… to seek the forgiveness of our sins

May 15, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 13th May 2018

Readings – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Matthew 5:21-26

On the surface the church in Corinth was an exciting place to be. The services were full of the Holy Spirit. Men and women would regularly stand up to prophesy. People frequently prayed in tongues. The sermons were full of eloquent rhetoric and those outside the church spoke well of its leaders.

But if you dug a little deeper, you would soon find that the church faced all kinds of problems. For a start, each leader attracted their own group of followers and the church was splitting into factions. When the church came together for a meal, some brought lots of food to eat, and some brought nothing, showing the huge gap that existed between the rich and the poor. There were some who resented Paul’s leadership and spread rumours he wasn’t the man he claimed to be.

So when Paul sat down to write to the church in Corinth, he knew had to deal decisively with this issue. He was well aware that whenever there are splits, factions or divisions within a church, that church is less than God intends it to be. No matter how exciting the services, no matter how impressive the leaders, if there was no unity, then the work God wanted to do in and through the church was being undermined. Read the rest of this entry »


… to offer our praise and thanksgiving …

April 24, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 22nd April 2018

Readings – Luke 17:11-19; 1 Peter 2:4-12

Being a leper in first century Israel was a miserable existence. Whether or not you actually had leprosy was beside the point. Everyone could see you had a horrible disease and they did whatever they could to stay away from you. You had no friends, no family, nowhere you could call home. The only support you had was from your fellow lepers. You would stick together for survival, living on the very edge of society, shunned and barely existing, wondering where your next meal would come from.

And there was no point turning to the religious leaders for help. They told everyone you were under the judgement of God. You were in their eyes unclean, a threat to their ritual purity. If they saw you coming, they would definitely pass by on the other side of the road. You were a hazard to be avoided at all costs.

But for one band of lepers at least there was a glimmer of hope. They had heard about Jesus. Reports had reached them He had a particular heart for the outcast, the poor, the broken. And so they thought maybe, just maybe, He could help. Of course there was a risk Jesus might reject them. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had turned their backs on them. Yet they really had nothing to lose.

So when they heard Jesus was in the neighbourhood, the ten of them got together and approached – not too close, but just near enough that He could their appeal: Jesus, Master, have pity on us. Now we have no way of knowing what they expected Jesus to do. Perhaps they were hoping for an instant miracle – if so, they were sorely disappointed. Jesus’ response was not exactly rejection, but it certainly wasn’t anything dramatic: Go, show yourselves to the priests.

No doubt the lepers had been to the priests many times already. It was the job of the priest to examine a person’s skin and decide if he or she was unclean. And it was the priests who had already banished them from society. So you might well wonder why these ten lepers decided to do what Jesus said. But they heard His words, they obeyed, and they went. Read the rest of this entry »

We have come together in the name of Christ

April 21, 2018

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 15th April 2018

Readings – John 10:11-16; Hebrews 10:11-25

So spring has arrived. The lambs are skipping in the fields. A new cricket season has started, and the weeds in the garden are growing wild. But for students up and down the land now is not one for thinking about the turning of the year, for, as many of you know well, exam season is well and truly upon us. And if being a young person wasn’t stressful enough in its own right, the next couple of months will be full of questions such as “Have I done enough?” “Will I be able to understand the exam paper?” And most importantly, “Will I make the grade?” We should never underestimate the stress our young people are facing right at this moment and we need to do all we can to support those among us working in education.


Of course the vast majority of us have finished with exams long ago. But I do sometimes wonder if they still leave their mark upon us. For example, there are many people who spend their whole lives wondering how exactly they are supposed to get into heaven. They’ve heard about God who is the maker and judge of all people, and they know that one day they will meet Him. And quite frankly, they do not know how to prepare for that day. They keep asking themselves, “Have I done enough to make the grade?” “Will God be pleased with me?” “Will He, indeed, let me in?”

Now once upon a time there was a monk in Germany who wrestled exactly with these same questions. His name was Martin Luther. He was so worried about not being ready to meet with God, he would constantly go off to confession and admit to some small or trivial sin he thought he had committed. His confessor was a very wise and patient man, but in the end even he reached the end of his patience and said, “Why don’t you go off and do something that really needs confessing – like killing your mother or father? Or committing adultery?”

Fortunately Martin Luther didn’t follow his confessor’s advice. Instead he turned to the pages of the Bible and looked again at his whole relationship with God. Did God really intend him to spend his whole life worrying whether he had done enough to earn His favour? Or was there some better way to live? So Martin began to read the Bible and to study and to pray. And as he did so, he made a profound discovery that changed his life and the lives of countless Christians afterwards.

For what he found as he studied the Scriptures was that there indeed was nothing that he could ever do through his own effort that would please God. When God came to judge him at the end of his life, there would be no good works he could plead sufficient to let him into heaven. God’s pass mark would always be 100% perfection and there was no way he could even get close to that standard. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »