Archives January 2005

Sermon: Ordinary 3, Year A

Sermon: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: Matthew 4:12-25

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Difficult question: What drew you to church today? What was it that caused you to get out of bed on your day off, go to the trouble of getting dressed and coming to church this morning when you could be slumming it around your lounge with a decent cup of coffee and a copy of the Sunday Times?

I hope when you came to St Thomas’s today, you came because down somewhere in your heart and mind you have heard the call of Jesus to “Come, follow me.” I hope that just as Jesus called Peter and Andrew from their nets, you too are following the Saviour wherever He leads you.

I hope you have come in response to the God that loves you, to praise His name and meet with him in word and sacrament, echoing the worship of the angels and saints in heaven, for you have heard the call, “Come, follow me.”

This call to follow Jesus is not passive following. His call for us to follow was not a call for us to be “Jesus groupies.” It is not like sitting passively at the feet of some Eastern mystic. Jesus knew that He had a limited time on this earth. If the good news was to be perpetuated from generation to generation and to grow in scope, He had to pass on who He was and His purpose on this earth and send each of His disciples to the “ends of earth” to do the same.

My question for you this morning is this: Are you a disciple or a “Jesus groupie?” Do you come to church because you want to worship the Saviour, to receive the encouragement that only his sacraments can bestow: to deepen your faith so that you can be a better servant of Jesus Christ during the week?

Or do you come because you like the music or the fellowship; or out of sense of duty or habit or guilt when it would be just as easy to have slept in or gone to B&Q this morning?

If you find yourself as one of the latter: if the Christian life stops shortly after 11.15 on a Sunday morning, and with the pound coin you grudgingly give, then I’m afraid you have fallen into the trap of just being a “Jesus” or “church groupie.”

It’s easy for us to slip into that kind of habit: to see church as a comfortable pair of shoes to slip on at the weekend, or part of a social life; but which has little impact on your life in any substance. This sermon could be preached at probably every church in this deanery, in this diocese, perhaps in every church in the land, and is a challenge to each and every one of us: how do we avoid being a Jesus Groupie and become a true disciple of Christ.

Are you a disciple? What is a disciple? A disciple is one who follows Jesus and learns how to duplicate the life, spirit and work that Christ came to do. We are called as disciples to become Jesus to the world around us.

A disciple is anyone who follows Jesus. It is not about whether you are a priest or a lay person. It is not about whether you have a degree from Oxford or from the University of Life and the School of Hard Knocks. Everyone who claims the name of Jesus, if they expect to get to heaven, must be a disciple.

Discipleship means following the leadership of Christ, and modelling our actions on his actions.

Firstly, this means engagement. Our faith is not at all an individual one. It is not about my faith, my belief, my salvation, even though it requires an individual commitment to faith, but it speaks of our faith, our belief, our salvation. The Creed begins with “We believe…” because our faith is an engagement – with God and with other people. To paraphrase St Paul, even if you have faith to move mountains, and do nothing with it, then it is worth nothing.

God willingly offers himself in these sacraments, and invites you to enter into this mysterious union. The least you can do is come forward to receive the blessing of that sacrament. Engage. Inaction is as contrary to the teachings of Christ as outright rejection.

Secondly this means involvement. Just as Andrew and Simon Peter were called to follow, to do things and through that to become active, working apostles, so we are called not just to assent to faith, but to become involved with it. Whether that engagement is an active praying ministry – praying daily for the work of this parish and intentions in the weekly sheet, or whether it means digging deeper into your pocket to help pay for the missionary work that needs to be done here, it does not mean that we can simply let matters drift over us. We face exciting times in this parish and every single person in these pews has crucial part to play in it.

In the wider Church, the Kairos process will significantly change the way this parish works in the future. There is no option for us to pull up our drawbridge and settle into comfortable isolation, for Elson needs to be deeply involved in the life of the Deanery and the Diocese if we are to survive; not least because at present we do not pay our way. This means that we need to get out to other events, to share with other Christians at Deanery and Diocese level, whether that means coming to the Lent Course, our own Patronal festival on (horror of horrors!) a weekday night or a major and important event the life of this parish and the diocese such as Margaret’s ordination.

And Thirdly this means action. We need not think that we can respond to the call of God just on a Sunday morning, for the God we worship is a seven-day God. Even if you consider yourself too old, too infirm or too unsure in faith, to be beating the streets of Elson spreading the Gospel, you all have your quiet and most effective ways of action: the word of encouragement to a neighbour in difficulty, the prayer which sustains the work of your priest and readers and the most effective action of all: coming to mass, and bringing others to mass to encounter God.

