Hebrew 11.1-3,8-16; Luke 12.32-40
Last Sunday I got home in time to see the last part of the Euros final and the winning goal. Now most of those who know me are aware that in normal circumstances I’m not a great follower of football. But somehow this was different. What struck me afterwards were comments from some of the women who played years ago, who didn’t have the training opportunities the Lionesses have had; who recall times when clubs were unwilling to allow them to play on their pitches; when there was no financial support available. Nevertheless, they persevered, always hoping that things would improve in the future. Thanks to their faith and courage these dreams have come true. They kept their goal in sight (sorry!) and were full of joy at the success of this team.
We might say that their faith in the future is ‘the assurance of things hoped for’ as the unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it. Faith is the theme of our first reading this morning. It is the conviction of things not seen. It’s not hope if we say ‘I hope it will be fine for our picnic later today’ when the sun’s shining out of a cloudless sky and there’s not a drop of rain showing up on the weather radar.
Here the writer reminds us how Abraham responded obediently and in faith to God’s call to set out on a journey, not knowing where he was going, to a place where he would receive the inheritance promised by God, including numerous descendants. All this seemed impossible, yet he kept faith, even when he was far too old to father a child with his barren wife Sarah. They did not receive God’s promises in full; that came much later with the arrival of the Messiah, of Christ. They continued to seek a homeland, a heavenly city, the new Jerusalem we hear about in Revelation which is symbolic of a time when God’s kingdom has finally come.
In our gospel reading, Jesus is telling his disciples to have faith. It appears that the disciples are anxious and afraid. Jesus reassures them of God’s intention to give them the kingdom – the kingdom that he has come to bring into being, not at some unknown date in the future, but here and now. He taught them to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’ He tells them to get their priorities right and not to focus on accumulating material possessions.
Then he tells them to be dressed and ready for action. Those hearing this at the time would most probably have been reminded of the exodus, of the time when the Israelites were told to be ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice to escape from Pharaoh.
Jesus compares this with the master of the house returning late from a wedding celebration and finding his slaves wideawake and ready to do whatever was required at whatever time he got back, whether it was the middle of the night or even near to dawn.
In a surprising twist, he then tells the master will fasten his belt, meaning he’ll hitch up his robe, ready for action – think of it as putting on an apron. He will tell the slaves to be seated and he will serve them. With the benefit of hindsight, this may remind us of the last supper when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. They found his action shocking. In their minds this was a task for the servants, not something that the host would do.
The good news is that in this topsy turvy kingdom of God, Christ has come as one who serves us. We tend to think solely in terms of us serving God. This is what happens when we centre our lives on God. This is the good news of the gospel. It is truly shocking. God, who loves us and desires only good for us, has given us so many gifts, We have no reason to be afraid. Surely our response is that we should be ready to serve others. How we do this will depend on our circumstances.
What does ‘being dressed for action and having our lamps lit’ mean for us today?
It’s a call to be alert, to be attentive to what God is saying to us now, today.
It’s a call to notice what God is already doing in our town and in this place.
It’s a call to seize every opportunity for joining in what God is already doing.
It’s a call to think creatively about what new things we might undertake.
Restrictions during the pandemic meant that much of what we were doing had to stop, and rightly so. Over the months most of us got used to these limitations. But now is the time to take stock. Some things may need to be done in a different way. Some may not need to be done at all. It’s a good time for all of us to review what we are able to do now, which may be very different from what we were doing pre-pandemic.
The vacancy has just begun. Yes, in one way this is a time of waiting . But it’s also a time for review. Equally it is not a time to sit back. It’s a time for trusting God, for praying , listening and then getting on with whatever needs to be done.
Generous and loving God,
in this time of vacancy we thank you for our blessings,
and for all who build up this community
and work with others for the common good.
By your Holy Spirit inspire our vision,
and give us patience and courage
as we await the new priest you are calling to High Wycombe.
Though Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
Luke 12 v 13-21
People sometimes say of a rich person, “I wonder how much he is worth?” How much is a person worth? The doctor who gives lifesaving treatment, is worth millions to you, but his salary is nothing like that! How much are you worth? The Good Shepherd, Jesus, came to seek and to save the lost, and that makes each one of us of very great worth! Each year newspapers publish a Rich List, which shows the wealth of the richest people in the world. It is the people who have billions of pounds who count. But what are they really worth?
Our Gospel is the story the parable of the Rich Fool. The man, a farmer, was already rich, but he could see that the coming harvest would be the best and biggest ever. His barns could not hold it all. He decided to pull them down and build new, huge barns. If you read the Bible passage, you can see what a totally selfish man he was, because he was thinking only about himself, saying “My barns, my crops, and all my goods. Then I will eat, drink and be merry.” Then he has a heart attack, and dies, and all those things he has prepared, who will they belong to now?
