I have found my sheep that was lost (SMAA)

Exodus 32:7-14, Luke 15:1-10

Sermon preached by Revd David Walsh on 11th September 2016 at St Michael & All Angels.

Right at the start of my ministry here in Kettering comes a gift in the shape of this morning’s Gospel reading.  A reading from the heart of Luke’s Gospel which gets to the very heart of what the gospel is about.

The author Luke takes a special interest in things that are lost and in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is especially concerned with things that are lost and with people who have lost things.

We use the word ‘lost’ to cover a range of experiences.  Yesterday I was doing some hospital visiting and lost my hospital parking ticket.  It was annoying and preoccupied me for around twenty minutes.  But it wasn’t life-changing.

But sometimes we lose things which are closely wrapped up with our sense of who we are, with our identity.  And then we ourselves become truly lost.  In extreme cases, people lose their memories.  We talk about people losing their minds.  But many of us will have had knocks in life which led to us losing our way for a while.   We lose a job.  Or a partner, a lover, a friend.  We lose someone through bereavement.  Today we remember those who still feel loss, 15 years after the events of 11 September 2001.

Luke’s Gospel is interested in these experiences of lostness because Luke’s Jesus is interested in them.

This kind of being lost is never good in itself.  And yet out of this lostness new things become possible.  Our true moments of glory come not at times of success, of welfare and plenty, but of lostness, hardship & uncertainty.  These are the moments of transformation.

The experience of being lost, then found, is at the very heart of the Christian experience.

Right at the heart of Luke’s Gospel are three stories about being lost and losing things, following one after the other: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and a third parable we didn’t hear today, the parable of the lost son. The parable of the lost son may sound unfamiliar to you, and yet it is one of the greatest of all the parables, better known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  It is bizarre that it’s not known as the Parable of the Lost Son, because ‘being lost’ is so clearly the common thread running through all three stories; and because the parable ends with these words: ‘this brother of yours was lost and has been found.’

But lostness isn’t something we find just at the heart of Luke’s gospel.  It’s there also at the start and at the end.

In Luke Chapter 2 it’s Jesus himself – twelve years old – who is lost.  Mary and Joseph are travelling away from Jerusalem following the Feast of the Passover.  And then they realise Jesus is missing.  After three days they find him, back in the Jerusalem Temple, talking with the religious teachers.  Jesus says to his parents: ‘Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’

Luke is a great storyteller and it’s hard to believe he wrote this story without having at the back of his mind another story, one which he tells towards the end of his gospel.

Because this is not the last time in Luke’s gospel we meet two people walking away from Jerusalem following the Passover Festival, distraught because they have lost Jesus. It’s not the last time they encounter Jesus again after three days, engaged in a discussion of the scriptures. It’s not the last time the two people interrupt their journey and head back to Jerusalem.

Luke tells these stories in such a way that when we read the story of the Road to Emmaus, at some level we’re reminded of the earlier story, of Joseph and Mary, out of their minds with worry because they’ve lost Jesus.

Many of us will have had times in our lives when we have lost Jesus. When we can’t quite work out how once we felt close to him, and then somehow he no longer seemed to be part of our lives in the same way. And we try to retrace our steps and work out how that happened, and how we can change things so that Jesus is once more part of our lives, so that God’s presence, rather than his absence, is something we once again experience.

When Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus again, he appears to be completely at home.  He says to them: ’Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’

Which raises the question: ‘Who was really lost?’

It is we who are lost when we lose Jesus, when we lose sight of God, when we lose touch with the spiritual side of our character. I speak from experience, having spent fifteen years of my life away from Christian faith.  Like the people of Israel we heard about in our first reading, I spent many years wandering in a wilderness.  I often regret it and lament what I see as wasted years.  And yet, like the people of Israel, that time has shaped who I am and now shapes my ministry, especially with those on the edge of the church, those who find faith difficult.

Fortunately, as Luke’s Gospel makes clear, it is precisely at such moments of lostness that we can experience God in a new way.

When the lost son returns to his father, his father sees him when he is still far off and runs and puts his arms around him and kisses him. This is a picture of God, one of the best we have.

Once we find our way again, how is life different?  What is it that keeps us on track and stops us getting derailed?  A detailed map, perhaps, so we need never get lost again?

That’s not my experience.  There are Christians – there are indeed whole churches – who believe God provides such a detailed map.  In my experience, that’s rare.  Less a map, more a compass.  Indeed, less a compass, more a homing instinct. That feels more true to those moments in life when things do seem to go right, when we feel as if by God’s grace, we are living within God’s purposes.  It was such a homing instinct that took the boy Jesus to his true home – to his Father’s house.

I believe it was such a homing instinct which has brought me here to Kettering.

Does our gospel reading today provide any clues about the future of this church, of St Michael and All Angels, as we look ahead?

My impression is that St Michael’s is at a crucial moment in its history.  The energy and life here which I’ve already sensed needs to find a direction.  I see my main role here as simply enabling you to find your way forward.  I want to be a catalyst, an enabler, a facilitator, so that each of you can discover your own ministry and vocation: so that together you can flourish in faith.

Many of us are here today because we’ve known what it means to be lost.  Here is Kettering there is no shortage of people who feel lost, even if they don’t admit it.  They are struggling, hurt, confused.  What does the owner of the sheep do in our story?  For a while he leaves the warmth and security of the flock, looks out into the wider world, finds the lost sheep and brings it home.

As St Michael’s grows and flourishes – as I’m sure it will – never forget what it is that brings us together.  It is that we are people who know what it means to be lost.  That is what the people in neighbouring streets most need.  They need to see a community of people who, like them, know what it’s like to feel lost and yet who have been found.

And as you grow and flourish, have as your model the owner of the sheep in our story, who turns his face outwards to search for the lost one.  St Michael’s is here for a reason, for a purpose.  And part of that purpose is nothing less than the transformation of this corner of Kettering so that the lost can be found and so that the values of God’s kingdom – healing, reconciliation, justice – can become visible in our streets, signs of the presence of the kingdom of God.

The cost of being a disciple

Preached by Canon Lesley McCormack on 4th September 2016

Luke 14:25-33

 The first few words in this morning’s Gospel stopped me in my tracks, because they seem to fly in the face of what I thought I understood about what it means to be a follower of Christ – that I should love God with all my heart, mind and strength and love my neighbour as myself.

 But this morning I hear Jesus telling the crowd listening to him that ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and life itself cannot be my disciple.’

What is going on!!

Well, we need to take ourselves back insofar as we can to the Graeco-Roman world of the first century, when Luke would have been writing.  For in the culture and understanding of that time, the idea of hating someone meant something quite different to our understanding today.  The people hearing Jesus speaking would have understood the word ‘hate’ to have meant something akin to ‘love less than’ rather than the much stronger feelings attached to the word today.

What Jesus is saying to his listeners is that discipleship makes incredible demands of each of us – and there may be times when we are faced with painfully difficult and challenging decisions – whether to follow where God is calling, or to stay with our old life where we feel safe and secure.  We do well to reflect on this today as we prepare to welcome David as our new Parish Priest later this afternoon.  For God has clearly led David here to move us on, to challenge us, shake us up and to help us grow.  But the choice is ours – to follow where God is leading, rejoicing in the opportunity to grow together and to flourish, or to stay with what we know and where we feel safe, but risk stagnating.

 Jesus further illustrated the cost of discipleship with the story about a man considering building a watchtower: ‘For which of you’, he says, ‘intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?’

Our baptismally vows call us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, but the choices before us may not always be easy.  I glimpsed something of this some 20 years ago now when I was very happy in my home town in Suffolk where I had hitherto spent most of my life, enjoying enormously the ministry to which God had called me.  But God was beginning to kick me up the backside so to speak, and it was becoming clear that he wanted me to move on.  I ignored that prompting for some time, but God is persistent and ultimately I had to respond and actively begin to discern where God was calling me to go.  And so it was that I came to Kettering as part of the discernment process and once more God made it crystal clear that this is where he wanted me to be.  But the choice was mine – whether to follow where God was clearly leading, or stay where I felt safe and secure amidst my family and friends.  Well you all know what my answer was for here I am but the decision to leave behind family and friends was not an easy one and it was costly, but through it God has richly blessed me!  And if I’m totally honest, I’m not sure that I had fully thought through the cost.

But before we are tempted to lose heart, the Gospels also remind us that not all disciples joined Jesus on the road. In fact, he positively encourages at least one to stay at home and rather tell of all he has discovered about Jesus to the people of his village.  And even those who did become fellow travellers were not perfect:  they failed to see the obvious; they squabbled over status and one of them denied him.   But Jesus does not set people up to fail and scripture teaches us that there are many ways to be a disciple.  All that God asks is that we try – that we keep on trying and never give up.

 Jesus is telling that large crowd that followed him and every one of us here that if they and we wish to be his followers, then we will experience the joy of his presence but may also be faced with isolation, misunderstanding, challenges and pain; it will not be an easy ride and we may find ourselves having to make some very difficult choices if we are to be taken seriously.

The exceptional life of discipleship to which we are all called challenges us to think about our attitudes and responses as individuals and communities towards all those amongst whom we live – those who are born in this country, and those who are here following migration.  The shocking news of the murder of the Polish gentleman earlier this week in Harlow – murdered it would seem because he was not born in this country – should make each of us question the values that underpin our common national life and identity.  We are called to work for a just and fair society, a world that affirms the dignity of every man, woman and child who are all, whether we like it or not, children of the one Heavenly Father who rejoiced to create us and in whose image we are all created.  This is the outward expression of our faith which gives us credibility.

