The Big Question: Who Do You Say that I Am

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Thanks for logging in on this site and welcome to anyone who is here for the first time. Today I discuss that ‘Big Question’ Who do you say that Jesus is? And you can listen to the audio recording, or simply read the text.

Hope you can find the answer? As always your feedback is welcome and please forward the link of this site if you like it. Hopefully some of the words will reach somebody out there.

Blessings
Roger

Sermon No 71
The Big Question: Who do you say that I am?
16th Sunday After Trinity
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 16th September 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Mark 8:27-38, Isaiah 50: 4-9)
May I speak, and may you hear in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Who do you say that I am?”
Perhaps the biggest question we will ever have to answer in this life is that same one posed by Jesus to his disciple Peter on the road near the city of Caesarea Philippi, as recorded in Mark’s gospel that we heard just a few moments ago.
And the way in which you answer that question, will change the course of your life beyond anything thing that you knew before.
So, for a moment I would like you to imagine if you will, that Jesus is present with us today, in person, just as He was with Peter on that road.
Close your eyes if it helps? And I want you to think honestly and respond quietly just in your heart to that very question that Jesus asked,
“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8: 29)
Now I don’t know what answer you gave. I cannot see into your heart or mind, which is a good thing I suppose, who knows what you were thinking!
The only person that knows what answer you gave is God Himself.
Now in 1995 I became a ‘believer’ following a prayer to God, and I use that term ‘believer’ because at the time I didn’t understand the full nature of God. My understanding of the bible and all it contained was very limited, but I knew deep in my heart that there was a God and that He had responded, to the prayer that I had made.
So, there may be some of you here today that are not sure either about who God or Jesus are and that is fine, because we are all on different stages of our own personal spiritual journeys.
I remember my early days of going to church after having that life changing moment and listening to a man called Alan Bolding leading a service I was attending, and he explained that prior to his acceptance of Jesus as Lord, he had gone to church for over thirty years, week in and week out, listening to sermons, but he never believed or knew who God was during that whole period. Yet, eventually faced with that same question that I posed at the beginning. Alan went onto become a reader and later a priest and is still serving God today.
Now my own story of faith is not unusual, as we have all in some way, for those that claim to be a Christian, experienced something in our lives that has caused us to commit ourselves to Jesus, as none of us were born Christians, we have to be re-born and you can read all about that in John 3 (John 3: 1-8)
Now for some this may be an event that is recognisable and memorable, or we may not be conscious at all of the change, but somewhere and somehow change occurred.
Now there are many men and women over the last two thousand years that have had to answer that question “Who do you say that I am?” And I was thinking about what number that might actually be? Well, by doing some research, it quickly became apparent that there are no official estimates on that, but on one web site, a man called Dave Benedict, a pastor from northern Minnesota estimates that between 3-4 billion authentic Christians have responded to that question since Jesus walked on this earth and gone on to follow Christ in a whole variety of ways. (accessed 14/09/2018 bemidjicovenant.com/filerequest/3783.pdf 2017)
So, out of perhaps the four billion Christians I would like to just look at just three this morning, because their stories of conversion all resonate with my own story of faith in some way, and some aspects of their lives may also offer similarities with yours.
The first is St Augustine of Hippo, probably one of the most compelling figures in Christian history, he came to faith later in life after spending his younger years as he describes, ‘inflamed with desire for a surfeit of hell’s pleasures.’ In other words, he lived a life full of sex, good food and plenty of drink to wash it down.
However, apart from this life of fast living, Augustine was also a scholar of Latin and Greek and an expert in rhetoric, and a notable academic philosopher to boot. Yet still, with all the worlds niceties to enjoy and an unenviable intelligence he was unsatisfied with life and conscious of being unable to find the strength to live a sinless life, something that many of us struggle to do!
Then one day after being influenced by a preacher called Ambrose, Augustine simply collapsed beneath a fig tree, where it was said he heard the voice of a small child repeatedly say, ‘Take it and read, take it and read’ And with that Augustine picked up his bible, and the first passage he came to was from Romans which said, ‘Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts’ (Romans 13: 13-14) Augustine was baptised a year later and went onto be come one of the most influential voices in Christian literature.
The second person I want us to consider is CS Lewis, not only author to the famous Narnia stories, but also like Augustine before him, Lewis was a serious academic. His early life saw him leave Oxford University to serve in the first world war, the horrors of which he witnessed, qualified him to state later, that the war was the basis for his disbelief in the existence of God.’ However, like Augustine, Lewis eventually had to battle with that question about the prospect of a God. And this he describes in his book ‘Surprised by Joy’ where Lewis says, ‘That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.’ (CS Lewis. Surprised by Joy)
For Lewis though, his acceptance of Christ came a little later. Yes, he had accepted that God was real and Sovereign that night that he prayed, but his commitment to Jesus came a little later, just like me I suppose, I had an understanding of God at the point of my conversion but certainly no concept or understanding of the God in three parts, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For Lewis, that conversion to accept Jesus as Lord happened on a journey to Whipsnade Zoo of all places. Again, from the book ‘Surprised by Joy’ Lewis says, ‘To accept the Incarnation (Jesus) was a further step in the same direction. It brings God nearer or near in a new way…. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did…… It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.’
Lewis came to a faith in a gradual way, yet there was a realisation that it had happened.
The last one I want to look at is someone called Nicky Gumbel, a Christian priest who has been very influential in promoting the Christian exploration course known as Alpha over the last twenty years. Some of you may have participated in it yourselves. I know I did it as part of my confirmation training. Now Nicky was a son of German Jew and was educated at Eton where he decided through his religious education that he was an atheist and described himself as a ‘logical determinist’ (which if you are interested, is a philosophical stance on truth founded by the German philosopher Friedrich Schlick.) I did look it up and barely understood it never mind explain it! But that’s academics for you!!
Anyway, Gumbel went on to Cambridge University where he studied Law with a view to becoming a barrister. Now when he was confronted with the discovery that his close friends had become Christians, he was deeply upset, for after a year at university he viewed all Christians by now as completely mad, and Gumbel felt that the only way to save his friends from the lunatic asylum was to read about God in-order to give a constructive argument why his friends should relinquish their new-found faith and return to being ‘normal’ again.
And so, he found a dusty old bible on his bookshelf and started reading the New Testament that very night and continued with it for the next couple of days until he had finished. And in it he found something that just ‘rang true’. Gumball recognised that the words of Jesus and the parables of which he taught related to the world around him in which he lived, some two thousand years later.
Within forty-eight hours Gumball became a full on committed Christian and has never looked back since.
Three people, in three different times who have answered that question that Jesus asked of Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” And went on to follow Him
Well as we heard in our gospel reading, Peter the disciple answered Jesus directly, replying, ‘You are the Christ’ (Mark 8: 29)
Peter was quite sure, he had after-all witnessed what Jesus had done and answered with firmness and on behalf of all the other disciples present.
And in saying that word ‘Christ’ Peter had confirmed to Jesus that He viewed Him as the Anointed One, the expected Saviour and Redeemer of the Jewish people. Peter had finally understood who Jesus was
So, if you are thinking well I am no Peter, St Augustine, or Nicky Gumbel? Well I would say, yes you are, really their lives are no different to ours.
Like us, they lived a life that was sinful. Some had argued against the existence of God, or at least were reluctant to consider it. Their journeys to confessing Jesus as Lord were in stages and they had suffered pain and witnessed suffering, yet still were able to see that Jesus exemplified real love.
I suppose the point I am trying to make this morning, is that to answer the question of who Jesus is may not be something that can happen overnight. There may be some of you sat here this morning and nothing what is being spoken is connecting with you at all, just like my friend Alan Bolding experienced for thirty years. There may be some of you that are living lifestyles like Augustine’s that simply have no time for Jesus. And there may be some with whom the arguments against Jesus being Lord appear to be too compelling to warrant consideration at this moment.
Well the good news is that in all cases of faith, it is God who will reveal Himself to us, in His time. There is no one way in which we might come to faith, for only God knows how and when that will take place.
However, as we have seen by the examples I have given today, it has been through the reading and studying of the scriptures that Jesus has become real to those individuals. And I would encourage you all to dig into the bible, for in it you will find the Word of God revealed and everything that will enable you when questioned, to say without fear that ‘Jesus is Lord.’
I would like to end with a prayer attributed to St Augustine which is a petition to the Holy Spirit who ultimately reveals our understanding of Jesus and of Truth. And I pray that one day you all will be able to honestly say that ‘Jesus is Lord’
Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me O Holy spirit, that my work, too may be holy.
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.
Amen

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Feeding the Hopelessness of Life: A Suicidal Approach

Sermon No 70
Feeding the Hopelessness of Life: A suicidal approach
11th Sunday After Trinity

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 12th August 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 6:35, 41-51, 1 Kings 19: 4-8)

