‘A tale of two Pharisees’ – 27th May, Trinity Sunday

Based around Romans 8: 12-17 and John 3: 1-7

Sometimes in our lives we might cross paths with someone on various occasions. At some time in the future we might look back and wonder what became of that person.

In the Bible too some characters appear and disappear and we wonder what became of them. Nicodemus is one of those characters. He only appears in the Gospel of John but he does appear, named, three times: first, here at the beginning of the Gospel, early on in Jesus’s ministry in this encounter where he seeks Jesus out at night; then later, with the priests and temple authorities when he asks whether it is right to condemn a man without a proper hearing; and lastly after the crucifixion where John records Nicodemus bringing spices to help Joseph of Arimathea  bury Jesus’ body before the Sabbath.

But who is Nicodemus? And does he become a true follower of Jesus and an active disciple after the resurrection?  We don’t know.  All we do know is that he was a Pharisee and close to the high priests, moving in important circles in the temple. He is an intriguing person. As a Pharisee he was well versed in the Scriptures, the law and the traditions of the Jewish faith and people.  It would appear that he saw something in Jesus, early on in his ministry, that raised his interest.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and so we can assume that he did not want to be seen approaching him, and perhaps we can presume that he did not think his fellow leaders would approve of his seeking out Jesus. Perhaps surprisingly, Nicodemus begins his conversation with Jesus by saying that he believes Jesus is from God and that what he is doing is evidence of God’s work.  We know later that other leaders were more sceptical.

Nicodemus says: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus however, comes back with with something of a curveball saying “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (or “born anew”).  This is an unfamiliar concept and Nicodemus takes the obvious approach and asks how anyone can be born a second time. Jesus qualifies his statement by saying that this is rebirth through the Spirit of God and Nicodemus again asks how this can be.

Jesus again come back at Nicodemus and asks “Are you a teacher in Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” Jesus goes on to say that he has come down from God, and will be lifted up like the serpent on the staff that Moses raised to save the people from plague. Jesus seems to foretell his crucifixion and death for the salvation of all.  He goes on with those words that are so well known: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

We don’t know Nicodemus’ reaction to this, we are not told, the  story moves on. But this is a strong testimony at the beginning of John’s Gospel of key themes in this Gospel – of the power of the Spirit, of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection and of the difficulty some leaders would have in seeing past their traditions and pre-conceived ideas and worldly grounding to understand the spiritual realities of Christ.

Could Nicodemus have taken all he heard on board and spoken up for Jesus?  We don’t know. He did speak up loudly enough to say Jesus should be heard and he did respect him enough to ensure he was buried properly – but beyond that Nicodemus remains something of an enigma.

The other famous Pharisee – Saul of Tarsus – who was stopped in his tracks on the road to Damascus and challenged by Jesus to stop persecuting the Christians – became Paul who wrote to the Romans in our other reading today.  Paul reminded his readers that they had received the Spirit of God, to bring them into the family of God as adopted children of God.  They were born into earthly families, and now have been reborn into the family of God as adopted children and heirs. Paul knew the power of the Spirit to transform, to heal, to teach and to guide. He knew the power of being born anew from above. He encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was transformed by the Spirit and came to know God in a new way.

He experienced the vibrant reality of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together.

Today is Trinity Sunday where we especially focus on the three persons of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three and yet one, living and reigning in the unity of love.

The Trinity is a concept that some people really struggle with – how can three beings be one? Trying to explain the Trinity in rational language can be hard. Paul knew the experience of the three persons of God – and we too can know the three persons of God, but we may struggle to put into words just how they operate and how they can be three and yet one.

Jesus was trying to open up the concept to Nicodemus – of his presence and role on earth and the indwelling power of the Spirit and the heavenly existence of the Father. Paul knew the reality of Jesus in his encounter on the road to Damascus and the power of the Spirit in his conversion, healing and development as an apostle.

The Trinity is a dynamic unity of love and can be easier to experience than to describe or pin down. Pinning down the Spirit can be especially hard. Even Jesus knew this – describing the Spirit as like the wind, blowing where it will. The Trinity is united in love – embodying love, inspiring love, breaking down hostility and hatred with the power of restorative, recreative and saving love.

We can spend too much time trying to get our heads round the concept and not experience the reality touching our hears, minds and spirits, changing our lives.

Nicodemus was courageous enough to seek Jesus out, but we cannot be certain whether he ever truly became a disciple, whether he came to know the power of Jesus and the Spirit in his life to draw him closer to God. Paul knew the power of the Trinity – and the rewards of adoption in God’s family and he lived his life in the light of this knowledge.

May we know the power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and live in the truth of the Trinity.

 

Reader Anne Grant

‘Jeremiah and the new covenant’ – 18th March, Passion Sunday

Based around Jeremiah 31:31-34.

There’s an amusing, short-short version of the Old Testament that goes as follows:

God : Don’t do the things I’ve told you not to do.

Man : Gotcha.

God : Great – we’ll get on fine.

Time passes…

Man : God?

God : Yes, my son?

Man : You know the things you told us not to do?  We did them….

God : (Sighing) Right. I’m going to punish you, then I want you to behave and not do those things again.  Can you manage that?

Man : Yep.

God : Awesome.  Let’s do it….

Time passes….

Man : God…sorry…we did them again…

And so on.

There is a lot of truth in humour. You’ll hear it said that the Old Testament describes the covenant relationship between God and His people, a relationship that is based upon the Law.  Now, what do we mean by that?

God struck a covenant – a type of contract, if you like – with the people of Israel that He would be their God, and they would be His people, if they would abide by the Laws he set before them. The Laws were given to Moses in the form of tablets of stone; they were written on scrolls of parchment to become the central part of the Torah – what we know as the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy and Leviticus provide a written down set of instructions – the Law – by which God’s people were to act and behave to maintain their side of the covenant.