But, is it wrong to work hard and do well? Is it wrong to enjoy the good things of life, a nice house, warm clothing, holidays, and a good pension at the end? Certainly, we need entrepreneurs, good businesspeople who often work extremely hard. It is not having a lot of money that is the problem, it is how it is used. It’s a bit like food. Food is good for us; it is often delicious. But people in Africa face famine now, while here in England 25% of children aged 10-11 are obese. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. There is a problem in sharing food. And in many countries, a problem in choosing the right food for healthy living.
I expect you have all heard of shipwrecked sailors, in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The water runs out and some of them are so thirsty they are tempted to drink sea water. The salty water makes them more thirsty, so they drink more and more sea water, until their bodies are overloaded with salt – and they die. So with money. Most people on the ‘get rich’ path always want more money, bigger homes, a boat. No - a yacht. And so it goes on.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not rich! And every week I find prices have gone up in the shops.” Well…most of us have salary or pensions coming in regularly, we all have free health care, we all have a bed to sleep in and a spare pair of shoes. Millions of people around the world would think themselves rich if they had that much.
It is not that God doesn’t want people to save for retirement or future needs. It is not that God doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, and be merry” and enjoy what he has given us. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life. But our true security lies in trusting God and loving our neighbours as much as ourselves. Of course, we do need entrepreneurs to start and build up businesses, and probably create wealth for themselves.
In 1894 two young men ran a market stall in Leeds, selling cheap goods. One was a Jewish refugee from Russia, named Michael Marks and the other was Tom Spencer. Eventually they opened shops and became rich. Where would we be now without Marks and Spencer shops on every high street? The first cars were built for rich people. Thomas Ford saw a gap in the market and started mass producing relatively cheap cars. People called these Ford cars ‘Tin Lizzies’. He began a revolution in transport, and became one of the wealthiest men in American history. Almost everyone in the world now would like a car, whether for work or pleasure.
Jesus ended the story, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” I got a bit stuck with those words. We should be rich towards God! What can we possibly give which is of value to God? In Paul’s letter to Timothy, we read. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”. That is being rich towards God. Or, as the hymn writer Christina Rossetti put it: “What can I give him, poor as I am. If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part. But what I can I give him, give my heart.”
Maureen Lampard, Licensed Lay Minister
A couple of weeks ago, NASA published the first images from the new James Webb Space Telescope beamed from two million miles away.
The telescope can see further into space, and therefore further back in time, than any other. It can see objects that were created 13.9 billion years ago near the dawn of time.
If you imagine holding out a grain of sand at arm’s length, this is the little tiny bit of sky you can see in this picture. Full of thousands of galaxies, revealing black holes and much more. With the telescope, scientists will find out more and more about our amazing universe in all its beauty.
It leaves us simply in awe at the sheer scale of the universe, just as the psalmist was two and a half thousand years ago or more when they wrote in Psalm 8 ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have ordained, what are mortals that you should be mindful of them? Mere human beings that you should seek them out?
Well, it’s a fair question to ask, isn’t it? How does God – Almighty, Creating God, Maker of all things seen and unseen – reach out to me and to you?
And in today’s psalm, 138, we hear something of a response, as the lived experience of the psalmist is shared:
“Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”
So, one of the central truths of our faith is that God knows us and answers our prayer, and that we can know what God is like because of Jesus Christ. Prayer connects the awesome bigness of God to our small human lives. But even so, I think if we’re honest most of us find prayer difficult at times. And we’ve all prayed earnestly for something and not felt God has answered it.
Today’s gospel is intended to help us with that. For all the times when our prayers fail, and we feel that God is distant, as well as for all the times when we feel truly heard and the Spirit dances within us, Jesus gives us his prayer.
In Jesus’ time, prayer was a regular habit for everyone – prayer on rising, on sleeping, when eating, when beginning work - every occasion had a prayer and the disciples would have known them. But they asked Jesus for a specific prayer they could use regularly that reflected his own teaching, and the Lord’s prayer was the result.
The Lord’s Prayer, sometimes called the Our Father, is used in every service we hold here, and most of us, I think, will know it by heart – if you don’t, maybe try to find time to learn it. The contemporary version we’ve used here for 45 years at the Eucharist is best to learn, though some of us will know the traditional version. Both are translations, of course, in any case.
The Our Father makes that deep connection we need when we pray.
Personally, I find the Lord’s Prayer one of the deepest moments in the Eucharist. As we prepare to come to communion we praise God, we pray for the kingdom to grow and for our needs, we ask forgiveness and pray for deliverance. It’s a fine preparation for receiving the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, I think.
