Remembrance Sunday sermon from David – click to open – Remembrance Day 2018
Two sermons from David on 16 September 2018 – click to open;
From 8 o`clock – Trinity 16 BCP
From 10 o`clock – Feeding of the 5000
St John the Evangelist was on his death bed, surrounded by his devoted disciples. ‘Master,’ the pleaded, ‘Give us a word before you die.’
‘Beloved,’ John croaked, ‘Let us love one another, for God is love.’
‘But you’ve said that already,’ they complained.
‘There is nothing more to be said,’ John gasped with his final breath.
‘You shall love the Lord your God, lock, stock and barrel, and your neighbour as yourself,’ Jesus declared. ‘And after that, no one dared ask him any more questions.’ An enviable reputation which folk like Teresa May would bust a gut for. Love God, love your neighbour, love yourself: after that, what more could be said?
Except I don’t think we are very good at loving ourselves. My experience of walking alongside thousands of people over the years is that folk tend to be very hard on themselves, judge themselves very harshly, and feel they are simply unworthy of being loved. In part the blame lies with Christianity, always lecturing us that we are miserable sinners. In part it’s a cocktail of guilt peddled by the world, that we have been very naughty, have broken it and we jolly well ought to fix it. Whatever it is, be it climate change, or nuclear proliferation, or pollution, or simply the latest food fads. I am made to feel bad about driving a diesel, bad about eating meat, bad about eating eggs, on and off, bad about heating my home, bad about leaving Europe, bad about staying in Europe, bad about being a priest, very bad about being a bishop. You are almost made to feel bad about being good.
Whereas Jesus commands you to love yourself. Who are you to defy Jesus, to ignore his explicit command? Take yourself off to a quiet place and indulge yourself, take a long, hard look at your life. Run the film of your life, all the glorious moments, and no life is devoid of glory, as well as all the knocks and wounds which you have managed not just to survive, but to rise above. As well as all the knocks and wounds you’ve dealt out: be gentle with yourself, think on all the stresses and tensions you were coping with, which made you snap. Hear Jesus throughout, saying ‘Love yourself.’ In all those situations, so personal to you, think of Jesus beside you, loving you so much. Christ loves you so much he can’t take his eyes off you.
I recall visiting a very gracious lady who was paralysed with gloom and remorse about the way she had treated her late father-in-law, who had lived with her and her husband in his declining years. She hadn’t beaten him up or anything, she just regretted the times when her patience had snapped and she had told him off. I got her to describe an average day with dad, and to be honest he sounded like the most miserable, curmudgeonly git ever created. ‘Dorothy,’ I blurted out, ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself. You deserve a medal. I’d have throttled him after half an hour.’ She burst out laughing, but it was a moment of liberation, a moment when she laughed and loved herself rather than hating herself.
She made a massive career-change and went on to be a matron of an old people’s home, and was the kindest most patient matron you could ever find. She even kept an eye on my dad in his final years when we were far away in Cardiff. When you dare to obey Christ’s command and love yourself, and what’s more feel you are loved and cherished by Christ, then that love overflows.
And letting it flow clears the way for more love to flood in. Dam love up and it goes sour, just like God’s gracious gift of manna went sour in the wilderness when the Israelites hoarded it. Be generous, be profligate in loving your neighbour, so you can be freed up to love yourself. Giving is a tangible mark of that. ‘There will always be someone in need,’ our reading from Deuteronomy stressed. ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ Jesus declared. The poor need us
to open our hands. But more than that, we need them, to break our hearts, break through our walls of self-protection and make us generous.
Are you a Gollum or a Jesus? In the Lord of the Rings, Gollum, originally the most beautiful of creatures, comes across the One Ring and makes it his own, his precious, hiding away, wasting away in the dark and dank, paranoid, killing anyone he suspects is out to steal his treasure. Jesus, although he had everything, clung to nothing, became as lowly as a servant, emptied himself of all but love and was bathed in eternal light. How sour the name of Gollum sounds. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds! Sweet or sour, the choice is yours. Love God, love your neighbour, love yourself, and let love flow.
Laura was a eight year old dancer, fawning upon Pharaoh as he performed a pastiche of Elvis Presley in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, staged by our primary school. Laura got more than carried away with her Sha-waddy-waddy dance and all eyes in the theatre were on her rather than on a by-now distinctly piqued Pharaoh. If history teaches us anything, Pharaohs are best not to be piqued!
