Sunday 3rd January 2021 – Epiphany

Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy;and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Reflection: the wonderful gift

We are not going to go over that worn out phrase for this year, ‘well it’s been a different Christmas than we are used to.’ Oh if only I had been given a pound for every time I heard that phrase over the last few weeks. But I do suppose this year may be the first time we still have gifts either to receive or give because we have not been able to mix with each other so there is something else different. In fact, as I was writing this during the week my brother-in-law phoned to ask if he could deliver gifts that morning. Of course needless to say it was all done in a safely distanced manner. I want to concentrate on the gift aspect of Epiphany this year. The Magi are mainly remembered for travelling far to deliver their presents, gifts they presented to the infant Jesus, valuable gifts, the best that they could offer, to the new born King. Our Christmas gift giving and receiving is special to all of us as we share with those whom we love in this outward expression of that love. The Magi gave because they had been given to. They gave their gifts because of that star which they followed to the Christ child. What an amazing gift for these astrologers. They spent most of their time gazing at the stars. Out of all the stars on which they could have focused, God led them to see the one that would lead them to Jesus. On any clear night look up to the sky in the wee pocket of the universe that is ours and see if you can count the visible stars then wonder how many stars are there in the universe? I don’t know how accurate this statement is but it has been said, there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world combined! Go ahead count them and let me know. No wonder that, when we look into the night sky, the vastness of it amazes us, when we are seeing only a tiny fraction of our own solar system, which is, in turn, only a tiny fraction of the universe. God directed the Magi to the one star that made all the difference. According to the gospels, the first announcement of the birth of the Messiah was to Jewish shepherds, men who lived on the fringe of Hebrew society. The second announcement was to Gentiles, to the Wise Men, people who lived on the outside of that society. It took much debate and the heroic efforts of people like Paul to make full Gentile inclusion in the Church a reality. But God’s truth won out: salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else. We come in from different backgrounds, but we all come in the same way: through Christ. There is something of great value here at the beginning of this new year. God went to the very extreme to include the outsiders; people like us, in the truth that the salvation of people is a great gift from God. Through the revelation of God to the Magi he was speaking not only to them but to the whole world. God’s sign to the Magi signalled from the very beginning the gift of his Son was for all, not just for a select few. The Magi were foreigners, astrologers who practiced another religion. All of this ought to have disqualified them from this encounter with the Messiah. And yet God showed them and they followed the star. In the coming of Christ, the walls have come down, that the door is opened to all, the Church gathered around Christ is to be a Church that makes no distinctions; race, gender, or social standing.  What a most beautiful gift God has given us of a great multifaceted collection of people who can—and should—make up the Church. Of course like some of the gifts we exchange we don’t always take advantage of those that are given to us. God has given us many wonderful gifts; Salvation, fellowship, our Bibles, a freedom to exercise our faith, and so much more. How much of God will we miss out on if we don’t accept God’s gift? How, though, are we responding to these tremendous gifts to us? Unlike the Magi with their learning that moved them to make that journey we may not have the bright star to guide our footsteps along the way but the light of Christ shines bright still across our world. As we embark upon a new year so too we continue on our journey of faith and discovering God afresh each new day.

Sunday 27th December

Reading: John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God.All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into beingin him was life,and the life was the light of all people.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Reflection

Last Sunday we looked at the word incarnate and explored how we will encounter God incarnate this Christmas time. How this may well differ for each of us. And even for ourselves how this may differ on any given day or whatever experience we are going through. Then during the watchnight service, we looked at a couple of names that the prophet Isaiah gave to the Bethlehem babe: wonderful counsellor and prince of peace. A counsellor, one to whom we can turn at any time and for whatever reason. Someone who will listen and who cares enough for us that we can be truly honest in their presence. The prince of peace, how we long for his peace to be upon our world and within our lives. When peace becomes the default position

of rulers and governments. When peace such as the world cannot give becomes ours to own. What do we do now with this cosmic Word of God, somehow become flesh? This morning we go a bit further as we open up John’s gospel. We move from incarnate with its Latin origins to Logos and its Greek origins. The Gospel of John says the Word was “in the beginning.” “The Word was with God.” “The Word was God.”