And one of the joys of it is that we pray the Our Father together – that we are surrounded by prayer, as a community, and by the millions of Christians praying it around the world. And incidentally, if your first language is not English do be free to pray aloud in that language, for that celebrates our diversity and our sharing together. You may even like to raise your hands as the priest does, as a sign of that togetherness. I’ve known many churches where that happens.
So, the Our Father is a lovely encouragement and support for us, and yet… some of you might be struggling with prayer at the moment. Jesus says, ‘Ask and it will be given’?
When we desperately want something to change in our lives we want to ask and have it happen. But that’s not often how it is with God. Yet we do believe that God only wants good things for us, like any father does his children.
As we bring our concerns and intentions before God, what we’re doing is recalling them in God’s presence, and God’s response is to give us the Holy Spirit, as the gospel says. And the Spirit sustains us, comforts us, slowly changes us.
The Church of England says this about prayer on their website:
To pray is to make our hearts ready to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Praying regularly will help us to develop a spiritual rhythm. A discipline of prayer changes the way that we think about our lives, because it creates new habits of heart and mind. Prayer opens us more deeply to the transforming grace of God. We enter into God’s presence, allowing the Holy Spirit to pray in us.
So, as we work at our prayer life we slowly begin to be changed, and ready to handle the things that are going on for us, and we can pray that others might also be changed. As we pray that the Father’s name might be hallowed, holy-fied if you like, so we in turn are holy-fied by God.
And that process of “holification” – sanctification - continues throughout our lives. As we are deepened, we know the fulfilling joy and comfort of life in the power of the Spirit who sanctifies the whole universe of millions of galaxies, and also each one of us when we ask.
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister
Colossians 1:1-14 & Luke 10:25-37
Introduction: In the Gospel narratives there are several cameos of Jesus in a boat, on the Sea of Galilee. Today, happens to be Sea Sunday and with my trajectory having been away from aviation towards the maritime world it seems somewhat appropriate to pick up the theme.
Embarking seaward: Having moved our boat from the River Thames to the River Hamble and the open sea we are experiencing a far more challenging environment. The sea, with it’s tides, waves and exposure to the weather bids adventure requiring learning, planning and careful preparation. Heading out to sea amidst the changeable elements is at once exciting and a little frightening. All those familiar with the environment know that life at sea is unpredictable and so one requires safety gear and a working VHF radio.
As a metaphor one could do worse than applying it to embarking on a new adventure – a new season in ones’ life. This is both a reality for me and for this church, as it was for my being appointed here in my current role.
Reflecting on our journey together. Over the last (almost) 10 years we have journeyed together in the same ‘boat’ so to speak; setting our sails when the spiritual wind was blowing and rowing during the times when movement was required from our own energy and efforts. I’m reminded of a song called ‘Willing to Row’, which includes the words, ... And the one who stills the water says, “Before you I go; I’ll calm the wind; are you willing to row?”
There have been times of plane sailing and other times, such as during the pandemic, which have been more like rowing than sailing. But the Lord calmed the wind and now it feels like a breeze is blowing again. So, the next season is a time for discerning the wind direction and setting the sails appropriately.
The Lord has indeed been with us during this last season of All Saints Church, as he was before and will be in the next. It is, of course, Christ’s church – he builds it and governs it as long as he’s welcomed here and looked to for guidance.
For me, it’s been a challenging season but really worth it. To see the church flourishing in so many diverse ways with such a committed, faithful, hardworking and loyal team of leaders and volunteers is inspiring. I cannot think of any gathering, service of worship or social event which has not gone well. They’ve done us proud. The fact that such strong characters with diverse views have worked so effectively together is a great testimony to each one and to God’s work in our midst. It has become the crown of my stipendiary ministry, for which I’m hugely grateful. Thank you.
This church’s ministry has far-reaching impact: not only through its acts of worship and daily prayer for the town but through it’s civic gatherings, arts and spiritualty days and other wider public engagements. It is known as an authentic House of Prayer with which people of all Faiths, and none wish to be associated. It is, indeed, a place to encounter God and to find solace in a troubled world. It’s sacred centre has been sustained and the life of God’s Spirit continues to produce new shoots of ministry, especially during the week. Whether it’s the All Saints Plus group, the Conversation Café, or developing engagement in the work here by those on the fringe of society, to name but a few, God’s life manifests itself here.