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

Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who comes to Me shall never thirst’ (John 6: 35)
That is what Jesus said, but what does it all mean. Two weeks ago I spoke of the feeding of the five thousand and the Church of the Multiplication, situated on the banks of the Galilee, where Jesus is reputed to have fed those thousands of people. Now I mentioned in that church there is a mosaic floor depicting the loaves and the fish, yet only four loaves and not five were included in that mosaic. And I asked you to consider the implication of the meaning behind a mystery where the fifth loaf might be found on the altar. And that is where we are today, considering that very thought of Jesus being found in the bread on the altar of His Church, ready to be broken, multiplied and distributed in the Eucharist? But more of that later.
Our old testament reading once again links with the new and really sets the scene for what is to come here in the gospel of John. It tells of the prophet Elijah and how he fled into the wilderness to escape Jezebel (1 Kings 19:4-8). Now the words I want to focus on here are what Elijah says as he sat down under the tree, for in his desperation and hopelessness, Elijah prayed that he might die. Let’s hear what he says, ‘I have had enough Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors’ (v4 NIV)
Elijah in other words, had reached the end of his human ability to serve his God, he had experienced first-hand ‘ministerial burn out’. He exhibited, what would now be deemed symptoms of depression and saw that death was actually preferable to what his future might indeed hold.
I wonder how many of us have felt like that at one point or another, when all seems too much to bear, where there is a sense of hopelessness that we simply can’t go on?
Well according to the World Health Organisation, for 800,000 of us each year, that feeling of hopelessness of life is simply too much, and suicide seems the only possible way out from the suffering. So, to put that into perspective, every forty seconds someone in the world will end their life (World Health Organisation) And further to that, according to the research, more than half of those people will not even have a recognised known mental health condition (Suicide research
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4482518/)
Some of the famous names who we have lost recently are: – Anthony Bourdain (Celebrity Chef), Robin Williams (Comedian and Actor), Kurt Cobain (Rock Star) and Alexander McQueen and Kate Spade (Fashion Designers) …. I could go on with many more, and that is not even including those that have died seeking fulfilment through drugs or those killed by seeking excitement by other means?
Indeed, I am sure some of us here today will know personally friends and family that also have found the burden of life too much, and for those that have, I empathise with your pain and grief.
For such acts, don’t just end with the death of that one person, it leaves a trail of grief and sorrow that is literally unforgettable, especially for those that find the victim and carry the picture for the rest of their lives.
On average, according to an article in Christianity Today, that number left behind to pick up the pieces of suicide is between six to ten people. (https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/april-web-only/when-suicide-strikes-in-body-of-christ.html ),
Now I don’t claim to be an expert in mental health by any stretch, but it seems to me that there is some connection, or link, between faithlessness and suicide and there is some evidence to support that claim.
For over the years there has been numerous studies into the whole aspect of suicide, and overall, the results suggest that religion does appear to play some kind of a protective role against it.
There is even some evidence done by the Queens University Belfast to suggest that those that follow a more catholic approach to life, are even less likely to commit suicide than their protestant brothers and sisters (https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/Mowat%20Swinton%20et%20al.%20Religion%20and%20Suicide.pdfQueens University Belfast).
So how do most people deal with life and the misery that it can sometimes give? And why are some just not able to see that light at the end of the tunnel?
Well, many in life seek and strive for happiness through wealth and by status. We are constantly pressured, especially in this modern age, to seek out that next promotion at work, or do that overtime to keep the boss ‘sweet’ or pay for that ‘all- inclusive’ holiday that will sort everything out.
Of-course it never does, and once returned into the hum drum of the daily routine, you will often hear the words, ‘feels like I have never been away.’ So money, holidays and career promotions will not satisfy our inner spiritual self and that is clear to see.
Some people seek out solace, peace and enjoyment through societies such as:- freemasonry, rotary clubs and similar fraternities. Not necessarily wrong or bad in themselves, for many of their members do lots of charitable good, but these organisations cannot ultimately fulfil our lives, and they certainly cannot offer an eternal co-existence with God, for they are without Jesus at the centre. For Jesus made it quite clear when He said, ‘No one can come to the Father except through Me.’ (John14: 6)
Others place their faith in occultic practices in an attempt to search for the meaning of life and to satisfy their earthly lusts and desires.
Mediumship, Tarot Card readers, crystals, astrology and other such undesirable groups are all means by which people seek out satisfaction in life..
Yet, it always seems to me that those that participate in such occult groups are the always the least secure people, always searching for something else to fill that void in their lives, whether it’s trying to make contact with their deceased family members or wanting to know the future for themselves. They always seem to be searching for something and are never fully content with life and all the joys it can bring.
Some of you slightly older ones may be familiar with the song called Rock and Roll suicide by David Bowie released in1972. The lyrics tell the story of the rise and fall of a mythical character called Ziggy Stardust. A great song and one of my favourites, but interestingly the ‘B’ side of that record is a song called ‘Quick Sand’ and the dark lyrics of that are actually influenced by the occultic group called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, with words such as ‘I’m frightened by the total goal, Drawing to the ragged hole, And I ain’t got the power anymore, No , I ain’t got the power anymore’. (Quicksand lyrics by David Bowie, Universal Music Publishing Group)
The song sums up the hopelessness of life provided by an imagery of quicksand, as something that just slowly overpowers, and finally totally overwhelms you.
And so, for me, as a Christian preacher, I view these sorts of occultic groups with some fear, and would caution anyone from a participation in them. Yes, they may claim to have the answer to the struggles of life, but really all they offer is a temporary false and empty hope.
But what makes following Jesus any different? And what can we make of the claim that Jesus is, the ‘Bread of Life?’ providing everything that the human soul may need?
Well Jesus is rooted in history from the very dawn of the world. In-fact the gospel of John commences with the words, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1)
In other words, John is clear from the outset, there is no confusion, he is saying that Jesus is God Himself. This fact you will of course find scattered through the bible from the beginning to the end.
Jesus is the One that demonstrates His divinity through the miracles he performs. Miracles that are documented not only in the bible but in other antient texts. His actions are not mythical fantasies, but recorded fact and witnessed by many.
Jesus is the only one that purposely uses the phrase ‘I AM’ to describe Himself, for those were the words that were given to Moses by God back in Exodus, when Moses questions God about who he should say had sent him, and God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. Thus, you shall say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you’ (Exodus 3: 14)
And this is the first of what are known as the ‘I AM’ statements recorded in John’s gospel, all of which are joined by tremendous metaphors, which emphasise the sovereign nature of Jesus.
I AM the Light of the World,
I AM the Door of the sheep,
I AM the Good Shepherd,
I AM the Resurrection and the Life,
I AM the Way, the TRUTH and the Life
and I AM the True Vine.
In our gospel this morning, we heard again the fact that the Jews are again unable to make that connection between Jesus and His divine nature, just as they couldn’t on the hillside previously, as they observed the multiplication miracle. And is another example of the blindness of people, even though they might have seen something miraculous before their eyes, they still failed to believe it, just as we might tell others about Jesus today and what He can do, but still they dismiss our claims and turn to groups that are spiritually empty.
But what upset the Jews so much in this reading, was that Jesus referred Himself to be that ‘bread that which came down from heaven’ (v38). Yes, they knew what they had seen through the miracles that He had performed, but still they only saw Jesus as a man, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?’ (John 6: 41) They only saw the man!
But moving on, what of the words of Jesus claiming to be the ‘bread of life?’ And how does the bread that we partake in at the altar, become that life giving food?
Well here it becomes a little trickier to explain. For there are different understandings of how this miracle might occur.
Some of you may have heard of theological words like transubstantiation or consubstantiation? Which are mans feeble attempts to try and get some understanding to that very question of‘what happens, and what changes take place, if any, to the bread and the wine?’
Thankfully for you, I am not going to even attempt to convey what those words might mean this morning, for they are big words and people have written big books on all that if you care to explore them in your own time!
But for me, as a simple Yorkshireman, I try and keep things simple. For ultimately, despite all those clever thinkers attempting to understand the nature of God, we will never truly know what happens during the eucharistic part of our services, but I am of the view that somehow, something just mysterious happens, when through the actions of the priest, Jesus becomes present amongst us, and by feeding on the bread and the wine, we are taking inside us the very nature of Jesus.
Yes, it is a mystical process, there is no doubt, but it is a process that is rooted in our biblical history and provides us with strength and sustenance to get us through life.
But even if the thought of an actual physical change to the earthly commodities of wine and bread is simply too much to contemplate, we cannot dismiss the mystery entirely, for we are still left with the symbolic nature of what both the bread and the wine represent. For, if you recall from story of the last supper, Jesus shares with His disciples the bread and wine and says, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me, Likewise He also took the cup after supper saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you’ (Luke 22: 19-20) So He commands us to meet together and eat in remembrance of Him.
Now, I am conscious of talking about death a little more than I would like today, but unfortunately death is as much a part of life as life… if you see what I mean!
So, in an attempt to turn suicide on its head, and turn something quite negative into a positive, we might want to consider suicide in a different way? For to be a follower of Jesus, we all need to die spiritually and come before Christ. We need to put to death our old sinful nature and be reborn in Jesus, and we can only do that if we repent of our sins before God.
And then if we do, Jesus will come to our aid, no matter what we have done…. even murder. [And there are many examples of God’s forgiving nature in the bible, just take a look at the story of David, God’s chosen King, yet a man who commits adultery, gets the girl pregnant, then orchestrates the husband’s death on the battlefield to hide his shameful act. (2 Samuel 11) God will forgive anyone and anything, so long as we come to Him with a repentant heart.]
Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians talks of a ‘newness’ of spirit that Jesus can give to everyone and the rules for how that new life should be lived. In verse twenty-two of that discourse Paul says, ‘You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.’ (Ephesians 4:22-23 NIV)
Jesus wants us to feed on Him and to become strong. He wants us to have hope, not despair, by putting to death that old-self.
That is not to say though that, we cannot continue our lives without taking a weekly sacrament, of course we can. For God is much greater than just a symbolic gesture and can minister to each and every one of us in many different ways.
For Elijah at the time of his deepest despair he was touched by an angel of the Lord and given food and drink, for some they are healed through the actions of another. And for others it may be through something quite different. Our God is an omnipotent God with unlimited power. And can surprise us in a way and a time that we least expect?
So, this morning come to the altar repentantly and in faith, prepared to meet Jesus, however hopeless life might presently feel. Feed and drink on that which Jesus Himself ordained and just believe in the hope that he brings. And when you leave this place today, take that message of hope with you and pass it on.
Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’ (John 6:35 NKJV)
Amen

Feeding the Hungry

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome back to my blog. Today we look at the multiplication miracle and why it may be so important for us to fully understand its true meaning.