“In him was life and the life was the light of all people.” He says further, “The light shines in the darkness….” If you are familiar with musical pieces such as ballets, musicals or operas you will know that the overture introduces the audience to the tunes that are to come in the work. It joins together the more significant musical themes which in itself can be very engaging. The importance though is all about being prepared fully for the whole performance. This passage this morning is often referred to as ‘The Prologue’ to John ‘s Gospel and is more like an overture than an introduction. Almost every sentence contains signals of what will come later. The God who cares passionately and loves sacrificially takes the initiative to live the human life in order that humanity might fulfil God’s purpose and hope for them. Whilst some failed to recognise him and some rejected him, those who responded, witnessed his glory and were able to know God. The experience of the Word made flesh evokes faith and then witnesses to it. John’s famous use of Greek word logos, translated in English to ‘the Word’ in chapter 1 was a well-worn concept that he takes up and transforms. Being the home to the philosopher Heraclitus, many scholars believe Ephesus is the city where John wrote the Gospel. It was around 560 BCE that Heraclitus argued that the whole world is in a state of flux, but that there is one thing holding it all together. It was the logos, the word, the reason of the divine. By the logos the universe was created, by logos the world is sustained, by logos humans are able to reason. In the city with the strongest of logos traditions, the author of the fourth Gospel claims that this overarching force, binding the universe together and conferring life upon all humanity, became a real, mortal, touchable, vulnerable human being. In this short passage our attention is drawn both to the nearness and the infinite reach of the divine, the presence and yet unfathomable riches of the logos, the immanence and the transcendence of God. It sometimes seems as if the darkness of what people do to each other and to themselves, sooner or later, will put out the light. But John says of the light that is Christ, “and the darkness has not overcome it.” That’s the Gospel—which is indeed “good news.” We need to know that there is something which cannot be overcome by the darkness of this world’s death and destruction. John’s Gospel is speaking of that which becomes the most cherished of beliefs, the Incarnation. God knows about the darkness which we face in this world. And the darkness has not, cannot, and will not overcome the light which is God shining in and through Jesus.

Sunday 20th December – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading: Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Reflection

Well folks we have just about made it. We are but a few days away from celebrating Christmas Day.

Who would have thought that four weeks ago we would have made it here in one piece with all our patience intact and not a cross word been spoken to or by us. Who would have thought we would have turned into our children as we sighed, ‘Are we there yet?’ The right word at the right time can be so important any time of year but in and around Christmastime I think it becomes even more significant what we say to each other and how we respond to what is said. We have heard the word of the Prophet. We have heard the word of preparation. I wonder how the journey of Advent has been for you. Have you had time to sit back and relax? Have you been running about mad for weeks on end? How has it all been for You? We hear words this morning that are about to propel the world into a new era. Words used to describe to Mary what is about to happen to her that will change everything forever. We are told that Mary was ‘greatly troubled by the words of the angel’. God is about to become incarnate. What does the word incarnate mean? I have a book in my study entitled, ‘Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms’. I bought it when I was a student at New College. Incarnation comes from Latin caro or carnis both meaning flesh. Placing in before this gives us our understanding God in the flesh. The eternal second part of the trinity God became a human being. Took on flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Christ therefore becomes as John’s gospels puts it, the word made flesh. That tells us what the root of the word. It gives a very basic and simple theology of the word. But how are we to make sense of all of that for now, for our time? During a zoom meeting with colleagues we were discussing how we are going to approach Christmas in this most difficult of years. One question we discussed at length was. What has been the main learning experience of this year? We spoke about how so much of the Church’s life centres around that coming together as a community of faith. And the impact the partial reopening of our churches with very limited numbers and restrictions, limiting the experience for those who come to worship. How so much of the work we do as ministers involves being with people. And how visiting people in hospital or in their home has been restricted. In effect I suppose we were discussing. What does it mean this year for God to be incarnate? In Jesus, God was all about going to people meeting and speaking with them; sharing in fellowship and encouraging them; challenging them on how they may change their lives. A couple of my colleagues lamented over how they are missing this social interaction. From the cup of tea following a service to the one to one pastoral privileges that go with the job. In a year when speaking with people who were trying to arrange the funeral of a loved one how difficult it has been to convey the presence of God when we are apart when the most compassionate and caring thing we can do is to be distanced from each other. In a year when weddings have been cancelled and family gatherings curtailed. But the story goes on. The journey it continues. How will these changes affect the future? Now there’s a question that just may require us to revisit the words of Mary from the end of our reading. Mary answered, ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ The visitor comes to Mary with good news. Mary questions how all of this can be. The angel reassures her that God is with her. Mary questions how this will be. An explanation is given and Mary accepts the will of God for her life. Mary has journeyed from a position of asking, ‘What kind of greeting is this?’ to an acceptance that asks ‘How will this be?’ A subtle change in the wording but an enormous shift in the outlook now for Mary. How we experience the incarnate God in our lives may differ for each of us. For many of our church family it is all about the coming together; and the stories of faith which we share together. For many it is in their prayer life as they turn to God to guard and to guide, in each and every circumstance. For others it is joining together in church; seeing one another and being in God’s presence.

