Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2021

It's Christmas. Let's party.

From 1647 to 1660, Christmas was cancelled in England and Wales! Oddly it was cancelled not by some fanatical politically correct authority, but by the Puritan government, which consisted of people who were committed believers and followers of Jesus Christ and who tried to put the teachings of the Bible at the centre of all that they did. They argued against Christmas for two reasons. One, we cannot be certain that 25 December really was the day that Jesus was born (it almost certainly was not), that the first church celebration of Christmas that we know of was as late as 336, and the Bible tells us that we do not need to celebrate one day as more special than another (it is interesting how ‘do not need to’ becomes ‘must not’ in our thinking). And the second reason they gave was because the celebration of Christmas, the dressing up in fine clothes, the music and singing, feasting and partying was pagan and led to immorality. Oh, and maybe there was a third reason. Most of the people in

What it means for Mary to be blessed and what it means for us to be blessed. Luke 1.39-58

Luke 1.39-58 Today in our reading we hear how Elizabeth blesses Mary. Or, more accurately, how Elizabeth tells Mary that she is blessed. In Luke 1, an angel had appeared to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah and told him that Elizabeth and he would have a miracle baby (they were both very old), and then, a few weeks later, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she would have a miracle baby. The first thing that Mary does, after the visit of the angel, is to go to see Elizabeth –to talk, because Elizabeth would have been the only person who she could have talked with, and also – I suspect - to confirm that what the angel had said was true. If Elizabeth really was pregnant, then God could work the impossible. So Mary comes to Elizabeth, and as they speak together, Elizabeth uses the word ‘blessed’, three times. Blessed are you among women Blessed is the fruit of your womb (v42) Blessed is she who believed that what God said would be fulfilled (v45) And I would like to explor

The emptiness of God. A carol service talk 2021

Christmas, we are told, is a time of fullness It is a time of stockings, filled with gifts; of full plates for feasting; of glasses full with champagne. But at the heart of the story of Christmas story there is not fullness but emptiness. God, in the words of one of the first followers of Jesus Christ, emptied himself in order to become a human being. Jesus lived at a time when they told stories about gods who became human beings. But those stories told of gods who became human beings to spy out what men and women were doing; in order to do amazing superwoman, superman acts - just like Thor in the Marvel films; in order to seduce mortals with their beauty or strength. In other words, they come down in their fullness to have a party, to use their godness to their advantage, to be godlike! But the Christmas story is very different. In the Christmas story we have God quite literally emptying himself. He comes from heaven, but as a baby, ‘the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms’

Meeting God in the wilderness. Luke 3:1-6

Luke 3:1-6 ‘The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness’ (Luke 3:2) The wilderness is a brutal place. It is dry, empty and cruel. It is the place of demons. But it is also the place where people met with God. We read of Hagar. We meet her in Genesis. She was Abraham’s concubine, and she was sent away by Sara, Abraham’s wife, with her son Ishmael. She goes into the wilderness. She can’t feed her son. She can’t feed herself. And when she runs out of water, she sees no hope, no future. So she sits down, puts her son some way away from her, and waits to die. But God steps in and meets her. We read of Moses. He was an Israelite, but he was brought up in Pharoah’s household. He was a prince of Egypt. He could have done so much for his people. But he loses his temper and he kills a man. He is shamed and has to run for his life. And this prince of Egypt ends up looking after sheep for his father in law in the wilderness. But God comes to meet him in the burning bush, and sp

A talk for St Andrew's day. John 1.35-42

John 1.35-42 St Andrew, according to tradition, placing the cross on the hill where Kyiv was built. A miniature from the Radziwill manuscript. Thank you for joining us today as we celebrate and honour St Andrew We honour St Andrew as the first follower of Jesus He was the first called (we read that in Matthew and Mark), but our reading today focusses on Andrew as the first who chose to follow Jesus. Andrew was a fisherman. He was also a follower of John the Baptist. But John the Baptist does something remarkable. He points Andrew away from himself and towards Jesus. He sees Jesus coming and he tells Andrew and another disciple, possibly John, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God’. If you visit the Tretyakov gallery, it is almost impossible to miss Ivanov’s amazing painting of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus. And we are told, “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” They are the first to follow Jesus, and it was the beginning of a lifelong journey. Andrew was faith

Be A Lert! Luke 21.25-36

Luke 21.25-36 Be alert! It is going to get rough. Jesus has been visiting the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the spiritual, political and emotional heart of the Jewish nation. It was the place which set the Jewish people aside from all the other peoples. It was where God had said that his name would dwell.    But now, says Jesus, this temple will be destroyed. Not one stone will be left on another. For the Jew, this was unthinkable, like the end of everything, the end of the world. And so the disciples ask in shock, ‘When will this be, and what sign will we be given that this is about to happen?’ And Jesus tells them that before it happens it is going to get rough. He tells them that there will be wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, families and plagues. There will be persecution. Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies. This is cataclysmic stuff. Jesus uses apocalyptic language, the picture language that was used by prophesy at the time: signs in the sun, the moon and the sta

Remembrance day 2021. The things that really matter

I read in Voices from the Arctic Convoys , by Peter Brown, the testimony of Austin Byrne. He tells the story of Anderson, a 17-year-old American cabin boy. He was on the Induna, a British steam merchant ship, in convoy PQ-13, which set off from Reykjavik for Murmansk on the 20 March 1942. The ship lost contact with the convoy because of bad weather and was torpedoed on the 30 March 1942. For four days the 41 survivors were in two lifeboats in temperatures of around 20 below and freezing winds. When they were picked up by a Russian minesweeper only 30 of them had survived. Byrne writes, “I was on the bridge [of the Russian minesweeper] when I was called by one of the Russian crew, a lady. She was having difficulty with the cabin boy, […] Anderson. She could not lay him down; he was frozen bent, and I helped her to get his jacket off. I cut it up the back. He was black to way up above the waist, and when she saw this she told me to leave him. .. I saw her eyes …, and they were damp, and

We can rejoice because Jesus wept. John 11.28-44

John 11.28-44 ‘Jesus began to weep’ John 11:35 In the KJV it is just two words ‘Jesus wept’, making it the shortest verse in the bible. Why? Why does he weep? Jesus is clearly not weeping for Lazarus, because he knows that in a few minutes he will raise Lazarus from the dead And Jesus is not weeping for Mary and Martha and the mourners in their grief, because he knows that in a few minutes he will turn that grief into joy If a child comes to you all upset because something has been taken away from them, but you can give them something so much better, then you may feel for them, but rather than weep with them you will wipe their eyes and make them happy again. So why does Jesus weep? 1. Jesus weeps in compassion because he sees what death does He sees the devastation that it causes. Death was never part of God’s plan When God created the world there was no death. At the heart of the garden of Eden there was the tree of life. Death is nothing in itself. It is simply a negation of what i

What is the Bible?

John 5:36-47 Imagine that you receive an invitation to have tea with the Queen. It is a beautiful invitation, on the most expensive paper, embossed in gold, with the royal coat of arms embedded in wax. It is handwritten, each of the letters is like a work of art and it is personally signed. Nobody has ever seen anything like it. You study it. You pore over every letter, every word: It is beautiful. You show it to your friends: look what I have received. Isn’t it amazing? I have received this invitation to have tea with the Queen You show it to your enemies. Don’t mess with me. I have received this invitation to have tea with the Queen And you frame the invitation, and you hang it in your house. You often gaze at it. You know the wording by heart. And everyone who comes to visit sees that you were the person who received this invitation to have tea with the Queen. There is only one thing that you don’t do. You don’t take her up on the invitation. You never actually go and have tea

Do not be the cause of another person's stumbling. Mark 9.38-50

Mark 9.38-50 We continue to read through Mark 9, Jesus’ journey through Galilee, as he teaches his followers what it means to ‘lose your life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel’ (Mark 8:35). [It is about discipleship, what it means to be a follower of Jesus, particularly what it means to be a follower of Jesus who is going to be crucified. Three times in Mark 8-10 Jesus tells his followers that he is going to Jerusalem where he will be betrayed, killed and then rise again. It is about power that comes from a complete self-emptying and dependence on God (Mark 9.14-29) It is about learning the upside-down values of the Kingdom of God – that we are not heading up the ladder but down the ladder: that the greater is the one who serves (Mark 9.33-37)] Today we come to Mark 9.38-50 which contain some quite scary verses. Do not be the cause of another person’s stumbling It is better to be dead than to cause someone else to stumble in their faith, to be the cause of the shipwreck of th