Sunday, October 26, 2008

My, what a day! My voice has pretty much gone...! Good 10am service today... well attended and some people becoming regular faces... Roll on half term... tired and need a break! Good to see Pat Kibble there too though...

Here is a version of this morning's sermon, but I have to say that it came out slightly differently to this... often do!

As I write this, I have two songs in conflict in my head. One is “All you need is love’ by the Beatles and the other is ‘WHat’s love gotta do with it?’ Musically, if you know them you will know, they are very different, and their sentiment is also different - one is the hippy era’s all encompassing mantra and the other is about someone who has been hurt by someone they have loved finding love again. If pop songs, films or soap operas are to be believed then love is just a random emotion, something that you can neither create nor control. A bit like the wind, it comes or goes...

When the scriptures speak of love, they don’t do so as a command. The scriptures speak of love either directly or indirectly of the love of God and as an action - something God does and we are called to do. As someone once said, the whole of the Bible is effectively a love story - God loving people over many years, sometimes that love is accepted, sometimes rejected - God passionately loving men and women.

Yet in a way, the Beatles were right. We hear this morning of Jesus being asked which of he 10 Commandments was the greatest, and he replied, all you need is love. Unlike the Beatles, Jesus went on to clarify what he meant. There are over 613 laws that the Jews are to observe, but Jesus chose to sum them up using the Shema - Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This verse from Deuteronomy lies at the heart of Jewish daily prayer still. To the Shema, Jesus adds ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ Love is not a feeling, but an action towards God and others.

This is easily said. But many of us are not much good at loving God. We are not sure how to go about it. Indeed, we are not entirely clear what the idea of loving God means.

Loving God is not such a simple thing when we consider that to Love God is to love others. It means being a loving person. If we are to fulfill the Law of Christ, we need to become a loving person.
This can only happen when God's loved poured out on us is received, fills us up and poured out on others. How do we know we are becoming loving people?

Learning how to drive in the beginning was difficult. There was so much to remember like looking at mirrors, speed limits, watching out for pedestrians, etc. As he practiced, he started putting it all together. He could focus more on where he was going rather than how to get there. Driving had become second nature to him.

Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as we love our self. How many of us love ourselves? I don't mean that we look in the mirror and somehow convince our selves that we are lovely. But none of us would normally let ourselves grow hungry. We clothe ourselves. We try to better ourselves through education or other means. We don't think too much about taking care of ourselves. It too is our nature to love ourselves.

And so it should be with love for others. We know we are becoming loving people when we love like we drive or take care of ourselves. We should learn and practice love in a way that it becomes second nature to us.

Have you ever looked at a baby and said, "That is a face only a mother could love?" In a way that is a funny statement. But it also reflects a bit of reality. There are certain people in our lives who are more lovable than others for whatever reason.

A loving person does not put condition on their love. It does not first check out the beloved, the object of love, then determine if one will love him or not. A Godly love does not place conditions on the beloved. We will love whomever. We are called to love.

This is still an impossible task. Perhaps we need the help of those who have fallen in love - and who have stayed in love - with God, to guide us. St Bernard of Clairvaux was one such. Bernard taught that loving God, like everything else we try to do that is difficult, is a step-by-step process. According to Bernard, there are "four steps of love". The first step, he says, is to love ourselves for ourselves. Then we must learn to love God.
We love God - this is the second step - initially for what he gives us. But, if we are true to this path, we shall come to love God for himself, the third step. Finally, we love ourselves for God's sake. For some, that last step is the hardest of all.

These four steps are not rungs of a ladder that I set up inside my head, shutting out the rest of the world. For those who are single-minded in their search for God, other people are not a distraction - far from it. The journey from self-love to the love of God never by-passes my neighbour.

To love God and to love one's neighbour in God is the only way to break free from the hamster-wheel character of the lives so many of us lead. Such lives - however frenetically busy they are - are ultimately futile.

Friends, our loving needs to be not just a thought, but also an action. Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples in many ways. But before his Crucifixion there was an act of love recorded in John 13 of washing the disciples feet.

God could have told us he loved us, without ever sending his Son. Jesus could have said that He loved us without dying on the Cross. But God did send His Son, and Jesus did die on the Cross for us. What will we do for our brothers and sisters? For our Neighbors and Enemies?