Remember the words of Scripture from last week “Come and See” said Andrew, and that is our primary action, to invite others to enter into these sacred mysteries.

It is important that Church is somewhere where we belong, where we are welcomed, where we feel at home. However, if we do not allow the Gospel to touch our lives then Church remains just a social event, and its true meaning is absent from our lives. A Social side to Church is important, and I see here many layers of love and care and compassion which extend over the generations and over the years. But the heart of the Church is the Gospel of Christ, the call to discipleship, to “Follow Him”. At the heart of the Gospel is the drawing closer to God and becoming immersed in His love: the love that offers itself our to you in the beauty of the eucharist.

A Jesus Groupie is only concerned with what Church gives to them. A true disciple gives of themselves for the building of the Kingdom.

Difficult question time again: What are you?


Sermon: Ordinary 2, Year A

Sermon: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: John 1:29-34

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

“This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

John the Baptist uses the metaphor of the Lamb of God. It is an odd metaphor when one considers the traditional view of the Messiah of God as a powerful military leader who would free Israel from oppression.

The Lamb of God is the sacrificial lamb, the willing victim, the man of sorrows. John the Evangelist makes this connection clear by telling us that Christ is arrested and is given up late on Maundy Thursday – at the same time as the Passover Lambs were being slaughtered in preparation for the Passover. In the Gospel of John, the Last Supper is not the Passover meal, but the one that precedes it – look closely at the text and you will see this.

When I raise the consecrated elements at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, I always echo these words of John the Baptist directly: “This is the Lamb of God”, not “This is something that reminds me of the Lamb of God…” but “This is…”

As you can tell from my girth: in the past I have been very fond of wine. As the Scriptures say, it “gladdens our hearts” and has been a wonderful source of joy in my life.

The process of making wine is ancient: when Noah found dry land again, he planted a vineyard and got drunk (it’s in Genesis 9:20-21). However, one does not simply plant grapes and get wine, something has to happen to it to make it into that wonderful substance.

The action of fermentation, the work of yeast, to convert sugar into alcohol happens almost invisibly. It happens as it must in the dark, in the warm, and out of sight, and for most of us, how it does it is a mystery.

We start with grape juice and we end with champagne. A transformation in substance.

In the same way, the words and the actions of the priest and the responses of the congregation works on ordinary things: simple bread and wine, and there is another transformation in substance.

In a way that is also mysterious, that cannot be satisfactorily explained, nor indeed should be explained, there is a change in the ordinary and it becomes extraordinary, as God enters into these elements and simple bread and wine become the blessed sacrament and precious blood.

“This is the Lamb of God…” is literally true, it is not a metaphor or an illustration, but a statement of fact. In these changed elements we find God. We find the real presence of Him “hiding” as St Francis of Assisi wonderfully said “under an ordinary piece of bread”. When Jesus took the bread and wine of a meal, he said “This is my body”, “This is my blood”. It was not a metaphor, not an illustration, but the institution of a sacrament. We believe Christ when he admits that he is the Son of God, so I fail to understand why some would wish to deny the reality of Christ in these most sacred mysteries.

We start with bread and wine and we end with the body and blood of Christ. We need not look for God in the molecules of the wine, or the atoms of the bread, look not for the change to the elements (which is why it matters not whether the wine is red or white – in fact it maybe even better for us if the wine does not look like blood, for that would be far to obvious for the mysterious workings of God), look not for the change to the elements but look for the change in the people of receive it – the comfort derived from the sacrament. Look not for the wind, but for the action the wind has on the trees.

God takes the ordinary: people like you and like me, and he transforms us into something extraordinary – into the saved. God does this is subtle ways, hidden, in the dark. How he does this is a mystery. We are transformed by the power of God, transformed by Christ’s body and blood.

This is why I have the highest possible regard for the sacraments. This is why the Mass is the cornerstone of our worship and why it is at the heart of our missionary activity in this place. This is why we come together not just on a Sunday but at other times during the week to worship God, and why you should come also. This is why we keep the blessed sacrament safely in that Aumbrey behind the altar and we revere it with a bow or a genuflection, for God is really present here in these blessed sacraments and his holy presence is signified by the candle that always burns above the Aumbrey.

That is why we have the opportunity to pray before the blessed sacrament when it is exposed. This is why is taken to those too unwell to come to Church to receive the sacrament of salvation.

