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Sermon – 18 February – Lynn

St Laurence`s – 18th February – Lynn Hellmuth

1st Sunday in Lent

The new phase of ministry had been recognised and affirmed in the presence of God and the people.
And the question in everyone’s mind was what happens next?
After all the waiting, there was an expectation, a hope, of swift positive action, even though if truth were told there might not have been much agreement between the onlookers about the form that action should take.
Imagine then the surprise and probable disappointment, felt by many when after his baptism Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days, seemingly not doing much at all.
Though of course we know from the Gospel accounts that in those 40days he was praying, reflecting on Scripture and facing head on malign challenges regarding the shape and focus of his ministry.
Jesus new phase of ministry, which we mark in the season of Lent that we have just embarked upon, started not with action in the way we normally conceive of it, but with a period of waiting upon God. And undoubtedly the principles and priorities that emerged from that time of reflection profoundly shaped the more overtly active 3 years of ministry that followed.
This period of 40 days of active waiting at the beginning of a new phase in God’s plan is a motif throughout the Bible.
Before Noah and his family along with all those animals experienced freedom and the rainbow sign of God’s everlasting covenant [that we heard about in our 1st reading] they experienced 40 days of rain cooped up together in an ark, probably doing not much beyond shovelling all the animal manure that kept piling up.
Later Moses spent 40 days with God on the top of Mount Sinai before he came down with the 10 commandments and the law.
And later still Elijah journeyed for 40 days to Mount Horeb where he received his revelation of God, not found in the earthquake, or the fire, but in the still small whisper.
In all of these cases, an extended period of waiting preceded a time of significant action, blessing and a change of direction and focus.
I am sure Jesus had these examples in mind as he lived through his 40 days in the wilderness, as indeed the early church did in establishing a period of 40 days of prayer and reflection before Easter, first of all just for those to be baptised at Easter and then extended to all believers.
My first full day as your Vicar was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and that happenstance reinforced the conviction I already had that this new phase in the ministry of this Benefice, and my ministry, should be marked by an extended period of waiting upon God as individuals, as churches, and as a Benefice.
Over the next few weeks my first priority will be prayer and waiting upon God. Alongside this I expect to be engaged in 2 other p`s “perambulating around the parishes” and “pondering” what God might be saying to me and to us together.
These will be my priorities during this early phase of my ministry and to make space for them please bear with me if there are other things I don’t do that you might hope or even think I SHOULD do.
This is a big benefice and God has called me to work in each of the parishes.It will not be possible for me to do everything everyone hopes I might. That is why it is so important I spend time in prayer before God discerning the way ahead for me and for us.
I will be letting you know next Sunday about opportunities to pray together in each o f the churches in the Benefice during Lent, and as well as hoping many of you join me in prayer in the churches from time to time, I invite each of you please to include individual prayer for this church and this Benefice as part of your Lenten discipline this year.
And in prayer I would encourage you not just to talk to God about what is on your heart for this church and Benefice but also to set time to listen to Him, perhaps setting 5 or minutes aside a day to rest in silence before Him and to discover what He might communicate to you, through words, images and other ways when you are still before Him.
Some of you may be comfortable with silently waiting before God in this way, and have lots to teach me on the subject, but others may feel beginners at this sort of prayer, and keen to learn more. This will be something I hope to share about and model in the coming weeks up to Easter and beyond.
A new phase in my ministry and in the ministry of this church and this Benefice has just begun.
It was recognised and affirmed on Tuesday night in the presence of God and His people.
After the long vacancy of nearly 2 years I recognise the question “what happens next?” is in the hearts of many of you. My answer is that my focus for these 40 days and beyond will be on watching and praying, and I invite you to join me in doing so.
The time for more overt action will come, I am sure. But this time of prayer is far from wasted time.
As the great Christian leader Oswald Chambers said “We think of prayer as a preparation for work, or a calm after having done work, whereas prayer is the essential work.”
It is the foundation, the preparation, for all that may follow.
It is this essential first phase of ministry that we embark on now.
Please join me.
Let us pray…..
In your way and in your time that’s how its going to be in my life.
And in your perfect way I`ll rest my weary mind
And as you lead I’ll follow close behind
And I will wait and I will not regret the time
In your time there is rest
There is rest.

Sermon – 27 August – David

There’s a story of a vicar and his curate getting the altar ready on a Saturday night. A tramp crashes into the back of church and the vicar sends the curate to check him out.The curate returns ‘He claims he’s Jesus, sir.’ The vicar turns and looks the tramp up and down.’Mm, I don’t think he is, but just in case we’d better look busy!’
They were certainly looking busy as Jesus crashed into the Temple in today’s Gospel. Inviting us to ponder the simultaneously heady and terrifying prospect of Jesus crashing into our place of worship, our world. What tables would he overturn? I put that question to my waking wife who said he would simplify the music setting at the 10 am Communion. If I was Jesus, that probably wouldn’t be at the top of my hit list, but even so, ‘Good game, good game!’ as the much lamented Bruce Forsyth used to say.
I guess Jesus would want us not to be so busy, too many Marthas fussing and fretting,
too few Marys with the nerve to stop and wonder. I once attended a meeting of Welsh bishops at Llandudno, North Wales’ version of Scarborough, where we discussed something late into the night that was never ever going to happen. The latest plot of Dr Who would have been more likely to take place than what we were talking about. The next morning we were at it again, and frustrated old me proposed we suspend the meeting, go out into Llandudno knocking on doors with the simple message, ‘Hello, I’m a bishop. How can I help you?’
I like to think he would be rather taken with the message in Old English on the pillar by the door ‘Pray remember the poor.’ I have visited thousands of churches, but never come across one with such a bold message. And having known you man and boy for five decades I know how marvellously you do remember the poor and that would make Jesus’ eyes shine. After all when he crashed into another place of worship the Synagogue at Capernaum, he said ‘The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives recovery of sight for the blind and let the oppressed go free.’
Never mind the bracing game of wondering who and what Jesus would take out if he crashed into our worship, because he is here already, whatever the communion setting, in the bread and wine, the broken body and the spilled blood, inviting us to go out and find him in the world, wherever bodies are broken and blood is spilled, weeping ‘If only you would know, even now the way that leads to peace.’


