Saturday, 24 January 2015

Sermon January 25: Time to count your blessings

Matthew 5: 1-21

This has been quite a week
Working on three funerals takes time; but it also leads to some wonderful moments of blessing and grace.

At the start of the week, I decided I had better get organised and choose the hymns to go with the reading and theme – which meant of course I had to pick a theme!

Some of you may remember that we had this exact same passage last year – and some of you may not!
Those with the really good memories may also recollect that I focussed on Salt and Light last year...

My first instinct was to change the reading from the Good News version to the NIV – as I explained before David read for us... because I was uncomfortable with the word happy.
Now, this all happened on Monday; by Tuesday I had a working title and the hymns were chosen.
The working title was “Time to Turn Round” – that isn’t even the subtitle anymore!

On Wednesday I joined the weekly online bible study / text discussion of the reading. Gosh! It was fascinating, and really eye-opening for me.

I knew that there have been many, many scholarly discussions over how to translate from the original Greek and that over the years words change subtly. But, the word blessed has lost a huge amount of its original meaning.
Somehow now it is a bit soft, cosy, gentle – certainly not disturbing when applied to those Beatitudes.

Yet, that is how it should be – disturbing, uncomfortable, dissonant.

So, maybe I should have stuck with the less comfortable happy?!

Jesus was addressing the culture of his day; challenging perceptions, and the accepted norms of the day.

To suggest that those who were not rich, powerful, influential, learned, educated or part of the elite were blessed, or happy or lucky was truly shocking, offensive even. For the poor, the meek, the humble were considered less worthy, less valued, less respectable. They were not acceptable in the eyes of the teachers, the scholars.
This was challenging everything that stood solid and dependable.

The people flocked to hear this new preacher for one very simple reason: he spoke to them.

He spoke to them – not at them.
He told them they mattered rather than ignoring them when someone more important or useful or attractive arrived.
Suddenly the world appeared different because of the words of this new teacher.

Everything about him was different.
And the words he spoke seemed to imply something new; something terrible – in the truest sense of the word:
Terrible: mighty, awesome – not as we might see it now- to be awful or bad
But to be awe-inspiring, to be breath-taking in its enormity.

Jesus took these everyday things and turned them round:
To be the poor
To be the marginalised
To be outcast
To be meek and humble
These were the things which were blessings; things to bring joy; things that made others think again.

Imagine for a moment that Jesus is saying these words to you...

You are blessed when life gets on top of you
When you are lonely and feel bereft – then God’s blessing is on you.

When you are at the lowest point in your life
When you feel utterly forsaken
When life seems to be too hard
Too difficult
Too complicated
This is when God comes to you, filling you with holy joy; this is happiness.
True happiness.

Now, you may be thinking that it’s all very well for me to stand here saying these things to you...
And you may be following that with a “but...”

But, you don’t know what is happening to me
But, you don’t know how I feel
But, you don’t understand what it is to be...

And the short answer is, no, I don’t.
But I do know how I feel, when I worry about my family, my future, my hopes and dreams...
And I do know how sometimes I cry out to God for answers.

So, for me to hear this anew has been a revelation.
I had not thought of this in these terms before

So, when I think of the things that trouble me, and then apply Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes to them – it gives me a whole new perspective.

Take a moment right now to think of one thing.
Just one thing that is bothering you – emotional, practical, physical, spiritual – anything that occupies your mind and distracts you...

Now, hear as Jesus says to you
Blessed and happy are you when you feel this.

Blessed and happy are you through your trial
Blessed and happy are you in carrying this burden
Blessed and happy are you...
Be blessed
Be happy
Turn it over
Take things you might have felt were bad, or a burden or a curse
And turn them over!
Now listen again
Blessed are you!
Happy are you!
Lucky are you!

Jesus turned the world upside down by giving new hope, new ideas, presenting a new vision of old ways

And they, and we, are blessed.


Be Happy Be Blessed

(a reflection on the Beatitudes)

Happy smiley people
Holy blessed folks
Riches, wealth, health and healing
These are the things the world counts as blessings

So how come, he says
When you're sad – you're happy and blessed?
When people shout, and persecute – celebrate!
When you have no resources left – you're at your limit
Count it as the pinnacle?
What is that about?

How can you be so radical?
How can you speak such dissonance?
Do you really want to turn things
Upside down?
Do you really want us to smile in pain?
To cheer in grief?
To be happy to be last, insignificant, unnoticed?
Are we really to turn the whole world round ~
To YOUR way of being?
YOUR way of doing?
And if we do – will we really

Be happy be blessed? 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Sermon January 11 Time to Know Who We Are

Matthew 3:1-17
“This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” v.17

In the 1970s there was a musical doing the rounds – it came to my town every year for three or four years; and I went at least twice every year.
It was a musical which told the Gospel story and the opening scene began like this
An empty stage
A single spotlight
And a lone voice
“Prepare ye, the way of the Lord,
Prepare ye, the way of the Lord...”
And then the orchestra struck up,
And the players streamed in, down through the audience and up on to the stage – as that opening chorus built, and built.
I loved it!

