Don’t Worry, About a Thing

Greetings Brothers and Sisters,

Hope you enjoy this talk which formed part of a family service and I followed once again an excellent puppet sketch courtesy of Rhoslyn Cooper and her wonderful helpers based on the same gospel reading. Of course you can pick up some of the atmosphere (or Holy Spirit) by listening to the talk. Just clicking on the attached link should get you there?

As always, feedback via comments would be really helpful, especially if any of my message spoke to you directly?

Blessings

Roger

https://www.audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/dont-worry-be-happy

Sermon No 63

Don’t Worry (About a Thing)

Trinity 14

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 17th September 2017 at the 10 am Family Service at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Luke 12:16-30)

Well good morning to you all. And let me just say that Joey and Julia are not the only ones that can crack a couple of jokes you know…. So a couple of biblical ones for you!

Did you know which vegetable Noah left of the Ark during the flood?

‘Leeks’

What about this one then if you thought that was bad.

As it is nearly Christmas (only 98 days to go people!)

What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?

‘It’s Christmas, Eve’

And one for Justine and Natalie and all our after- service refreshment helpers.

How does Moses make his coffee?

‘Hebrews it’

Anyway, enough of the funnies, we don’t come to church to have fun, do we? God would rather us be miserable!

Well, today we are celebrating Harvest and all the good things that God provides for us in our daily lives and in particular food. Which is something most important because we need food to live don’t we?

But sometimes we are a bit over indulgent both as individuals (and I place myself in that category as my waist line implies) and as nations too, when we could do well to share our riches with other well less off countries and their peoples.

Especially as the United Nations Food and Agriculture estimate that there are around 795 million people, that is 1 in 9 men, women and children suffering in the world right now from chronic undernourishment, so Harvest is a really important time to remember, not just today, but at all times of the year.

In our gospel reading today we heard Jesus telling a parable about a rich man who on the face of it appeared to be doing something that was quite sensible because he had had a particular good harvest and had so much grain that he didn’t have enough storage room in his existing barn to store it all. So, he decided to build bigger barns so that he could keep his plentiful harvest and then be able to live of the riches for many years.

Now you might think, well what is wrong with that? But you see Jesus wanted to make a point. He wanted His listeners to understand that the rich man had made one fatal error in his thinking.

The rich man had left God out of the equation and was thinking only about himself and how he would live happily for years to come, eating, drinking and making himself rather merry in the process.

So contrary to what some might see as preparedness, Jesus’ message in the parable was more about encouraging us to share our wealth with others, rather than keeping it all for ourselves. Indeed, the obsession with money and material goods is ever present, in-fact probably more so in today’s society with all the temptations through clever advertising.

The story of the rich man and his building of more and bigger barns to store his crops will never fade and is an important reminder for us all to be on our guard against any form covetousness, and the desire to possess more and more.

Jesus’ tells us that our life will not ultimately depend on either food or material goods. Of course, we need food and water to survive and there is nothing wrong in planning and preparing for days when we might have less, but as usual, Jesus wants us to look deeper to the way we are living our lives and in particular with the way we see and treat others.

Our true treasure at the end of the day will not be in how rich we are, or how big our houses might be. Our treasure is in the way we live our lives for Jesus and He asks us to build that up, rather than storing things away through greed and desire which may be of no use to others.

And the other aspect to this of course is what I spoke about a couple of weeks ago, when I reminded you that none of us actually know when our last day on this earth will be? Well Jesus is enforcing that point here in that parable. He wants us to live for today and not to worry about what may happen tomorrow. For He says that everything we need will be given to us, and it is only through not trusting in Him to provide those needs, that worry and anxiousness will begin to fester and eventually rule our lives.

And on this subject of worry and anxiousness, it is interesting to realise, that as the world appears to drift away from the teachings of Jesus that far from the possession of material goods and all the new fan dangled gadgets taking away worry and stress, it seems to have the opposite effect.

In-fact the current figures say that twenty percent (20%) of people today experience symptoms of depression. And ten (10) times more people suffer from major depression now than in 1945. One report even says, and I quote, ‘At the rate of increase, it (that is clinical depression) will be the second most disabling condition in the world by 2020, behind heart disease.’ (www.clinical-depression.co.uk)

Now that is a staggering forecast of what is to come in the next few years. This is not debateable climate change forecasting over many centuries, but this is factually just three years away on the present figures… frightening.

So, what can we do about it. What could the ‘rich man’ have done in our parable?

Well Joey spoke about it a few moments ago when he said that, ‘God really likes people that share!’

And indeed, He does, Jesus wants us to share what we have with others that are less fortunate than ourselves. And I think Jesus would be really pleased that Joey will be giving some of his money to our away giving charity ‘Mission to Seafarers.’ And I would encourage you all to give as generously as you can, for it is indeed a great charity.

But our giving should not only include the giving of cash to charities  and material goods to initiatives like our deanery food-bank programme, Jesus also wants us to focus on the giving of ourselves to Him, through time and service to others.

And symbolically we can remind ourselves of this act of giving and sharing by coming together in the Lords Supper by the breaking and sharing of His body and Blood.

For that after-all was His greatest gift to us; when He gave his own life to allow us all to share in a part of Him until we meet Him again in glory.

But we heard too today in our gospel reading, something that Joey and Julia picked up on, and that was that Jesus tells us not to worry about how we will be able to live, as we act out this giving of ourselves in His service, because He will look after us and ensure that we will have absolutely everything that we need in this life.

And should we ever become a little worried or anxious then don’t immediately seek solace and recovery through prescription drugs or counselling. For Jesus asks us to just simply look at the flowers if we are in ever doubt about how we can carry on, by watching and seeing how they grow and flower, for He alone provides all that they will require to flourish, and He will do the same and much more for us.

Or if the flowers don’t provide enough wonder for you, then Jesus asks us to consider the ravens, those birds that ‘who neither sow or reap’(v24) yet He provides all the food that they need to survive too.

What Jesus is asking, could really be summed up in verse 31, which unfortunately is the one just after our reading today ends, and if you flicked to that verse in your bibles you would find these words,

‘But, seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you’(v31).

And those words in summary are what Jesus is telling us to do. To ‘Seek Him’ first, before, and above anything else. In-fact if you recall the very first commandment given to Moses way back in that dusty Old Testament. It was ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’ (Deuteronomy 5:7 NKJV) and then again this is clarified once again by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel when He is asked by one of the Pharisees, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?’ And Jesus replies, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:37)

Seek the Kingdom of God first, and everything we need will be given to us.

In -fact there is a song that you will probably all be familiar with that tells us just that called, ‘Seek Ye First’ the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness’ written by a lady called Karen Lafferty  and is a great message song about this most important of biblical and Christian truth.

However, after putting God first, another message song which also happens to link nicely with Jesus’ command of ‘not to worry’ is a song by that great reggae singer Mr Bob Marley called ‘Three Little Birds.’

Now I don’t claim to have a vast knowledge on Bob Marley’s life or his songs, but from the limited research that I have done I was surprised to find that a year before his death, what seems to be a little-known fact is that Marley converted from Rastafarianism to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church where he was baptised on the 4th November 1980 six months before his death on 21st May 1981. And when he was buried, you might be interested to know, he had with him his bible and his Gibson guitar! (journeytoorthodoxy.com)

Strangely too, Bob Marley’s final words to his son Ziggy just before he died were, ‘ Money can’t buy life.’

Now the song ‘Three Little Birds’ has some simple lyrics but seem to echo those of what Jesus spoke and it went like this: –

 

Don’t worry about a thing

Cause every little thing is gonna be alright

Singing, ‘Don’t worry about a thing’

Cause every little thing gonna be alright.

Rise up this morning

Smiled with the rising sun

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep

Singing sweet songs

Of melodies, pure and true

Saying’ (this is my message to you’)

(Three Little Birds lyrics copyright Kobalt music publishing Ltd)

So, I will leave you this morning with this song (technology permitting) to take away. Sing along with it if you wish. And don’t worry, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright! But seek the Kingdom of God first.

Amen

 

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Preparing to die: Preparing to live

 

Greetings once again brothers and sisters,

Hope you enjoy today’s sermon and find God speaking to you directly? Let me know your thoughts if you can by making a comment on this site, or by letting me know personally when you see me.

Blessings

Roger

https://www.audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/preparing-to-die-preparing-to-live

 

Sermon No 62

Preparing to die: Preparing to live

Trinity 12

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 3rd September 2017 at the 8 and 10 am Eucharistic Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 16:21-28)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)

When I was a teenager at school I belonged to a climbing club led by an intrepid climbing enthusiast called Alan Blakeman who was also during the day one of our school art teachers. And it would be a regular event that we would often take the school mini bus out into Derbyshire either at the weekends, or in the evening after school and climb until we could climb no longer due to darkness descending.

However, on the way home, Alan would always try and catch those out, who for in the most part, through sheer exhaustion had simply fallen asleep in the back of the minibus. And so, as we descended the long steep road from Derbyshire back into Sheffield it wouldn’t be long before Alan would spot one or two nodding in the back. And it was at this point Alan would quietly signal to those in the front seats to brace themselves, then he would immediately slam the brakes on and shout, ‘Christ we’re all gonna die’ at the top of his voice, at which point most of us nearly did die from shock, or from sliding down the wooden bench seats and crashing into those we were sat next to in the rear. Alan would then have a little chuckle to himself and we would continue our journey home.

In-fact this is a practice I still find useful today when driving mini-buses with disruptive passengers at work, or in my own car, I can even use the same technique to remind my children about their seat belts!! You should try it too? It can be quite effective.

Well, of course none of us did die from those antics, but if it were true and in those few seconds of panic we were actually sure that death was coming, then what would we do with that time? How would we prepare for imminent death?