The incarnate Christ is there in our midst.

Sunday13th December – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

Reflection: The Kingdom

Isaiah tells us the Spirit of the Lord is on him, and proclaims a future when it will rest on us also as brothers and sisters of the living God. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What is it like, this kingdom? The message for this third Sunday in Advent is all about an understanding of and knowledge about life in the kingdom of God. There will be an abundance of food and understanding and wisdom.

The poor and the needy will be rescued and cared for, the oppressed will be made safe and healed, justice and mercy will reign, righteousness and equity will be the order of the day. There will be the release of a tremendous power that can actually transform nature. And this power will bring peace, a harmony and order of things that will last forever and will transform our lives forever. It is the life in the presence of God, the life in God’s kingdom, the life in Christ. The opening verses are coming direct from the prophet later in Luke’s gospel Jesus quotes verse one and the first line of verse two before saying to the people, ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ We belong to a religion of relationship, not a religion of law.

In a religion of law all we have to do is follow the rules. We don’t need to engage with them in any meaningful way, we don’t need to interpret them or discuss their merits we simply, even blindly, follow the rules as they are laid down before us. If a messiah is part of the package, it is our job to wait for that messiah to come, following the rules in the meantime. In a religion of relationship, in Christianity, our job is to acknowledge our relationship with God and to engage in that relationship. It is hard to have a healthy relationship with someone if you never show up or only rarely acknowledge their existence. The relationship does exist no matter what you do, but it is simply an unhealthy or inactive relationship if you fail to participate as an active partner. Isaiah offers great hope to people of his time just as that same hope is offered to people today. This promised Messiah will be God in relationship with his people. The broken hearted will be bound up. The captives will be set free. No more will people carry the ashes of mourning instead they will be anointed with the oil of gladness. No more will despair and gloom be the outlook for this will be replaced with a garment of praise. There will be a rebuilding of the things which the people held dear in their hearts. The restoration of Jerusalem following the exile. The restoration of God’s people when the Saviour comes. God’s promises are for all of us, they are essential if we are to live into the full power and joy and contentment of relationship with God.

Reading: Isaiah 61:8-11

“For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.” I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Reflection: Rejoice

From the words of Isaiah we turn now to the words of the Lord confirming everything that Isaiah has said before. Now God proclaims this everlasting covenant that he will make with his people. If we believe that God can see that we live in harmony with one another, then we must allow God to be at the centre of that harmony; if we believe that God can heal us, we must allow God’s hand to implement that healing; if we believe that God can forgive the sins we have committed, then we must allow God to forgive those sins.

God is pastoral; God loves this glorious relationship with us. We have to prepare a way for God, through Christ and his spirit, to enter into our lives and also a way for God’s message to come out again from us. The prophet, Isaiah, is looking to and speaking of a time when a descendent of David will bring in a reign of justice and peace when all of creation will live in harmony. It is a picture of not only how things could be, but what they will be like under the leadership of the new king. The king will be unlike any other, who has gone before him, deemed as fit for the job because of their royal birth. He will have the Spirit of God working in and through him bringing out such gifts of leadership that are necessary to govern wisely and deal with people justly yet firmly. Christ the Messiah is seen as both Saviour and judge. Saviour to those who believe and judge of those who don’t. It is not unrealistic to look on this time between the first coming of Christ and the second as, ‘The year of the Lord’s favour.’ This is the time when we are offered salvation. The choices we make in this life may well determine if Christ returns as our Saviour or judge. In verse 11 the prophet describes what the new kingdom will be like painting a scene of paradise regained. ‘For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.’ The world is turned the right way up once again with peace and harmony, equality and justice the marks of the new kingdom. Through all of this his message is one of hope for all God’s people. A time to sow the seeds of hope is here and now. The king is coming not just to individuals, but to communities and nations also. The king is not working in isolation from his people, but in partnership with them. In a world where there are many voices there is a need for a clear voice to speak clearly for God.

