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.

A Prophet Crying in the Wilderness: Repent and Believe

Greetings Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome to another sermon for Advent 2 as we fast approach Christmas I focus on John the Baptist as well as remembering the descendancy of Jesus through the ‘root of Jesse’ Please comment on how the sermon might have spoken to you (if at all!!). It is always good to receive comments? I will be preaching next week too, so we will move forward into Advent  together.

See you then and blessings to you.

Roger

Sermon No 54

A Prophet Crying in the Wilderness: Repent and Believe

Advent 2 Matthew 3:1-12)

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 4th December 2016 at the 8am and 10am Eucharist Service at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent.

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

As it is a cold morning, I thought I would start this morning by giving you three quotes to get the blood pumping: –

  1. ‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death’ (Leviticus 20: 13 NIV)
  2. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks’ (Psalm 137: 9)
  3. ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, rather she is to remain quiet’ (1 Timothy 2:12)

Three controversial statements, not my words, but they are all passages taken from the bible, scary, aren’t they?

The first was from the Book of Leviticus, where we hear Moses instigating laws and sentencing, for what was deemed to be inappropriate sexual relationships!

The second, was probably written by a Jew in exile during the Babylonian captivity, and it speaks of what on the face of it, would be deemed as child abuse in today’s society. (The text itself is taken from Psalm 137 and is actually the psalm used by the famous pop group ‘Boney M’ as the basis to their famous song, ‘By the rivers of Babylon.’ Which is still in-fact one of the top ten best-selling singles of all time in the UK!)

And the third, was taken from St Paul’s first letter to Timothy, where Paul discusses the role of women’s ministry, or lack of it, in the church.

Now I have used these three statements, not because I believe them to be right and correct on face value, but I have specifically chosen them, because, they are simply shocking and controversial, and can cause instant reactions from their listeners.

Now I suspect that among those here today, most will have an opinion on all those three subjects raised, homosexuality, child abuse and women ministers in the church? And some of you, no doubt, may have particularly strong views!

Well, you will be pleased to know that I am not here this morning to express any agreement on any side of those points of discussion, I value my life too much for that, so close to Christmas! (Don’t I Jean!!)

But what I want you to consider, is the reaction such statements can prompt? Because of the controversy that they may contain!

For what we heard today in our gospel reading from Matthew is about a man who arrives on the scene with some truly shocking and controversial news to tell the Judean people. His name as we all know is of course John, who came to be known as John the Baptist.

And we need to understand the setting of where we are here, in terms of biblical history at least? For in effect, prior to the arrival of this man called John, God had been relatively silent for around four hundred years, since He had spoken through the prophet Malachi.

So, when John turns up on the scene, shouting and hollowing a strange message, it causes a bit of an upset, to say the least!

Now I have lot of time for this man John, whose role is to usher in the Jewish Messiah, as he is arguably the greatest evangelist that has ever lived. He was certainly given the title the ‘Greatest Prophet’ by Jesus (Luke 7:28, Matthew 11:11) and he came with one simple message to tell the people of Judea.

And that message was that they should ‘Repent’ because the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ was at hand (v2) and in turn herald in a period of history, which would change the world forever.

It was such a simple message, but oh how hard it was for some of those early listeners to put into action, because you see they didn’t want to repent and were quite happy with their lives. For in those four centuries that God had remained silent, the people of Judea, and in particular, the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem had become accustomed to nice living.

They had developed pleasurable life-styles; they wore stylish robes and vestments. They were eating good food and drinking fine wines, and in the midst of all their fancy rituals, they had forgotten God’s desire for his people to return and worship Him alone. In-essence, they had become too religious and legalistic. Outwardly spiritual and God fearing but on the inside, selfish, and put bluntly, they were just plain spiritually dead!

But what was it that brought the establishment of Jerusalem out from the city and into the desert wilderness to hear the message that John spoke?

Well I guess that it was probably fear! Fear that someone had arrived on the scene that was upsetting the apple cart, Fear that someone was preaching a message that was going to spoil their comfortable way of life. And fear that the statements that John had been rumoured to utter, would cause them to lose their power and hold on society!

And he didn’t mess about with his language either when he spoke. Make no mistake, if you thought my earlier statements were shocking, well John’s delivery of his message of repentance was brutal. He was absolutely clear and direct to those in positions of power, you ‘Brood of Vipers’ (v7) he directly called the Jewish leaders. And I cannot emphasise enough the insult this would have been to those present. They must have been absolutely fuming with anger at this wild, dirty man of the desert. ‘How dare he speak to us in that manner’ they must have thought.

For John was referring of course, back to the Garden of Eden and implying that these so called elite religious leaders were acting in such a wicked and venomous manner, that they might as well be in league with Satan himself.