We cannot take up the cross without deepening our faith and trust in the God who calls us, increasing our love for Him and all God’s children, and putting aside our own demands.  But when, by God’s grace, we are enabled to do that, our eyes are opened, our minds are broadened, and our very lives are transformed by the richness of God’s love and grace – a power that enables us to achieve what we never thought possible, a power that enables us to become more truly the people God created us to be, a power that will ultimately enable all his children to live a life of dignity in peace – to the glory of His Name. Amen

Put your trust in the one true God

Preached by Canon Lesley McCormack at a baptism at St Michael & All Angels on 14th August 2016

Jeremiah 23:23-9, Luke 12:49-56

‘You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’

 So here we are, gathered to witness and celebrate the baptism of Eva, Ruby, and Louie and together to share in a meal of simple foods – bread and wine, a gift given to us by Jesus, a meal he asked us to share.  Then into these celebrations come those hard hitting words of Jeremiah and Jesus, words that challenge us and perhaps make us feel uncomfortable, words that you may think a bit strange for a baptism.  So what is going on?

 Well, I would like to suggest that if we dig around just a little, we may come to the conclusion that in fact, that are perfect words for a Baptism, reminding us what it means to be a member of this community we call ‘the church’, a community committed to following Jesus, playing our part in building the Kingdom of God He came to proclaim.  So let’s do just a little bit of digging and see what we find!

 The words of Jeremiah were written a very long time ago; words born out of a time of injustice, chaos and often violent conflict, culminating in the siege of Jerusalem.  People were starving, many were dying; national and family life was being destroyed.  Many of those who survived were then deported as slaves.  The destruction of the Temple shook the religious and political foundations of the people’s identity.  From this maelstrom came questions about meaning – where was the God who gave them land and promised to be with them.  Had God abandoned them, forgotten them? Events cried out for interpretation to give new understanding.  This is the work of Jeremiah – to explain events, divine justice and to point the people to a new way of living, a new future.

So this morning, we hear Jeremiah speaking to a people in exile.  We hear God’s anger directed at the false prophets claiming to speak for God, yet their words are filled with lies and deceit, aimed at making the people forget God.  Jeremiah interprets all that the exiles have experienced, their pain, their suffering and the demise of the nation, and sees much of it rooted in the lying and deceit of priests and prophets, and the leaders who have duped the people.  But the faithfulness and loyalty of the exiles is also challenged – they must close their ears and their minds to the words of false prophets, and place their trust, their loyalty in the hands of the one true God who will lead them back to their promised land.

But people struggle and are reluctant to change; so God continued to speak through his prophets, urging new beginnings, putting God at the centre of their lives.  The last of those prophets was John the Baptist, calling the people to see the works of God in their midst; pointing the people to ‘the one who is more powerful than I.  He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire’.

And that of course is Jesus whose strong words about division and fire ring in our ears this morning; words that make us feel uncomfortable.  A stark contrast to Jesus teaching about forgiveness, peace-making, being non-judgemental, but words we need to hear.

Jesus can see that a crisis is coming, and his own fate will be bound up in that crisis.  It is a crisis that will see once more the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  We can hear his desperation, frustration that so few of his contemporaries could see what was happening around them.  They were good at forecasting the local weather, so why, why can’t they see what is going on around them – from the Roman occupation to the oppressive regime of Herod; arrogant high priests and the Pharisees making people jump through more and more legal and ritualistic hoops rather than enabling to draw closer to the one true God who calls them; the diminishing of God’s children rather than enabling them to grow and flourish.  And in the middle of it all a young man announcing the Kingdom of God, healing the sick and releasing those bound by life’s injustices.  Why were the people so unable to put two and two together and realise that a crisis was looming – a catastrophic confrontation and clash of cultures – the Kingdom of God pitched against the kingdoms of the world, a crisis that would tear families and communities apart.

Still today, there are people in our world living under siege, suffering intolerable violence and starvation.  Then as now, to live according to the values of God’s kingdom poses a challenge, a threat to all who would rather adhere to the values of the kingdoms of this world.  Jesus urges us to look at what is happening around us and to measure that against the values of his Father’s kingdom.  He has no voice but ours and we, together with the church throughout the world, must find our prophetic voice, and with courage speak out against the injustices that diminish our brothers and sisters.

This is the work of all the baptised people of God, the work that Eva, Ruby and Louie will share. In Baptism, our lives are bound to the life of Christ and we commit to a way of life that gives life – that shines like a light in the dark corners of our lives, our communities, our nation and our world.  In these early years, Eva, Ruby and Louie’s parents and Godparents, through God’s grace,  will teach them by their example what this means.  It will not always be easy; difficult and perhaps painful, decisions may have to be made.  But that is the only path that will ultimately lead to freedom, justice and wholeness, shalom – true peace – for all God’s children: children of all nations, colours, cultures and creeds.