A Community Hub: At its heart, All Saints is a community hub as well as a parish church. And to remain so, its culture must be rooted in right relationship; that is, with God, with one another and with the wider community. Christ has called us to be a welcoming community; welcoming to all who are drawn to part of its life and ministry, whatever their culture. As the Samaritan showed practical care and compassion for the wounded Jew (usually at enmity) so this is to be a place which shows compassion and kindness to all in need. I’m so proud that All Saints was instrumental in showing a welcome to refugees, thus becoming a fertile ground for the birth of what became the Wycombe Refugee Partnership. Of course, God had been working through the 38 Degrees group prior to our part in the work; its gestation began there. How wonderful that the work has now gained the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service! But it’s a sign of how God uses the ministry here to partner with other organisations in serving God’s compassionate ministry in the town. Engagement with people outwith the church community helps us to get out of our own echo chamber and to see where God is at work in the wider town.
Hosting the Repair Café is, I believe, an indicator of God using this church to show His care for the creation and the wider world through partnering with other community groups. This partnership, and others like it, enable warm-hearted and constructive relationships with key people working for the future of this town. In this I witness God at work.
A story of compassion: Today’s Gospel story of the Good Samaritan shows what loving one’s neighbour actually looks like in practice. May I conclude, therefore, with a story recounted at a recent International Christian Maritime Organisation by Cardinal Tagle – the Archbishop of Manilla.
He tells of a woman who used to work for Caritas, Lebanon, helping illegal migrant workers at a detention centre, some of whom were seafarers. She was once invited by Caritas Syria to deliver a training programme to the staff there about ministering to illegal immigrants. On arriving by taxi at the Conference centre one day she asked the taxi driver “How much do I owe you?” He said, “No, you don’t have to pay.” She panicked, wondering what the driver would want instead of payment, thinking that she might be kidnapped or raped. So, she raised her voice and said, “I have money, I can pay. Tell me, how much do I owe you!?” But, said the driver, “How can I accept money from Caritas?” She asked, “How did you know that I work for Caritas?” He said, “Three years ago, I was imprisoned in Lebanon as an illegal worker and I used to see you there. On the night before my release from prison, I had a terrible headache, and I asked for medicine from the guards. They didn’t give me any but, at that moment, you passed by and so I asked you for medicine, which you gave me. I slept very well that night, but I was not able to thank you. So now, let me thank you; please don’t pay for this trip.”
As small act of kindness is not small to the recipient.
I pray that the charism of acting together with loving kindness will always be in the DNA of All Saints Church. In this Christ makes himself manifest here.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Team Rector
Ephesians 2.19-22 & John 20.24-29
Both our readings this Sunday talk about faith.
Leilani and Rufus are today taking the first steps of an amazing journey of faith. They are to become, as our reading from Ephesians says, citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
So, people of God I ask you what does it mean to be a Christian? Now we will be professing what we believe collectively about God in a moment, but Christianity is not primarily an intellectual exercise in doctrine and dogma. What I am asking is what does it mean to be a Christian? Practically. At home or at work. What virtues do we ascribe to as Christians?
And many others perhaps.
Two questions then follow…
So, we are also therefore people who seek forgiveness when we mess things up, and we are also people who should be forgiving. As it says in the prayer that Jesus taught us… ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. So, this is also a part of what it means to be a Christian, we are people who say sorry when we get things wrong and try, with Gods help, to grow and do better. Which is why we pray, to build relationship with God and ask for his help in our growth as a person. As we acknowledge we are incapable of doing this by ourselves, in our own strength.
If we have faith, then we have trust in God. We have as our foundation what the apostles and prophets show us by their example and what they teach us about Jesus Christ, our cornerstone, who we have chosen to build our life around. So, Leilani, Rufus, their parents, and godparents this is what is being signed up to in baptism. It is what all of us sign up to as Christians. To pray and read scripture to get to know about God, and to grow in virtue and be more Christlike with Gods help. Most importantly remembering to seek forgiveness and be forgiving when we get things wrong. This way we grow into a holy temple and become spiritually a dwelling-place for God. Amen.
The Revd. Gareth Morley, Curate
Galatians 3.23-39; Luke 8.26-39
One of my favourite moments from the recent jubilee celebrations was the sketch in which Paddington Bear took afternoon tea with HM the Queen. Those of you who familiar with the story will remember that Paddington was from Darkest Peru (BTW a fictional place with high mountains and deep jungle), where he had been brought up by his Aunt Lucy now living in a care home. He was found homeless by the Brown family on Paddington station and taken home with them. Many observed that Paddington was a refugee and was treated with kindness and respect. Why is this particularly significant? Because tomorrow is world refugee day.
I thought some definitions might be helpful. These come from the office of the UNHCR (United nations High Commissioner for Refugees): A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
Asylum Seekers are those who say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.