And so, it will not surprise you that John did not win any popularity contest with the Temple management. And as we learn later John died a martyr for the message that he preached!

But what relevance has this man John got for us today? Does he have any relevance at all? Would any of us listen to a man that came into church, dressed in a camel’s hair toga and eating locusts dipped in honey?

Now I must be honest at this point as I did consider bringing some live locusts in this morning and doing a bit of a Celebrity ‘Jungle Eating’ contest, but fortunately for you, my health and safety head took over and I decided that it was too risky, so be thankful I had a change of heart!

John’s words, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ still stands today as important a message as it ever was! As before we can become followers of Christ, we too must repent. Saying sorry in other words, for all that we have done contrary to what God demands from us.

And when we have repented, we need to keep saying sorry, because the fact is, we will always continue to fall short of God’s high standards.

Now for those of you that have visited my web site, you will be aware that I named it ‘Evangelist Crying in the Wilderness’ and I called it that because I can relate this present world and the people living their lives without God, to the same wilderness that John ministered to all those years ago.

Nothing has in fact changed since the days of John the Baptist. The wilderness is still here all around us. It may not be a desert with sand and camels; but it could just as easy be a local night club, or a shopping centre, or perhaps even the homes where we live? Anywhere in-fact becomes a ‘wilderness’ that the Word of God is not present and lived out.

And like in the time of John, there will still be people that do not want to listen, because life is too comfortable. There will be those that are not concerned with people suffering around the world, like those in the devastated city of Aleppo for example, left homeless, without food, water, or the most basic of medical care.

John ‘cries’ out his message ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’(v3). He is desperate that his listeners hear his call. Now is it crying in an emotional sense, or shouting just to be heard? Either way, he is crying with passion and he is crying with urgency.

(Or we can say the ‘Kingdom of God is at hand’ as the Gospel writer Mark puts it (Mark 1:15) It is one of the same.)

John is determined to tell his message, because he knows the consequences for those that choose to ignore it are dreadful. Last week, we heard Denise (Denise Morgan, Reader) start our Advent season talking about the readings having a ‘strong sense of judgement’ and in today’s reading too, as well as hearing the about the Lord’s descendancy through the ‘root of Jesse’ we again continue to have that aspect to the message.

That urgency that John desires to convey is at the forefront of his mind, because as we heard in the final verses of the reading, John alludes clearly to a time of judgement, when we will all be called to account for our actions in life! And for those who are unrepentant of their sin, they will be gathered up and burnt, with what is described as an ‘unquenchable fire’ (v12)

Now for some, this message is not what you may wish to hear. After-all it’s nearly Christmas and we should be talking about donkeys, babies, and all things chocolate?

But you see, that is the thing about this message that we preach as Christians. It is sometimes difficult and unpalatable. And almost always shocking. But just as John did two thousand years ago, it is a message that still needs to be heard and understood in the right context.

The message of God is the same today, as it was yesterday, as it will be tomorrow. And we really need to listen to the message from this ‘greatest of prophets’ because of its simplicity in its request, yet at the same time, accepting its difficulty in putting its demands into action.

After-all I know how hard it is even to recognise our own sin, never mind repenting of it! But as we progress through Advent let us begin to focus on who is to come. For on Christmas day when we celebrate the birth of our Lord, we also need to look beyond that miracle and to His imminent return. For as Matthews gospel tells us we ‘know neither the day nor the hour’ when that will occur? (Matthew 25:13)

So as an Evangelist, who cries out in the wilderness of Crayford I say too, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ (v2) and let us prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord.

 

Amen.

Searching for Paradise

Sermon 53 – 34th Sunday ‘Christ the King’

Searching for Paradise

A sermon preached at the 8 and 10am Eucharistic services at St Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent on Sunday 20th November 2016 based on Luke 23:33-43

May I speak and may you hear in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today as we celebrate Christ the King in the last Sunday of the church year, we begin to prepare ourselves to enter that truly wonderful season of Advent leading through to Christmas when we celebrate God coming amongst us through the birth of Jesus the Immanuel ‘God with us’

But for the first part of my talk this morning I want us to go back, right back to the beginning and for you to imagine and wonder for a moment. I want you to enter the world of the heavenly, and the places yet unseen, and think how we might view them in the context of our present lives, and in light of God’s Kingdomship?

So, the first words I want you to consider this morning come from the beginning of the Gospel of John, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1-2)

So, when John tells us that ‘in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.’ He is taking us straight to God Himself and referring to the second person of the Trinity who was in intimate relationship with the Father. John is borrowing the term ‘Word’ from Greek philosophy, for in essence it means by ‘divine reason’ or ‘mind’ which cleverly links to God’s self- expression through His creation of the world and all that it contains as described in Genesis 3. (Genesis 3)

And this was useful of course, not least because the early listeners to which the disciples preached, were Jews, most of whom would have had an in-depth knowledge of the Hebrew Torah, which was the first five books of the bible that we know today, and in addition it would also be understood by the unsaved Greeks around at the time too.