Please feedback on the site if you are able as it gives me an idea if my message is reaching you ok?

Blessings

Rog

 

 

 

Sermon No 69

Feeding the Hungry

9th Sunday After Trinity

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 29th July 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on 2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145:10-19 and John 6:1-21)

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

Good morning and I’m glad to see that you have all survived the flash floods and the ‘blood-moon’ from Friday evening, when there were reports that the world might have entered Armageddon! So good to see you all!

Today, we have the opportunity to look at that quite famous gospel reading that tells the story of the miraculous event of feeding five thousand people with just five barley loaves and two small fish.

You may see hanging from the pulpit/lectern this morning, something I picked up from the Holy Land when I went on pilgrimage back in 2011. And it is a representation of the 5th century mosaic floor tiling from the ‘Church of the Multiplication’ in a place called Tabgha (pronounced – tab-ger) and is the earliest example of Christian Art floor mosaics anywhere in the Holy Land. You might not be able to see it from where you are sitting but as well as the two fish, it depicts only four loaves in a basket, when the bible records five.

Well, tradition says the fifth was to be found upon the altar next to it. And hopefully you will consider the implication of that mystery as we go a little deeper into that over the next two weeks as we work our way through John’s gospel?

The nameTabgha itself derives from an Arabic mispronunciation of the Greek word ‘Heptapegon’ meaning the seven springs. And in 384 AD a visiting pilgrim nun called Egeria described the site in these words, ‘Not far away from Capernaum are some stone steps where the Lord stood. And in the same place by the sea is a grassy field with plenty of hay and many palm trees. By them are seven springs, each flowing strongly. And this is the field where the Lord fed the people with the five loaves and the two fishes. In-fact the stone on which the Lord placed the bread has now been made into an altar.’ (Cohen, D.,The Holy Land of Jesus. Doko Media Ltd).

And so, we have these various other non-canonical texts such as this that support the claims of the bible quite accurately. And indeed, if you visit the site today you will see the altar in the church at Tabgha built over a stone from that period.

This miracle of the multiplication I find always ranks quite highly in popularity with people that I meet, regardless of what their biblical knowledge might be.

And I think one possible reason for this, is that people might visualise it not in its truly miraculous expression, but relate it to a more familiar picnic scenario, where a shortage of food might prompt a generosity of spirit, and in turn, encourage an act of sharing between one another?

And this explanation is used by many people outside the church who argue against the truth the bible contains. As the theologian EP Saunders noted in his book ‘The Historical Figure of Jesus’…. ‘Group psychology has often been used to explain the feeding miracles. Actually, everyone had brought food but was afraid to take it out for fear of having to share it. When Jesus and the disciples started sharing their food, however, everyone in the crowd was encouraged to do the same, and there was sufficient to spare’ (Saunders E.P,1993. The Historical Figure of Jesus. Penguin Books,).

However, this gospel story is much more than that, and we need to be clear that it is not merely highlighting a good will gesture between strangers, as they gather together sharing their packed lunches. This is a creative miracle, where Jesus produces something that was not there before. And that is what we need to have at the forefront of our mind when unravelling the text in understanding the significance of the message it contains.

For this is the only miracle, other than the resurrection, that is recorded in all four gospels, and so by John including this one, at the same time supplementing what is already recorded in the synoptic gospels, (i.e. Matthew, Mark and Luke) he shows that this miracle, in particular, is worthy of a special mention.

For it is only Jesus who can use this creative power to provide food in abundance, just as He did in that first miracle where He changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and He did this not only to avoid embarrassment for the families concerned, but to highlight His divinity to those that were prepared to look beyond the surface of merely supplying a shortfall of wine. So again, hold these thoughts of the significance of the wine in that miracle and the bread of this one over the next two weeks.

So, what is so special about this miracle? Well lets first remind ourselves with what we heard in our Old Testament reading from second Kings. For on the face of it we have what appears to be a similar feeding miracle, but this one occurring some six-hundred years earlier.

We have one of the great prophets of God called Elisha having returned to a place called Gilgal which was enduring a time of famine and drought and Elisha as the ‘man of God’ being looked at by the people, to provide a ‘way out’ from the hunger they were suffering, and so Elisha is provided with a small number of barley loaves and some grain by a man from Baal Shalisha. We are not told in the text who this man is, but we are told where he is from. Now modern scholars are not sure where this town would have been located but the Latin version of the name identifies it with Bethlehem, which if true is symbolic in itself, for you may recall, Bethlehem, literally means ‘house of bread’ a place that should be known for its provision. (https:www.workingpreacher.org.A commentary on 2 Kings 4;42-44, accessed 28.07.18)

So, Elisha commanded his servant should, ‘Give it to the people, that they may eat.’ (2 Kings 4:42) Yet Elisha’s servant immediately questions his master, how such a small amount of food could feed such a large number of men.

But Elisha, faithful to his LORD, repeats the same command, but added the words, ‘For thus says the Lord, they shall eat and have some left over’ (v43). It was in those words ‘for thus says the Lord’ (v43) that the words become no longer those of just Elisha alone, but of God Himself speaking through him.

And by those words the miracle occurs, and the small amount of food provided by the man from Baal Shalisha gave enough sustenance for all that were present and even had some left over just as He had commanded,

So here we have another example, as I regularly point out, of that connection between the Old and New Testaments and the danger of thinking we can read the New Testament stories in isolation, and not taking into account the storey of our whole history. The bible is a collection of some 66 books, in most versions at least, with each book being equally important as the next. And indeed, you will find, the Old Testament generally providing a reflection through prophecy, of what is to come, and so it is with this little story from almost six hundred years earlier, it anticipates the messianic ministry of Jesus that was to come. ‘They shall eat and have some left over’ (2 Kings 4:43)

But before we leave Second Kings, notice what the servant said to Elisha when the very idea of feeding such a number with such little food? ‘What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?’ (2 Kings 4:43) and by questioning his master  he becomes that man who has little faith, and is not prepared to believe in the creative power of God, even though he has probably already seen God at work through his master before on numerous occasions. It is something that we all tend to be like to be like when actually put to the test, no matter how faithful we might be, or appear to be to others. And we will look again at that weakness of faith shortly in Johns account.

But before I do, let’s turn momentarily to the account of the same miracle in Matthews gospel, for the ‘multitude’ (v2) as described in John is numbered as the ‘five thousand’ in Matthew,  and if we read that complete passage in Matthew, then in verse 21 we read, ‘Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.’ (Matthew 14: 21)

So, by comparing the gospel accounts, we learn that the multitude spoken about in John’s gospel are just the men that are in attendance, so as well as the five thousand men we know about, there were probably going be wives also present, which may number at least the same as the men and perhaps other women too, and in addition, there would likely be children accompanying their fathers and mothers. So infact, this miracle could have been an even greater miracle than what we first thought, with upwards of fifteen thousand people being fed that day? Which by my research is more than the average home attendance at Millwall Football Club on a Saturday afternoon (13,368) !! or Charlton Athletic (11,162)!! According to Wikipedia at least!

So, turning back to Johns account, this is not just a story about miraculously feeding lots of hungry people on a hillside by a lake. For what often gets overlooked is what drew the crowds to Jesus? Jesus by his acts would have been something equivalent to the celebrity status of a Love Island contestant.  And the reason they followed Him was because they had seen ‘the signs which he performed on those who were diseased’ (John 6:2) Jesus was healing the sick and the infirm, and that is why they followed Him. They wanted to see more miraculous signs by this man.

But again, when reading the bible we have to understand the context in which the story is set. They were an expectant crowd, and a race that were waiting for their Messiah to come, and therein lay the problem. The crowd could see the physician and a worker of miracles, but totally failed to perceive that He was the actual Son of God, the Saviour of sinners and the true Messiah., as prophesised by Moses in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). For even after all they had seen, they still just wanted to crown Him as their own political-king to escape the persecution of the Romans. They had not understood the true kingdom of the anticipated Messiah was not to be just of this physical world, but of their internal spiritual-self too.

And we see the same thing going on today. People enthralled by charismatic evangelists, ministers and faith healers, cramming stadiums seeking a show, but few are really searching for the real Christ, the only One who can redeem them from their sin. (Mahan, Henry T.,1987. Bible Class Commentary: Gospel of John, Evangelical Press, pp.56-57)

But the point in this story that hits me, is when Jesus puts His friend Phillip to the test. Now Phillip, bear in mind is a disciple that has been with Jesus since the start of His ministry and has seen Him already change water into wine and heal the sick, yet when they are faced with a crowd that simply requires feeding, Phillip seems unable to believe that Jesus can actually deal with the problem.  Jesus says to Phillip, ‘Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’ (John 6:5) and what does Phillip reply, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them’ (v7) Of course Jesus already knew the answer Phillip was going to give before he had even answered, just as He knew Judas would be the one to betray Him. The question was put to test him, and Phillip failed the test as soon as he looked to himself and his own strength to solve the problem. And even the apostle Andrew shows no stronger a faith either, for he says, ‘There is a lad here with who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’ (v9)

So here we have exactly the same going on as we had in that account of Elisha, we have the servants claiming to be faithful to their masters but unable to believe that they will provide – And so I ask myself, would I be any different to Phillip?…… Would you?

Yet, even with His own disciples letting Him down, Jesus doesn’t rebuke His faithless apostles, he just simply says, ‘Make the people sit down.’ (v10) And just as before, after giving thanks Jesus distributed the bread and the crowds were filled sufficiently with plenty left over, and in this case a whole twelve baskets full of food. The amount remaining is really unimportant here, for all we need to know is that in our own strength we will always be lacking, but with God then nothing is impossible.

