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.

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The story of Zacchaeus (Baptism)

November 20, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 18th November 2018

Reading – Luke 19:1-10

There once was a little girl called Sarah who was doing something sticky in the kitchen. So she went over to her mother who was standing by the sink, reached up to the taps and said “Sticky hands, sticky hands!” Her mother passed Sarah a cloth which Sarah, being a logical sort of girl, put on the floor. She then stepped on it and said, “Still can’t reach, still can’t reach!”

Some of us know better than others what it is like to be too little to reach up high or to see through a crowd. I guess when you’re young you hope you are going to grow up, but then you reach a certain age and realise you are never going to get any taller. And that can be so frustrating. Just ask Zacchaeus in our reading. He heard Jesus was coming and he wanted more than anything else to see him. But he only came up to the shoulders of the people in front, and there was no way he could push himself forward.

And there was another good reason why the crowd wasn’t going to let him see Jesus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and in those days everyone hated tax collectors. You see, the way tax collectors made their money back then was by working for the Roman authorities. So imagine for a moment you owed the Romans £500 in tax. The Romans wouldn’t collect this tax themselves. They’d give the job to someone like Zacchaeus, and he would demand, let’s say, £1000 and keep £500 for himself. And Zacchaeus made a lot of money that way. Indeed we are told right at the beginning of the story that he was a chief tax collector and he was wealthy.

So you might wonder why Zacchaeus was just so desperate to see Jesus. Maybe he was a little bit curious to find out about this person everyone was talking about. Maybe he was feeling rather lonely – after all, if you spent your life taking money from other people you didn’t tend to have a lot of friends. Maybe he was simply having a slow day at work.

Whatever the reason, Zacchaeus decided he wasn’t going to let a crowd spoil his view. So can anyone tell me what he decided to do? That’s right, he decided to climb a sycamore-fig tree. By the way, if you go to Jericho today – and it is a real place – there are still sycamore-fig trees growing there, and you may even find someone trying to sell you souvenirs they say are of the actual tree Zacchaeus climbed! Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus is coming back – 1. The Last Days

November 12, 2018

Remembrance Sunday 11th November 2018

Readings – Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 5:14-16

The prophet Isaiah lived in dangerous times. There was a new superpower on the rise and it had its eyes on the little and now divided land of Israel. Already in Isaiah’s youth it had launched raids on the northern half of the kingdom and eventually destroyed it, and within a few years it would turn its attention to the southern half and seek to overthrow Jerusalem as well.

But the threat to the Jewish nation was not just political. With all the nations around them seeming to be more successful and more powerful, it wasn’t too surprising that people began to ask: where is the Lord in all this? Can He really be in charge when His people are suffering so much at the hands of others? And for some, the answer was a resounding no. After all, if the gods of these other nations kept delivering victory into their hands, then surely they had to be more powerful than the God the prophets said everyone should worship.

So throughout the land of Israel pagan shrines began to appear, with their own priests and sacrifices. The hearts of many turned to gods with strange names like Molech or Chemosh or Baal, and even some of the kings who should have known better began to worship them. After all, if the Lord wasn’t going to give them military or economic success, then they reckoned they better follow a god who would.

And plenty of the prophets who should have spoken up for the Lord also sided with the kings. Isaiah therefore was one of a small remnant who remained faithful in spite of everything that happened – often isolated, often misunderstood, and certainly deeply unpopular.

So why did Isaiah and those with him stand firm for the Lord? The short answer is, because the Lord gave him a vision of the future. Listen again to these words from Isaiah 2:1-2: This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Read the rest of this entry »

In the service of the King

October 29, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 28th October 2018

Readings – Psalm 2; Luke 19:11-27

In 4 BC the long and terrible reign of King Herod the Great came to an end, and the natural question arose as to who should succeed him. There were various contenders but the frontrunner was his son Archelaus. And just to prove that he was indeed a chip off the old block, Archelaus promptly slaughtered 3000 rioters at the annual Passover feast. It seems that, if his father could order the killing of every baby boy in Bethlehem, then Archelaus could just as well carry on the family tradition.