John 13:34-35 - A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Amen

Monday, October 20, 2008

Vvvvv tired.

Ron Kibble's funeral today, and I'm dreading it... should be big, so I hope that Pat and the family take some comfort from that. I have a staff meeting before that, but it just feels like one of those days where I am not sure how I will do everything that needs to be done.

Herewith a draft of what I will say at 12noon:

You might think that this afternoon’s reading, Jesus promising rest to those who come to him, seems a strange choice when thinking about and remembering Ron. Ron the footballer and referee of some 50 plus years. Or even Ron, who worked in housing In Aylesbury, Hemel and Chilterns Districts, organising the first private sales of council owned housing. Or even Ron the passionate gardener, fuscia grower and lawn mower. Yet today we also remember Ron, who bravely and sometimes stubournly grappled with illness over the last couple of years. Also Ron the man of quiet and yet sure faith in God through Jesus Christ.

Ron didn’t do rest. When I first met him and Pat he was heading up to London twice a week, gardening, activiely involved in the lives of others Retirement was still busy and fruitful. And yet today God offers Ron rest.

I suspect that latterly, Ron has been looking forward to the rest that God offers him today. Throughout the Bible, God promises rest to people who acknowledge his pressence and who live the way asked of them. In other words, those who come to God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus says that the rest on offer can only happen when we agree to take on a yoke. Yokes focus the animals wearing them in a particular directions, on a particular task. I struggle to see Ron as someone who would easily be yoked, that said his focus on a task was sometimes almost single minded.
Throughout his life, Ron has worn Jesus’ yoke of love. Faith in Jesus Christ has been such a quiet and reassuring pressence in Ron’s life, and through that faith, Jesus has walked alongside Ron, worked alongside him, played alongside him. Where Ron was, Jesus was too. When life became hard to deal with, especially due to illness, Ron was often confident that he would get through - Jesus’ reassuring pressence carried them both forward.

Ron’s faith in God was not some sort of insurance policy that he could cash in at a later date. Neither was it a sort of moral compass for him. As we stood at the door each week after the 8am service we would talk about the normal stuff of life, and a shared passion for football (conversations that I miss hugely I hasten to add), Ron was always thankful - even in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Ron was thankful - even when he had been fouled badly like he had been over the last couple of years and was taken off the pitch - Ron was thankful for the way that God had guided his life, watching, loving, protecting. Ron’s faith was about now, about life and how to live it, and certainly not the great hereafter.

Today, following Ron’s example, must be about thankfulness to God for all that he has and will continue to be to all of us, and for everything that we have in life - however difficult our own situations might be from time to time. Today must also being aware that God offers Ron, real and lasting rest from the burden he has carried. He struggled stoicly with illness at the end, today he suffers no more and God offers him what contemporary society so badly needs - real and lasting peace - where peace is freedom from worry, freedom from illness, freedom from frustration, freedom from fear - and in their place God offers the living and beating heart of Christian faith - a knowledge that with Him - all will be well.

Today must also be about God, for today even in our sadness, God offers us his yoke of love, which as Ron will tell you, was not a burden to wear, but light and easy. God will walk, work and play with us - enabling us to find His direction in our lives however hard they may be fro time to time.

When we do take on that yoke and find faith in God for ourselves, we will each find a simple thankfulness in life, a thankfulness that Ron knew. We will also be able to receive God’s greatest of gifts - the lasting and fulfilling peace we all long for. Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Alex's birthday today and we have both been feeling a little fragile after a fantastic night out with friends involving too much alcohol and too little sleep...

In laws have been here today - we took them out to a very slowly served lunch at the Papermill, but the food was great.

An interesting service service this morning... I hadn't marked that Tim was down to preach, so I prepared, only to discover that Tim was raring to go... which was fine....

Anyway, just in case toy are interested, here is what I would have preached...

Governments this week have plough more and more money into the banking sector. both here and abroad, to try to keep both the national and global economies afloat.

More and more of us are finding, with this climate of financial uncertainty that our money does not go as far as it used to - because of increased food and energy prices.