For some light reading this week I was looking at the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures relating to deaths and thought you might be interested to know that the average world life expectancy is only 67. And looking around, of course none of you are anywhere near that age! But if you were, then do not worry because in the UK we are fortunate that this figure rises to 79 for men and 82 for women.

And each single day a staggering 151,000 people die, which equates to 2 people dying every second, so in the time I have already spoken over 7,000 people in the world have just died, but on the plus side, there is around 360,000 new births every year, which I know is no consolation to those that have died of course!

But we can die at any time of course and age does not necessarily define when we will finally depart this mortal coil? So, don’t get too hung up on ages!

In our gospel reading from Matthew we heard that there is some considerable talk on this subject of death, but it is not a conversation as straight forward as simply dying in the physical sense, because what we have going on here in that reading, are a number of issues that are worth exploring, at the very least to remind ourselves that death does not always mean dying in the way that many people might perceive it to be?

The passage from Matthew was in essence, a conversation between Jesus and His disciples, and Him telling them that He was about to suffer greatly and then finally be killed at the hands of their own people, the Jews.

But it was more than that, because in the conversation, Jesus details more complex and spiritual matters that he wanted His disciples to be aware of, including His second coming. But we can break down this conversation into three, yet conjoint parts, which I will call this morning the 3R’s. Firstly, The revelation of death, secondly, the revelation through death and thirdly, revelation of reward by death.

Revelation of death, Revelation through death and Revelation of reward by death.

So, the first is the ‘revelation of death’ and this is where we hear Jesus informing His disciples that He is about to die.

Now imagine for a moment that the person that you have followed for the last 3 years, the person that you left your family and your job for, suddenly tells you he is about to be killed, and not to worry because on the third day he’ll rise again and be back with them!

This must have been incredibly difficult for the disciples to take on board. After-all, not only had they followed Him and lived with Him for three years, but they had witnessed at first hand too of the miracles that He had performed. Indeed, Peter had even walked on water himself, so he knew what power that Jesus could unleash and how He could empower others, so why would Jesus be telling them that he was now going to die?

Yet when told this information, Peter is the first disciple that rebukes Jesus and says, ‘no, no this is not going to happen to you.’ Peter in effect is saying to Jesus that He is a liar.

You might yourselves have experienced something similar? When you tell something to somebody that you know is real, because you have witnessed it and they don’t believe you, and they even try to argue against you, I know I have. And it is really frustrating, I suppose mainly because it is a lack of trust in what you know to be true.

Well Jesus was no different and when challenged by Peter as to what He might be saying as something false, Jesus not surprisingly took him to task and shouted, ‘Get behind Me Satan’ (v23).

Now Jesus wasn’t saying that Peter was Satan, but rather that his thoughts were being influenced by Satan. And I would argue that could be said of all thoughts, that seek to turn us away from God, because there is always a spiritual battle that is being fought. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he informs us quite clearly of this fact, Paul says, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

So, Jesus reminds Peter, in no uncertain terms that he should keep focused on Him and not to doubt His Word and that He is going to die. The revelation of His death.

Then Jesus moves onto what I am calling Revelation through death by making a weird challenge to His disciples saying something that at first appears a paradox. Jesus says that we should be prepared to lose our life to find it, let’s listen to what He says, ‘For, whoever desires to save His life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, will find it’ (Matthew 16: 25)

Now this statement has such deep meaning that we could talk all day on this subject alone, but primarily Jesus wants His disciples to know that to follow Him will be costly, and it will be costly in every way.

He talks too about denying oneself and taking up His cross. Jesus is informing them, He is informing us, that nothing should be put before Christ and ultimately, even if necessary, as a disciple of Christ we should be prepared to die physically for His sake.

However, this revelation through death, not only refers to the true physical sense of dying in the extreme case of martyrdom, (yes, this term does not only refer to Islamic terrorists) but spiritually too, through perhaps those more subtle ‘physical’ bodily desires such as jealousy or lust.

Now fortunately for most Christians, and especially in this country, we are not often asked to lay down our physical life for Jesus, although in parts of the world still, that may be a real scenario that is being faced on a daily basis by Christians, but it is in that willingness to accept we will all face some degree of difficulty and danger as followers of Christ, that Jesus wants us to understand. For it is through that willingness to sacrifice ourselves by both a physical death and by a spiritual death, in other words putting to death our old sinful natures, that we then find something more valuable than death itself. – The ‘revelation through death.’

But what will we find by taking up our own cross of suffering? What will be our reward and how can we be sure that we’ll get it? For what Jesus commands of us is not easy, by any stretch of the imagination and it is true that temptation is always going to be there for everyone, no matter what position in society one might hold or how spiritual and reverent one might appear to others. For that is all part of being human, we are all sinners, even the most esteemed Canon Chris Dench I’m sure will confess that he has the odd sinful thought from time to time! (not many though!!) and Jesus came to save the sinners after-all (Luke 5:32).

But what Jesus offers in reward for this life of suffering is an eternal life in all its glory with Him. Jesus wants us to think about what is beyond the here and the now and seek for that which is eternal. Jesus says, there is no point gaining everything in the world, if the world as we see it, is all there actually is. The revelation of reward is Jesus offering you not just life for the next 67 years or whatever it might be, but life in eternity. – The revelation of reward by death.

So, this morning so far, you have heard me speak briefly of the Revelation of death, how Jesus spoke to his disciples of his impending death, Revelation through death, preparing to make sacrifices in this life and finally Revelation of reward by death, which is where we learn that by following Jesus and putting to death our old selves we can be assured of eternal salvation.

But before I end, I want to talk briefly about that final part of our gospel reading this morning which refers to the second coming of Jesus, because for those that do not know, Jesus will come again and is intrinsically linked to that Revelation of Jesus’ death.

It is a topic that doesn’t get much of an airing in sermons generally speaking, but it is an important fact to consider in relation to our own lives and how we are living them. For none of us know when we are going to be called home, but neither do we know when Jesus will return either? It might be today, it might be next week or it might be in a thousand years. The truth is we just don’t know? And we need to prepare for that time, just as we would prepare ourselves, given the opportunity, for our own death.

It is no good leaving it until the last minute, because we simply don’t know when that last minute will be, and whilst our deeds on earth are not requisite for entry into the life beyond, it is true to say that what we do in this life, will be laid bare at some point, and have a direct relationship with the reward that we will finally receive.

Jesus says that ‘He will reward according to his deeds’ (v27), what He is saying in effect is that how we live our lives now, will be a measure of our faith in the future, and will determine how much reward can be given. So simply doing good deeds alone without some self-sacrifice, may simply not be enough. And we need to understand that link before it is too late to make those changes.

In the last book of the bible, called by coincidence the ‘Book of Revelation’ we hear the disciple John, in exile on the island of Patmos speaking the words that he heard our Lord speaking in a vision that pictures that very urgency to prepare, ‘Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed. (Revelation 16:15 NIV)

Those words crying out to us, begging us not to be caught out through lack of preparation for what will most assuredly come to us all.

So, when you leave this place of worship today, take the time to carefully consider how you are currently living your lives and make any changes that need to be made, for death is not to be feared but to be embraced, whatever time that may be?

And if it helps , remember those words of my teacher, ‘Christ we’re all gonna die’ and get ready.

Amen.

Hidden Treasure: Have You discovered it Yet?

Greetings Brothers and Sisters,

My latest sermon is based on Matthew 13:31-33,44-52. There is a lot going on in this and the surrounding passages, all of which could bring many topics of discussion, but today I have decided to focus on that fact that God does in-fact change people however bad they might appear to act and it is not for us to judge but God alone- whoever or whatever that person may have done or not done.

As always I welcome feedback, so please get in touch?

Blessings

Roger

 