Sunday 6th December – 2nd Sunday of Advent

The Christ of Christmas

Micah 5 – 1-9

As a whole, people look forward to Christmas with more anticipation than any other season of the year. It is truly a time of rejoicing, bright eyes, giving and receiving of gifts, much delicious food, and visiting of relatives and friends. However, Christmas would have very little real depth of meaning apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is his birth date that we celebrate this season of the year, and it is the Christ of Christmas that is the subject for this message. The Christ of Christmas from birth to his present status is a revelation from God.

A. In Christ’s birth, one can see the power of God to rise above the natural and manifest himself in a miraculous way.

The Babe in Bethlehem was one of the greatest miracles of all times. He was the pre-existent one now in earthly existence. He was the eternal God in the form of a fleshly child.

No one but an ever-present God could do this. The Babe in Bethlehem was born of a virgin without an earthly father. This also reveals God at work in an unusual way. Only one who had all power would be able to break a natural law and bring one into the world as God did Christ. The Babe in Bethlehem is a proof of God’s fulfillment of prophecy. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, God had promised such an event with many little details spelled out. This is a revelation of God’s knowledge and of his ability to carry out plans.

        B. In Christ’s life, one can see the nature and characteristics of God at work.

The Bible speaks of God as love, and no greater revelation of love can be found and/or manifested than in Jesus Christ. He loved all. This all is all-inclusive regardless of how people might be catalogued or characterized. There are no exceptions. The Bible speaks of God’s being no respecter of persons.  In the life of Jesus, one can see the validity of  such a statement.  In him the worth of each person is emphasized.

The Bible also speaks of Jesus as a God of compassion, and his very movements while on earth manifested God as a God of compassion.

C.    In Jesus’ death, one can see the sacrifice of God to redeem lost people. In Jesus, God died physically and spiritually to pay the price of sin.

The wages of sin is death. This death is physical, but it is also separation from God, and Jesus paid the full price. Jesus shed his blood for the remission of sin. From the beginning of time, blood sacrifices played a major role in the atonement for sin. But when Jesus died, his was a sacrifice once and for all, and apart from his sacrifice, there is no remission of sin.

D.    In his resurrection, ascension, and intercession, one can see God as mighty, ruling, and victorious.

The resurrection reveals power over enemy number one—​death and the grave. When Jesus arose from the grave, he broke the power of death and the grave, and so he reveals God. The ascension reveals God’s power over time and physical laws. The intercession reveals God and his concern for all people of all time.

E.    In Jesus’ coming again, one can see the cleansing and ruling Christ.

 The Christ of Christmas is worthy of a lofty place in the lives of all people.

A.    He is worthy of worship, and people do worship him.

To worship Christ aright—​in spirit and in truth—​we must surrender our

lives to him for salvation. Then Jesus becomes a personal Saviour, and this is his purpose of coming into the world. Christ is to be worshiped privately the year around. He is to be worshiped publicly in the church throughout the year. Christ is to be worshiped in adoration. Everyone ought to see him as God and as Saviour and manifest reverent admiration for him. Christ is to be worshiped in praise. All Christians are to praise his name, his works, his love, and his redeeming grace. Christ is to be exalted because of love for him and appreciation to him.

B.    Christ is worthy of one’s life and possessions.

In him one’s life is its very best, and apart from him it is inferior. In him a life is what it ought to be, and apart from him it is less than the best. In him one’s possessions are sanctified, cleansed, and multiplied for good.

C. Christ is worthy of recognition and consultation by the entire world.

 It is natural to want to share Christ, and it is beneficial to consult him in every facet of life.

