Creation: A duty to sustain and renew the earth

Sermon No 74
Creation: ‘A duty to sustain and renew the earth’
2nd Before Lent

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 24th February 2019 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Luke 8:22-25, Revelation 4, Genesis 2:4b-9, 15 to end and Psalm 65)

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

Our gospel reading this morning recalls the story of the followers of Jesus aboard a boat on the Sea of Galilee and being caught in a violent storm. The story is a powerful one and highlights not only the fear of the disciples as they lose control of the boat, but also puts the spotlight on the forces of nature. However, the story is not really about the storm in itself, it draws our attention to the disciples momentarily losing faith in their leader Jesus, who was fast asleep below deck, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around Him.
Now it would be very easy to draw analogies to the present world around us, as our political leaders appear to be sleeping while the country and the wider world plunge deeper into a crisis to which there seems no solution, but it is not my desire or purpose to communicate any political message this morning and definitely not to mention the ‘B’ word!
Of course, as we heard in the story, ultimately Jesus had it all in hand and there was never any need to be anxious. In an instant Jesus calmed the storm and the disciples must have questioned why they ever had concerns in the first place.
The bible my friends is as true and relevant today as it was when the events took place, and so it becomes easy to place ourselves in the position of the disciples when things get tough and our faith weakens, and in some cases is lost all together.
And so, one of the reasons, in attending church regularly, is to build up that strength of faith that we need, to see us through the inevitable hard and difficult times that we all face at some point in our lives.
It might be through a bereavement of a loved one, or it might be that we are suffering financial hardship, or we might even look to the wider world, to the horrors and madness of war or natural disasters and consider whether there is a God at all?
These thoughts are perfectly natural, and we shouldn’t think of ourselves any less faithful than the next person. For the reality could be that the person who portrays the ‘perfect faith’ from the outside is writhing with anguish on the inside.
Outspoken atheists like Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins, like to focus on the pain and hurt in the world and question how a loving God allows a people, he claims to be his children, to suffer so much?
Stephen Fry in answer to a hypothetical conversation with God about suffering angrily states, “How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right; it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.” (https://www.bethinking.org/does-god-exist/stephen-fry-and-god)
And on the face of it, it would be easy to align ourselves with such thoughts, because unfortunately that sort of reality can be the world in which we do actually live, and so it would be strange if we did not question the existence of God from time to time.
Indeed, some Christian teachers and theologians believe it is good thing to suffer, to enhance our Christian understanding of what Jesus went through on the cross, in order to save us from an even worse eternal torment. Now I wouldn’t want to be so hard line as that, but it is certainly true to say, that through experiencing hardship and difficulty, we can come through the other side a stronger and perhaps better person, more able to understand the pain and difficulties of others.
But turning back to what is going on in our current world. I think most of us would agree, we are currently enduring a crisis not just politically, but environmentally too, the ramifications of which we cannot fully anticipate. Whether that is global warming, or plastics in the oceans, we seem as a human race to have got ourselves into a bit of a pickle and are finding it more and more difficult to find a way out, not just from that personal suffering that I have spoken about earlier, but from the suffering that is being inflicted on the environment.
But where there is suffering, we need to have hope, and that currently seems to be coming not from our politicians, but from our young people. Many of you might have witnessed just over a week ago now, the protests up and down the country from our young citizens, many of which were school students, as they expressed, quite eloquently in some cases, their anger towards our politicians, in what appear to many as having an ambivalent and selfish attitude towards the destruction of the planet and an unwillingness to take urgent action to save our environment, to save God’s creation.
The Book of Genesis, that very first book in the bible is often seen as the book that tells us of the story of creation and how God intended his world to be in the Garden of Eden, where man lived with his woman in perfect harmony.
Now whether you believe the story of creation to be a literal event that happened in seven days or whether you might think of it as an allegorical tale, is really unimportant. The point is that the present world that man has created is not the world that God intended it to be when He breathed it into existence.
The stories throughout the bible record time after time man’s inability to do what is right for himself and what God has asked him to do. You may recall in Genesis 3 it states, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15.) Well, we don’t seem to be currently doing such a great job of caring for it now, as we walk further and further away from the path that God would want us to walk.
