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A Christmas message 2007

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Three dimensional Christmas

At the centre of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a baby. Not any baby, but the birth of a child who was the Son of God.

There is a crib scene, on the Angel Hill, just by Abbey gate. It’s been there now for a number of years, and I’ve walked passed it, but I’ve never really looked at it. This year I had to because I was invited to take a service by the crib earlier this month.

It is a fascinating scene. It includes Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and the baby Jesus.

The shepherds are shown wondering (they’ve just had an experience that is – to put it mildly – unusual. It is not every day that you get a visitation from angels); the wise men are kneeling down offering gifts, Mary is also kneeling – but she is praying and Joseph is presenting. He is standing there like a preacher.

But in the centre of the scene, and it is the only figure that is in three dimensions is the baby Jesus.

He is the one who gives the others their meaning and purpo…

When salvation comes

LUKE 19:1-10

The story of Zacchaeus: one of the most famous vertically challenged people in the bible!

In verse 9, Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham”.
How does Jesus know?

1. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus

It might have been curiosity. It might have been because of the things people said about Jesus; it might have been the fact that Jesus had been nicking some of his employees. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector – and he was the man who would have been left with the headache when someone like Matthew left everything to follow Jesus. We don’t know.

But he had a desire to see Jesus. And it was not a simple, “I wonder what Jesus is like?”

It was a real desire.

We know that, because he was not put off by other people. He is a small man, there is a big crowd, and they’re not going to let him through. So Zacchaeus swallows his pride, gathers up his robes and climbs the tree.


So the first question that we need to ask of ourselves or of those for…

Cursing the fig tree

MARK 11:12-25

In our passage today, we meet gentle Jesus meek and mild! As if!

Ø He curses a fig tree
Ø He overturns the tables in the temple

So what is going on here? Is Jesus having a bad hair day? He’s hungry. He sees the fig tree. He goes over to get a fig, but there is no fruit. So he zaps the tree.

The setting is significant. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem in triumph. He deliberately sets out to fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah. We saw that last week. He is God's king coming to God's city. He is coming to his throne.

And in these verses what we see is that God’s king comes to God’s city and he finds it wanting.

The fig tree is cursed because it is not bearing fruit. We are told the reason it is not bearing fruit: it is too early on in the season. But it doesn’t change the issue. Jesus is looking for fruit. And if the fruit is not there, then there will come a time when God will act in judgement.

Maybe we think the fig tree gets a raw deal. It is worth remembering thi…

Battle of Britain service 2007

BATTLE OF BRITAIN

It is a real privilege to be able to celebrate this service with you today.

We come to give thanks to God for those who fought in the Battle of Britain, for the outcome of that battle, and also to give thanks for those - who, in that same spirit - have continued to serve in the Royal Air Force.

And we have here men and women who have served with the RAF regiment and with the USAF in Iraq and Afghanistan. We give thanks to God for you and for your families. And we also remember before God those who have given their lives, and their families. And on behalf of this town and church I wish to say that we are immensely proud to be associated with you.

I am not sure that the role of this particular service is to honour victory. Please do not get me wrong. Of course we give real thanks to God for the victory in 1940. It was the first major defeat of the war for Hitler, and it meant the invasion of this island was put off indefinitely. Certainly, the consequences for this na…

Mark 9:2-13

THE TRANSFIGURATION Mark 9:2-13

There are moments, often extremely rare, when the scales fall away and we see reality as it is.

It is a bit like looking through a microscope or telescope. What we thought was a blob suddenly appears transformed into something wonderful.

Well, in a sort of way, that is what happens here.

Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of reality, of ultimate reality.

Most commentators agree that Jesus, in Mark's gospel, is trying to get over two key points about himself:

1. He is the messiah, the Son of God.
2. He is not a wonder working messiah, but a messiah who has come to save people, and that he will save people through his death on the cross

Mark 8:31, and this may have been pointed out last week, is a turning point in Mark's gospel. Peter has suddenly realised it: his eyes have been opened. He is able to confess that Jesus is the Messiah (v29). But Jesus commands the disciples not to tell people because they've still only got half of the message. An…

Remembering God

2 KINGS 23:1-23

Last week we were looking at bad King Manasseh

This week we are looking at good King Josiah

Josiah was Manasseh’s grandchild.

As an aside, that is very reassuring. Evil is not hereditary. It does not run in families. If a grandparent or parent mess up, it does not mean that you are condemned to mess up.

But our reading today tells us of Josiah’s reforms.