And like all rule and law based systems – like our own modern society – we then get in to the whole area of interpretation.  There’s a joke that I’ve heard about lawyers and economists – ask two lawyers and you’ll get three opinions. And so it is in the culture that we read about in the Old Testament, based on the legalistic covenant between God and man.  We have sixty volumes of the Talmud – learned writings from scribes, rabbis, judges and prophets that help interpret the Law and apply it to everyday life.  As life got more complicated, there were more opportunities for loopholes and ‘grey areas’ to appear in the application of the Law. A good ‘modern day’ example of the interpretation of the Law of the sabbath was noted by the physicist, Richard Feynman, who was asked by an Orthodox Jew whether electricity was fire, because the questioner was trying to work out whether using ANY electricity on the sabbath was permissible.  The physics answer is ‘No, electricity isn’t fire’.  The Talmudic answer is ‘It depends what you’re doing with the electricity….’  If you’re interested in this particular problem, there’s a good article on Wikipedia called ‘Electricity on Shabbat’.

Having said that, though, we know that the Israelites didn’t exploit the grey areas; they drove a chariot and horses through the centre of God’s Law.  After all, these are the people who within a few weeks of being told ‘No idols’, are making golden calves to worship.

Punishment follows, then God relents, brings the people back to him, helps them along….and then the people do something else.

And Jeremiah writes at a time when the ‘something else’ has been bad indeed. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, writes at a time of exile. The country has been devastated, and Jerusalem has been destroyed by Babylonians. Jeremiah is in and out of prison, and his book reveals the anger of the Lord at the people – particularly the leaders of Israel – who have not been faithful to God by maintaining justice and obedience. The destruction of Jerusalem, the scattering of the people of Israel, the exile, is seen as a punishment by God for this failure.

You can almost imagine the more thoughtful people saying “We’re in a mess; and it’s our fault. We knew the Law, but we still were not faithful to it, and because of our disobedience and lack of faith in God and the Law we have been again punished. Why do we keep on like this? What is wrong with us?”

The book of Jeremiah is primarily the prophet telling the people hard truths from God.  But in the middle of his book, comes two Chapters – Chapters 30 and 31 – that are sometimes known as the ‘Book of Comfort’.  In the middle of his gloomy prophesying, we get tonight’s reading.  A statement of great hope from God, in the midst of the people’s despair. God tells the people – of both Israel and Judah – that He will make a new covenant with them to replace the one that he made with them when He led them from Egypt to (eventually) the promised land.

God is acknowledging that the covenant has been broken repeatedly by a faithless and ungrateful people, who haven’t treated God as a loyal bride would be expected to treat a bridegroom, but have, basically, cheated on Him and turned away from Him.

A new covenant is then described.

Whereas the old covenant was written on stone and parchment scrolls, and needed a library of explanatory texts and an army of experts to interpret, this one will be written on the hearts and minds of the people.  It’s not going to be a case of folks having to read up on it; the law will be in them, part of them.

Now, at this stage, this might start making the people feel a bit uneasy; if they have the Law written in their very being, then surely they’re in a worse position than they were previously.  There is no excuse for not knowing and understanding the law; and if the old covenant requirement of obedience ‘or else’ still applies, then things sound bad….

But wait.

Let’s listen again to what is written in Verse 34;

“No longer will they teach their neighbor,

or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.”

 

It’s not saying ‘know the Law’.  It’s not saying ‘they will all know the Law’. It’s saying that under the new covenant the people will all know the Lord. They will know God. They will be in relationship with Him.  Something rather different!

And then the final words ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’ – there is nothing conditional here. God is wiping the slate clean – the covenant will not be dependent upon the people behaving in a certain way; sins will be forgiven and forgotten.

The old covenant failed because it relied on man’s faithfulness to God, and because of man’s very nature it was almost guaranteed to fail from the off.  The new covenant, spoken of here by Jeremiah, and brought to us through Jesus Christ, cannot fail because it relies on God’s faithfulness and grace to us.

That covenant is with us, now. It is written in our hearts and minds, made available to us by God’s incarnate word, Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God!

 

Reader Joe Pritchard

‘A tale of two women’ – 11th March, Mothering Sunday

Based around Colossians 3:12-17, John 19.25b-27.

Thursday was International Women’s Day. Today is Mothering Sunday.  So let me talk about two women, Dorothy and Hilda.

Dorothy* was born in the 1930s. She worked as a children’s nurse, then married and had several children of her own.  Much of the day to day work of keeping the household running and bringing up the children, she did on her own. Her husband worked long hours to provide for the family.  And in those days, men didn’t normally get too involved with the childcare.

You’d have thought she’d be busy enough with her own family.  But there was something about Dorothy that drew others close.  Her home became a magnet for friends of her children, people from her church and visitors from abroad.  People would turn up for lunch or to stay for a month at little, if any notice, knowing they would be welcome.  So meals had to be stretchable and beds or at least sleeping bags, available.  Dorothy befriended young people in care and helped to run a house for teenage mums who didn’t have the support at home.  She helped the elderly too – going shopping, giving lifts.

Her family grew, with many grandchildren and Dorothy became the matriarch of a sizeable clan.  In all, she was mother not only to her own children and others biologically related to her, but to many, many other people, young and old, who were drawn to her warm, welcoming, open house, her listening ear and her practical advice and help.

Dorothy died a few years ago.  But her legacy lives on.  It lives on in the warm, welcoming homes of her children and grandchildren.  Places where friends and strangers feel they too belong.  Places where those who practise the Christian faith mix comfortably with those who don’t, but where it’s normal to talk about the faith.  Places where you feel loved, cared for and where you can muck in and be a part of a community.

Hilda lived in the 7th Century.  She is famous for founding the Celtic monastery at Whitby.  This monastery would have been a cluster of simple houses and a chapel.  Here, small groups of men or women who had devoted themselves to God lived together in community.  They would follow the monastic way of life with its times for prayer, work, learning, and charitable care.

But others lived there too.  Lay people who worked on the land and helped provide the food for the community.  Travellers passing through.  Some would be Christian, but others might not be.

Hilda ensured that spiritual care was there for everyone in the village.  She would provide a listening ear for anyone who needed it, be they monk, farm worker or visitor.  Anyone could have their own soul friend to listen and to share with them as they journeyed their Christian faith, or indeed explored it for the first time.

Hilda came from a noble family. Kings and princes sought her advice.  But she was also deeply concerned for the ordinary folk.  One timid cowherd began to compose poetry and song.  Hilda encouraged him to develop his skills and he became perhaps the first English poet whose name we know – Caedmon.