Fortunately, however, the bible does offer us a message of hope, and we can look forward with some degree of certainty to what will come in the future, as we the faithful leave this mortal life and head into an eternal existence with our Creator.
So on that note, let us jump forward from the beginning to the end of the bible where we find the book of Revelation. A weird book full of fantastical imagery and prophetical messages that can be rather difficult to interpret when looking at it in isolation, but taken in the context of which it is set and in relation to other prophetical books such as Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah, we can begin to piece together this imagery to the rest of God’s Word and His plan for us might be?
And so, as we heard in our reading from chapter four this morning, we find John, the disciple of Jesus, on the Island of Patmos glimpsing into a supernatural realm through a window and seeing the Father God sitting on a throne.
This particular section of the bible describes what is known as ‘The Throne Room of Heaven’ and sets the scene for what in later chapters depicts the time of judgement and the last days..
Now, there are many different interpretations of what that imagery might mean for us both personally and collectively, and I wouldn’t want to begin to go into that in any detail this morning.
However, when we hear this accounts by John there are certain facts or inferences if you like, that we can assume to be correct. And amongst the foremost of these is that what John is seeing is the sovereignty of God.
We see a Father God sat on His throne, sovereign and powerful, and the imagery that John communicates is one of beauty and magnificence that is beyond what we as mortal humans have ever witnessed. John communicates an almost indescribable sense of adoration for the Lord, with angelic creatures paying homage day and night saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). The same words incidentally you might recognise from the 1826 hymn by Reginald Heber?
Revelation four ends with the words uttered by the twenty-four elders, who are most likely being the redeemed representatives of the Church in Heaven, saying, “For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11)
These words enforce our understanding that creation and all that that involves belongs to God the Father, and so any thing that we might do to harm His creation and creations is contrary to how God envisaged His created beings to act.
As an Evangelist in training back in 2006 I was taught the Five Marks of Mission, which was an important statement on mission within the Anglican Communion made in 1984, as it expressed the commitment and understanding we have of God’s holistic and integral mission in the world. The fifth Mark of that Mission is linked directly to the importance of treating creation with the utmost importance. (https://www.anglicancommunion.org/mission/marks-of-mission.aspx)
It says, ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’
Now I don’t claim to be a tree hugging radical anarchist, neither would I support the truancy of children to protest in central London, but there can be no doubt of the seriousness we as adults need to take this mark of mission in terms of our environment. If the young people are getting it and we as adults are not, we really need to examine ourselves and the way we are presently doing things and how we might plan to do things in a better way in the immediate future. For it is the future generations to follow, who will suffer as a consequence of our failings if we do not sustain the creation of God.
In the Throne Room of Heaven as described in Revelation, we see an image of unparalleled beauty and lustre, but the truth is, is that same beauty is here all around us on earth, if we take the time to open our eyes to God’s creation. Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer calls us to will His kingdom ‘on earth as in heaven’
I can sense a shift beginning to move in these matters of climate and environmental change, especially seeing our younger members of society taking such an interest, but let us as Christians, not stand aloof in the background, but take the reigns in what needs to be done to save God’s creation and do ‘His’ will as He wants us to do. For God has given us custody of this planet until that time when He makes all things new.
I’ll leave you with a poem I found about creation by a Gabriele Embry, and it is a reminder of the creation and the beauty of the earth and its inhabitants that in the business of the day we sometimes just forget.
‘I look around, and everywhere I can see, The beauty of God’s creation smiling back at me.
A precious baby with velvety soft skin, wiggling its tiny hands and feet, On its face an adorable grin.
First morning dew on a pink rose; A beautiful butterfly drawing to it close.
The suns golden rays gently warming the ground; Luscious plants covering the soil abound.
Humming birds singing high up in the tree; White sand glistening in the turquoise sea.
Snow capped mountains, so majestically high; A colourful rainbow adorning the afternoon sky.
Countless stars above, sparkling oh so bright, Decorating the horizon and illuminating the night.
Thankyou, Dear Lord, for giving me another day, To enjoy the beauty of your creation, And to worship You and pray.’ Amen
(The Beauty of God’s Creation by Gabriele Embry, USA http://www.voicenet.com/displayonepoem.aspx?poemid=121864)

