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


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.



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



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




Oxford Dictionary of Quotations



Ellis Peters, Brother Cadfael novels



Prayer and spirituality

Grove Booklets

General Synod reports


Church Clothing

Organist’s surplice

Various cottas & surplices

Black cassock (suitable for woman 5’ 4”)



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


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


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. 



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. 



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. 

Simeon sings his song


I always had hope. 


When things were bad politically, what with the Roman occupation and the taxes and the way they interfered with our lives and our religion, I always had hope.  There were many times when I had to bite my tongue and keep my head down, but I clung to the hope.


I knew that God would make it alright in the end, that God would send the Messiah, the anointed one who would change everything.  And faithfully I did my job, supported my family, went to the Temple every day to pray.  And hoped.  Just kept on hoping.  I got older, and the family took on the burden of work, and I kept on praying.  There was this one time when I prayed to God about our lives and our despair under the Roman regime, and it was alike an angel spoke to me and said that I would live to see the Messiah, me Simeon, would see God’s chosen one.  But I was getting old, and there were no signs of the Messiah.  My joints ached, my sight was failing, I couldn’t hear things so well.  Still I kept on praying.


And then, this one day I went to pray in the Temple.  There was this young family who had come to make the offering for their first-born son, 40 days old.  It made me smile, remembering my own sons and grandsons.  I went to put a coin in the baby’s hand for luck, and then I knew, I knew – this was him, the Messiah.  And my heart leapt with joy.  God’s promise had been fulfilled.  And I rejoiced.  This meant that God was going to make a difference.  It also meant that I could now die in peace.  And I praised God with all my heart.


Lord, now let your servant go in peace.

Your word has been fulfilled.

My eyes have seen the salvation

Which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

A light to reveal you to the nations

And the glory of your people Israel.


The family didn’t know what to make of it, me, an old man, holding their baby and singing to the Lord God.  This was my light, my hope in a dark place.  This baby was going to change everything.


But then a shadow crossed my heart, and God showed me that it wasn’t going to turn out exactly as I imagined.  There would be no triumphant army bringing God’s judgement on the Roman occupation.  This Messiah would be taking a hard road, a way of suffering.  Salvation would come, yes, but it would happen on a cross, a sad and dreadful end.


The poor mother, little more than a child herself really.  She too would suffer greatly for her son.  So I told her, gave her a hint of the future I could see for her baby.  I didn’t want to distress her, but she needed to know. 


Nevertheless, her child brought light into a dark place, for us and for all generations, for all people.  Wherever there is darkness, this child brings light, and his journey to the cross would bring salvation – to ALL people.

The Mission Statement


It is a while since I have posted a sermon.  A few months ago, the Iranians in the congregation asked for the sermon to be translated into Farsi.  So now we have a short sermon in English which is then delivered in Farsi.  So sermons have had to become short (around 600 words), so that the service as a whole doesn’t run on too long.  Recently sermon preparation time has been spent on shortening old sermons.  This is the first fresh sermon I have prepared in a while.

0   –   0   –   0   –   0   –   0

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus begins his active ministry in Galilee.  He is teaching and probably also healing people.  He becomes very popular and everyone is talking about him.


And then he goes to Nazareth, his home town.  The evidence suggests that Nazareth was a Jewish settler town in a gentile, or non-Jewish, region.  He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he is invited to read the Scripture and comment on it.  He chooses a passage from the prophet Isaiah.


The congregation would have settled comfortably into their seats.  This was a passage they knew well and loved.  But to their surprise, Jesus only reads part of the passage.  He misses out their favourite bit, which comes after the passage that Jesus read on that occasion, and talks about the golden age that will happen when the Messiah comes, when the Jews will be brought home and restored to God’s favour, but the gentiles will suffer God’s judgement and would then become the servants of the Jews.  As a settler community, they heard it as a passage that justified what they are trying to do.  It was a passage that made them feel good.  But Jesus misses out that part of the reading.  That didn’t please them.


And Jesus edits the passage that he does read: he misses out some phrases and tucks in a line from another chapter of Isaiah altogether.  And he does this to reinforce the message that he wants to get across. 


So Jesus reads from Isaiah:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  That is clearly a reference to his own baptism, where the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove.  When he says this, Jesus is clearly claiming that he is the Messiah. 


Jesus then reads from the Isaiah passage about the task of proclamation, that he is called to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.  And when you unpack the meaning of these lines, Jesus is talking about bringing the good news to those who are humble and pious and who sincerely seek God. 