However Archelaus couldn’t simply proclaim himself king. The province of Judea was under Roman rule at the time and he needed to get permission from the emperor to take up his position. So leaving behind a country in tumult, he made the long journey to Caesar to have his appointment ratified. And bearing in mind that he had just killed a large number of his fellow countrymen, it is not too surprising that a delegation followed after, wanting to tell Caesar just what a terrible king Archelaus would make.

It’s little wonder that the memory of those terrible events were still fresh in people’s minds some 35 years later when Jesus told the story we heard just now from Luke 19:11-27. All that happened in the tumultuous times of Archelaus would have been passed on from parents to children and their children, and Jesus’ listeners would have been as familiar with the events as if they had happened yesterday.

And in doing my research for this sermon, I couldn’t help wondering what folk today are going to tell the next generation about what’s happening in the world right now. How are we going to explain to our children or our grandchildren something like Brexit or the rise of Donald Trump, for example? Despite all the lessons of history it seems that even 2000 years later we still allow the most unsuitable people to assume positions of power, and that we still suffer the consequences of such people’s actions. Read the rest of this entry »

Count all things loss

October 22, 2018

St Michael’s, Sunday October 21st 2018

Readings – Luke 18:18-30 (Psalm 15)

Last week, Tim shared with us the parable of the tax collector and Pharisee earlier in Ch 18 …

Jesus used parables to teach – they were often made memorable by caricature, humour or exaggeration … think of the illustration of the man with a plank in his eye!

And though we tend to think of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector as real people, Jesus used exaggeration to make his point here, too. No one listening to this parable thinks of themselves as the Pharisee so proud he prays to himself, though perhaps we have sometimes felt like the tax collector, beyond help or notice. But the lesson is simple, v14 ‘Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ In the Kingdom of God, any self exaltation or humiliation will be reversed – that is the way of the kingdom where all the values of the world are turned upside down.

I wonder if the man that approached Jesus in our story today had heard the parable? He too was wealthy and obedient to the faith, just as the Pharisee in the story appeared to be. But here was a real, live man, with all the advantages of the Pharisee in the parable … he had great wealth, and considered himself obedient to the law of God. Read the rest of this entry »

175th Anniversary sermon

October 1, 2018

29th September 2018, St Michael’s

Readings – Revelation 12:7-12; Matthew 18:1-10

You will struggle to find the history of St Michael’s in any official record of Plymouth or Devonport. I’ve looked in plenty of books over the years but found very little, if any mention, of the church. There is, it seems, nothing famous about St Michael’s. We have no stunning building of great architectural merit; we have no famous church members; we have no vicars who went on to become bishops or leaders. The history of St Michael’s is virtually unknown beyond some written documents and the memories of those still living. So why are we celebrating this anniversary today?

The answer comes in our gospel reading this afternoon, where the disciples ask Jesus “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Now we have no way of knowing why Jesus’ disciples asked this question or what answer they were expecting. But they probably imagined that Jesus would go on to talk about the rich or the respectable or the religious, because just as in our day, these were the sort of people who were considered most worthy of honour and reward.

Yet in response to their question Jesus does something truly extraordinary. He calls a little child to come and stand among them. And as they are looking at this child who is no doubt feeling rather shy and confused, Jesus makes a remarkable statement: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Read the rest of this entry »

Where everyone matters

August 28, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 26th August 2018

Readings – Colossians 4:7-18; Luke 10:1-20

So this morning we are coming to the end of our teaching on the book of Colossians. It’s been quite a journey and to me this has been one of the most significant sermon series in the sixteen years of my time at St Michael’s and St Barnabas. I know that many of you have been away over the summer or missed some odd Sundays, but I really would urge you to spend some time catching up online with what you’ve missed and going back over the book again. We have learnt so much that has been directly relevant to our lives both individually and even more importantly as a church, and I hope very much we will keep coming back to Paul’s teaching in the weeks and months ahead.