We don’t know that Hilda had any children of her own.  She was in her 30s when she took up the religious life, so conceivably could have done.  But it was said that “All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace”.  Several of her monks were to become bishops, and the way she formed a community of love and care was in turn followed by others.

Today we heard some words written by Saint Paul to the church in Colossae.

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another.  Forgive each other.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love.

Words of wisdom written to help a young church community live together and to build each other up in the Christian faith.  But they’re good words of advice to help any family or community group live together.  A family like yours or mine.  A church community like ours here at St. Mary’s.

Both Dorothy and Hilda fully lived out this advice in their lives.  Everyone around them grew and thrived.  Through their compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness and love, they enabled others to reach their full potential.  Those whose lives they touched could then do the same.

You don’t have to be a mum to do what Hilda and Dorothy did.  We can all share compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness and love among family, church and community so that all may grow and thrive.

 

Reader Catherine Burchell

*name changed

‘Cleansing the Temple’ – 4th March, 3rd Sunday of Lent

Based around Exodus 20: 1-17, John 2.13-22

The content of tonight’s readings are pretty well known. The Ten Commandments, and the story of Jesus cleansing the temple.  Now – spot quiz – at first glance, what do they both have in common?

I could do with a ‘Countdown Timer’ here….

Well, they both appear more than once in the Bible.

The list of commandments we know as the Ten Commandments occurs 3 times; Exodus 34 is the only place where the label “The Ten Commandments” is used in the Bible. The other two listings (Exodus 20 – tonight’s reading –  and Deuteronomy 5) are normally referred to as the Ten Commandments, but the actual text doesn’t describe them as such.

And cleansing the Temple – that appears once in each Gospel.  The narrative occurs near the end of the Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels,  and near the start in the Gospel of John – our OTHER reading tonight.

Now, remember how I said ‘At first glance’ in my question? Well,  some scholars believe that these refer to two separate incidents, tonight’s cleansing happening at the start of Jesus’s Ministry, and the other three Gospels describing a different event that took place at the end of Jesus’s ministry. I think that this is quite reasonable; John’s Gospel also features more than one Passover, so more than one visit to the Temple by Jesus would certainly happen.

So – why did Jesus behave like this? We know from his previous experiences that Jesus wasn’t a stranger to the Temple in Jerusalem; he once ended up there ‘on His Father’s business’, as he put it, when he was a boy, and we can understand his affection and respect for the Temple.  The Temple was the Third Temple – the Temple of Herod, initiated by Herod to try and gain favour with the Jewish people.  By the time today’s reading takes place, it’s still not complete – it would only be completed about 6 or 7 years before it’s destruction in 70 AD.

It’s worth taking a look at the context of why the animals were in the temple precincts anyway, and what the money changers actually were.

At Passover, people would come to Jerusalem from all over Israel – and from further afield as well.  All worshippers at the Temple except women and children – would be expected to pay a half-shekel Temple Tax – worth about £2.50 at the current value of silver – and would also be expected to provide a sacrificial animal; a lamb or calf.

Now, the money had to be sanctified – Temple money. You couldn’t just give over any old cash. Each year different coins would be produced, and as a visitor you would exchange your currency for the Temple coins with which to pay the Temple Tax. This is where the money changers came in.  Similarly, many people coming to Jerusalem would find it easier to buy a sacrificial animal on arrival, rather than bring one with them on a long journey.

There was also a risk associated with bringing your own sacrificial animal.  Anything presented for sacrifice had to be of highest quality and would need to be approved by the Temple authorities before it could be sacrificed.

And here we find things get a bit messy, and potentially corrupt; money changers would charge a fee for each transaction they carried out.  Sellers of sacrificial animals would sell at a much higher price than would be normally expected, and it was often suspected that the Temple authorities would be ‘encouraged’ by the sellers of sacrificial livestock to disapprove as many ‘out of town’ animals as possible. Quite a few opportunities for the world of commerce and human greed to come between a worshipper and God.

Initially, the animal dealers were based outside the Temple, in the valley of Kidron on the Mount of Olives, but eventually, by the time Jesus visits, they’ve moved in to an area of the Temple called the Court of the Gentiles – the part of the temple that is open to Gentiles as well as Jews. In other words, part of the worship space has become a combination of a bank and a cattle market.

In Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 11 Verse 17, we hear that the temple was designed to be a place of worship for all nations. Gentiles who wished to worship God could, in principle, do so in the Court of the Gentiles – however, this area was now not really fit for worship – and this is why Jesus is so angry. His Father’s house is not fit to be a place of worship for all nations, if the gentiles have to worship amidst animals and moneychangers.

There’s a general idea amongst people that here’s where we see ‘Rambo Jesus’ – wading in and whipping the people as well as the animals to get them out of the Temple Court.  This is how it’s portrayed in at least one painting; but it’s not the case; the whip was used to drive the animals out, and Jesus turned over the tables over the money changers and generally ruined business for the day.

His disciples remembered what was said in scripture about the coming Messiah – that they would be overcome with zeal for the house of the Lord.  Well, this meets the bill.  The Jewish authorities, unsurprisingly, were less impressed and asked him on whose authority Jesus was asking.  His answer – that he would be able to raise the Temple in 3 days – rather foxed them.  But this answer, combined with the scriptural reference – was remembered by Jesus’s disciples after his death and resurrection, and reminded them again of the truth of the Scripture and of His teachings.

Temples are not just buildings. As Jesus pointed out – the body is a temple; even our human bodies.

Our Temple is our body, heart, mind and soul.  The place where we meet with God.

What do we do in our temple to interfere with worship? Who are the sellers of sacrificial animals and temple money-changers in our hearts and minds?  Maybe:

  • The noise and bustle of the market place of ideas
  • The sense that what we bring – our thoughts, feelings, our very body itself – isn’t clean enough, good enough or pure enough?
  • The sense that we need to change what we are for something else to become acceptable?

What can we do to cleanse our heart and mind to make accepting Jesus easier, to make worship and prayer easier?

  • We can bring Quiet in to our hearts.
  • We can accept and embrace the we’re broken; we’re fallen; we will never be perfect. That’s fine. We just try not to sin; be repentant. It’s an ongoing process; try again, fail again, try again. Keep at it.  That’s how we are – that’s how God expects to find us. Be yourself and present yourself to Jesus humbly, throwing yourself on his grace and mercy.
  • We are unique; we are made in the image of God. There is nothing in what we are to change, just how we behave.

Driving out these distractions and impediments to worship from OUR temple is not easy.  I feel I’d have more luck with shifting sheep and cows and overturning a few tables than I would in controlling and disciplining my occasionally unruly heart and head.

But, we need to make our temple suitable for worship of the Lord.

May our equivalent of whips and table turning be effective.

 

Reader Joe Pritchard

‘The Ten Commandments’ – 4th March, 3rd Sunday of Lent

Based around Exodus 20: 1-17, John 2.13-22.

I don’t think I have ever preached on the Ten Commandments before. I must admit my first thought was somewhat dismissive – “we all know the Ten Commandments so nothing much there of interest”. But then I looked into it a bit more and found there were more points of interest that I’d thought. For one thing I learned that the way the verses in this passage have been divided up into Ten Commandments have in fact not always been the same. Some are obvious – e.g. You shall not steal, but some of the other verses are less clear.

Today I would like to look at just two of the Commandments. First, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”. The people were told to have a rest day every seventh day – and it was a rest day for everyone, including children, slaves, foreigners and even animals. This is quite a radical idea – and we could regard it as some of the earliest animal rights law in the world! Even today there are places where campaigners are trying to get proper rest and refreshment for working animals.

The Sabbath commandment is not just for those who want a day of religious observance – it is about rest and compassion for all members of the community and for animals. The interpretation of rest on the Sabbath has varied down the years throughout history and some Orthodox Jews still keep very strict rules on what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath.  Jesus did not take this strict approach to the Sabbath but rather a more pragmatic approach. He did not condemn his disciples when they rubbed grains of corn to eat on the Sabbath even though some people thought he should. And Jesus even healed on the Sabbath, arguing that people would rescue a trapped animal or take a beast to water on the Sabbath and so it would be just as appropriate to set someone free from sickness. Jesus’ attitude to the Sabbath is summed up in Mark’s Gospel where he says, “The Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”  In other words it is not about forcing yourself into conforming to a set of rules but about observing a rest day for the welfare of all people – and even their animals.

The second commandment I want to look at is the last one, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife or male or female slave, or ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”  An interesting point about this commandment is that it relates to a thought, an attitude of heart rather than an action. That is quite a sophisticated idea in social and legal terms. To covet is, in the dictionary,to “desire eagerly” – but with the rider that it is usually to desire eagerly something that belongs to someone else.  And therein is the problem, because desiring eagerly what belongs to someone else can lead to envy, jealousy and even to theft or adultery or even murder.

A good example from the Old Testament is King David who saw Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and coveted her. He committed adultery with her and when she became pregnant he tried to cover it up by summoning Uriah back from the army. But Uriah refused to spend time at home while his colleagues were away at war, so David commanded that Uriah be sent to the thickest of the fighting to ensure that he would be killed – in effect murdered by David. David’s  coveting of Bathsheba led to adultery and then murder. Nathan the prophet took David to task for his behaviour and expressed God’s displeasure at his actions. David repented – but the damage had been done.

The story of David has a contemporary feel in that our newspapers are full every day of stories of people behaving in terrible ways because they covet things or people. Victims are robbed, defrauded, attacked and even murdered because someone covets their belongings, their money, their lifestyle, their looks … and the pain and heartache of broken relationships caused by people coveting other people’s spouses or partners and acting on their desires, is incalculable.

Youngsters are mugged for high end phones or trainers or other items, because the thieves covet these goods. Elderly people have their savings stolen by people who covet  money and the good life they feel it will bring. Fraudsters target people with pension funds because they covet wealth they have not earned. The other year a man died when thieves stealing his car from his drive ran him over – and all because they coveted his vehicle. People covet the lifestyle, the looks, the clothes of celebrities and see them everyday on social media. And even if they do not get into crime because of their coveting, they may get into debt trying to satisfy their desires.  Apparently in China, people will spend thousands of pounds on plastic surgery so that their selfies will be “perfect” – they covet a perfect self portrait. And there is the acronym FOMO – fear of missing out, as people are desperate not to miss out on experiences or events or belongings that they believe everyone else is enjoying.

But coveting can be, and often is, based on a lie – that somehow everyone else’s life is better, more exciting. If only I can have these goods, that look, a big enough bank balance, my life will be what I think other people’s lives are. I will find the satisfaction I lack.  But always thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence is a way of avoiding tending the lawn on this side. Coveting what others have can be a way of avoiding discovering your own talents, strengths and uniqueness or cultivating the garden of your heart.

So much of our society is driven by encouraging us to want things. The advertising industry is based on encouraging us to want things. The credit card industry invented the slogan, “Take the waiting out of wanting”. And as people are encouraged to want and to expect instant gratification, the pleasures of anticipation and saving up for something are lost. Craving instant gratification makes coveting so dangerous – how can I get what I covet now? The desire, the thought, can drive the action that can lead to crime, or destructive behaviour, and people can lose sight of their true selves.

In Lent we reflect on what can bring us closer to God. We can look again at some of these texts, like the Ten Commandments, that we think we know so well and see what they can say anew to us in this day and age.

In a world where people seem to be constantly driven we can model and promote the ideal of regular rest. Perhaps we need to heed that ourselves as we can find our rest time taken up with work for the church. We all need to rest to live well and have time to know God and so we need to find a good balance between activity and rest.

In a world where social media and advertising seem to be driving more and more wanting, more and more coveting, we can perhaps show that things and looks and appearances are not what life is about. Life is about who we are as people on the inside and especially as people who know we are loved by God just as we are – imperfections and all. Who we are in ourselves is more important than what we have and tending the garden of our hearts gives us the base to reach out to others.

