Monday, April 23, 2007

Really good weekend! Spent much of Saturday morning clearing stuff from the Alban room and elsewhere, but sadly no skip! Oh well. Feel very good that some of the stuff that we seem to have been storing (for often no reason!) is now soon to be gone!!!

Sunday's worship was good... smaller congregations, but good feelings. We held an Extraordinary Meeting of parishioners straight after the 10am service to deal with nominating Church Wardens. No one has taken up the vacancy that terry has left, but Chris Craigen has agreed to fill the post for 1 year - what a star - on the understanding that someone else takes up the role next year.

Still praying for Richard, Martina and Sigrid after the early arrival of Hedvig. We are delighted for them but there is still a way to go...

Here with a version of Sunday's sermon. Next Sunday is Vocations Sunday and we welcome Vick Johnson from Westcott House as preacher. Should be good.


Illustration of a mistake...

Fortunately we know that making mistakes does not mean we cannot continue to share with Christ in his work. We know this from our story from John’s Gospel this morning. Peter has made a phenomenal mistake. He was the one guaranteed not to let Jesus down. All the others would fail, but not Peter – or so he thought. Then it was Peter who denied Jesus three times. Fear took over, fear of loosing his life, fear of being associated with somebody who claimed to be God. Fear of standing up for what he knew to be true.

So Peter goes fishing, good idea! Get away from it all, catch food, make money – but more importantly try and hide away from the failure. Peter could never come to terms with letting Jesus down and failing to be the rock which Jesus wanted him to be.

It was at this time of despondency that Jesus comes to Peter and greets him whilst he is fishing. Peter might have expected that Jesus would choose somebody else, somebody less impulsive and more reliable. But Jesus doesn’t, he chooses Peter, with all of his failings and disappointments. You see Jesus was never actually let down by Peter. Jesus knew that Peter was asking too much of himself. Jesus knew that it was only if Peter relied upon and trusted him that he could ever succeed. He could never achieve what Jesus wanted of him in his own strength. So here is Peter fishing all night and Jesus teaches him another lesson. Do as I say and you will catch the fish - and he does 153 of them.

How many fish there are is probably irrelevant, but the fact that Peter only catches them when he follows the directions of Jesus is most certainly not. The point is that what matters is that we heed the voice of Christ.

Past failure is not an indication of future performance in the Christian life, not unless we decide that to be the case. So Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. 'Three times you have denied me Peter, three times will I affirm your love.'

The love of Peter was never in doubt by Jesus, but Jesus did understand the frailty of Peter. The frailty which brought about his denial and the frailty which no doubt prevented him from sleeping at nights as his words of betrayal echoed in his ears. So Jesus shows Peter that no record is kept of past wrongs, Jesus shows Peter that he trusts him, - yes, in spite of failure and there is important work that he wants to share with him.

Peter realises that Jesus forgives, that is why the crucixion took place. Peter does nothing to earn the forgiveness of Jesus, it is just there and he needs to recognise it to enable him to heal the hurts and failures of the past and discover the new life and ministry which Jesus has for him.

The passage is about faithfulness and God’s trust and Jesus being there to help us pick up the pieces of our lives when everything is a mess. In that sense, like our first reading, it is about conversion and change after meeting the Risen Christ.

Peter let Jesus down, but even such a humbling experience did not preclude him from ministry. On the contrary it equipped him for it. Such a humbling experience would have established Peter far better for service in Christ's name. It is a simple case of gratitude, if we know our own lack of worth then we are not subject to illusions of self-worth and pride which inevitably causes us to think ourselves better than others.

Those who are aware of their own sin and have felt God's forgiveness are inevitably the most tender, compassionate, and understanding of others who are bruised or weak. It is the self-righteous who are not suited to God's purpose.

St. Isaac the Syrian taught, "He who has seen himself as he is, and has seen his sin, is greater than the one who raises the dead.”

When we are face up to and recognise our faults, then the opportunity comes for the spirit to change our practice of scorning, punishing and loathing weakness. St. Isaac went on, "Purity of heart is love for those who fall". This is a timely reminder to the church and for us when we think that purity is thinking our behaviour somewhat better in character than those around us.