It begins with water, the stuff of life itself, without which nothing can survive.  Yet water can also drown and destroy.  Baptism is about both these – symbolising the movement from death to life – from being self-centred to God-centred.  This morning, the water flowing over the heads of Eva, Ruby and Louie will symbolise that movement to new life; and in that action is brought together all the mixed stuff of life and God’s transforming love. Amen

God has looked favourably on his people

Preached by Canon Lesley McCormack on 5th June 2016

1 Kings 17:17-24
Luke 7:11-17

It is often said that out of the three Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – known as the Synoptic Gospels, Luke’s Gospel was written with the outsider particularly in mind. Luke was himself almost certainly a Gentile and most probably one of that group of Gentiles – the God-fearers – who, though greatly honouring the Jewish faith, shrank from circumcision, and therefore remained excluded, an outsider. Continue reading “God has looked favourably on his people”

“If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come, and stay at my home”

Preached by Canon Lesley McCormack at St Michael and All Angels on 1st of May 2016. 

I wonder; I wonder what it must have been like, sitting by the poolside in Beth-zatha, with all those people, each living with their own problems and struggles, longing to be healed, longing to be made whole.  Over the years, he had seen so many broken people come.  He would talk to them, and some he would get to know, listening to their stories.  Then after a while, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, occasionally much longer, they would go – rejoicing in the possibility of new life.  But still he remained.

What was wrong with him, I wonder – and how old was he when he first arrived.  But so long he had been here – years and years had passed, it seems!  And nothing, for him, had changed.  Just the same routine, the same struggle, day after day – begging for whatever charity he could get from anyone who happened to pass by; and never, never succeeding in getting into the pool first.  It just became normal – oh, long ago, it became normal – a sad, hopeless, way of life!

The pool was a well known place of healing, and what is believed to have been the original site has been excavated by archaeologists and I visited when I went to the Holy Land seven years ago.  I remember trying to imagine the people who, over the years, had sat there, waiting for their moment, struggling to get into the waters for healing.  Evidence suggests it wasn’t just a Jewish place of healing, but was regarded by others also as a sacred site and at one time was dedicated to the healing god Asclepius.  Today the site is watched over by the Crusader Church of St. Anne.

At the time of Jesus, the waters in the pool would bubble up periodically; it was believed that when the waters bubbled up, the first person in would be healed.

Into this scene comes Jesus who seemed to know that the man had been there a long time (rather as he seemed to know the life story of the woman at the well in Samaria).  And he asks the man, somewhat disconcertingly out of the blue:  “Do you want to be made well?”  But perhaps the question was not just about being made well, but about being ready to begin a new life, in place of resignation to sad hopelessness.

But our man did what I know I can sometimes do when I am challenged, and perhaps many of us do the same:  make excuses! Albeit very practical reasons for not expecting to be made well.

Jesus, the life-giver, cuts through it all with those words ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’  These echo the words spoken by Jesus to the man lowered down through the roof by his four friends.  On both occasions, and at once we are told, the men are made well, pick up their mats and begin to walk into new life.

And all of this takes place on the Sabbath.  In a profoundly symbolic sense, the man is brought into the Sabbath rest of God, and glimpses the ‘Joy of heaven to earth come down’.  Jesus chose to face the consequences of the ensuing controversy rather than waste time waiting another day; kowtow to his critics was never an option!

Like the man who had lived with disappointment for 38 years, Luke tells us in Acts that Paul also has had to live with disappointment.  Clearly, Paul had a very particular idea of where he would go and what he would do, but this was not to be – but something prevented him, disrupted his plans.  So we read in Acts that having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach in Asia, he diverted to Phrigia and Galatia, was stopped from going to Bithynia and so went to Troas via Mysia.  If you look at this on a map, it is clear that Paul had planned to go North and East, but this was thwarted and instead he goes North West ideally placing him so that he could respond to his dream, his vision – the nudging of God urging him to travel to Macedonia across the Ageaen Sea.

Having crossed the sea, Paul goes to Philippi and it is here that he meets Lydia, who was possibly Greek, but certainly according to Acts a dealer in purple cloth.  Purple dye was expensive, very expensive!  In the 4th Century, the historian Theopompus reported that ‘purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver’.  Consequently, purple dyed textiles became status symbols.  We might therefore assume that Lydia was a wealthy woman, otherwise she would never have afforded to buy the cloth in which she dealt.  She was a woman of means, a woman the world.

So here we are, at this place of prayer by a river and a conversation opens between her, Paul and his companions.  She listens eagerly, intently, with heart and mind opened by God.  What she hears has an immediate impact and her response is equally immediate; she and her household are baptised.  Lydia hears the invitation, grasps it and quite literally walking into the waterfor baptism, walks into the promise of new life.

But there is a second response to this extraordinary gift of God, and she offers hospitality reflecting if you like God’s invitation to all of us to ‘Come and eat’.