And yet, religious communities find it sometimes hard to talk about money and it’s place in life for fear of offending, especially when we are asking for it! This morning’s Gospel alludes to the fact that conversation about money even back in Jesus day could be controversial. Yet here, Jesus sidesteps the controversy and clearly teaches from God’s perspective the place money should have in our lives, the control we should or should not allow it to have, and in that sense, speaks in a very contemporary way into our 21 century lives.

The Pharisees are confident that they have found the perfect question to ask Jesus. Whichever way he answers this, he will alienate some of his followers, and that is exactly what the Pharisees want: they want to erode Jesus’s power base, without dirtying their own hands. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?

So, they calculate, if Jesus replies that taxes should be paid to the illegal Roman usurper, he will anger those of his followers who hope and believe that he is the Messiah, the one who will reassert God’s direct rule over his people, and get rid of the Romans. But, if he tries to please that group by saying that taxes should be withheld, he will be liable for arrest by the civil powers, and he will frighten off the ordinary people, who want no trouble with the authorities, but who just come to Jesus to hear about God and to find consolation and healing. “Got him!” the Pharisees chortle.

However, if they think they will lull Jesus into a false sense of security, they are quickly proved very wrong. Within seconds, they are the ones scrabbling for an answer, their careful strategy completely destroyed. Once again, as in all their dealings with Jesus, they are made to look like fools, who do not know their own business.

They are supposed to be the religious leaders, but they never thought to introduce the question of God’s rights into the debate. It is Jesus who does that, as though he knows more about God than they do.

Since that has always been the heart of their hatred for him, they go away with the situation completely unchanged, but their own anger growing to the point where it will not be contained for much longer.

Apparently, it does not occur to them that Jesus’ answer is a real one, perhaps because their question was not real, and they didn’t want an actual answer. But Matthew, through his careful placing of this story, and through the build-up of the question and answer, makes us pause. What does the answer mean?

People often dwell on the “render to Caesar” part of the story, to abstract some of kind of Christian response to a state authority or the place of money in our lives. But it is not Caesar whom Jesus introduces into the conversation — he was put there by the Pharisees. The Pharisees are pretending to want guidance about our duty to “Caesar”, but they are patently refusing guidance from Jesus about our duty to God and that is teh heart of what Jesus teaches us this morning. Jesus’ point is that it is God who determines what is Caesar’s and what is not, and it is God who is Sovereign over the state, tax, money itself and indeed everything. Ultimately no one can serve 2 masters and all that matters therefore is our duty and obdeience to God.

In Matthew’s Gospel, this confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees comes after a series of parables about people who refuse to give God his due, and who will not recognise and rejoice with his Son. So, when the Son stands, now, in front of this group of religious leaders, and says: “What do you think your duty to God might be?”, the answer is plain. Their duty is to use all their supposed knowledge of God to recognise the Son, and allow others to do the same. But this is the one thing they are absolutely determined not to do.

Why, why, why do they hate him so? What is it about Jesus that so challenges them? It is not enough to say that they thought he was a mad impostor. Jerusalem was full of mad religious impostors, but they did not require large conspiracies on the part of the Pharisees to remove them. No, the trouble with Jesus was precisely that they could not be sure that he was an impostor.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that they really did not want God to get that close. And they were right to fear. It would certainly be much easier if God were like Caesar, so that we knew for sure when we had paid our taxes. But, if God is actually like Jesus, then we might need, painfully and humiliatingly, to recognise him over and over again, and give him everything not just what we consider to be his share. This is where the rubber hits the road - we so off try to fob God off with his bit on Sunday, our £1 in the collection plate, best suit and tie on. God, it seems to me from what Jesus clearly says here, does not care a jot about any of that. What actually matters is what’s in here (pat chest). Caesar wants his temple tax and that’s all that he cares about, a small part of our financial lives - but God wants us to have a relationship with him through Jesus, and relationships if they are really to work, require the investment of our whole selves. Amen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Feeling spiritually on top of things, but physically feeling really ground down. Been sick since Sunday and I have been playing it low key since then.

One of the sadnesses was that I had to cancel the follow up meeting for the L!VE iT weekend which should have happened on Sunday night - will have to reschedule.

Anyway, aside from that, Ron Kibble sadly but mercifully died last the week before last. I was able to pray Last Rites with him which was fantastic. Now he is reaping the rewards of faithfully following Jesus - his funeral will be in Church on 20th October at 12noon.

