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Showing posts from 2009

Love in the Shape of a Cross

John 1.1-14

Now that we've talked about our own presents, it's time to open another one - a present for everybody here today but, as I hope you can see, it's not a very big present.

Someone helps me to open it and it turns out to be an empty box with the words 'Love' scrawled on each of it's six sides.
Well, an empty box of love. That's a bit of a lightweight gift, isn't it? I'm reminded of the priest who went on holiday to Spain. He was a visiting a church one day and when the sexton discovered that he was a priest he said to him, 'Would you like to see our most holy treasure? Normally we only get it out on feast days, and then we parade it around the village, but - as you're a priest - I'll give you a special glimpse of it. And he led the priest down to the crypt under the church and there on a tiny stone niche under the high altar was a golden box with a glass lid. The sexton lifted it down carefully and the priest looked inside. As his …

The Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9.2-7, Luke 2.1-14, Titus 2.11-14

The zeal of the Lord of Hosts versus the boots of earth-shaking armies on the march. It's a slight over translation but it's a wonderfully evocative image and if you went to the cinema, to see Schindler's List or the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then you'll have a vivid idea of the sort of clash which Isaiah has in mind.
In Schindler's List the confrontation is between an enterprising man and a group of Jewish prisoners on the one side, and the might of the Nazi war machine on the other, symbolised by a cohort of SS soldiers parading through the streets of Cracow. The whole street seems to shake as they march past the camera.
In The Lord of the Rings the confrontation is between Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring on one side, and the huge armies of the dark land of Mordor on the other. As the vast column of soldiers heads for the battlefield where they will confront the forces of goodness, the whole canyon through whi…

Big Things in Small Packages

Micah 5.1-5, Luke 1.39-45
Last week all eyes were fixed on Copenhagen, and no wonder for the very future of the world hangs in the balance. Will the world's leaders be able to settle their differences and save the human race and many other creatures from extinction, or will they continue to bicker and prevaricate while one half of the world fries and the other half drowns?Great hopes were invested in President Obama. Would he or wouldn't he even go to Copenhagen, and if he did would he be able to break the deadlock? Sadly, his keynote speech seemed only to make matters worse by putting all the blame on China and humiliating the Chinese delegation. Is something as basic as injured pride going to be the cause of humanity's downfall?Micah describes a similar situation. It's not the world that is under threat in his prophecy, of course, but the tiny country of Judah. The people have had to flee the land and take shelter behind the walls of their cities while the Assyrian ho…

God's Grace at Work in the World

Baruch 5:1-9, Philippians 1:1-11, Luke 1.57-64

Baruch is a book which didn't make it into the Protestant version of the canon of scripture, although you will find it in the Roman Catholic version. It purports to have been written soon after the Exile of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon and other parts of the Middle East. The author claims to be Baruch, the person who wrote down the prophecies of Jeremiah, but because no copies have survived in the Hebrew language - if indeed there ever were any - people have long suspected that it was written much later, probably during a time of rebellion against the Greek rulers of Palestine about 150 years before the birth of Christ.

The opening image of chapter 5 pictures Jerusalem as a woman, perhaps a widow or an orphan, who is exchanging the garments of mourning for a wedding dress. Now at last, after a long time of exile and sadness, it is the time for celebration.

When I went with my daughter, Jenny, to see her try on the wedding dress wh…

The Gift of Hope

Malachi 3.1b—2 , Luke 1.68—74 When I was small my grandfather used to tell the story of his most memorable childhood Christmas. I always used to find it unbearably sad, but it's important to say that he didn't tell the story to get sympathy, or as a way into a rant about how young people don't know how lucky they are these days. He always told it as a funny story, and - of course - as a warning about what happens to naughty children.The story goes like this, when he was small - about five or six years' old - he slept in the same bed as his younger brother. On Christmas morning he woke up very early and decided to look in his Christmas stocking. And guess what was in it? An apple, an orange, a six pence and - one toy. It was a clockwork train. He wound it up and it ran along the bed. Then he wound it up and it ran along the bed again. And then he wound it up and, again, it ran along the bed.And then he got bored. So he decided to have a look in his brother's stockin…

The Perfect Leader

Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36As we enter a new liturgical year, with the beginning of Advent, how appropriate that the Old Testament reading should be about the perfect leader, because - before the year is out - we shall be thinking a lot about what it takes to lead a modern nation state out of economic crisis and through the uncharted waters of global warming.

The prophecy was first spoken in the context of impending disaster. The days were surely coming when the Kingdom of Judah would be crushed like a bug, and the Prophet Jeremiah had been warning about this for a long time. He had even been put in prison for spreading defeatism and being unpatriotic. Now is the time to say, 'I told you so!' But instead the register of the prophecies changes just at this point and the prevailing tone of despair at the climate of corruption and faithlessness surrounding the nation is replaced by a new note of hope and expectancy. All manner of things will be well after all!

