Sunday, 15 January 2017

Behold - the Lamb of God!

St Bartholomew 15th January 2017

At the danger of making this a three-point sermon, there are in fact three points I would like to draw out from our Gospel reading for this morning.

Verse 29 – ‘The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’

Note if you will that, it says the sin of the world, singular, not sins plural as often misquoted.

So – what exactly might the sin of the world be?

I have been pondering this and looking at commentaries and various video clips. 

The common understanding is that it is rejection and rebellion against God.

However, I am still puzzling over this and in particular when it says, ‘sin of the world.’

Could it be that the world, the created order is somehow caught up in sin?

Is this what lies behind Romans 8.22…?

‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’

In Mark 16.15 we read, 'Jesus said to them go into all the world and preach the Gospel...'

That is certainly something St Francis took to heart.

Graham Tomlin in his 2014 book ‘The Widening Circle’ - priesthood as a way of blessing the world, argues that the role of the Priest is to model Christ as the Great High Priest. Their call is to mediate and enable creation to give glory back to God. In this task, the priest reminds the people of God of their role in enabling humanities role in enabling creation to give glory back to the Creator.

In short – we need an expansive view of sin and salvation that includes not only the sin of the individual but also the sin of the world.

Maybe the Holy Hill vision of Isaiah chapter 11 is the true destiny of creation.

 To remind you that chapter begins with…

‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.’

It then goes on to say…

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 

The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah prophesied that, The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him.

‘Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.

Our Gospel account continues…

 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

And here I want to say something about discipleship and being disciples, my second point. 

Matthew closes his Gospel with a command from Jesus to his followers to go and make disciples of all the nations.

He does not tell them to build or establish a church, so people can become ‘churchgoers’ – he doesn’t ask us to encourage people to be good people, he commands us to make disciples.

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”  “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

This tells us something about how being a disciple was understood in the 1st century – the way of Jesus’ disciples.

Let me put it like this. If you decided to become a disciple of Fr Stuart, you would want to hear his teaching and so you would gather around him to listen to what he taught. However, you would also want to know how he lived, how he ate, drank, and how be conducted himself in day-to-day life. You would want to follow him everywhere you possibly could. In short, you would want to mirror everything Fr Stuart did and become a carbon copy because you believed he offered the best way and model of being in the world. 

As Disciples of Christ we are called to be ‘little Christ’ – to be as Christ in the world, to be the ongoing incarnation – Emmanuel through us. 

Ephesians 4:11-13

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.

One of the two men who had heard John and had gone with Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.  The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The Hebrew word “Messiah” means the same as the Greek word “Christ.” Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, “Simon son of John, you will be called Cephas.” This name can be translated as “Peter

My third point – disciples make disciples, how could it not be so.

If we have found and been captivated by the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and know our sins have been forgiven. If we have found in Him Good News – then surely, as night follows day we would want to share that with others wouldn’t we.

Not in a preachy, constantly Scripture quoting judgmental sort of way… 

‘But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  1 Peter 3.15

To win some we need to be winsome.

To summarize…

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and invites us to become His devoted disciple making disciples who proclaim in word and deed the Good News that God will bring everything into good order with a redeemed and conjoined heaven and earth.

Therefore to quote Mother Julian, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’

Let me close with a short Mediation from His Holiness Pope Benedict XV1

And only where God is seen does life truly begin.
Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is.

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
Each of us is loved,
Each of us is necessary.

There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel,
By the encounter with Christ.
There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Journey of the Magi - transcript of Sermon Epiphany 2017

Epiphany 2017 St Anne’s, Brown Edge

Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12.

 Reading 'The Journey of the Magi' – T S Elliot


In this classic poem, Elliot paints a colourful picture of the hardships and the journey of the magi.


It is only in later traditions that we will see them named as kings, which is extremely doubtful. They also gain names, Belshazzar, Melchior and Caspar that denotes three wise men, or kings or magi.

The Scriptures do not say anything of this at all.

However, these ‘traditions’ all add to the drama and in and of themselves are no bad thing. As long as we bear in mind the Scriptural birth narratives of both Matthew and Luke.

This is what Paula Gooder seeks to explore in her excellent book ‘Journey to the Manger.’

The danger of overlaying later traditions was wonderful demonstrated by a drama group in Stafford prison during their Carol Service. (The drama group are all inmates)

They had the traditional crib scene, with Joseph, Mary, and a crib in front of them.  In the sketch, they were being interviewed for a magazine article with a reporter and a photographer. They were lined up ready when the photographer noticed a donkey who was then brought into the scene. Gradually more and more animals joined the picture, then some shepherds, the wise men, and angels. All the while Mary and Joseph are getting pushed further and further back. A big picture of a turkey dinner, presents and a Christmass tree all crowded in and crowded out Mary and Joseph. Then as they were about to take the shot the photographer noticed the crib - no, he said, that’s no good, it is too scruffy and spoils the picture - away with the manger. With Jesus, Mary and Joseph pushed out of the picture the photo was taken – a traditional Christmass.
That is the danger; we forget the importance of why Matthew tells us about the magi. He certainly did not have in mind future generations of children dressed as kings and trying to remember which gift they had, gold, frankincense or myrrh.

