Saturday, May 19, 2018

Wedding Preaching

I suspect I might not agree with Bishop Michael Curry on everything.

And maybe his sermon was a little long and a touch repetitious. I didn't hear every word as the dear children were beginning to clamber around the sitting room, allowing the dog to steal their food and risking spilling their drinks.

And its possible that not all English Anglicans could carry it off quite as the Bishop did.

But surely there is a lesson to us here that most of us could afford to risk showing a little more enthusiasm, passion and intensity from time to time. According to the content of our preaching, we could deliberately speak as though we have a joyful, urgent and important message which we believe and which we think others ought to hear.

Too often I think my own sermons might be a little staid, not really having the quality of exciting life changing news with which I long to engage my hearers. I suspect I lapse into giving a take it or leave it statement of the truths of Scripture, whereas I ought to strive to hold up and to hold out Jesus Christ and his gospel, to be received with a hungry faith.

Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of today's televised wedding sermon, let us pray that the Holy Spirit enables the bold and powerful proclamation of the Lord Jesus in pulpits around the world this coming Lord's Day.

Friday, May 18, 2018

An OK Dad?

I am struck by the dedication in the non-autobiography of Frederick Forsyth I have just dipped in to. "For my sons, ... in the hope that I was an OK dad." I guess many people if they look back on their lives would say that there are few things more important.


Frederick Forsyth, writing in 2015, says: "My life has been blessed with extraordinary good fortune, for which I have no explanation."

After giving some examples he goes on:

"I have been married to two beautiful women and raised two fine sons, while enjoying so far robust good health. For all this, I remain deeply grateful, though to what fate, fortune or deity I am not quite sure. Perhaps I should make my mind up. After all, I may have to meet Him soon."

(The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, Penguin / Corgi, page 18)

Failing to score political points

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that politicians attempt to score political points. That is part of their job. But I thought that Diane Abbott tried to do so particularly overtly on yesterday's Question Time. Though on a couple of occasions she failed to do so by accusing others of saying or thinking things that they disavowed. To those who are listening, these are shots which are off-target. In fact, they are own-goals which just make the sticker look silly, careless or low.

The Pentecost 2018 Lectionary texts

Are Tories rats?

A member of the audience on Question Time last night was wearing a t-shirt with the slogan: "You are never more than 10 feet from a Tory" with a large picture of a rat.

Now, I am all for free speech, but this seems to me cheap, wrong-headed and offensive.

No doubt there are mean, nasty, greedy, treacherous people in all political parties.

It is quite wrong to assume that all Tories are rats.

Some might say it's unfair to rats!

But surely one might be a conservative because one thought that smaller government or lower taxation or individual opportunity or conservation of the good were core principles of freedom or the flourishing of society more represented by the centre-right than the Left.

To mix metaphors, it is just wrong to think that all Tory votes are the deliberate promotion of selfish fat cats.

And these days, of course, one might find it hard to find a Tory, say in London.

Disproportionate force

A member of the audience on Question Time last night made a good point about disproportionate force, I thought.

If a team of police officers come upon terrorists with knifes, the armed officers would not throw down their guns and pick up knives so that they use proportionate force.

The point about proportionate force is actually that we want to use the minimum necessary force.

The State and Grenfell

There was quite a bit of discussion of Grenfell on Question Time last night.

Part of the story of the story is, it would seem, a catalogue of state failure.

I was struck by the fact that much of the response was a call for more or better state.

I can't help thinking that can't be all that needs to be said.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Acts 3:11-19 - An outline

Acts 3:11-19 (page 1095)

(1) What the people have done (v13b-15): rejected and killed the author of life

(2) What God has done (v13, vv15b-18): glorified and raised Jesus from the dead

(3) What the people should do (v19): repent and turn to God

(4) What God will do (v19): wipe out their sins and send times of refreshment

(and see v20-end!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

What do you want most in your Vicar / Pastor / Minister?

We could no doubt think of things that are essential and desirable in a minister of the gospel.

A study of the Pastoral Epistles, with their emphasis on character and the single skill of being "apt to teach" would be fruitful.

Many job adverts ask for the Archangel Gabriel and Person Specifications use buzz words like collaborative ministry. No doubt there is code for don't change anything here but single-handedly grow the church, especially with young families.

Likely the minister will need a basic level of administrative competence or he will drive everyone crazy.

You will want him to pastor and teach and do the work of evangelist. It is part of his vocation to lead.

In fact, the minister's week is likely to be very diverse. In many situations he will need to be a jack of at least a few skills.

But perhaps minister and people would do well to remember the words of Pastor Robert Murray McCheyne:

"The greatest need of my people — is my personal holiness. Take heed to yourself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things."

Above all else, the minister should seek to love God and love the people. He should delight in the Lord Jesus Christ, revel in his grace, give thanks for his love. It is only by abiding in Christ and seeking to obey his commandments that one can be fruitful. 