However, even after recognising what they had just witnessed as another miracle, the crowd still failed to see what Jesus was truly about. That is why the crowd excitedly said in verse fourteen, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’ (v14), yes they saw and witnessed the man and His miracles, but could still only see an earthly King and leader, but not the Sovereign Christ of all.

In recognising this blind enthusiasm by the crowd and fearing that the crowd might take Him by force before His appointed time, Jesus departed and escaped to the mountain to be alone

Our gospel reading then continues and gives an account of Jesus walking on water reinforcing His sovereign power, but I will end there this morning, so that we can reflect on the all-powerful creative nature of Jesus and how that nothing is impossible through Him.

Remember, Jesus takes the small, the weak and the insufficient and makes them great and resourceful. Jesus is the creator God that makes all things and creates them new. Jesus is the God that sees our weaknesses and gives us strength. And Remember, Jesus is the God that feeds us with all we need and more.

And finally, in the words of Psalm 145, ‘The Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.’ (Psalm 145:17-19).

Amen

 

Sharing: A Christian Characteristic

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

An Easter greeting to you all. Sharing is the topic of discussion today, so I share my words with you. Enjoy.

Blessings

Roger

Sermon No 68

Sharing: A Christian Characteristic

Easter 2

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 8th April 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Acts 4:32-35 and John 20:19 – end)

‘Peace be with you’ And also with you! (John 20:19).  According to those more learned than I, if you capture the concentration of the congregation within the first 30 seconds of speaking then there is a chance that they might stay with you for the remainder of the sermon? So, I thought I would give this a try and start with a little joke this morning to see if that principle might work today?

So, Little Timmy didn’t want to put his money in the offertory plate one Sunday morning, so his mother decided to use some hurried and creative reasoning with him.

“You don’t want that money Timmy,” she whispered in his ear. “Quick! Drop it in the plate. It’s tainted!”

Horrified by his mother’s command, he obeyed without question, but after a few minutes little Timmy began to think about what he had done, so he turned to his mum and whispered, “But mum, why was the money tainted? Was it dirty?”

“Oh no dear,” his mother replied. “It’s not really dirty. It just ‘taint yours’, and it ‘taint mine.’ It’s God’s”

So, are you with me now? Good!

In my last sermon during Lent, which seems ages ago I know! I got you to consider the question about who Jesus was and is? And so hopefully through the many Easter services, the liturgy will have enabled you to get somewhere close in being able to answer that question for yourselves?

The basis for that sermon sprang from a question that was asked by Jesus to His disciples in Matthews gospel when He said, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Which was answered as you may recall by Simon Peter, who replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matthew 16: 16 NJKV).

These words of course were said in light of Jesus being alive in His pre-resurrection body. Today, our gospel reading shifts that emphasis to the same question, but to a later period, post-resurrection, when Jesus has died and risen from the dead.

Now this morning’s sermon is not chiefly about who Jesus is in terms of His divine status, but I think it is important to just consider that shift in time in the sense of understanding that Thomas came to the same conclusion only after he had seen the risen Jesus in person when he was able to see for him-self, and physically examine the wounds of His crucifixion.

And this aspect of the time line is an important thing to acknowledge and to take hold of just as Jesus did. For Jesus recognised the difficulty that faced Thomas when he heard that He had risen from the dead. After-all, this was not something that was on the agenda for the disciples. They were not looking at the message of Jesus as we do now in retrospect, but were actually living through that most special time in the story of God’s people.

Jesus recognised that shift in time and was able to see a period in the future when such tangible evidence as His resurrected body would no-longer be available in allowing others to determine such a conclusion that He was indeed LORD.

And thus, we hear in v29 at the end of our gospel reading that Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who have not seen the physical incarnation of Himself and ‘yet have still believed’ anyway. (John 20:29)

And this blessing is on us, it’s on me and you. A blessing that allows us to take the gospel forward and to share it with others. And it is in this aspect of sharing where I want to go today.

For Jesus is all about sharing. Every aspect of the life of Jesus was about sharing, sharing His peace, sharing His stories and parables, sharing His company with others, sharing His healing powers, and ultimately sharing Him-self with each and every one of us, through His death and resurrection.

And this sharing comes into sharp focus in our reading from the book of Acts and hopefully will cause us to reflect on this aspect of Jesus’ ministry which is requisite in all of us who claim to be Christians.

In-fact, I would go as far as saying that without a willingness to share ourselves and our possessions it is not possible to be a Christian at all.

So, if that is then the case, and sharing ourselves with others is fundamental to our practicing faith, then it is important that we take stock of our faith now and perhaps ask ourselves how much sharing of the good news of Jesus we actually do?

For it is so easy to become materialistic and play lip service to a faith where religious observance can hide a less than Christian attitude. I know Father Paul spoke on Maundy Thursday of going beyond this type of shallow faith and finding the joy in sharing with those that might on first appearance seem less than desirable!

Yet it is only by sharing what we can, and being prepared to get our hands a bit dirty do we fully become what God wants us to be.

I don’t know how many of you watched the recent series on BBC2 called Pilgrimage? But the programme followed 7 celebrities, some of which were not Christians, tackle some of the 500-mile pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela? A place where the bones of St James the Apostle are reputed to be buried

And by watching those celebrities, as they travelled together on the Camino path across Spain, the viewer was able to witness a depth of conversation that could only be progressed and worked through as the pilgrims spent time together sharing their most inner most thoughts and views on life. And in watching them journey along the route mile by mile, it reminded me of the shared experience, that we all must partake on the road of life, which becomes particularly important for those on a Christian journey. For it is only by spending time with others and building trust that barriers can be broken down allowing Christ to enter into our lives.

For the Christian faith is a relational faith and demands from us a sharing of not only our physical self with others, but also a share of our spiritual side too.

The book of Acts, or sometimes known as the Acts of the Apostles, is in many ways seen as Luke ‘part two’, as it is widely accepted as being written by the same author, but more than this, Acts could also be viewed as the Acts of the Holy Spirit, through the Apostles.

For it is by and through the Holy Spirit that men and women of the early church were directed, causing it to grow in numbers to influence and change the world forever.

Indeed, almost half the book of Acts is devoted to the ministry of Paul, revealing how he and others practiced in a literal sense the great commission, taking the message of Jesus and sharing it with others.

And so, as Christians we need to be conscious that we are all commissioned to go out and tell others of Jesus, to share the ‘good news’ and make further followers. And with that same divine influence, like it was for Paul, Peter and the other disciples, will move the church into the next generation. And this I believe will sit firmly with Fr Pauls vision for us all collectively to meet others in our own community and share with them our faith with openness, tolerance and compassion wherever they might be in their own lives?

So how might we go about this task of sharing our faith with others? Well let’s look at what our reading from Acts says: –

  1. Firstly – v32 says ‘Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.’ (Acts 4: 32)

So, we need to have a recognition that all we might have doesn’t really belong to us, it belongs to God. Yes, we might have custody of our possessions on a temporary basis, but none of it truly belongs to us, but to God alone.And we need to work together as one beating heart.

  1. Secondly – In v33 we read, ‘And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them’ (Acts 4:33)

We need to be confident in our witness to Jesus. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean shouting from a soap box (from the waterside in Crayford although it might!) It might be simply going about and getting on with doing good deeds, but the difference will be in knowing that we will be doing it in the ‘great power’ (v33) of Jesus and not being afraid to say, if asked, ‘Yes I am a Christian and I go to St Paulinus Church.’ Not always easy to do in certain company- but be bold!

For your good deeds will be seen and recognised. Remember much Christian service is indeed done quietly and in the background with little public acknowledgement, but people will see Jesus through your actions.

St Teresa of Avila said in one of her poems that ‘Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours’ And this is so true, we are the body of Christ.

  1. Thirdly – v34 says ‘Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold’ (Acts 4:34)

You will not be left short in living as a Christian. Now I don’t preach a prosperity gospel as some more unscrupulous preachers may do, but I do preach a gospel that says God will provide for all of our needs; which might not necessarily mean in financial terms, but it is in that act of being prepared to sell, or give away if required, that God wants to see.

But there is nothing wrong with having money and wealth, however, it is in that act of giving or acting when called to do so, that others will see Jesus.

  1. And fourthly v35 says ‘And laid them ‘that is their possessions’ at the apostle’s feet, and they were distributed to each as anyone had need’ (Acts 4: 35)

Now v36 which follows our reading this morning, we can read that   Barnabas the disciple of Paul did just that, he did sell all his possessions and laid them at the feet of the apostles, and in so doing became a prominent figure in the sharing of the gospel as recorded later in Acts.

On the back of this passage from Acts I heard a nice story this week following the sad news of the death of the footballer Ray Wilkins. Now I don’t claim to have much knowledge of football, it being the wrong shape ball and all that!

“But an unknown former soldier who had previously fallen on hard times rang into the radio station talkSPORT and recalled a meeting with Ray Wilkins and I would just like to recall that conversation as it was recorded in the media: –

And the former soldier told presenter Jim White just what Wilkins meant to him, having asked after his welfare as he sat on a piece of cardboard outside London’s Brompton station.

The caller said, “I recognised him straight away. We sat on my bit of cardboard together and he took time to sit and talk.

I was a gambler at the time – I still am, but I’m recovering – and I told him about that. We talked about my time in the Army.

He took a phone call while we were talking but said to the caller, I’m busy at the moment I will call you back.

He gave me £20. Told me to get myself a hot meal and then we went across the road for coffee.

When the bill came, I said to him, let me buy this one. I want to feel like a man and he said that he totally understood that.