Now today is known as Christ the King and I will come to that aspect shortly, but before I do, I want you to imagine what is described in that first book called Genesis. Because as we read about the creation of the world from those very early days of the cosmic universe, our imaginations are truly pushed right to the limit, in how we might picture the world and the universe to be, but I want you just to simply imagine a world that was created perfect, a world that you could call ‘paradise.’

Now some of you more slightly mature ones, may immediately recall a television advert for the chocolate bar called ‘Bounty’ and it was sold on the idea that when you bit into the smooth milky chocolate and tasted that flaky white coconut, you would be somehow transported into a place of paradise. In fact, the strap line was ‘The Taste of paradise’ Anyone remember that?

Of course, for gentlemen the journey to that particular ‘paradise’ was made much easier on the eye by watching a scantily clad lady sauntering across a sun drenched white sandy beach in Sierra Leone. But the image of that perfect place is where I want you to focus, where everything seems right and at peace.

Now as far as the Christian story is concerned there was a time when the world contained such a true paradise. For in the book of Genesis we can read of a period in history when paradise was truly present, and it was called the Garden of Eden. Now I doubt whether it actually looked like the bounty beach? But nevertheless, probably just as pleasurable to see and experience?

Now as you will be aware, that paradise was seemingly lost through something that we call ‘the fall of man’ caused in part by Eve when she takes the apple from the Tree of Life placed in the midst of the garden. (Always a woman of course at the centre of any trouble!) And from that single act, some would argue that we are still living through that time today, as a ‘fallen world’ by the sin that entered Eden.

Now the reason I wanted to talk about Paradise is because when Jesus speaks of a Paradise later on  the cross, He is talking of a place that God had already made perfect way back in the beginning of time, and it is to this place that He wants us to return once more.

In-fact the word paradise is only mentioned twice more in the New Testament and both refer to the divinely created Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden. (2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7), so we can be certain they are either the same place or at the very least similar in both what and who may be present.

Now much of our faith by its very nature is going to always be a mystery until the appointed time, simply because it is all not yet been fully revealed. However, although we may not fully understand how certain things might exist because we cannot see or experience them, it doesn’t mean to say they don’t exist at all!

And as individuals that may have little or no scientific knowledge, it is always going to be difficult to fully comprehend things that are unseen like parallel or multiverses, or to imagine things that have already past, but strangely the Christian message invites us into a relationship by faith, and for the most part, into having faith with the things that are hidden. And that for some, can be a bit of a challenge I know!

Indeed, we may wish to look still further back, to a time before even our own known world was created, when God ruled over an Angelic Supernatural Kingdom, as he still does of course now. And these are spoken of in several books of the bible and in other less known writing too.

And it is from these inspired books modern writers such as CS Lewis or more recently Wendy Alec have been able to put their own imaginations to work through the ‘Tales of Narnia’ and the ‘Chronicles of Brothers’ respectively, which just give perhaps a glimpse of what might be, as we pass through from this life to the next?

So, turning now to our own gospel reading from this morning. We heard just one of the accounts of our Lord’s death, and in the account by Luke we see evil through the very crucifixion of Christ of course, but paradoxically, through that cruel act of execution and ridicule, we are also being asked to open our eyes to what lies beyond the grave, to that place called paradise.

And it is through that conversation that takes place between Jesus and the two thieves we find everything we need to know about seeking redemption and accessing that place Jesus calls paradise.

For when the repentant thief speaks of his wrong doing at the point of imminent death and asks Jesus to remember him as He enters His Kingdom, it is by and through that faith and recognition of Jesus’ Kingship and Divinity that Jesus immediately answers him and says, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:43)

So, by the actions of that thief on that day, we can all be assured therefore, that at whatever time of life, even on approaching death (although I encourage you not to leave it until then), it is never too late to cry out to God in faith and he will respond.

So, let’s now finally look at why Jesus can give such surety as He hangs dying on the cross? Well what’s hammered above his head gives us the big clue, and is the written sign that Pontius Pilate the roman Governor instructs his soldiers to display saying, ‘This is the King of the Jews’ (Luke 23:38) or if you take all the gospels accounts together, it may have read ‘This is Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews’. And so important is this wording that it is likely to have been written not just in one language but in all three main languages of the day, Hebrew, Greek and Latin to ensure everyone knew exactly who He was. Ironically though it was meant to be a sign that would ridicule Jesus’ and His followers, but in fact the sign simply told everyone just exactly who He was.