Sermon – 20 August – David

A sermon preached by Bishop David on Matthew 15:21-28

Never mind the 13th Dr Who being female, the Canaanite woman, star of this morning’s Gospel, has been travelling through time for 2000 years.
I caught her on her death bed in Middlesbrough in 1984.
Her daughter, keeping vigil, told me how her mum had saved her life.
Way back in the 1940s the daughter had been a bit of a tomboy.
She’d impaled herself some iron railings, the wound turned horribly septic and she ended up in hospital, dying.
One dread week-end when all seemed hopeless, her mother pleaded with the ward-sister
to call out the consultant, just to have one last try. The sister sternly refused, but somehow the mother found the consultant’s address went round and knocked on the door of his house, a palace compared to her humble back-to-back. ‘He isn’t in,’ a frosty maid informed her. ‘He’s watching Boro play at Ayresome Park.’
Undeterred, the girl’s mother bearded the consultant in the director’s box, only to be sneeringly dismissed by him. ‘How dare you bother me when I’m off duty!’
‘Shame on you, watching football when a little girl in your care is dying,’ she retorted
As she stomped off, she looked over her shoulder  only to find the consultant following her.
He’d had second thoughts, returned to the hospital with her and examined her daughter.
‘There’s a new drug, it’s not really proven, but let’s give it a try, we’ve nothing to lose.’
Penicillin was duly prescribed and brought the little girl back from the brink.
There she was forty years on keeping watch as her Canaanite mother breathed her last.
Women who take on the big man are eternal cropping up in every age.
The original took on Jesus. ‘Please heal my daughter,’ she cried and cried.
‘I am ministering to Israel, no more, no less. I am not taking bread meant for the children
and giving it to dogs,’ Jesus harshly replies,
the original Brexiteer playing the Israeli supremacist card.
There were the children of Israel, God’s chosen; and the rest were dogs, Gentile dogs, scum.
Rather than going off in a huff or getting on her high horse and giving Jesus the mouthful he deserves, our canny Canaanite woman disarms him with humour.
‘Come off it, Lord, even the puppies eat the crumbs the children drop.’
You can imagine Jesus laughing.
‘You’ve got me there, girl, go for it.’ And so the mission to the Gentiles was born.
Through a lowly woman taking on the big man and getting him to laugh at himself and all the petty rules that confined him, springing him to be at the service of the whole world.
Without that woman there would be no St Laurence’s, no St Laurence, no church, no saints, and we’d be still in the dark ages.
As I say, the Canaanite woman is eternal, cropping up in every age, every place.
There in Mary when she takes on Jesus at that wedding in Cana when the wine has run out.
‘What have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come, woman,’
is the ultimate put down from Jesus.
Mary hangs on in there, saying to the stewards,
‘You know what boys are like with their Jewish mommas! He’ll come round. Just do whatever he says.’
They do, and 180 gallons of finest wine is the result. Wow, that would be some party!
Imagine coming to a Eucharist, but instead of a sip of wine the congregation had 180 gallons to consume. All consecrated wine had to be consumed by the final hymn, so I think you might have to book a taxi home!
Our Canaanite woman crops up again in the woman whose life had been bleeding away for twelve years. Most likely a birth that had gone wrong and she had been bleeding ever since, unclean, an untouchable according to the strict Jewish law.
Fobbed off by doctors galore, she had the nerve to take on the big man who was on an urgent 999 call, ironically to tend a 12 year old girl on the point of death. Maybe she and Mrs Jairus had been in the same labour ward.
‘Never mind the 999 call, I’ll just touch his cloak as he whizzes by, that will suffice.’
And it did and the bleeding stopped, instantly.
‘Who dared to touch me?’ asks Jesus, grinding to a halt.
‘I did, sir,’ the pale looking woman admits.
An unclean woman touching a rabbi: boy was she for it. But Jesus, the big man, looks at her and loves her. ‘My daughter, your faith has cured you.’
St Teresa of Avila was on a weary winter pilgrimage, hungry and cold to cap it all her horse throws her into a muddy ditch. A she crawls out, none too pleased, she hears a voice from heaven,
‘Don’t worry, Teresa, this is how I treat my friends.’
‘Then I’m not at all surprised, Lord, that you have so few!’ was her robust reply,
Teresa, Mary, the bleeding woman: Canaanite women to a tee, feisty, adolescent, with a definite attitude.
Maybe we should let it invade our prayer life. Anglican prayers are so subjunctive, Lord, may you do that, may you do this… Dare to go Canaanite, like the Psalmist.
`Hear, O thou shepherd of Israel, stir up thyself and come and help us.’
‘Lord, jolly well stop the carnage in the Yemen.’
‘Well my child, it’s not as easy as that. My gracious gift of free will means that people can follow me or turn away from me, choose war or peace, love or hate, opt to destroy or build up. I mustn’t interfere.’
‘Mustn’t interfere? Don’t fob me off with that, Lord. You created the Big Bang and the dinosaurs and Teresa May! You burst your Son from a stone cold womb and a stone cold tomb. For goodness get off your divine backside and do something! Don’t give me that “Don’t interfere” nonsense!’
Going Canaanite on God can be so bracing. With one caveat. God might go Canaanite on us.
A businessman stole into church one Saturday teatime. ‘Lord, let me win the lottery,’ he prayed,
‘several creditors have defaulted – I really need the money!’ Nothing happened. He came back the next week. ‘Lord, please, let me win. The bank is talking about foreclosing, my home is about to be repossessed, my wife is threatening to leave me. For goodness sake, let me win the lottery.’ Nothing. Next week he was really desperate. ‘Lord, I am almost homeless, my wife has gone to live with her mother, the bailiffs are sharpening their swords. At this 59th minute of the 11th hour, please, please, please, let me win the lottery.’ Amazingly God replies. ‘OK my son, I have heard your heartfelt plea and will grant you your desire. But how about meeting me half-way? How about this week actually going out and buying a ticket?!’
‘Lord, for goodness sake stop the carnage in the Yemen!’ ‘OK,’ God replies. ‘But you help me. There are a million members of the Church of England. All buy an Easy-Jet ticket to the Yemen
gather in the most bombed-out part and dare Saudi Arabia to take out the entire C of E.’ ‘Sorry, Lord, that’s going a bit far!’ ‘OK,’ the 180-gallons-of-wine God replies. ‘Then instead I want every member of the C of E to buy a ticket to London, gather around Downing Street, all one million of them, too many for the Met to kettle, and sing that rather catchy White Stripes’ riff which has seen a revival in recent months. But instead of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”  sing ‘Come Lord Jesus Christ.”
There is a difference – slight I grant you. A million voices singing that to Teresa May as she signs another contract selling the Saudis weapons of mass destruction.’
The young man turned away from Jesus with a heavy heart, for he was a man of great wealth.
Perhaps going Canaanite on God is not such a good idea after all.
Rabbi Lionel Blue told the marvellous story of a man who falls off a cliff but half way down manages to catch hold of a little tree sprouting from the cliff-side. As he hangs there he cries out, ‘Help! Is there anybody up there.’ God replies, ‘I am here, my son, let go of the tree, trust in me, and I will carry you in my everlasting arms safely to the ground.’ The man thinks for a minute and then cries, ‘Er, is there anybody else up there.’
To be Canaanite or not to be Canaanite, that indeed is the question. Not just for prayer, but for mission too. The misconception of mission is that we have the product, Christ, about which we are expert. If the mood takes us, we may deign to share him with the dogs in rest of the world.
The giddy joke is, Christ is out there already, Canaanite and canine, broken and bleeding waiting for us to discover him and take us to places we never dreamt of going.

Sermon – 8 August – David

The Transfiguration

I reckon it was Mount Hermon that Jesus climbed with his disciples this Transfiguration Day.
Looming over Israel’s Northern border, it is over 9000 feet high,
higher than Snowden, Helvellyn and Ben Nevis put together, so it would be some climb.
No wonder only Peter, James and John, muscular fishermen, could make it,
with the rest of the disciples, pen pushers like Matthew and Judas out of breath by base camp.
For six years I organized a retreat for York Diocese senior staff in Wharfdale,
inviting them to climb Simon’s Seat with me, a mere 1200 feet.
Only two ever made it.
Mount Hermon snatches the moist warm air blowing in from the balmy Mediterranean
making it shiver and drop its load, so Hermon’s top is perpetually snow-covered.
Brilliant, dazzling white.
The melt water from the snow forms the Jordan  which flushes Lake Galilee and makes Israel lush.
Mount Hermon gives life, enabling green rather than desert, a truly Promised Land.
Jesus and Peter and James and John were climbing up to the very source of Israel’s life.
I will lift my eyes unto the hill from whence cometh my help.
As they climbed Hermon Israel’s source of life, they encountered the ultimate source of life,
Hermon’s creator and their creator, God shining in Christ, who makes our deserts green, breathing life into our very deadness.
Psalm 122
‘I will lift my eyes unto the hills
from whence cometh my help.
No, my help cometh from the Lord,
who hath made heaven and earth.’
‘This is my Son, listen to him,’ the voice from the dark cloud over Hermon booms.
Who will you listen to this next week, whose persuasive voice?
The Telegraph, the Mail, the Guardian?
John Humphries, Huw Edwards, Laura Keunssberg?
Teresa May, Jeremy Corbyn?
Or Jesus:
‘Blessed are the peacemakers…
Love your enemies…
Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword…
Sell all you have, give to the poor and follow me…
Father, forgive them…
Today you will be with me in paradise…’
We sell faith short by making it a soft option, rather than a strenuous, challenging, thrilling climb.
Good that St Laurence’s nestles on a bit of a hill, a bit of a climb physically or metaphorically.
At the top of this hill we encounter Christ transfigured,
broken and bleeding on a another hill, Golgotha, giving life to the world.
Golgotha is diminutive compared to Hermon, just a green hill  far away,
yet is the most famous hill in the history of the world.
And we meet Him here on another hill, may be Hermon again, the mountain he directed his disciples to go after his resurrection, where Christ risen tells them
‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,
Look, I am with you always,
to the end of the age.’
Christ with us every step of the way, making our every day Transfiguration day.