I used the money he gave me and got shelter that night and I met a guy who helped ex-soldiers.

Choking with emotion, the soldier added, I am not gambling now, I have a place and have met a beautiful woman who I am about to marry.

I put it down to Ray Wilkins. I just wanted to thank him for talking to a man he never even knew, who was nothing to him really – a stranger.

He was a hero, a real hero, to me and millions around the world.” (thesun.co.uk, 06/04/2018)

Now I don’t know whether Ray Wilkins was a Christian, or had any faith in God at all, but what I do know is that the kindness he showed to that stranger is the sort of act that Jesus would do. He met a stranger in a time of need and shared, not only his money, but he shared his time and he shared his kindness. And God used that kindness to give back even more than was given.

The bible does of course have plenty to say on the matter of giving and how God rewards the faithful giver, but the one passage that I find quite revealing is from the second book of Kings, when the prophet Elijah is about to be taken from the earth and Elisha, his prodigy only concerned with serving God requests a double portion of Elijah’s spirit in order that he may carry on his ministry (2 Kings 2:9) And interestingly scripture records exactly twice as many miracles through Elisha as took place through Elijah’s ministry (28 miracles v 14 miracles respectively)

Maybe it’s just coincidence! Or perhaps it is God being faithful to His faithful servants!

The joke I started with about Little Timmy and how he didn’t want to give his money away is a good place to end this sermon, for if we remember that all we are, and all we have, ‘taint ours’, but belongs to God, and if we share both ourselves and our goods as though they really did belong to Him.  Then I think God would be extremely pleased.

Peace be with you.

Amen.

Who Do Say That I Am: A question to consider?

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome back, looking at the divinity and humanness of our Lord today. Hope it will inspire you to ask that question that Jesus presents to His disciples ‘Who do say that I am?’ and then to meditate on your response.

Blessings,

Roger

Sermon No 67

Who Do You Say That I Am? A question to consider

Lent 3

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 4th March 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 2:13-22)

One of the fundamental questions that we all must wrestle with in terms of our own personal faith is the question about Jesus and who He was? And who He is?

‘Who do you say that I am?’ was a question that was posed in Matthews gospel by Jesus to His disciples (in the region of Caesarea, Philippi, which is in the modern-day area of the Golan Heights), which was answered by Simon Peter, who replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matthew 16:23 NJKV)

And it is this question that I want us to reflect on this morning. For if Jesus was in this place here, right now, (of course He is a spiritual sense), and asked you that same question, what would your reply be?

It is a question that is at the very heart of our faith, and is a question that must be considered, and a conclusion drawn, in order that we might come to faith in Jesus, or alternatively we have to dismiss Him completely as a fraud! For there is no other credible alternative! As CS Lewis put it in his book ‘Mere Christianity’, Lewis uses what became known as the ‘Trilemma’ argument where Jesus is either ‘Lord, liar or lunatic!’ (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)

I was prompted to reflect on this very question myself recently, in the context of other faiths, and how difficult it can be on two counts, firstly in coming to a conclusion in the first place about who Jesus was, and secondly, if we are to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, then where does that leave us in terms of other faiths and how we might relate to them or with others of no faith.

Yesterday (Saturday 3rd March 2018), a great man called Billy Graham was laid to rest in the presence of over 2,000 mourners including the American president at his home in Charlotte, USA.

Now Billy Graham was perhaps the most influential preacher and evangelist of his generation, maybe even of all time. And it is difficult now to imagine the influence that this man had in the prime of his life, for at his height, he filled stadiums such as Wembley to capacity with people eager to hear his message of salvation.

Billy Graham was an extraordinary man of God and conducted many rallies throughout his life and these rallies become known as ‘crusades’, a term that seems quite outdated now and even offensive to others.

His headstone, will be inscribed, at his own request, with the words, ‘Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ And will also refer to a passage from the John’s gospel, which states, ‘Jesus answered, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6) Powerful words, which really leave little room for debate as far as Graham was concerned at least, on who Jesus was.

His daughter Ann Lotz, when asked about her father’s passing said, that her father’s death had an important meaning and is quoted as saying these words, ‘I believe that this is a shot across the bow from heaven, I believe God is saying, wake up church. Wake up world. Wake up Ann. Jesus is coming’ (quote from AFP, BBC News 02/03/2018)

Now this might sound a little over dramatic but bear in mind the current world events and news in general over a range of subjects such as sexuality and gender and how they might affect our core beliefs and doctrines. And all this exasperated by the plethora of other faiths on offer to anyone seeking an alternative spiritual experience, making any decision on that most important of questions, ever the more difficult.

Our gospel reading that we heard this morning tells us of Jesus and how on His arrival in Jerusalem attends the most holy of places in the Temple for the feast of Passover. (a festival that commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, when the angel of death ‘passed over’ Jewish homes whose doorposts were sprinkled with blood – Exodus 12:23-27) 

And it is through this account that we get a good glimpse of Jesus and who He was on many different levels.

Now just one of those levels that I want to concentrate our minds to this morning is the real humanness of Jesus, leaving aside any divine attributes for a moment, it is that humanity that can help in bringing his divinity into focus.

One of the big debates over many centuries was the issue of who Jesus was and the connection, if any, between any humanness and a divine nature, and this relationship went onto be known, in theological terms, as the hypostatic union. A phrase taken from the Greek word hypostasis, meaning the ‘substance’ of Jesus, or in other words, How Jesus was made up.

Our current doctrine and belief is that Jesus was a person who was fully God, yet fully man at the same time. Now this union is quite a difficult concept to figure out, let alone try and explain it to others, and it is precisely why, the nature of that union defies human comprehension, that this union is sometimes referred to as the ‘mystical union’.

But what ever we call it, as Christians we must accept that Jesus, as well as being divine, did have an element of humanness. And nowhere better was it displayed here in this passage from John when Jesus cleanses the temple.

So, what do we see? Well we see an angry Jesus, a passionate Jesus, and what appears to be a violent and determined Jesus. We see a Jesus that reflects the behaviour that on first sight, we might see on any night out in a city centre environment. A behaviour that doesn’t appear very ‘godly’?

This is a Jesus that displays all the character traits of a human just like you and me. This is not the Jesus that we commonly see portrayed in Christian literature, healing the sick or sitting amongst the homeless and hungry distributing food.

As a police officer we tend to see things from a slightly different perspective, so to try and put the passage into a more contemporary scene, I have imagined the scene in terms of a typical 999 call for assistance, which would probably go something like this.

Control – Sierra Oscar 22 are you available for an I graded call? (immediate response)

Officer – Yes, go ahead

Control – We have a report of a large disturbance at the Jewish Temple on Pilgrim Street. Access will be via the Huldah gates in Southern Wall

Officer – Yes, no problem, any further details?

Control – Yes, we have a number of calls on this one, with reports of a man going wild and behaving aggressively towards others inside the temple, possible mental health issues. There are animals running free and damage being caused to property.

Officer – Received, Any information on any suspects?

Control – Yes, the main suspect believed to have caused the disturbance is an IC1 male, 5’ 10” tall, aged around 30 years old, slim build with full beard and wearing a white toga. The male is understood to be known as Jesus of Nazareth

Officer – Any intel on that male’s details?

Control – Yes, He is known not currently wanted, but often refers to himself as the ‘Son of God’ and speaks both Latin and Aramaic. but he does show warning markers and flashes ‘W’ Whiskey

Officer – Roger that, any weapons seen?

Control – Yes, a witness has stated that the suspect was seen armed with a weapon and has used that weapon against members of the public present.

Officer – In that case can I request one more unit and a taser unit be deployed to the scene asap?

Control – Yes, received, you have Trojan unit 52 en-route. ETA 4 minutes.

Officer – Roger that, making my way now.

So, picture the scene for yourselves on arrival, Jesus enters the temple and is angry. He is angry because the Temple, the most sacred and revered place in Judaism is being used as market place. It is filled with Jewish traders taking advantage of the festival and making as much money as possible selling animals for sacrificial purposes. And not only that, they are making further profit by utilising an exchange rate mechanism where only the Jewish or Tyrian coinage could be used, due to their higher silver content,

In His frustration, Jesus becomes so angry that he makes a weapon, known as ‘whip of cords’ and physically drives out the traders from the sacred space.

Jesus turns over the tables and sets the animals free. I guess it must have been an absolute chaotic scene!

And I suppose if I had’ve been deployed to a similar incident as a law- enforcer, I would probably be looking at arresting Jesus myself for a number of offences such as public order, criminal damage, assault and possession of an offence weapon. This was real life at the sharp end.

And so, this display of Jesus’ real anger and frustration can really connect with perhaps our own lives in facing the problems of this world on a daily basis, but this debate over Jesus’ ‘humanness’ is not something new, it has been present, as I have suggested throughout history, and if you want to look deeper into the argument then you would do well to delve into one of the more famous of those debates on the ‘substance of Jesus’ by looking at the 5th century show downs between two Bishops called Nestorius and Cyril.

However, I have highlighted the human nature of Christ primarily because it is an essential part of any study in order to draw any conclusion on who Jesus was and is.

For in this present world there are many religious groups that understand Jesus to be something quite different. And we need to be aware of those differences, if only in having a passing understanding of them and what they will argue, and try and persuade us to believe.

And I make no excuse in highlighting just two of those religious groups namely, Islam and The Watchtower Movement, commonly known as The Jehovah’s Witnesses (J. W’s). For contrary to what they might suggest, their understanding of Jesus is something quite different to that of the orthodox Christian faith.