When the prophet first wrote about being sent to bring liberty to those who are captive and freedom to those who are oppressed, he was talking about the exiles in Babylon, for whom liberty meant going home. The task here is to work for justice, to bring freedom to those who are trapped in difficult places.


The passage also talks about opening the eyes of the blind, which was part of what was expected of the Messiah, to bring compassion and mercy.


When he has read the passage, Jesus sits down.  He tells his audience:  Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.  He is making a huge claim, that he is the Messiah, and this is what he is going to do.  It is also telling us what he expects his followers to do – and that includes us. 


Jesus’ audience that day in Nazareth expected to hear about the benefits they would receive as good and faithful Jews.  Instead, Jesus tells them about his mission and what he expects his followers to do, namely: 

·         to proclaim the good news of Christ, both by going out into the community and by welcoming those who come to us;

·         to work for justice and bring freedom to those who are trapped, whether by the circumstances or by politics – our work supporting asylum seekers is very much part of that agenda;

·         and to live out God’s compassion and mercy to those who are in need and distress.  We must care for others.


It is a great privilege to be followers of Jesus, and it does bring many spiritual and practical benefits, but it also gives us a responsibility, and this story helps us to think about the way we ourselves are called to serve. 

Taming tongues


For the last two weeks, we have been reflecting on the reading from the Epistle of James, and we continue with that today. 


In today’s reading, we come to one of James’ big themes – the way we control our speech. 


James uses two metaphors here, two word pictures.  He talks about horses, and the way horses could be controlled by using a bit, which goes in the mouth of the horse.  A small thing can control a mighty beast.  And then he talks about ships – obviously he is talking about ships in the ancient world – and the way the direction of the ship could be controlled by a rudder, a relatively small piece of wood that could be manipulated to alter the direction of the ship.


James says that our tongues are like a bit in the mouth of a horse and our tongues are like rudders on a ship.  A small organ of the body controls the direction we take and the things we say and do, and the way we are heard and regarded by others.  If we don’t control our tongues, all kinds of trouble can ensue.  James says it’s like setting alight a forest fire. 


Think about gossip – there can be positive and helpful aspects of gossip, when you are sharing information because of concern for someone or to enable prayer.  But gossip can be very damaging, spreading unfounded rumours, or to generate mockery and humiliation.  You don’t have to pass on every salacious story you hear about someone.  Keep control of your tongue.


Think about the way you talk to other people, particularly vulnerable people.  I heard of someone who was talking to refugees in a very demeaning way – it made me very cross when I heard that.  Sometimes people can be patronising to older people – talking to them as if they were idiots.  That just won’t do!  Sometimes people talk roughly to children.  That is not acceptable!  Keep control of your tongue. 


Sometimes we just say things without thinking, words that hurt others, and once you’ve said them, you cannot take them back.  I know I do this sometimes, especially when I’m tired.  And when I realise what I’ve done, I am very sorry.  I did a funeral once where a relative hadn’t responded appropriately when being told about the death in the family, and the two sides of the family had stopped communicating.  Keep control of your tongue. 


Other times we hear one side of the story about an incident, and we react hastily with anger to other people involved without listening to the full story.  That only makes the situation worse.  Keep control of your tongue – at least until you know all the facts. 


With our tongues we praise God and sing hymns; we encourage and build up our friends; we put into words great thoughts and wisdom; we tell the truth.  But with our tongues also we curse those whom we don’t care for; we create trouble and dissension; we demean and belittle others; we spread lies.  There are those who get a reputation for moaning and complaining about everything.  There are people you know will be talking about you in a bad way, because they complain about everyone else.  People get known for the way they express themselves in words. 


James uses more metaphors:  he says that a spring doesn’t produce both fresh and foul water, a fig tree doesn’t produce other kinds of fruit. 


It is not entirely straightforward – it never is!  Sometimes we need to use our tongues to speak unpopular truth to those in power.  On Thursday, 13 September, it was the feast of John Chrysostom.  His nick-name (Chrysostom) was “golden tongue”, and he was a great preacher.  He was made Bishop of Constantinople against his wish and he set about exposing corruption amongst the clergy and the Roman Imperial administration.  This didn’t make him popular and he was exiled twice.  He died of exhaustion and starvation in 407.  He used his role as a preacher to tell the truth, not to placate the religious and political authorities. 


I invite you this week to listen to yourselves, listen to what you are saying.  Do you speak intending to put others down, or build up your own estimation?  Then keep silent.  Will your words be helpful to others, kind and encouraging?  Then speak them.  Are you speaking the truth, even though it may upset people? Then say it.  Not many people can control their tongues all of the time.  But we should strive to have better care of what we say.  Tame your tongue!

Passion for the Poor


Last week, we were looking at the practical advice on Christian living given in the epistle of James, and we will continue with that today. 


The first paragraph of today’s reading is really important because it offers one of the strongest statements in the Bible about God’s preference for the poor.  God has a special place for those who are financially poor and struggling.  The poor are not those who are working and just about managing, or who have less than the average.  Rather, in the ancient world, the poor are those who have NO economic security, those who are destitute or very close to destitution, those who are really struggling to survive, those who are living hand to mouth.  Modern sociologists call it Absolute Poverty.  The poor are those who are generally not valued by society:  in the ancient world, they were not given any respect; in our own world, we are quick to call them scroungers and lay-abouts. 


The Jewish tradition was always strong on caring for widows and orphans, day-labourers and people who had come from other countries, and ensuring justice for them against those who would exploit them.  James builds on that tradition. 


There is a spiritual meaning to poverty.  Financial poverty reflects the condition of spiritual poverty that we all experience. We are ALL spiritually poor.  Not one person here can sustain themselves spiritually.  We are all utterly dependent on God.  When we see someone who is poor, someone who can’t cope, someone who is struggling, it reminds us of ourselves, that we are spiritually poor when we stand before our Lord. 


When we are financially secure, we think we are OK.  We have wages and pensions and we can afford the essentials and maybe, if we’re lucky, the odd luxury like a nice holiday.  When we’re doing alright, it is easy to forget just how much we need God. 


James is quite clear:  God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom of heaven.  James is absolutely passionate about this – you can feel his strong feelings pouring out of the passage. 


James starts by talking about how we treat people in church.  James says that we musn’t treat those who are financially well-off any better than we treat those who can’t afford the luxuries.  So when somebody comes to church smartly dressed, with an air of worldly confidence, we shouldn’t be guiding them to the best seats or offering them the best cake after the service or bringing their tea in the best china cups.  And of course, we don’t do that here.  In the past, from 1800 to 1960, people would pay an annual fee for their pew in church.  It was a way of fundraising in churches.  The more you paid, the better seat you got.  If you couldn’t pay, you could go to the free seats.  I’ll bet that wasn’t popular! It is likely that this is one of the reasons that poorer, working class people felt alienated by the Church of England. I am really glad to say that we don’t do that now, and as far as I can tell, it was never part of the practice here at St Chad’s. 


James recalls the law to “love our neighbour as yourself”.  When you show favouritism, you are not loving your neighbour as yourself because you are loving some neighbours more than other neighbours.  The rule about loving our neighbours isn’t about loving some neighbours, it’s about loving all neighbours. 


And then James returns to one of his key themes – that how we live and what we do needs to reflect our faith.  Our faith needs to shine through everything we do.  If we see a need in the community – for example, when someone is hungry or lacks shelter or warm clothing – and we do not respond when we have the means to help, then, James says, our faith is dead. 


These days, through television and newspapers and other media, we are exposed to need not just locally, but internationally.  Our responsibility is not just to the people who live nearby, but to the whole world.  Of course, there is no way we can address all the world’s problems and supply all its needs, but sometimes a particular situation will call out to us and we should respond.  It means also that we need to be discerning about where we put our financial and emotional resources when we look to help others.  But that shouldn’t weaken our responsibility for all our neighbours, wherever they live in the world. 


Helping others is not just about contributing financially to their needs.  It may be about volunteering in projects that help people – at the Foodbank or the Food Coop.  It may be about giving people attention, listening to them perhaps – proper listening can be one of the greatest gifts you can offer, and it’s quite rare.  It may be about sharing your skills. 


Faith is about our relationship with God.  It’s not about knowing or believing the right things, but about having a personal relationship with Jesus.  God loves us SO much.  He pours his love out upon us.  He gave us Jesus to show us how to live and to rescue us from our sinfulness.  God longs for us to love him and to follow Jesus.  Faith happens when we let Jesus into our lives and ask him to walk with us along the way.  Then we shape our lives around him, and we start to live his way.  That’s when our faith needs to shine out in what we do. 


So this is a challenge to you:  what does your faith in Christ mean to you?  What is your relationship with Jesus like?  And how does this show forth in your life?