And who know, that gift of hospitality, making people feel welcome may have been instrumental in the foundation of the Philippian Church.  Hospitality is fundamental to the Gospel, to mission, to living out the love and welcome we are called to proclaim. This love is the kind of love that is willing to take a risk, commits itself in trust, long before it has full knowledge of where it might lead!

And so it was with enormous sadness and regret that I learned of the shocking news that on Monday night, MPs voted to block a new law that would have fast-tracked 3,000 refugee children reuniting them with their families here in the UK.  I simply cannot comprehend how our government can think it is acceptable on any level to turn our backs on the needs of vulnerable, frightened, traumatized children who desperately need to know once more what it is to feel safe, warm, loved and protected.  ‘Let the children come to me’ said Jesus to his disciples as they tried to stop them approaching.

Living the life of the gospel, demands our willingness to take risks.

The man at the pool of Beth-zatha was faced with a choice.  Stay with the life he had with its grim familiarity which lent its own sense of safety – or risk accepting the invitation to take a step into the unknown with its life-enhancing possibilities!  ‘Come and stay at my home’ says Lydia to the strangers she has only just met at the water’s edge, reflecting the open welcoming love of God revealed in Christ

The life of open, welcoming, sacrificial, self-giving love is the life we are all called to live as people who dare to call ourselves followers of Christ.  It may be risky, it will be costly.

But such a life always brings with it life-enhancing joys and possibilities that will turn the world upside down, turn night into day,  and enable us to glimpse God’s new creation of healing, wholeness and peace.

Amen

 

Come and have breakfast

Preached by Revd Dr John Smith on 10th of April 2016 at St Peter & St Paul and St Michael and All Angels. 

Up two long flights of escalators, always crowded, always chasing and up into Holborn Tube station. Despite the escalators, a better station than Covent Garden with the lifts, or Leicester Square which is always chaotic. Out into the street, is it always raining?  More people, many more but I have this sense that God is here. I don’t understand it but it is what I feel.

And then I wondered, will it always be like this? What about 1000 years from now? I don’t have the imagination for the buildings or the technology. I can only think of us – human beings, God’s children – what will we be like? Will we be even more selfish or might it be a world that has rediscovered its sense of meaning.  Will we still sense God, as I do now, or will it be non-sense – God present, but not sensed.

I stand there; no, I don’t walk on and think. It undermines it to call it a story – this story of Jesus Christ, his living and dying and rising; his loving, and loving by doing and healing and caring.

I think, this cannot be lost, it will not be lost. This Jesus, this Son of God who transforms our lives, who loves us, who gives us the responsibility, and what a responsibility:

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he sees.
Yours are the feet with which he walks.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world.

So let’s start with our Gospel reading. Jesus stands there by the Sea of Tiberias, looking out for the disciples – he always travels towards those in trouble. It is the third time that the disciples see him since he rose from the dead. They are still lost and floundering, back fishing and even losing their touch with that.  Fish from the other side they did, and there were fish in plenty. A foretaste of the future, perhaps. A moment of recognition, an invitation – “Come and have breakfast.” Very human but divine too.  “Join me.” It has happened before, of course – he fed the 5000 – five barley loaves and two fish and enough left over to share with the world.

And then there are those words to Peter, three times he asks, “Do you love me?” Peter, the one who ran away, left him, denied him – forgiven and given work to do – feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. These are “do something” words.  Saying “do you love me” is not enough. This is where Eliza Doolittle comes in – fed up with just words:

Words, words, I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
first from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars, burning above;
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire,
If you’re in love, show me!

Jesus wants this…doing and serving and caring is loving and kingdom stuff. Saying it is just saying it – almost meaningless. So Jesus fed, and now we do too. If you’re in love, show me.  The impulse to share food is basic and ancient, no wonder the old stories teach that what you give to a stranger you give to God. The more we are open to the stranger, whether we like them or not, we will see more and more of the Holy. Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast”, fed his disciples and us too. Jesus fed the 5000. No questions asked, no entry ticket…the insider, the outsider, the believer, the atheist, the lover and the thief are all in.

The night before he died he took bread and wine that became his body and his blood – do this in my memory and I will be there with you. And now we will take bread and wine which will become his body and his blood and we will share it too. We will not keep this to ourselves.  For this place, this church, this life of ours is a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat . This is a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone to heal and strengthen, serve and teach. This is a house whose doors are open – this church – our lives, our doors, too.  Time and time again we must say, as our Archbishop has said of God’s love, it’s extremely easy, God’s love is offered without qualifications, without price, without cost, to all people in all circumstances, always.

Help people grow and flourish into the people God’s love has called us to be. But somehow we make so many barriers, too many hurdles to jump. So, as Christians, we try to offer God’s love, but it comes with a cost: the cost of giving our time, our skills, our labour, our money. We share what we are and what we have. We crack the shell that protects us.

A tiny and very arthritic Miss Lewis went to her church every week to collect groceries, climbed the stairs – slowly, ever so slowly – went to her room – she only had one room – cooked on the hotplate, put the food into nice clean plastic containers, struggled down the stairs and gave the food to the homeless in the street.  I call that Holy Communion.  Food to people who do not belong and who people do not want.

Jesus stood by the sea and saw the disciples struggling. “Come and have breakfast”, the fire is alight. Share your food with mine. Share your lives with mine. It is a Christian call.

Listen to this prayer from Uruguay. It is said when bread and wine are brought to the altar. It calls for all of us to be involved, not just in the eucharist, but beyond these walls – not just for us but for everyone.

Let us celebrate the Supper of the Lord. Let us make a huge loaf of bread and let us bring abundant wine. Let the women not forget the salt, let the men bring along the yeast. Let many guests come: the lame, the blind, the crippled, the poor.  Come quickly.  Let us follow the recipe of the Lord. All of us, let us knead the dough together with our hands, together we knead hope.  Let us see with joy how the bread grows. Because today we celebrate the meeting with the Lord. Today we renew our commitment to the Kingdom. Nobody will stay hungry.

We, you and I, will not be hungry because we are loved.  The world will not be hungry because we love; and when we love we respect and honour and don’t hold on.

We are pilgrims on a journey
fellow travellers on the road
We are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

So let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

I come up the escalator. Holborn Station, a crowded London road, Christ palpably present and thought,” what will it be like 1000 years from now?” And knew, that with Christ’s help and ours – loving one another and we are loved – all will be well in the Kingdom of God.

God’s love does make a difference if we let it. Makes a difference to their lives, helps them see the world differently because the world is different when we love and serve one another. It is the spark that sparks and endless spark. If you love, show me, fire me, do something.

Amen.

 

Have you believed because you have seen me? Blesssed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

Preached by Lesley McCormack on Sunday 3rd April 2016 at St Peter & St Paul and St Michael and All Angels.

(holding up Bible) This is God’s story, the story of God’s interaction with his beloved creation.  But this is also our story, this is our song and now in the Easter season, we revel in the most astonishing and glorious part of the story of God’s dealings with his children, with the song of Miriam and Moses still ringing in our ears – “I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph, glorious his triumph! I will sing to the Lord”.

But not all are singing, it appears.  Some are in hiding, behind locked doors.  Hiding, we are told from fear of the Jews.  Yet they themselves are Jews, the one who led them was himself a Jew.  Perhaps it was the Jewish religious authorities that gave them cause to fear for Jesus had threatened the structures, purpose and the very meaning of the Jerusalem Temple at a fundamental level.  Or perhaps it was fear of the Romans, for accounts in Josephus indicate that the Romans would kill the followers as well as the leader of any Messianic group to ensure that the sedition did not spread, for holding on to power at all costs – that is what mattered to the Romans.

But mention of a locked door might also have been the means by which John was communicating something about Jesus resurrection body – a body that could still eat bread and fish and yet profoundly different, no longer constrained by the limits of time and space.

But I also wonder if they were, in a way, hiding from God – like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?  For what was the last thing they did before the arrest of Jesus?  They fled, they denied knowing him, they turned their backs even though so shortly before they had said they would die for him!  But now their friend and leader, the one who had so inspired and encouraged them – he is dead, the body gone from the tomb.  And if that wasn’t enough,  Mary Magdalene has told them  that she has seen Him!    None of it makes any sense – utterly incomprehensible.

Then suddenly, into this room where fear-filled men had gathered (but also it must be remembered the fearless Mary of Magdala who had come to them with extraordinary news) into this room, even though the door is locked, Jesus is there in the middle of them.  He doesn’t say what might have been expected – it doesn’t say ‘Well, where did you all go’ or ‘Why did you abandon me when you professed such loyalty!’.  No, nothing like that – rather, he looks at them and says ‘Peace be with you’. He shows them his hands and his side, presumably with the mark of the nails and the cut of the spear and again he speaks – ‘Peace be with you’.  They are words that remind us of the words so often used by God when he introduces himself or his messengers – ‘ Do not be afraid’.

These are words that are so much more than a greeting or words of reassurance; they are words that offer release from that which binds – be it fear, or doubt; guilt or shame; or any of the many things that serve at different times to bind and paralyse. These  are words that give courage and energy; words that unlock doors.  ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ says Jesus.  The disciples are to continue the work begun in Jesus.  They cannot, must not remain behind closed doors or the resurrection will mean absolutely nothing.  John Dominic Crossan in his book The Resurrection of Jesus, says that the Resurrection is less about the exultation of Christ, and more about the transformation of the world, about collaborating with the ‘non-violent God of justice and peace’.  These people who are confused, unsure, doubting and struggling to understand are the same people that Jesus sends out to continue his work.  And he empowers them for this work he calls them to do.