Our reading from Ephesians get us close to the heart of it all.

Verse 6 …‘that is the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus, through the Gospel.’

Then from Isaiah did you hear mention of Sheba and apart from cat food what else did that bring to mind?

 Herds of camels will cover your land,
    young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
    bearing gold and incense
    and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

 Of course, it is the account in 1 Kings 10 of the visit to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba…

 When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions.  Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind.  

Always remember that Matthew has a Jewish readership in mind and so is constantly referring back to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition.

Matthew will go on to say that Jesus Messiah is Israel personified.

 He comes to fulfil the calling of Israel who failed to deliver on their God appointed task and calling. One of which was to be a light to the Gentiles.

They will also fail to see in Jesus the Messiah…

 Luke 11.31 ‘The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

Therefore, what can take from all of this?

Several things, beginning with this passage from Galatians 4.4-7…

But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage.

You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.

Let me ask you if you know that you are child of God, heir with Christ, filled with the very Spirit of God.

To quote Elliot the magi had a long and arduous journey…

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'

What about your journey to worship Jesus, to acknowledge him as King, and as Lord?

King and Lord not only over Israel but over all the universe and over all the times of men and woman. 

Has your journey been long and arduous, perhaps taking several years.

On the other hand, you may have been like the shepherds and only had a short distance to travel to worship the Christ.

My own journey to faith in Jesus ended 42 years ago when I made a New Year Resolution to become a Christian on the 1st January 1975.

Since then I have been on the journey of faith – learning all the time what it means to proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord and King of my life.

For that was Herod’s problem – that is why he tried to have Jesus killed. There is no room for two kings, he did not want to have his kingship and his dynasty challenged.

However, Jesus will be Lord of all or he will not be Lord at all.

If there are two kings then there will be conflict not peace.

If you are still on a journey to faith you can conclude that this morning and I will gladly pray with you as you kneel and accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

If you are on the journey of faith then can I encourage to remain steadfast and faithful.

Can I encourage you to…

’let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’

Let us pray…

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmass begins;

 To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release prisoners,

To rebuild the nation,

To bring peace among people,

To make music in the heart.







Friday, 6 January 2017

Why are we here?

Why are we here and why when we are being good do we still suffer?
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Paul Gauguin 1897 - 1898
How would you answer this question I was recently asked.
I had to respond in written form in under 500 words by
electronic communication.
Here is my answer...
Your question is one that has been asked since the dawn of time and the subject of songs, plays, films and more books than you could possible read in one lifetime!

Therefore, in answering I can give but a few brief pointers for further consideration.

Let me begin with a word that you used ‘good.’

What is goodness is a fascinating question.   If, as some atheist claim, we are nothing more than a random collection of atoms reacting to various stimuli, then on what basis can you declare anything good, bad or indifferent – things simply are as they are.   

It is worth teasing this word ‘good’ out in the creation story of Genesis, when God created and declared things good. Indeed in Genesis 1.31 we read, ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.'

We also have built into this story the choice of the first human pair to be obedient to God or to seek after knowing good and evil – or maybe better to say good and non-good.  We can assume up until this point and their subsequent knowledge from the ‘fruit of the tree’ they knew neither good nor bad – things simply where what they were.  The choice is made and knowledge once gained, cannot be ‘un-gained.’

The choice that now lies before every human person is between the good and the bad.  However, how do we begin to make choices when those choices have a multiplicity of effects on an ever-increasing scale as more and more people are involved? 
A deep philosophical question with a wide range of ideas put forward over the years.

From a Christian perspective if we go back to the creation account and see there the creation as a natural result of the reciprocal love of God as a Community (we call this the Trinity) – then has God given up on this idea?  Is there a plan B – a fresh start perhaps in a new way?  
The Christian is no – and a very loud no at that.  God is redeeming and restoring his good creation and one day, as we read in Revelation 21 and elsewhere, (see for e.g. Romans 8.18-25) there will come a time when heaven (God’s realm) and earth (humanities realm) will be conjoined and become as one.

