Welcome!

December 13, 2008

st-bm-combiWelcome to the ministry pages of St Barnacles website.

St Barnacles is the website of St Michael’s & St Barnabas churches, Devonport.

This is where we publish sermons and other bible study materials for further study.

You can browse or search all our published resources using the sidebar to the right of each page.

Please do use the contact page or comment options to share your insights or questions with us.


Travelling together

January 6, 2020

St Michael’s 5th January and St Aubyn’s 9th January 2020

Readings – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Matthew 2:1-12

I want to imagine for a moment – or perhaps recall an actual incident – when you had to travel to a strange place where you’d never been before. Maybe you had to stop someone to ask for directions, maybe you had to rely on a map and try out work out where you were. How did you feel? What was the experience like?

In 1989 I was playing in the British Chess Championships which that year were taking place in the Civic Centre in Plymouth – yes, I really did have an exciting time in my youth. I had never stayed here before, but I knew a fellow-competitor who had a caravan somewhere above Plympton, I can’t quite remember where. So I caught a train, and then figured out which bus I needed to take. It was the days before mobile phones, so I just had to guess where to get off. I still didn’t have a clue where exactly I was going, but I have a very clear memory of going into a petrol station and showing the staff behind the counter my map. It was all in all a nerve-wracking experience – was I going to find the caravan site? And if not, what on earth was I going to do?

Now today is the day in the church calendar where by tradition we remember the visit of the wise men to Jesus. And quite often when we look at the story of the wise men, we tend to focus on who they are or where they have come from. But this morning, as we begin a New Year, it seems to me more appropriate to focus on this whole theme of journey. Because I put it to you that in many ways going forward through 2020 will be like travelling to a place we have never been before. We will face new challenges and new opportunities we could barely have predicted, we will probably meet new people and visit new places, and there won’t always be a map or indeed an app to tell us where to go or what to do next.

So what can we learn from this passage that will help us on our journey of exploration? Read the rest of this entry »


Year End 2019

December 30, 2019

St Michael’s 29th December 2019

Readings – Isaiah 9:1-7; Isaiah 42:1-7; Luke 2:21-32

There is little doubt that 2019 has been an extraordinary year in the life of our church. It seems hard to believe now, but twelve months ago our Tuesday Open Church Project hadn’t even been launched. Yes, we had plans and we were praying hard, but nobody was quite sure what would happen when we opened the doors of the church each week, or indeed who would come.

Also this time last year I was still simply the vicar of St Michael and St Barnabas. My regular ministry at St Aubyn’s hadn’t yet begun and again, I don’t think anyone anticipated how well the link between the two churches would work. We still haven’t yet figured what to call the united benefice of St Michael’s and St Barnabas with St Aubyn’s but I am sure we will get there in the New Year – it is a minor detail, after all.

Oh, and this time last year we still had no idea that Sue would come and work among us as our curate. We were still planning her long placement and wondering how everything would work out. I think it is fair to say, four months after her ordination, she now seems an integral part of the life of the church.

There have been other developments during the past year as well, the relaunch of the pastoral action team, for example, or the newly formed leadership team which regularly meets to oversee the life of the church. And although so much good has happened, as in any year, there have been bumps and bruises along the way. In this respect 2019 has been no different from any other, and as we reach the end of the year, there are some things we must definitely leave at the cross before going any further.

So what about you? How do you look back at the past year? I guess for some of us the past year has been one of great success, of plans fulfilled, of dreams realised, or at least steady and quiet progress. But I also know that for many of us 2019 has been a year of great challenges, of circumstances which have pushed us to our very limits, of illness and infirmity, of loss and bereavement. Read the rest of this entry »


Behind the scenes

December 26, 2019

St Michael’s 25th December 2019

Readings – Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

How many of you own a box set of your favourite TV series or drama? There’s something so comforting, isn’t there, about staying in of an evening to watch yet another episode of Morse or Star Trek or West Wing, even if you know what’s going to happen next. We love the familiarity of characters we have gotten to know, and we love being able to escape into their world, and just forget for a few hours what’s happening around us.

Yet to me what is often the most interesting thing about a box set is not so much the episodes we watch over and over again. It’s the bonus disc that gives us the background to the programmes, puts them into context, and explains why the story was told in this or that particular way.

And in some ways our reading from John’s gospel is rather like that bonus disc. We don’t precisely know when John’s gospel was written, but in all probability John was writing to people who were already very familiar with the stories of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. And even though the other gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, make it clear that what they are writing is most definitely fact not fiction, John decides to take a completely different angle on Jesus coming to earth, to provide some additional material to help us understand the Christmas story in a new, and indeed challenging way.

So you won’t find here references to angels or to a manger, to a virgin birth or stars in the sky. In fact, if you look closely you won’t even find the name Jesus in our reading at all – He’s only mentioned for the first time in verse 17. John, you see, wants us to step back and look at the Christmas story from God’s perspective, to understand His plans and His purposes behind what happened. Read the rest of this entry »


The opening credits

December 24, 2019

St Michael’s 24th December 2019

Readings – Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-14

I wonder how many of you have a favourite film you like to watch over Christmas? Perhaps some of you are big fans of the Sound of Music, or maybe you prefer something like Holiday Inn or a Christmas Carol. For me, the one film I always associate with this time of year is rather oddly the Poseidon Adventure. I have no idea why it was shown every Boxing Day, but my one childhood memory is watching it each year, and seeing how everyone gets out of the upturned boat.