Jesus has that divine authority from the beginning of time, remember what I spoke about earlier? ‘In the beginning was the Word’ Well, Jesus is the Word made flesh, and is the divine ruler over both the Kingdom of Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven, just as Daniel the prophet spoke of hundreds of years before, ‘He was given authority, glory and sovereign power…. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will never pass away’ (Daniel 7:14 NIV) Recall too the prayer that Jesus taught us, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:9-13)  

So, heaven and paradise are not just places in a different time and world, but they are in part, for the here and the now. When Jesus came among us in the flesh He allowed us to have a sneak preview of what is to come?

Does anyone watch EastEnders here? Well for those that don’t there is an actor called Danny Dyer who plays Mick Carter, the current Land Lord of the Queen Victoria public house, and as a result of a recent participation in the BBC programme, ‘Who do they think they Are?’ (a programme that traces the genealogy of celebrities), apparently Danny has discovered  that he is related to Royalty after being told his 22 times great grandfather was Edward 111, his 30 times great grandfather was William the Conqueror and that his 15 times great grandfather was Henry V111’s right hand man Thomas Cromwell. (Metro Friday 18th November 2016 pg. 18)

Now you may think well what is the connection between Danny Dyer, Jesus and you? Well I am here to tell you that Danny is not the only member of royalty here, for all those that are born of the spirit through the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ are royalty too, for it is by that spiritual birth that occurs, that we are made royal too and all believers who are spiritually re-born, become direct descendants of a King.

St Paul in his first letter to Peter says, ‘You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ (1 Peter 2: 9) So we as Christians are indeed truly special, we have royal blood running through our veins from the King that transcends all earthly Kingdoms. We are not some far removed relative, but direct descendants of Christ the King and are destined for Paradise.

Amen.

A Journey of Faith

Greetings friends,

Time moves so quickly and my sermon date was here before I knew it, so I have combined some thoughts of my pilgrimage with the gospel reading for the day…. Enjoy

Blessings,

Roger

 Listen to A Journey Of Faith[1] by Roger Laing #np on #SoundCloud

https://soundcloud.com/roger-laing/a-journey-of-faith1Sermon 52 –TRINITY 19

A Journey of Faith

A sermon preached at the 8 and 10 am Eucharistic services at St Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent on Sunday 2nd October 2016 based on Luke 17:5-10

May I speak and may you hear in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As some of you know a few weeks ago in August I went on a pilgrimage, known as the Paulinus Way, which is a 7o mile walk across the Pennines from a place called Todmorden in the west, taking in such lovely Yorkshire towns as Halifax, Wakefield, Dewsbury and Leeds before finally finishing up at the magnificent York Minster in the east!

The walking actually took 5 days but with travel either side and a wedding I attended I was away for 8 days in total.

Now a pilgrimage can mean many things to many people, but in essence for most, it is a journey (or search) of some moral or religious significance to a special or holy place. And in this case it was clearly significant, because it followed in some of the footsteps of our very own patron St Paulinus that he made way back in the seventh century.

Now whatever kind of pilgrimage we do, it should include an element of travel, although this doesn’t necessarily mean we have to leave our homes to do it, although we normally would, but we do need to move forward in some way, either physically or spiritually.

And it is that journey that I want to talk about this morning and link it to our gospel reading that we heard from Luke.

But before I do so I thought it would be good to get myself into character, so I brought along 3 items that accompanied me on my pilgrimage and are widely recognisable as signs of a pilgrim, and sets us apart from general walkers or ramblers. And so what I had were these: I wore a scallop shell necklace around my neck, a hat on my head and in my hand I carried a wooden staff.

Now for those that are unaware, the scallop shell is the recognised sign of a pilgrim and if you look at a scallop shells physical appearance, it reminds us that as pilgrims, we all come from different walks of life and are making our own personal and individual journey towards God.

But in addition, the scallop shell is also a traditional Christian symbol, as it links to both the sea and to fishing, and you may have noticed that during baptism a scallop shell is normally used to pour the water over the candidate, but for medieval pilgrims it had a more practical use, for in producing the shell to an inn keeper the pilgrim may have been provided with a free meal, plus it doubles up as a plate too. I did try this tactic in Leeds, but I was just told to sod off!

Now the hat is really an essential bit of kit, as it provides a shield against both the rain and the sun, which did finally show itself properly on day three. This particular hat is a ‘Tilley Hat’ and has been with me for quite a few years now and generally will go with me on my travels.

The wooden staff, which again is a traditional sign of a pilgrim, offers support and comfort in ascending and descending hills, but also has a secondary use, in that it can be used as a weapon against unsavoury characters which you can cross on some of the more perilous paths and is especially useful in Yorkshire, where you can find very strange men that drink Tetley bitter and wearing strange caps!

So now being fully attired, I can begin the journey into our gospel reading where we hear Luke describing a conversation between the disciples and Jesus and central to that discussion was the issue of faith.