Those fleeing have certain rights: to be protected and safe. They have the right to right to seek asylum in another country; borders should remain open to all people forced to flee. There should be no pushbacks – returning people to return to a country where they would be at risk before evaluating the dangers they would face back home.
People should not be discriminated against at borders. All applications for refugee status must be given fair consideration, regardless of factors like race, religion, gender and country of origin.
People forced to flee should be treated with respect and dignity. Among other things, this means keeping families together, protecting people from traffickers, and avoiding arbitrary detention.
To give you some idea of the scale of this globally, at the end of 2021 at least 89.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. Among them are nearly 27.1 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.
There are no simple solutions to these complex issues. Yes, I’m sure a small proportion of those arriving in this country in small boats are what are described as economic migrants. The Rwanda Scheme has been much in the news this week and has shocked many people. All the bishops in the House of Lords signed a letter to The Times condemning this scheme. Their letter ended with these words: We must end the evil trafficking; many churches are involved in fighting this evil. This needs global co-operation across every level of society. To reduce dangerous journeys to the UK we need safe routes: the church will continue to advocate for them. But deportations — and the potential forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries — are not the way. This immoral policy shames Britain.
So how does today’s gospel reading help us as we reflect on these issues? Jesus has crossed into gentile country and he is immediately confronted by a man who is possessed by demons. He is an outcast living rough in the tombs outside the city and is extremely violent. His name is Legion reflecting that many demons had entered him. Jesus tackles this man head on. He confronts evil. He restores the man to health and enables him to return to his home in the city clothed and in his right mind. (I’m not sure how he would have been received! With some scepticism probably). Remember the Greek word for healing and salvation is the same. Jesus has saved this man. Jesus is victorious over the forces of evil.
Reflecting on this, how can we bring healing in the face of evil and the challenges we face today both locally and globally. In High Wycombe the Wycombe Refugee Partnership has been working since 2015 to offer wrap-around support to resettle refugee families in the High Wycombe area. This includes housing, education, language, befriending, welfare and job-seeking support.
If we turn to our reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia, he reminds them that through baptism they have been clothed with Christ. There is now no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female: all are one in Christ. The distinctions between people, between opposites have been reframed. I wonder what pairings we might substitute for Paul’s list? Black/white? Straight/gay? There are others, I’m sure.
We are called to respect all human beings. As Christians we have been clothed with Christ. It’s another way of saying we are to become more like Christ, enveloped in Christ’s love. Jesus treated the man who confronted him with respect; he was healed, sent home and given a task to do. This sounds a far better model. The challenge is how can we be part of this transformation.
Let us pray in the words of our first hymn that we will build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word. Amen.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate priest
When it comes to explaining the trinity, you generally get people trying to explain it with analogies. The problem is the analogies are never quite true and slip into dreaded heresy because the mystery of the Trinity is that 1+1+1=1, mathematical nonsense.
You may remember my sermon from last year, if not do watch it on catch-up as I believe it may still be there in the bowels of our Facebook page somewhere. Here is the summary though for those that missed it, strap in, here we go…
• There is exactly one God
• The Father is God
• The Son is God
• The Holy Spirit is Godedd
• The Father is not the Son
• The Son is not the Holy Spirit
• The Father is not the Holy Spirit
• The Father, Son and Holy Spirit is God
• But, despite three persons there is exactly one God
You know, whenever people say to me that they believe God is just something made up by humans I point out the doctrine of the Trinity. Who in their right mind would come up with such a crazy notion? 1+1+1=1.
This leads to a good question though: where does the concept of the trinity come from? Well, it comes from the same place all our theology does… Scripture. Scripture talks of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
Its not just the New Testament. We get glimpses of the trinity in the Hebrew scriptures (so called Old Testament),
I could keep going and bring out may other examples from scripture, but these will suffice for the purpose of this sermon, and I wouldn’t want to bore you too much. Perhaps you can think of other examples though?
One important thing to note when exploring scripture is that the New Testament and Hebrew Scriptures do not explicitly mention the doctrine of the trinity. Yes, we have clues from these and other passages that I just read but no specific mention of the doctrine. So how did we end up with the doctrine of the trinity? By using reason. Remember 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Not some of it, not just the bits we like, but all scripture.
As we read scripture, we use our reason to draw out information about the nature of God. So, reason tells us that scripture says God is one, not many Gods, one God. Reason also tells us that God is three distinct persons though: Father, Son, and Spirit. These three persons can’t be three Gods though because there is one God. Yet this one God is three persons. So, 1+1+1=1. From this kind of reasoning we begin to develop the tradition that is the doctrine of the Trinity.
