Go to Galilee

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Sunday 19 April 2020 – the date of my Farewell service to mark the end of my formal ministry, as I retire at the end of April.  The planned service with all my friends around me won’t happen now, of course, because of the Coronavirus, so we are putting together a virtual service.

This is the sermon, reflecting on Mark 16:1-8

Early on the Sunday morning, the women go to the tomb, anxious about how they will gain access, in order to complete the last rites of the hurried pre-Sabbath burial. They had watched the crucifixion from the shadows, and they think they will be ministering to the darkness of death.

 

But the stone has been rolled away, and the body of Jesus is not there.

 

The sun has risen. God’s Son has Risen.

 

A young man in white, an angel, tells them to tell the men to go ahead to Galilee, the place where it all began, the start of the ministry, and the start of the ministry is to tell the good news.

 

The women have come out of the shadows. They are ordained as the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

 

It is all too scary – the whole thing: Jesus rising from the dead, the appearance of the angel, the mission to tell the other disciples, the commission to go back to the start, to the proclamation of the good news.

 

But we know that the women do come out of the shadows. They do tell the story; they do give the good news. It does not end in silence.

 

It does not end in silence.

 

This service marks the end of my formal ministry as a priest, 9 years here in Gateshead and before that in Annfield Plain and Harelaw, Fairfield and Elton, and Birtley. It has been such a privilege to serve as a priest in all these places, working with the faithful and loving people of God. Ministry has taken me to places and experiences I never expected: seeing angels of light at St Marks with the church treasurer just before we closed the church, travelling to China with St Aidan’s School, working with asylum seekers at Bensham. It has given me great joy.

 

But now I need to go back to Galilee, back to the beginning, to my home in Durham. I need to rest. My health has not been good over the last 10 months, and I am still seeing many doctors. In 6 months time, I will be given Permission to Officiate, and I will be able to help out in churches where it is difficult to find cover.

 

Now it is your turn to take on the mission, to be witnesses to the Risen Christ, to proclaim the good news in the places where you find yourselves.

 

Christ is Risen. Live that risen life, with faith and hope and love. Alleluia!

Unhappy endings

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I like to read novels, when I have time, and I like going to the movies. And when I am reading or watching a story, I like proper endings: the enemy is vanquished, the lost are found, true love overcomes all obstacles. Those kinds of endings are satisfying.

 

But I know real life is not like that! There are no proper endings. The glorious victory is just today’s victory – tomorrow brings new challenges. Today’s romance moves on to the drudgery of day to day life.

 

Today’s Gospel reading tells us that what happens next can be difficult.

 

Over the last week, we have been hearing the story of the baby born in Bethlehem, and the shepherds who came to visit. Next week we hear the story of the wise men. Today’s story actually picks up where next week’s story ends, which is a bit confusing.

 

So the visitors from far away have gone back home, and they have left Herod the King in a state of anxiety, because he now knows about the birth of a new king, which Herod sees as a threat. So he’s thinking about how to protect his political security.

 

In the meantime, Joseph the dreamer has another dream, and an angel tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. So the holy family become refugees and seek asylum in Egypt. They travel by night, leaving everything behind them. They travel secretly, staying out of sight of the authorities, and out of sight of anyone who might report them. It is a long journey.

 

I am sure this will resonate for many of you here, who have made difficult journies to leave a place where there is threat of violence to seek a new home where you hope you can find safety, even when it means leaving everything you knew, making difficult journies and then having to learn a new language and navigate difficult Home Office systems. Remember that, however difficult things have been and still are, Mary and Joseph and Jesus have been there too.

 

And then in the Gospel reading, we hear about the danger that Mary and Joseph and Jesus are escaping. Herod wants to kill the new baby king to protect himself. So he sends his soldiers to kill all the children aged under 2 in the Bethlehem area. A terrible atrocity.

 

So we have the lovely story of Christmas, of the birth of the baby Jesus, with the angels celebrating in the sky, and telling the shepherds who come to visit. It is full of joy, and the angels are singing about the glory of God and peace on earth. And then we discover that Herod has no time for God’s glory or for peace on earth, and he is setting out to kill the baby Jesus, and because he doesn’t know which child is the new king, he kills all the young children in and around Bethlehem. It is not a happy ending!