Islam, for example, whilst recognising the existence of Jesus and revering him as a Holy Prophet, do not observe him as a divine being in any shape or form. In-fact on the contrary, the Qur’an clarifies this in chapter 5, verse 75 where we can read, ‘The Messiah Jesus was only a messenger: other messengers had gone before him. His mother was a virtuous woman. They both ate food like other mortals. See how clear we make these signs for them’ (Qur’an, chapter 5, Verse 75). So, the Qur’an in this and other passages contradicts Christian understanding on the basis that anything that has a need like a human being cannot be God (www.irera.org/jesus)

Likewise, the J. W’s, although like Islam recognise Jesus as a prophet, they do not believe either in His divinity, precisely because of what they purport to be his ‘created human nature’, and therefore conclude he cannot be equal to the Father. (pg. 41, What does the Bible really teach, JW.ORG)

There are of course many other religions, faiths and cults that conclude different understandings, and you can research them yourselves should you so wish?

But in this gospel reading as well as seeing quite clearly the humanness of our Lord, if we look beyond that physical display of anger and violence, we can see His divine nature too.

The nature of that anger, so clearly displayed, occurs because Jesus is so passionate for that reverence to His Father, and it is only He Himself that has the right and authority to regulate any worship to God.

And it will not surprise you to learn, that  the act of cleansing the temple is foreseen too by the prophet Malachi in the late 5th century BC when he tells of the coming of Jesus, Malachi says, ‘And the Lord whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, For He is like refiners fire and like launders soap, He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver’ (Malachi 3:1-3)

But the key part of the passage that links both that human and divine natures comes right at the end of our reading when Jesus is questioned by the Jewish leaders about His authority and Jesus says, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’ (John 2:19), Jesus of course was not talking about a physical temple of stone, as the Jewish leaders in their ignorance presumed, but he was referring to His own body by resurrection.

And there are of course other references to the divinity of Jesus scattered throughout John’s gospel. (John 10:30 we read ‘I and the Father are One’ (John 10:30), in John 14:9 we read ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9) And to those that doubted Him Jesus said, ‘Even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that the Father is in Me and I in Him’ (John 10:38)

So where do we go from here, if we truly believe Jesus to be the Lord? For I accept it does present some difficulty in today’s world, especially in communicating the gospel to other faith groups. Well consider it an opportunity, and never be afraid to speak of Jesus as Lord, to whoever that may be. And so, in consequence, interfaith dialogue becomes more paramount than ever in keeping that line of communication open, for Jesus is not just Lord of Christians, but He is Lord of all humankind.

At Billy Grahams funeral his son Franklin said, ‘The world with all its political correctness would lead you to believe that many roads lead to God, but that’s just not true. Jesus is the only way’ (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/02/us/billy-gra-funeral/index.html)

Brothers and sisters, seek out the truth for yourself today, look at both the historical and documented biblical evidence and imagine that Jesus is asking you that question today, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And hopefully you will conclude that Jesus is Lord of all.

Amen.

The Holy Family: A Jewish tale

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My last sermon of 2017. So a Happy New Year to you all and I pray that 2018 brings you happiness and peace.

Blessing,

Roger

Sermon No 66

Holy Family: A Jewish tale

Holy Family Sunday

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 31st December 2017 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on 2 Samuel 7:1-11,16, Luke 1:46-55, Romans 16:25-27, and Luke 1:26-38)

Good morning. Well you have made it! A week since Christmas Day and here we are today remembering the Holy family that caused all that stir some two thousand years ago.

Well traditionally Holy Sunday is a time that we reflect on that family unit consisting of Mary, Joseph and the boy Jesus, and to think of it as a model family on which we might all wish to emulate in our own lives in their faithfulness to God.

Now there are many aspects to this family model to which I might refer, some even considered being quite controversial and exclusive in today’s western society, where anything seems to go!

However, what I would like to do this morning is to widen the parameters in what we might generally view Holy Family Sunday to be about and to concentrate our thoughts and minds on the Jewish lineage of that family, to mix that up with a bit of prophecy and relate that in turn to our current time and the middle east, in particular around Israel and the City of Jerusalem. Quite a challenge for around a 10-minute sermon! But here goes, let’s see what we can do?

Now some of what I may mention this morning, might be things that you may not have considered before in the past, which is good of course, for one of the jobs of an evangelist and preacher is to hopefully open eyes to what might not hitherto been considered.

It is also the prerogative of a preacher to speak on what is on his or her mind, which if the preacher has listened correctly, is hopefully what God is wanting him to speak about, however difficult or controversial that message might be?

So, if you were awake during our readings, apart from the fact they were different to those in the pew sheet, you will have realised that there are several things going on, but as usual, these themes are all interwoven. We have in our Old Testament reading from second Samuel, an event documented which we refer to as the ‘Davidic Covenant,’ (recorded between 1105 and 971 BC) which sets the scene really for this whole season of Christmas, as it infers that the Messiah will come from the line of King David and from the tribe of Judah.

But our other readings also connect us with that covenant.

Our gospel reading tells us of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that her son will be that Messiah and how He will sit on the ‘throne of His father David’, where ‘He will reign over the house of Jacob forever’ (Luke 1:32-33)

The New Testament canticle from Luke is filled with Old Testament allusions too and teaches us something about how Mary who saturated with the Word of God, was able to understand just how God worked (Luke 1;46-55)

And our New Testament reading from Romans, alludes to Jesus as ‘the mystery kept secret since the world began’ (Romans 16: 25) again a link to that Davidic covenant, an event in history foretelling what would be revealed at a later time

However, whatever links that can be found between the readings, what we can be sure about, when we look closely, is that all that was revealed on that day when Jesus the Messiah became flesh, was written and spoken about hundreds of years before. And that Jesus was the fulfilment of prophetic events.

And so, at this stage I think it would be useful to briefly remind ourselves about the content of this book of faith that we claim to follow, which we call the bible.

It is a collection of 66 books in all (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament in most protestant bibles) but the vast majority of the Old Testament tell us about the Jewish Nation and its history,

So, bearing in mind that the majority of this book records that Jewish history, as far as I am concerned this big part of the bible should be taken really seriously in trying to understand and interpret our own Christian faith. And failing to do, so would only give us a partial knowledge of our faith. So, any time spent in the Old Testament is worthwhile and will bear spiritual fruit.

But the first big point to get right in any understanding of New Testament texts is that Jesus was a Jew, His mother Mary was a Jew and his earthly father Joseph was also a Jew. The Holy family that we remember today were Jewish. And lived amongst other Jews

They were not a Christian family that went to church every Sunday, for churches did not exist at that time. Neither was Jesus’ surname Christ. Christ is a title taken from the Greek word ‘Christos’ meaning ‘Saviour, or redeemer’

So, our reading from second Samuel sets that scene when God enters into an agreement with David through his prophet Nathan to build a temple (also recorded in 1 Chronicles 17) and that the house of David would be ‘established forever’ (2 Samuel 7:16) But covenants of course were not new, God had entered into agreements before, with people such as Abraham and Noah.

And these covenants between God and His people are really worth looking at in context of the wider picture to which I am covering today, because when God enters into a covenant with His people He doesn’t go back on His word. When God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, that is what Abraham became. When God gave Moses the Law, He again was setting the Hebrews apart with a divine law. And when God spoke to Noah and told him that He would never again destroy the world by complete flooding, he meant it and left a rainbow as a reminder!

And, so although by having faith in Jesus prevents us from being under things such as the Law of Moses, it doesn’t mean that those laws are no longer relevant, because they all form part of our shared history and lineage.  Our faith in Jesus is shaped by that which went before and although we do not call ourselves Jews we are linked in spiritual terms to that faith, we are in effect, one family.

In-fact Jesus endorsed this fact when speaking with John as He hung dying on the cross, for when asked by His disciple John, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ Jesus replied, pointing to his disciples, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers’ (Mathew 12:46-50), implying that it was faith in Him that bound them together and not anything to do with birth, for the disciples would of course been familiar that their Jewishness could only be inherited from mothers that were Jewish.

So, the Jews, and the Jewish nation are important in our own story and although for Jews today that might not recognise Jesus as their Messiah it does not prevent their nation from playing a pivotal role in what is yet to come.

For if we believe in the prophetic events foretold in the Old Testament being made true by the birth of Jesus Christ, then we have to seriously take notice of what the other implications are in how things might play out in the days to come.

Now this is where it becomes trickier because bible prophecy is, at the end of the day, all about interpretation, and there are many differing opinions on how future events might unfold.

However, for most Christian scholars of what we call eschatology, (that is the study of end times) they are generally all in agreement that the Jewish race will be central to any return of Jesus in His second coming and this is where a little biblical Jewish history is particularly useful in understanding what that might mean in light of current world events.

But let me summarise, for the purpose of this talk, some of the more pertinent Jewish historical facts to you, so we can try and understand what might be going on? The Jews have thus far had two Temples in Jerusalem. The first was King Soloman’s Temple (who was the son of David) which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586BC, and the second temple built by Herod in 516 BC which was destroyed by Emperor Nero and the Romans in 70AD following the Jewish revolts.

But regardless of those temples it may have harboured in the past, Jerusalem as a city, might well be seen as perhaps the most important city in the world, but don’t just take my word for that, after-all look at its history, it is a city that has been attacked 52 times, it has been recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times and completely destroyed twice, no other city can make similar claims to that!

Now since the destruction of the second Temple the Jewish nation as a whole has been exiled from their own land and scattered around the four quarters of the Globe and have consistently faced persecution throughout the centuries, most recently in the Holocaust at the hands of Hitler in the second world war, where over six million were killed. And their own ancient language of Hebrew, that had been spoken for centuries, had all but disappeared from the face of the earth.