 

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A Reflection on Romans 12: 1-5

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The following short reflection was said during morning prayer at a training weekend at Aylesford Priory, Kent. It was especially relevant as it was during Candlemas (2nd February 2019), an ancient Christian festival. A great weekend with excellent instruction and lovely company.
It is always useful to reflect on God’s calling on us all, so I pray you are inspired to listen to God’s call on you?

Blessings.
Roger

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. 2. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5. so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12: 1-5)

The first words we heard a few moments ago in our reading from Pauls letter to the Romans, speaks of offering ourselves as living sacrifices to praise God.
Paul is here calling his listeners to understand that the old ways of animal sacrifice, as had been the practice before, no longer was required.
Of course, as Christians, in the 21st century we know that now, but for those early audiences of Paul, this would have been a radical change to what they had understood the worship of God to be.
Paul informs us that a new type of sacrifice is required from those that claim to follow Jesus, and that sacrifice is the sacrifice of ourselves in the service of what we are called to be, and what we are called to do?
Today, in our church calendar we celebrate Candlemas, a time that focuses our attention on Jesus as a small child as He was presented in the Temple some 40 days after His mother Mary gave birth, as was the Jewish custom of the day.
As Licenced Lay Ministers ‘in training’, we also can use this same celebration to present ourselves in service to God. For offering ourselves to God is the highest form of praise that we can offer – we cannot do anymore than that!
But we are not alone in doing so, for as we meet in this ancient place of prayer and worship on this cold, snowy morning, we can take comfort in knowing that many saints have gone before us right here, who like you and me, at some stage of their lives heard the still small voice and responded by offering themselves to our Lord in service.
Yet, this handing over of our’ whole self’ is not easy, as many a Christian will tell you! Indeed, the writer and theologian C.S. Lewis wrote in his book ‘Mere Christianity’, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self- all your wishes and precautions to Christ”
So, let us use this time we have here together, to present our ‘whole selves’ to God and discern through both prayer and the training we receive, those gifts that God has given each and everyone of us to do His will.
Perhaps reflect on the image as we entered into this sacred place, that of the sun rising on a brand new day. Take the time to think how that image may be symbolic to you? Or maybe on the image of the mountain and what might lie over the brow of the next ridge or peak of our life? Or simply look to the many crosses around this place and consider the sacrifice that Jesus made for you, and for me, and how we can offer ourselves to our Lord?
The great Carmelite, St Theresa of Lisieux said these words, “ Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”
So, it is that sacrifice of ourselves through the love of Jesus we may find His calling on our lives.
Amen

A Familiar Story: ‘The Adventus’

Dear Listeners and Readers,

Hope you enjoy this entry into the Advent Season?

Seasons greetings

Roger

 

 

 

Sermon No 73

A Familiar Story: ‘The Adventus’

Advent Sunday

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 2nd December 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Jeremiah 33:14-16, Ps 25: 1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-end and Luke 21:25-26

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

Well here we are again! A whole year has passed away and we are now officially entering into our Advent Season. It seems to get quicker and quicker the older I get? Do you get the same feeling?

So, it is good to be back with you to celebrate together, this day that we call in our liturgical calendar, Advent Sunday, which marks the beginning of our preparation for Christmas.

For the last three Sundays I have been attending St Augustine’s Church at Belvedere as part of my Licensed Lay Ministry (LLM) course, looking at what they call, ‘Congregational; Studies’, And I must say I have enjoyed the exploration of a slightly different theology.