Now faith is a troublesome beast to tie down for many reasons, and I think for most people it is difficult because it’s a hard thing to actually quantify.

We talk of people having a strong faith, we talk of someone having no faith or we might talk about someone losing faith, so what exactly is it? And how do we get it in the first place?

Well, like almost everything in theology there is never a straight and easy answer, but one of the reasons for doing a pilgrimage is that sometimes it can be useful in trying to get one’s life back into perspective and into a position where we might just stand a chance of understanding what life or faith is really about?

Now life is definitely a journey in itself and like faith, it has its ups and downs and so as I made my way up the steep paths out of Todmorden on the very first day of my pilgrimage I quickly entered into a place of one of those ‘downs’, for as my breathing became heavier in the space of a few yards I learnt why in the guidebook the place was described as ‘Little Switzerland’, for whichever way out of the town you went, it involved an incredibly steep hill climb, And as my rucksack weighed in at 74Ibs this was not a pleasant experience by any stretch!

And neither was my journey helped either by the rain, for as soon as I had risen out of the valley, it became torrential, causing the paths to become rivers and turned my map into a soggy mess. And then to top it all off, as a consequence of the rain, my phone then failed to function too.

And so after weeks of preparation and excitement over the impending trip, it wasn’t long into the walk before my enthusiasm for gaining a ‘spiritual high’ was seriously dampened, literally! And I started to question the very strength of my own faith to complete the task at hand?

But fortunately walking does have a strange healing effect. We often hear the phrase ‘I’m going for a walk to clear my head’ and so after I had finished cursing the writer of the guidebook, I began to settle into the walk and it is really quite amazing, just by the repetitive action of physically putting one foot in front of the other, it actually declutters our minds of things that are not really important, and allows us to focus on being ourselves. And this becomes even more true the longer the walk goes on.

But what exactly is faith anyway? Well the dictionary defines faith as a ‘complete trust or confidence in someone or something’.  In the gospel this morning we heard the apostles ask Jesus for more faith, because they felt inadequate for the task that had been set by their Master, this may have been on the back of their failure to heal a sick man as recorded by Matthew (Matthew 17:16) but Jesus responds by telling them, that contrary to what they thought, even with just a little faith they can still do great things.

And this is an important point to understand what Jesus is saying here, that it is not the actual quantity of faith that is important, but the source and object of that faith. And no matter how small or weak our faith may sometimes feel, even if it is as small as a mustard seed, we can still do great things with it, because as we read in Matthews gospel, ‘nothing will be impossible with God.’ (Matthew 19:26)

St Paul defines faith too in his letter to the Hebrews, he says, ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11:1 NRSV) which means we are not being asked to base our faith on what we can physically observe, but on divine assurance.

Now earlier I posed the question How do we actually get faith? Well a quote often attributed to St Francis of Assisi says, ‘Preach the gospel at all times; and when necessary use words’. Now this might be a good way of demonstrating our faith, but it doesn’t tell us where faith comes?

Likewise, another saying that I often hear mentioned is that ‘faith is caught and not taught’. Again the implication is that it is by our actions that others receive faith, rather than listening to a sermon, but apart from not being particularly encouraging to preachers it still doesn’t fully provide us with the answer?

For it is only when we realise that its origin is not something that is man-made, but is something holy and divine that we can begin to become faithful people. And the key to this issue of faith can be found in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he says faith is a gift from God and it is ‘by grace you have been saved through faith’ (Ephesians 2:8-9) Repeated

Yes, we may have to ask for it, but ultimately it is God Himself that creates the opportunity that gives us that gift of faith and no amount of teaching or demonstrations, unless it is God inspired can change that. It is that ‘conviction of things unseen’ prompted by the Holy Spirit that is faith. And when we trust in Jesus Christ our eternal salvation through Him then becomes a spiritual reality.

This then leads me to the final part of the gospel reading for there is a warning here that comes in our motivation of how we live our lives. For if we somehow think we can award ourselves bonus points to gain God’s favour, then that is wrong. Yes of course we have a duty to obey His commands and do good works, but I am no better a Christian just because I might have completed a pilgrimage or preached a good sermon. Our achievements can never be seen in that light, thinking in some way our services might obligate God to honour us.

For whatever we do, or whatever we achieve, it will never equal what Jesus has done for us. He alone was the one that came to earth and died for us.

It is our ‘quality of faith’ that God is looking at and how we might honour Him in what we do. It is not about seeking recognition for ourselves. And this is why Jesus ends the parable by saying we should all say ‘we are unprofitable servants’ (Luke 17:10) In other words our faith cannot profit from whatever service we do.