Conclusion

This is the Christmas season.  In your buying of gifts, do not forget Christ. Think of missions.

Think of the church and include Christ in the expenditure of money. In our seeking of happiness and a good time, take him into our lives, and he will give supreme happiness.

Sunday 29th November – 1st Sunday of Advent

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come.It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Reflection

In the days of Advent, as we wait for Christmas we should take time to remind ourselves that God wants us to rise to the life He intends us to know and to enjoy. Advent is a time of preparation. In our day and age Christmas, with all its extravagance, has all but removed Advent off the map altogether. This reading starts with one of those predictions of the way things will be when the end is nearly upon the world. Perhaps the truth is there are always indications that the world is not as it should be. We are called to wait expectantly for the day that Jesus has promised. We have let the idea of the Second Coming of Christ slip to the back of our thinking. I wonder how central it is in our faith journey today. Yet Jesus did promise that he would return one day, and in Advent we should be aware that we are not only awaiting our celebration of his first coming in the Babe of Bethlehem, but also his coming again at the end of time to usher in the Kingdom as he promised. Remember what it was like as a wee boy or girl waiting for the arrival of Christmas. There was a great deal of excitement. There was the worry that, perhaps Santa Claus would not come, or would not bring the toy, or game, or book that we so eagerly wanted. As December passed by the level of anticipation rose until, on the night of Christmas Eve, many children were then, and are still, unable to get to sleep. I wonder if that was anything like the attitude of the People of God as they waited for the coming of the Messiah? Were they a people literally quivering with excitement anticipating their liberation and vindication at the hands of God? This was very much part of their understanding of what God would do for them, they were attuned to waiting for God to act on their behalf. I imagine something of their patience was firmly grounded in their history. I also imagine there were the not so patient ones, who were eager to make things happen. The People of God believed that ill favour befell them when they didn’t live up to God’s demands of them. Whether it was travelling through the Exile, or enduring the Roman occupation, they thought that their misfortune was the result of God’s displeasure. Only when their penance had been served, would vindication come. They didn’t doubt that they would be vindicated. They were sure that God would act for them. Today do we still carry that same kind of message? We believe this because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who came that first Christmas to bring us back into a right relationship with the God who made us and who loves us. I believe that, because of Jesus, God forgives us when we are truly repentant, and will continue to love us. Perhaps repentance is a concept that we have moved away from in our society. “Sorry” is said lightly, and only when someone has been found out. We live in a world and a society which has come to expect only good. A society that was so sure of itself and the control it had over the world it would quite comfortably predict what tomorrow will bring without as much as a smidgeon of second thought. It was beyond the big thinkers of our time to doubt unending economic growth with increasing prosperity and greater comfort in the world through the years. Of course none of us need to be told that this year has thrown an almighty spanner in that works. Until the early part of this year everything had become so predictable in life that to speak out with a message that jarred with the mainstream would be different enough that it could be easily dismissed. I suspect that this is why Advent may have lost its potency. Christmas appears to have gate crashed its forerunner and taken over by at least midway through. Jesus calls us to watch and to wait, and to be ready. Will Christmas rush towards us again this year and find us unprepared, when Christ comes we are not ready to receive him. The message of Advent calls us to look to what is important. It reminds us that we can be assured of God’s love, for it was in love He came among us in Christ. Jesus assures us of God’s forgiveness; hope and strength are ours through him.

Sunday 22nd November 2020

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Reflection

Christ the King Sunday is the final Sunday in the Church’s year. Let’s begin with an aye been question.

Now we know, apart from God, nothing has truly aye been. Has the church aye celebrated Christ the King Sunday? What century did it begin? 10th, 14th, 17th, 19th, 20th. The feast of Christ the King was first marked in 1925, a few years after WWI, it was intended to assert the power of Christ in the world, over the power of war, over the power of totalitarianism. Paul’s hymn to love that we read in 1st Corinthians is one of the greatest pieces of love poetry ever written.  It is the sort of love that is strong as steel and relates to all manner of human relationships.  All our divisions and selfishness, all our arrogance and impatience, all our deceit and dishonesty the problems and issues that confront so many people are challenged head on in this writing. It may sound a very simple solution but I will ask the question. Can love overcome all these human failings? Paul declares with absolute certainty, Yes. Yet if I am really honest, and I suppose if you were really honest too, we sometimes still wonder, will love have the victory? As today is Christ the King Sunday it may be good for us to think about the emotional footprint each of us will leave behind.