Sermon No 61

Hidden Treasure: Have you discovered it yet?
Trinity 7

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 30th July 2017 at the 8 and 10 am Eucharistic Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)
Today we follow on with a theme that Fr James spoke to us about last week where in this world, the age of the church, the wheat lives in in company with the tares or weeds, or put another way, the good and ‘godly’ people live alongside those not quite as saintly, and sometimes are positively evil.
The gospel reading today, again from St Matthew takes this a step further, and through the use of more parables by Jesus, we not only learn that we must live together in this way, but He draws out the fact that we will never truly know who our neighbour might actually be or what they may become until we are raised to new life in the world beyond.
And so we need to be mindful of that fact as we live our daily lives, for the time of judgement will most assuredly come, as Jesus spoke of in the parable of the dragnet at the end of the gospel reading, when distinctions between men are made, and the consequences of our action or inaction will be played out.
But this morning I would like you to primarily consider the possibility that all people can change, and what and who we are at 15 or 25 years of age might be completely different to who we become at 40, 70 or even later.
For me the most powerful witness of evangelism is the personal testimony of those that experience that change in their lives and are willing to speak out about it, either through speaking verbally, or through the written word.
Indeed, if you go into any Christian bookshop you will find the shelves littered with many books of this nature where people have been transformed from being drug dealers, murderers and gangsters into apparent faithful true servants for Jesus.
But it is not just the formerly really ‘bad people’ that have a story to tell, for just as important and life changing are the less dramatic conversions, which might occur instantaneously, or perhaps the changes may occur over a longer period of time. Each one has their own personal story to tell of how they came to a faith in Jesus, which of course includes people like you and I.
But today I have the stories of four people I would like to tell you about, who are symbolic of the thousands of converts to Jesus that happen every day, in every country around the world.
Hopefully some of you will know at least a couple of them?
The first one is Tony Fontane, a famous American singer who sang alongside people like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett through the 1950’s and was an ardent atheist. However, on the afternoon of September 3rd, 1957 he was involved in a near fatal car crash that put him in a coma for 30 days.
After gaining consciousness Fontane later wrote that whilst he was in that coma he received a vision from God offering him one more chance. And taking up that opportunity, he went onto not only converting to Christianity, but Fontane abandoned his lucrative popular singing career and refused to sing anything other than gospel music from that point on.
However, surprisingly Fontane’s career did not flounder but went from strength to strength even performing in-front of four US presidents before his untimely death in 1974. His funeral by the way was attended by around 10,000 people- not a bad turn out! (https://www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Fontane)
For many women in the 1970’s Jane Fonda was the face behind numerous fitness videos, in-fact she was probably the first one that brought this phenomenon to the world with her legendary workouts like her ‘butt lift video.’
I am sure that some of you ladies may have experienced a Jane Fonda exercise plan in the past before moving onto ‘Insanity’ or ‘Joe Wickes!’
Again, like Fontane, Jane Fonda was a very successful person who had everything she could ever want, but in 2001 Fonda found that despite her life being filled with all the wealth and riches the world could provide, she was missing something and so shortly before her third divorce, she set out on a spiritual quest and soon turned her life over to Jesus.
And so now, despite her failing body at the age of 79, because even Jane Fonda cannot keep going forever! Fonda now says, “I am a work in progress… but I have found that since I have come to feel God within me, I experience less fear- of anything, including death.” (https://cruxnow.com).
The next person is CS Lewis, the great academic and children’s writer of Narnia stories, he really came to faith (apart from Holy Spirit intervention of course) through academic study and conversation. For although by 1929 Lewis had already started praying to God, it was through conversations with his good friends like JRR Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame, and other like-minded Oxford academics that Lewis finally said to another good friend called Arthur Greeves, “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ, and in Christianity” (https://www.ewtn.com/library/spirit/cslewconv.htm)
And so like the Jewish Pharisee Nicodemus, Lewis had had his night illuminated by light, and from that moment on, Lewis became an ardent defender of faith and his books on theology are still widely read today.
The last one I want to speak about is that great boxer George Foreman or to some the guy that invented the fat reducing grill that cooks your chicken in a healthy way!
Now George Foreman was a world heavyweight champion, famous for that loss to Mohammad Ali in the 1974 epic battle known as the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’
However, in 1977 after a losing a fight with another boxer called Jimmy Young, Foreman sat in the locker room and later describes how at that moment he died and went to a dark place from where he was rescued by the grace of God. Foreman since that experience then went onto be ordained a Christian minister and despite making over $150 million dollars from those grills, he continues to preach about Jesus today at his church in Houston, Texas. (http://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/celebrities/george-foremans-second-chance.aspx)
So, there we have four stories of people that have turned from having no belief to a faith in Jesus. Now as I said at the beginning I want you to consider the fact that people can change and here are four examples of just such change. Four people that had what most would consider everything that the world could offer, yet without Jesus they were incomplete.
The common thread throughout these stories though is not necessarily what happened at the point of conversion, but it is what happened after the event. What did they do after God revealed Himself to them. And you will see that none of them stood still and quiet about their new-found faith.
They all spoke of it, sang about it wrote about it or prayed about it, which to the non-believing friends this could have seen quite a strange thing to do, for in speaking out, they ran the risk of being humiliated, of being labelled as someone who had ‘lost the plot’ or worse still, they risked losing their financial wealth.
Our gospel reading about the hidden treasure this morning relates to conversions such as those described, for it talks about discovering that hidden treasure of a life with Christ and in so doing being prepared to give up everything, to possess what had been found.
But the twist of all this, is that the treasure is a hidden treasure and cannot be seen without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. So just being in the presence of believers, whilst it will help, will not necessarily bring you to find this treasure.
The central truth from both the parable of the hidden treasure (v44) and that of the ‘Pearl of Great Grace’ (v45) is that the kingdom of heaven must be personally appropriated. It doesn’t come from attending church or being the son or daughter of Christian parents, but can only come from a personal encounter with Jesus Himself.
And of course, it would be nice to end there at the point of finding that kingdom of heaven, and living happily ever after in a glorious state of religious euphoria. But unfortunately, as we all know, life is generally not like that all the time, and we will all experience times of pain, grief and weakness that will test our faith, and as Fr James alluded to last week, in that we can all at times, become a bit ‘weedy’.
But what then happens at the end, what happens at the final moment when we face death or have actually died? For we live our lives, for the most part, still committing sin, we are all sinners after-all, as it says in Johns first epistle, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8 NIV)
So, who are we if we are all sinners, are we the wheat or are we the tare? Can we ever be sure of our own salvation?
Well, I’m not sure whether we ever can be absolutely sure? Only Jesus is the One that can decide and make that judgement.
In the Parable of the Dragnet (v47) that we also heard this morning we hear Jesus describing this sifting of the saved and the unsaved, pictured in the form of a fishing net bringing to shore both the good and the bad and then the wicked being separated and thrown into hell. A vivid unpleasant picture of the terrors that face those that do not make the ‘grade’.
However, as unpalatable as this language might be, it is in context with what Jesus is speaking about here. Jesus wants to convey the fact that his parables should be understood in ‘light’ of the ‘old truths’ and not to be taken in isolation, but in complete togetherness with that has gone before.
Which brings me back to that question of change. For, we live in a world that currently seems more evil and abhorrent that arguably it ever has been. But as Christians, as followers of Jesus, what we can never do, is to give up hope that a person can change and genuinely become a true follower of Jesus, whoever they are-even terrorists!
That is after-all the purpose of the church, and we hold these apparent opposites continually in tension within our churches every day.
It’s not always easy though, to be ‘Christian’ as those crimes being committed by terrorist groups and others continue to shock us, but also those crimes committed by our own young children, continue to worsen by the week.
And I don’t know about you, but I get a sense that people are losing patience with the authorities and wanting to become judges and juries themselves of who might be worthy to live or who should be put to death.
And if my perception of the current world is right, then it becomes ever more important that we as followers of Jesus continue to pray for Gods intervention in the world on those that attack and persecute our faith. And never lose sight, however bad it may appear to be, that God will overcome the worse that we might face.
And if we need any such reminder of what God can do, then cast your eyes once again over the conversion of St Paul in the Book of Acts, whose dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus should always remain a reminder that God oversees all situations and can purify the most corrupt of hearts. (Acts 9:1-19)
So, a mixed bag this morning as we continued to think of ourselves in the world with others that might not ultimately face the same future, but the main message from me today is to consider that possibility of change, to give people a chance to change, and to give God a chance to intervene. Try not to be too judgemental on how you might perceive others might be living their lives.
As we heard in those testimonies of celebrities, God has a funny way of showing up at the strangest and latest of times in life, and in the end if we are not careful, instead of being the wheat, we might just discover ourselves to be the tares!

Amen

 

 

The Mission: A Sending Out

Greetings,

Todays sermon comes on Trinity Sunday, but rather than exploring the nature and essence of the triune God too deeply I have concentrated my talk around the nature of discipleship to which we are all called. Our gospel reading is the great commission given to us by Jesus, so please ponder on those words and consider what part you may like to play in fulfilling that mandate?

Blessings

Roger

Sermon No 60

The Mission: A Sending Out

Trinity Sunday

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 11th June 2017 at the 8am Eucharist Service at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 28:16-20)

‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD’ (Psalm 19:14)

A good morning to you all on this day that we call Trinity Sunday. In the Anglican Church, we always celebrate this day on the Sunday that follows Pentecost as it is a time that after being filled by the Holy Spirit we are encouraged to think a little more closely about the very essence of the God that we worship and the nature of the triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

However, as part of my research for today’s talk I came across this quote that said, ‘Common wisdom is that if you discuss the Trinity for more than a few minutes you will slip into heresy, because you are probing the depths of God too deeply’ (www.church.net>trinitysunday)

So, with those words of wisdom, other than telling you that Trinity Sunday was instituted in 828 AD by Pope Gregory 1X and that the word trinity is not used anywhere in the bible, I want to look this morning more about what the ‘Trinitarian God’ means for us in terms of our mission in the world to be.

I am after all someone who is commissioned to be an evangelist, and central to what I believe my own personal calling to be, is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and so the gospel reading that we heard this morning, sometimes known as the ‘great commission’ is absolutely the key verse in the whole bible that exemplifies what mission is about, and so I couldn’t not take advantage of the opportunity to speak for just a few moments on this topic close to my heart.

Now contrary to what some may believe, the Church does not exist to be not a social club, it is neither a meeting place for the elderly to pass the time, nor is it a place of entertainment, a creche, a choral group or anything else you care to mention.

You may have heard that passage from Luke chapter fifteen that says, ‘In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’ (Luke 15:10 NIV) And its true, if just one man, woman or child can be transformed from death to life through Christ and away from sin then the angels in heaven will indeed rejoice .

So, the central mission of the church as whole, indeed the very existence of the church is to draw men and women back to Jesus and will be open to that task until the very moment when He will return again in the final moments of judgement.  Of course, before I get shouted at again, the church encompasses all those previously mentioned groups, but only in the sense of its ultimate goal of drawing men and women back to Jesus.

Now that is all very well, and it is a great idea, but it is much easier saying it rather than actually putting it into practice.

Doing mission and evangelism is difficult for several reasons and in many ways, it is harder than it has ever been. There was a period, probably in the life time of some of our members here at St Paulinus that a Christian belief and faith was a given. Or at least there was very strong likelihood that most people in the UK would have knowledge at least of some of the fundamental basic principles of the Christian faith.

In the main though, those days have now gone unless you attend a church school. And there are many in this land that have literally never heard of the good news of Jesus. And further to that, there is a growing culture that has become popular in ridiculing anyone who might have a faith, whatever the religion, and in particular the Christian faith.

So, as evangelists or missionaries we can expect rejection from those we might tell this good news. And worse still, we might even face resentment, not just from those we seek to transform, but from our own families too. So, telling others about Jesus is not always easy.

