Follow me – St Aubyn’s, 21st September 2017

September 25, 2017

St Aubyn’s, 21st September 2017

Reading – Matthew 9:9-13

When I left university many years ago, I already had a sense that the Lord might be calling me to the ministry. As I looked ahead to what He might be asking me to do with my life, I knew that one day I might well become a vicar. But also I knew that before taking the next step, I needed some experience of the real world. So I did the accounts of used car dealers for the next six years, and I have to say, I learnt so much about human nature. I ended up dealing with one client who said he had two bank accounts; I had found twenty-six by the time I had finished dealing with him. And naturally enough such work led into some interesting discussions with what was then called the Inland Revenue. I ended up being the go between the client and the collector of taxes, and needless to say, their demands were never that welcome.

Tax collectors, of course, have never been popular. In Jesus’ day they were even more unpopular because they collected tax on behalf of the hated Roman army. They didn’t receive a salary like the civil servants of today, so they made their money by taking their own cut from people’s earnings. They were notorious for their greed and their corruption, and it was little wonder that everyone hated them.

Well, not quite everyone. There was one person who loved tax collectors and his name was Jesus. Throughout the gospels you read how Jesus loved the sorts of people that most thought were unlovable – tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, to name but a few examples. It seems that Jesus had a particular heart for those others had written off or thought beyond the pale.

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The Holy Innocents

January 16, 2017

St Michael’s, January 8th 2017

Readings – Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 2:13-23

It may sound a crazy thing to say, but I believe that as a church we don’t celebrate the Christmas season as we ought. Now don’t get me wrong – I love the way we celebrate Christmas itself, and I for one found our services this year at St Michael’s particularly special. The point I am simply making is that for good practical reasons once we reach 25th December we tend to forget about the church calendar until we gather again in the New Year. Yet between 25th December and 6th January the church in its infinite wisdom has placed some important festivals which we usually overlook or ignore.

So on the day after Christmas we have – as one carol puts it – the feast of Stephen where we remember not so much Good King Wenceslas as the first martyr for the Christian faith, Stephen, stoned for his bold witness to Jesus. The day after that, the 27th, we remember John the apostle and evangelist who in his very long life gave us not only a gospel and three letters but also the book of Revelation. The examples of Stephen and John remind us that if we are to worship Jesus as our Saviour then we also have to be willing to bear costly witness to Him. This may be martyrdom, this may be patiently spending a lifetime speaking out the truth. But whatever our calling, these festivals so soon after Christmas remind us that our worship and our witness cannot be separated.

And then on 28th December we remember what the church calls the Holy Innocents, that is, the children who fell victim to Herod’s murderous rage. We nearly always skip over this passage, and for the best of reasons, but this morning I want to take a good, long look at it. Why? Well, for starters this passage from Matthew’s gospel reminds us of the world Jesus came to save – a world of injustice, suffering and pain. And you don’t have to look very far to see that in many ways the world today is exactly the same as the one he describes two thousand years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

The God who heals

April 20, 2016

St Michael’s, 17th April 2016

Readings – Matthew 9:14-26; Acts 9:32-43

What do we make of the claim that God heals?

At one extreme, there are some who positively insist that God heals today. Such people claim that if you just pray in faith you will see God powerfully at work, and experience an immediate change in your life.

At the other extreme, there are some who would say that all these healings we read about in the Bible were special works of God at a particular moment in history. They would not deny that God still works in power today, but they would question any claim that God still heals directly, and we must not expect such miracles to happen ourselves.

And for most for us, who probably are somewhere in between these two views, the whole question of healing can seem at times both confusing and also on a personal level quite challenging. I guess nearly everyone here today can talk about occasions when we have seen God work miracles. But we can also share many examples of when God has apparently not answered our prayers, and we have seen no immediate change. Read the rest of this entry »

The God who changes lives

April 15, 2016

St Michael’s 10th April 2016

Readings – Matthew 9:1-13; Acts 9:1-19

I was twelve years old when I committed my life to Jesus, and if you do the maths, that now seems a very long time ago. I was brought up by wonderful Christian parents, went with them to church every Sunday, even worked my way through the Bible reading notes they gave me. But it was when I was twelve I realised I needed to make my own decision as to whether Jesus would be Lord over my life.

My testimony is not dramatic or particularly unexpected. I was away on a youth weekend with my Sunday School teachers, and for the first time I understood for myself Jesus died on a cross to forgive me my sins. At the end of the meeting I asked for a copy of the booklet Journey into Life and later on, I prayed the prayer of commitment at the end.

But my actual conversion only took place about six months later. You see, although I prayed that prayer, I didn’t really grasp what difference Jesus would make to my life. I didn’t feel any different nor did Jesus seem any more real or personal than before, so for the next six months I carried around big questions about the Christian faith.

What made the difference was going away to a Christian holiday centre in Yorkshire called Scargill, a sister community to Lee Abbey. It wasn’t that the youth leaders there said anything new to me, indeed I can’t remember any of their teaching. But it was the love they showed to a precocious and rather obnoxious teenager which showed the reality of Jesus to me. So when I got home from holiday, I prayed that prayer again and this time I knew that Jesus was real and that He was my Saviour.