Our role, our purpose, why we are here – to be co-partners with God in bringing about the redemption of the cosmos.
The God uniquely revealed in Christ, the God whom we can get to know personally, the God who invites us to partner with him in building God’s Kingdom upon earth by way of presaging the coming new heaven/earth. 
Wow – what a calling!!!
‘You are a unique and irreplaceable actor in the drama of human history, and Jesus Christ has need of you to make known his salvific work in this particular place and at this particular moment in history.’
Michael Quoist ‘The Christian Response’



Saturday, 31 December 2016

Captain's Log January 2017

December 2016 began with my being part of the Christmass Tree Festival at St Mary’s, Stafford. With over 80 trees and a steady flow of people it provided a unique opportunity to raise the profile of FCN in the County. St Mary’s is a large and impressive church set in the heart of the town. As people were passing through I heard numerous comments not only about the trees but the beauty of the building. The Christian Enquiry Agency have recently produced a lovely postcard ‘What Do Christians Believe’ that outlines something about the Christian faith and with an invitation to send the card back to CEA for further information.  The are really excellent and suitable for any church that has visitors because of its beauty or architectural merit.  

Two preachment's this month. One with my friends at St Thomas’s and St Andrews’, Doxey and the other my ‘regular’ slot at St Anne’s, Brown Edge.

One of the highlights of 2016 was the visit to Stafford of young people from Soul Survivor who joined in with numerous initiatives under ‘Love Stafford’ bringing a blessing to the town.  We had a Church
Leaders Meeting recently where plans where outlined to do the same in 2017.  There is a hope that even more young people and a greater number of projects will be set up. Please pray about the planning and good working relationships between Soul Survivor and participating churches/projects.

Another Love Stafford initiative this year was a Carol Crawl around the town centre.  Around 50 people from a wide range of churches took part as we sang carols in various locations.  We also handed out specially commissioned Love Stafford John’s Gospels.

As to be expected I had several Christmass gatherings including a trip to London for the National Missioners. I was joined later by Jane and Tabitha and we had a wander around the Winter Wonderland and the lights of Oxford Street and Regents Street.

Another lovely evening was with our home group as we went to a local Indian Restaurant. This group that meets regularly on Tuesday nights has become very important for us and offers a great deal of support.

Another very interesting experience was visiting HMP Stafford for a Carol Service. They have an excellent choir, a rock band and a drama group who offered a brilliant portrayal of the Nativity. HMP Stafford is mostly sex offenders and therefore have a very high proportion of older men.

As it is holiday time the number of available e-responders for ‘Search for Jesus’ has reduced. Therefore I have had more than the usual number of questions, etc. Some of these are not easy to respond to. For example I had one from a man whose mother had recently died. As she had not confessed faith he wanted to know if she was now going to be condemned to hell. The answer has to be no more than 400 words because of the medium. It is a huge challenge, always remembering that behind each question, query or comment is a real person.

 Some appointments and activities for January 2017

3rd Tuesday
Growth Group social evening

4th Wednesday
‘Faith Pictures’ with St Peter’s Rickerscote

5th Thursday
Small group meeting to discuss ideas for a Church presence at Shrewsbury Flower Show

8th Sunday
Preaching at St Anne’s, Brown Edge
In the afternoon facilitating a ‘Thrive Group’ discussion for Swynnerton Benefice

9th Monday
Meeting with JC as his Spiritual Companion. After lunch Diocesan Mission Team meeting.

10th Tuesday
In the evening meeting with Hanbury Ministry Team

11th Wednesday
Personal Quiet Day. In the evening ‘Faith Pictures’ 2

12th Thursday
‘Love Stafford’ leaders prayer meeting

15th Sunday
Preaching at St Bartholomew, Norton-le-Moor

16th Monday
Meeting PCC of St Bartholomew, Norton-le-Moor.

17th Monday
Morning with Steven Dyson (Bidulph) discussing Church Growth programmes

18th Wednesday
Planning group meeting for Stafford County Show 2017. (I have been appointed Show Chaplain this year) In the evening ‘Faith Pictures’ 3

20th Thursday
Informal FCN meeting ‘Chewing the Cud’ in the morning and over lunch ’Chew & Chat’ informal lunch-time gathering

22nd Sunday
‘Love Stafford’ Evening Celebration with Market Place – I have a Church Army display

23rd Monday
St Bartholomew’s ‘Mission Action Plan’ Meeting

24th Tuesday
Tutbury Deanery Standing Committee meeting to discuss their Deanery MAP.

25th Wednesday
‘Faith Pictures’ 4

29th Sunday
Church Army preachment at St James’, Barton-Under-Needwood. In the afternoon Christingle at St Mary’s, Ingestre.

30th Monday
Frontline Discipleship. Continuing work on the LICC material going to be pushed out into the diocese

31st Tuesday
Meeting with Bishop Geoff and Archdeacon Matthew for Review and planning ahead.