So todays message is about being on a journey, it’s about finding and having faith and realising as Paul said in Ephesians that ‘faith is a gift from God’ (Ephesians 2:8-9) And in addition it’s about trying to find that time to allow God into our lives. And finally, perhaps most importantly, remembering that it doesn’t matter if you might feel your faith is small like a seed. For a seed contains everything that is needed for you to truly grow and live as God intended you to live.

Amen.

Paulinus Way…..update

Greetings from a travelling pilgrim.

Apologies, if anyone was expecting a daily update. Unfortunately, my first day on the route was accompanied by rain, rain and then more rain, resulting in damp getting into my phone causing difficulties in taking pictures, uploading etc. 

I had created a what’s app group for a few interested parties. So I have been using the limited phone capability to upload  a few photographs and brief comment when I have been able. 

I am currently on day 4 and it has been tough going, much more so than anticipated. So tomorrow I should make York all being well?

I will definitely do a more thoughtful piece in due course.

Blessings to you all from a pilgrim walking in the footsteps of St Paulinus.

Paulinus Way

Greetings

I will not be preaching on the 28th of August as previously scheduled, due to work commitments. However, my plan is to walk the Paulinus Way starting on the Monday 22nd in Todmorden and finishing in York on either the Friday or Saturday (depending on bodily ability).

For those of you who may not be familiar with St Paulinus, he was a priest that was sent to England and was made Bishop of the Northumbrians in 625AD and took Christianity to the north of England as he travelled as a chaplain to Princess Ethelburg from Kent as she married King Edwin of Northumbria.

I intend to post a few comments, thoughts and photographs as I go, so please keep an eye on the blog and more details will follow.

Blessings 

Roger 

Demons: The Madness of the World and of the Mind

Welcome back friends,

Another difficult subject today, but I pray that you will find something in my words. Please comment if you would like? My next scheduled sermon (God willing) will not be preached until 28th August 2016, but I will try an offer perhaps a short reflection in the interim if the Spirit leads me?

The text from below of today’s sermon is a combination of both 8 & 10am services, with the odd additional sentences, so don’t necessarily think you missed a point, it may not have been said when you attended!

Blessings to you, and if you upload ‘soundcloud’ you can listen to the recording from the 10am.

God bless.

Roger

Listen to Demons-The Madness of the World and of the Mind.m4a by Roger Laing #np on #SoundCloud

Sermon 51 –TRINITY 4

Demons: The Madness of the World and of the Mind.

A sermon preached at the 8 and 10am Eucharistic services in St Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent on Sunday 19th June 2016 based on Luke 8:26-39 and Isaiah 65:1-9

May I speak and may you hear in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two weeks ago I spoke on the matter of death, and in some ways the subject matter for today can be seen as just as difficult a task, but hopefully my words may meet you somewhere as I try and unravel our gospel reading from St Luke and put some personal attachment to it.

And while I am standing here, for those that are not aware I do post my sermons onto a blogsite, so if you are suffering from insomnia one night you can always log on at the address which hopefully you have on the slip of paper.

So as you heard St. Luke the writer of our gospel, who by coincidence is regarded as a physician as evidenced by the high profile he gives to the healing ministry of Jesus. Was a man who had most likely accompanied St Paul on his evangelistic mission around Asia Minor and would no doubt have listened intently to the stories of not only Jesus’ great healing power, but also of how his friend Paul had come to faith in the first instance.

For as we know that conversion of Paul was an absolute supernatural intervention on the road to Damascus, as a result of which Paul was transformed from his old self to a new being, he was ‘born again’ as it is referred (John 3; 1-21). And by having such a dramatic conversion it is quite clear that the incident left Paul in no doubt whatsoever, who exactly Jesus was? And it was probably that single incident alone that probably drove Pauls enthusiasm for the rest of his life in taking the gospel as far as he actually did and ultimately dying for his faith.

Now if you take away the actual physical healing aspect from our gospel reading and consider solely the specific topic of demon possession, to which the text alludes, then you may well consider it to be one of those really controversial subjects to deal with in our age of post modernism of 2016?

And the main reason for that I would suggest, is most likely due to the advances that the medical world has made in our understanding of mental health over the last several decades. Now I profess to be neither a medical practitioner or a psychologist, but what I have experienced over a number of years, are a large number of people who have suffered from varying levels of mental ill health.

Some of you will know that I am a police officer by occupation and over the last sixteen years I have literally lost count of the number of people I have dealt with and conveyed to hospital suffering with what is apparently mental illness (generally under Sec 136 of The Mental Health Act 1983)

Now it would be very easy, to listen to our gospel reading and say, ah but hang on, we all know that demon possession doesn’t exist, and what they really meant when we read about men and women being possessed by evil, was in-fact a mental illness. And in general I would go along with that deduction.

Especially as the symptoms of some disorders are exactly how most of us would perceive a possessed person to behave, in both their speech and their physical power.