Peter is asked to love Jesus, so are we. That love is understood by Jesus, not in terms of a feeling, rather that we display that love for Christ in how we love other people.

This is what we are called to do. It is surely true that such a humbling experience of failure would have established Peter far better for service in Christ's name. So too those of us who are aware of our own sin and have felt God's forgiveness are inevitably the most tender, compassionate, and understanding of others who are bruised or weak. It is the self-righteous who are not suited to God's purpose. Do not allow personal fear and weakness, or past failure ever to hold you a prisoner to the past. Instead see it as a qualification, for you will never be ‘holier than thou.’

The Risen Jesus uses Peter’s history of failure to equip him for the role of ministry and that ministry is to love. It is our encounter with him in our worship, in each other and in bread and wine and this command to love which must lie at the heart of the Christian life and without it there will be no Christian life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Easter Sunday Sermon follows. It was a good Holy Week and Easter - worship not as wella ttended as I would have liked but there we go...

Let's live the resurrection life!

On another note - I have the new Marillion album 'Somewhere Else' and the new Porcupine Tree album "Fear of a Blank Planet' - both are superb. The Marillion one is the most coherant and immediate album of theirs for 10 years and is EXCELLENT as they continue to progress and explore new sounds and textures. They have more in common with Talk Talk and The Blue Nile these days than their proggy past. The porcupine Tree continue to plough the metal forrow. It's good stuff but I expect it will take a while. Musically it flows obviously from Deadwing, but refers back to 'lightbulb Sun' is many ways which can't be bad at all... Anyway, here is that sermon:

I think one of Matthew’s all time favourite DVDs has to be ‘Madagascar.’ I guess that some here might have seen it. Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo get shipped out of the zoo and whilst being transported they are swept off deck into the sea. They wash up on the island of Madagascar. Once there they eventually meet the island’s population of Leemars and their King who has an announcer called Maurice who clearly doesn’t like his job or have much respect for the King either! (Cue fed up look and dead-pan voice) ‘...Presenting your royal highness, our illustrious King Julian the XIII, self-proclaimed lord of the lemurs, et cetera, et cetera, hooray, everybody...’ I think that Christians think Easter is a bit like that... ‘Jesus has risen from the dead, so what, it happened a long time ago, et cetera, et cetera, alleluia, everybody...’ But, if it really happened all those years ago, then that’s worth shouting about and telling other people.

I think friends that we can get swept up in the activity in a passage like today’s gospel. The grief-stricken, awe-struck women, dazzling bright angelic messengers, doubting disciples, curious Peter who goes home amazed... can distract from us focussing on really what’s going on here - the pressence and activity of God.

Today, Christians celebrate that God has raised Jesus from the dead. As contemporary Christians distanced by some 2000 years from this pivotal event in history, you might be hard pressed to distinguish us from those who do not share our faith. I guess my point is ‘... et cetera, et cetera, whatever, alleluia, everybody...’ is not an option. For, if what we celebrate today is true, we cannot be ambivalent about it.

If todays events are not, what the first disciples called an idle tale, and God has raised Jesus from the dead then he has shown all that Jesus did and said throughout his life and ministry, must be true. Namely, that Jesus really is God’s son, that he was crucified because of our sin (the things we all do and say that let ourselves, others and God down) and rose again, that he is alive now and we can know him for ourselves. It also shows that, death is no longer something to be afraid of. It shows us that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us and that (through faith in him) we shall all be raised to life. It shows that Eternal life begins now, not when we die, that Jesus gave his life for us and that we must give our lives back to him in love and service, and that like the first disciples, the resurrection calls us to be witnesses to the power of the resurrection. All of this is good news - literally what the bible calls Gospel.

Do we really believe it though? I think all too often Christians treat what we remember today a bit like Peter did. We hear the story again, sing the hymns again and at best we stare amazed at all that we hear, and then we go home.

My friends, I believe the miracle God performed that we recall today was not raising Jesus from the dead, but that we have heard the events of that day at all for ourselves! Friends, in hearing the story again for yourselves as we stand at the empty tomb, I invite you with Peter, to make up your own minds if it is true...