Actually, these…

The example of Hannah

1 Samuel 1.4-10 & Hebrews 10.11-25

Sunday's Old Testament passage seems far remote from our modern culture, yet it contains some very topical themes.
the jealousy and bitterness between rivals for someone else's affections;the deep-seated need felt by many people for children, and their pain and sadness when this need is denied;the conviction that God is in control of our lives and can change things, for better or for worse;the tendency to make assumptions about other people based on the flimsiest and most superficial evidence;and the idea that some people are worth more or less than others, in this case that women are worth less than men.The first of these themes, sexual jealousy - leads naturally to the conclusion that loyalty to one person works best. Forget all the carefully refined arguments about the Christian understanding of marriage, family life or sexuality. The central idea which the Bible communicates about sexual relationships is the wisdom of committing yoursel…

On being a piece of the jigsaw

1 John 3.1-3, Mark 12.28-34

November the First is All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day as it used to be called in old English. That, of course, is how we get the nameHalloween, the evening before All Hallows. Our first Bible passage is one of the special Bible readings for All Saints Day.

It's also a reading that is especially appropriate for a baptism, because when the Bible talks about saints it doesn't mean people who are especially good or holy. It means all of the people, throughout the world, who recognise that they belong to God and who call God their Parent or Father because they know that God loves us even more than our own mothers and fathers do.

Not everyone realises this, of course. Some people don't believe in God, and some people don't believe in a personal God. In other words, they don't understand that God actually cares for us, and loves us, and wants to know us and be known by us. That's the real difference between the saints and everyone else. A s…

Freed to be part of the Elect

Psalm 24.1-6,Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9, John 11.32-44, Revelation 21.1-6a

Every member of the human race belongs to God. But does that make everyone a saint, a member of God's family? Not according to the Psalmist. Only someone whose deeds, motives and intentions are pure can be blessed and vindicated by God. Everyone else is out of luck. But that leaves us with a problem, because which of us is pure?

If we aren't good enough to worship God in the old temple in the old Jerusalem, what about the new Jerusalem? There is no temple in the new Jerusalem for in Jesus God comes to be with us instead of waiting for us to have the moral stamina to ascend to meet him on his holy mountain. Nor does God come in judgement. He comes ready to comfort the afflicted and the bereaved.

However, the way things are now will be swept away. The world will be turned upside down. And that cannot be good news for the powerful and the privileged, who maintain their position at other people's expense. Fur…

Hope in God's Future

Deuteronomy 26.1-11
1 Timothy 6.6-10
Matthew 6.25-33

Today's Old Testament passage from the Book of Deuteronomy is about thanking God for the harvest and doing so in a very concrete and practical way, by making a donation to God of the first fruits of the farmer's labour before sitting down with the whole community, including outsiders from different cultures and faiths, and celebrating God's goodness together. But the celebration is very deliberately set in the context of a journey. It is the culmination of the Exodus of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. They have come to a land flowing with milk and honey via a long drawn out period of wandering in the wilderness, and they are never to forget it.

It is probable that only some of the people of Israel had their origins in Egypt, where the Bible tells us they had gone to escape famine in their homeland of Palestine. There they found work as functionaries of the Egyptian pharaohs but gradually, as their numbers increas…

Esther, The Inglorious Basterds and the Hoard of Golden Treasure

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9.20-22
Psalm 124
James 5.13-20
Mark 9.49-50

In the film 'Inglorious Basterds' Quentin Tarantino plays with history. He imagines a situation where a group of Jewish American soldiers are parachuted into occupied France to get even with the Nazis and kick ass as a punishment for the way the occupiers are hunting down and exterminating French Jews. I mention this simply because the Book of Esther is the same kind of story. 'Inglorious Basterds' begins with some white words projected against a black background, 'Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France' and Esther is also make believe. It could easily begin with the words, 'Once upon a time in ancient Persia.' Not only that, but both narratives are equally bloodthirsty. The theme of both stories is that Jewish people - even when they are a beleaguered minority far from their Promised Land - cannot be knocked down and counted out. If the need arises, and they are threatened by great evil, th…

The Tongue

Isaiah 50.4-9, James 3.1-12, Mark 8.27-38

A few years ago I was sent to see a consultant at the Leeds General Infirmary because I had lost my voice. She was prodding inside my mouth with a thing like the back of a tablespoon, trying to see the inside of my throat. "Can't you stick your tongue out any further than that?" she asked. "No," I said, "That's as far as it will go." "Really?" She was a bit surprised, so she lifted up my tongue and then exclaimed, "Hey, look everyone! He's tongue-tied!" The students and junior doctors in the room crowded rounded to see. Someone opened a door and called out to the nurses, "Come and look at this!" And I thought, "Fantastic! I'm a freak show!" Apparently, tongue-tied people are very rare nowadays because if a baby is tongue-tied the paediatricians cut the tie in the first few days of life to help them breastfeed better. But that never happened to me, and I had t…

Our instruction manual

Psalm 19.1-4
Proverbs 1.20-33

Someone claimed on the Radio the other day that the real difference between human beings and the rest of the animal kingdom is that only human beings can write - or read - an instruction manual. Instruction manuals combine language and tool making so that we can pass on really complicated designs to people who have never seen them before and enable them to make a copy of their own, or learn how to use a piece of technology that someone else has devised. No other animal can do that.

Mind you, before we congratulate ourselves too much for our superiority to the other animals, let's remember that it's not easy to write a good instruction manual. I saw one example posted on a blog which was intended for making a bike tower, to hang up bicycles on the wall in a garage or shed and save space. It begins, 'Please read this instruction manual carefully before use.' But then it goes on, "If you lost this instructions, please call us written on the…