Maybe you do want strategies and vision statements and all that, but you want a Pastor who will be in the Word, who will pray and listen and speak the good news of the Lord Jesus.

The minister must first of all be a grateful recipient of the gospel. He can only give what he himself has received. 

The work is after all ultimately God's, and the minister, conscious of his weaknesses, may confidently look to the power of the Holy Spirit who loves to give life to the dead and chooses the things that are not. 

One thing is needful: to sit at Jesus' feet as his disciple. That is indispensable for those who seek to be disciple-making disciples.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

April Fool's Day Easter Sunday All Age Sermon Notes

Some jottings for tomorrow's all age service. Look away now if you are coming!

(It's probably 3 sermons in one so some stuff might be best left out / skipped over)

1 Corinthians 15:1-20 (p1155)

John 20:1-18 (p1089)

Our preacher today is … !

Ha ha!

April fool!

(Easter Sunday = April Fools’ Day: 1956; 11 yrs time)

Would anyone like a chocolate?

Nothing inside, just the empty wrapper

April Fool / practical jokes – a surprise, the unexpected

The true story of Easter quite a funny story

Full of surprises and the unexpected

God dying on a cross!

Sad, but very, very surprising

J frequently predicted the resurrection, but his disciples don’t seem to have expected it.

It came as a surprise to them.

Foolish to think that death could stop the Son of God.

Funny that Pilate and the soldiers think they can make the stone at the tomb secure.

You can imagine the angels laughing at that one.

Women: “Who is going to roll the stone away for us?”

Silly to go to the tomb with out a plan.

They get a surprise – the stone is already tolled away

Mary wonders if this is some kind of trick / practical joke / hoax

A case of mistaken identity – always funny

Recognise who Jesus really is

A surprise: The tomb is empty – just the “wrapper”, his garments there

Tears turned to joy

Without the resurrection we’d be miserable

This true story has the ultimate happy ending

To many people Jesus seemed like a fool

The cross seemed weak and foolish

But it was the wisdom and power of God

Jesus and his followers have the last laugh

Death and the devil are defeated

Perhaps they think they’ve won, but the tables are turned on them

Not a hoax or a trick but good news of great joy

Not a practical joke, but it is very practical

Paul tells us that without the resurrection our faith is useless

But Jesus has been raised from that dead and that changes everything

It guarantees our resurrection

It gives us hope and purpose and meaning and joy and a message for the world

May God give us grace today to rejoice in the resurrection and to live in the light of it.

Easter Sunday and April Fools Day Resources Round Up

"April Fool's day is usually only observed by children, that 'really hilarious' person in your office and journalists who have to write about it.

And of course, the people in charge of press for large companies, who spend the days before April Fool's sending over weird, wonderful and sometimes tiresome press releases." Source: Daily Telegraph, 1 April 2017 - Dollar Store Children's Sermon Ideas - Ian Paul - What kind of fool was Jesus? - Wesley Hill - Easter Fool's Day - James Cary - What's funny about Easter? - James Cary and Glen Scrivner - What's so funny about Easter? conversation - Glen Scrivner: A funny thing happened on the way to the tomb - Glen Scrivner - Easter's a comedy, for crying out loud

What else?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday Poems

Any additional suggestions welcome. 

The Valley of Vision also contains meditations on the cross. 

Redemption, by George Herbert

Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
   Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
   And make a suit unto Him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th' old.
In heaven at His manor I Him sought:
   They told me there, that He was lately gone
   About some land, which He had dearly bought
Long since on Earth, to take possession
I straight returned, and knowing His great birth,
   Sought Him accordingly in great resorts—
   In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
   Of thieves and murderers; there I Him espied,
   Who straight, "Your suit is granted," said, and died.

The Agony, by George Herbert


Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom'd the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk'd with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

John Donne, Holy Sonnet XI

Spit in my face you Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinned, and sinned,
and only he Who could do no iniquity hath died:
But by my death can not be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews' impiety:
They killed once an inglorious man,
but I Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
Oh let me, then, his strange love still admire:
Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment.
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire
But to supplant, and with gainful intent:
God clothed himself in vile man's flesh,
that so He might be weak enough to suffer woe.

Good Friday
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Meditating on the cross from Mark 14 and 15 with Tim Keller

We’re going to camp out in Mark’s Gospel this year.

And I’ll be drawing on this book by Tim Keller, The King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus.

The book actually covers the whole of Mark’s gospel, but we’re going to focus in particular on the cross and on just 5 relatively brief passages from chapters 14 and 15.

It’s remarkable, in fact, that so much of Mark’s gospel, and of the New Testament is focused on the cross.

Jesus lived for about 33 years, but about 40% of the gospels focus on the last week of Jesus’ life.

But before we go any further, let’s be quiet for a moment and then we’ll pray for our time together.