Something the very early Christians thought about, taught, subjected to the church for reproof or correction and by 325AD at the council of Nicaea it was formally adopted (with some work still needed on the relationship of the Holy Spirit but that’s another sermon). It is from this council that we get the Nicene Creed that we will soon say out loud. “We believe in one God…”
Richard Hooker an English priest in the Church of England and an influential theologian who died in the year 1600 said that the source of theology, to which obedience is owed, is scripture. Whatever can be concluded from scripture by force of reason and what the church discerns as good and true from reason becomes tradition, whilst any false reasoning can be discarded.
So, my sneaky sermon on Trinity Sunday is not actually about the trinity but how to engage in theology. Studying God. We start, as always, with Scripture, then reason, then when your reason is subjected to the church for challenge it can be accepted into tradition if the church discerns it to be good and true. If you wanted further proof, I direct you to the articles of religion of the church of England. What we believe as Anglicans. Article 6 says “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor proved thereby, is not to be required of any person. It then should not be believed as an article of the Faith or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” (In what seems to be a repeat of 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
For this reason, First I would say that if you want to know the trinity, what its all about, or in fact anything else about the nature of God. Have a read. Not just on Sundays as the basis of all Theology is scripture. Don’t feel pressured to rush through it. Take your time. I committed when I arrived at All Saints to within my three years, not a few months, not a year, but rather three years, to reread the whole of scripture. Why am I doing this? Because reading the bible on a regular and consistent basis shows us God’s character and provides us Gods revelation of himself to his people. We see Gods holy, unchanging, faithful, gracious, and loving character.
Second, to continue the passage from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” For this reason, I cannot commend highly enough All Saints Plus led by Derek, a wonderful group that is reading through scripture together weekly. As regular reading of scripture, getting to know God, means our relationship with God grows stronger. We spend time getting to know the people we love and the best way to do that is to read our bibles on a regular basis
Third, regular reading of scripture reorientates our thinking so that we can grow in maturity which is the calling of a Christian. To grow in Christlikeness (see Ephesians 4:14-16; Romans 12:1-2). What is Christlikeness? well we get the knowledge of what that is from, you can guess the answer by now, scripture.
I could keep going with encouragement for why to read scripture and wrestle with some of the passages, particularly the difficult passages as it is in reading these that we grow as disciples, but I think I‘m close to over-egging it. I will say though that in doing so we get to know God and, bringing it back to the Trinity, for this Trinity Sunday, get to know that 1+1+1 does indeed equal 1.
Let us pray,
We give praise and glorify you, most blessed Trinity, for inspiring all scripture as a gift to us which reveals your nature, makes us wise to salvation and therefore reveals to us the way. For all this and many other blessings we have received, we praise you. Amen.
The Revd. Gareth Morley
Introduction: A criticism which one sees in the public arena of politics is that some political leaders appear to lie. Of course, that is not the same as changing one’s mind; one hopes that genuine reflection and listening happens which should, at times, lead to a changing of mind of our political leaders. That shows an integrity. So, it’s a shame that such apparent U-turns are sometimes seen as a lack of integrity; they may not be. However, the anger of the public when lies do appear to have been told is an encouraging sign; for it shows that people still care for the truth and expect leaders to have integrity and the courage to uphold it.
Integrity in following Christ: There is a rather sad comment, by a non-local person, on All Saints’ Facebook page in which she wrote, ‘My Nan used to say that all Christians are hypocrites’. That may, of course, be a statement by someone who believes that they can freely judge others because they are faultless. However, their statement is a challenge to those of us who choose to follow Christ. Do we walk the talk, or at least try to? We all know that we fail to at times, which is why we acknowledge our sins and commit ourselves to being better people.
Today’s Gospel passage is our Lord’s call to integrity in following Christ – to ‘keep his word’. And it’s that integrity which he says in the evidence of loving him. To love him is to love God – they are synonymous, as he is the very incarnation of the Word of God – his words, he explains, are God’s words.
And the first commandment is, as we know, to love God with all our being. It’s by this that Christ’s followers are known. As Jesus is quoted in the Gospel: ‘By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another. To love God is to keep Jesus’ word, and he reminded his followers that love is the fulfilling of God’s Law.
So we can conclude that, loving Christ shows its integrity by loving one another. It’s in our actions towards one another and our neighbour that our authenticity is revealed.
Living an authentic Christian life: I do believe that all of us here genuinely want to be authentic in our following of Christ, but it’s not that easy. We know that we fall short just as the religious people of the Old Testament were unable to keep the law and the religious leaders were called, by Christ, hypocrites. So how can we, in fact, live an authentic Christian life if we fail so often to walk the talk?