It is nice to go somewhere new to encounter fresh experiences and a different kind of service. And I would encourage you to do the same from time to time, but just don’t do it all together, otherwise Fr Paul and myself will be talking to ourselves! I’m even hoping for an invite back to preach, as the visiting preacher is always rewarded with a bottle from the Vicar’s vestry for his trouble!

But although I enjoyed the placement, it is good to return to the familiarity of one’s home church. It’s a bit like when you go on holiday, after a couple of weeks away most people are ready to come home however nice the location. So, hold that thought for I will come back to that shortly.

As you may know, for those that have listened to me before, I do have an interest in the prophetic Word of God and so it seems quite natural for me to return to that once again today, especially considering our gospel reading?

But let’s begin by looking at this thing called Advent, for over the centuries it has meant different things. The word itself comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’ meaning ‘coming’ and so currently for most western Christians it is seen as a time of preparation in the church as we await the arrival of Jesus on Christmas Day.

However, in the fourth and fifth centuries out in Spain and Western Europe (which was known as Gaul,) although it was also a season of preparation back then, it was for new Christians, as they readied themselves for baptism during the feast of Epiphany, where God’s incarnation and the visit of the Magi were celebrated.

But by the time of the sixth century, Advent, particularly for the Roman Christians had shifted their thoughts to the second coming of Christ and the time of Judgement.

And it was only in the middle ages, that the focus once more turned back towards the first coming of Christ, which of course we now call Christmas, or Christ’s Mass.

So, we have two things to consider really during Advent, if we are to consider it in it’s whole, we have both the coming of Christ as He was when He came into the world as a child in the town of Bethlehem and then the second coming of Christ when He will return once more for the final time in Glory.

Our gospel reading today focuses on the latter and provides us with a vivid picture of what is to be expected as a pre-cursor to that time. And makes it quite clear what we should expect during those end times when Jesus descends to earth once more in a cloud.

So how would we prepare for such an event. Well the Church of Thessalonica is a good example to consider, as it modelled itself on being constantly vigilant and watchful in readiness for the ‘Son of Man’ to return (1 Thessalonians 1:10) and this vigilance is a constant theme running through the entire letter of Paul.

So yes, our preparation should be about getting ready and being vigilant for our Lord’s return.

For it is said, that Jesus will return on just a normal day, just like any other, when everyone will be going about their business. It will be like it was in the days of Noah, the preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), who as he built his ark in preparation for the great flood, life continued as normal, with the people of the world deaf to his message.

So, Advent is about preparation for the last days, but also it’s still about looking at how the world prepared for his first coming as a child in Bethlehem.

But ironically, during this season when Jesus should be at the forefront of our minds, it is easy to lose that sense of preparedness. Life becomes busy. There are the decorations to put up, the school nativity to see, endless trips to Bluewater and Bexleyheath, picking up the internet shopping to pick up from the neighbours, obligatory family to visit, Christmas parties and so on and so on.

And as a result, we lose that ability to prepare, because we are so busy with worrying that we will not be ready in time for that Christmas morning, when in just a matter of a few hours, if you are lucky, it will be all over.

So, we need to be mindful of these distractions for they will ‘choke’ the Word of God as it says in Mark 4 (Mark 4: 18-19) and we will not be ready for that arrival.

For this anticipation of Christ’s return is vital for us as Christians, as it stimulates us towards holiness, and further to that, by being holy,  it compels us to warn the lost and motivates us to put into practice the Great Commission. ‘to make disciples of all nations,’ (Matthew 28:19)

In these days when Christianity and the Church are under constant attack, we must be really careful that the Word of God is not choked by the worries of the world, especially at this time of year when there is so much anxiety and distraction.

And it can be tempting to avoid some doctrines of Christianity that might be challenging and difficult. The doctrine of the second coming for example, is for some people one such aspect.

Likewise, we need to be careful that we don’t simply become a place of fellowship and entertainment without hearing the Word of God. Very easy to do during the festive season when all our focus is generally on making ourselves, and others happy.