The thing about a favourite film, however, is that no matter how many times we’ve seen it before, we always watch to the end. Yes, we know how the plot is going to turn out. Yes, we know how our hero will win the day. But we still keep watching, and woe betide any family member who dares to interrupt half way through. We want to have the whole story, and nothing but the whole story will do.

And yet, and yet, each Christmas we hear the story of the angel visiting Mary, of the birth in Bethlehem, of the arrival of the shepherds and the wise men, and then many of us then switch off, as if we can simply leave Jesus in the manger, or perhaps on His way down into Egypt. To me, it’s the equivalent of turning off the Sound of Music after the opening credits, or the Christmas Carol as soon as we have met Ebenezer Scrooge. There is so much of Jesus’ story still to come, and indeed, unless you actually engage with the rest of the story, I believe you are in great danger of missing out on what the events of the first Christmas are all about. Read the rest of this entry »


Jesus’ family tree

December 19, 2019

St Michael’s 15th December 2019

Readings – Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 1:1-17

Over the past twenty, thirty years, there has been a noticeable upsurge in the whole area of family history. Since it was first broadcast in 2004, the celebrity programme “Who do you think you are?” has now run to its seventeenth series; with the rise of the Internet, family tree programmes like Ancestry have made tracing our forefathers ever easier (and yes, I do have a subscription), and I receive several enquiries a year from people who like myself have some connection with the parish.

So why has genealogy become so popular? I believe one reason is that in a fast-changing world people are looking for a sense of belonging. They want at least to be certain where they have come from, even if they don’t exactly know where their lives are going. Knowing, for example, you are descended from tin miners or agricultural labourers who lived in a particular place at a particular time gives you an identity and a certain sense of belonging.

Family trees were also important for the people of Jesus’ time. The Jewish people had suffered so much in their history, most notably when a whole generation had been deported from their homeland into captivity in Babylon – an event Matthew notes in verse 11. And although this was terrible in itself, it was only one traumatic event amongst the many they had suffered. So it was vitally important that parents passed down to their children the stories of where they had come from and who their ancestors were so that through it all they could keep their Jewish identity, and even more importantly, their identity as the people of God.

But how can such a long list of unpronounceable and ancient names actually speak to us this morning? And how can it help us understand better the Christmas story that follows? Read the rest of this entry »


Jesus’ family tree

December 16, 2019

St Michael’s 15th December 2019

Readings – Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 1:1-17

Over the past twenty, thirty years, there has been a noticeable upsurge in the whole area of family history. Since it was first broadcast in 2004, the celebrity programme “Who do you think you are?” has now run to its seventeenth series; with the rise of the Internet, family tree programmes like Ancestry have made tracing our forefathers ever easier (and yes, I do have a subscription), and I receive several enquiries a year from people who like myself have some connection with the parish.

So why has genealogy become so popular? I believe one reason is that in a fast-changing world people are looking for a sense of belonging. They want at least to be certain where they have come from, even if they don’t exactly know where their lives are going. Knowing, for example, you are descended from tin miners or agricultural labourers who lived in a particular place at a particular time gives you an identity and a certain sense of belonging.

Family trees were also important for the people of Jesus’ time. The Jewish people had suffered so much in their history, most notably when a whole generation had been deported from their homeland into captivity in Babylon – an event Matthew notes in verse 11. And although this was terrible in itself, it was only one traumatic event amongst the many they had suffered. So it was vitally important that parents passed down to their children the stories of where they had come from and who their ancestors were so that through it all they could keep their Jewish identity, and even more importantly, their identity as the people of God.

But how can such a long list of unpronounceable and ancient names actually speak to us this morning? And how can it help us understand better the Christmas story that follows? Read the rest of this entry »


The prophets

December 9, 2019

St Aubyn’s 8th December 2019

Reading – Isaiah 11:1-9

What do you think of when you hear the word “prophet”? Maybe a rather wild looking individual in the desert calling folk to repentance? Maybe someone with a sandwich board proclaiming “the end is nigh”? Maybe a slick charismatic leader drawing in crowds with his vision of the future? If there is one ministry from the Bible that is perhaps more misunderstood than any other, I would suggest it is that of the prophet. We think of prophets as people rather on the edge of society, making strange predictions, generally sounding or looking rather odd.

But that caricature of who a prophet is, or what he does, is actually far wide of the mark. The word “prophet” simply means someone who speaks out. He, or indeed she, is in essence a person called by God to apply the truths of His word to His people, sometimes indeed by foretelling what the future has in store, but in reality more often forth-telling the truths that they have either forgotten or ignored.

One such prophet called by God was Isaiah. There’s a powerful account of his call in Isaiah chapter 6, and from what we learn there, he had an important role to play at a time when the old political order was passing away, and the nation was in general turning its back on the Lord. His ministry was to call God’s people back to a living faith, and warn them of the consequences if they did not repent. Read the rest of this entry »