 

Today’s story from the Gospel is not comfortable. It does not make us feel good. But it does show us that whatever difficulties we experience in life, Jesus has been there too. Jesus understands our pain and hurt and suffering. And he can embrace us in our struggles and give us the faith and hope and love that we need to get through.

 

It is also a reminder to us to show love and care to those who need to escape their own countries. And to pray for those who have lost their children.

 

I once met a family at the Food Coop at Corpus Christi. They had to leave their own country and made a long and dreadful journey to get to the UK. On the way, they lost one of their 3 children. They were heart-broken. I remember them especially today.

Telling the Story

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There are many ways to tell the Christmas story.

 

Eslington School had their nativity play here last Thursday, and their production was about a magical journey, and included a talking Christmas tree and a magic star. I also heard of a 4 year old who refused to be anything but a dinosaur in the nursery nativity play and so the play was re-written to include this character. I have seen a lovely picture of a child in dinosaur costume tenderly cuddling the baby Jesus.

 

Matthew and Luke tell the Christmas story about a baby born in Bethlehem after an unusual conception – a very human story.

 

And today we hear a different Christmas story, from John. John tells us about the coming of Christ in terms of philosophy and poetry. Some might say that this is the divine story of Christmas, the story from God’s point of view.

 

John’s Gospel – and today’s passage – starts: “In the beginning …” When you get a moment, take a look at the beginning of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. It also begins “In the beginning …” and tells the story of God creating the world. There is a theme throughout that first story in Genesis: God said, “Let there be …” and we hear of God creating light and land and living creatures. God speaks, and things come into being. And what God speaks is his Word. God’s Word makes things happen. God’s Word makes things live.

 

So in John’s Gospel, when John says “In the beginning …”, he is reminding us of that first creation, and signalling to us that he is telling us about a new creation. In this new creation, God’s Word itself, the Word God said, the Word God spoke becomes light and life. The Word is Jesus Christ, and John is telling us how Jesus comes into being – the Christmas story.

 

Into a dark world, Jesus brings light: light to places of hate and violence; light to people who are suffering and hurting; light to minds that are clouded and ignorant.

 

Into a world of lies and deception, Jesus brings truth. Into a world that is hurt and broken, Jesus brings grace – love and forgiveness.

 

It is a very different way of telling the Christmas story, but it is the same story: that God loved us so much that he sent his Son into the world to be born as a human child, to live among us and teach us how to live with love, with truth, with forgiveness.

 

And each one of us will have our own Christmas story, the story of how Christ came to be born in us and bring God’s light and grace and truth into our lives. Many of you have told me your stories: about how there was darkness and difficulties, and then someone introduced you to Jesus, and everything changed. For other people, you have gone to church all your lives, and the bible stories are all so familiar, and then one day, it’s like a light goes on, and you come to know Jesus for yourself.

 

Today we celebrate all those stories.

 

At St Aidan’s School on Friday, I asked the children what they were giving for Christmas, and they told me they were giving love, hope, compassion, joy, forgiveness. I was so proud of them and of the teachers who had taught them, proud that they had made Jesus and his values part of their lives. This was how they were responding to the Christmas story, and how they would take the meaning of Christmas forward.

 

As we kneel before the manger, we welcome the Lord Jesus once again into our lives, and make space for the Christmas story to grow in us.

The Greatest Gift

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Last week my grand-daughter, 5 years old, said to me, “Christmas is about giving.” That’s what she had been taught at her Church of England primary school. I started to teach her something different: Christmas is about Incarnation. That’s a technical, theological word. What it means is that God became human. And that is the story we celebrate this evening, this Christmas-time.

 

Two thousand years ago, in Israel, a baby was born. The Evangelist Luke, who tells the story we heard just now, is keen to give the political context and the historical context. Never mind that he gets some of the facts wrong – his message is: this happened at this time and place, it was a real event involving real people.

 

The baby’s human father was Joseph, who was descended from King David, the best ever king who ruled in the golden age of Jewish history. And everyone hoped that a new king would rise who would be like David, a Jewish king for a Jewish nation, who would expel the Roman invaders, and make Israel great again.