Yet on the 2nd November in 1917 something quite miraculous happened that has changed the middle east ever since, and that was something called the Balfour declaration, a public statement by the British government announcing support for the establishment in Palestine of a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people. And so on the 14th of May 1948 that statement of intent made by Balfour came to fruition and the first Jewish state was formed in 2,000 years.

But these miraculous events did not stop there as others tried in vain to prevent the state of Israel from prospering, in 1967 a six-day war took place in Palestine where just 2 million Jews threatened with annihilation defeated 40 million Arabs, which in military terms was nothing short of miraculous on its own!

And since 1948 there has been a steady return to Israel for the scattered Jews from around the world.

Now of course there is an argument and sympathy for the current Palestinian cause, especially over land and apparent unlawful evictions, but I am not going to enter into that debate today! The point I am making this morning is that the Jewish nation, which was instrumental in bringing our saviour to earth amongst us, will be once again central to what is to come because of biblical prophecy and by virtue that they are the race that God has chosen for the task. (Deuteronomy 7:6)

So, what is yet to come? Well, our New Testament says that Jesus will return once more, and He will ‘come like a thief in the night’ when for some He will not be expected! As recorded in 1 Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

But for many biblical scholars, this event cannot happen until the Temple of Jerusalem is re-built for the third time, for all that remains of the old Jewish temple on the Temple Mount is the western wall. (Yet even then there is differing opinions of the actual site of the original temple, with many saying that the original Temple was sited in the Old City of David and not on the Temple Mount itself)

And interestingly, for the observant Jew a prayer called the Amidah which is recited no less than three times daily, prays for that Holy Temple and its services to be restored.

So, what I am encouraging you to consider in all this, is whether through the power of the Holy Spirit we are standing on a precipice of time when we might yet actually see a third temple built in Jerusalem, which may in turn set the scene for the return of Jesus for the final time.

And for those that doubt that such a miraculous event might occur, it is worth just to look to our own most recent world events and see how they are influencing seismic changes. Donald Trump, I must mention once again I am afraid, is a man who all the world scorned and laughed at, saying that his rise to presidency would never happen, yet, there he sits in the White house, as the most powerful man in the world.

And it is Donald Trump that shortly before Christmas defied the rest of the world and dared to proclaim what previous world leaders were too scared to contemplate; he publicly claimed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with other countries like Guatemala and Honduras following suit.

Now I am not claiming that Donald Trump is the Messiah in the way we might perceive him to be, for we have to understand that the Jewish understanding of Messiah slightly differs from what we interpret it to mean. For the Jews, the title Messiah, is taken from the Hebrew word ‘Hamashiach’ meaning the ‘anointed one’ but although like the term Christ it requires that the holder of such a name will also be born from the paternal Davidic line, the difference for Jews is that he doesn’t need to be a ‘saviour’ figure claiming divinity, but he can simply be a man sent to prepare the way for God.

So, it won’t surprise you to know that, following his widespread support for Israel, there are people currently attempting to connect Donald Trump to that ancient lineage. So, whether that link is found remains to be seen, but Jerusalem is now currently once again at the forefront of the world stage.

And regardless of any Trump influence, there are presently Jewish societies already in Jerusalem that are making plans for the building of that most sacred third temple (based on the prophet Ezekiel vision, Ezekiel 40-47), including such things as training priests (eg.The Temple Institute), breeding specific cattle and creating the necessary decorations to furnish that temple.

Now what I am saying this morning in terms of prophetic witness is nothing new, so I don’t want you to be unduly alarmed that Donald Trump is about to declare himself God or the world is imminently about to end. For there have always been preachers that have sought to highlight to their listeners a more prophetic and apocalyptic message.

But I do believe any preacher of the gospel, which is good news after-all, should encompass at some time an eschatological or ent time message, for it is at the heart of Christian theology that we all will be transformed through death by having faith in Jesus.

But my desire for us this morning, is to simply be aware of our spiritual connection with that wider Jewish family, that Holy family and to be open minded to world events that are happening right now, and how they may or may not fit with what has already been written in our ancient scripture?

I suppose too, I want to get you interested in biblical prophecy and to seek out your own interpretation of what the scriptures say? For I have no doubt that the more interested you are, the stronger your faith will become. And with a strong faith you also will be impatient to tell the world about that Jewish man called Jesus and His family

So, embrace your spiritual Jewishness fervently, for it will enrich and inform you of wise things.

Remember that Jesus or ‘Yeshua’ means, the ‘Salvation of God’ and we are truly part of that Holy Family.

So, let us all pray that through our Holy family of Mary, Joseph, our Lord Jesus and our affiliated Jewish heritage that Jesus will return once again soon.

Shalom and Amen

A Joy to Christmas

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This is my last sermon before Christmas,  so I hope you can find some joy in the last few days leading up to the big day. Apologies to those who attended the 8am service and didn’t hear the full poem at the end due to ‘technical difficulties’ But here you have it in its entirety!

Have a great Christmas and thank you to all those  those have supported this blog site, or listened to my sermons in church,  I hope God has spoken to you in some way?

Blessings to you

Roger

https://audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/a-joy-to-christmas-m4a

 

Sermon No 65

A Joy to Christmas

Advent 3

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 17th December 2017 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 1:6-8, 19-28 and Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11)

 

Good morning and a very joyous welcome to you all on this the third Sunday in Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday, and we have in church today a splash of colour which hopefully provides a glimmer of that joy which is what we are looking forward to in what is now just 8 days away, when we symbolically welcome the birth of Jesus into the world.

Now the name Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the Latin word meaning ‘Rejoice,’ so today is a welcome break in what is traditionally seen as a penitential season. So, amongst the pressures of our modern-day Christmas season that is increasingly full of commercialism, greed and pandemonium, hopefully we can try and take a moment out, and capture just a little of that feeling of expectation and joy in that promised redemption.

And as well as being full of joyfulness, today allows us once again to look at the mission and significance of that man which we heard about in the gospel reading, the man called John the Baptist.

Now John is probably one of my favourite biblical characters, not least because he is a bit of a rebel. He is one of those people that wasn’t afraid to speak out for what he believed to be true. He was in a political sense, like them or loathe them? the Donald Trump or Nigel Farage of his day. He was a man who was prepared to get dirty, and took on the establishment and winning.

John is arguably the most significant person in the whole bible other than Jesus of course, and he was special for a number of reasons, and I would like to highlight just some of them to you today.

John’s uniqueness didn’t just start at the point when he commenced his ministry, it actually goes all the way back to the Old Testament when the prophet Isaiah spoke about the coming ministry of John, some 700 years earlier.

And although Isaiah was born long before John, their roles were in many ways were very similar. They were both prophets and both specifically hailed the imminent arrival of the Jewish Messiah

In Isaiah chapter 40, Isaiah shouted, ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God’ (Isaiah 40:3)

Isaiah, as well as comforting his people, was using language that reflected the customs of the day, where heralds would be sent ahead to clear obstacles for an important arrival, and so it was no surprise that when John was questioned who exactly he was, John returned to the words of Isaiah and said, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the LORD’ (John 1: 23).

And in a similar manner the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, the world has the last reminder of the coming herald before God became silent for 400 years. Malachi wrote, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You’ (Malachi 3:1)

Both Isaiah and Malachi were talking about John, John was to be the forerunner to the Messiah. He was the one who was to prepare the way for the Lord. He was the one that would call the Jewish people to repentance in the wilderness of the Judean desert, and he was the one that would ultimately loose his life in the process.

We also know that John the Baptist was the most important person who had lived up to that time, because we are told so by Jesus and I’m not going to argue with Him! In Matthews gospel we read, ‘Assuredly. I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.’ (Matthew 11:10)

And John’s message, as was Isaiah’s, was to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming Messiah. And in living out that calling, we have the imagery of that wild and desolate desert from which John preached being used to illustrate something that would have been familiar to both prophets and people, that of preparing the way for the arrival of a king.

But when John uses this analogy, he is directing it right at the Jewish people who had in-fact hardened their own hearts, and caused them to be desolate places, just like the desert from which John proclaimed his message.

But right from before John was even born it was apparent that he was going to be something truly special. His mother Elizabeth the cousin of Mary was seemingly unable to have any children due to her age, yet with the miraculous intervention of God she became pregnant.

And so, imagine if you will, that feeling of joy that both Mary and Elizabeth felt as they became aware of their pregnancies, for those parents among you here today, recall that time that you found out you were to become mums and dads for that first time, and that feeling of joy and celebration that you felt (or perhaps it might have been a surprise – I don’t know!!)

Indeed, we read in Luke’s gospel that when Mary travelled to meet her cousin Elizabeth and greeted her, the infant John literally ‘leapt for joy’ in her womb (Luke 1:41NRSV). So, John, the greatest prophet, even before his own birth had recognised he was in the very presence of his saviour, that he was still yet to proclaim!

So, all through the narrative of the story of John, there is an ever-present joy, and it is that joy that we ourselves should take forward in our own lives, as we travel this strange and sometimes uncomfortable Christian journey. For we know that our own lives can sometimes become baron and desolate, just like the Judean desert.

And be aware that too that we need too to distinguish the difference between joy and simple happiness, for there is a subtle difference between the two.

The theologian Henri Nouwen I think captures the difference between joy and happiness quite nicely, when he wrote, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death-can take that love away.” Nouwen implies that joy can be present always, even amid sadness, whereas ‘happiness is simply a feeling that comes over you when you know life is good.’ (http://www.azquotes.com/author/10905-Henri_Nouwen/tag/joy)

And I can agree with him on that, for at this time of year I myself  am always reminded of my own mother, and although she is no longer with me or my family on this earth, she herself was fittingly called ‘Joy’ and so I am able to remember her at this time with joy, even though her loss naturally causes some sadness. It is that joy that sits comfortably in the midst of loss and bereavement. It is that same joy that is in hope of Jesus.