Our extract from John’s Gospel today comprises comforting words in this respect. Firstly, Jesus assures his followers by saying, in effect, if you keep my words, God will love you and not only that He, and Jesus, will come to you and make their home with you. So, we won’t be alone in the struggle for authenticity. But how can that happen when God the Father and Jesus are in heaven?
Jesus explains: The Father will send his Holy Spirit who, in being received in one’s heart, becomes the means by which God the Father and the Son make their home with us. The Holy Spirit connects us directly to God the Father and the Son in heaven; perhaps a bit like the way we are connected to each other by our mobile phones, wherever we are in the world.
Being led and taught by God: This is the means by which the church is governed and guided by God: not primarily by human reason or deduction, even if that is in using the Scriptures – many have been led astray and acted wickedly using the scriptures to justify their actions. To be authentic as Christians, we need to receive this gift of the Holy Spirit sent by God to enable an authentic Christian life. Even when we read or listen to the Scriptures, we must be attentive to what the Spirit is saying to the church. By this the church continues to be guided and taught. And sometimes, God leads us into new ways of thinking and seeing the world. ‘The Holy Spirit will teach you everything’, Jesus told his disciples, and will remind you of his words. When we receive and keep Jesus’ words in our heart then the Spirit of God brings them to our attention when we need to be reminded of them.
Attentiveness usually comes in prayer, especially corporate prayer. So please don’t forget the crucial role of prayer together in discerning the direction of this church as you move forward into the next season of Christ’s work here.
Receiving God’s peace: One Gospel account has Jesus breathing on his disciples (clearly not in Covid days :) and he says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’. In this way he imparts his peace; that is, the peace of God which surpasses understanding. He continues, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid!’
Having received the Spirit of God we are to be careful to resist the temptation to be troubled, anxious, or afraid. But rather to trust in God’s unfailing love and faithfulness, to guide and keep us in the nexus of his will.
So, let’s ask the Lord to fill us, individually and corporately, with his divine Spirit that we may be guided, taught and kept in God’s wonderful purposes for us; for he is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine by the work of his Spirit with us, and we will receive Christ’s peace.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
I want to begin this week by saying a bit about the human voice. It’s something hugely significant in scripture – God speaks the world into being, God dictates the ten commandments to Moses, God’s voice splits cedar trees and triggers lightning in the psalms, the Spirit of God speaks through the prophets as we hear in the Creed, and Jesus the Word of God comes to verbalise the announcement of the kingdom of God and eternal life for all who follow him.
We don’t know much about the origins of language itself, but spoken languages with structure and intent do seem to be unique to humans. Most of us use our voices to communicate, and those to whom we speak are equipped with ears and all the right decoding apparatus to hear and understand what we say – at least when we share the same language. And of course, for some that means using a sign language to do the speaking and the ‘hearing’ too.
The other thing I find fascinating about voices is how unique they are – we each have our own voice which grows and develops as we get older. But voices are recognisable throughout our lives. I have a recording of me chatting to my grand-parents when I was aged 14, and I think if I played it (which I’m not going to) you’d find it instantly recognisable as me.
We remember peoples’ voices very clearly. I wonder – can you recall or imagine the voices of a few well-known people? Margaret Thatcher? Nelson Mandela? Judy Dench? Danny Dyer? Brian Blessed? Claudia Winkleman? Ian Hislop?
If you know them at all you’ll recall how their voices sound. We can remember voices we haven’t heard in years – I certainly remember the voices of my parents and grand-parents and many more.
And if we add singing to spoken voices we find we can recall words much more easily – I’m sure we all have our store of song lyrics we can sing along to. It’s much easier to remember words if you sing them – that’s one of the reasons we like to sing together in church, and why it’s important to join in even if you don’t feel you have much of a singing voice. Personally, I often feel a strong sense of the presence of God as I sing – whether that’s plainchant or a choral anthem or a contemporary worship song.
But Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
So how do we hear the voice of Jesus? How do we learn it so it is recognisable?
I think perhaps this is one of the things people worry about most as they begin to be part of a church community. How is my prayer answered? What sort of superpower have these Christians got who can hear Jesus speaking to them?
Well, perhaps some people do literally hear the voice of Jesus, but I don’t think that’s usually what we mean when we say we hear Jesus’ voice – mostly we mean developing our relationship with Jesus. So here are a few ways we do get more familiar with that voice, and with a sense of being close to Jesus and recognising him as friend:
First, the tradition of the church is that we can find God in silence. We are bidden to be still, to listen. Having time in our day to put aside the noise and bustle of daily life and simply be with Jesus in prayer is pretty important.