And you may have yourselves seen films portraying the supernatural that can appear quite disturbing, albeit most are sensationalised for the big screen. But I must stress, that there is no doubt that in the majority of those real life cases, a medical diagnosis and treatment is the right and proper solution for those distressed people.

However, we do need to treat the accounts of the bible in a slightly different way, and not immediately jump to 2016 assumptions. Because whether we are talking about demon possession, raising the dead or any other supernatural event, we can’t simply dismiss them as not actually happening in the way that is recorded in the bible, otherwise we would have to consider disregarding pretty much the whole of what is reputed to be the Word of God, for the bible is packed full of events that from a human perspective, can seem quite simply impossible and illogical.

Now for myself, without spending the whole sermon time on my own personal testimony I think it may be useful for you to try and get a picture of what I went through when I became a Christian in 1995 at the age of 28 so you may perhaps see how I might have a more ‘enthusiastic’ belief than others on such things.

Now prior to that point when I became a Christian, I had lived a life what most would have considered as fairly normal. I hadn’t been in any major trouble, I’d served in the army, played a lot of rugby, drank a lot of beer and met a few girls along the way. So I would have described myself as a fairly level headed normal sort of guy at that time. But after the breakdown of a relationship I began to reflect on life and what it was all about, and whether God existed at all. For up to that point I had been quite an atheist in both my beliefs and my actions.

But as I laid in my bed one particular night feeling quite anxious. I prayed for probably the first real time in my life. I said to this person known as God, “If you are real God, then show yourself to me?” And not surprisingly to me, nothing happened, at least not straight away. But later that night as I laid in bed, I experienced what I can only describe as a vision, which I appreciate to some may sound quite strange. Indeed, it certainly felt strange in the days and weeks after the event, as I thought I might have been going slightly ‘mad’, but at the time it was as real to me as anything I had encountered physically in my life to that point.

Now it wasn’t a vision in a physical bodily form, but was more an ‘experience’ of pure light and a feeling of comfort. And straightaway, I felt at ease with it all, and recognised it to be a vision from God in answer to what I had earlier asked.

Now there may be some of you that will remember the 1990 film called’ Ghost’ starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. The film was quite famous for a scene in which the ghostly form of Patrick Swayze romantically embraces his former girlfriend played by Demi Moore at a potter’s wheel, a scene which whether you were male or female, certainly had its attraction. And I certainly confess that I dreamt of Demi Moore for some time after that! However, later in the film there are also a couple of scenes where the two main bad guys are killed.

And as they died, there were dark shadows that appeared to take the men away screaming in pain, presumably to a place like hell. (Ghost, Paramount Pictures 1990)

And so after experiencing that first vison of light, I was taken into a second vision, but this time it was not of light and comfort, but of darkness and shadows, very infact similiar to that scene portrayed in the film Ghost. And as I endured that second vision, I can only say that it left me in a complete state of fear and apprehension. So much so, that I said my second real prayer that night, even more heart felt than the first, and the prayer was to ask for the light to return, which of course in time it thankfully did. (God always answers prayer, John 14:13-14) The next morning I awoke, and from that point on I was a believer in God.

But the point of me telling you my personal testimony is not to say that what I experienced makes me any better a Christian than anyone here. The point is, like St Paul must have experienced, it convinced me, that there was a real dimension to this world that may not be immediately visible, and the battle between good and evil did actually exist.

Now the obvious biblical quote that springs to mind to highlight this fact comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he discusses what is known as the principalities and powers, and Paul says, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

So returning to our gospel reading we need to have in our mind a view that the biblical account can be taken literally. We may not fully understand it, just as we can’t hope to fully understand being raised from the dead, or being whisked off to heaven on a chariot, but just to keep that ‘open mind’ is especially useful when dealing with matters that are contrary to what our rational self may be telling us.

(This same story is documented too in the other gospels of Matthew (Matthew 8;28-34) and of Mark (Mark 5: 1-20) where in-fact it gives us some further detail in the accounts but both are in essence similar.)

So we read Jesus travels to a place near Galilee where the Gadarene people lived, and it was amongst those people that there was a man who we are told was possessed by demons. And the reason why we need to consider this as real case of possession as opposed to a mental illness is that whatever was inside of the man, it or they knew straightaway who they were in the presence of, ‘What have I to do with you Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you not to torment me!’ (Luke 8:28) Now this statement tells us two things of importance.

Firstly, that they recognised Him by his full title, ‘The Most High God’ and secondly, that Jesus had the power to judge them, in the eschatological period we refer to as the judgement. (Matthew 8:29) Implying that whoever, or whatever is inside the physical man, he knows exactly what is to come his way in the future,

We also need to understand that we are not dealing with just a single possession. In Matthew’s gospel, we read that there are at least two demon possessed men, although in Luke he only refers to one of them. And we know too that the number of demons is more than one, because when Jesus asks, ‘What is your name’ the man replies ‘Legion’ (Luke 8:30) from the word ‘legio’ (pronounced LAY-ghee-oh) meaning body, or brigade i.e. a large number. And is confirmed also by the large number of pigs that are inhabited.