Our Father, we give you thanks for Christ and his cross.

Open our eyes afresh we pray…

Grant us grace that trusting in Christ we to may go the way of the cross…

Reading 1: Mark 14:32-38

The Greeks and Romans have left us many stories of great heroes facing their final hour.

They are calm and dispassionate.

Socrates, before he drinks the deadly hemlock, is coolly coming up with ironic one-liners.

But the Jewish tradition is different.

In 1 and 2 Maccabees, our heroes are hot blooded and fearless, praising God as they’re sliced to pieces.

Jesus is like neither.

Jesus opens his heart to God, to the disciples and to us.

There is real struggle here.

Now the hitherto unflappable Jesus is astonished and troubled, horrified at the prospect of the cross.

God the Son is overwhelmed.

Jesus is not somehow weaker than the many others who have faced martyrdom before and since.

He faced something unique:

The cup of the wrath of God which was ours by right, but which he drained to the dregs for us.

As the Old Testament puts it, this large and deep cup of ruin and desolation, this goblet of God’s holy anger would make God the Son stagger.

In his infinite person, Jesus will pay an infinite price to win eternal life for innumerable people.

It was impossible for God to find another way.

Peter and the disciples could not even watch with him an hour.

But Jesus would do what we could not do for us.

Here, and here alone, is the love for which we’ve all been looking all our lives.

Reading 2: Mark 14:43-52

Here is a clash of two kingdoms, of two administrations of reality, two ways of looking at the world, two sets of priorities and values.

Judas comes to Jesus with a secret sign, a kiss, because he expect armed resistance.

But Jesus is not leading a guerrilla movement by which swords and clubs will bring in his kingdom.

Surprise, surprise: Judas shows he doesn’t get Jesus and his kingdom.

But neither does Peter.

Yes, Jesus is a king and he will bring in his kingdom.

But not be wielding a sword.

Rather, by dying on a cross.

This will be a really revolutionary revolution.

And a naked man flees from the garden.

Just as Adam had been naked before he hid and was expelled from Eden, so this man goes out of the Garden.

A flaming sword kept Adam out of Eden.

But Jesus will die naked on the cross and rise, again in a garden.

He will be the Gardener, the New Adam.

The sword of God’s justice will fall on him to make a way for us back to paradise.

Reading 3: Mark 14:53-65

There’s nothing more dramatic than being on trial for your life.

And there’s nothing more dramatic than the defendant taking the stand to testify.

His life depends on his words.

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.

Jesus’ life and teaching speak for themselves.

There may come a chilling moment where Jesus has nothing more to say to us.

But he will answer one last question directly and unmistakably:

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

The High Priest presumes to seek to judge the Judge of all the World.

In fact, the High Priest has just lost his job, because here is the great Eternal High Priest who will offer the one and only everlasting sacrifice for sin.

The trial becomes a riot.

The response of the world, and even of religion at its best, to Jesus comes a farce.

After his religious trial, Jesus is again put on show trial in another kangaroo court.

This time Pilate the judge is judged.

Jesus is innocent.

And yet the lead him out to crucify him.

Reading 4: Mark 15:21-32

Although Mark doesn’t mention it explicitly, perhaps the best commentary on that passage is Psalm 22, written centuries before, partly in the providence of God, as a prophecy of those terrible events.

We’re going to listen to that Psalm being sung now by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

You might like to compare the words in our Bibles.

If so its page 554, Psalm 22.

CD: Psalm 22

Reading 5: Mark 15:33-41

The crucifixion of Jesus must be one of the most depicted events in all human history.

But how many artists have even tried to capture the fact that, the gospel writers tell us, for 3 hours darkness covered the whole land?

Like the plague of darkness over Egypt before the Passover, darkness in the day is a sign in the Bible of the anger of God.

In 1914, one of the many problems that Earnest Shakleton and his men faced on their Antarctic expedition was darkness.

At the South Pole there is no sun between mid-May and late July.

Imagine how lost and disoriented it is possible to feel.

There is nothing quite like that 3 month polar night.

And there was nothing quite like this 3 hours of darkness which our Lord endured on the cross.

As he became sin for us, he was forsaken by God the Father – cut off from the experience of the light and love of God, which was everything for him.

The centre of his universe was empty.

The existentialist novelist Albert Camus said:

“The God-man … suffers and does so with patience… he too is shattered and dies.

The night on Golgotha only has so much significance for man because in its darkness the God-head, visibly renouncing all inherited privileges, endures to the end the anguish of death, including the depths of despair.”

Jesus’ 3 hours of darkness and desolation, his death, are eternal light and life for us.

The torn curtain shows us that the way to God is open.

Jesus is that new and living way.

Surely he is the Son of God.

Come, trust in him.

He is the Life who died for you.

The Light who endured and lit up the darkness for you.

Although it was infinite and terrible, in a way the Shadow was only a passing thing.