And as we reach the end, I thought it would be good for a moment to go back over the letter to remind ourselves just far we have come. As we saw, Paul had never actually visited the church at Colossae; he only had reports of what was going on there. It wasn’t a perfect church – in fact in many ways it was like our congregation here at St Michael and St Barnabas. It had all kinds of challenges, and it was particularly under threat from a form of false teaching that threatened the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet God was at work, and the evidence was in the faith that this little church held onto despite all the challenges they faced, and the love they had for all the saints. So before Paul goes any further, he tells them how much he thanks God for them, and he encourages them that what is happening there is only part of a growing, global movement called the church and that, as he says in verse 6, all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.

But this church also needed prayer and encouragement. So Paul also tells the church how he is praying for them. Chapter 1, verse 9: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. For, if the church at Colossae was to be the church God intended them to be, then they needed to know what God wanted them to do. That is why Paul continually prayed for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that they could indeed live a life worthy of the Lord. He wanted them not to rely on their own wisdom and on their own understanding but to discover what the Holy Spirit was calling them to do, in order that their plans and their priorities were God’s plans and God’s priorities and they could truly please Him in every good work.

And as we saw at the time, what Paul prayed for the church at Colossae should be very much how we are praying for our church here in Stoke and Devonport. After all, just as the church in Colossae faced many complex challenges, so do we also today. There is the challenge of outright persecution and hostility, and let’s not forget Paul was in chains as he wrote this letter. There is the challenge of false teaching inside the church, which may seem less obvious, but is nonetheless a real, if subtle, threat. There is the challenge of simply knowing how to apply our faith to our daily lives, and what it means to live for Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »

Faith in the workplace

August 20, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 19th August 2018

Readings – Colossians 3:22-4:6; Luke 11:1-13

The issue

For six years I worked as a chartered accountant in a small practice in Gloucestershire. The company in which I worked concentrated mostly on the motor trade and I could tell you many stories about the used car dealers who were on our books! I certainly learnt a lot about human nature, and I hope something of my experience helped to shape and mould my ministry today. I learnt about the pressures of running a small business, and all the paperwork that’s involved. I learnt about putting in a full day’s work and the strain of commuting each day. I learnt how to read a balance sheet and complete a tax return. And probably the most important lesson of all, I learnt how hard it can be as a Christian in the workplace.

To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think I had any real idea how to apply my faith to the nine to five routine. I had grown up with the teaching that if you are a Christian, you needed to tell everyone about Jesus, and if you didn’t, you were doing something wrong. Well, in my experience the opportunity to tell someone about Jesus came up very, very rarely and even if it did, I only thought of the right thing to say about 15 minutes afterwards. So on the whole I kept quiet. I went along with whatever was going on around me, yet all the time worrying I had somehow compromised my faith.

So looking back now after some twenty years in ministry, I sometimes wonder what advice I would give my younger self about sharing my faith? First of all, I would point out that in the New Testament there is no such thing as a lone ranger Christianity. To be a Christian in the workplace, you need to be part of a fellowship that is supporting you and praying for you on a regular basis. Secondly, only a very few people are gifted as evangelists. Of course we should all try to talk about Jesus when we can, but only a small minority of Christians have the spiritual gift of sharing their faith openly and easily. And thirdly, and most importantly, the New Testament says surprisingly little about evangelism. If you look at the teaching of Jesus or the writings of Paul, for example, the emphasis is far more on living in such a way that people sit up and take notice, and hopefully then go on to ask questions about what we believe.

So far in the book of Colossians Paul has presented his hearers with a wonderful, breathtaking vision of Jesus. He describes Him in Colossians 1:15 as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. A few verses later on he calls Him the one through whom God chose to reconcile all things to Himself and the one who brought us peace by dying on a cross for us. That may sound very abstract, theoretical teaching but all the way through the letter Paul wants to show us that such an understanding of Jesus should have a direct, practical impact on the way we live our lives. Those who place their faith and trust in this Jesus have in a spiritual sense already died and been raised to new life with Him. We have been given a new relationship with God as our Heavenly Father, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and we have a wonderful hope stored up for us in heaven.

The challenge

Read the rest of this entry »