He has risen

April 10, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 1st April 2018

Readings – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

There was a man who took his dog for a walk through the woods down to the lake. As he was going through the woods, he picked up a stick. When he reached the lake, he threw it into the water for the dog to fetch. The dog stopped for a moment, looked at his master and then walked across the water to fetch the stick. “This is strange,” thought the man, “I wonder if he will do that again.” So he picked up the stick, threw it into the water to see what would happen. The dog looked at his master again, and then once again walked across the water to fetch the stick.

“I must be seeing things,” said the man. Fortunately at this moment his good friend and neighbour was walking past. “Watch this,” said the man, “what do you think?” He threw the stick, the dog walked across the water and came back with it in his mouth. “That’s truly amazing,” said the neighbour, “your dog can’t swim!”

Sometimes it can be very easy to miss the point, can’t it? Today is Easter Sunday. For some people, this is a time to catch up with family and friends, for others, an opportunity to eat as much chocolate as possible, for still others, to go on an Easter egg hunt and see how many eggs they can find. Now all of these things are good to do (although I’m not too sure about the chocolate), but let’s make sure today none of us miss the main point of Easter. As the angel told the women on that first Sunday morning, You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! Read the rest of this entry »


Loving one another

April 10, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 29th March 2018
Maundy Thursday

Reading – John 13:1-17

One of the things I have discovered over the years is just how much has been written on the subject of church growth. Indeed I have a whole section on my bookshelves devoted exclusively to this topic, and most of them, I have to say, are a fascinating read. Some of them focus on bare facts and figures, showing what lessons can be learnt from the data on the ground. Some of them are about new expressions of church, and bold experiments in reimagining what church can be all about. Some of them are simply accounts of one person stepping out in faith and seeing what the Lord is doing. And I guess one reason why I have all these books is that church growth is something that we all long to see. We want a church where week by week more and more people come, where men and women of every age are growing in faith, where there are regular stories of conversion and lives changed for good.

But I also suspect that so often we make the whole subject of church growth more complicated than we should. Perhaps sometimes we are so desperate to see the Lord at work we focus more on strategies and techniques, than simply offering our lives to Him in humble, trusting obedience. If you look through the gospels, you will see that Jesus doesn’t deal in formulas to achieve this or that end result, and He doesn’t make promises of guaranteed success. What He does say however quite clearly is: Love one another. In fact during the course of the Last Supper He says it at least twice. Because as far as Jesus is concerned, if we want to make an impact on the world around us, if we want people to respond to the good news, then the place to start is by looking at our relationships one with another. Read the rest of this entry »

Dealing with persecution

March 27, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas, 25th March 2018

Readings – Psalm 69:1- 18; Mark 14:43-65

Hussein is a 68 year old believer in Uganda. He spent most of his adult life as a leader of the local Muslim community. He secretly converted to the Christian faith in 2006 but kept his faith hidden for over 10 years. Then he offered his land for the building of a church. A local mob set out to kill him, and three young men visited him, pretending to be interested in getting some Bibles. Hussein has now fled to a refugee camp, having lost everything.

Hannah grew up in North Korea. She found life there too difficult there and fled to China where she became a believer. But then she and all her family were discovered by the Chinese secret police and deported back to North Korea where they were detained in a labour camp. There Hannah’s husband was killed for his faith. Hannah managed to escape to South Korea but remains in fear of her life. Hannah is not her real name.

In India a Christian family wanted to bury their baby girl. But local Hindu extremists demanded that the child be buried outside the village. Eventually the family paid a large amount for the burial to take place on the land they owned. But the night after their girl was laid to rest, a mob attacked the family and burned their home to the ground. The mother, father and other daughter were all injured in the process.

These are just a few of the stories collected by Open Doors, a charity which seeks to support the persecuted church worldwide. This charity reports that across the world over 200 million Christians face high levels of persecution, and that this persecution is rising. Last year at least 692 churches and Christian buildings were attacked. More than 1922 Christians were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. They also calculate that every month over 100 Christians are forcibly married against their will.

Now none of us have ever faced the same level of opposition because of our faith in Jesus Christ. But even so I guess we all can think of situations where people make fun of us, or single us out because we dare to call ourselves a Christian. Perhaps you live with a family member who can think of no earthly reason why you would go to church this morning. Perhaps you work in a setting where publicly expressing your faith is a disciplinary offence. Perhaps you are at a school or college where you are very much on your own as a believer. Sometimes it really is tough to follow Jesus, isn’t it?

But if we are familiar with the gospel of Mark, then we shouldn’t be surprised by our treatment. Read the rest of this entry »

The heart of prayer

March 20, 2018

St Michael’s, 18th March 2018

Readings – Psalm 22:1-11; Mark 14:36-52

It may just be me, but it seems that probably the hardest subject for Christians to talk about is prayer. Prayer is something that is intensely personal and also quite difficult to explain. Yes, we’ve all prayed at some point or other in our lives. Indeed some of us here pray quite regularly and usually appear to find the right words. But all of us at one time or another find prayer a struggle and perhaps don’t know where to start. And sharing our difficulties with one another, well, that’s a bit embarrassing or awkward. How you pray is probably very different from how I pray. I need to know you well before I open up about my questions. So I guess for most of us we muddle on in our prayers, sometimes glimpsing answers, but sometimes, if we’re honest, feeling confused about what we’re doing, or whether indeed our prayers are going to make any difference at all.