Recently we here at St Paulinus have been searching prayerfully together to seek out our new vision for the future, and we have agreed that as a church family we want to express:- compassion, openness, tolerance, growth and love, but without Jesus at the centre of who we are, regardless of those wonderful attributes, we cannot be a church true to the message of Jesus.

This week we celebrated the feast of St Andrew, and on St Andrews Eve on Thursday several members of our congregation sat in prayer in the church and ended the day with the evening office.

A good start to Advent I would suggest?

Now although we are not Roman Catholics, there is a prayer called the St Andrews Prayer said by the catholic church that is all about preparation and it goes like this: –

“Hail and Blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.

In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O My God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of our saviour Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother. Amen”

Now a good catholic will say that prayer 15 times a day for 25 days. Quite a challenge! I’m sure you’d agree, but it is a prayer that by repetition becomes a familiar prayer. And it is that same familiarity of Christmas that comes every year that is so comforting, just as that returning to St Paulinus for me was comforting. Or returning home from holiday. Familiarity can be a good thing.

So, what would it be like without Christmas then? Have you ever considered a world without Christmas? In the CS Lewis classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you will recall that Christmas never came to Narnia while the White Witch was in power.

It was only when Aslan the Lion began to move, that Father Christmas returned once again to the land of Narnia. In the story, Father Christmas became a harbinger, a forerunner of Aslan’s return.

This allegorical story of Jesus points out that with Him we have our seasons right. We don’t have an endless winter, but normal time is resumed. The story also links to the last days that we heard in our gospel reading, in that as we prepare for Jesus’ coming, we know that like the White Witch, Satan’s hold on the earth is weakening and coming to an end too.

And if you are interested in the works of CS Lewis and his Narnia stories? I would recommend you to read a book called the Narnia Code by Michael Ward, who by coincidence was educated at St Andrews University! In the book Ward goes much deeper into the allegorical meanings of the whole series. I have a copy if anyone would like to look at it after then service ?

But going back to this ‘adventus’ or comings of Jesus I must draw your attention to a third understanding of Jesus’ coming which arose out of the twelfth century, so in addition to the two comings of Jesus already mentioned: – Jesus ‘In the flesh as a child, Jesus, ‘In Glory, at the end of time’ there was this third,  and it was of having Jesus, ‘In our hearts daily’

(Journey into the Heart of God: Living in the Liturgical Year by H Phillip, 2013, Oxford University Press)

And it is this third aspect that I really want us to focus on today and for the remainder of our Advent. For by having Jesus in our hearts daily we will avoid, or at least limit the distractions of daily life. By having Him in our hearts we will become familiar with Him and begin to grow. And by having Him in our hearts we will be better placed to be sign posts to others to guide home into the arms of Jesus.

So whatever way you want to prepare, do it regularly, become familiar. And get busy with God’s Word. Make use of all the rich variety of services that St Paulinus offer over these next few weeks. Read a daily devotional or do the daily offices on the train to work. However you choose to do it, let the Word of God come into your hearts.

Today, we lit our first Advent candle of hope representing God’s prophets. And it is good that we remember that Advent is a period of preparation for all these aspects of revelation. So, let us today and for the next four weeks, delight in the familiarity of Christmas and not let the distractions of life prevent us from preparing ourselves to be ready to meet Jesus very soon.

Amen.

The Cornerstone: A Foundation for Eternal Life.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are building foundations today. Enjoy the sermon and let me know what you think? It would be great if you could forward this link to someone you know to spread the ‘Word’

Blessings to you as we fast approach the Advent season.
Roger

Sermon No 72
The Cornerstone: A Foundation for Eternal Life
Last after Trinity
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 28th October 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Isaiah 28:14-16, Ephesians 2:19-end, John 15:17-end))
May I speak, and may you hear in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This Tuesday I attended a celebration service for the emergency services in a church, close to Victoria in central London. It was a great service full of inspiration. Present were Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolis, and various other esteemed hierarchy from the Fire and Ambulance services.
The content of the service included testimonies from several men and women from all three emergency services and music was provided by Hill Song, one of the leading worship bands of our age. But I suppose the highlight for me was the key note speaker for the evening a man by the name of Reverend Canon J John.
For those that don’t know him then do look him up on You Tube. He is a passionate, able, articulate and inspirational preacher…. a bit like me! But seriously he is one of those guys that can fill stadiums, just like the late great Billy Graham and has a God given talent for being able to add humour to his speaking, unlike me!
Now J.Johns message for the evening was essentially all about ‘praying, caring, and sharing,’ which I suppose is not a bad starting point for any Christian.
But before we can really get to that, we need to have something solid on which to base our faith upon. For how can we actually really do prayer, care and share as Christians without making sure that Jesus is right at the centre of all that we do?
So, it is with that thought that I feel today I needed to talk about ‘foundations’ and ‘building stuff.’ And coincidentally these just happens to be themes in our readings from both Isaiah and from Ephesians.
Now I don’t know about you, but I have always been fascinated with buildings and structures, even from a young age I would find solace at old ruins, imagining what the building would have been like in its hey-day, whether it was an old abbey or a village cinema. And together with another fascination of mine, namely time-travel, driven by my other favourite subject Dr Who, I still dream of being able to transport myself back in time to when these buildings were being truly lived. Does any one else feel like that or am I just weird?
And because of this early exposure to ruined buildings it was therefore no wonder that when I left school at sixteen I became a labourer on what was then called a Youth Training Scheme. Not that I had a lot of choice I may add, as I didn’t leave school with any qualifications of note! I think I was more interested in going out drinking and smoking at the time!
But I do recall that I was happy in my work, I still remember that feeling of being a young man of sixteen going off to work on the top deck of the bus smoking a fag, wearing my donkey jacket and hard hat. I must have looked a bit like that man from ‘The Village People’ minus the big moustache as I swaggered up the road to the bus-stop!
But it was during this time that I learnt the art of laying bricks in the English, Flemish and Stretcher bonds and being pleased how I could construct walls that didn’t fall down, and the more bricks that were used the stronger the structure became.
I then later I went on to join the Royal Engineers where I was further taught how to build other structures and bridges and then ironically blow them up again!
But I learnt during those days, that vital to any construction work, there would always be an aspect from where the project gained its strength. In arch work it would be the ‘key stone’ and in the case of brick or stone walling it would be what is called the ‘cornerstone,’ or sometimes referred to as the foundation or setting stone.
And its importance in the wall cannot be underestimated, because all the other stones or bricks are set in reference to that stone. As such, the foundation stone will always determine the position of the entire structure. Indeed, you will probably have seen such stones in prominent buildings inscribed with dates of construction and maybe even the architect’s name?
But this sense of importance that buildings project and the way in which they stimulate our minds are not something new to our modern era, for in biblical times too they were just as important.Think back to the temple of King Solomon which was built solely to house the Ark of the Covenant and to worship God Himself on earth. The power and authority that the building commanded throughout Israel was beyond compare, with Jews from around the country making pilgrimage just to pay homage to the temple and what it contained. Even today the remnant of the western wall of the temple in the City of Jerusalem, is the most revered structure in the whole of Judaism.
Our Old Testament reading today from that most esteemed prophet Isaiah, lays the foundation, metaphorically speaking, for today’s message, as God says, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16).
Of course, the stone alludes to the coming of Jesus some seven hundred years later, and it is important to think on the cornerstone in this prophetic sense. For in so doing we remember as Jesus was questioned by the Sanhedrin after He turned over the tables in the Temple, Jesus says to the Jewish elders, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19) Jesus was not referring to the building in terms of its reconstruction, He was of course talking about His own resurrection.