The audience laughed, at first gales of laughter of the liberal tolerant sort, ‘What a card this Down’s Syndrome child is!’ Laura’s parents had bravely opted to have her educated mainstream. But then the mood changed to one of total amazement, that any child was capable of giving herself so utterly, in such a lock, stock and barrel way. Here was no less than a latter-day David, who had danced with sheer joy before the Lord when his army had finally taken Jerusalem, even doing cartwheels before his band of adoring maidens, doubly excited because underwear had yet to be invented. His wife Michal had despised him for putting his heart and soul, mind and strength into his gyrations.
No one in our audience despised Laura; quite the contrary, the theatre was as one, everyone deeply moved as they witnessed such energy, such giving in totality, which simultaneously thrilled and shamed us, we who mete out our enthusiasm in ounces when God measures it in tons.
Love God, love your neighbour, love yourself, and let love flow.
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d anything.
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
WIDOW’S MITE 21 OCT 18
About 20 years ago my mother became very ill with a rare type of brain tumour. So rare that the Doctors admitted they were quite stumped about how to treat her. It was an agonising time for my sisters and I and my father as we saw my mother’s health deteriorate week by week.
One day, after work in London I popped into the very prestigious and famous book store Foyles, and because, I suppose, my mother’s condition was always on my mind, I found myself browsing in the medical section.
Imagine my surprise when I came across a small paperback book of about 60 pages whose title was the name of the rare type of brain tumour my mother had and whose contents outlined various ground-breaking research and treatment options.
I flicked through the pages and knew I just had to have the book to help us as a family understand more about my mother’s condition and perhaps even assist the doctors. I started to walk towards the cash desk to pay when I thought I’d better check the price for this slim volume. There in pencil on the inside cover was the figure. £175. £175! 20 years ago. For a paperback! For a moment I hesitated. This was silly money. I couldn’t really afford it.
But it was only for a second. I loved my Mum and would give all that I had to try to make her well. £175 to help her was cheap at twice the price. I bought the book. Took it to the next meeting with my mum’s consultant who took it away and studied it and explored various new treatment options as a result. I have never told anyone in my family how much that book cost as money was never the issue.
And I’m not telling you this story now to big me up but to illustrate the fact that I, and I am sure you too, know all about sacrificial giving for our loved ones.
If there is something our nearest and dearest needs, or that would make them very happy, most of us find ourselves being generous to a fault. Caution is thrown to the wind. We go beyond what would be prudent to give, even beyond what we can easily afford to give. We may be prepared to dig into our savings, put life goals on hold for the sake of the one we love.
We are all familiar with the concept of generous giving. And we recognise it as a noble, sacrificial, thing.
Now, let’s think by contrast, about how we go about giving money to other causes – ones we’re not that personally invested in for instance a charity that doesn’t excite our interest that much, or a whip round for a not very popular colleague’s leaving present. We don’t mind giving a bit, but the amount we end up donating is relatively small and comes out of the surplus we have after we’ve taken care of not just our needs, but also our wants, and the naughty but nice treats on top.
What we give to these causes is from the bounty we have. It doesn’t hurt, indeed sometimes we hardly notice the amount that has gone. It is still giving, and good as such, but not in the same order as the sacrificial giving we were thinking about earlier.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus looks into the hearts of His hearers then and now. He contrasts the widow’s modest but sacrificial offering with the larger but less “costly” gifts of the richer worshippers that day. Jesus taught a lot about money and possessions– more than 10% of his sayings were on this topic more than He said about sex, or hell, or salvation.
In his teaching He argued that how we chose to handle our money, ultimately given to us by God, said something about our relationship with God. And He called His followers to look beneath the surface of their giving to what it said about their spiritual health.
So this morning I invite us to consider how we decide how much we give to God – both to the church and other causes we feel called to support. Do we fish around in our purse or wallet when we come to church and give a bit of what happens to be there that day? Or do we plan our giving and commit to give week by week whether or not we’re there, either through envelopes, standing orders or such like?
Thank you if you do give a planned amount regularly as of course the church’s outgoings are the same week by week whether or not we’re there, and it is very useful indeed for the finance team and PCC to know how much money is guaranteed to be coming in regularly.
But even if we give in this planned, regular way our Gospel reading poses a further more challenging question. What does the amount we are giving, proportionate to what we have, say about our relationship with God? When I say giving to God I mean to causes He has put on our hearts. In my experience this almost always includes giving to the church we’re a member of, but it very often extends beyond that to other needs and issues He has drawn us to.
Are we giving generously, even sacrificially to God perhaps cutting back on our luxuries to give to what God has put on our heart? Or are we giving from the metaphorical equivalent of the crumbs that have fallen from our table small amounts that are hardly missed, if we’re honest?