This week’s bad weather has brought much difficulty to many but it has also brought out many good things in people and communities. Villagers have provided food and drink and safe space to people who have been stranded. Strangers have reached out to others in need. We have seen much good as people have pulled together in difficult circumstances. May we nurture this concern for our neighbours and seek to  find ways to carry it on as we return to ordinary times.

 

Reader Anne Grant

‘Remembrance Sunday’ – 12th November, 3rd Sunday before Advent

Poppy crossesBased around 1 Thessalonians 4:13-end, Matthew 25:1-13.

Note this sermon was preached at both the 10:30am and 6:30pm

I have had a blessed life.

I have not personally known war; for me death is an exceptional, relatively rare part of my daily life.  Death has come to me, my family, and my friends in the ‘normal’ way – old age, the sudden, unexpected death of an accident or short illness, or the planned for, awaited death at the end of a long illness.

On the contrary, the men whose names we see on the boards in this Church, whose names we heard read out this morning in this Church, had what author John Harris, in his novel based on the Sheffield Pals, called ‘a covenant with death’.

That phrase, taken from history, has a second part; ‘an agreement with Hell’.

Across Flanders and Picardy these men experienced the closest to Hell that most human beings had ever witnessed.  Indeed, as author Eric Maria Remarque wrote in ‘All quiet on the Western Front’ :

“Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.”

Away from combat, their days and nights spent in trench systems that were frequently full of water, bringing unsanitary conditions complete with dysentery, gangrene, trench foot and other illnesses.

In World War 2 – fighting and dying in deserts and jungles, in cities and villages, in blistering heat and numbing cold, in the skies over Europe and Asia, on and under the oceans of the world. And the civilians; bombed and buried in their homes and shelters, like the victims of the Sheffield blitz, or suffocated and burnt to death firestorms, or slaughtered in cold, clinical barbarity in the concentration camps of Europe.

And just as World War 1 wasn’t the start of our bloodletting, WW2 didn’t end it.  Humanity hasn’t stopped fighting; Korea, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Norther Ireland, Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen . We still have people fighting and dying the world over – combatants and bystanders, men, women and children, young and old.

Death never takes a holiday, and never gives us a day off.  It is desperately easy, in a world where millions can be obliterated in a split second, to feel hopeless and to look in to the pit of despair.

In this world – OUR world – it’s too easy to forget about hope.

Today’s reading is an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian Church.  It is a valuable reminder for us, that those of us who live in Christ, have hope. Even when we confront death, when we mourn, we have hope.

Let me say that again. Despite everything, even in the face of death – we have hope.

Today I want to focus on that one four letter word, in respect to death for us Christians.

Listen to what Paul has to say:

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Unlike the rest of mankind, says Paul, we have hope, and in a world like ours, hope is an amazing thing to have.  These days, hope can come over as a ‘wishy washy’ sentiment.  But for a Christian, hope is a much stronger word.

The biblical definition of hope is “confident expectation.” In Romans and Hebrews we’re told that Hope is a firm assurance about things  that are unclear and unknown (Romans 8:24-25Hebrews 11:17). Indeed, in the funeral service we hear the words “ in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ”. This hope is not some wishful thinking.

Along with faith and love, hope is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as an enduring virtue of the Christian life, and in his letter to the Colossian Church, Paul asserts that love springs from hope.  And Paul’s letter to the Romans states that Hope produces joy and peace in believers through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul is big on hope.

Today’s reading goes to on say :

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him”

Paul reminds us that Jesus died and rose again, and in doing so destroyed death.  And that in the end of days, at the final coming of the Kingdom of God, those who have died as faithful Christians – will also be resurrected.

Although Paul says “so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind “, we’re not being told to not mourn, or not grieve when we lose someone close to us.  Jesus himself wept at the death of his friend. When a family member or friend dies, we will inevitably feel sadness and loss.  We miss them being in our life; we miss their presence, their words, their touch. Earlier this year I lost my father in law; although we lived 200 miles apart, I miss his voice, I miss his enthusiasm, his love for his family and his presence in my life.

Looking at the names on the wall, they were all mourned and missed by their families, their community.  We can think about how their lives might have unfolded, how they would have lived had they returned from the wars in which they fought. It’s right that we  should grieve and mourn for those lives unlived.

No, Paul is NOT telling us not to mourn.  He is telling us that we shouldn’t be like non-Christians in our grief; for us, we have that hope that death for faithful Christians is but a sleep until the return of Christ, at which point they will awake and be re-united with all those who they have loved. Yes – we will grieve, we will be sad, we will miss those who’re gone ahead of us – but we have that hope.

General Omar Bradley, who commanded US troops throughout the allied invasion of Europe in the Second World War, said:

“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

Today, two particular statements from Jesus’s sermon stand out, as we consider Paul’s thoughts on hope:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Those who mourn in Christ will indeed be comforted through the hope that Paul speaks of at the start of today’s reading.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Paul reminds us in Romans that hope produces joy and peace in Christians through the power of the Holy spirit.

Today, let us mourn and remember all those who’ve lost their lives in conflict. But let us also become peacemakers, and may we all be comforted in the hope – that confident expectation, that firm assurance – that we shall one day be re-united with those who have gone on before us, proclaiming the victory of the crucified Christ over death itself.

Amen

Reader Joe Pritchard

‘What now?’ – 5th November, All Soul’s Memorial Service

Based around 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 6: 37-40.

We are here tonight because of our individual experience of loss, it’s the reason that has brought us together. We want to remember our loved ones who we have lost, in a special way. Of course we remember them in our own hearts in private or among our families & friends much of the time but in a way a service like this helps us to mark their lives and their passing in a more formal, more public way and perhaps by doing this in church we feel that we can draw closer to God & hold our loved ones before him in prayer. It also gives us a space where we can be open about our feelings of loss and hurt and sadness without feeling that we have to put on a brave face for the sake of others. It’s ok to feel miserable, it’s ok to cry.

Sadly the older we get the more likely we are to experience the loss of people we care about. It’s hard enough when those people are very old and have had a good life but even harder when a death is untimely or through illness or is sudden when we were unprepared and feel cheated out of the time we thought we’d have together or of the chance to say goodbye. This can leave us feeling pretty raw and unfortunately there is no set formula or ritual or time to get over our grief. Each loss is unique because we are all unique and the relationships we have with one another are unique. What we feel and how we deal with loss is personal to us, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. That said though, it isn’t good to shut others out totally or hide away for too long for their sake or our own.