That’s why it’s so good that Mollie is starting up the new contemplative prayer sessions a couple of times a month. I’m sure that will be a really helpful way in to that stillness if you can make it. Quiet Days and Retreats can also be great for giving yourself this space.
Then second, of course there is the bible itself. As we explore the written word so we come to know the living Word of God – Jesus. You might do this in daily reading, and there are plenty of apps or printed notes that can help with that, or you might take a gospel and read it through in the course of a month.
Or, of course, you’d be welcome to join our All Saints Plus zoom group on Tuesday evenings when we explore the gospel passage for the following Sunday. That’s an informal way in – no experience is necessary, and you’ll find a warm welcome as we simply chat through what might be important about the passage, and what that prompts in us.
Or thirdly, you might combine some of that and spend time praying before the Blessed Sacrament kept in our Lady Chapel for that purpose – praying in a space where Jesus is close really helps us focus.
As we do those things, we start to know Jesus better and better, and so we begin to be able to realise in what ways he is calling us to follow him. So whilst we may not directly hear his voice, little by little on our journey as disciples (followers) we have a closer relationship with Jesus. Hopefully, we are able to share our joys and sorrows more easily, and we are more able to feel, to know in our hearts, his loving assurance in response.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I confess I don’t find the whole sheep/shepherd image all that helpful – I think all those pictures of white Jesus holding a cuddly lamb rather put me off it in my youth and the reality of middle eastern shepherding is rather different.
But this Sunday is a reminder that we are supposed to be listening out for the voice of Jesus, and then to follow his call.
So to end with, as we pray for a closer relationship with our Saviour, I want to use a well-known traditional hymn lyric as we invite Jesus to be heard in our lives more clearly…
O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten, or control;
O speak, and make me listen, thou Guardian of my soul.
Derek Lancaster, LLM
Acts 9:1-6, John 21:1-9
Introduction: Shortly we’ll baptise Mikayla Rose into the household of the Christian faith, when she’ll become a baptised member of the worldwide, multicultural, multinational Christian church. Although very diverse in its local manifestation, the church is just one thing: it’s the Body of Christ, that is, a living organism working together in the world, guided and filled with the Holy Spirit, that is, the powerful presence of Jesus. When one is baptised, this gift of the Holy Spirit is not only available to each baptised member of the church but also the essential aspect which makes us one with all other baptised members of the church around the world who have received the Spirit of Christ Jesus. It’s that which makes this amazing and perpetually growing church the Body of Christ – the physical presence of Christ in the world. So, we say ‘We believe in one holy and catholic church’ – ‘catholic’, meaning all embracing and including a wide variety.
The Gift of Faith: This is such a wonderful thing to be a part of. But how does that happen? What leads people to want to get baptised or have their children baptised? It happens because of the gift of Faith; this is not something we are just persuaded about through clever arguments but rather a revelation by God. It is, indeed, a gift. As the Jesus put it, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’
How does it feel to know that Jesus chose you and called you to be his disciple – his witness in the world to make God’s ways known in word and deed?
Faith is an amazing gift which leads us to want to follow Christ and to be part of this thing which Christ founded: his Church, his one, incredibly diverse multicultural body called to transform the world; not in isolation as individuals but as active members of a local community; that is, the local church. Each church acts as a hub for the work to which we’re all called – a community which enables us to grow in love and understanding of our calling – a community which sends us out at the end of each gathering ‘to love and serve the Lord’ – to fulfil the purpose for which we were called.
Faith Changes everything: I remember being strongly influenced by someone called Vic Jacobson: he was a convicted armed robber who, when in prison had a visitation, as he put it, from Jesus, who said, I’m calling you for a new and divine purpose in your life. This experience completely changed his life’s direction and purpose; he became an extremely fruitful Baptist minister whose story continues to impact me, some 50 years after I met him. This gift of faith, which God initiates and gives us, changes us and is the means by which we receive the power and heavenly gifts we need to fulfil our calling.
This is what happened to Saul of Tarsus who, whilst in the actual process of hunting down believers in Jesus to imprison them, encountered the risen Jesus in the most powerful of divine experiences. He became known as Paul – St Paul - and his letters to early and diverse Christian communities in what is now Turkey, Italy and Greece have had, and continue to have, a powerful influence in shaping the church.
Similarly, the disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus of which we heard in our Gospel reading today, fundamentally changed them. And their witness and writings still change the hearts of those who read their words which are found in the New Testament part of the Bible. Let’s not neglect to read them and allow them to change us all our life.
Conclusion: So, I pray that today, not only will Mikayla’s life have a new and wonderful, divine purpose; but also, that the Faith God has given each of us will be powerfully rekindled, that this church, going forward, will flourish and be fruitful beyond our imagination. Amen.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector