‘Training Manuals’ – 21st May, 6th Sunday of Easter

Many years ago I used to write training manuals and teach courses about various technical subjects.  One of my mentors had previously served in the Royal Air Force, and told me that the basic technique I should adopt in writing technical manuals was “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and tell ‘em you’ve told ‘em.”

If you’ve ever read manuals produced for the Services, you may well have seen this style of writing.

And I was reminded of it a few days ago when I read tonight’s reading from Peter to prepare this sermon.

You see, I’d preached on another part of Peter’s 1st Letter a couple of weeks ago.  And to be honest, when I re-read tonight’s reading from from Peter I thought to myself ‘Hang on, this sounds a bit familiar’, and indeed similar issues are raised in it to the issues he covered in Chapter 2 of his letter.

It did indeed feel that Peter was drilling something very important in to us.

Peter’s first letter isn’t quite like that pastoral letters that Paul wrote; there’s little of a personal nature in it, and rather than it being addressed to a particular Church, it’s addressed to Christians scattered all over Asia Minor.  Some scholars have commented that that this, and the general style of writing and content, suggest that it was either intended to be read as a sermon or a baptismal address, or that it was a letter based on a sermon.  This would allow the content of the letter as a whole – which is based around handling and dealing with persecution, and the response of Christians to persecution – to be seen as an address to be preached.  Other scholars have said that it’s just as possible that Peter wrote the letter as a letter to a widely spread group of Christians, to be copied and taken to different places, because many Christians from Asia Minor were in Jerusalem when he preached at the first Pentecost, and this was his follow up, so to say.

Whatever the case, Peter starts by again reminding us that if we’re to be persecuted or punished it should be for going good – doing what we are expected to do as a Christian – and not because we’ve committed a crime.

 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

He’s telling the readers to answer those who might persecute them or criticise their behaviour in such a way as to make those persecutors think, or even feel shame.  Remember the old saying “You catch more flies with wine than with vinegar’? I think Peter is suggesting that here!

Verse 18 reminds us that Jesus – the only totally righteous man – suffered and was put to death in order that the rest of us could be bought to God.

Verses 19 to 22 of tonight’s reading are quite widely discussed by theologians.  There are a number of viewpoints held by different scholars, but I’ll stick with the most straight forward one tonight –

When Noah was building the ark, Christ ‘in the spirit’ – that is, prior to His incarnation through Mary – preached through Noah to the unbelievers who were on earth during the time. Noah and his family survived the flood, the others who disobeyed and did not repent so now are ‘spirits in prison’.


I have to say that better minds than mine have taken a look at this question and identified a couple of snags with this interpretation, and have offered other interpretations based on other translations of scripture.

But the thing to take away from this section of the reading is that the flood is symbolic of baptism. The water of the flood swept away the wicked; the water of our baptism washes the sin from us and allows us to be saved by Christ.

I think Peter’s letter speaks to ANY Christian at a time of direct persecution or at a time when it’s hard to be a Christian and behave in a Christ like manner in a society that is increasingly secular and that is governed and managed in a way that make deprivation and lack of compassion a common feature of everyday life.

Peter asks us “Who will harm you if you are eager to do good?” These days we may feel that society itself has a distinct tendency to make doing good – being a practical follower of Christ – hard; Peter tells us that even if we do suffer for doing good, we shouldn’t be scared. We shouldn’t respond with disrespect and anger but should respond in a way that reflects the fact that we are saved by Christ’s resurrection; with gentleness and love.

Sometimes we all feel moved to make a stand for something we believe in; as Christians we’re reminded of ‘what matters’ by the words of Micah – show mercy, do justly, love God.  Being merciful, just and compassionate can be incredibly hard in a society that doesn’t value those virtues as much as it might.  And we start wondering, “If it’s so hard, and I can get hurt, am I the right person for this job?”

But you know what? I think that Peter is telling us that not only are we the right people for the job, we’re the people who’re best equipped for it, and we’re the ONLY people who will be saved by Jesus Christ.

We’re not just the right people for the job; it’s the job we Christians are here for, and we need to get on with it.

Reader Joe Pritchard


Readings for sermon and links:

1 Peter 3:13-22

‘The Heart of Prayer’ – 21st May, 6th Sunday of Easter

We are all aware of the differences to be found in the many traditions of worship in the Church, such great variety of expression. There is, however, one practice that all Christian traditions follow. All pray, and although I am not familiar with all of the many styles of prayer I am certain that the majority end with the words ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’, or something similar. The only public prayer that I can think of that does not is what we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.


Prayers can vary so much. Some can be devout; and some even outrageous when God is told what He should be doing for us. Unhappily, the words, ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’, because of their familiarity can become something like a mantra. A neat ending to our prayer, which cannot be faulted because the words are true.


We know that, as Jesus promised, if we pray in His name He will answer our prayer, but when things do not turn out as we would like we have a problem which we get round by saying that God will answer in His own way. This does not always disguise our disappointment, of course, but disappointment is inevitable when we offer our prayers more in hope than expectation.


So let us now see if we can add some substance to our prayers. To do that we need to think about why we pray. It is so instinctive and it is right that we should but what is the thinking behind our prayer?


The meaning of the words of Jesus about us asking in His name is far more significant than just being a formula spoken at the end of our prayers, even though the words are true. They have great depth because we are told to offer our prayers in His name.


In Biblical sense a person’s name is virtually the same as the person themselves. To put it another way, a person’s name is the very essence of that person. Jesus was not speaking in the manner of ‘just mention my name’, as we say these days. It was an invitation to invoke Himself as our Divine Mediator, mediation being the core function of His priesthood.


With this in mind our prayers take on a whole new dimension, for by our prayers in the name of Jesus we are joining in the divine mission of Jesus, epitomised by His words from the cross pleading for those who were killing Him; Father, forgive them.

To approach our Father in the name of Jesus is an invitation to join in His divine mission of reconciliation. This is not presumption on our part but acceptance of His invitation and promise. And it is costly.


The ultimate cost was paid by Jesus on the cross and we are invited to share in His self-giving when we offer our prayers in His name, remembering that the name is the person. Such self-giving cannot be sustained by our own efforts but it doesn’t have to be. We have the Holy Spirit to help us, and we need His help, for we are talking of a movement of the heart towards Jesus, not a clinical calculation or formula to ensure that our prayers are answered.

For this reason the grace that comes through the Holy Spirit is essential for it is He who unites us with Jesus in our prayer. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us to fulfil our Christian lives, but there is another side to the coin in that the Holy Spirit is essential for the fulfilling of Christ’s mission, in which we have a part to play.


Our prayer is part of His sacrifice because we are one with Him in His purpose as our Great High Priest. This sharing with Him is active and organic in that it is alive, just as Jesus is alive. This is so for all of our prayer.


It can be difficult to think like this when we are faced with the all encompassing prayers that are used on grand public occasions, the sort of prayers that are so vague as to cover a multitude of situations and offend nobody. Broad intentions or requests that speak of matters beyond our comprehension.


Such prayers are no less real in their intent, but when we hear them we can bring them to life by having in mind what the words, ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ mean, and then bring the intentions into the presence of Jesus our Great High Priest, the One who lives to intercede for us.


In His sacrifice Jesus gave glory to God and when He said “It is finished” He knew that the first chapter was over and that in Him the Father would be glorified because His only Son had been faithful to the last. His death was but the end of a chapter and the beginning of the next.


In saying to His disciples, and to us, that whatever is asked in His name He will do, Jesus is giving us an invitation to join with Him in His sacrificial priesthood. Our prayer is for others, certainly, and it is also an opportunity to share and join in with the priesthood of Jesus.

That is why we pray. Not to manipulate God but to offer ourselves to Him on behalf of others, as Jesus the Son of God, offered Himself.


To pray in whatever form it takes, is an opportunity to share with Jesus and is welcomed by Him with open arms. It is a privilege for us that He has achieved by His self-giving and like all privilege it comes with responsibilities, albeit that it is also to be treasured and loved.


This goes far beyond a mantra tacked on at the end of a supplication. By using the words ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ we exercise our vocation as Christians, offering our self-giving life with His; and in doing so we give glory to our Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Fr Ron Barret


Readings for sermon and links:

John 14: 13-14

Transfiguration – 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9 (26th February, Last Sunday before Lent)

Mountain tops are always special places.  The summit, the very top – is  a place where there is nowhere else to go except into another dimension of sky and space – or back down into the more mundane world.

Everything of the world of buildings, roads, shops, daily life – even of trees and habitations – seems far away, small and insignificant.  Sometimes cloud like a blanket may fill the valleys – leaving grey skies for those below while the mountain tops enjoy brilliant sun.

In some countries people erect massive crosses on the tops of some mountains – perhaps expressing their sense of a spiritual dimension to the mountain top.

Spiritually we refer to” mountain top experiences” such as  times of special clarity, of faith gained or renewed, of enlightenment, or joy, understanding, inspiration or hope.  Mountain top experiences are usually all too quickly followed by a need to return to the mundane and everyday.

For the disciples chosen to accompany Jesus to the mountain top where the transfiguration took place – we have to wonder what the experience meant in the days and weeks and years after the event.  We know that at the time they were struck with awe and fear and were not sure how to react.  But what of later in the months and years after the event?

The passage we have read today from 2 Peter makes it clearer what was the lasting impact on an eyewitness.

When we think of the story of the transfiguration we usually focus on the light, the brightness but it is rather the sound, the words that were heard that have most impact on our eyewitness.  The voice of God from the cloud in that moment of glory and honour and majesty says “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him”.  It is the voice that caused the disciples to fall on the ground in fear.

Light, the shining glow was amazing but it was the voice they heard that was most incredible and awe-inspiring. The voice confirmed Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ.  Light can glow and dazzle and sparkle and astound our eyes but a voice from heaven is incredible and terrifying.

Jesus told those on the mountain with him to say nothing of what they had experienced until “after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” which surely made no sense to them at the time.

This mountain top experience was not just a moment of amazing light and glory – it affirmed Jesus as Christ and it acted as a prophetic moment.  It linked Jesus into the whole Jewish tradition and history through the brief appearance of Elijah and Moses.  It affirmed God’s enduring faithfulness and present blessing but it also pointed forward to a time beyond that present moment – to a time the disciples could not yet know or comprehend after the resurrection and even beyond that to a time of glory in the future, the second coming of Christ.

And so we hear the eyewitness tell the early church that it would “do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts!”. The exhortation to be attentive to Christ was not just for those on the mountain top, but now in the post Easter, post Resurrection, post Ascension world it is for all the church.  The exhortation is to pay heed to this momentary revelation of Christ’s glory and look for its fulfilment in the second coming of the Christ. Hold fast to the prophetic dimension of the transfiguration to inspire hearts in the present and long for the light and glory of Christ to transform even the dark places of this life.

When pondering about this sermon last week I was reminded of a book I read 40 years ago for “A” Level French – Vol de Nuit by Antoine de Saint Exupery about” bush pilots” in South America flying  small mail planes through the night. These are the very early days of commercial flying and there are none of the computer aids enjoyed by pilots today. One solo pilot finds himself not just flying through the night but caught in a bad storm that blocks out all light and any landmark. Ultimately this pilot chooses to gain altitude until he finally breaks through the storm clouds to where he knows there will be light and landmarks – the moon and stars and maybe even the amazing sight of the approaching dawn.  He gains altitude to find the lights that have aided navigation throughout history.

Believing the light is there even when it seems hidden, holding on to the promise of glory can pull us through the dark times of life and draw our hearts and minds upwards to look to God and trust in his word, his truth and his glory.

This brings us to the last point made in our 2 Peter reading – the exhortation to hold to what it truly prophetic from God, to God’s word and not to ideas and interpretations just thought up by people.

True prophecy is inspired by the Holy Spirit in the words of men and women.  True prophecy enlightens our heart, emboldens us to seek after Christ.  It deepens our love for others and draws us into deeper communion with God.

The Transfiguration was not just a strange event for the benefit of a chosen few on a mountain top – it was an affirmation for all of Christ’s identity, a foretaste of Christ’s risen and ascended glory and a promise of the second coming.  It is a call to all of us to heed the word of God and to follow Christ’s way, listening to his authentic voice.

As we turn our eyes to Lent and Easter let us hold in our hearts the promise of the Transfiguration. God, incarnate in Jesus, the Christ, lived among us, died for us, and rose in glory and leads us also to glory, bringing us into the light and splendour of his glorious kingdom.

May we daily aspire to let Christ dwell in us, inspiring us, drawing us from the dark places in our lives into the transforming glory of his presence. A presence we can know now in the joy of our hearts and in the light shining in the darkness and a presence we can look forward to as a prophetic promise of eternal life in God’s unending Kingdom.

Reader Anne Grant


Readings for the sermon and links:

2 Peter 1:16-21   Matthew 17:1-9