 

Joseph brings his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem, his family home town. The school nativity plays show them knocking at the doors of all the inns and hotels in town and finding nowhere to stay. That really isn’t how it happened. Bethlehem was too small to locate an inn – you wouldn’t put a Premier Inn in Sunniside or Ouston. And the word that many English versions of the bible translate as “inn” is more accurately translated as “guest room”.

 

So why did Mary and Joseph have such trouble finding a place to stay? A middle eastern family would not normally turn away any relative, particularly a relative about to give birth. Maybe Bethlehem was so overcrowded. Maybe because they all knew the story of the unusual pregnancy, and they thought it was shameful. Maybe because there was nowhere suitable for Mary to give birth.

 

We don’t know, but the holy family end up in the animal area of the house. The animals were probably outside. After all, this was almost certainly not December – the scholars have argued that it was more like April or October when Jesus was born.

 

But the baby is born, and Mary makes the best of what’s around her to clothe and comfort the little child.

 

Then we start to learn how special this baby is! The angels rejoice in heaven because this baby has been born! They are dancing for joy and singing so loudly that a bunch of shepherds see them and hear them.

 

Angels are heavenly beings, extra-ordinary creatures. They are not part of the ordinary vista in the sky at night. Angels work for God. They come and go as God’s messengers and servants. And generally speaking, they are not seen by humans.

 

But these angels are out there, visible, having a party. The shepherds are perplexed.

 

So one of the angels has to come down and explain. To shepherds. The birth of this special baby, celebrated by angels, is announced to shepherds. And in ancient Jewish society, shepherds were as common as muck. They lived out of doors most of the time with their smelly animals. They were not clean enough to pray, not rich enough to pay their way in the Temple.

 

But it is these shepherds who hear the angel’s message and go to find the little baby. The first visitors were ordinary people. And Luke the Evangelist is telling us that this baby, this God incarnate, God become a human being, comes to ordinary people. Like the shepherds. Like us.

 

Christmas is about God coming to be born as a baby to live among us. We call it incarnation. God gives himself to us, totally. And that great gift invites a response from us.

 

One of my favourite Christmas Carols is “In the Bleak Midwinter”. In the final verse, the poet Christina Rossetti wonders “What can I give him?” She imagines the shepherds bringing a lamb to the baby Jesus and the wise men bringing their gifts. She concludes that we should give our heart, our loyalty, our love. And we can respond to give to him ourselves, our love, our service.

 

When my grand-daughter said that Christmas is about giving, she probably thought about the presents being purchased and prepared for family members.

 

But behind it all is God’s gift to us – the greatest gift of all.

Angels

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Jacob had left home after he had cheated his brother. His mother told him to get out of the way and look up his uncle. He has been walking all day, and night comes. He makes a bed for himself in the sands of the desert and settles down to sleep. He has a dream.

 

In the dream he sees a ladder stretching up to heaven and angels are going up and down. And then the Lord is standing beside him, promising that God will be with him will protect him, and will bring him back safely to this land, where his descendants will flourish.

 

Today, 29 September, is the Feast of St Michael and All Angels. And that gives us the opportunity to think about the place of angels in the Christian faith.

 

In the Bible, Angels come into the story when God is doing something new and people need a bit of direction and encouragement. They have a role when people need to see things in a new way, to adjust the way they perceive what is going on around them, and to find a new way of going forward. They also bring messages from God and warnings about the future.

 

In the story about Jacob’s ladder, the angels are a sign that heaven and earth are very close and that God is fully engaged with the lives of human beings.

 

In the Gospel story, when Jesus meets Nathanael, he tells him that he, Nathanael, will see angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. It is clearly a reference to the story of Jacob. Jesus is saying that he is the ladder between heaven and earth. Once again, the reference to angels is a sign that something new is happening, that in Jesus we come close to God.

 

Four angels are named in the bible, and we call them archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. We know Gabriel the messenger from the story of Jesus’ birth. Raphael is the angel of healing and we hear about him in the story of Tobit – in this story too we hear how the angels bring the prayers of the people to Almighty God. Uriel means light or fire of God. It was believed that he stood at the gates of Eden when Adam and Eve were forced out.

 

But today we celebrate Michael, the chief of the angels, a warrior fighting evil in a cosmic battle and bringing the souls of the righteous to heaven. Jesus Christ has won the battle against sin and death on earth, and his champion Michael with all the angels mirrors this battle with Satan in heaven. It is all part of the same conflict.

 

Angels are there in the background of our faith. They are beings of light. When God wills it, we might encounter them directly. There are many stories of people who have been protected or guided by angels, or given a new direction. Jesus himself talks about Guardian Angels, our own helpers and protectors.

 

There are a lot of misunderstandings about angels. Angels are, surprisingly, very popular in secular life, but they tend to be sugar-coated, sentimental beings. Some people believe that when we die, we become angels, which is just not true. Angels are quite different from humans.

 

When I saw angels in 2008 in the church I was then working in, it was a time of great change for that church. It was a sign that God was with us and God would go with us into the next stage of our lives. It was an encouragement and a promise and a calling to do God’s work.

 

There is an old hymn – you don’t find it in modern hymnbooks – but I love the chorus.

 

Angels of Jesus, Angels of light,

Singing to welcome the pilgrims of the night.

 

It’s a hymn about the angels encouraging us when our lives are dark. It says when things are tough, keep going, persevere – we are not alone.

Sale Items

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I am retiring in 2020 after 19 years in parish ministry, a degree in New Testament and Practical Theology from St Andrew’s University (1976), and theological training with the North East Ordination Course. Having acquired books all through my adult life, I need to down-size considerably – in particular, I am reducing my library to those books I think I will need or want to read in retirement.

 

These will be available for sale in our Durham house on Friday 11 October 1.00pm-3.00pm and Saturday 12 October 10.00-12.30. Other times could be arranged, particularly Sunday evenings. Albert Street is in the Durham parking scheme, which doesn’t apply on Sundays. There are no parking meters, so visitors’ parking permits are required for weekdays and Saturdays until 6.00pm.

 

The list below is a sample of the books, clothing, and artefacts available.

 

Spirituality

Classics of Western Spirituality: Albert & Thomas, Johann Arndt, Thanasius, Jakob Boehme, Bonaventure, Catherine of Sienna, John Climacus, Meister Eckhart, Francis & Clare, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palmas, Hadewijch, Julian of Norwich, Origen, Pseudo-Dionysius, Richard of St Victor, Emmanuel Swedenborg, Pietists, Apocalyptic Spirituality.

Don Brophy, Catherine of Siena: A Passionate Life

Mary O’Driscoll ed, Catherine of Siena

Gordon Wakefield, Groundwork of Christian Spirituality

Jones, Wainwright, Yarnold eds, The Study of Spirituality

Books on women and spirituality

Books on or by Teilhard de Chardin

A Dictionary of Devotions

 

Biblical Studies

Learning Greek & Hebrew

Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament

John Bright, History of Israel

Ohler, Studying the Old Testament

Soggin, Introduction to the OT

Brenner & Fontaine, The Song of Songs (A Feminist Companion to the Bible)

Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels & Acts

CEB Cranfield, The Bible and Christian LIfe

Mark Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem

Herzog, Scott, and John Dominic Crossan – books on parables

Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables

Edward Schweizer, Jesus

Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls

 

Commentaries: Luke, Revelation

 

Theology

JV Taylor, The Christlike God

Jahn Maquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology

Davidson & Leaney, Pelican Guide to Modern Theology, Vol 3 Biblical Criticism

Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon

Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul

 

 

Books on

  • Mission
  • Church Growth
  • Preaching
  • Vocation
  • Pastoral Care
  • Death/dying
  • Other faiths

J Francis & Leslie Francis, Tentmaking

D Hall, Integrity of Pastoral Care

Lyall, Integrity of Pastoral Care

 

 

Resources for Parish Ministry:

  • Worship
  • Prayer books & books of prayers
  • Confirmation
  • Baptism

Nick Fawcett, No Ordinary Man 2

The Dramatised Bible

Encyclopedia of Prayer and Praise

 

 

History (from my son’s library – text books from Cambridge degree)