How we decide what we give, and how much that is proportionate to what we have, is of course just between each of us and God. It is no one else’s business and we are not answerable to anyone but God. But we cannot cheat God. He knows how much we have. He knows how much we could spare to give if we chose to do so. How much we would be prepared to give for a loved one.
And the irony is not lost on Him if the amount we choose to give Him is nearer what we’d give to a not very popular work colleagues leaving gift, than what we’d give to someone we care deeply for.
I have to admit I feel uncomfortable sharing these thoughts with you as it is very un-English to talk about money and I don’t want to offend anyone, or put anyone on the spot. But the teaching I am sharing this morning is Christ’s teaching and I feel its important we address these issues together.
St Augustine said; “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.”
I pray that God will give me and us all soft, open, hearts, to hear what he is saying about what we need and what we should give. And that having heard from Him we will do His will.
Well something I’m sure we all find challenging at some time or another is adapting to change. And yet we live in a time which seems to be one of constant change. And it’s the same for the Church too as we seek to reach out to a changing world with the unchanging message of the gospel – the good news of Jesus.
And, of course, a big change for us here was when we become part of the North Scarborough Group ministry not all that long ago. And I suppose in some ways it’s something we’re still getting used to – and yet having said that I think there’s much to celebrate in what has been achieved so far. But then, there’s still some way we can go in building stronger ties across our churches and reminding ourselves of our place within it all and also committing ourselves to working and going forwards together.
Well I’ll be developing some of these thoughts a little more later on but first of all I want to place them within a wider context.
And so let’s start with some words of Jesus when he says: “Come, follow me.” And something we see in the gospels is Jesus calling people to follow him. And as the gospel story unfolds we see him taking a ragtag group of followers, who at one stage seem to have lost the plot, and then, as they journey with him, we see him moulding and shaping them into a group of people who could be entrusted with taking his mission to the ends of the earth.
And the Christian life itself is often likened to a journey – a journey that begins when we come to Christ and takes a life time to complete. And I suppose the person who made this most clear is John Bunyan who in prison (for his beliefs) had a dream which became a book called the Pilgrim’s Progress. And it’s an allegory of the Christian life – a journey in which the central character ‘Christian’ begins the way of salvation and eventually arrives in the celestial city having had many dramatic adventures along the way.
And it’s not surprising really that the Christian life should be likened to a journey as the early followers of Jesus were originally called, followers of ‘The Way’ which meant the road or the journey. And didn’t Jesus himself say: “I am the way.”
And in much the same way as our individual Christian lives can be likened to a journey – when we come together corporately as the Church we’re also on a journey. But let us be clear by what we mean by the Church. As I’m sure you’ve heard many times before, the church is not really the building but the people, the fellowship of believers – living stones as it says in the New Testament. We are the Church. We are the body of Christ in this place, in this locality with a calling and the enabling of the Holy Spirit to continue with the mission of Jesus and to be an ambassador for him.
And St. Paul uses this metaphor of a body to show that the church like a human body is made up of many parts which are all dependent on one another to function efficiently and healthily. As St Paul says:
‘the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary those parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable’
And so we too – each one of us, all have a part to play in supporting and encouraging each other in the body of Christ; and to build each other up in the faith. We are all part of one another – all part of one body. And if we are together the body of Christ, we need one another, not only for the health of the body as a whole, but also to enable each individual to function at their full potential.
And so as a fellowship of believers we are journeying together. But as in any journey it’s one in which things can happen along the way and we can slow down or even come to a standstill. We can even go backwards or if we are not careful stray from the path and lose our way.
And there’s quite a vivid example of this from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress if we can go back to that for a moment. And it’s where ‘Christian’ and his companion near the end of their journey and they reach the edge of the Jordan River. And from where they are standing they can see on the other side the heavenly city. But at this point Christian’s friend says, “I’m not going through the river and he turns and walks down a side path, hoping there’s another way to the heavenly city.” And Bunyan writes, “And in my dream I saw there’s a road to hell even at the gates of heaven.”
Well we need to keep on going and keep our eyes focussed on the Lord Jesus. And it seems clear to me from Scripture that God’s desire is for us to keep moving in the direction in which he is leading. ‘Let us keep in step with the Spirit’ is what Paul says to the churches in Galatia.
And for us here at St Laurence’s if we are seeking to keep in step with the Spirt there will be times when God will call us into places and situations we’ve never been before: places and situations which will create not only new opportunities but new challenges as well. It’ll not always be easy but when he calls we need to follow where he is leading.