Sermon – 6 August – Philip

When our Resources Run Dry

Readings: Isaiah 55: 1 – 5 and Matthew 14: 13 – 21

Well we are continuing in Matthew’s gospel and today we are looking at the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.  But before we get into what that might be saying to us today I’d like spend a little time beforehand looking at some of the background. And the situation is that Jesus’ cousin, John – John the Baptist has just been murdered by Herod.  And Herod is a nasty piece of work and the immoral ruler of this part of the country in which this story takes place.  And so as we meet Jesus in chapter 14 he is grieving over the loss of his cousin John, a young man of about 30 years old.  And it’s a tragedy that such a young man in the prime of his life, with a huge ministry should have his life cut short by a cruel and evil king.

And I wonder how we would we feel in a situation like that if we had just lost someone close to us in such a terrible way?  And most people I think would want to hide away, to be alone, and to withdraw and not to be troubled by crowds of people.  And for Jesus it’s been a hectic time and on top of that he has now received this shock news that his cousin has been brutally murdered and he probably might be next.  And understandingly Jesus slips away for some time to be alone, but it’s not long before the crowds discover where he is and begin to throng around him.  And contrary to what we might normally expect in a situation like this, his reaction to them is not frustration, it isn’t anger, it’s not annoyance.  Here is what we read in v.14

‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.’

And what we see is that the sorrow that Jesus felt over John and the sorrow he may have felt for himself, is now turned into sorrow and compassion for the crowds around him and his heart goes out to them.

And in the parallel version of this story in Mark’s gospel it says he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  And what we see in this as a very intimate and personal metaphor for the care, protection and guidance that the Lord gives to those who turn to him in faith.    And you can almost hear in this echoes harking back to the Old Testament and Psalm 23.  And I’m sure you know that is the Psalm that begins:  ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.’  But it is not that the Lord is just a shepherd.  The Psalm says: ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’  And that speaks of a personal relationship.  And our faith is not just an empty religion, it’s a living and personal relationship we can have with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is very much alive today.

And as Jesus ministers to those in need around him we can begin to hear further echoes from this same Psalm.  The Good shepherd meets our needs.  He restores the sheep.  He has the sheep to lie down in green pastures.  And as it says in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has the people to sit or recline on the green grass.

Now we need to still bear in mind that Jesus’ intention in coming to this place was not to minister but to take a break, to get some peace and to get some rest.  He’s already had a taxing ministry schedule and is still grieving over the death of his cousin, John.   But as Jesus begins to see some of the desperate needs in the crowd he is stirred to the depths of his heart and moved with compassion.  And so he begins to minister to them.

And it’s not just Jesus who is tired but the disciples are tired as well, as they have been assisting Jesus with the ministry.  And ministering to needy people can be very demanding and draining.  It can take a lot out of you.  People can very insistent and demanding.  And none of the disciples have anticipated that there were going to be this number of people who would be chasing them across the lakeside.  And I’m sure all they wanted to do was to take a break and spend a little time themselves with Jesus.

And I can imagine the sort of thing that may have been going through their minds as the day was wearing on.  “Lord I think we’ve done enough for today.”  I can imagine someone like Peter saying: “Lord can’t you just tell people to go home – we are just not prepared for this – can’t we just tell them to get lost.”  And sometimes we can become very weary with well-doing.
And over the years I’ve been here at St Laurence’s I’ve seen so many of you lovingly care for others and give them support and that’s just been an amazing thing for me to witness.  And it’s not unusual, is it for followers of Jesus who have a heart that deeply cares for others and their circumstances to find Jesus again and again bringing others to them to give them help and support.

And I wonder how many times you may have encountered needs that you felt were far bigger and beyond the resources you personally were able to give.  Or you may have been faced with circumstances or a problem that was so overwhelming you’ve thought – this is just beyond what I can cope with?  Or sometimes you may have felt so tired and worn out that you just couldn’t go on.  And in these situations sometimes all we can do is to take it to Jesus and pray.  And one of my favourite spiritual writers is the Quaker, Richard Forster and he says this.  He says:
‘If we truly love people, we will desire for them far more than it is within our power to give them and this will lead us to prayer.’

And it’s often when we are at the end of our own strength and resources and we turn the whole thing over to the Lord that he steps in and does the unexpected.

Well Jesus and the disciples are continuing to minister to this vast number of people but the disciples are becoming increasingly aware that it’s getting rather late and that these people they are ministering to haven’t had anything to eat all day.  And if we look at verse 15 it says: ‘As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.  Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy some food.”
Now try and imagine – you are one of the disciples, you’re already very tired and hungry.  And you suggest to Jesus that it might now be a good time to wind things up but Jesus is having none of it.  And this is how he responds.  He says: “No – No – they don’t need to go away. – You give them something to eat.”

Well how might you react I wonder?  I know I’d be thinking:  “What’s he asking us to do now – this is impossible.”  And I’m sure what Jesus is doing here is seeking to provoke a response.  And there is a response: “Well we have five loaves of bread and two fish but that’s all.”  And, of course, that’s barely enough for two people, never mind such a big crowd.  And these weren’t loaves as we think of them today, like a Kingsmill or Hovis ‘Best of Both.’   They were actually more like small pancakes or pita bread, little flat cakes or bread that would have been cooked on a stone.

And Jesus says: “Look bring them here to me.”  It then says: ‘Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.’

And so Jesus takes the loaves, lifts his face to heaven and prays and then breaks them and gives them to the disciples.  And a possible interpretation of the text (and I’m only saying possible) but a possible interpretation, and what I think happened, is that the bread and fish are multiplying as the disciples are distributing the bread and the fish to the people in the crowd.
In other word it requires their participation and faith.  The disciples are actually having to do something.  They need to step out in faith.

And so try and imagine the possible scenario.  Jesus gives each disciple a little piece of bread and a little piece of fish and sends them up the hill and says: “Now go feed those 400 people over there, Andrew.  Peter, you feed those 500 up there.”  And I can imagine Peter looking at these little pieces of bread and the fish and saying “this is crazy – why does Jesus get me to do these crazy things?  This is embarrassing.”  But nevertheless Peter goes up the hill in obedience to Jesus.

And he starts to tear off a little piece of bread, as we do here when we are having an informal communion, and it starts multiplying in his hands.  And it’s amazing.  And possibly in being so taken up with the task he’s been given he gets caught up in the flow of it.  And so he tears off another piece and there is more bread.  He starts tearing off more pieces and starts ripping up the fish and they are multiplying – and on it goes.  And, of course, as we know when everyone’s eaten there’s more food left at the end than there was at the beginning.