There is evidence for the resurrection. Firstly and most obviously The empty tomb - Jesus’ tomb was empty on Easter Day, despite the guard on the grave. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, where did his body go? If the authorities had taken it, they would have produced it when claims about the resurrection were made later. The disciples were as surprised as anyone by the resurrection. But later, most of them were killed because of their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, I think it is impossible to believe that they took the body and told lies.

Secondly, then there are the witnesses. In the New Testament we have accounts of more than 500 people claiming to have seen Jesus alive. Their encounter with the risen Jesus changed their lives and they were prepared to die for their belief. The witnesses not only saw him, they talked with him, walked with him, learned from him, ate with him and touched him.

Thirdly, the Church began. After Jesus was crucified, the disciples were demoralized and defeated. They were afraid and denied that they had ever known Jesus. Only a few days later they were risking their lives to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. Their witness was to turn the world upside down. What event (other than the resurrection) could have so transformed the disciples?

That’s good news! Friends, whether you like it or not, whether you believe it or not, life is different because of what we remember today. The angels did not try to convince the women of what they saw and experienced. They reminded them that Jesus had said it would happen, and told them to go and tell others. Since that moment, for over 2000 years it has done that. In every culture, men and women talk not only of having heard the story but of knowing the risen Christ for themselves, today, and in knowing Jesus their lives are made sense of, changed for the better offering peace, joy, love, and freedom from worry and fear.

The miracle we recall today in some senses is not the empty tomb, it’s not even that we have heard the story for ourselves today, but that God offers us changed lives full of peace, love freedom and joy and a relationship with the power behind the Big Bang. In the face of war, poverty, suffering, injustice, stress, unemployment, the school run - and so on this is still still the church’s message today, it is this church’s message today - yes even in Leverstock Green - interested?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Welcome to Holy Week...

We had the first of 2 film nights here at home yesterday evening. We watched the superb 'Jesus of Montreal' and had a good discussion afterwards. Tonight, I suspect that we will watch 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' just as a contrast! We are at the Rectory, not in church...

On Maundy Thursday we will be holding our Agape meal again. We are really undersubscribed this year with only about half the spaces taken. I must confess that I cannot help but feel disappointed. I hope people will want to sign up before Thursday. If they do, they will need to phone or email me here to book a place!



Monday, April 02, 2007

And the sermon for teh Sunday before - Passion Sunday which was used to offer my Vicar's report for our AGM held on teh same day...

Part 1: About 450 years ago, in the 1560s, English business people started kidnapping people from Africa. They treated them like luggage and took them to America in ships to be sold as slaves. The businessmen made a lot of money out of this and they didn’t care that conditions on board the ships were so terrible that up to 15% of the Africans they stole died on the voyages. As long as they made a profit on their human cargo that was fine by them.

Over the next 200 years between 10 and 12 million Africans were abducted and transported. Even the church was involved, with some Christian leaders saying that the Bible supported the slave trade. They said it was good for the Africans to go to America – they called it being civilized! They said that the slaves would get their reward in heaven.

Things began to change from about 1750 as more and more people in the church and outside it began to see how terrible slavery was, how unchristian and evil. In 1772 slavery was made illegal in England and Wales, and Scotland followed in 1778 – but that didn’t stop the businessmen who made all the money from continuing the slave trade with America.

William Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament. He was elected by the people of his home town of Hull in the north of England in 1780. In 1784 he became a Christian, and then he met Thomas Clarkson who was an Abolitionist – someone who worked hard to abolish slavery. Wilberforce was determined to put an end to slavery but he knew it wouldn’t be easy. He was right! For the next 18 years he asked the House of Commons to abolish slavery. He just kept on asking and working for change.

Eventually he did it! On 25 March 1807, 200 years ago, an Act of Parliament was passed to abolish slavery and slave trading in the British Empire.

He had won, but the story wasn’t over yet. The change in the law did not free those who were already slaves. It was 1833 before an Act of Parliament was passed giving freedom to all slaves in the British Empire.