REDISCOVERY

It all begins with the discovery of the book of the covenant in the temple. It is the rediscovery of what, for us, forms most of the Old Testament of our bible.

So many works of God in our lives begin with a discovery – or rediscovery - of the bible.

There was Sally. She had had a child. She suddenly became very conscious of both the privilege that had been given her, and the responsibility. She became aware of her need to do things right. But she didn’t know what was right. So she started to read the bible – and God got hold of her

Or there is the young man who began to come to church because his girlfriend wanted h…

Trusting Jesus

Mark 7:24-29 This is one of those very hard passages in the bible In verse 27, Jesus answers the woman with what seems an incredibly offensive statement: "First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." He calls her a dog. It was the term that Jews used for Gentiles (the Gentiles could be just as abusive when talking about the Jews). Some commentators say that the word that Jesus uses here is the word that means 'little pet dog', but even if that is the case, it doesn't really change things. Jesus calls her a dog and says that the good things - God's salvation, healing and life - are for the children: for the Jews. It is not politically correct. The woman however, does not seem to be offended

Maybe she had not expected an answer at all. After all she knew that she was not only a Gentile, but a woman, coming to a Jewish rabbi. Most Jewish rabbis would not have even b…

Loving Jesus

John 21:15-19

We’re looking today at Jesus’ question to Peter: “Do you love me?’

It is an unusual question.
Peter has denied, let down Jesus. Three times he has told people: “I do not know the man”

Jesus could have asked him:
Are you sorry?
Will you be loyal to me?
Will you lay down your life for me?

Instead, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you truly love me?”

At the heart of the Christian life is love for God.

It is the first and great command.

To know God, to trust God is to love God. Because God is love.

We do not love God because either we do not know God, or because we do not love love.

Ø When we look at the one who is completely other to us, who is eternal (beyond all ages), who is bigger than all our concepts or categories, who created us with a word, and yet who loves us personally and knows us by name – how can we not love him?
Ø When we look at the one who made us and this world, who gives us life, beauty, music, creativity – how can we not love him?
Ø When we look at the one who …

Following Jesus

Mark 1:14-20

I wonder who or what we follow?

Most of the time we are following things or ideas or people without realising it.

We follow the crowd. We do things in a particular way because that was how we were brought up or because ‘everybody’ lives this way. And if we start to be different, we begin to worry: ‘am I a freak’?

Sometimes we consciously follow something. It might be a team or a hobby or a career; fashion – the girl dressed up in the Goth gear is making a statement: she is saying – ‘I’m not following you - I’m following an alternative society’. Or we follow a cause: cats, the environment, anti-war. I had an eccentric uncle who waged a one man campaign against the putting of fluorine in water.
And sometimes we follow a person: a parent, an anti-parent (someone who is not like our parent), a celebrity, a boss, a friend, a religious leader or a political leader

A journalist, a man called William Allen White, wrote of his first meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1897:

“He …

The icon of the Trinity

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ROMANS 5:1-5

Today is Trinity Sunday

I suspect that many of us have been brought up to think of the Trinity as a problem to be solved: a mathematical conundrum. How can 3 be 1 and 1 be 3.

And so we have heard the Trinity described as a venn diagram, or as ice-water-steam, or as one person in three roles.

May I very apologetically suggest that you forget them. They are actually about as useful as Robbie Coultrane in Nuns on the Run.

The Trinity is not a problem to be solved. The Trinity is about a life to be lived.

For me, one of the most helpful ways for understanding the Trinity is Rublev's icon of the Trinity

Three figures seated around a table. They’re the three angels who appear to Abraham at Mamre – when they tell him that he is going to have a child. Christian tradition very quickly identified them with the three persons of the Trinity.

Notice how, although there are three figures, there is a unity about them.

Ø They are the same age (they have been from before time began, f…

Wedding Talk

The story is told about the bride who was walking up the aisle. She was trying to remember the order of the service, and she was heard muttering under her breath, ‘Aisle – Altar – Hymn’

It is a dodgy attitude to go into marriage with. Marriage, people say, is about give and take. There is the old quip: “She gives – I take”
But I would suggest that marriage is about give and give and give, and when you’ve given everything you can, you give again.

It is about GIVING TIME TO THE OTHER.

We live such busy lives. And in the middle of all the activity, we need to give time to the other person.

Yes, we need time to be alone (but that is often not a problem). We also need time to be together.

We need to give time to do the things the other person wants: going out; doing what they enjoy

And we to give time to talk to each other and to listen to each other. Many couples I know will try to put aside one evening a week, even when – particularly when – there are children, in order to do something together…