And so what about the personal application for us today.  Well I wonder about those times when we encounter a need which, we know is much bigger than our own resources to meet.  We long to help but in reality we know there is very little we can actually do.  But then what about, when faced with circumstances like these, giving them over to God and saying something to him along these lines.  “Lord I acknowledge this is way beyond me but I offer to you whatever I can do to help, however inadequate that maybe for you to use for your glory.”  And it’s amazing how, at times, he takes us up on that and often in ways we don’t expect.

And I’ve been reading what Tom Wright says about this and he says:

‘We offer uncomprehendingly, what little we have.  Jesus takes ideas, loaves and fishes, money, a sense of humour, time, energy, talents, love, artistic gifts, skill with words, quickness of eye or fingers, whatever we have to offer.  He holds them before his father with prayer and blessing.  Then, breaking them so they are ready for use, he gives them back to us to give to those who need them.’

And then he goes on to say this: ‘It is part of genuine Christian service, at whatever level, that we look on in amazement to see what God has done with the bits and pieces we dug out of our meagre resources to offer to him.’

And I think that is amazing! Amen

Philip Newell (Reader)
Sermon preached at St Laurence’s, Scalby at a service of Morning Worship on Sunday 6th August 2017

Sermon – 23 July 17 – Philip

Wheat and Weeds

Readings: Matthew 13: 24 – 30 & 36 – 43 & Romans 8: 12 – 25

Well if you ever thought bioterrorism was a modern phenomenon you might need to think again; as it seems to me that’s exactly what we have in this story of the wheat and the weeds.  And it’s a fairly simple story that Jesus tells: – a farmer goes out and sows good seed in his field happily looking forward to a fine harvest later in the year.   But then something bad happens as someone tampers with the crop.  As during the night when everyone is asleep the man’s enemy creeps in and sows loads of weeds amongst all the wheat and then makes himself scarce.  And it only becomes apparent what’s happened when all the stuff begins to grow – the wheat and the weeds – and the weeds are all over the place.  And you can imagine the dismay and disappointment.  “What a mess – all that hard work and look at it now.”
And apparently this was not an uncommon thing at the time; if someone was that way inclined and wanted to get even with his neighbour.  And so those listening to Jesus would be quite familiar with the scenario he was describing.  Well as the farmer and his servants are surveying the sad scene before them the servants say to him: “Hey boss, it was good seed you planted wasn’t it?  So where did all these weeds come?”  And I wonder if that might easily be a cry which resonates with our own experience at some time or another.  “I’ve sown good seed in my life and in my home and in my family.  Lord, I’ve tried to do all that is right and follow you and so where do all these heartaches and disappointments come from.  Why do these bad things keep happening?”
And that immediately gives rise to the age old question of why does evil continue to be so persistent in the world?   Why does God, for instance, not step in and do something about it?  Why doesn’t he weed it out?  And, of course, it’s a recurring question but I’m not sure the parable is trying to provide an answer to that.  The story seems to me to be more to do with giving a picture of the world as it is.  Jesus is describing the reality of the world we all live in and with which we are all familiar; the world in which good and evil are so intertwined together.
But the question is still there in the parable.  ‘Why doesn’t the boss do something about it?’  And that’s a question uppermost in the servant’s minds as they are getting totally fed up with the weeds growing all over the place.  And so they go to the farmer ask: “Do you want us to go and pull out all the weeds?”
Now it seems a reasonable thing to ask doesn’t it.  It’s what we do with our gardens at home isn’t it.  It’s what Janet does with her allotment.  We do our best to try and get rid of the weeds so that all the good plants have plenty of moisture and room to grow.  It seems like the right thing to do.  But how does the farmer answer?  Well he says “no because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may pull up the wheat with them.  Let them both grow together until the harvest.”
And so the reason Jesus gives for not pulling out the weeds is because of the harm it will do to the wheat.  And that begins to make sense when we consider the sort of weeds the parable is talking about.  And I’m given to understand it’s a sort of rye grass, a plant called darnel – which is how it is translated in the New Jerusalem Bible.  Apparently it looks very much like wheat in the early stages of its growth and sometimes it’s referred to as ‘false wheat’ as it can be very hard to distinguish between the two – and so if you start trying to pull out the weeds you finish up pulling out some of the wheat as well.
And trying to distinguish the wheat from the weeds in real life situations is not as easy and as obvious as we sometimes like to think.  That’s the reality  And when we try we can so easily, if we are not careful, fall into the trap of making premature judgements that can potentially hinder someone else’s spiritual growth.
And what Jesus is saying here, in the parable is that he is far more concerned with growth rather than he is with uprooting anything – at least in the present.  And if we are followers of Jesus shouldn’t that be our concern too?  And what it’s saying to me is that we ought to be directing our energies into sharing with Jesus in the work of building for his Kingdom and bearing fruit that will be a blessing to others.
“Do you want us to pull out all the weeds” ask the servants.  And the farmer’s answer is, in effect, for them to wait.  And waiting isn’t something we are always very good at – is it?   We can be so impatient at times expecting God to do something now – immediately.  “Lord, do something” we pray.  And when the answer is ‘wait’ it’s not always what we want to hear.
Waiting can be difficult but we are told to wait – to be patient and let the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest.  The time is not yet.  There is still growth to be done.  There is still time for people to turn and accept Jesus as their Lord and King.
And you may have noticed from the text that the parable is split into two parts, as about half way through it jumps from verse 30 to verse 36.  And in between are two smaller parables which were not included in this morning’s set reading.
And one’s about a tiny mustard seed which over time grows into tree into which birds can find rest and build their nests and the other about a woman baking bread.  Both pictures of everyday life but in which Jesus is giving insights into what the Kingdom of God is like.
And these two mini parables are a bit like the filling between two slices of bread – a sort of sandwich.  And they are not tucked in there by accident as this element of waiting seems to run like a common thread in the background through both of them.  Waiting for the tree to grow in the one and waiting for the yeast to permeate through the dough before the loaf is finally ready in the other.  Waiting – and sometimes we need to wait as God is working out his purposes.  His timing is not always ours.
Well let’s go back now to the other part of the sandwich in the wheat and the weeds as that’s where it tells us what the various components in the story are meant to represent.  And so for example, we know that the field represents the world and that Jesus represents the farmer who sows the good seed.  We also know that the wheat that grows from the seed represents all those in right relationship with the Father.  In other words the followers of Jesus.
And so the field is the world says Jesus, and as in the time of Jesus, we live in a tension filled world with the good and evil still growing together and intertwining themselves into every relationship of life.
And it’s not just the world around us but also the inner world of the human heart and those inner conflicts and tensions we all face each day.  It’s the human condition.  And the Apostle Paul sums this up very well in his letter to the Romans when he says: ‘Look it’s like this – while I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  And the moment I decide to do good, sin is always there waiting to trip me up.’
But then he does go on to say this – that if we are ‘in Christ’ there is then no condemnation hanging over our heads because there’s a new power at work within us – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  And if we are open to the Spirit’s work within us, then there is an inner witness of the Spirit’s presence that can give us a deep inner assurance that Jesus is right there with us, helping us to face the reality of the world we all live in – the world as it is – the wheat and the weeds growing together.
But they will not always grow together – it’s only until the harvest says Jesus.  And that gives us a link into our first reading from Romans 8 where the Apostle is pointing us to the future and the renewal and redemption of the whole of God’s creation at the end of this present age – describing it as ‘a time when the whole of created life will be set free from its slavery to decay’.  And it’s something for us to look forward to, saying he considers that ‘our present circumstances are not even worth comparing with the glory that’s going to be revealed in us.’  And it will be a glory that’s beyond all our imagining – something that at present we cannot even begin to grasp with our finite minds.
But in the meantime, he says, all creation is creaking and groaning and still waiting for all this to happen.  And there’s that theme of waiting again – the wheat and weeds still growing together until the harvest.  And the Christian hope is that this state of affairs will not last forever.  It’s only for a season.
And so we should not be discouraged – things will not always continue as they are.
It’s God’s field and he’s the one in sovereign control and he’s the one who sees the big picture.  And so we can be confident of this, that he will tend the field properly and take care of the weeds in due time.   And then, as it says in the final verse of the parable: “Then the righteous (that is those in right relationship with the Lord Jesus) will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
And, of course, that ‘shining like the sun’ will be wonderful.  But while we are still waiting for the Kingdom to come in all its fullness there is something we can and should be doing now.  And that is seeking to reflect something of the beauty and glory of Jesus in the world as it is.  And as I was preparing what to say today – some words of an old worship song came to mind and with these I’ll finish.
‘Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,
All his wonderful passion and purity
O my Saviour divine, all my being refine,
Till the beauty of Jesus is seen in me.’
Philip Newell (Reader)
Sermon preached at St Laurence’s, Scalby at a service of Holy Communion on Sunday 23rd July 2017


Sermon – 16 July 17 – Philip

How will we respond to Jesus?

Readings: Romans 8: 1 – 11 and Matthew 13: 1 – 9 & 18 – 23

Try and imagine the scene if you can – a large crowd is gathering to hear Jesus speak.  In fact, he’s been on a preaching tour around Galilee and everyone is talking about him.  The word soon gets round: – you really must come and hear this man.  We’ve never heard anyone like this before.  The rich, the poor, the educated, the peasants, the fishermen, the farmers, the women, the children they are all coming to get a glimpse of Jesus and to hear what he has to say.
And the backdrop to all this is the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) where the crowd on the beach (shoreline) has grown so large that Jesus decides to get into a boat and push off from the shore a little so that he is able to address such a large number of people.
And as he surveys the crowd from where he is, he knows what’s going on in their hearts.  He knows they are not all there for the same reason and that they are not all going to respond in the same way to the things he’s teaching.  And although they may be fascinated by him and his miracles he knows many come, like today, with their own prejudices and biases and with their hearts already hardened against him.  He knows that many will come just to listen to what he has to say and then go away.  But he also knows there will be those who come with open hearts ready to fully embrace his word and the newness of life he offers.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed” he begins to say.  And maybe in the fields behind a farmer is doing just that.  No doubt the crowd are mesmerised by his words but not really sure what to make of them.  It’s not really what they are expecting to hear.  It’s rather a strange story.  Why should a farmer waste so much precious seed?  Throwing some on the path where the birds come along and eat it, throwing some on to rock and some on to where all the thorns are.  Jesus isn’t giving any easy answers but he is giving his listeners something to think about.  And, of course, he’s also giving us something to think about as well.
Well the story, on one level, can be interpreted as a retelling of Israel’s history.  A sorry tale of not listening, hardening of hearts and so on.  But what might the story mean to those of us who hear it today? – And for me one of the things it does do is to prompt us to ask ourselves a series of questions as the story unfolds.  Questions on how we personally might respond to the Good News of Jesus and his Kingdom.  The Good News of how through him we can find forgiveness of sin; newness of life and how we can enter into a living and meaningful relationship with the Father; Son and Holy Spirit.
And so for example, when we hear God’s word to us does it just bounce off us like seed falling on the hard path that runs along the side of a field?   And in ancient Israel they didn’t have large fields like we have today, just strips of land with well-worn paths – pressed down mud in between each of the strips.  And what Jesus is saying is we can be like the soil on those paths – trampled down hard and compacted.  We hear the word but it has very little impact.  We soon forget about it and consequently it has very little effect on our every day lives.  It’s a bit like seed falling on concrete.  And that means it can’t germinate and grow and the birds come quickly to gobble it up.
And it’s in speaking of the seed falling on the path – that Jesus opens up another dimension in the story as he talks of ‘the evil one’ who comes to snatch away what is sown in the heart.  And this evil entity is represented in the parable by the birds who come and eat the seed.  And the point being made is that there is an enemy at work who is constantly seeking to undermine the work of God in our lives.  And this evil entity tries to steal and destroy everything that God wants to grow in us.  And in John’s gospel account Jesus presses home this point saying: ‘The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy” but Jesus says “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ Or more abundantly as it says in the old King James Version.
And the spiritual life – can be a battle at times; and it’s something the Apostle Paul, in his New Testament letter to the Ephesians, advises us to take seriously in encouraging us to put on the full armour of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes.  And then, in chapter 6 of the letter, he goes on to explain in practical terms how we can do that.
And so let’s move on now to the next condition of heart which Jesus highlights and it’s represented by the seed that falls on to the rocky places.  And in many parts of Israel the soil can be very thin.  You only have to dig down a few inches before you hit a bed of limestone into which many roots can’t penetrate.  And yes, any seed that falls there can germinate very quickly but in the scorching sun the plant growing from it soon begins to wither and shrivel because it has so little root to sustain it. And this prompts us to consider just how deeply rooted in God is our own faith.  Do our own spiritual roots go down deep enough for the long haul and is our faith strong enough to sustain us when the going gets tough and bad things happen and everything seems to be going wrong?
And it’s something that does occasionally happen with those who come to faith in Christ.  They embrace the good news of Jesus and initially they are full of joy and bubbling over with their new found faith.  And yet when trouble comes they haven’t really gone deep enough with God to weather the storms.  The initial response has been largely emotional and the shallowness of the soil has meant that the root hasn’t been able to go down deep enough to sustain the growing seed.
And it’s something I’ve seen happen on occasions over the years.  Someone comes to faith in Christ and they are so excited about Jesus.  And they get involved in everything and then something happens – sometimes you know what it is and sometimes you don’t- but they begin to fall away. And while the seed may germinate it only grows for a while and then it withers away as there is an insufficient depth of soil for it to find the nutrients it needs.  Well let’s move on now to the next type of soil.
And as we know our lives are led by many kinds of desires and hopes and aspirations and the way that Jesus describes it here is as seed falling on to soil occupied by thorns.  And the problem with this is that thorns, like brambles grow fast and are not easy to get rid of.  And not only do they take out all the nutrients from the soil but they also block the light as well.  And the point that Jesus is making here is that there are certain things in our lives that can be like that as they compete with our faith and the same heart-space and, if we are not careful, they finish up choking it.
And if these other things start taking the central place in our hearts that God should occupy then we are in danger of drifting into the realms of what the Bible calls idolatry.  It does not necessarily mean that these other things are wrong in themselves but they do need to be brought under the Lordship of Christ in our lives.
And so to recap a little – we have the seed falling on to the hard ground and bouncing off and the birds coming along and eating it.   And then we have it falling on to the rocky places where it grows it quickly for a while and then begins to wither and shrivel.   And then we have it falling on to thorn infested ground where, when it grows it is likely get choked by the other stuff it’s competing with.  And in none of these situations is it producing anything like the sort of fruit that God is looking for.
But there is yet another condition of soil for us to consider and that is where the seed falls on to rich and fertile soil in which the seed of God’s Word can become deeply rooted and begin to flourish.  And the seed growing in this soil is not affected by the wind or the scorching sun at all because the roots have gone deep down and become firmly established.  And this is a picture of the follower of Jesus who fully embraces what God wants to do in their life.  One who remains faithful to Christ through both the good times and the difficult times and whose trust in him is unwavering.  And this is the sort of soil in which produces a rich abundance of fruit that’s pleasing to God.
But then again do we say I’m not really sure I can identify with any of these situations?  I know I love Jesus and his Word has taken root in my life but I can’t see that I’m producing much in the way of fruit – well, not at least, in the biblical sense.
Perhaps I can then change the metaphor a little and ask you to picture a garden growing all sorts of things.  It’s OK but it still needs plenty of work doing on it if it’s going to produce a good crop and yield its full potential.  Things are growing but some of the soil looks as though it needs weeding a bit and digging over and the plants are drooping a little and look as though they could do with watering.  What it really needs is the attention of the gardener to give it some sorting out.  And then I think of that beautiful verse in chapter 15 of John’s gospel in which Jesus says:
 “…My Father is the gardener.”
And maybe that’s what we are like.  We know we have the potential to be more fruitful but we cannot do it alone.  It’s as though we have progressed so far but become stuck and we need to become unstuck.  We need the gardener to help us prepare the soil so that what he has planted can grow freely and produce a bumper crop.  But it’s only as we invite the gardener to come in and take control of our lives that things can begin to change.
And as the gardener gets to work it maybe that some pruning is required and that, at times, can be painful.  And that is why the Father is the gardener as it’s his desire that we are fruitful and grow into the people he has created us to be.
The Apostle Paul when writing to the Galatians talks about the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t he? – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and so on. But it’s only as we allow him to change those things that need changing in our lives that the fruit can develop as it should.
And perhaps that can be a prayer for us this morning.  ‘Lord Jesus I want you to be at the centre of my life, please help me to open my ears to hear and to be obedient to your Word and allow my life to be shaped by it so that I can be fruitful for you.’  Amen.
Philip Newell (Reader)
Sermon preached at St Laurence’s, Scalby at a service of ‘Morning Worship’ on Sunday 16th July 2017.

Sermon – 19 Mar 17 – Philip

Living Water

Readings: Exodus 17: 1 – 7 and John 4: 5 – 11

“Where can you get this living water?”  Well that’s a question a woman from Sychar in Samaria asks Jesus in a strange and very unusual encounter at a place known as ‘Jacob’s Well.’  And it takes place as Jesus is on his way back from Judea, in the south of the country, to Galilee in the north. And Jesus has purposely decided to take a rest at this particular place which is located in the very heart of Samaritan territory.  Now a Jew would not normally take this route back through Samaria, but it’s the hottest part of the day and Jesus is tired and he’s thirsty.  But he has a reason for being here and it’s not long before this woman comes to draw water from the well.  Now this would not normally happen in the circumstances of the time – but Jesus takes the opportunity to engage her in conversation and he asks her for a drink.

And they start talking- talking about water.  And very skilfully Jesus uses this image or metaphor of water to explain how the water he can give is not like the water in the well – but living water which is like an eternal spring that can well up within us.  And it conjures up a picture of newness of spiritual life constantly bubbling up and spilling over.  But at this stage the woman has not quite grasped what he’s getting at – but it sounds good and so she asks if Jesus if he will give her some of this water.

And we can see what Jesus is doing.  He’s trying to draw the woman gently on from the material to the spiritual.  And it seems, to me, that for us too, Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit is constantly prompting us to move on from the material to the life of the Spirit.  But how far we are prepared to go depends on just how thirsty we are.
And so as we’ve seen, Jesus is obviously not talking about natural water (the material if you like) but the newness of spiritual life and vitality which we can experience and enjoy when we come into close relationship with him.

And this isn’t just about drinking – it’s about overflowing.  And we see this as Jesus develops this metaphor a few pages later on in John chapter 7 when he speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Let me read to you what it says.

It says this: ‘on the last and greatest day of the Feast Jesus stood and said in a loud voice: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  And the text then goes on to say: ‘By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.’
And so are we amongst those who are thirsty for this living water?  And I think it prompts us to ask ourselves where we stand in relation to Jesus.  Do we know Him?  Do we really know Him?  Do we know anything about that living water welling up within that he promises to give to those who believe in him?

And the more I read and study the Scriptures it’s my personal conviction that I believe that Jesus is calling each one of us into a deeper relationship with him – deeper than we we’ve ever known before – deeper in the place of encounter – deeper in the place of intimacy.
And you know we can be involved in a lot of religious activity and other stuff and in the midst of it all still miss him and remain at a distance from him.   But his desire is – that we draw near and to know him and to be known by him.

Well Jesus engages the woman who has come to the well in conversation and you can imagine what might have going through her mind.  “Who is this speaking to me?  He’s a Jew and I’m a Samaritan and Jews and Samaritans don’t have anything to do with one another.”  And there’s a long history as to why this should be the case that goes right back into the Old Testament.  Well we haven’t time to explore that this morning.  But suffice it to say a self-respecting Jew wouldn’t even breathe the same air as a Samaritan.  As far as they were concerned they were unclean and heretics as they were not proper Jews.

But what’s more, it wasn’t just that she, a Samaritan was conversing with a Jew, but for a man to talk to women in public like that just wasn’t the done thing at that time.  At least that’s what the rabbis told you.

But not only that – but we learn later that this is a woman with a string of broken relationships.  She’s been married five times already and the man she’s now living with is not her husband – and for the time it’s all rather scandalous.  Maybe that’s why she comes to the well in the heat of the day when no one else does.  She’s fed up with the whispering behind her back and people looking down on her because of her lifestyle.

And for Jesus, a holy rabbi, to be seen talking to a woman like this would have been shocking to his Jewish contemporaries.  But Jesus is not going to allow what others might think – detract from what he came to do.  He goes out of his way to seek out those who are needy – to reach out to those who feel they are worthless and let them know they have value in his sight.
And it seems to me that what we have here is a woman who is desperately seeking to be loved.  But the tragedy is that the men in her life have let her down in one way or another – she’s already been through five of them!

It maybe some of those relationships have been abusive – we don’t know.  In addition to that, the fact, that she comes to the well on her own, at the time she does, also seems to suggest she’s been ostracised by her neighbours because of what they perceive to be her promiscuous lifestyle.  And maybe all this has left her with little or no self-worth.

And so we see Jesus going out of his way to reach a person in need.  And in looking at the personal application how do we connect with people in a thirsty world I wonder.  One thing we see in the story is that Jesus – the one who could call on legions of angels and through whom the universe was made – making himself needy and vulnerable.  Jesus is tired from his journey and needs to rest by the well.  Not only is he tired but it’s hot, being in the heat of the day, and he’s thirsty.  And he asks the woman to give him a drink.  And it’s through that he reaches out to her.

And reaching out to others is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. And this is a theme picked up by the Archbishop of York in his call for us to be out and about in our communities talking to people about Jesus.  And commenting on a recent Church of England report he says this: “Our job is to be out there, on the streets, wherever it is, sharing this amazing message of Jesus: that he actually forgives us our sins, gives us new life in the present and hope for the future.”

And then a quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.   He says this about it:
“We share the good news, not because it’s a duty….but because we are consumed with knowing how wonderful Jesus is – we want to talk to others about him.”

And if we are excited about Jesus this can be all done very naturally without being forced.  I came across an article in Christianity magazine recently by Mike Pivalachi, a well-known Christian leader who’s involved in a ministry amongst young people called ‘Soul Survivor.’ And in the article he shares a story involving one of his friends called, Sam.