I remember when I started my evangelism training course led by the inspirational evangelist Canon Jean Kerr, she told us that we were entering into perhaps the most dangerous aspect of ministry and to expect hardship, suffering, and rejection. And she said this because we are dealing with matters not just physical in the here and now but matters spiritual in the eternal sense and Satan the destroyer does not like evangelism and mission, as it means that for everyone person transformed by grace, he grows weaker and he knows his end is getting nearer.

Yet, as difficult as it may be, that is what being a Christian is all about, it’s about being a disciple for Christ and doing whatever is necessary in the name of Jesus. And the call for every believer, is to be instrumental in that mission of God. Ok. you might not necessarily be called to be an active evangelist yourself, but we are all called to discipleship.

Taking that one step further then. How do we do mission? Well, one of the marks of being a mission shaped church is to be a sending church. And we are called to send people out there beyond the walls of this church to save people and make new disciples.

Indeed, our own Fr James, as much as we would like to keep him here, God has other plans, and has called James for mission work elsewhere by sending him from this place to make disciples in another parish.

But what can we do as individuals who are not priests, deacons or in some other recognised ministry role? How can we be disciples for Christ?

In preparation for today’s talk I was reading through one of my bible commentaries and the author (John MacArthur, New Testament Commentary 1989) summarised his view on how we might do this discipleship thing, and he describes it under five main titles and I would like to share his view on discipleship with you.

The first is ‘Availability’ We need to be available for God, first. We cannot do anything unless we make ourselves available. If we cannot do this we will not even get off the starting blocks.

Secondly, we need to be true worshippers of God. For God cannot be truly served unless He is truly worshipped. So, if you are coming here just to tick a box on a piece of paper, of course you are most welcome, but you are not truly worshipping if your sole purpose is something other than to worship.

We need to be ‘submissive’, that is we need to submit fully to the sovereign authority of Jesus, whose authority is absolute. And there are many places we can read about this absolute sovereignty in the bible, but just to leave us in no doubt His authority extends not only on this world but in heaven also. Think back to our gospel reading, ‘Then Jesus came to them and said, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’ (Matthew 28: 18) And this is one of the reasons why this reading is used on Trinity Sunday, because it concentrates its focus on that authority of God in His three parts. All equal yet distinct.

Another reason by the way that Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost is that on Pentecost as we are filled with the Holy Spirit that understanding of His authority is begun to be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. If you recall from last week’s sermon I mentioned that one of the names given to the Holy Spirit was the ‘Revealer’. Well. It is the Holy Spirit that reveals and illuminates that authority to us.

So, we need to submit ourselves to Jesus as Sovereign.

Fourthly, we need to be ‘obedient’. Which is made possible by doing the first three. If we are available to God, if we worship God and if we are submissive to Him, then we can become obedient to Him. And to be a disciple for Christ we need to be obedient. So, if we are not acting in a ‘Christ like’ way, if we are not being obedient to God then we cannot be His disciple. We need to be and do what Jesus demands us to do. We might not like it always, but we need to do it. For when Jesus asks us to leave our precious lives behind our high flying well paid job to go and work in a homeless charity, then He is asking us to be obedient to His call. You may remember that parable about the rich man who asks Jesus what it would take to gain eternal life, and when Jesus says, that he must give all his wealth away to the poor, the man decides that he cannot offer that level of obedience and simply walks away. (Matthew 19:16-22) To be a disciple requires obedience, which may mean some suffering on our part?

And finally, the fifth element of true discipleship is about ‘power’. For, unless we have the power of Jesus Christ working through us none of the aforementioned would have any strength to succeed. And so, until the time that Jesus returns in His full glory and power at the second coming, then He will continue to empower us to fulfil His work on earth.

So, to be a disciple we need to make ourselves available, we need to truly worship Him, we need to submit ourselves to Him and be obedient to Him and finally we need His power within us to do His will.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Trinity Sunday, and we celebrate our God in three parts, all separate yet equal and distinct. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, let us go from this place and be disciples of Christ and make disciples of Christ and fulfil that great commission that Jesus gave us all, to make disciples in all nations and remember He said, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:16-20)

 

Amen

The Holy Spirit: A Spirit of Truth and of Communication.

Happy Pentecost Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s sermon follows a puppet sketch starring ‘Joey’ and ‘Julia’, so thanks to them  for leading me into my talk. I have included that sketch in the recording as Julia is much wiser than I!

Blessings

Roger

Sermon No 59

The Holy Spirit: A Spirit of Truth and of Communication

Pentecost

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 4th June 2017 at the 10am Family Mass Service at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 20:19-23 and Acts 2:1-21)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)

Well good morning to you all and thanks to Joey and Julia for leading me into this talk. I’m always surprised how wise Julia in-fact is when it comes to this church stuff… aren’t you? Perhaps she needs to go on a vocations day!

She always seems to have a good understanding of what our faith is really all about.

One of the first things I want to pick up on what Joey and Julia were talking about is this thing about languages, because you see I have just come back from Spain where I was doing a pilgrimage walk called the Camino de Santiago.

Has anyone one else been to Spain? What other countries have we all been to?

Wow! What a large number of places we have all been throughout the world. And who speaks another language?

But what I have always found is that we in in this country are always extremely bad at speaking any other language other than our own English. And even that can be quite poor, especially when you are from Yorkshire!

In-fact, I sometimes feel quite embarrassed that I am unable to speak in any other language to any competent level, for most Europeans you find, will generally be able to speak at least two other languages quite well.

But fear not good people because today is the day called Pentecost when we celebrate Jesus sending His gift that we call the Holy Spirit, which was not only to His twelve disciples way back 2,000 years ago, but it is a gift that is open to any one that professes a faith to Jesus today.

And this is a marvellous thing, because what it means for you and me is that with this gift we can do absolutely anything, for nothing is impossible if we act in the power of God. So, in effect, everything that Jesus did, we can do too, if we have faith, even speak in and understand different languages!

But before I go any further I want to spend a few moments on looking at who the Holy Spirit is, because it is not something we talk about a lot in the church, even though we should, because the Spirit of God is part of, and equal to both God the Father and God the Son (Jesus)

Now if we are familiar with the bible we will know that the Holy Spirit is known by several names some of which I would like to make mention.

Does anyone know of any of those other names by which the Holy Spirit is known?

The Author of Scripture – The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, all the authors of each book within the bible were moved by the Holy Spirit. (Timothy 3:16)

The Comforter – In the bible we hear how Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to comfort and console us in our times of need (Isaiah 11:2)

The Seal or Deposit – The Holy Spirit makes His claim on us as His own. He pays a deposit if you like for the ultimate price that He has already paid for our salvation, when you believed. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Convictor of Sin –  The Spirit shows us and convinces us that what we are doing is contrary to what God wants us to do (John 16:7-11)

The Guide – For those without the Holy Spirit within them the very act of following Jesus is foolishness, but in the Spirit, we are guided and our eyes are open to what God has in mind for our lives. (John 16:13)

The Intercessor – The Holy Spirit takes charge of our prayers when we offer them to God and when we simply don’t know what to say He will translate our thoughts and our feelings to God the Father (Romans 8:26)

The Revealer – The Holy Spirit reveals us the truth of spiritual matters in a way that others simply cannot see. (John 14:17)

There are many more names given to the Holy Spirit, but it is abundantly clear that He is as much a part of God as both Jesus and the Father. They are equal parts, yet separate and distinct, and if you remember nothing else from today, remember that God is three in one. Think of that famous saying by the Three Musketeers, ‘All for one and all one for all’ Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

In addition, the Feast of Pentecost, which we celebrate today in the arrival of the Holy Spirit, is also known as the birthday of the church. So, we can sing happy birthday to ourselves too!

I mentioned language at the beginning and how important it is for us to be able to communicate. Well the Holy Spirit really can help us to speak to one another and God, regardless of where we might come from in the world and the language that we may speak

And I would like to share two examples with you that I have experienced that are poignant to me in terms of language and communication.

The first came on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Israel in 2011 when as part of our group I visited the church known as the Crusader Church on Mount Tabor. It was there whilst singing the hymn ‘How great thou Art’ in English we were joined by various other pilgrims also singing the same hymn, but as we all sang in our own respective language, the result was that we all sang in a perfect harmony of praise together, to the glory of God. And it was amazing to experience, because it was as if in God’s eyes language became irrelevant. As long as we are talking to and praising God, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

The second example came just last week as I attended services in the Cathedral Church of Santiago de Compostela  in Spain. Now like Israel, the City of Santiago is for many, the fulfilment of personal pilgrimages of what can be, in some cases, many weeks or even months of travel.

And there are many different routes running from different start points in Spain, Portugal and France. As such there are people attending the services from literally all over the world. Yet, although the main mass is still communicated in the language of Spanish with a sprinkling of Latin, somehow it didn’t seem to matter what language we as individuals spoke, for it was through the language of common held beliefs and symbolism, that we all came together as one.

In fact, in many ways, the range of countries from which all the different pilgrims came, enhanced the services by binding it all together in the universal language of a love for the Lord.

I could probably spend quite a long time this morning talking about what happened during my Camino of eight days, during which I walked around 262kms in total, but one example was towards the end of one long day when I had run out of water and I was really getting quite thirsty, when I came across two young children a boy aged around 4 and a girl aged around 7 years in age. And they were at the side of the road outside their farm selling shells that they had hand painted.

So, feeling called to acquire one of those shells but unable to communicate the question of ‘how much?’ through my inadequate Spanish, I reached into my pocket and handed the boy a few coins, which probably never even amounted to a euro and took the shell. I then began to walk away. And after a few yards, I heard a shout and that same boy to whom I had just exchanged a few coins for a shell, came running towards me with some real urgency and handed me a small bottle of water.

It was if he knew what I really needed without me even communicating it. It wasn’t a shell I needed but water to quench my thirst. And I can tell you my friend with whom I was walking just simply stood there in amazement at what he had just witnessed – That in my mind was the Holy Spirit at work.