I’m at the stage in life where I have already been to too many funerals, family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues, all people who one way or another mattered to me a great deal and some I loved very dearly. The losses I feel most keenly include people from opposite ends of the age spectrum, my little first granddaughter, Lucy, who I never had the pleasure of getting to know, three friends who died way before they should have done and my wonderful dad who I had known & loved my whole life. Ten years on I still miss him very much and often wish I could ask his advice or share my thoughts and ideas with him because he of all people would understand me.

All those we lose leave a gap in our lives that can never truly be filled and we can feel that loss very keenly for a long time. Sometimes we wonder if we will ever be able to cope with it, but cope we must.

Only a few days ago Ann, one of my sister’s friends attended the funeral of her first  granddaughter, Cali Jane, who died at just a few months old after spending much of that time in a specialist hospital. After Ann came out from the service my sister said she looked utterly heartbroken and distraught and said “what now?” It’s the awful question that faces us all. Its two little words that express so much. What do we do when all the formalities are completed and we are left alone with our thoughts and feelings still raw, like open wounds that won’t stop hurting?

One of the changes that I think helps us in more recent times is how we say goodbye to our loved ones. When I was little funerals were almost always sombre, sad, serious occasions which tended to follow fairly rigid rituals that left little room for personal expression. In this part of the world everyone wore black or dark colours, looked solemn and children were usually excluded from the proceedings for fear it might upset them. Thankfully that’s largely changed now and we are more likely to celebrate the life of the person we have lost. Even little lives barely lived or not actually lived at all can be celebrated. If in the midst of our feelings of loss we can look at the good things we shared with our loved ones then we are likely to find that there is indeed much to celebrate and even smile about.

It might sound like an odd thing to say but I’ve been to some amazing funerals where a lot of joy as well as sorrow was expressed. Laughter has its place among the tears and there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a funeral without knowing a lot more about the person who has died, even when I knew them well, or so I thought. Crying and laughing together helps us take that first step into the “what now” that we all have to deal with after loss. It helps us to keep putting one foot in front of the other until we find our way to a new form of normality. As long as we hold our loved ones in our hearts we are not abandoning them.

We have come together tonight to remember our loved ones. They are lost to us here and now but I take comfort in knowing that they are not lost to God but are precious to him. A line from our reading from John’s Gospel reassures me if this. Jesus says “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of those he has given me, but raise them up on the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day”. I pray that you too will find comfort in this.

Amen.

Reader Kath Boyd

‘Reading the Bible’ – 29th October, 21st Sunday after Trinity

Based around Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22: 34-46.

Today is Bible Sunday, the Sunday when we’re particularly encouraged to focus on the Scriptures and give thanks for God’s Word. I wonder if any of you have ever tried to read the Bible from cover to cover?  How far did you get?  (I salute your superior sticking power)

Reading the Bible from cover to cover like we would a novel is not usually recommended.  Although fairly easy at first, with all the exciting stories in Genesis and Exodus it’s not long before you reach Leviticus.  And boy, is it tedious!  Repetitive (and rather gory) instructions on sacrifice. An obsession with leprosy – contracted by people, cloth, even houses.  Law after law.  Yawn!  You reach for the latest Dan Brown, intending to return to the Bible later, but it somehow never happens.

Christians react to Leviticus in one of two ways.  One is to regard it as a historical and religious curiosity – mostly a record of priestly laws and practices that have been superceded by Jesus and by modern science.  The other is to go through it with a fine toothcomb and insist very loudly that everyone follow most, if not all the laws there.

And yet, to do either of these things is to miss what is at the heart of Leviticus.  But let me digress for a couple of minutes…

Did any of you see the recent TV series about the London Fire Brigade? It followed the fire and rescue crews as they went about their work and gave a sobering insight into just what they face daily.  Quite often they can’t see a thing because of the smoke, so they rely on infrared detectors to find the seat of the fire.  They follow strict procedures to keep them as safe as possible whilst entering a burning building.  They wear special protective clothing and breathing apparatus.  They may only stay in the building for a set time, because their oxygen will only last 31 minutes.  They’re counted as they go in and out.  When they come out they must rest awhile before they are allowed back in again.    And you can’t necessarily just go in with a hose.  Sometimes you have to assess other safety issues first.  In one case, they first trained the hoses not on the fire itself, but on some gas cylinders nearby, cooling them so they wouldn’t explode.

Fire in itself is neither good nor bad.  It provides heat, light, energy.  It is attractive.  But it is undoubtedly dangerous.  If you don’t approach it in the right way you might be killed.  Fire must be respected.

For the people of Israel, recently rescued from slavery in Egypt, living with God in their very midst is like having a massive uncontrollable fire in the middle of the community.  God is attractive – full of life and power, awesome, protective, holy.  But God can be dangerous.  Like a fire, he should only be approached with extreme respect.

God cannot be tamed!  And so the laws of Leviticus enable Israel to live safely with God in their midst.  There are boundaries to be respected.  A specific cleanliness to be observed.  Rituals and sacrifices to be performed in the right way.

But throughout the book of Leviticus God says to Israel: “I, the LORD your God am holy.  Therefore you shall be a holy people”.  God is holy.  And God has given Israel the gift of holiness.  Leviticus, then, is all about how to live as a holy nation, with the presence of God living in the midst.  What does it mean to be a holy people?

Yes it’s about maintaining a right relationship with God through worship.  But just as importantly,  it’s about how you live your everyday life in community with each other, family, friend, neighbour, rich and poor, countryman and foreigner.  Treat any of your fellow human beings wrongly and you break boundaries, causing sin to pollute the land.

Chapters 17-26 of Leviticus are known as the “holiness code”.   And at the heart of everyday holiness is is the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself.  A commandment repeated on many occasions by Jesus in the gospels and by Paul in his letters.