There is a wonderfully intimate moment  which again resonates with Genesis, for here in Johns Gospel there is no roaring wind or tongues of fire; rather the gift of the Holy Spirit is given quietly – He breathes on them and in that moment I imagine an experience of such closeness.  The breath of the Divine inspiring, empowering, energising these disciples.  We are drawn back to that image of God in the Garden of Eden breathing life into the first human being.  Here we witness the new creation.

Meanwhile, Thomas has been conspicuous by his absence, and is, it seems, not unlike many of us at times, struggling with his own doubts.  The other disciples share their experience with him, but he remains unconvinced by either their stories or their transformation from defeat to joy.  ‘No!  Unless I can see the marks of the nails and see the hole in His side made by the spear, I will not believe!’

A week passes, and then, through closed doors, ‘though no longer locked, Jesus is among them once more with those same words ‘peace be with you’ and immediately offers Thomas the opportunity to do what he said he needed to do.  But that offer was enough for Thomas; he is able to make what is the first full profession of faith in the divinity of Christ in the Gospel and proclaims ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus turns to Thomas and says ‘have you believed because you have seen me?’  Then it is as if he turns to me, to you to all of us …….’Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.’

In that moment, Jesus steps out of this story we are reading directly into our lives.  This is our story, this is our song, a song sung in the continuing hope and power of the resurrection.

The reality of the resurrection is lived out and sung in every small step that is taken to push back the darkness of violence and injustice in our world; it is lived out and sung in every small action that shines like a light in the dark places of peoples lives and the lives of communities.  The reality of the resurrection is made visible in efforts of young people like Katy Campbell who threw us a challenge to help her support Care4Calais and put together boxes of food and provisions for refugees living in camps in Calais.  It is made visible in the commitment of our volunteers who, week by week push back the darkness of injustice by making soup and providing nourishment, friendship and companionship to people who have little or nothing.  It is made visible through the love of friends, and neighbours; through the forgiveness of those we have hurt or wronged; through the constant love and support of those nearest and dearest to us; through the countless acts of generosity, kindness and compassion expressed in so many different ways in the ongoing worship, mission and ministry of this community.

Belief in the Resurrection is what drove Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter in Lampedusa to go down to the shoreline and gather wood – the broken fragments of a boat carrying Eritrean refugees wrecked at sea off the islands coast in 2011.  He went in search of the debris after meeting some of the survivors in his parish church; people grieving for their drowned relatives and friends.  At his carpenters bench he made small crosses from the salvaged wood to give to these people who had lost everything; crosses of wood that smelt of the sea and in which he recognised something of the holy.  He then made a large cross to hang in the church as a constant reminder of the suffering of refugees, but also a reminder to them, and to all who looked upon it, of their rescue.

A member of the British Museum heard Signor Tuccio describing his work; deeply moved she made contact with him and, unbeknown to the museums director Neil MacGregor, asked if he would make a cross for their collection.  Some while later, a parcel arrived.  What she unwrapped was a rough cross, bearing flakes of the blue and yellow paint that had once adorned another boat, one wrecked in October 2013 with the loss of 366 lives.

Two things happened as a direct result:  Mr. MacGregor accepted the cross as the last item to enter the collection under his supervision; and the Italian Navy initiated its Mare Nostrum sea-rescue mission.  That simple blue and yellow cross serves as a sign of the solidarity of those who, having little themselves, cannot turn away from the plight of those washed up on their shores.  That is the power of the resurrection.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

 Preached by Lesley McCormack on 31st January 2016 at St Michael & All Angels.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 2:22-40
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

This morning Luke is moving us on from stories of Jesus birth to his arrival at the temple for the first time.  The angels we met just a few weeks ago with their song of joy and words of encouragement have departed, and other characters come to fill their place – Simeon and Anna – two human messengers declaring  God’s love in a world yearning for consolation.

Who are Simeon and Anna.  Well, we know very little about Simeon.  All that Luke tells us, apart from his godliness, is that he lived in Jerusalem, that the Holy Spirit rested on him, and drove him in to the temple at the right time to meet Jesus. We have assumed that he is old and in most works of art he is depicted as very old indeed.  The reality is that Luke makes no mention of his age at all. We know too, that Simeon had been ‘looking forward to the consolation of  Israel’

Anna, on the other hand, we know to be old, because Luke tells us so.  She had been married, but after seven years, her husband died and for 84 years she has lived as a widow.  Anna lived in the temple  – this was her vocation as a prophet,  living a life dedicated to God through worship, prayer and fasting.

So here we have two people, living  lives of faithful,  loyal obedience in accordance with the Law, rituals and codes of Judaism.  But far from making them satisfied with its provisions, their faith, their understanding has kindled within them a flame of expectancy.  Simeon is looking for the consolation of Israel while Anna was looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Faithful, prayerful study of the scriptures, properly understood produced men and women champing at the bit for the coming of God to his people.