So, John, that greatest of prophets is the announcer of joy and hope. John was the first person to herald the arrival of the Messiah. And he was the first witness to proclaim His divinity.

John was also consistently humble and would always, when questioned, be insistent that he was not the Messiah, and repeatedly state that one ‘greater than he’ (Luke 3:16) would come after him, and he knew that as Jesus commenced His own ministry then he himself would decrease his own.

For John was fully aware of his vocation and what he had been called to do. He was sent to solely proclaim the good news that the Messiah, that had been prophesied was coming. And if you ever look at paintings that depict John the Baptist, you will find that in many of them the artist is able to capture that picture of John always being secondary to Jesus, the One that he proclaimed, at the same time emphasising how it is necessary that he diminishes as Jesus increases.

In John 3:25 we hear John himself say, ‘Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled, He must increase, but I must decrease, He who comes from above is above all’ (John 3: 29-31).

John recognises that his own ministry is complete in proclaiming the arrival of Jesus and has that everlasting joy that comes only by being obedient to God’s call.

And for anyone considering a call to formal ministry then you would do well to prayerfully reflect on Johns life. For he is a man that knows what he is about. He is a man that doesn’t seek the grandeur of high office, or what many might perceive as more important roles. John accepts the call on his life to be what God has called him to be.

For God has a role for all of us, if we offer ourselves to Him and He will use us for His service in the way He wants, and not necessarily in the way that we might think we should be used!

So, today as we rapidly approach Christmas, look towards that pink candle and think of ourselves in good spirits and joyfulness ready to greet our Lord. Let us describe ourselves unashamedly to others as ‘being in the pink’ knowing that however we might feel or whatever life has thrown at us, we can still be joyful because we know the Lord Jesus.

I would like to end with an Advent poem called ‘Joy’ written by the poet and lyricist, Lindy Gray, and it goes like this: –

Children sing

I’ve got the joy,joy,joy,joy down in my heart!

And I agree with that sentiment.

There is a lot of joy available,

worthy of being mentioned four times

but the down part is true, too.

Very often, the joy is buried deep below the surface,

Hidden under layers of information and distraction,

a polished stone under a stack of old newspapers.

 

 

So much negative in the world today,

so much trash,

so much fear.

We bury our faces in our phones

because machines are much easier than people,

and the garbage keeps piling on,

and the joy becomes more and more a distant memory.

 

But joy is our birth right.

The angels told the shepherds they were bringing

good news of a great joy that will be to all people.

The good news is for us,

but we have to make room for it.

Our minds are busier than a guest house in Bethlehem during a census-too full for one more family,

even a small one.

 

 

The birth is coming

The joy is promised.

May we make ready

may we make room.

May we join together,

help each other, and sanctify space

for God’s great gift of joy.  (Lindy Thompson)

 

Amen

Life and Death, Death and Life

Greetings,

All Saints Sunday sermon, which fell this year on Bonfire Night, so hope it’s not too ‘explosive’ but enough to fire up your faith!

Blessings

Roger

https://www.audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/life-and-death-death-and-life

 

 

Sermon No 64
Life and Death, Death and Life
All Saints Sunday
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 5th November 2017 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 5; 1-3, Revelation 7:9-17, 1John 3:1-3 and Psalm 34: 1-10)

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot’.
A rhyme that I am sure most of us heard in our child hood? For it calls to mind a time in British history that really was truly a significant event. Some of you may have seen the recent BBC adaptation of that story starring Kit Harrington, which contained some quite graphic scenes of torture
The story of the intended plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament centres around the struggles of the Roman Catholics in Britain around 1605 which started from the protestant reformation some 100 years earlier by Martin Luther (when he sent his 95 Theses in 1517), and although we still feel and experience the effects of that time today, it has become somewhat trivialised to just some yearly event in our back gardens firing loud rockets into the sky, with few people now even having any knowledge of the true significance and history behind those celebrations.
So, on this November 5th as it falls on Sunday I thought it appropriate to mention this story of treachery solely to try and connect it to what we also celebrate today which is of course All Saints Sunday.
Now firstly it must be said that a little stated fact is that Guy Fawkes was infact a Yorkshire man, born in Stonegate in York in 1570, did we know that?
So, of course as a fellow Yorkshireman I have to obviously acknowledge that fact, but in no way, do I wish to associate myself with someone willing to commit murder. However, some do say that he was the ‘last honest man to enter parliament’ (apart from our very own honourable MP of course!) And if we have watched the current news, we might actually agree with that statement (‘Pestminister’)
Now we have to understand that during this period of history, life for any Roman Catholic trying to practice their faith was very difficult indeed, and many were put to death for not following the protestant religion, and at the heart of that catholic persecution was the Westminster Government in cahoots with the protestant King James.
And through practicing the catholic faith, or expressing any papal support you really did seriously run the risk of losing your life, and so our infamous Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators would have been fully aware of the consequences of failure to their traitorous plan.
So, death was in many ways much more a reality to the majority of people then than it is now perhaps, it was always just around the next corner, as infant deaths were the norm rather than the exception, and adult life expectancy was perhaps not much more than forty years of age.
So, life in 1600 was lived with perhaps a more spiritual than a temporal view than today. Their faith was all encompassing in every aspect of their life. The sheer fact that for Catholics at the time, to avoid a place known as purgatory, would pay a fee, highlights just how serious they took their faith- buying their way to heaven or so they thought at the time!
Now All Saints is traditionally a time that we too as Anglicans can take time to think about death and those loved ones that we have known and lost and especially for those that have shone the light of faith before us.
But for many people today death is difficult to talk about. One example that I heard just this week was by the celebrity Stacy Solomon from ‘Loose Women’, who stated that whenever she even hears the very mention of the word death, she is sent into a physical state of panic and fear, and she subsequently went on to receive treatment for that condition on the show.
For others that fear may be expressed in other more subtle ways, but dying for most people is always going to conjure up questions of what ‘if anything’ lies beyond the grave.
So today is hopefully a day when we can try and allay those fears through prayer and contemplation and focus on what as Christians we can expect when this earthly life comes to an end.
And we do this by trusting first and foremost in what God has already said about it in the scriptures.
Our bible readings this morning all give hints and promises of just that, and leave us in no doubt that this life here is not the end. Our Psalm talks about being protected by the Lord, verse 8 says, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in Him (v8). Followed by verse 9, ‘Oh fear the Lord you His Saints, there is no want to those who fear Him’ (v9)
So, we are to be blessed, if we trust in God. And there is no one that will want for anything if we are fearful of his mighty power.
The reading from Revelation, that book written by St John as he lived out his days on the island of Patmos provides us with some vivid imagery of what it will be like when we cross through into that next dimension, listen to what we can expect, ‘They shall neither hunger nor thirst anymore, the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of water, And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:16-17)
So, Jesus will be there amongst us right in the centre protecting and leading us to our heavenly home where all will be well, there will be no pain, we will not hunger or thirst anymore, and God Himself will wipe away our tears.
But what about saints, who are they? Well the word saint comes from the Greek word hagios which means simply being ‘consecrated to God’
And we often today use the term Saint to describe a ‘good’ person or someone who has lived a Godly life, but scripturally speaking, saints are simply those members that make up the body of Christ, in other words the church. So the good news is that all Christians are considered saints. You are all saints here today if you have been baptised and have faith in Jesus, so look to your neighbour here today in church and think of them as a fellow saint.
Now before you think to yourself, well that is ok to say that Roger but I know that person and I know that he or she is not perfect, well none of us are! We are all saints and sinners at the same time, as Luther said. There was only one perfect person and that was Jesus.
And on that note, if anyone thinks that they are too bad to become a saint I thought I would share with you the stories of two saints who didn’t live such saintly existences in their formative years.
The first was St Augustine who rejected his Christian upbringing and lived a life of hedonism and partying. He once famously prayed ‘grant me chastity, but not just yet’ He fathered an illegitimate son with his mistress whom he then abandoned at the prospect of marrying an heiress, yet his holy and devout mother never gave up on him and eventually her persistent prayers paid off and Augustine went on to become a priest and writer of one of the most influential books still referenced today.
The second is St Mary of Egypt, she became a prostitute at the age of 12 and lived that life for seventeen years until her dramatic conversion on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After renouncing her sinful life she became a desert hermit, fasting, praying and living alone for 47 years.
But of course there are countless more examples of saints through history too with similar stories to tell.
So, remember that no one is beyond redemption. St Augustine of Hippo himself wrote ‘There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future’.
But it is good to think of living saints too and not just those that have already died, for we are a communion of saints, both the ‘living and the dead’ as we say in our liturgy and will say shortly this morning
Our faith believes that when we die we join that communion of saints not by being perfect or by doing great acts, but we will find our way there because God’s grace has been given to us, and once accepted, it is that connection between us that makes us whole, and causes us to be intrinsically entwined as one body and in so doing we become inseparable.
And as an evangelist it is important that this message of life after death is preached and understood, for as Christians, Heaven is our ultimate destination and we are here on this earth for but a short time and need to connect ourselves to our eternal future.
But let’s make a difference in the time that we do have left on this earth, let us be saints to others, let us influence others in our faith. Let us be proud to call ourselves saints, and be good role models, generous, unselfish and good teachers, so when then people that are yet to be born look to us, we can connect with them from beyond our own grave.
So, let us pray that we may all be granted something of the saints ‘love of God’ and their desire and longing to be like Christ, and to start afresh on our own personal journeys today to be better saints, ready to take our reserved place in heaven amongst that ‘great multitude’ with Jesus at its centre.
Amen.

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

 

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.