Now, for those of you still in the dark, this is Godspell we’re talking about. Not Jesus Christ Superstar.
(which always felt wrong to me – it leaves Jesus dead.  Godspell brings him back again with the resurrection!)  

And it tells the gospel story as it is recorded by Matthew.

I just loved it then, and still love it now. At the time, in my mid teens, it gave me a visual image for my growing faith – my awareness of God was growing, and I needed the tangibility of this interactive musical to help me along.

The gospel reading we have today tells us of two men; cousins; who had most likely grown up together; we know their mothers were close; and each was born in unusual, miraculous circumstances, each with an air of mystery and wonder.

John is a strange man; a maverick; one not worried about niceties or subtlety.
He is a man on a mission
And nothing will stop him.

People are flocking to him
Listening to these harsh words:
And responding with confession and humility.
When the Pharisees and Sadducees approach, John’s words are no less harsh: “you brood of vipers!! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!”

Now – I find this quite heartening!
Even those who at the time were complacent, manipulative, corrupting and unscrupulous were not turned away. They were chastised for sure. But John does not turn them away – he exhorts them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” – show us you’ve really changed. Because everything, everyone will be tested and proved by God, by the One who follows.

There is only one person John tries to deter; only one he is reluctant to hear and minister to – his own cousin, Jesus.

John knows who Jesus is; he has known since he was in his mother’s womb: this is the One, the Messiah, God’s own Son – come to save us all.
How then can he, John, do anything for Jesus?

Jesus is all about the righteousness; all about the grace; all about the chance to show the world what is happening...
Jesus is also all human.
He needs affirmation just as much as the next man; he needs to know that what he is about to set in motion is right, and good and proper, and most of all, he needs to know it is fulfilling God’s plan, just as it should.

I wonder if he knew God would affirm him?
If he knew the Spirit would appear?

Jesus was a man who was fully human; he was subject to doubts and fears and uncertainty, just as we are.

Right now, as it was back then, is indeed a time of great fear and uncertainty in the world.
Fear sits on the doorstep
Uncertainty haunts the corners
And we wait, with baited breath for the next atrocity: in the past few weeks those who seek power through fear and corruption have acted to create mayhem.

Innocent people have died:
Children in a school
Customers in a coffee shop
Journalists in their offices...

And the world has looked on shocked; disbelieving, appalled.
And we ask ourselves, what is going on?
Why is God letting this happen?
How is this going on and nothing seems to be being done about it?

Listen again to those words: you brood of vipers! One is coming
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

I’m sure most of you understand about the wheat and the chaff?
The two coexist, but once grown the wheat needs to be separated out – and the chaff – the leftover, the waste, the unusable part needs to be removed. And is good for nothing other than fuel for the fire.

There are those in the world who are good and faithful people – of many different faiths and none.
And there are those who say they are, but their lives and their actions tell a very different story.
These people who claim to be in a holy war are not following their own faith’s rules – they, like those Pharisees and Sadducees so long ago, are manipulating the law, adding things on, choosing to place their own interpretations for their own agenda.

They are not the only ones
This is not an exclusively Muslim corruption.
There are plenty Christians who choose to corrupt God’s love; to abuse God’s beloved, chosen children for their own means and gratification – to fulfil their own agendas too.

There are no answers - I wish there were
But there are ways to respond.
Hold onto your dove
Now read the title of the sermon: time to know who you are...
Look at the words on your dove....

Listen to those words, whispered in your ear; you!
Yes, you!
You are God’s beloved child
You, bring God great joy
God is pleased with you

Remember this
Hold on to this thought
And, when the world seems to be going mad all around you
When life seems uncertain and frightening
Hold on to that thought – say it to yourself: I know who I am:
“I am God’s child. God loves me. I can make God happy and pleased.”
Now that is something worth shouting about

Thursday, 8 January 2015

You said What?

What did you say?
Oh. You said nothing
you simply drew the lines...
that described some absurdity
that caused offence... 

Every day, I hear blasphemy, or ridicule
or something that I could, if I chose,
be offended by.

To take offence is a choice
To turn the other cheek is a different choice.

To react instantly because of shock or high emotion 
is a natural response
but, to take offence, and not react immediately,
but instead, plot, and plan, and ultimately execute... 
is not a natural response
it is a deliberate act
designed to cause the biggest shockwaves
to stimulate and repulse.

This act of violence is not a religious response
No matter what is claimed.

Our God
and the Prophet 
are bigger than petty offences
To corrupt scripture - any scripture - words revered, followed and honoured
is sinful. 
Taking the Word of God
or the Word of the Prophet 
and bending it to your own desires; your own agenda
is a corruption of the Word

Ultimately all that happens
is that the different sides are pulled further and further apart
views become more entrenched
and the life of faith that is sought
becomes a distant memory
a lost ideal.
Lost in the mire.