Simeon is waiting in patient hope, as generations of Jewish men and women had been waiting for the last 500 years,  for ‘the consolation of Israel’; a hope rooted in the words of the prophecies of  Isaiah spoken to a community in exile – ‘Comfort, O comfort my people says God’.  Simeon longed for that promised consolation.  With all faithful Jews, he  may well have imagined a future glory of Israel as liberation from her enemies, freedom from Roman occupation, and restoration to the grandeurs of King David’s reign, establishing once more prosperity and peace of God’s people.

But then, on this particular day, something extraordinary happens.  There were people milling around the temple as there were every day, and among them, a young couple with their baby.  Mary and Joseph come to fulfil religious rituals involving the redemption of the firstborn and the purification of the mother after childbirth, marking her re-entry into society.  The purification involved sacrifice, and the gift offered varied according to the means of the family – for the poorest, the minimum was a pair of doves.  Luke tells us this is what Mary and Joseph offered and so makes the point that their baby was born in to poverty and is living in poverty.  Rituals completed, they could simply have quietly disappeared out of the temple and walked the three miles or so back to their home in Nazareth.  BUT

Simeon is a man rooted in God, open to the nudgings of God, open to be surprised by God.  And something moves him to approach this very ordinary, inconspicuous family group. And immediately he knows!  There may be no grandeur here, no power or wealth; no warrior in his midst – just a baby in the arms of his mother supported by Joseph.  But without any doubt THIS IS IT – mysterious and strangely different to what was expected, but this was the long awaited moment!

Simeon gently takes the baby from his mother, and speaks in those remarkable words we know as the Nunc Dimitus, words that have brought comfort and peace to people down the years at the end of each day and at the end of life.  Is it these words, I wonder, that lead us to think of him as an old man?  Perhaps he was but we simply do not know.

Mary and Joseph, were amazed at what was being said – and no wonder;  if the experience of the words of angels months earlier wasn’t disconcerting enough, what on earth did this man mean.  For Simeon’s prophetic words speak of joy and hope, but also the storm of division, controversy and pain.

 We know what Mary and Joseph could not – that those words point us towards Holy Week and the Passion.

Anna, meanwhile, is caught up in this drama.  But while Simeon held the baby, praised God and blessed Mary and Joseph, Anna did something else entirely – she told all who were looking and searching about this child.

For now, Mary stands cradling her child in the safety of her arms, full of joy and hope, wonder and anticipation; but a time would come when she would stand, longing to cradle her son once more and take away his pain, but have instead to experience the unimaginable pain of watching her son suffer so cruelly and die.

……Love bears and endures all things.

This, Luke is saying, is what happens when the kingdom of God confronts the kingdom of the world

Gulwali Passarlay was a torch bearer for the 2012 Olympics.  During a recent interview he said “My name is a mix of three words – Gul, which means flower; wali, which means friend of God and Passarlay which means spring. So I am a mix of three beautiful things!”  Gulwali was born in Afghanistan in 1994. His father was a doctor.  When he was three or four, his parents sent him to live with his grandparents in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. He has many happy memories of that period of his live. But all this would change.  Gulwali was 12 when the war was at its height.  In 2006, after his father and other family members were killed, his mother decided to pay for him to be smuggled out of the country to a place of safety.

Love bears and endures all things.

He recalls “Alone, I moved across eight countries – Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Belgium, Calais in France and the UK. My journey was filled with everything – I endured imprisonment, hunger, cruelty, brutality, loneliness, terror and even nearly drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. I sometimes wonder if it was all worth it because I am so far away from my family. I recently lost my little sister, and my grandmother. I wasn’t there by their side, and I miss them very much.

And a sword will pierce your own heart too.

Now, aged 21, Gulwali is completing his final year at Manchester University where he has been studying Politics and Social Science, and dreams one day of returning to his homeland and entering politics there, longing to make a difference for his people ‘so that children like myself don’t have to leave their homes, and their mothers.’

Simeon and Anna were open to God, willing to be surprised by Him; willing to see the work of God in totally new and unexpected ways; open to have their understanding of the ways of God challenged and changed.  They were driven in their longing to see God glorified.  And God’s glory encountered in the Temple that day, was quite unlike anything they had imagined, a baby cradled in his mother’s arms.

And what of us – all of us here – are we driven with longing to see God’s glory? Are we open to being surprised by God?  To the possibility that His glory may be revealed in totally unexpected ways?  Are we open to the possibility that His glory can be revealed in the dignity, determination, gifts and qualities of people like Gulwali desperately seeking safe haven and new opportunities to grow and flourish.  And are we then ready to respond with the light of love that is of God himself,  a love that dispels the darkness of ignorance and bigotry.  Are we ready to reach out with a love that is patient and kind, not arrogant or rude; the love that does not insist on its own way and is not resentful; the love that bears and endures all things?  Are we ready to confront the kingdoms of this world with the values of God’s kingdom? Because if we are, and if like Anna we proclaim it to all, there may yet be hope for the thousands of children travelling in search of security, love and peace.  Amen