And there’s a fascinating image that often comes to mind when I think of the different stages in my own personal journey of faith. And it’s in the Old Testament story of the Exodus as God leads his people across the desert to the Promised Land. In the text it says:
‘By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.’
And when the people were camped this cloud would rest above the tent of the tabernacle but when it lifted it was a sign they were to pack up and move to the next stage of their journey and into a new place and a new situation. And if we think of it in modern day terms that cloud speaks to me of God’s presence amongst his people.
And it was not long ago when we, at St. Laurence’s moved into this new stage of our journey as we became part of the North Scarborough Group Ministry. I like to think of it as if the cloud of God’s presence lifted and moved us into a new set of relationships with new opportunities and new challenges. A coming together with others but still all one in Christ. And we find an echo of this in our reading from Ephesians when Paul speaks of Jesus bringing Jew and Gentile together and making them one in him.
And if we go back to the Old Testament nation of Israel for a moment – these were a people given a special calling by God. Abraham and his descendants were called to be a ‘light to the Nations.’ But somehow over time they strayed from the path and by the time of Jesus had lost their way. Instead of being a light to the rest of the world they had built dividing walls to separate themselves from everyone else. An example of this could be seen in the temple in Jerusalem where there was an inscription on the wall warning those who were not Jews to go no further into the temple courts – as if they did, they would only have themselves to thank for their death, which would inevitably follow.
Dividing walls – and that’s what walls do – they determine who’s in and who’s out; who’s included and who’s excluded. And there are not only physical walls we can see with our eyes but also the invisible walls of the heart. And it’s walls that keep people apart and it’s walls that make people suspicious and distrustful of one another: yet there’s something about human nature that wants to build walls.
And we catch something of this in a poem by the popular American poet, Robert Frost called ‘Mending Wall.’ And it’s the poem mentioned in the last issue of ‘parishlife.’ And it’s really a metaphor for the things that divide people. In fact, it’s one that President Kennedy quoted from when he inspected the Berlin Wall in June 1973. And what the poem does is to describe two neighbouring farmers who routinely each spring meet up to patch up a rock wall after the ravages of snow and ice over winter have broken it down. Together the narrator and his neighbour, between whose properties the wall runs, patiently put the wall back together stone by stone. But as they do this, the narrator begins to question the point of the wall in the first place as neither of them keep any livestock that are going to stray and they both grow different crops. He sees no reason for the wall to be kept at all. The neighbour doesn’t really have an answer to the question, yet will not be swayed from keeping the wall. He simply keeps trotting out something he remembers his father saying: “Good fences make good neighbours.”
But that then takes us to the heart of the reading we had from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus as there can be walls within churches and between churches. And these can be some of the most difficult. As for Ephesus this was a mixed church made up of Jews and Gentiles – two very different groups of people at one time separated by culture, ethnicity, religious practices and beliefs. And yet, in this new Christian community they are brought together through their new found faith in Jesus and into a new identity
It’s no longer a case of who’s in and who’s out; who’s near to God and who’s far from God. Through the cross of Jesus, the dividing wall that used to stand between the two has been torn down
And this speaks very much to our world today. While it may be the inclination of humankind to put up walls; it’s the inclination of God, through Jesus to pull them down. And God’s purpose is for inclusion, not exclusion, it’s to bring us closer to him and to one another.
And as I was reflecting on what this morning’s readings might be saying to us in the North Scarborough Group today – some well-known words of a hymn, we often sing, kept coming to mind – the one that says:
‘Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live. A place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end all divisions.’
And we live in an area of rich diversity don’t we, and that is reflected in our churches. Yes they are all different with different needs – yet we are all one in Christ Jesus. This is who we are – the body of Christ in this area and ‘if one part suffers’ says Paul ‘every part suffers with it’ and therefore we all need to support and encourage one another and to build each other up. To draw alongside and to give practical help where one might be struggling
And wouldn’t it be good if each one of us could seek to reach out across the group and also to other churches to build new relationships and friendships. And so let’s together build a house where love can dwell.
And if we are to keep in step with the Spirit isn’t that what we should be seeking to do – to build the household of faith in this area of North Scarborough.
a house where love can dwell;
a house full of grace, friendship and forgiveness;
a house where all dividing walls have been dismantled;
a house full of people who are passionate about Jesus; and
a house where all are welcome. Amen.
Philip Newell (Reader)
Sermon preached at St Laurence’s, Scalby at a service of Holy Communion on Sunday 14th October 2018