Explain that we remember William Wilberforce as a Christian who believed passionately that all people were made equal in God’s sight, he knew a terrible evil when he saw it and worked tirelessly to end it.

He was passionate about his cause. Thing is, it wasn’t his cause... God is still passionate about each of us. He loves us enough to have sent Jesus his son to show us how much he loves us - even to die for us - to free all of us from slavery. All of us are slaves to sin - ignoring God’s will for us and others. He wants to right the injsutices of the world even today in just the same way.

Today is called Passion Sunday and it is a time when Christians remember Jesus getting ready for his death on the cross, today as we celebrate the beginning of the end of slavery because of the committed Chrsitian faith of people like WIlliam Wilberforce, let’s ask God to free us from the slavery of sin, and to work for the freedom of all who are still not free. PRAY

Part 2: Wilberforce was passionate about his cause. It is God’s cause. Pasion Sunday reminds us, as we turn our faces toward Jerusalem, God is still passionate about each one of us.

In this morning’s Gospel, Mary, Martha and Lazarus of all people knew of God’s passion for people in Jesus’ ministry - he had after all raised lazarus from the dead. In that context, Mary knew that Jesus’ own death was innevitable. She knew somehow that it was essential. Her gracious actions symbolically preparing for this. Judas missed the point - all he could see was a wasted opportunity to temporarily alleviate the suffering of some. He did not yet know that Jesus’ actions would alleviate the effects of our sin forever - freeing us into new relationships with each other and with God.
This same Jesus is passionate about this community too and longs for us to be freed into living relationships. Friends I want share a little of some of what that has looked like over the last 12 months.

Communicants on a Sunday averages about 90-100
Baptisms - 20 or so
Funerals 30 or so with an increasing number in church
Weddings - 15
167 (double that attending) communicants Easter
150 (Christmas eve and day) and 580 attending

Must be our main task - school - weekly act of worship, in church 4 times a year - support to pupils and staff alike. Assembly to afternoon - parents attending! Deepening relationship satisfactory Osted, excellent SIAS inspection - VC that thinks VA. Move from VC to VA status. Take 5, BBC etc. chair of Governors. School has a vison and a focus centred on Christian faith and a relationship with od and his church - last Sunday showed teh fruit of that.

FTF - 3 bible study groups, book discussion group, ftw. Renewed faith, vision and energy. Where do we go from here?

I have found this last year simultaneously rewarding and also extremely hard. I trust God that he is still passionate about us and he has shared a vison of priorities over the next few years:

Prayer - last 3 years have been about depening and nurturing faith, we need to be responsible for that ourselves. Prayer is at teh heart of a living relationship with God. prayer needs to be natural; our life blood. parish w/e away, pearls of life, spirituality school

small groups - Jesus’ most powerful ministry tended to be with individuals or small groups. place of nurture and care. Nt just 3 bible study groups, but others too. Meet with - encourage a social and a study.

lay ministry - virtue of baptism Christ calls all of us to follow and be his disciples. We each have gifts wich need to be used. Baptism is primary sacrament because it is not ordination or even concecration that calls you to service but baptism. King’s Langley. Building blocks now. visitng group (planning and leading worship, bereavement visiting, renewed emphasis on children’s work etc)

building - developping the resources of the building (trinity room revamp etc)

Trust God! On Passion Sunday - Jesus resoloutely turns toward embracing the cross and trusting God, his passion for humanity. Through all of the above we need to learn to trust God - so he is not last port of call in desperation, but the place where we start.
Rectory Musings
In 1992, Simon Wilson - a personal friend and one of Matthew’s Godfathers, was the victim of a hit and run car crash in rural Norfolk which left him chronically disabled. The driver was never caught but Simon’s experience led him to train for ordained ministry.

Recently he said, ‘For me forgiveness has been about making sense of what happened to me. I was 25, living with my parents and doing temporary work when early one morning I was the victim of a hit and run accident. The car came from nowhere, cut across me and forced me into the ditch. The next thing that I knew was that I was in intensive care having undergone major emergency surgery.

