The mission of Jesus

September 18, 2017

St Michael’s, 17th September 2017

Readings – Galatians 3:1-9; Mark 8:27-38

If you were to start a movement that would change the world, who would you choose to lead that movement? I guess the most obvious answer would be to recruit people with money and influence – a famous movie star, perhaps, or the winner of X Factor, or a leading footballer.

But of course, when you read the gospels, you see that the twelve apostles that Jesus chose were neither rich nor influential. They included, amongst others, some fishermen, a tax collector, a former terrorist, and someone who would later betray him. They were the most extraordinary collection of different personalities and temperaments, and in many ways the most unlikely of men to lead what would later be called the church of Jesus Christ. Yet such were the people Jesus chose. So the question we have to ask is this: how did Jesus manage to train and transform them so that one day they would be able to change the course of history?

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The end of the story

August 28, 2017

St Michael’s 27th August 2017

Readings – Revelation 22:1-21; Matthew 25:14-30

What makes for a great ending to a story? Think for a moment about some of the films you’ve seen or books you have read. What has been your favourite ending? If you’re a romantic, it may be where the hero and heroine sail off into the sunset together, for a life of wedded bliss. Or you may prefer a good murder mystery where the detective gathers everyone together in the drawing room and unmasks the real criminal. Or you may be into a good old-fashioned western where just at the last minute the posse rides over the horizon and rescues the frontier town from outlaws.

But whatever your taste, it seems to me there are two essential ingredients in any great ending. First of all, what happens at the end has to connect with everything that has gone before. There is nothing worse than a plot twist that suddenly changes the whole direction of the story, or introduces new characters right at the very end. We want to know that most, if not all of the loose ends of the story have been tied up, and even if the ending surprises us, we can at least see how we arrived at this particular conclusion.

Secondly, unless we are feeling particularly depressed, we like to finish our book or our film with the hope of a better future. We want the hero and heroine to come together, or the crime solved, or order restored. We generally want to be uplifted and inspired, not left feeling worse than when we first entered the cinema or turned on the TV. We want the hope of a better future.

Story-writers know all this. That’s why, even before they begin writing their script, they have to have some idea of where they are going, and how all the pieces of their plot will come together in the end. And one of things I hope we’ve learnt from our journey through Revelation is that from before the beginning of the world God already knew the end of our story. Even as the world was made, He had planned what was going to happen throughout human history, and He had seen how one day all things would come together.

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A new heaven and a new earth

August 21, 2017

St Michael’s, 20th August 2017

Readings Matthew 25:1-13; Revelation 21:1-14; 22-25

I have always loved maps. I love the challenge of unfolding an Ordnance Survey map, working out a route, interpreting all the symbols and looking out for any strange place names along the way. Over the years I have built up quite a collection of these maps, and from time to time I like just looking at one and reading it like a book.

Of course like many people we rarely take maps with us any more when we are going on a journey. The humble map has for the most part been replaced by the Satnav. You simply enter the postcode of your destination and away you go. The days of unfolding the map in a hurry, working out what’s happening at the next junction, and hoping you’ve taken the right route are well and truly over. You set your goal and unless you blindly follow your Satnav down the nearest country lane you arrive safe and sound at the end of your journey.

I’ve been thinking a lot about destinations as I’ve been preparing this morning’s sermon from our reading in Revelation. Some of us have quite clear goals in life, and we’re already well on the way to achieving them. Some of us aren’t really quite sure where we’re going, and every time we have to make a decision, it’s as if we still have to get out the map, unfold it and hope that we are setting off on the right track.

But as I hope will become clear this morning – if we believe and trust in Jesus Christ then, whether our future seems crystal clear or quite uncertain, there is a final destination of which we can all be sure, and to which we all are heading. Some call the destination heaven, others call the destination paradise. But whatever you call it, it is a new and glorious future beyond anything we can ever imagine.

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The breaking of the seals

August 15, 2017

St Michael’s 13th August 2017

Readings – Revelation 6; Matthew 24:1-14

There is a part of me that wishes the book of Revelation finished at chapter 5. For all that the first five chapters contain some unfamiliar images, and strange turns of phrase, chapters 1-5 are reasonably easy to understand. We learn in chapter 1 that the apostle John has been exiled to the island of Patmos because of his faith. There he receives a vision of Jesus as the Son of Man now living and exalted in heaven. On Jesus’ instruction John writes letters of warning and encouragement in chapters 2 and 3 to the seven churches in what is nowadays modern Turkey. In chapter 4 John is granted a vision of heaven, and in chapter 5 we learn that at the centre of heaven is Jesus who holds all of history in his right hand. Chapter 5 finishes with a great hymn of praise to Jesus, sung not only by the angels but as verse 13 tells us every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and as we hear what they are singing it is hard not for us to join in.

So far so good. But in chapter 6 the Book of Revelation takes a strange, disturbing turn. Here are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse on white, red, black and pale green horses. Death and famine are let loose. Martyrs are crying out to heaven for vengeance. A great disaster overtakes humanity. And this is only the start of some seriously weird events which occupy most of the rest of the book. So how on earth do we make sense of what is going on? And what possible relevance can it have to us anyway?

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The worship of heaven

August 9, 2017

St Michael’s 6th August 2017

Reading: Revelation 7

Were any of you at Home Park last season when Argyle won promotion? What was the atmosphere like?

This morning, whether you support Argyle or not, I want you to imagine you are in the crowd at a match where your favourite team are winning. You are there shoulder with shoulder with your fellow supporters, cheering as the goals go in, and counting down to the final whistle. Very soon the referee will blow up and the celebrations will begin.

Naturally your attention is on the pitch – but just take a moment to glance at the fans around you. Most of them have been supporting the team for a long time, so what are they likely to be wearing? That’s right, football shirts with the names of their favourite players. And what are they likely to be holding in their hands above their heads? To them, nothing is more important in that moment than the fact they are members of the Green Army, and they want to be identified as such. That’s why they are wearing the shirt and waving their scarves in their hands. And why are they on their feet and singing? Of course – they want to praise their team and celebrate their achievements. The last home game of the season I even saw a few fans bowing down to the players as they did their victory lap.

However, yesterday the new season opened. No-one knows where Argyle will be in the league next May. Maybe the last game of the coming season there will be a glum silence around the ground, or even a chorus of boos. Maybe a few fans – politely, of course – will be asking the manager to reconsider his position or the chairman to quit.

In our world, as we know all too well, winners can easily become losers. A successful team one year can sometimes go down the following year. But in heaven the situation is very different. The people there will be celebrating a victory that is permanent and forever. No-one will be facing the prospect of going down to the other place – and I don’t mean League Two.

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The unfolding of the scroll

July 31, 2017

St Michael’s 30th July 2017

Reading – Revelation 5:1-14

One of the most important victories of the Second World War took place not in direct battle on land or in the air or at sea, but at a site in Buckinghamshire which up until that point was only famous for its manor house that still stands there. It was bought in 1938 by the head of MI6 with his own money because the government didn’t have the funds. But within a few years Bletchley Park had become the centre of the most famous codebreaking operation in history, and it changed the course of the war. Hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women spent every moment of every day intercepting German signals and eventually learning how to decipher them. If there had been no breakthrough at Bletchley Park then possibly the war would not have been won. Certainly it would have been even longer, harder and bloodier than it already was, and many more lives would have been lost.

I was thinking about the breaking of the Enigma code as I came to our passage from Revelation this morning. Because our reading also starts with something top secret that needs decoding. It is a scroll that is covered in writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals (verse 1). The fact it has seven seals shows it is protected with the highest level of security. We know it is important because it is held in the right hand of Him who sits on the throne, that is God. But unlike the Enigma code there is no brain bright enough to be able to open the scroll or even look inside it. What the scroll contains is a deep, deep mystery that not even the best intelligence agency is able to fathom.

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July 29, 2017

St Michael’s 23rd July 2017

Reading – Revelation 4:1-11

What is the most beautiful or breathtaking place in the whole world you have ever been to? What is it that made it so special?

Six years ago I was fortunate enough to visit Israel. There were so many amazing places to visit: the site where Jesus is said to have been born; the tomb where Jesus was laid; the mountain where Jesus ascended into heaven – all of them powerful and never to be forgotten reminders that the Bible tells the story of a real person who lived a real life so many years ago.

But to me the most special place in the whole trip was down by the shore of Lake Galilee. It was such a beautiful and tranquil location – plus the fact there were loads of cute rock badgers looking on. Of course what made it even more significant was knowing that Jesus Himself walked on this very shoreline – calling the local fishermen to follow Him, preaching the good news to the crowds, healing the sick and the demon-possessed.

I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Israel. But I do know that thanks to Jesus I have been given the opportunity to go to somewhere even more wonderful. And for this journey, I won’t need a passport or a package tour. I won’t need to go searching in the ruins of history. No, Jesus offers me the chance to go to none other than where my Heavenly Father lives. And it won’t be some exotic foreign place with a different language and strange local customs. It will be in the deepest sense of the word home, a place where I can belong forever.

We often call this place heaven, and in our first reading this morning we hear how a man called John is shown a vision of what heaven is like. How he describes heaven is perhaps very different from how we usually imagine this place. We might think of angels on fluffy clouds playing harps, or a long road up to some pearly gates. John’s vision is far stranger and perhaps even slightly disturbing. There is a rainbow, and flashings of lightning, and a sea of glass. There are bizarre-looking creatures flying around constantly singing. And in the middle there is a throne with someone sitting on it – God Himself.

Now I’m not going to explain every detail of John’s vision. What we have to realise is that John is trying to describe the indescribable. Heaven will be so different from any place we have ever seen before it is hard to put into words what it is like. But the main point John wants to get across is that heaven is real, and we’ll see why that’s so important in a moment.

Of course I realise many people have tried to describe heaven. People publish whole books about their experiences of apparently seeing God, and there’s always a ready market for such material as, for obvious reasons, I guess most of us really do want to know more about heaven. So the question is: how do we know John’s vision of heaven is the right one? Why should we trust His description more than one we find, say, in W.H.Smith’s? Read the rest of this entry »