And over the eight days I was in Spain, there was example after example of ‘coincidences’ that defied logic, yet messages were communicated regardless of the obvious lack of any Spanish language on my part – All orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.

Our reading today from Acts tells us of how a sound from heaven came and filled the people with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2) and the people spoke with other tongues ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance’ (v4)

Now for most of those present that day they marvelled at the sight and the ability in being able to understand what was being said in their own respective language, but there were also others that mocked what was happening around them because they had not been filled with the spirit, and to them we read that Peter the apostle stood up, raised his voice to them and told them that what they were experiencing had all been prophesied by the prophet Joel and the went onto quote from the book of Joel. (Joel 2:28-32) ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh’ and so on. And it will be the same today. There will be some that mock that are not filled with the Holy Spirit.

But the point is this, with the infilling of the Holy Spirit anything can be achieved, if its purpose is to glorify God, so whatever barriers are placed in front of us they will be broken down, no matter by what chains we are bound, they will be released, and no matter what language we speak the Holy Spirit will translate and interpret for us

Language is not just words, but language is actions and language is our deeds (James 2;14-26).

It has been said that faith without actions is dead, and it is true, for it is by our actions that we will be judged. And it is through the Holy Spirit that we will be guided towards Jesus and onward to God the Father.

So, as we celebrate Pentecost today let us remember that first time that the gift of the Holy Spirit was bestowed on man and celebrate in His continued entrance into the world and pray that we will all be filled and re-filled throughout our lives with this gift from God which is the Holy Spirit.

Amen

An Easter Rising: A Westminster Tale

Greetings and a Happy Easter to you all,

This sermon is a little sombre as I reflect not only on the good news of Easter but of the sad death of a colleague. I hope its not too dark, for the message of Easter is one of hope and we should never lose sight of that.

Blessings to you all wherever you may be reading or listening to this message.
Roger

Sermon No 58
An Easter Rising: A Westminster Tale
Easter Day
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 16th April 2017 at the 10am Easter Day Eucharist Service at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 20:1-18)
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)
‘Alleluia, alleluia the Lord is risen!’….. (He is risen indeed, alleluia).
An interesting response, for a recent survey conducted by a leading market research consultancy (Com-Res, Communicate Research Ltd), concluded that one in four people who identified themselves as ‘Christians’ in England stated that the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen. (Christian Post, April 10th, 2017)
Now the survey is a little misleading in terms of its headline news, as they measured its responders in different categories, namely ‘General Public’, ‘All Christians’ and ‘Active Christians’ referring to that latter group as Christians who attend religious services at least once a month.
Now not wishing to get too bogged down with the exact figures, the fact remains, that exactly half of all those surveyed did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus whatsoever, and a quarter of people claiming to be Christians, did not believe it either.
However, the survey wasn’t all bad news thankfully, as the survey also found that twenty one percent of non-Christians believed in a life of some sort after death, and in addition there was surprisingly high levels of religious belief among those that followed no religion, who we might often refer to as secularists or atheists.
So, I guess if that survey is an accurate reflection of today’s congregation then there will be some of you here who also do not believe in the resurrection of Christ Jesus? Or if nothing else, may have a different theology of the event? But I’m not going to ask for a show of hands on that!
Now one could argue, that these figures are indeed worrying for society in general and the church in particular. However, I would not be too concerned, as it shouldn’t really come as any great surprise to find this level of dis-belief in such a miraculous and supernatural event.
For I’m sure that if the characters that were present during the period of Jesus’ life were polled, they would probably haven given similar responses!
In-fact most of the biblical evidence points towards his closest companions, not understanding the significance of the death of Jesus at all, at least not in the first instance anyway. They were living through the experience and trying to make sense of what they were seeing played out.
And even when faced with the resurrected Jesus in person, complete with the all the scars of crucifixion, one of his closest companions Thomas, still doubted, until of course he placed his hands in those holes! (John 20:24-29)
For asking to belief in the Easter story of resurrection, is really no different to being asked to believe in a virgin birth, or someone walking on water. For without faith, believing in any miraculous event is verging on the absurd and preposterous, yet with faith all things in-fact become possible.
The resurrection story of Jesus at that first Eastertide is just another one of those stories, A story on the face of it, that defies all human senses, yet because of what the story contains, is arguably the most significant story in a long line of supernatural events. And as such, it really is something that we should invest some time in trying to make sense of it?
But can we really believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Can we believe in what first seems to be an impossible act? As a police officer, (which is my full-time job by the way) when I attend an incident and carry out my primary investigation, I am always required to examine the evidence, the evidence that presents itself to me in those first few moments of arriving on scene, whether it is physical evidence in the form of an injury, or maybe something documentary like a letter, and then after examining that evidence, I then have to make a judgement on whether the likelihood of what I am presented, is either the truth or whether it is something quite different? And then decide on an appropriate course of action.
But for most investigations in establishing the whole truth, this cannot be done in a matter of minutes, and will probably require a more detailed and protracted investigation, leading down many different avenues, some of which will lead nowhere, yet others may be more fruitful.
Likewise, from a pulpit in ten minutes, it is highly unlikely that I would be able to convince you of the historical existence of the resurrection of Jesus, simply because there is not enough time to uncover all the evidence contained both in the biblical texts and by other historical writers, such as Josephus for example, a Roman historian, who witnessed many biblical events as they happened. So, in establishing the full truth, a more thorough investigation is generally required.
And I think when we read the bible it is imperative that we do this, and not take things at face value, for as well as needing an underlying faith, we also need to examine that evidence and seek out the Word of God for ourselves, it is not good enough to take the event solely on its own merit. We have to look deeper, and search around the event to get not just the written evidence as presented by the bible, but also the hearsay, the historical and the circumstantial.
And this is especially the case when we are asked to consider the resurrection account, because although the Christian story doesn’t end with the death of Jesus, the actual prophetic foretelling of this specific period has been so widely scattered throughout the bible, that without looking deeper, we would never understand why it ever happened at all?
Without the prophesies for example, how would we know that Jesus would enter Jerusalem on a donkey and understand the significance of that (Zechariah (9:9), or the prophecy surrounding Jesus being scorned and despised before He was crucified as foreseen in the Psalms (Psalm 22;7). And without reading about the continued failures of the people of Israel, chronicled through the whole of the Old Testament (Psalm 78:10-11) we would never know why God had to intervene directly anyway.
Now as a police officer over these last few weeks it has been a testing time in trying to make sense of what happened on the 22nd March when Police Constable Keith Palmer was murdered outside the Palace of Westminster.
And it isn’t the fact that Keith’s death was deemed any more important than the deaths of those others that were murdered by Khalid Masood. Of course, it wasn’t, but it is in the manner in which he was killed, that made his death so poignant to the resurrection story, drawing parallels with the sacrificial death of Jesus.
And if any of you saw the funeral on TV you would have seen too that it was truly an event to behold, as a full force funeral came into play with police helicopters bowing in respect, boats sounding whistles in tribute, and police officers standing shoulder to shoulder with colleagues from around the country, and indeed from around the world, all coming together as one police family in a collective grief.
And I am sure that it was made even more personal for each one of us standing there, knowing that it could have so easily have been any of us that day making that sacrifice. But it wasn’t, and it was for the family of Keith Palmer, that had to bear the most sadness and worst grief of all.
And I suppose if we were to draw comparisms between the two deaths, we might consider that Jesus already knew that He was going to die that day on Calvary. It wasn’t an act of reactionary bravery and courage, like it was for PC Palmer, who instinctively ran towards his attacker and to his death. Jesus in contrast knew that right from the moment of His birth that his destiny was set, and He was to be sentenced to death by crucifixion.
But how do we prepare for death? How did Jesus prepare for His death? Well, I guess He would have entered his inevitable destiny with the same trepidation and fear as any one of us would do. For Jesus was after-all, fully human, as well as being fully God, with all the human emotions and feelings that we all endure.
And therefore, we can read with thankfulness of how Jesus understands the grief of His followers like Mary when He meets with her outside the tomb and offers her some comfort. He doesn’t simply say, ‘I know you’ve lost your friend, but you will just have to get on with it.’ No, Jesus comes alongside and comforts her asking, ‘Why are you weeping?’ (v15)
During the funeral of PC Palmer, the newly appointed Commissioner of the Metropolis, Cressida Dick read a poem by WH Auden entitled ‘Funeral Blues’ or sometimes referred to as ‘Stop all the clocks’ (first published in 1938) which captures the total and complete grief we feel when a loved one is gone.
For as anyone who has experienced the death of a close relative or friend will know, it is as if the clocks do simply stop when death occurs, and we cannot seem to move on in life. The whole poem of ‘Funeral Blues’ is moving, but the final verse says this: –
The stars are not wanted now; put out everyone,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Right now, this day the family of Keith Palmer must be feeling that same sense that the clock of time has just stopped, and everything seems hopeless.
And it is that same perception of time, just standing still in sorrow that we can imagine the family and followers of Jesus must have experienced too that Good Friday morning, when Jesus was brought down from that cross and carried away to the tomb where he lay for three days.
It is that same grief that we all experience when death comes close. But we can be glad brothers and sisters, because of what happened that Easter morning through the actions of Jesus and His rising to new life, He gives us all new hope for a life that carries on beyond the grave of this mortal coil.
The eloquently preached sermon that followed the poem ‘Funeral Blues’ by the Dean of the Cathedral, Andrew Nunn, spoke of that same hope that lies beyond death because of the actions of Jesus, as He willingly gave His life, not just for another, but for the whole world, just in a similar way the actions of PC Palmer had protected Parliament and freedom as he attempted to take down his assailant.
But how can we be certain of life after death, where there is no pain nor sorrow?
Well as I said earlier, just as a police officer might do in any investigation, we need to examine the evidence. So, what is the evidence of the resurrection and why might the first witnesses to the resurrection not even have believed what had happened?
Our reading from the gospel of John today as we heard, gives that account of the first Easter and the discovery of the risen Lord, firstly by Mary who at first is not able to recognise her Master and it is only when He directly calls her by name ‘Mary’ (v16) that she then sees who she had not previously recognised and acknowledges His presence replying ‘Rabboni’ (meaning Master.)
It seems that Mary was prevented in seeing clearly, someone who she had known well, and this lack of clarity of sight was probably not surprisingly due to an initial lack of faith in the resurrection, but if we turn to the gospel of Matthew we read that Mary was not alone in seeing the resurrected Jesus as implied from just a reading of the gospel of John alone. For Jesus spoke to another woman also. (Matthew 28:9).
And again, if we turn to the gospels of Luke and Mark, we find Jesus appearing to two of His own disciples that very same day also, as they travelled on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13).
But not just in the gospels is there evidence of the resurrected Jesus being seen; later in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we can read that Paul tells us that Jesus also appeared to over 500 people at once (1 Corinthians 15:3-9).
So, if we are to believe the biblical account, and on the balance of probability there is no credible reason not to do so. Then over a period of some forty days after the crucifixion, Jesus in His resurrected form appeared to a very large number, probably in excess of over five hundred different people.
And if this fact alone is not enough to convince the most ardent of doubters, then look to the tomb from which Jesus rose. And ask yourselves the questions, why were His grave clothes left neatly behind in the tomb, when He might have worn them as He left? (John 20: 7), How did a man tortured and crucified, just a few hours earlier manage to find the superhuman strength to escape from a stone cave, moving a heavy stone in the process? And why at the same time were battle-hardened Centurion guards who were tasked to ensure the security of Jesus found shaking in fear in the presence of whoever they had just faced?
One of the character traits of a police officer is to be inquisitive when required to do so, so if you are in any doubt then become an investigator, and get nosey and get interested, seek out the truth for yourself. Examine the evidence, wherever it may take you, but remember this, if in the end, you do conclude that the resurrection story is correct, you will have unlocked the single greatest message that any preacher can ever bring, for you would have discovered the message of hope for an eternal life with God Himself. And although we may still be fearful of death, take comfort, for as we pass from death to life, then Jesus will be with us every step of the way.
‘I am the resurrection and the life’ says the Lord, ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die’ (John 11: 25,26)
Alleluia, the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.
AMEN