So in allowing this act to take place, Jesus makes it clear and distinct, that in this specific situation, this was not a treatable mental illness in the modern sense. For even with all the sufferers of mental illness that I have witnessed, I have never seen or heard an account where the illness directly transfers to another person or animal, on the demand of a doctor!

And the situation is reinforced still further by the actions of the multitude that witnessed the event, for after being healed, instead of the crowd being glad that a miraculous healing of one of their own had taken place, they became fearful and politely asked Jesus to leave the area.

Now this can been seen in two ways, either the crowd were simply just fearful of what they had witnessed in the sense of awe, or another point to consider as Mark reports in his gospel, having a herd of 2,000 pigs killed (Mark 5:9), may well have had such a serious financial impact on the community, that the people would rather have seen the possessed man continue to suffer, than lose a major part of their income?

And on that wider point I would like you to consider something that you may have not contemplated before, for if possession can actually exist in a person, is it possible that institutions, or perhaps societies themselves could also be a host for such evil?

I suppose I could give many examples of where this may occur as the current news around the world gives countless examples of governments, rulers and institutions that seem to act in a way that clearly benefit themselves at the expense for those they claim to lead or serve! And I think back to when Arch Bishop Jacob of Tanzania in our link diocese visited us here in the UK last year, and how he spoke about the poverty in his own country, stating that it wasn’t because his country was poor in minerals and agricultural land, it was because the rulers in the positions of power were feathering their own luxurious lifestyles at the expense of their own people. (Rochester Diocese Conference, ‘Challenging Poverty’ 09/05/2015)

And this is maybe why Luke records this particular aspect of dismay in the swine owners, because he wanted to highlight a natural selfishness, that perhaps we all need to be on our guard against?

And if anyone is interested in this type of theology there is a theologian called Walter Wink that has written a number of books relating to such thoughts called ‘The Powers that Be’ and he digs deeper into what he refers to as the ‘domination systems’ of the world

So there is no doubt in my mind of the presence of evil in this world. My own personal experience has confirmed that to me, and the bible is perfectly clear on the matter. It even marks its entrance way back in Genesis, as it recounts that well known story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3: 1-24) where sin enters into the world. And from henceforth the battle between good and evil, has continued to slog it out ever since. Although it must be borne in mind, that evil existed long before that actual event had occurred as we read in Isaiah 14. (Isaiah 14;12-14)

So in acknowledging the existence of evil, either in the form of demon possession of a man, like in our gospel, or any other institutional form, we can  like a boxer, stand prepared and forearmed in a position in which to fight it.

And I therefore want to give some encouragement to finish, and warnings of how to avoid it, because everything in this world is actually made good (Genesis 1:31). So whilst evil may exist, and Lord knows, we have been reminded of that once again this week in the tragic death of Jo Cox (death of Jo Cox MP, murdered in Birstall, near Leeds on 16/06/2016), all people are inherently good and can change! So be encouraged with that thought, even though we may struggle to see through the doom and catastrophes of our present time.

Secondly, in every case evil can always be defeated by the Word of God, because as Paul tells us, ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary they have divine power’ (2 Corinthians 10:4). Look back to Jesus as He spent His time in the wilderness, in facing the devil’s offers, in every case he quoted scripture and the devil left Him. (Matthew 4:1-11)

And finally avoid those situations where evil may be working harder in trying to gain a foothold. Don’t visit mediums or spiritualists, I know they may appear comforting, particularly for those grieving for lost loved ones, but remember what I spoke about two weeks ago, death has been conquered through Jesus and you will see those people again if you keep the faith.

Be careful what you and your children view on the TV and the internet, I don’t have a figure for the UK but one source reveals that on average, a child in the US will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by the age of 18 (www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics). Frightening figures and I’m sure the UK will not be far behind? So with that sort of saturation of violence seeping into our psyche, there is little wonder our societies are becoming a reflection of what we once thought of as fictional drama.

Don’t participate in occultist practices in general, I mean things like Ouija boards, tarot readings, astrology or any other such practices (Deuteronomy 18: 9-12). You will be dabbling with powers from which you will not know their source. They may appear to be a bit of fun at the time, but they might lead down a road from which it would be hard to return from.

And if anyone feels that their participation in such activities is causing them some anxiety, please don’t be afraid to speak with Fr Antony or a member of the ministry team in confidence and we will pray with you.

So finally brothers and sisters, as Paul spoke in his letter to the Ephesians, ‘Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Amen