When lines are drawn
sides are taken
and the idea of cooperation, collaboration, unity becomes more and more unlikely. 

People of faith
Pray like you never prayed before 
For peace... 
For unity...
For hope. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


A day for revelation
Hope returning

A day to put Christmas away
And to turn to the season of new things

Whichever path we seek
Whatever journeys we take
May the Starmaker guide the way
May the Light show you
May the Hope of the world be your companion

For a season
For your time
For as long as there is need

Celebrating all you are, all you have, and all that God has in store
In the season of Epiphany and beyond

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Sermon January 4th 2015

 New Beginnings

And so it begins!!
The New Year – twenty-fifteen is upon us.
And although at this time of year it is traditional to start off on a new fresh track; to resolve to make a difference; to plan new projects; to be renewed and refreshed, I would like to point out that all year long there is newness.
Each new month; each new anniversary; each new day – is an opportunity to restart – so all is not lost if the January resolutions are forgotten in February.
I want share a poem with you – it is rather beautiful, it was written by an amazing Jewish writer, Alden Solovy last year, and I have had it on the pin board above my desk all last year as a reminder of that chance, that opportunity to start over – whenever it’s need.

A New Year Begins 
Every moment a new year begins 
Something lost.
Something gained. 
Every day, a new challenge. 
Every hour, a new choice. 
Every second, a new chance. 
 God of Old, 
In this moment, a baby will be born, 
And a child will die. 
In this moment, lovers will marry, 
And others will split. 
In this moment, someone will hear 
That their medical treatments succeeded, 
And others will be told 
To prepare to die. 
 Every moment a new year begins.  
Something lost. 
Something gained. 
Let me love gently in the morning 
And ferociously at night. 
Let me dance wildly at dawn 
And slowly at dusk. 
At midnight, let me sing quietly, 
And at midday I will croon, full voice. 
I will breathe in a soul of compassion 
And breathe out a soul of peace. 
 Creator of All, 
Every moment a new year begins. 
The flow of fresh light from heaven 
Touches our hearts. 
Something lost. 
Something gained. 
Let it be for blessing. 
Let it be for healing. 
Let it be for shelter. 
Let it be for wisdom and strength. 
Let us be, in this moment, 
your messengers of kindness on earth. 
© 2013 Alden Solovy and All rights reserved.

Messengers of kindness on earth – that’s something to aspire to in 2015.

And so to the stars!
Things written in the stars....
For the wise men, the stars told of the birth of a new king... and the portent was such that they gave up home and familiarity to make that perilous journey into the unknown – with a star and eternal hope their greatest motivation.

The stars spelled it out for them: their star words were invitation, journey, amazement, opportunity, worship, pathfinding, prophecy, determination.... wonder.
Wonder indeed!
And they felt compelled to act!
Would that any of us had such resolve!

What happened next we know, and the story is familiar... so instead of visiting with that little family, take a moment now to think about what was written in the stars for you last year.

If you were here this time last year; you took a word for the year – for 2014, as you think back over it, how did it fit?
Last year, before you took your words, I asked some questions of you – asked you to reflect on the year past; it seemed good then, and it still seems good now!

What was the overriding theme for you last year?
What had you hoped for - What did you get?
Where did you find answers?
Who was your greatest inspiration?

Thinking about your word, and how long you kept it; how often you referred to it – how has it affected the way you looked at the world? At your life?

My word was direction.
And all this year as I have written; as I have started new projects and completed others I have pondered the direction God has called me in.
It has been an interesting, and sometimes challenging thing to look at my world through God’s directing – for this is how that word has followed me in the past year, asking God for direction; seeking wisdom and discernment; as I drew my word – I was hoping for something spectacular! Spirit/ challenge/ joy / proclamation!!! Direction seemed a little – well, ordinary? But as things moved, and progressed I began to feel supported; protected; things did not always go in the direction I would choose – but then later, looking back I began to see that other, unexpected blessings were coming through these less welcome directions – nothing is ever too lost, too late or too hopeless for God to bring new hope from unanticipated directions.

There are more than 100 words in the bowl for you to pick from. None is the same as the ones from last year – each is individual, unique.
Pray over these different starwords; and their purpose for each of us – taken at random, treat them as a word to guide your prayers; to guide your life... a word from God

After we celebrate communion, I will invite those who are comfortable to come forward and take a star.
 If you want me to draw you a star later on, I will do that too.
Keep your star – pray that word
Let it guide you; inspire you
If at first it seems strange, or wrong, or uncomfortable – sit with it! Ask God to guide you.

And all through this new year, the star will remind you, inspire you, challenge you and ultimately by this time next year, you may have a whole other view... or outlook, or simply know that as God guided your prayers, and responded and responds, God also helped you to take the word he had for you, for this year! 

For any regular blog readers who will not be in church on Sunday - if you wish me to draw a word for you, please ask in the comments below