Anyway, here's the sermon...

When it’s meal time in your house, what do you do? Does the person doing the cooking give everyone a five minute warning? If there are guests do you invite them to come and sit up at the table? If the family is scattered in different rooms in the house do you stand at the bottom of the stairs and yell, ‘Come and get it!’ However the invitation is given, you anticipate that everyone will respond and make their way to the table. The meal in the king’s house that we heard about in this morning’s Gospel, was ready, and the invitation to come and eat was given but those who were invited did not come. Now at this point, we begin to realise that this a story that is a little larger than life, as eventually some of the servants who carried the invite were attacked and killed. The king gathers an army, and military operations were carried out, a city was destroyed, and after that the meal was still ready and waiting to be served.

The other thing that is odd about this parable is the chap who turns up improperly dressed, he was thrown out and the Jesus’ comment is - many are called but few are chosen.

Despite the confusing nature of this parable, overblown as it may be in places, I believe that the message is really quite clear. God is the king giving the feast. He does the preparation and provides the messengers. The kingdom of heaven with which the parable is concerned is any place where God is recognised and his will is done. The preparations for the coming kingdom are done by the prophets and the ministry of John the Baptist.

With the preparations done, the invitations are given and almost instantly they are interwoven with rejections. First come invitations to those who are expected to accept. When they don’t, more servants are sent to push the invitation with greater insistence, but still without success.

The servants are sent out a third time, but this time to invite those who had not expected an invite. The response is good and all the seats are filled, but with a mixture of people both bad and good. This leads to that chap being thrown out. The king who had made the invitation came to see the crowd gathered in his honour, and noticed someone not suitably prepared.

The call goes out from the host, ‘Come, for all is ready!’ It is the same call as the invitation which Jesus gave at the beginning of his ministry, ‘The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel.’ Both calls lead to division between those who accept and those who reject.

The bottom line friends is, are we ready to enter God’s kingdom? Only you can decide to accept or reject the invitation. The question is, does an eternal

relationship with God, healing for past hurts, and knowledge that despite what might be thrown at us in life, we are loved without limit, really feature for you...

What is Jesus trying to teach... the kingdom of God is a place where those eternal longings are a reality. It is the time and place where God’s goodness is celebrated, felt and seen. Every single person is invited to this celebration - no one is turned away, no-one is not good enough, no-one is unworthy. What’s more - the invitation costs us nothing and all we have to do is accept, but no excuses are acceptable. Nothing else is of greater value than this invite...

Oh but then there are some conditions it seems. That poor chap is put outside for not wearing a wedding robe - for many are called and few are chosen... It seems that there is a little more to it than just turning up to the party.

Elsewhere in the scriptures Paul writing to the Galatian christians, talks about ‘clothing yourself with Christ.’ In the book of Revelation it says that ‘the fine clothes are the good deeds of God’s people.’ The wedding garment needed here could also be a ‘putting on of Christ’ through Baptism. These passages and ideas remind me that the invitation to celebrate in God’s kingdom comes free to all, but we also need to be ready to respond. Being ready is not just willing to come to discover more, to enjoy the company, to eat the food and drink the wine,

but it is about living lives that reflect those kingdom values of divine justice, mercy, peace and love. This is about intent of the heart and how we live out our lifestyle. It is about our baptisms not just being a distant memory and long invisible sign of the cross, but rather obvious in the way we think, speak, live, shop and so on.

Recently, at the L!VE iT weekend we recalled God’s eternal hospitality and love - welcoming us to sit and eat bread and drink wine with him round this table. We recalled that this meal is about thanksgiving for all that God has given us, especially in Christ, but also about renewed resources of faith that affect not just the way we worship or build friendships on Sunday, but also about how we live that out Monday through Saturday too wherever we are.

For as we gather in church this morning, we re-clothe ourselves with Christ; here through bread and wine Christ not only goes with us, but dwells inside each of us afresh.

This morning God invites you to the wedding reception of his Son. The invitation is free - all you need to do is respond to it by clothing yourself with Christ, living out your baptism, empowered with Christ himself in you - put simply, by living lives that show how important it is that we have ben invited to that wedding celebration. Amen.