What legacy do we leave for others?

What are the things we hold on to that could describe how we feel about ourselves and life in general?

Jesus’ footprint was a giant footprint then and still is today despite much anti-Christian feeling. Remember he cried over Jerusalem, and the people who were like sheep without a shepherd. Remember his emotion over the suffering and isolation of lepers. Yet he could still be hurt by the fact that only one thought to come back to say thank you. Jesus was no soft touch either; he showed his anger at the hypocrisy and oppression around him. He taught us to call God our loving father. He taught us to care for others as we care for ourselves. He shared his vision of good news for the poor, liberty and freedom for the oppressed, sight for the blind and salvation for all. We saw his humility, gentleness and obedience. He always had the power of God but gave it up to become like us. He gave up all he had and gave his life for the world. We saw his agony in the garden, his forgiveness from the cross, his care of his mother in his dying moments. With his last words on earth he promised that he would never leave us, but would be with us always through his Holy Spirit. Not one person has had such a profound effect on our world as this one man. His emotional footprint is giant sized. As Christians does the teaching of Jesus shine from our lives, meaning that our footprint is a positive one?

What about the footprint left by the Church?

There is much written on the pages of history that leave the church not looking too. There is much written on the pages of history that show the church in a much better light. But people, often to suit their own agenda, ignore the good footprints which Christians have left behind, preferring to concentrate on the bad and the negative. When we embark on a campaign of, let’s call it religious works, if the root of that is some sort of merit for the one doing it then it is in vain. These things ought to be done for the other and not for the self. Promoting Christian unity, Christian love and Christian ministry in the world, we are a people who are called to feed one another and support one another and to witness to the world. Paul’s ‘love is’ list says if we have spiritual gifts but not love we are nothing. Therefore, he is saying a person who is filled with love is patient, is kind etc. a person filled with love will not envy, does not boast etc. Paul wrote about the footprint left by Jesus and he reminds us of who we are and whom we belong to, of what we should be doing and who we should be doing it for, of where our abilities come from and where those abilities are meant to be applied. He was talking about the footprints we leave behind. Let us make sure the emotional footprints we leave on friends, family and even strangers changes their world for the better. Let us walk in the footprints of Jesus the Christ and King.

Sunday 15th November 2020

Reading: John 6:16-24

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone.Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

Reflection

Next Sunday will mark the end of the Christian Calendar year as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday.

This morning’s reading follows the feeding of the 5,000 when the crowd intended to make Jesus king through force hence his retreating from them. He sent his disciples away from him for they too wanted him to take the mantle of kingship. Their understanding was incomplete. Jesus must first go the cross to fulfil God’s plan. He was not to become an earthly king but rather a suffering servant. It was on the boat as they left Jesus that the problems began.

