib from public display from Tuesday as the season of Epiphany ends, the period of enlightenment. Often there can be a procession for a Candlemas service with lighted candles -one church I knew had over a 100 at such a service. But it is another opportunity to signify a moment of understanding, something that is a light to our understanding.

Checking out an old order of service for candlemas I was reminded of the following acclamations that can be used with the gospel reading.

Today the Lord is presented in the Temple

In substance of our mortal nature Alleluia!

Today the Blessed Virgin comes to be purified

In accordance with the law Alleluia!

Today old Simeon proclaims Christ as the light of the nations and the glory of Israel Alleluia! Praise to Christ, the light of the world!

This reminds us that Jesus was  fully human and underwent all the physical life of a first century Jew.

We have to remind ourselves that Jesus was raised as a devout Jew carefully abiding by the law, the Torah. This provided, amongst many other things in its 613 commandments,  in Leviticus 12  for a special ceremony of cleansing from ritual impurity – in the case of giving birth this was 40 days later on in the case of a son (although 80 days for a daughter – will not comment on this apparent inequality in the law) and there are, in fact, two offerings made.

Sin offering – graduated according to means – mandatory for cleansing from defilement

Bull – high priest

He goat – Ruler

She-goat or lamb  – common people

Turtle-dove or pigeon  – poor

Flour  – very poor. (a bit under 1 lb if take an ephah as 8 lbs)

So we can tell that Mary and Jospeh were poor – but not very poor! A great contrast between Jesus as Son of God and his earthly life.

Burnt offering. – the other turtle dove- voluntary act of worship, devotion and complete surrender to God – the animal is totally consumed by fire whereas only the blood was needed for a sin offering to be sprinkled. This idea underlines the thought that Jesus as the firstborn, would be seen as being offered to the Lord rather like Samuel whom we heard about the other week.

There are many other laws and associated sacrifices which we need not examine today.  But the essence was about being pure – and separated unto God. 

This idea of purification is present in the old testament reading but also has some connotation of judgement.  There The example of refining precious metals is used where heat is used to bring the base metals to the top and allow them to be skimmed off. A sense of righteousness, devoted to God which is what the priests, the Levites, were meant to be.  As the first born Jesus was especially given to the Lord but it is a principle applicable to all of us.

Then we come to the well known words of the Nunc Dimittis (from its opening words in Latin) used as a canticle in evensong or compline.

Simeon’s words speak of hope for the whole world.  At last God’s plan for all people can come to fruition and not just the Jews. He, and Anna, were praying and looking towards God and looking for something miraculous that would bring about the kingdom of God in all its fulness. They saw that Jesus being born was the starting point of this process and so praised God for his provision.

However there is a sombre note – there is talk of suffering and a “sign that is to be opposed”. Jesus was not 100% popular with all he came into contact with – still the case. Because his values are not necessarily the world’s values or priorities. There is a challenge in accepting Jesus, we are confronted with choices about how we should act. 

Interestingly the purification laws has an echo in a service near the back of the Book Of Common Prayer for “The thanksgiving of women after child-birth commonly called the Churching of Women” the use of which has more or less died out now since the 1960s. Those looking at all the old testament laws generally state that we still need to observe all the moral principles although the ceremonial and cultural laws are no longer to be followed. And these principles that are enshrined in the teaching of Jesus can seem at odds with much of the possessive and insensitive power plays seen in some politics or corporate affairs. Or as said earlier, separate and devoted to God.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

We could have had reading from Hebrews 2 as well this morning and this encapsulates the ideas of Jesus being a human, the concept of sacrifice and the suffering aspect.

17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters* in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Jesus is a light for us all and so may we all give thanks that Jesus was truly human, and prepared to stand out against the wrongs of society and may we commit to follow his light and live a life devoted to God.