That is why you should all come to this holy altar to partake in these blessed sacraments; for he was prepared to make himself available to all of us.

“This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Not the sins of a few, or the sins of those who are already good, but the sins of the whole world, the sins of you, the sins of me, the sins of all of us, past, present and future.

We behold Christ on the altar, making the holy sacrifice, we witness the transformation, we ourselves are transformed.

…and it is something far finer than the finest champagne, for this is the taste of salvation.

Amen.


Sermon: Ordinary 2, Year A

Sermon: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: John 1:29-34

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

“This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

John the Baptist uses the metaphor of the Lamb of God. It is an odd metaphor when one considers the traditional view of the Messiah of God as a powerful military leader who would free Israel from oppression.

The Lamb of God is the sacrificial lamb, the willing victim, the man of sorrows. John the Evangelist makes this connection clear by telling us that Christ is arrested and is given up late on Maundy Thursday – at the same time as the Passover Lambs were being slaughtered in preparation for the Passover. In the Gospel of John, the Last Supper is not the Passover meal, but the one that precedes it – look closely at the text and you will see this.

When I raise the consecrated elements at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, I always echo these words of John the Baptist directly: “This is the Lamb of God”, not “This is something that reminds me of the Lamb of God…” but “This is…”

As you can tell from my girth: in the past I have been very fond of wine. As the Scriptures say, it “gladdens our hearts” and has been a wonderful source of joy in my life.

The process of making wine is ancient: when Noah found dry land again, he planted a vineyard and got drunk (it’s in Genesis 9:20-21). However, one does not simply plant grapes and get wine, something has to happen to it to make it into that wonderful substance.

The action of fermentation, the work of yeast, to convert sugar into alcohol happens almost invisibly. It happens as it must in the dark, in the warm, and out of sight, and for most of us, how it does it is a mystery.

We start with grape juice and we end with champagne. A transformation in substance.

In the same way, the words and the actions of the priest and the responses of the congregation works on ordinary things: simple bread and wine, and there is another transformation in substance.

In a way that is also mysterious, that cannot be satisfactorily explained, nor indeed should be explained, there is a change in the ordinary and it becomes extraordinary, as God enters into these elements and simple bread and wine become the blessed sacrament and precious blood.

“This is the Lamb of God…” is literally true, it is not a metaphor or an illustration, but a statement of fact. In these changed elements we find God. We find the real presence of Him “hiding” as St Francis of Assisi wonderfully said “under an ordinary piece of bread”. When Jesus took the bread and wine of a meal, he said “This is my body”, “This is my blood”. It was not a metaphor, not an illustration, but the institution of a sacrament. We believe Christ when he admits that he is the Son of God, so I fail to understand why some would wish to deny the reality of Christ in these most sacred mysteries.

We start with bread and wine and we end with the body and blood of Christ. We need not look for God in the molecules of the wine, or the atoms of the bread, look not for the change to the elements (which is why it matters not whether the wine is red or white – in fact it maybe even better for us if the wine does not look like blood, for that would be far to obvious for the mysterious workings of God), look not for the change to the elements but look for the change in the people of receive it – the comfort derived from the sacrament. Look not for the wind, but for the action the wind has on the trees.

God takes the ordinary: people like you and like me, and he transforms us into something extraordinary – into the saved. God does this is subtle ways, hidden, in the dark. How he does this is a mystery. We are transformed by the power of God, transformed by Christ’s body and blood.

This is why I have the highest possible regard for the sacraments. This is why the Mass is the cornerstone of our worship and why it is at the heart of our missionary activity in this place. This is why we come together not just on a Sunday but at other times during the week to worship God, and why you should come also. This is why we keep the blessed sacrament safely in that Aumbrey behind the altar and we revere it with a bow or a genuflection, for God is really present here in these blessed sacraments and his holy presence is signified by the candle that always burns above the Aumbrey.

That is why we have the opportunity to pray before the blessed sacrament when it is exposed. This is why is taken to those too unwell to come to Church to receive the sacrament of salvation.

That is why you should all come to this holy altar to partake in these blessed sacraments; for he was prepared to make himself available to all of us.

“This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Not the sins of a few, or the sins of those who are already good, but the sins of the whole world, the sins of you, the sins of me, the sins of all of us, past, present and future.

We behold Christ on the altar, making the holy sacrifice, we witness the transformation, we ourselves are transformed.

…and it is something far finer than the finest champagne, for this is the taste of salvation.

Amen.