Disaster movies often have that don’t panic scene. You know the one where the hero or the heroine is trying to organise the others to escape the oncoming disaster. Somebody always loses the plot, they start screaming about how they are all going to die. Don’t panic shouts the one in charge, often followed by a sharp slap to the cheek. Generally speaking, this is good advice though maybe not the slapping part, but certainly the don’t panic. We shouldn’t let fear paralyse us so that we do nothing. We shouldn’t let fear make us over-react so that we do lots of unhelpful things. Of course it is equally bad advice to stay too calm, too unruffled, when there is a true disaster shaping up. When we read John’s account it appears that the storm is not posing an impending disaster or crisis. These men are fishermen, they make their living from the lake. Look carefully it is when they see Jesus that they become terrified. This is an account of an incident in which John found, in a way that he would never forget, what Jesus was like. This is something that has lived with John, something that he obviously had thought about from the time of it happening until he wrote his gospel, somewhere in the region of sixty years later. Let’s set the scene. The disciples set sail. As Jesus sits alone, he could see they were toiling with the oars. The toiling disciples look up and see him. Shocked, amazed, somewhat unbelievable, something of how they might have felt. I imagine John the fisherman reliving the story; feeling that night again; the grey silver of the moonlight, the rough oar against his hand, the flapping sail, the shriek of the wind, and the sound of the surging water, that unexpected appearance of Jesus, the sound of his voice across the waves. John did more than remember he recognised that Jesus continues to watch over them. Even in this quiet time they were in his heart. When we are up against it Jesus watches over us too. He doesn’t step in making things too easy for us. He lets us fight our own battles and win our own victory. Any parent will remember watching the school sports day, you watch with great enthusiasm, you encourage as much as you can, you may cheer or weep depending on the outcome. The one thing you cannot do is run the race for the child. John saw Jesus come down from the hillside; he came, not unmoved, not detached. When strength is failing and life feels all too much for us, he comes with the strength for the last effort, that final push, the burst of energy that leads to victory. As John remembered it, as Jesus arrived so too did they. ‘the boat reached land at the place they were heading for’ is how the passage puts it. Isn’t it quite wonderful that here we have John the old fisherman turned evangelist finding all the wealth of Christ in the memory of a fisherman’s story. This Jesus who is always a comfort may not always be a comfortable companion. He would tell us to open our doors to the poor and the sick, to lay down our weapons and love our enemies, and to trust him to make it all work. I want to close by telling you a story about a small village school. The teacher had told the children this story of Jesus and his disciples at the lake. It was quite a while later when the village was hit by a blizzard, the wind was whipping across the playground and the snow was falling heavily all over the surrounding area. The decision was taken to close the school. As parents struggled to take the children home having to practically drag them through the drifts at some points. One mother nearly exhausted with the struggle overheard a little boy say, half to himself, ‘We could do with that chap Jesus being here now.’ And doesn’t that encapsulate the Gospel Yes, the unknown can be pretty scary at times. But listen carefully and you will hear these words, ‘don’t be afraid it is I.’

Service Of Remembrance 8th November 2020

View a short video from today’s Service of Remembrance

Reading: John 15:9-17

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 

This is my command: Love each other.

Reflection

All of us are experiencing something very different this year in the things that we have known as normal throughout our lives. There are things that are happening that takes much of what we decide to do with our lives out of our hands. I wonder if in some sort of strange way those of us who have lived through a time of war may be experiencing what that uncertainty would have felt like. One period of life seems normal, whatever that may mean to different people, then very quickly normal looks different. From playing everyday childhood games a young person during the 1940’s might have witnessed fighter planes flying overhead or warships amassing in a port. This year 75 years after the end of WWII young people have gone from playing everyday childhood games to witnessing things such as social distancing and face coverings. Both generations coming face to face with a new normal in a short space of time. Over the week leading up to this morning we have been sharing together each day in reflections of war poetry and the men who wrote these poems. Some of them did exactly what our reading from John’s gospel speaks of. ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ Others had close relatives who were lost to war. Yet others survived and returned home with the emotional scars to be carried with them for the rest of their lives. Jesus speaks of the love that lays down its life, this is not a path he has not taken himself. As with soldiers in every conflict they are called to leave the comfort and safety of what they know and love the dearest. They are called to leave home and journey to a place and a situation that may well be unknown to them. Jesus did likewise leaving his Father’s right hand. He entered into a world of darkness, suffering, sin and death. He came to this world and he bore the taunts and rejection. He came to this world where his motives were questioned and his authority challenged. He came to this world and offered his life that you and I and all God’s children might be restored to life and to peace with God! Jesus asks us to follow the example he has set. To mirror his great love. As we remember today those who did just that we are once more reminded what costly love! To lay one’s life out there for their friends and if needs be to yield it up! Jesus says, ‘I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father

I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you. We are here on Remembrance Sunday to remember those who have served in war, those who were left behind to worry and fret. We are here on Remembrance Sunday to remember those who are still serving in hostile places, those who are still being left behind to worry and fret. But so too we are here to remember that each of us is called daily to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not call us to go where he first has not gone. He does not call us to go without firstly assuring us that he will go with us. The call may be daunting, but he will give us strength, by the power of his life within us!‘ I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. ’Therefore, abide in him! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the very power of God! Some have been called to die for their friends. The rest of us have been called to live for ours.

There is still a commitment. There is still a cost. There is also a promised strength.

May God help us to serve wholeheartedly as we are called to love and to serve.