If that in any way describes your prayer life this morning, then I very much hope that our reading from Mark is for you. And particularly if you have never, ever discussed the subject of prayer with anyone else before, I want to encourage right away to have a word with me afterwards, so we can book some time to talk. If nothing else, I want you to take away the fact that God wants you to pray and that He understands your struggles more deeply than you might ever imagine.

Now over the past few weeks we have been following Jesus’ last few days as He heads towards the cross. We’ve been with Him at Bethany where an unknown lady has anointed His head with perfume. We’ve sat with Him at the Last Supper where He has shared bread and wine with His followers. We’ve looked on as Judas has quietly disappeared from the scene, hoping no-one has noticed. We’ve heard Peter’s promise never to disown His master.

What’s been extraordinary is that at every stage of the journey Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen to Him. He knows He is going to be buried in a cold, dark tomb. He knows His body is going to be broken and His blood poured out. He knows Judas will betray Him and Peter, one of His closest friends, deny Him. It is clear Jesus knows the whole story of what is going to happen to Him, including the resurrection on the third day. Read the rest of this entry »

The woman who anointed Jesus

February 19, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 18th February 2018

Readings – Psalm 31:1-8; Mark 14:1-11

No-one ever wanted to miss the Passover – it was the highlight of our year. Everyone would come from every part of Judea to Jerusalem, to offer sacrifices at the temple as we gave thanks to God who had rescued our ancestors from Egypt. It was a great time of coming together, of families uniting in praise and celebration, and you would do whatever you could to be there.

I had a special reason for being there that year. I better explain, my name is… well, I won’t say exactly. Even now if I say who I am, there are some who still remember me in the bad old days, when I had a bit of a reputation. I was the sort of woman mothers told their growing boys not to mess with. When the teachers of the law saw me walking down the street, they would cross over to the other side. Not that I was usually out that much during the day anyway.

But that was before I met Jesus. I never realised until I met Him how much hurt and shame and anger I carried around inside me. I had been hiding my true self for so long I never realised how much I needed forgiveness and release. I had expected Jesus simply to condemn me like every other religious leader I had met, but no, He showed me such care, such compassion that with a grateful heart I turned to the Lord and began to follow Him wherever He went. I became part of a community of real all sorts, united by just one thing – that Jesus had turned our lives right around and changed our hearts for good.

So I hope you can see why I was so excited to be going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with Jesus. I wanted to praise the Lord for my deliverance, and I was looking forward to worshipping with my newfound family of believers. But I was also nervous as well. I had heard rumours the religious leaders were plotting something against Jesus. Exactly what, nobody knew. We had always been aware they didn’t like what Jesus was doing. They used to come and watch His every move, muttering to themselves how wrong it was for Him to make friends of women like me, or actually dare to heal someone on a Sabbath, or go into the house of someone who worked with the Roman army. It was like they had a checklist of complaints that gradually grew longer and longer. Read the rest of this entry »

The story of Mary Magdalene

April 19, 2017

St Michael’s, Easter Day 2017

Reading – John 20:1-18

People often ask me what it was like that first Easter morning. My simple answer is that it was dark. I don’t just mean dark as in no light. I mean the whole mood and atmosphere of that morning was dark. Never before had I ever felt such terrible, bleak despair and I thank God from the bottom of my heart I never will again.

But let’s start from the beginning. My name is Mary Magdalene, and you probably think I’m some kind of a saint. Let me tell you, in the bad old days I was anything but. I was a wild, wild woman. People used to think I was crazy, and if you heard stories about what I used to do, they were probably true. I kept saying I couldn’t help myself, and as my life span out of control, I never knew who I was going to hurt next.

However, that was before I met Jesus. Now I had met religious people who had either preached at me or tried to drive the demons out of me. None of them had ever had much effect, except to make me try and avoid them like the plague. But Jesus was different. He had such love and such power that He turned my life right around. It’s said that He drove seven demons out of me. I don’t know whether that’s right or not, but the moment He came into my life, I knew a peace, a healing and a forgiveness I never thought was possible. He changed my heart once and for all, and I knew I owed Him everything. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus the resurrection and the life

April 3, 2017

St Michael’s, 2nd April 2017

Readings – Romans 8:1-11; John 11:17-44

As some of you know I have a brother. He lives in Shropshire and considers the Midlands to be his home. He is an electronics engineer. He loves DIY and putting things together. He doesn’t play a musical instrument, and he doesn’t write creatively. He doesn’t look an awful lot like me, although I’ve been told we both have a similar walk. In short, my brother is very different from me, although we are both family and even more importantly believers.

I do sometimes wonder quite why we are so different, but then again, I look at plenty of families and I never cease to be amazed just how unalike brothers and sisters can be. Maybe in the way they look, maybe in their character, maybe in their faith. Sometimes it can even be hard to believe that these two people are related to each other, and yet somehow they are.

Now in the pages of the New Testament we find two sisters who are also very different from each other – Martha and Mary. We first come across them in Luke’s gospel where Luke describes Jesus’ visit to their home (Luke 10:38-42):

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Do you get the picture? Here is Martha, the practical, efficient one, always on the go, always fussing about what needs to be done. And here is Mary, probably the younger sister, easily distracted, prone to forget what she’s supposed to be going. No doubt it wasn’t always easy for Martha and Mary to live together under one roof. And yet for all their differences, somehow their relationship worked. They were generous hosts. They made Jesus welcome whenever he passed through their village of Bethany – just outside Jerusalem. I can see Martha in the kitchen, clattering pots and pans, hoping Mary would get the hint, while Mary carries on entertaining the guests, pretending not to hear her sister. Read the rest of this entry »