The holiness code spells out in detail what it means to love your neighbour as yourself.  So loving your neighbour means dealing honestly with others, not defrauding them, judging justly, not harbouring a grudge, but correcting a neighbour when they’ve gone wrong.  Loving your neighbour means leaving the edges of your fields unharvested so that the poor can glean what’s left.  It means paying your labourers at the end of a day’s work, not the following morning.

Peppered throughout chapter 19 is the reminder “I am the LORD” or “I am the LORD your God”!  When you go about your everyday life, God is there!  So live your life in a way that truly shows you are God’s holy nation.

When we read Leviticus, it’s obvious that parts of it are now mostly of historical interest.  We no longer sacrifice animals.  Understandings in science and medicine mean that the much feared so-called “leprosy” – skin diseases and mildew – can often be successfully treated these days.  And we have, for good reasons, dropped many of Leviticus’ other individual laws.

But we are still God’s people.  His Spirit lives among us.  And the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself is one that is as relevant to us now as it was to the ancient Israelites.  So let’s not forget that God wants us to be a holy people too.  And let’s use the very practical examples listed in Leviticus 19 of what loving your neighbour meant then to guide us as we work out what this means practically for us today.

Reader Catherine Burchell.

‘In the Image of God’ – 22nd October, 19th Sunday after Trinity

Based around Matthew 22:15-22.

Image.  For some people, many people, image is everything – wearing the right clothes, carrying the right accessories, owning the right car or house or possessions, being seen in the right places, appearing successful, having the perfect family or job.  All social groups can get drawn into the image trap – young men and women may ask “Am I seen as sufficiently good looking?” or “Do I come across as sufficiently tough or streetwise?”; middle aged people may ask “Do I seem adequately successful?” “Is my home creating the right image?” Even churches can be drawn into the image trap – do we present the right image to be seen as successful in human terms?

People have always been concerned with image – portrait painters used to make people look more like the ideal of the day rather than necessarily portraying them as they truly were. Henry VIII felt deceived by the portrait he was shown of Anne of Cleves which he felt was overly flattering and did not represent the woman he was to marry.  Oliver Cromwell insisted that his portraitist paint him “warts and all”, wanting to be seen as he was.

In this age of multi media, of photoshopping and airbrushing, of social media and the constant desire for “likes” or new “friends” – image seems to be more dominant in people’s lives than ever. When the only people you mixed with and compared yourself with were in your local community it was hard to maintain an illusion that was not true as everyone knew each others’ homes and families.  But in cyber space, creating the right image seems to dominate.  However, always striving after a particular image can lead to all sorts of problems – depression and lack of self-worth if people feel they can’t really live up to the illusion of success they feel they should; debt if people try to buy the image they want but cannot really afford it; or just a sense that “being me” is never enough.  Wearing a mask, creating an illusion is tiring and ultimately unsatisfying. Trying to live up to an image that is not really yourself does not bring true happiness.

Image is a the centre of our Gospel reading today – even if it does not immediately appear to be!

Jesus is approached by some Pharisees and Herodians determined to catch him out.   They begin by flattering Jesus and then ask their trick question – is it right to pay tax to the Emperor?  They are trying to trick Jesus into showing himself either as a bad Jew or a rebel against Rome.  Jesus sees through their intentions and replies with his own question: “Whose image is on the coin used for the tax?”   “The Emperor’s” is the reply – so Jesus says, “Give to the Emperor what is the Emperor’s and give to God what is God’s”. That seems a neat and simple solution – pay imperial tax in the coin of Rome, obey Roman law in a secular context but maintain your religion and honour God as a separate part of life.  Keep religion and politics separate.

But Jesus was not presenting that duality.  We could say that Jesus’ question was a trick question as well.  Whose image is on the coin? The Pharisees and Herodians could only say, “The Emperor’s” as it was his relief on the coin.  But as every person is created in the image of God – it could be said that God’s image was on the coin (in the shape of Emperor) – but Jews were not allowed to make images of God.

If we go back to Genesis Chapter 1 we read: “ God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. And so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.”  This is central to our understanding of ourselves in God’s Kingdom.

Most weeks we use the Eucharistic prayer that includes the words “For he is your Living Word, through him you have created all things from the beginning and formed us in you own image.”

We are all formed in God’s image – not in the shape of our features, the colour of our skin or hair, our level of intelligence or our physical perfection – but as human beings infused with the life and image of God breathed into us from the dawn of creation. As humans we all bear God’s image.

Thus the coin in our story bears the depiction of the Emperor’s head but therefore also shows a person created in God’s image – as every human is. We cannot separate  what is the Emperor’s and what is God’s – we do not live in a dualistic world. Every interaction we have with another human being is an interaction with another person made in God’s image, as we are.

This is not to say that there are not people who act in appalling and evil ways, who cause untold damage, distress and pain and who constantly seem to deny all that is Godly within them – but we believe it is possible for God’s word and God’s love to break in and transform and redeem and restore the centrality and sanctity of his own image. As our hymn “To God be the Glory” says “the vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”

We are all made in God’s image – not the same, but each unique, different, special – each as valued as every other.  We never need to wear a mask or strive to conform to an image from outside – we only need to be ourselves, in the image of God, precious in the sight of God, loved as we are and for whom we are. The only perfection we need to strive after is our own in God’s eyes, and to make the most of our life among others.

Life is not compartmentalised into the “Emperor’s” (secular and political) and God’s (spiritual). God’s image is in everyone and therefore everywhere. We are first and foremost bearers of God’s image and so our primary calling is to honour God. Thus we can stand up for Kingdom values of justice in the world and values of truth, grace, mercy and love in every sphere of life.

This week a new series has started on TV – Bad Habits, Holy Orders – where five young women, self confessed party girls whose image conscious lives centre around clothes, make up, alcohol, casual relationships and having a “good time” have signed up for a spiritual exploration never expecting that they will end up spending four weeks in a convent in Norfolk. In the first week they have already begun to have their perspectives shifted on clothes, money, reliance on social media and much else and have learned to appreciate others more, It will be interesting to see how they progress as they are confronted by entirely different ideas of identity, image and self-worth. They are learning too that the spiritual is in everything from shopping and cleaning to basketball and prayer in the chapel.

