March 2016

March 22nd 2016: Luke 22: 39-53

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Have you ever prayed so earnestly that it was as if you were sweating blood? In our comfortable Western context, prayer can easily lack intensity. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where someone sweated like great drops of blood blood in anguished prayer. If they did, we’d probably try and calm them down, make them sit down so as not to distress other people. Jesus, as he does this, is entering the most intense moment, not just of his life, but arguably of all of human history. Still, it’s a detail that can sometimes get brushed over in our cultural of appropriateness.

Jesus finds his disciples sleeping ‘because of grief’ and demands that they pray ‘earnestly that you might not come into the time of trial’. If we do pray like this, it’s easy for us to slip into feeling selfish or to descend into self-absorption. Recently, the concept of the enemy ‘prowling like a lion that he might devour some’ has been much on my mind. As I write this in front of the backdrop of the unfolding event of the terror attacks in Brussels this morning, I find myself thinking again of how accepting I have become of ‘times of trial’, moments when evil rears its head and wreaks as much havoc as it possibly can, seeking not just to devour individuals, but whole communities, cultures and ideologies. Evil is part of our world, our lives, but it is never acceptable. We should do all we can to stand against it, recognising, especially this week of all weeks, that we have one who is for us and who went to the Cross to defeat evil. In our own lives, in our thoughts and actions, in our words, in our politics, in the choices we make with money, let us not be people who repay evil for evil. Let’s instead be people who pray earnestly for those who find themselves in a time of trial, that the merciful love of God would enfold them. Let’s be people who, when faced with evil, repay it with good. Where there is hatred, let’s bring love. Easy in theory, but all so very hard in practice.

Let’s be people who hold true to the one we believe in and love, the Prince of Peace.


March 2016

March 21st 2016: Luke 22:1-23

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

As we enter Holy Week once again, the challenge for the reader is not to understand and explain what and why things happened, but working out which elements of the story we should particularly focus on this particular year’s journey to the cross. The scale and scope of the narrative and its consequences are too great for us to comprehend its entire breadth at all times, or at least they are for me. Reading the story of Judas deciding to betray Jesus this morning, the eye is drawn to the question at the passage’s end. These people had lived with and followed Jesus for three years. How could any of them betray him?

All of us have experience of committing to a person, group or institution and ending up disappointed. As those who welcomed Jesus in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday felt let down by the lack of a strong and mighty saviour and disavowed him on Good Friday under pressure from the Jewish authorities, so it can be easy for us to decide that, as we haven’t got what we wanted from those we put our trust in, what we were promised, even, then we’re well within our rights, our entitlement, to go and find what we deserve elsewhere.

I often wonder about the emotional life of Jesus, about his feelings. We’re given small glimpses into it in the Gospels, but not on this particular occasion. Here’s one who has come to bring about a new covenant between God and his people, betrayed by those he loved, who he has taught, related to, lived his life with and for.

And yet for all our deal making and seeking to better ourselves without reference to him, or even perhaps whilst attempting to use him as a bargaining chip, Jesus went to the cross anyway. He chose to die, to lay down his life for his friends. That’s the call of the Christian life, to accept the gifts God gives us, and then to live in such a generous way that those gifts are shared as widely as possible. We are to lay down our lives, not seeking to protect ourselves or feather our own nests.


Talk Text: Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I haven’t posted sermon notes here for a while. Not for a particular reason really, apart from not having got round to it. As I had the privilege of speaking to a full and vibrant Church yesterday morning at Emmanuel, I thought I’d put the text of my notes up here for anyone who was there who wanted to check it again, or for anyone who wasn’t who wanted to know what I said. I hope you find it helpful. Happy Easter to all of you who read this site. Thank you for doing so!


Happy Easter! The message of Easter is this: Jesus is alive, Jesus is risen. Death is conquered. The glory is His. He offers life to us, a hope for today, tomorrow and for eternity. It is finished. Forever. Amen.


There, in case you want to switch off, those are the key points for today.


I heard someone say recently that one of the strongest reasons why it’s highly likely that Jesus did rise from the dead is that if he hadn’t, it’s pretty unlikely that we’d still be talking about it. Stuff without the ring of truth to it quickly fades away and is forgotten. Stories with truth at their core often endure.


I’m not trying to convince you of the truth of the resurrection this morning. Personally I’m not clever enough to do that, and it’s a matter for your own faith to decide whether you believe or not, but as we look at the readings we’ve had this morning, some key questions have come up for me:


  1. The importance of hearing the story

Some of us might know the story of that first Easter day well. Some of us might be hearing it for the first time this morning. Some women who had followed Jesus went to his tomb to take care of his body. They’d been worried about how they would roll away the stone that covered the door, but when they arrived they found it had already been moved. They find an angel, who, in effect, says “don’t worry, Jesus isn’t here anymore, he’s been raised”, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Not surprisingly, terror and amazement overtook them, and they fled to tell the disciples that the Lord was risen. The women are told that they will see Jesus “just as he told you” in Galilee. This was always going to happen, is the suggestion.


I can tell you, I would have fled too. Jesus was no longer dead. He was alive. The whole of the world, the whole of history, had changed forever. It’s ok to think this is unusual.


It does us good to remember this story. Not just because it’s a cracking good story, but because it shows us that Jesus, who died because he loves us, also rose because he loves us


  1. What (and Whose) Story Are We Entering Into?


In our other reading this morning, Paul lays out the story. Jesus died for our sins, to follow what had been promised. He rose from the dead to follow what had been promised. Then he appeared to an ever-increasing number of those who followed him, and the Church was born. We celebrate Pentecost later on in the year, when we remember the gift that God gave us of the Holy Spirit to be with us, our friend, advisor and protector, for all of our lives as Christians. God with us, living within us. Christ in us the hope of glory.


The story we are entering into is one of the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s his story, it has become ours. What did we say that good news was? Jesus is alive? Hope is here. Death is defeated. We are free. Life for all. As we say in communion sometimes, “this is our story, this our song, Hosanna in the highest”. Hosanna celebrates the coming of a King, a liberator. Jesus is our liberator. As we are part of His Church, the story we enter into is the story of His freeing and liberating of those who are in chains, those who are struggling, those who have no hope. The story has its end in the picture of the future that Revelation 21 gives us, of a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more suffering, no more tears, no more pain and no more death. The hope for this new life was made real when Jesus rose from the dead. His Church exists to thank Him and to point the way to Him for others to follow.


And so…


3. How Can We Live the Story In Our Own Lives?

This, basically, is what does it mean to be a Christian? Jesus is alive. Hope is here. Death is defeated. So what? What difference does it make to our lives, our families, what we spend our time doing, what we spend our money on? Why does it matter at all?


God has given us the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Bible which tells his story. The story of a God who chased his people throughout history, longing to give them abundant life. Now God asks us to, as it were, improvise. There isn’t a right way to be a Christian. There isn’t a wrong way to be a Christian. There isn’t a script. There is, instead, something much more exciting. We’re called to a lifelong ministry of improvisation.  God gifts us peace and joy. How do we live peacefully and joyfully? It’s our privilege and our joy to work this out together. Jesus calls us to care for the poor, and to preach the good news to them. How do we do that? It’s our privilege to work that out together too.  It’s not as if any of us really know how to do this thing called “church” well, is it? We are fortunate here to be in a loving community and family, I love it, and I’m so blessed to be part of it with you all. I’ll tell you this for free though, I make mistakes all the time. I doubt myself all the time. Woe betide me if I ever think I know what I’m doing in my own faith or as a leader. But we’re asked to work together with God in holy improvisation to, basically, show in as many ways as we can that Jesus is alive. Doesn’t sound too bad when you put it like that does it?


Jesus calls us to go in to all the world with him and encourage people to follow him, by telling them his story, our story, inviting them to make it their story, and their song, that together we can sing now, and one day for eternity, “Hosanna in the highest”. Let’s rejoice together today, and commit together to showing people Jesus in how we live tomorrow.