Why do I mention this? Very simply, because to me the most compelling evidence that Jesus has risen from dead is found in the simple fact He still changes lives today. He changed my life thirty-six years ago. He has changed the lives of many of you sitting here this morning. And I know He is in the process of changing lives even as I speak. Read the rest of this entry »

Under the authority of Jesus

April 7, 2016

St Michael’s Easter Sunday 3rd April 2016

Readings – 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; Matthew 28:16-20

There is little doubt that the Easter story is the strangest and most dramatic story ever written. Here are two women who set out early one morning to look at the tomb of their Lord and Master. They are travelling without hope, expecting only to find a grave. Yet when they arrive, what do they discover? A stone rolled away, and an angel with a most amazing message: He is not here; He has risen, just as He said.

I for one find it really hard to imagine what it must have been like for the women at this point. They, along with everyone else, believed that Jesus really had died, and not unreasonably they expected this to be the end of the story. Yet here is the evidence of an empty tomb and the power of God at work. It must all have been so confusing, so upsetting, and yet perhaps so wonderful to behold.

And so Afraid yet filled with joy the women run from the tomb to tell the disciples. They cannot guess what has taken place, and they can have no idea what is going to happen next. Suddenly Jesus met them.

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Your Father knows

February 29, 2016

St Michael’s, 21st February 2016

Readings – 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Matthew 6:1-8 (16-18)

When I was about 7 or 8, Mum and I had an argument – not an unusual event in our household I have to admit. But on this one particular occasion I remember, we were in the living room, and to end the argument (or perhaps to avoid losing it) my Mum stormed out of the room and headed down the hall for the kitchen. Before she’d even reached the kitchen door, while she was still out of sight, she called back, ‘And don’t poke your tongue out at me!’ … how did she know? I was totally astonished … there was no way she could have seen me … I checked all the angles, the reflection in the hall mirror, the direction of the windows … I seriously thought she was a witch!

Roll on the years and I become a mother myself. Now, I have never used the girls as illustrations for our sermons, but they’re grown up now, they’re not here to be embarrassed, and this particular story has passed into the family folklore. I’ve asked M’s permission, too – she just wants me to tell you that she’s not the same girl any more!

Anyway, when M was young – preschool or early years – if ever she was told off, or we had a disagreement, she would storm out of the house. It used to worry me at first – it was a quiet street, there was very little traffic so there was little danger, it was simply that I didn’t know where she was. But I very quickly learned that if I left the front door open, in a matter of minutes she would sneak back into the house and go to bed for a nap – it was her safe place, her sanctuary. I would wait to hear her footsteps on the stairs, then go and shut the front door and let her sleep for a while. On this particular occasion, I listened quietly for her to return, heard her come in the door, climb up the stairs, but at the top I heard her turn right into our bedroom, instead of left into her own. So I called upstairs, ‘And go and sleep in your own bed, not mine!’.

She was down those stairs so fast I felt dizzy, ‘How did you know?!’ .. the mystery was solved for me (though I didn’t tell M for a few years – let her think I had that much power!). My Mum knew I would poke my tongue out at her, because I always did – it was my rebellion. I knew M always came back and went to bed … though she never tried to sleep in mine again. Mums know these things.

Now I know that when I hear a good story in a sermon, I quite often remember the story – but not the point it was illustrating. So let me tell you right at the beginning, if you remember nothing else I say this morning, the punch line is quite simply, ‘God your Father knows’ … my Mum and I both knew what our children would do simply from past experience. Yet they are always capable of surprising us … our knowledge, especially of the future as they grow and develop into adults themselves, is limited. Read the rest of this entry »

Being the church

February 8, 2016

St Barnabas and St Michael’s, 7th February 2016

Readings – 1 Corinthians 6:1-11; Matthew 5:21-26

From a very early age I have been fascinated by etymology. That’s not to be confused with entomology which is the study of insects. I mean etymology – the study of the origin of words and phrases. That’s one reason why on the very rare occasions I watch Countdown I always enjoy what Suzie Dent says in Dictionary Corner and why I like to read her column in the Radio Times. She makes you think about so many everyday expressions or phrases that perhaps you’ve never really considered before. For example, in this week’s Radio Times she explains how a “purple patch” of good fortune comes from the idea of purple being the colour associated with abundance and wealth – and I, for one, find that sort of thing fascinating.

However, knowing the origin of words does far more that simply give us random information that may or may not interest us. Knowing the origin of a word helps us be clear what exactly it means and how we should use the term correctly. For example, take the word “church”. This is a word that nowadays has a wide variety of meanings. It can refer to a building – we sitting here today in the church of St Barnabas (St Michael’s). It can refer to an institution – we talk, or perhaps more accurately complain, a lot about the Church of England.

But what was the original meaning of the word “church”? Read the rest of this entry »