Our Gospel story has tended to allow people to see a duality in the world – between “God’s” and “the Emperor’s” – the spiritual versus the economic and political. But we are all in God’s image – so every interaction is about God. The spiritual may be personal but the personal is, as it is said, political (and economic and social) – so the spiritual, God’s realm, encompasses all of life. Honouring God’s image in ourselves means honouring God’s image in others, in everyone, all the time. We don’t need to chase any other image.

Amen.

Reader Anne Grant.

‘Don’t worry, be happy’ – 15th October, 18th Sunday after Trinity

Based around Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14.

Note this sermon was preached at both the 10:30am and 6:30pm, but was written originally for the evening service where Isaiah 25:1-9 was one of the set readings.

When I’m asked to preach, I take a look at the readings that will be used, read them, pray around them and then put them on one side for a while to allow them to simmer.  Sometimes one will immediately leap out at me as being the one I feel moved to preach on; other times, it takes longer.

Until about 10 days ago, I was planning on preaching on Isaiah.

However, the Holy Spirit often has different plans for us.  I belong to a Facebook group for the US Episcopalian Church – our Anglican brothers and sisters in Christ in the US – and one morning I saw a post that suggested that worry was a sin.  My compassion was outraged; the exact words I posted were :

‘I’m sorry but ” please be aware that such emotions are considered a sin in the Lord’s eyes:” is, to me, spiritual abuse and may well deflect people away from a relationship with Jesus at the very time that they need it.’

And almost immediately after posting this I thought…hang on a minute…and returned to the readings for tonight.

And there, in Philippians, was Paul’s instruction to us:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Not quite explicitly labelling worry a sin, but enough to make me think that maybe I needed to think about Paul’s letter to the Philippians rather than Isaiah.

And to finally dive the point home, another article was bought to my attention from an email list I subscribe to that looked at Peter and worry.

I can take a hint, Lord.

And so, here we are.

The reading from Paul is part of one of his pastoral letters. Verses 2 and 3 refer to Euodia and Synteche – two prominent women leaders of the Church – who were having something of a disagreement that was causing problems.  Quite what the disagreement was about, we’re not told; but it was enough for Paul to exhort everyone involved – including the person he gave the letter to (the ‘loyal companion’) to try and resolve it.

We can look at the rest of the reading tonight almost as series of bullet-points that Paul provides to help with the dispute – whatever may have caused it.  And I think we can also apply these suggestions to quite a lot that happens in our daily lives.

We are told to:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord, and be known for your kindness and gentleness.
  2. Don’t worry; pray and allow the peace of the Lord to fill your hearts and minds.
  3. Think about the good things that you’re doing, that you’re experiencing, and focus and build on them.

Paul reminds us in Verse 4 to always rejoice in the Lord; I guess that if people ARE rejoicing in the Lord, it’s probably harder for them to have a good row!  And, thinking about it, why shouldn’t we all rejoice in the Lord; there is God the Father – the creator God….there is Jesus, who loves us despite ourselves….there is the Holy Spirit, that brings the Grace of God to us, that opens our minds and hearts to the works of the Father and the Son.  Why shouldn’t we rejoice in the Lord?

And then we come to the verse that I was reminded of on Facebook. Just to remind us:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

And it’s NOT just Paul – after all, we know that Paul can get a bit grumpy.  In the first letter of Peter, Chapter 5,, we read:

“ Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I get concerned and anxious about stuff. More than I should. Always have done; I started young, and even now I guess I’m something of a worry-wart, so you can see why I encountered this verse with some trepidation. Many people come to faith in the depths of worry; a good number even stay with Jesus when times get better! But to be told not to worry, but to pray instead? To cast our anxieties on God? Where does this leave us?

There is a famous quotation, attributed to Oliver Cromwell:

“Put your trust in God, but keep your powder dry.” Wet gunpowder in a musket or cannon wouldn’t burn – the message here is that Cromwell trusted in God to deliver the day, but accepted that he had to play his part.  Think of Gideon, dealing with the Midianites. God basically prunes his army down to a few hundred men – God effectively telling Gideon that ‘I’m with you on this, you can do it!’ but Gideon still whittles AND God still expects him to do something towards winning the battle – to go and listen in the camp of the Midianites and to take to the field.

Now, back to me and my anxieties. I look at what I’m anxious or concerned about and ask myself the simple question: “At this moment in time, have I done everything that is within my power to deal with the situation I’m anxious about?”  If I answer Yes – so be it, that’s all I can do, I thank God and pray for his continued strength, guidance and grace.  If I answer “No” to myself – then rather than worrying, I look to identifying what I still need to do, then pray for God’s help in getting me through the task.

I think Paul is highlighting the difference between valid concern that can be acted upon, and that all-encompassing, paralysing, deep-seated worry that for so many of us stops us in our tracks and can, for a while, become something so big that it’s almost an idol – a negative, fearful, idol that deflects us away from God.

I’ve had moments in my life when worry has paralysed me; it becomes the most important thing in my life; it feels like it will never go away. I think that this is what Paul is actually warning about; when we feel that the worry itself becomes bigger than God’s grace in our lives.  Paul reminds us here of two things for dealing with worry:

  • That by prayer and supplication and thanksgiving we should put our requests and in God’s hands.
  • And that by doing so, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This can sound a bit platitudinous, but when we are truly in that place with worry, where we have done all that we can possibly do, worry does nothing but get between us, our friends and family, and God.  When is there a better time to fall back on God’s grace to help us?

I can imagine that this sort of idolatrous worry wouldn’t have helped matters between Euodia and Synteche and the rest of the Philippi Church elders.

And it doesn’t help us.

And Paul’s final thoughts tonight? Keep doing the good stuff. Keep catching each other out in being good. Focus on excellence – now that sounds like a modern day management theory, doesn’t it? Give praise when praise is due.

It’s hard to imagine that those problems in the Philippi Church would survive such a strategy; Rejoice in the Lord, be nice to each other, don’t be paralysed and side-tracked  by worry and despair, focus on excellence and give praise where praise is due.

Perhaps our day to day problems and concerns might benefit from some Pauline management skills, summed up in the lyrics of the song by Bobby Ferrin:

“Don’t worry, be happy”

Amen.

Reader Joe Pritchard