I was in hospital for three months and in the following years had 12 more operations. Then, four years ago, I was told that my condition was incurable and that the prognosis was not good. In a way that was almost liberating because up until then I’d always thought I could fix it... [as the year’s passed] I became difficult to be around. But I knew I had to work though it - find some sort of forgiveness so that I could bring closure to the situation.

Forgiveness is something you have to do every day and it’s something that you have to keep doing because anything can trigger that anger again. I’m not angry that the driver wasn’t locked up, but sometimes I do feel angry that they just drove off without checking to see if I was alive or dead.

One thing I find difficult is that in church I’ve heard sermons about forgiveness and thought ‘who are you to tell me to forgive?’ It can sound so easy but it’s the hardest thing in the world. Some people within the church believe you can’t forgive unless the other person repents but to me repentance isn’t a condition of forgiveness because ultimately forgiveness comes from within. Only I know whether I forgive or not.

Some people think I’m being pious telling people to forgive but actually I don’t tell anyone to do anything, I simply tell people that the place I’ve reached is a better place than the place I was at before....’

Forgiveness provides the lifeblood to the whole of Jesus’ ministry, even during this, the bleakest and darkest few days of his life. Yet, forgiveness is so often the antithesis of the way we react in any number of situations. Take Simon’s situation for example - wouldn’t a more ‘normal’ response be anger, fear, revenge. Forgiveness seems inappropriate even foolish.

How apt it is that April Fool’s Day - a celebration of ‘the fool’, the everyman who provides some light relief from the harshness of life - falls on Palm Sunday, where Jesus offers everyman... and woman and child relief from the harshness of life through forgiveness, reconciliation and the offer of eternal life. The cross itself epitmenises this paradox - on the one hand it is the instrument of torture and other the symbol of forgiveness and life - and it is a paradox- for through it God’s glory comes near.

Even here, facing death himself, Jesus offers someone forgiveness. He is crucified with two thieves. One is penitent. About to die, he has no time left to put his house in order or to make any reparation to those he has injured. Yet, when he asks to be remembered, he is promised paradise. Heaven is promised to the undeserving. That promise is our only hope. Foolishness! The other thief, too, turns to Jesus and, in his own bitter and sarcastic way, prays to him. I identify with him, for I, too, have said to Jesus: "If you are who you claim to be, then, for all our sake’s, do something!" Is there any hope for him? Is there any hope for others of us whose prayers are sometimes as angry?

If the penitent thief was promised paradise because he was penitent, then there’s no hope for the impenitent. You don’t need a degree in theology to work that out. But, if he is promised paradise, as Luke seems to believe, because God accepts the least deserving, then there’s a glimmer of hope for the impenitent thief, too — and for me. If God’s grace, displayed on Christ’s cross, is truly for the last ones you’d expect, if it is not conditional on the quality of my apology, then there is real hope.

It is far easier to discuss God’s forgiveness than to offer forgiveness ourselves. We still need to ponder what the Revd Julie Nicholson, a Church of England priest, said in the aftermath of the 7 July bombings in London in 2005, in which her daughter was killed. Her vocation was to preach the foolishness of forgiveness and then in a split-second, discovered that that foolishness was too much to bear.

Forgiveness is a foolish act and is impossible for us to offer without God having offered it to us first - through foolishly becoming one of us, through ridiculously standing against the religion of his day, through speaking and acting life in the face of death, through triumphantly entering the city as king on an ass, through hanging on a cross. Forgiveness is nothing short of holy madness, but God doesn’t offer it from a distance, aloofly, but from within, alongside us, from our side of the divide between us for it is from the heart of desolation and darkness on the cross flows liberating grace.

God has offers me, the impenitent thief, hope, even in the face of
death. God stumbles into the broken monotony of my life singing of destabilizing subversive grace and freeing me to become what Martin Luther King called ‘creatively maladjusted’ to the way the world works and how it expects me to react. He calls me to hold fast to the foolishness of Christ - not to rationalize or understand it - knowing that it is in his foolishness that our wholeness lies and that from him, and then even through me, that forgiveness flows.