Clayton & Coniff, A History of Modern Latin America

Pye & Yates, British Politics: Ideas and Concepts

Stephen Lee, Aspects of British Political History 1815-1914

Norman McCord, British History 1815-1906

Khilrani, The Idea of India

Nial Ferguson, the Pity of War

Charles Oman, A History of England before the Norman Conquest

Harry Coward, The Stuart Age

Mawdsley, The Russian Revolution

Platon & Greenbert, The American Political Dictionary

Arthur Swinson, Defeat in Malay, the Fall of Singapore

 

 

Non-Fiction

Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

 

Fiction

Ellis Peters, Brother Cadfael novels

 

Pamphlets

Prayer and spirituality

Grove Booklets

General Synod reports

 

Church Clothing

Organist’s surplice

Various cottas & surplices

Black cassock (suitable for woman 5’ 4”)

Stoles

 

Quirky/Vintage Clothing

Men’s suits – dress suits, a morning suit, cummerbund

Women’s full-length dresses from 1970s

Woman’s dress 1955 (my mother bought it in New Zealand)

Clown trousers and rainbow wig (used for balloon twisting)

 

Artefacts (mainly of a religious nature)

Kneeler/storage box

“Send for the Priest” set – designed for Catholic homes to get ready when the priest is expected: cross, candlesticks, various containers, all set on a tray, plus leaflet with prayers.

Candle & incense related items

 

Office Items

 

 

Funeral Hymns

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As part of my preparations for retirement some time next year, we have been renewing our wills, arranging for powers of attorney and writing letters of wishes regarding our funeral arrangements.

 

On Twitter, I asked people what hymns they would like to suggest for their own funerals.  This generated a considerable response – around 25 people suggested 1 – 5 hymns each.  These were:

 

Alleluia, sing to Jesus                                      1

Amazing Grace                                                  1

And can it be                                                      2

Before the throne of God above                              1

Be still my soul                                                  1

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind             1

Glorious things of thee are spoken          1

Glory to thee my God this night                1

God beyond all names                                   1

Guide me O thou great Redeemer           2

How shall I sing that majesty                       4

I heard the voice of Jesus say                     3

In Christ alone                                                   1

It is well with my soul                                     1

I vow to thee my country                             1

Jerusalem the golden                                    1

Jesu lover of my soul                                      2

Jesus the name high over all                       1

Just as I am                                                         2

Kontakion for the Departed                        3

Lead kindly light                                                2 (Tune: Alberta)

Let all mortal flesh keep silent                    1

Love divine all loves excelling                     4

Now thank we all our God                           1

Of the Father’s love begotten                    1

O happy band of pilgrims                              1

O Jesus I have promised                                               1

O Lord my God / How great thou art       2

O love that will not let me go                      1

O thou who camest from above                                1

Palms of glory                                                    1

Praise to the holiest in the height             1

Sweet sacrament divine                                               1

Tell out my soul                                                2

The Lord bless you and keep you              1

The old rugged cross                                      1

There is a redeemer                                       1

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy          1

Thine be the glory                                           6

We cannot measure how you heal           1

You shall go out with joy                               1

Rwy’n held o bell                                             1

Tydi a wnaeth                                                    1

 

The first thing that strikes one is how individual the choice of hymns are: 31 of the 42 hymns were chosen by one person.  The hymn most mentioned was “Thine be the glory” (6).  Most of the hymns are 19th century; Faber and Newman feature regularly. 

 

A large proportion of those who responded are ordained clergy of varying ages, but mostly, I suspect in middle years.  Their choices inevitably reflect who they are.  Some of the hymns are about Christ, the cross and the resurrection; some hymns are about our relationship with God and are chosen in some sense as a final prayer of commitment to Christ; some reflect on going beyond this life into the next. 

 

One person said he wanted no hymns.  Other respondents talked about hymns chosen for the funerals of parents – these were not included in the analysis, though they were moving accounts.  Some people talked about other pieces of music they wanted as part of their funerals.  These were:

                Judy Garland, Come on everyone get happy …

                Pasadena Roof Ocrchestra, Heaven, I’m in heaven

                Russian Orthodox Choir, Eternal Memory

Jimmy Webb, The Highwayman

The Clash, Straight to Hell

Spooky Men’s Choral, Crossing the Bar (my choice)

 

The analysis does not include the hymns I have chosen for my own funeral and/or memorial services.  My list is long, but it gives the family some room for choice:

I heard the voice of Jesus say

Be still my soul: the Lord is at your side

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness

When I survey the wondrous cross

Thine be the glory

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer

To God be the glory! Great things he hath done

Ye who own the faith of Jesus

 

Thank you to all those who participated in this thread.  It helped me to focus on my own choices. 

Valuing Calling

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I haven’t posted sermons for months, mainly because I have been adapting old sermons for new situations: our congregation is now mainly Iranian and we have shorter sermons (600 words ideally) which are read in English (me) and Farsi.  This is new, because I didn’t have an old one which said what was needed on this occasion.  But here it is.

 

Jesus and his disciples are still on their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.  They were taking their time, with regular stops.  There were lots of encounters, various incidents. 

 

On the evening of this story, they stop at a village and are welcomed into the home of two sisters, Martha and Mary.  If this is the same Martha and Mary who were the sisters of Lazarus, mentioned in John’s Gospel, the village was Bethany, just outside Jerusalem.  In the past, people have identified this Mary with Mary Magdalene, but that is very unlikely.  Mary was a very common name for women, and there is a danger of conflating all the different Marys in the Bible into only two separate characters. 

 

Jesus is teaching.  Mary, probably the younger sister, sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to him.  To “sit at the feet” of a teacher is to be a disciple.  So, in an age where men and women lived very separate lives, Jesus’ disciples included women, and Jesus was clearly comfortable with that. 

 

Martha was in the kitchen, preparing a meal.  Cooking for the crowd was quite a responsibility.  This was Martha’s way of serving her Lord, through the offering of hospitality, care and comfort.  It was an important vocation, and she just got on with it.  It means that she couldn’t listen to Jesus like her sister.  She complains to Jesus and asks him to tell Mary to help her.

 

We are not told why Martha feels so upset, so we have to imagine the possible reasons:

 

May be she thought it was shameful that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet alongside the men, and was afraid that there would be repercussions, that this would affect their marriage prospects, for example. 

 

May be she didn’t understand the way Jesus welcomed all people, men and women, into his circle of disciples. 

 

May be she was grieved because she was doing all the work and her sister was having all the fun.  May be she thinks Mary is being selfish in just doing what she wants. 

 

We don’t know for sure. 

 

Jesus sees that Martha is distracted and worried.  He understands that.  But the solution lies not in sending Mary back into the kitchen, but in changing her own attitude.  She needs to acknowledge her own state of mind, her own anxiety, her own negative feelings.  They come from within her, not from the situation.  It is her own attitude that makes her miserable.

 

Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part”, and over the centuries this has been interpreted as meaning that the contemplative path of following Jesus is higher than the practical path of service.  I think that’s a bad interpretation.  It is one way of following Jesus – probably the way I have taken myself, as I am more of an academic and less gifted in practical things, more interested in prayer than in cooking. 

 

But I value those whose discipleship and ministry is different from mine.  Jesus calls us to follow him and to serve him.  He gives us different gifts and enables us to use those gifts in his service.  He calls all of us to serve with the gifts he has given us.  And we are called to serve cheerfully and with good grace, not criticising other people in their service, and not moaning when they have other callings to follow.  We are invited to value everyone who follows Christ, whatever their calling. 

Storm

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The Lake of Tiberias in Galilee is subject to sudden fierce and unpredictable storms.  My mother experienced this once when she was on a pilgrimage tour and they went on a boat trip.  A sudden storm blew up.  It caused a huge amount of damage in the towns on the edge of the lake.  A boat journey that should have taken half an hour took 2 – 3 hours.  It was scary, but my mother was fearless.  She found it very exciting.  It was one of the highlights of the pilgrimage for her, as she felt that she had experienced what the disciples had been through.

 

Jesus and his disciples took much the same journey.  Jesus was tired and fell asleep in the boat.  Even the storm didn’t wake him, when it came upon them, the little sail boat tossed about by the wind, and the waves splashing into the boat and weighing it down with water.  They were in great danger of drowning in the waters. 

 

For some people, this is a reality.  There was an account on Radio 4 this week of a Christian Iranian family trying to reach the UK.  They made several attempts to arrive here, including trying to cross the English channel in a dinghy.  There was no storm, but it was so cold they suffered from hypothermia, and on the second attempt they came too close to a large ferry.  They eventually made it in the back of a lorry. 

And sometimes life feels like we are tossed about in a small boat in a stormy sea.  Sometimes life feels that dangerous.  It is a metaphor of how difficult life can be. 

 

The disciples were panicking.  Some of them are fishermen, experienced in sailing on these waters, experts in handling the fishing boats that made a living on the lake.  But even they were struggling. 

 

Sometimes we find ourselves out of our depth, having to handle challenges that are beyond us.  It makes us anxious, worried, depressed.  We can’t see any way forward; there is no solution in sight to all our problems. 

 

In the end, the disciples go and shake Jesus to wake him up, calling out to him, “we are perishing!”  Jesus wakes up.  Luke the Evangelist tells us that Jesus “rebuked the wind and the raging waves” – it’s as if he is telling them off, as if they have consciousness. 

 

And then he turns to the disciples and tells them off.  “Where is your faith?” he asks. 

 

When we are in trouble, Jesus asks us to keep faith.  Sometimes taking one small step can start to resolve all the problems.  Sometimes, we need to change the way we see things, and then the way forward becomes clearer.  But keep faith.  Trust in Jesus.  Ask him to help you.  There is no need to panic, no need to be anxious.  Only Trust. 

The disciples are amazed that Jesus has power over the winds and water.  They are slowly coming to realise how extraordinary Jesus is. 

 

This story opens a window for us to see Jesus more clearly, as the Son of God, present at Creation and with power over nature.  It also shows us Jesus who cares about us when we are in trouble and will help us get through our difficulties.  And it shows us Jesus who calls on us to have faith in him and keep faithful. 

Blessed

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NOTE: I now preach short sermons as they are translated into Farsi and delivered in English and Farsi.  75% of the congregation are Iranian asylum seekers.

 

When Jesus started teaching and healing people, the word soon got round, and people came from all over to hear him and to be made well.  He had what they wanted.  They were ill and they wanted health; they were struggling and they wanted help; they were abused and belittled and they wanted to be recognised and valued.  They couldn’t always put into words what they were looking for.  They wanted something more, something beyond what they could see and hear and touch.  Their souls reached out.  And maybe this new teacher could help them.

 

Jesus had a way of putting things that made you see the world differently.  He talked about a kingdom ruled by God, where people lived in God’s way, and this kingdom was different from the murky politics of this world.  In God’s world, the values were topsy-turvy.

 

Blessed are the poor, Jesus said, for yours is the kingdom of God.  It is not the rich or the powerful who find happiness in God’s kingdom, but those who know they need God and trust in God, those who don’t rely on material possessions or comfort for their happiness.  Jesus might say to you today:  Blessed are you when you give up homes and jobs and citizenship to follow me.

 

Blessed are you who are hungry now, Jesus said, for you will be filled.  Those who consume grand banquets at the expense of others will not know true happiness.  But those who identify with the poor, with those who hunger because they have to sell their produce cheaply to wealthy nations – they will be satisfied.  Jesus might say today:  Blessed are you when you have to live out of foodbanks in order to survive, because you seek a greater kingdom.  And blessed are you when you buy goods that have been traded fairly.

 

Blessed are you who weep now, Jesus said, for you will laugh.  Those who know that they are vulnerable, those who carry great pain of loss and bereavement and broken relationships, those who live with mental or physical illness – they will find true joy, the joy that comes when they know that they are loved and valued and cared for.  And today, Jesus says, I know your tears and your fears. And I am there for you, always.  I love you and you are precious to me.  Let your tears flow because they will bring you healing.

 

And Jesus said:  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  Today he might say, Blessed are you when the authorities come looking for you when you start to explore another faith.  Blessed are you when they threaten you and find all kinds of ways to punish you, because you turn to Jesus.  Blessed are you when people mock you because you are open about your faith.

 

The Kingdom of God happens when you start to follow Jesus.  The Kingdom of God happens when you put your trust in him.  The Kingdom of God happens when you start to live by new values.  And then you are blessed.  Not because you have earned the Kingdom, because God gives it to you freely.  Not because you have earned a blessing, because God gives it to you freely.  But in your weakness, your eyes are opened to God’s presence, and the Kingdom of God is all around you.