And he says this: ‘Now there was nothing special about Sam.  He’s just an ordinary guy who loves Jesus and has faithfully done his best to serve Him in the area of inner city Birmingham over the last 20 years.  And over that time he’s experienced both joys and sorrows, good days and bad days as he’s sought to introduce unchurched young people to Jesus.

And in June 2015, Sam was walking through a park when he noticed a man sitting alone on a bench.  And as he was passing, he sensed the Lord saying to him: “His name is Daniel and he feels as though he is in prison from which he can’t escape.  I want you to tell him that I love him and want to rescue him from his prison.”

Well in fear and trembling, as one can imagine, Sam went over to the man, introduced himself and asked if his name was Daniel.  Well the man responded rather aggressively with a “No.”  And at this Sam understandably felt rather deflated but nevertheless decided he may as well go and tell the man the second part of what he thought the Lord had told him.  And at this the man started to cry and told Sam that his name was indeed Daniel.   And it soon became clear that he’d lied because he’d been freaked out by Sam knowing his name and it also became clear the reason he’d been sitting on the bench in the park is because he was preparing to commit suicide.

And so Sam sat with the man for the next two hours during which he introduced him to Jesus and prayed with him and the following Sunday took him to church.  And now Daniel now knows there is a God who loves him and loves being part of his new church family.
Now Sam could easily have shrugged off that prompting from the Spirit as he was walking through the park that day.  “It’s just my imagination,” he could have told himself and just walked on but he didn’t.

Well it’s when the living water begins to overflow that we have that desire to reach out to others.  We see that with the Samaritan woman after her encounter with Jesus.  She goes off and tells people in her village about her meeting with Jesus.  And it seems she’s so excited she leaves her water pot behind.   It’s as though she’s splashing the water about all over the place.  And that’s what living water does when it begins to bubble up and overflow.

Well let me finish with something very practical which we can all do.
We’ve seen Jesus reaching out to the Samaritan woman and then we’ve seen the woman reaching out to others with the good news of Jesus.  Well what about making a start in our own neighbourhoods, the places where we live.  If someone new moves in near us – why not go and knock on the door, introduce yourself and welcome them to the parish by offering them one of our St Laurence’s Welcome Packs and just see where it goes from there.  It’s a very neighbourly and friendly thing to do and a way of getting to know new people.  It’s not difficult at all and it’s something, as a church, we’ve been doing on the new High Mill Estate for some time now.  These packs are very attractive and can be picked up from Freda in the Church Office and there’s some at the back of church as well.  However, if you do pick one of these up please make personal contact with the person you intend giving it to – don’t just push it through the letter box – it makes all the difference – it’s that personal encounter that makes a lasting impression.

And so can we all be encouraged to do that!  And wouldn’t it be great to see lots of that living water being splashed about all around our parish.

Philip Newell (Reader)
Sermon preached at St Laurence’s, Scalby on Sunday 19th March 2017 at a service of Holy Communion.

Sermon – 20 January 2017 – Nick

Recently a Christian who just moved into a new area posted on Facebook that they had unexpectedly walked into a job that hadn’t yet been advertised. Obviously many people were pleased for her. Some even talked of ‘God’s amazing timing’ and ‘God’s plan being worked out’. A week later she left the job after finding out it wasn’t all it had cracked up to be. So what do we do with these initial comments about God’s involvement in this job? Was the job part of God’s plan for this lady or not? And if it was did she muck it up by not sticking it out? Indeed can we muck up God’s plan or is that sheer vanity? Or do our ideas about God’s plan not do him any justice? Is there a difference between God’s will in any situation and God’s overarching plan? Let’s look into the story from the Old Testament we heard earlier to help us with this.

Saul was to be Israel’s first human king. Up until now they have had God as they King. But obviously that’s not good enough and the Israelites start to look around at the other tribes and nations around them and they notice something – they all have Kings, or human rulers. Israel is the odd one out. Momentarily blinded by the lure of comparison and the need to fit in Israel demand to be like everyone else, completely forgetting that God chose them to be different, to show the world a different way of living, to show the world God. That was God’s plan and he’s gone through a bit to help them with that plan, yet the plan is never enforced on them. They never have to go along with it. And when they ask to change the plan and do something else – like get a human King, God let’s them!

Plus he chooses someone who could have been a great King. Saul could have been one of the greats, physically imposing, a fighter, and with some wits about him. Saul could have been the first in a line of Kings who did make Israel stand out for good reasons. God was fully willing to change part of the plan to achieve his ends, he was fully willing to let humans have a say in his plans. Saul however had different ideas. The clues are there right from the beginning when at his coronation service he is no where to be seen, quite a feat for a man head and shoulders above everyone else!  He is found hiding among the baggage, and this baggage this insecurity that he has will continue to blight his rule. Image how different it could have been! The people could have stuck more closely to God’s plan, Saul could have. But what was God’s plan? I actually don’t think that is too hard to figure out. I think God was quite honest about it right from the beginning. He told Abraham he would be blessed to be a blessing. That is the grand scope of God’s plan and the beauty of it is that he involves us. The point of Israel was to share God’s blessing with the world that would be done better with God as King but could be done with a human king! So going back to the opening story I don’t believe the job was part of God’s plan or not. The point is that God’s plan could be carried out in that job or not.

Why is all this important? Because what we say shows what we think about God. Our platitudes may be well meaning, but to people who don’t know or understand God they seem like a plaster over a gunshot wound. What about suffering? What do our platitudes say to suffering? When we announce it is God’s plan for someone to get a job while in other parts of the world injustice is rife? How do we feel when people blame suffering on God and don’t attribute the good to him? Of course this isn’t to say that God doesn’t directly intervene in our lives at times, but perhaps we’d be better at noticing it without the assumption that he is. Ultimately though well meaning we can reduce God to our diary planner rather than the wonderfully powerful being who is big enough to give us freedom and cope with whatever that means.