Born Again: A Spiritual Necessity

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am looking at this thing called being ‘born again’ today. It raised a few questions in church, so if you have any questions or comments then please post them. Hope you enjoy it and take something away from it. And please do consider something called ‘Walk through the Bible’ if you see it offered in your own churches or visit there web site www. Bible.org.uk

You will not be disappointed.

Blessings,

Roger

Sermon No 57

Born Again: A Spiritual Necessity

Lent 2

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 12th march 2017 at the 8am and 6pm Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 3;1-17)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)

A question? ‘What makes a someone a Christian?’ You will hear many answers to the question and the sort of answers you might get are: –

‘I’m a Christian because I go to church’

‘I’m a Christian because I am a good person’

‘I’m a Christian because I treat everyone fairly’

‘I’m a Christian because I read the bible’

And so, the answers go on, and maybe you might recognise yourselves saying such answers, I don’t know? Now none of those answers are incorrect by the way, but in themselves they are not complete.

Today’s sermon is really about having a look at this question and getting to the heart of how we can become Christians, and to do this we are looking at the gospel reading from John that we heard a moment ago.

Now yesterday I attended what I thought was an absolutely fantastic day of learning, which was hosted by our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters over the road as part of a ‘Churches together in Crayford’ initiative, as we took part in a ‘Walk through the Bible’.

Now I haven’t time this morning to tell you all about the day, but basically it took us through the structure and the history of the New Testament from the gospels right through to Revelation, and if you have never done such a day, I would certainly recommend that you do, because it not only brings the bible to life, but it simplifies the more detailed aspects of the stories in a way that can be remembered more easily than just simply reading it as a normal book .

Now as we looked at the Gospel of John during the day we were reminded that the main thrust of John’s gospel was that he was seeking to transform people’s lives and his message was one of an evangelistic nature one, so ‘that you may believe…. And that… you may have life’ (John 20:31)And this was his theme.

John was a man that wrote a gospel not just for a specific audience, but he was aiming to speak to All People and was presenting to the reader the message that Jesus was in-fact the Son of God. And this is important to remember because in those early days of spreading the good news, what was needed was a message that could change people’s lives…. Completely.

And as we read the gospel of John we will see that John’s tone throughout the gospel is one of a more spiritual nature, at least in comparison to that of say Luke which is predominantly historical, or maybe Matthew which is more prophetically focused.

So, as it is a gospel of a deeper spiritual emphasis it is little wonder that we find passages that look at matters spiritual.

Now one such passage that has spirituality at its heart, is what we heard this morning and includes what is reputed to be probably the most famous verse in the bible, that is, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16) and I am sure you may have at some time heard that famous quote?

But what I want to focus on this morning is the earlier story before Jesus speaks those words, where John gives an account of a meeting between a man called Nicodemus and Jesus, because this meeting is absolutely crucial in being able to answer that first question that I posed which is, ‘What makes someone a Christian?’

Now to understand why this meeting ever took place, we need to first look at a bit of historical and cultural stuff to see why this man Nicodemus is the man needed to meet Jesus in the first place?

And by the way, did you know that Nicodemus was the first Irishman mentioned in the bible ….‘Nick O’Demus’!! Ok it was a something I stole from yesterday!

 

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a learned man of the Jewish Scriptures and a member of the Sanhedrin, a kind of supreme court of the day, as far as the Jews were concerned at least. And this Sanhedrin had all the powers associated with a governmental body including the power of arrest, the power to place people on trial and the power to make its own laws.

Now because the Roman Empire was the occupying force at the time of Jesus, there was some clear tensions between the two powers, as Rome sought to limit any revolt by allowing the Sanhedrin to govern its people, but ultimately it was Rome that had control, as we find out later, as Jesus’ death was sanctioned by the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate.

For the Jews were not able to sanction capital punishment themselves under Roman law. (although this strangely enough may have happened before and after as described by Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.9.1 referring to a specific period in 62 AD)   

But nevertheless, Nicodemus who was a respected man went to talk to Jesus to find out exactly what He was about and whether there was any truth in the claims in what he and the council had heard about Him?

So Nicodemus visited Jesus in the evening, possibly because he wanted to avoid being seen with such a controversial preacher, or maybe he just thought he may have more time with him in order to ask the questions that he wanted to ask?

Now clearly Nicodemus had heard about the miracles Jesus had been performing, just like most of the local population would have heard, for news travels fast in small areas…. As we know!

And the Jews were an expectant race in any case. After-all their scriptures had foretold a Messiah was to come, and because they had been suppressed for some years now by the Romans, they were eagerly waiting for  freedom from their Roman occupiers, and wanted their land returned to them as they had had for a short period after the Maccabean Revolt some hundred and fifty years earlier (166BC.)

So, the question on the mind of Nicodemus was this, was Jesus the Messiah that had been sent by God to set them free once again? Or was He just simply another teacher of God that potentially could upset the delicate balance of power between Rome and the Jews?

Now Nicodemus did not dispute that Jesus was a man of God. In-fact the first thing that Nicodemus says to Jesus is, ‘We know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with You’ (v2)

But the statement that Nicodemus is given by Jesus in answer to his opening remark is something that then throws Nicodemus into bewilderment, because Jesus replies ‘Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (v3) And then goes on subsequently to talk about being born of water and the Spirit (v5) and other such things.

Now as we know, Nicodemus was an educated and respected Jewish scholar but he couldn’t get this. It was this aspect of being ‘born again’ that he couldn’t understand to what Jesus was referring, after -all he questions Jesus about being reborn physically as though somehow this might be possible.

But this should come as no surprise really, because the Jews were wrapped up in external matters of Law and rituals, and what they were outwardly expected to be and do.

Nicodemus had missed the point, Jesus was talking about being transformed from the inside by the Holy Spirit. Now of course, it is possible that Nicodemus was fully aware that it was not possible to re-enter the mother’s womb and had stated this obvious fact just to get a fuller answer to his statement, but the fact remains Nicodemus had not understood the statement fully and needed further explanation.

Nicodemus and the rest of the Jews were yes of course expecting a Messiah, but they expected the Messiah to lead them into battle against Rome, not to free their hearts from sin, which was what Jesus was about.

Jesus came to set them free from the slavery of sin and Nicodemus couldn’t see it! Even though he was talking to his own God incarnate face to face.

Now there has been for some years been some modern confusion to this whole thing about being ‘born again’ and I can only guess that it might not have been spoken of frequently in the church, I don’t really know?

But the Word of God is the ‘same yesterday, today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8), so what Jesus said to Nicodemus is as true then as it is today. We all have to be born again, ‘born of water and the Spirit’ (v5)

We cannot simply say we are Christians because we go to church, or because we read the bible etc. Being a Christian or follower of Christ is more than that, and we must recognise that to truly follow Jesus, we have to be ‘born again’ spiritually from the inside.

I remember when I first became a Christian in 1995 following what I can only describe as a ‘Damascus Road’ experience and when I took those first tentative steps in the following days and weeks in telling others that I was now a Christian, I recall there were several people that asked me, whether I was one of those ‘born again’ Christians?

Now they didn’t ask me this because they had a theological understanding of the story of Nicodemus and Jesus, that is for sure. They had asked me because for whatever reason, the phrase being ‘born again’ was associated with being a member of some whacky sect or cult, for many who were becoming Christians around that same time were calling themselves ‘Born Again Christian’s, in some way trying to differentiate themselves from other mainstream church membership, and in those early days of ‘secularisation’ it had become more common place to identify modern converts to religion as almost mentally ill!