Now as I prepared for this talk this morning, I was drawn to the image of that cornerstone, and sometimes as I am thinking about what I might talk about in a sermon I draw images that come to my mind. And strangely, the only image that I drew for today was that of a cornerstone. So, I sort of had an idea that this is what I should be talking about!
In addition, it came as no surprise either, that when I attended the event on Tuesday, the first worship song sang by Hillsong was called, guess what? ‘Cornerstone’! Further confirmation if ever I needed it.
So, when |I got home that night, I looked at the lyrics and what was repeated throughout the song are these words, ‘Christ alone, Cornerstone. Weak made strong in the Saviours love, He is Lord, Lord of all’ (Cornerstone, Hillsong Worship).
And this apparent paradox is so true if we think about it, we are all weak, but when we make that connection with Jesus, and he lays that foundation of faith in us, our weakness does actually become our strength.
And He commands us to use that divine love and to love one another. Infact the first sentence of our gospel reading says just that, “These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:17) Jesus wants us to take his love and pass it on to others, to share Himself with others that we might meet.
And we can do this because when Jesus places that first foundation stone in us, He is actually laying the foundation of a temple of love. For if God is love and He is dwelling in us, we in turn become reflective of that very same nature of love.
Pauls letter to the Ephesians expands on this through those verses we heard this morning. And it is a good picture to visualise, in that we become a temple of love, not just on our own, but with all the other Christians that are both living, and those that have gone before. We become part of a shared history of all Christians with Jesus right at its centre.
And when we become part of this new temple of God with Jesus as the ‘Chief Cornerstone’, in addition to being stronger together, we are all treated equally with those that form that building, so no one is greater than the other, again think back to the image of the wall, and how each and every brick has a part to play in forming that bond in keeping the structure strong, no brick is more necessary than another. They are all vital and all equal at the same time.
Now I currently work at parliament and if anyone has been to the see the Speaker’s ceremony, you will hear a police officer stand in Central Lobby and shout ‘Hats off Strangers’ as the Speaker, the Rt Honourable John Bercow enters, and in so doing, those wearing hats remove their head dress and bow to the Mace representing the Speakers authority.
But the point about this in the context of our Christian building, is that in our faith there will be no ‘strangers’ or ‘foreigners,’ we will be as Paul puts it, ‘fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19) we will be all equal and there will be no requirement to doff our caps, well perhaps we might still want to bow to Jesus I suppose!
In our Church, Bishop James our diocesan bishop is no greater than the person who dusts the pews or mops the floor. The preacher is no greater than the organist, although admittedly Nick is certainly better at playing the organ than me, and neither are the Sunday school teachers any greater than any one of you sat here today. We are all equal bricks in that building, that form what we call the Church.
There is a song that you may know, based on the parable of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 7: 24-27) I don’t know if you know it?
It’s called, ‘The wise man built his house upon the rock,’ I think you might hear it still on a Thursday morning here during Toddlers worship (hand demonstration of song), and those words are true for all of us, to build our lives on sure and strong foundations, to build them with Jesus as that cornerstone to provide strength, direction and power to all we do.
As a teenager I was in the scouts, just a few years ago now! and I remember we needed a new scout hut, so we launched an appeal and we called it ‘buy a brick’ and our appeal concentrated the minds not on the end-product necessarily, but to appeal to people to think small, to something that was achievable, in terms of simply just one brick. And over time, brick by brick the fund became bigger and ultimately, we had enough bricks to build our new hut.
That hut is still standing today and that is what I would like you to think about this morning, building this church here, not with bricks or stones but with people, we are the bricks that make the church, and just one brick could make all the difference in keeping our church together?
Brothers and Sisters, we are working here at St Paulinus towards a shared vision for the Church, and my prayer is that we can form something new, something strong, something attractive and something adventurous that will build up a Church for future generations here in Crayford. The house of God is stronger than anything else, for it is constructed with people made in the image of God, including the saints that have gone before and we are filled with God’s Spirit and have become a ‘dwelling place’ for Him. (Ephesians 2:22)
So, when you picture that imaginary wall with bricks missing, why not ask Fr Paul the local architect here on site in his site office, to slot you into a gap in that wall and take your strength from Jesus the ‘Chief Cornerstone.’
Amen.

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

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