Sermon – 20 November 16 – David Butterfield


Bible Readings: Isaiah 6.1-8; Luke 15.11-24

It was two years ago last June that I stepped down from being Archdeacon of the East Riding, and became Archdeacon for Generous Giving and Stewardship. It was Archbishop Sentamu’s idea, and it’s just for three years. So I now travel around the whole of the Diocese of York advising PCCs about how to strengthen their income from Planned Giving. I am looking forward to meeting with the members of your PCC on Thursday January 19.
The vision for our Diocese is that we will be a family of Generous Churches Making and Nurturing Disciples. So, as the word “generous” is in our Vision Statement and in my job title, I thought I would focus on the word “generous” this morning.
On the theme of generosity, there was once a church where the church members were not at all generous. One day two spiders who lived in the church happened to meet as they were walking down the main aisle. One spider says to the other, “I hear you’re moving house?” “I certainly am,” replied the other spider. “I’ve been living in the pulpit all my life, but this new vicar preaches so long and loud that I’ve not had a moment’s peace for weeks”. The other spider says, “Then you must come and live with us. We live in the collection box and we have not been disturbed for years!” I’m sure that would not be true of you here at St Laurence’s.
On the theme of being generous, let me begin by saying “Thank You” to you here at St Laurence’s. I imagine you are aware that every Church in the Diocese of York, makes a monthly financial contribution to what is called The Common Fund. It is from the Common Fund that all the clergy are paid and other Support Services from the Diocese are funded. I would like to say “thank you” to you for the way that you have made your contributions faithfully, month by month, and year by year. Having been Archdeacon of the East Riding, I am aware that your record of generous and faithful goes back many years.
I recall the occasion when you received a legacy and, I think it was two years running that you decided to pay the total amount of (what was then the Parish Share) in January. I remember when I thanked Alastair for this he, in his self-deprecating way, pointed out that with very low interest rates there was no point in putting it in the bank. However, not every PCC would have decided to this and I think what you did indicated a real spirit of generosity.
What’s more, I am aware that you have increased your 2017 Freewill Offer to the Common Fund by a substantial amount. So thank you again for your faithfulness and generosity, and the Archbishop, who is my Line Manager has also asked me to pass on his thanks when I visit Churches.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we should be generous people. But why should disciples of Jesus Christ give generously?
There are a number of answers to that question, but I think the first, and the most important reason why those of us who call ourselves Christians should give generously is this: We give in response to the generosity of God: the generosity that has shown to each one of us.
In the Gospel Reading we heard the well-known parable of Jesus which illustrates the amazing generosity of God. In the parable, the Father threw a party for his wayward son, even though his son didn’t deserve it. That is meant to be a picture of how God lavishes his generosity on us! I’ll refer to the parable again a little later. But first let me reflect on God’s generosity to us, by drawing your attention to a prayer.
As a small boy, I recall that my Grandfather once told me how he had come across a prayer in the 1662 Prayer Book. The Prayer is called “A General Thanksgiving”. It’s not a prayer that we use very much today, and yet it is a brilliant prayer. This is how it begins…..
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we thine unworthy servants
do give thee most humble and hearty thanks
for all thy goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all men.
My Grandfather told me of the time when, having read the prayer, it stopped him in his tracks. This was because, he suddenly thought to himself: “Albert, when have you given humble and hearty thanks to God for his goodness and loving kindness to you?”. He then went on to tell me about how, from then on, he had endeavoured to be a more thankful person.
This Prayer of Thanksgiving was written by a man called Edward Reynolds who was the Bishop of Norwich between 1661 and 1676. So, in his prayer, what examples of God’s goodness and loving-kindness does Edward Reynolds encourage us to thank God for? He lists them.
He begins with, “We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life”. If you were to write down a list of “all the blessings of this life” that God has poured upon you, what would you include?
* that we live in the UK – a developed country, a safe country to live in?
* Life would be very different for us if we had been born in such a place as Iraq, Yemen, or Syria.
* that we have homes to live in, clothes to wear, an abundance of food to eat?
* that we have medical services available free at the point of need?
* that on a world scale, we are so rich!
There are a number of websites where you can enter the level of your income and it tells you how rich you are on a world scale. They vary a bit, but the general overall picture is the same. One website reveals the following……
* If we have a net annual income of £15,000 per year, we are in the top 4% of the richest people in the world.
* If our net income is £20,000, we’re in the top 2%.
* £25,000, the top 1%
* £30,000, the top 0.6%
While those figures will not be precisely accurate, I think we get the general message, and in response, we say to God, “Yes, we bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life”.
But then, secondly, we Christians are on the receiving end of a wealth and riches that money cannot buy, and which relate to another life that God has promised us. So Edward Reynolds prayer continues…..
We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ:
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
This section of the prayer lists four significant spiritual blessings…..
God’s love
If we are in Christ, we have tasted God’s inestimable, which means “immeasurable”, love. As Paul writes, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
We have experienced being bought back by God from our slavery to sin at the cost of Christ’s death – all for us. Rather than being excluded from God’s presence because of our sin, we are able to approach the throne of God because Jesus died to save us from our sin.
One definition of the word “grace” is, “Something for nothing, for those who don’t deserve anything.” As Christians we have been on the receiving end of God’s generosity – God’s Grace.
To top it all, we have, what the prayer calls: the hope of glory – the promise of life beyond the grave. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
I don’t think we fully appreciate these spiritual blessings, these riches of God’s grace! I believe we gain a better appreciation of them in those moments when we catch a fuller glimpse of God’s glory.
We think of Isaiah, who, as we heard in our Old Testament reading, had a vision of God in all his glory. His response was to cry out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips…..yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
When Isaiah had a vision of the purity and the holiness of God, he was suddenly aware of how much he was in need of God’s cleansing and forgiveness, his mercy and his grace. At that point in his vision, a seraph touched his lips with a live coal and said, “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
I believe that it’s when God reveals himself to us in a special way and we glimpse God’s glory in a way we haven’t done before, that we suddenly see how far we fall short of his glory, and so realise the amazing generosity of God in sending Jesus to die for us, so that we can be blessed with every spiritual blessing and be given a taste of the riches of heaven. So how do we respond to this amazing generosity of God?
A first way, is to thank God for his goodness to us, and we can use this ancient prayer to do this as we say to God, “”We give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us”.
A second way that we can respond to God’s generosity is by being generous people ourselves.
So what does it mean to be generous?
Last year I focused on this question at an assembly I was taking at a secondary school in York. I offered the students a couple of working definitions of what the word “generous” might mean. The first is, “To be generous is to give in a way that is above and beyond what I would normally have expected myself  to give?”
Or looking at it from the point of view of the receiver, “To be generous is to give in a way that is above and beyond what the person on the receiving end of my gift would have expected to receive from me?”
If I were to develop this question further in a Christian context I would point out how the words “generous” and “generosity” do not occur very often in the Bible. The reason for this is because the authors of the Scriptures use another word instead. That is the word Grace. The word “grace” includes “generosity” and a whole lot more besides.
As I said earlier, one definition of grace is, “Something for nothing, for those who don’t deserve anything.” If you had been the father of the Prodigal Son, how would you have responded when your son turned up on the doorstep. Would you have been rather cool towards him? I suspect that few of us would have responded by killing the fatted calf and throwing a party! But that’s a picture of the generosity that God extends to us!
So, if we are going to respond to the generosity of God by being generous people ourselves we need to pray that the generous Spirit of God will motivate and inspire us to be generous, as he is generous. Of course there are a myriad of ways in which we can be generous.
* By having a generous attitude.
* By giving people the benefit of the doubt.
* By always being ready to forgive.
* By giving gifts, and it’s especially meaningful if we are able to give gifts that we have made with our own hands.
* Also, a significant way of being generous is through the giving of our money.
As Christians, I believe it is important that we see the giving of our money is part of our worship. In the last chapter of 1 Chronicles, we are told of how King David made preparations for the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. He invited God’s people to bring their gifts to pay for it. There was an incredibly generous response.
Although they all brought their gifts to the King – King David, the writer of 1 Chronicles doesn’t say that the people “offered all this to King David”. The author writes, “Then the people rejoiced because…..they had offered freely… the Lord.” They regarded their giving of money as worship! I believe that we should see the offering of our money as part of our worship too.
In the order of service for Holy Communion, at the point at which the offering is presented, there are a number of different prayers that can be said. One of them is this prayer of King David…..
Yours Lord, is the greatness, 
the power, the glory, the splendour, and the majesty;
for everything in heaven and on earth is yours.
All things come from you,
and of your own do we give you.
So when we place our gifts into the offertory plate or give by Standing Order, we are caught up in worship as we give back to God what is really his.
So we rejoice that we have a generous God, and we pray that he will inspire us by his Spirit to be generous people.
Finally, when I took up my post of Archdeacon for Generous Giving and Stewardship nearly 21/2 years ago, the very job title, “Archdeacon for Generous Giving” challenged me! Having the word “generous” in my job title caused me to ask myself the question, “Am I a generous person?” I thought, if there were to be a eulogy at my funeral, would someone make the remark, “Well I’ll say one thing, he was generous chap”? I’m not sure they would, but I have been working on it and I am continuing to do so.
So may I end by asking you the question, “Are you a generous person? Will they say of you at your funeral: She was a generous woman. He was a generous man?”.