So I guess those asking may have been quite concerned about my sanity!!

And I remember that at the time I had several conversations about this subject and trying to explain, (once I had understood myself) that as true Christians we all had to be ‘born again’ and that it was not something new or different to what had ever been before.

Jesus tells us in that conversation with Nicodemus that we heard today that we are unable to see the kingdom of God, unless we are born of water and of Spirit.

Now this I guess was particularly frustrating for Jesus as a man too, for Jesus was of course fully God yet He was still fully man at the same time, (but that’s another sermon!)  and I’m sure He would have felt just as frustrated as any man or woman would feel as He tried to explain to Nicodemus how eternal salvation could be found, especially as Jesus had spoken in the language that he would have been familiar.

For when Jesus spoke of being born of water, He was not just talking of being washed physically, but He was talking, as I alluded to earlier, of an internal purification, and Nicodemus, as an expert in the Law should have been familiar with this concept, because it is spoken of many times in the Old Testament including by the prophet Ezekiel, where he talks of the need for ‘spiritual cleansing (Ezekiel 36:24-27)

And this really emphasised the depth of the spiritual emptiness of the Jewish nation, when even one of its most eminent teachers could not recognise the true meaning and fulfilment of the scriptures they purported to know inside out! But of course, this is written elsewhere too. Proverbs 4:19 warns us that, ‘The way of the wicked is like darkness, they do not know what makes them stumble’ (Proverbs 4;19) and again this view is reinforced by Paul in Ephesians as he describes this lack of understanding as a ‘blindness of the heart’ (Ephesians 4:18)

Now we don’t know whether Nicodemus ever became a true follower of Christ, there is certainly evidence that by his very coming to meet with Jesus in the first place it showed a willingness to learn and be changed, we also know that he appeared again during the trial of Jesus following His arrest to offer some support towards His defence, and finally after the death of Jesus Nicodemus appears once more to provide embalming spices and assists his  fellow Sanhedrin member, Joseph of Arimathea  in preparing the body of Jesus for burial.

So, the likely hood is that at some point after that Nicodemus would have become a follower of Jesus but we cannot be sure.

But what we can be quite clear on, is that as followers of Christ today, we too must be born again of both water and of Spirit, we need our soul to be cleansed through the Spirit of God. So, if we feel that we are only Christians because we just come to church, or because we read the bible. Or any other such reason, and that we haven’t truly invited Jesus into our hearts, then maybe during this time of reflection through lent, then now might be a good time to do so?

Come to the altar of Jesus today and ask Him into your hearts to experience this ‘born again’ cleansing?

Being born again is something that we should think of as a natural part of our conversion to Christ. Being born again is something we need to do, we need to die to our sin, to our old selves and be reborn in Christ Jesus.

Brothers and sisters let us be proud to call ourselves Christians that are reborn of both water and of spirit and encourage others to do the same. Think and meditate on this meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus and let His spirit penetrate your hearts today.

Amen

Keep Salty: For He is the Accomplishment of the Law

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

A new sermon linking with my next endeavour, which is the London Marathon 2017 as you will read. If you would like to support me then please visit my ‘Just Giving’ page at :-

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Roger-Laing

Or if you are unable to support me financially then please pray for me over the next two months….I will need it!

Blessings to you all

Roger

 

Sermon No 56

Keep Salty: For He is the Accomplishment of the Law

Education Sunday

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 5th February 2017 at the 8am and 6pm Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Isaiah 58:1-9, Ps 112:1-9, I Corinthians 2;1-12, 13-160 and Matthew 5: 13-20)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)

On Sunday, the 23rd April 2017 I will be setting off from Blackheath in south east London to start the arduous task of completing the London Marathon a 26.2 mile run or 42km in new money!

Now I don’t want to make this talk specifically a fundraising event, but the marathon by coincidence lends itself nicely to several points I would like to draw out from our readings this morning.

Now I have never run a full marathon before, and probably not likely to run another again, but I must admit I was a little apprehensive about committing to such an event for several reasons, not least because my physical stature is not one would generally associate to be that of a runner. And therefore, there is that obvious physical challenge of hurling my fairly large frame around the streets!

But more than that, in committing myself to such an iconic event as the London Marathon and especially when committing to a specific charity, it becomes a public declaration of something quite special, and with so many factors at play outside my control such as illness and injury there will always be a risk of failing.

Indeed, the organisers can now quite accurately predict the numbers that will drop out even before the race has even started, so out of 50,000 runners that are accepted to run, there will only be 36,000 running the distance on the day, so around 14,000 people never actually make it at all to the starting line!

And in some ways, committing to running a marathon for the first time is like committing to following Jesus, for at some point in our own lives as Christians we have all taken a first step of faith into the unknown just like taking that first step on a marathon. And we too also run the risk of failure.

Our present confirmation course sees a number of men and women making those same first tentative steps towards their public declaration of faith in front of the Bishop, their friends and their families either through baptism or confirmation.

And I would encourage those good people that the Christian journey that we tread, no matter how slow we might seem to be going sometimes, we are still living a life that others just simply haven’t yet found?

But like any marathon run, being a Christian takes commitment and effort in training. One of the sayings I recall hearing as a young soldier was ‘train hard, fight easy’. Now I don’t know how easy I will actually find the latter stages because I have never run more than 13 miles before, but I am placing my trust in the training programme I am following, just as I place my trust in Jesus on my spiritual journey.

It will also come as no surprise too you either that within a mile of running I will begin to start sweating, and the hotter it is on the day will in turn determine how much sweating I will be doing throughout the race. But one of the downsides to sweating is that we lose our body’s essential salt content, a vital mineral in our very existence.

In our gospel reading from Matthew this morning, you may recall starts by Jesus saying to his followers , ‘You are the Salt of the Earth’ (v13) And he uses this phrase because he knows how important salt is, not necessarily because His listeners knew about chemistry, but salt was an essential commodity in use in daily life in first century Israel, particularly in preserving meats and fish, so it was something that everyone could relate to, implying that we are so important to His Kingdom, that if we lose our own saltiness, we become useless.

For what is salt if it is not salt but useless! And as I run my marathon, if I do not maintain my body’s salt requirement my muscles will in turn begin to cramp and I too will become useless. As you will probably see when I pass that finish line!

Now when I decided to run the marathon, a decision that I made in my mind over two years ago, I knew that it would take at least a year to lay a foundational fitness to ensure that I could commence some serious training nearer the time.

And we can use this as a picture of what Jesus then goes on to talk about in the gospel reading, for He starts to speak about the Law and the Prophets.

Now as you are all learned biblical scholars you will of course be aware that our Holy Book is in-fact a collection of smaller books or documents set into two main parts which we call the Old and New Testaments.

Now the first five books of the bible are known as the Five Books of Moses, or sometimes referred to as the ‘Torah’ in Jewish circles, for to them there is no Old Testament, it is the only one!

And in the Old Testament we will find to what Jesus is referring when He speaks of the Law, most famously perhaps we would be familiar with the Ten Commandments, (Exodus 20) but there are other laws and regulations too.

Now these were of course taken extremely seriously amongst Jews and failing to comply could as those warning signs say, ‘result in death’ literally. And so fundamental was the Law of Moses that it dictated their culture and indeed their whole existence on a day by day and hour by hour basis.

So, when this man Jesus came along on the scene appearing to contradict all that had become so precious to the Jewish hierarchy, as you can imagine it sent shockwaves through to the very heart of the establishment, causing suspicion and ultimately as we know, resulting in the Jews putting Jesus, one of their own Rabbis to death.

And the main reason for that was that they saw Jesus as a man that preached a kind of replacement theology, when He implied He was the ‘Son of God’ (Matthew 16; 15-17), but in-fact it was quite the contrary, and actually through His arrival on earth, as predicted by the prophets, it was in fact the final chapter of their ‘Torah’ or their Law.

Listen to what Jesus says again in our gospel reading, He say, ‘Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil’ (v7)

And so, picking that thought out and thinking of it in marathon terms. I could not run the race without the training that had gone before, and conversely there would not be any point in continually training for a marathon if a marathon was never run. The marathon is the fulfilment of the training, just as Jesus is the accomplishment of the Law.

So, in a metaphorical sense as I prepare for my marathon, that training becomes the Old Testament period, but in running it we have then the New Testament, the time of Jesus but it could not be completed without what went before.

So, if we accept that Jesus is what was foreseen, what does he actually want us to do in following Him, because for Jews they just couldn’t get it could they? So how can we be so different and what do we need to be watchful for?

Well. If we look towards the end of the gospel reading we hear Jesus telling us and warning us that we need to be more righteous even than the ‘scribes and the Pharisees’ (v20) For the problem with the Jewish hierarchy was that it had become too religious, outwardly they had faith and righteousness in God because they appeared to do what was expected, but inwardly they were faithless and dead.

And it is the same today, there are many many people that attend church on a Sunday and when they leave, they simply leave their so-called faith at the door and collect it again the following week. That is not the faith that Jesus wants us to have.

Jesus wants us to have a faith that is taken from this place into the world to help and to love others. Later in Matthews gospel we hear Jesus answering to the question, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ To which He replies, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself, All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’ (Matthew 22: 37-40) And that in summary is the Christian faith in two sentences, we don’t need whole libraries on religious books; that is all that is required of us.

And if we lose our saltiness we become useless and serve no purpose in the Kingdom of God. So, we need to maintain that saltiness, and that ability to change lives.

So, what other type of follower should we be? Let’s look at all the readings today: –

We started with Isaiah as he spoke of loosening the bonds of injustice, sharing bread with the hungry and inviting the homeless into our houses (v7)

Psalm 112 discusses the blessing of the righteous through distributing freely to the poor (v9)

And St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians states that he didn’t come to proclaim the gospel by ’lofty words’ (v 1) but it is by actions that our faith is displayed.

Now I said right at the beginning that this talk wasn’t about fundraising, and it really isn’t. However, I can’t escape the fact and make no excuse for it, that the charity that I will be running for is one of those charities that puts that faith into real action and it is Christian Aid. And its main goal is in-fact reducing poverty in the world wherever and whoever it may affect? Doing exactly what God commands us to do in that earlier quote.

For we must recognise that we are all God’s people ‘made in His image’ (Genesis 1:27) There is ‘neither Jew or Gentile’, that is non-Jew (Galatians 3:28)

And Christian Aid really does put its faith into action exemplifying what Jesus wants us all to do, either practically ourselves to one another, or financially if you are able, in helping our neighbours wherever they are in the world?

And on that note there is a sponsorship sheet at the back of the church or you can donate via my ‘Just Giving’ page if you feel led to do that?

But essentially, I want you to think about what kind of follower Jesus wants you to be.

Think about how you can remain salty and introduce others to faith.

Think about how Jesus wants you to follow Him seven days a week and not just on a Sunday.

And picture that image of being a light to others in the world that are seeking the Truth.

And finally, out of interest in keeping with the marathon theme I wondered what would be the verse that came up as a possible 26.2. So, I looked at the 26th book of the New Testament which gives us the book of Jude and verse two says these words. And I would just like to leave you with them today, to take out into the world.

‘May mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance’ (Jude 2)

Amen

It’s Alright to Doubt: He will Open Your Eyes

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This is my last sermon for 2016, so thank you all for your support if you have read or listened to my words. I pray that God has spoken to you in some way?

Have a happy and blessed Christmas and see you in 2017

Roger

Sermon No 55

It’s Alright to Doubt: He will Open Your Eyes  

Advent 3

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 11th December 2016 at the 8am and 6pm Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 11: 2-11 and Isaiah 35: 1-10)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)

Today we continue to focus on that wild man of the desert John the Baptist, and really this week can be viewed as John part two, as last week I spoke of the importance of John’s message, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2)

And I think too, it is really good that the readings allow us to have this opportunity to spend a bit more time in the company of John, not only because it is good to take to our hearts that message that he gave us, but also because John is a guy who we can all relate to, from a human perspective.

And I say that because it is very easy sometimes to look at others and think of them to be something that they are not. Our modern culture of making celebrities out of people who do very little, seems common place now, and you only have to watch the most popular TV shows to witness this in action, and increasingly it seems that the more outrageous on television you are, the bigger celebrity you become and the more glorification you receive?

Now from a religious and faith perspective we too can create people in our minds and raise them to a ‘celebrity type status’ by the way they might look, or how they may dress. And if we are not careful, we can begin to judge that person’s strength of faith by how they might appear?

Think for a moment of how we might perceive a vicar for example? For some it will be the grey haired spectacled male who enjoys cucumber sandwiches cut in triangle shapes, or for others it might be Dawn French as the Vicar of Dibley, but whoever we picture as an iconic minister, we will all probably assume that their strength of faith directly relates to the way they look, or what they might wear.

And I say this in the sense, that we imagine these religious leaders to have an unshakeable personal faith, and one that never falters or comes into question? And when we begin to think like that, there is a danger that they too might become celebrities in our minds, as we put them on a pedestal, imagining them to be something that they are simply not.

Now I am not saying at this point that we shouldn’t still turn to our priests and leaders for guidance and support, of course we should, but what I am saying, is that we shouldn’t create a celebrity status about them.

For there is an inherent danger when we start considering people as something greater than ourselves, as we begin to worship them more than we worship God Himself, and in turn we become no different to the celebrity idolaters.

The other important thing for us to consider, is that we are all human, and despite how we might appear physically, or what we might be wearing, we all have the same frailties of character as the next person.

Now the reason I mention this, is not that I have anything against a ‘high church’ tradition of wearing vestments. In-fact quite the contrary, I like this style of worship and believe that the formality of service and the use of tradition and symbolism can really aid us all in our personal journeys of faith, particulary during Advent and Christmas

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the humanness of our faith and that we all have frailties and weaknesses, no matter who we might appear to be on the outside?

Now in terms of the most damaging of these frailties, ‘doubt’ must rank right up there at the top. And this thing called doubt can enter our lives at any point and doesn’t discriminate between gender or age.

Doubt is a thing that operates by stealth, and is usually around at the beginning of our journey, as we begin to ask those big questions of life?

It can creep in at our middle age, and almost always enters to have a look during times of suffering, grief and pain to see what it can achieve?

Doubt can in-fact be around at any time, and we need to be on our guard against it, otherwise it can be a dangerous thing left un-checked.

And on that note, this morning’s gospel from Matthew is and should be viewed as an encouragement and comfort to us all, because it looks deeply at John’s humanness, and asks us to recognise his weakness of character. Remembering, that for most of us we will see John on the surface as a man of true and faultless faith.

For John was that man personally chosen by God to usher into the world Jesus the Messiah.

John was the man that from before birth was described as having the Spirit of God with him in the womb of his mother (Luke 1:15)

John was the man of such sure faith that he became a Nazarite, a man who took certain life- long strict vows of abstinence. (Numbers 6:1-27)

John was a man whose strength of faith took him from the wealth of the City of Jerusalem to the baroness of the desert, in order to serve his Lord in absolute poverty.

John was a man that Jesus described, as we heard this morning, as the man to whom no one had arisen greater’ (v11). Yet, as we heard today as great and faithful servant as John was, in the same passage we hear John admitting to doubt about who Jesus actually was?

So what was it that shook John’s faith. Well, let’s have a look where John was in his life? For by now he had already been proclaiming the coming of the Messiah for several years.

He had even baptized Jesus in the Jordan and seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Him (Matthew 3:16). 

But it was after this time, that following John’s preaching on Herod’s (Antipas’s) marriage to Herodias, (the former wife of his brother Herod Phillip). That his outspoken and direct words landed him in prison facing an almost certain death. And it was at here, after spending around two years in confinement that John had begun to question himself. He had begun to have self-doubt about his whole life’s work?

Now I don’t know how many of you have been in a prison cell? Probably not a good idea to ask for a show of hands! But from experience, on the other side of the door so to speak, when that cell door closes and you are left all alone to stare at four walls, it can cause even the hardest of men to crumble, and so I can imagine, it would only have been natural that John would have begun to question himself.

But John did manage to get a message to his disciples, requesting them to go to Jesus, and ask Him directly that question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ (v3) (Incidentially, when you look at what he was questioning, it wasn’t that he had lost faith in his God, or whether a Messiah would come, but it was whether he had just been mistaken and got the wrong Messiah altogether and that the true one was yet to arrive?)

Now when those disciples arrive at where Jesus is ministering, listen to what Jesus replies, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me’ (Matthew 11: 4-6).

‘Go and tell John what YOU see?’ (v4) is what Jesus tells the disciples. It is in these little phrases that we can learn so much. As John suffers in a prison cell, he must have also had thought how could his loving God allow him to suffer so much, for John was human just like you and me.

But here, in this situation, we find Jesus perform miracles in the presence of those disciples, specifically for the benefit of John. It’s almost as if Jesus wants to say to John, ‘Yes I am the Messiah, I recognise the suffering in the world, but what you see is only a glimpse, of what is to come,’ as is recorded in Revelation 21 (Revelation 21: 1-4)

Jesus wants to give John some comfort to his faith, and for him to know that he should not doubt, and that he got it exactly right, Jesus was the Messiah to which he had spent his lifetime proclaiming.

At this point in the passage after addressing the disciples personally, Jesus then turns to the crowd and confirms to them too about the legitimacy of John’s ministry and quotes from the prophet Malachi (v10), from which they would have all been familiar, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’ (Malachi 3:1).

John really is such a significant character we cannot underestimate his importance in the story. For as Jesus might be viewed metaphorically as a ladder between heaven and earth, so John might be seen as the bridge between the Old and New testament periods.

For as at many times as we travel through our advent season, we are continually being asked to consider many miraculous and apparently impossible acts, but we are also asked to contemplate on the validity of prophecy from the Old Testament and in particular by those such as Isaiah and the Psalmists.

Just earlier we heard from Isaiah, ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened’ (Isaiah 35:5), Psalm 146 says, ‘The Lord sets the prisoners free, the Lord opens the eyes of the blind’ (Psalm 146:7) These Old Testament prophecies are talking about none other but our Lord Jesus.

Our faith cannot be seen in isolation of just the New Testament alone, for it is not a replacement theology that we follow, but the Old and the New Testaments the bible gives us the full story from beginning to end. with John sitting in the middle connecting these two periods as one, through his strength of faith, yet at the same time showing his human sinful flaw of doubt.

John makes it possible for us all to realise that although doubt is of course sin, it is something that God understands and can cope with, as long as we bring that doubt to Him.

Our God is the God that no matter how much we do wrong, He keeps on loving us, ‘For He cannot deny Himself’ even when we are faithless, ‘He remains faithful’ (2 Timothy 2:13) and only by going to God directly, just as John the Baptist did (through his disciples) can our doubts be relieved.

So, brothers and sisters, do not worry when doubt may enter your lives, for it will almost certainly happen at some point? Take comfort that it is only for true believers that doubt becomes an issue. For the rest, it presents no dilemma, because they have chosen to walk a different path to us and will not have those same concerns.

Be like the father of the possessed boy that was healed by Jesus in Mark’s gospel, where after wards Jesus stated, ‘Everything is possible for one who believes’ and the father replies, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief’ (Mark 9: 23-24)

Reflect on the ministry of John the Baptist through the remainder of Advent, for John is indeed the ‘greatest of prophets’. (Luke 7:28)

Amen.