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Crib Service poem

For this evening’s Crib Services (1,000 people across 2 services) I wrote a poem with responses for everyone to join in with.  I looked up rhymes for “amazing” and 4 of the suggestions were “grazing”, “stargazing”, “praising” and “self-raising”, after that the poem pretty much wrote itself!

Responses:

Mary – “Mamma-mia!” (Women)

Joseph – “Knock knock” (Men)

Jesus/baby – “shh…” (Children)

Angel – “hallelujah!” (balcony + choir)

Shepherds – “come-bye” (Left hand side)

Wise men – “wow!” (right hand side)

I want You – “who, me?” (Everyone)

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Part 1. Journey to Bethlehem

A long time ago an ordinary girl called Mary (Mamma Mia!) was asleep

when God sent an angel (hallelujah) to wake her with a message that nearly made her weep:

He said I want you (who, me?)

Yes you to follow me

I’m going to do something amazing

I want you (who, me?)

Yes you for you see

that bun in your oven is self-raising!

Mary (Mamma Mia) woke Joseph (knock knock) who’d heard the same thing so, with a yawn,

They headed to Bethlehem where, in a crowded room, Jesus (shhh…) “God with us” was born.

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Part 2. Shepherds and angels

Later that night some shepherds (come bye) were out on the hills with their sheep

when God sent some angels (hallelujah!) with a message that woke them right up from their sleep:

They said I want you (who, me?)

Yes you to follow me

In Bethlehem there’s something amazing

I want you (who, me?)

Yes you, come and see:

God is with us! leave your sheep to their grazing.

So the Shepherds (come bye) went down into town and found Mary (Mamma Mia) and Joe (knock knock)

Then when they saw the Lord Jesus (shh…) fast asleep they praised God before heading back home.

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Part 3. Wise Men
A long way away some wise men (wow!) watched the skies in a far off land

So God sent a comet to blaze night and day. A message that they could understand:

It said I want you (who, me?)

Yes you to follow me

over there there’s something amazing

I want you (who, me?)

Yes you, and you’ll see

the king prophesied by your stargazing

So the wise men (wow!) packed and got on their way, and found the baby (shh…) who was also a kkin

Gave Mary (Mamma Mia) and Joseph (knock knock) the gifts they’d remembered to bring!

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Part 4. Talk

In this church, in this town, on this Christmas Eve God is speaking to his people again

through Mary (Mamma Mia) and Joseph (knock knock) and Jesus (shh…) and Shepherds (come bye) and Wise men (wow!)

God says I want you (who, me?)

Yes you to follow me

This Christmas do something amazing

I want you (who, me?)

Yes you come and be

like the angels (hallelujah!) with your whole life God praising.

So in this season of peace and goodwill there’s a choice that each one of us here ought to ponder

God is not just for Christmas, he’s for our whole lives. God is with us, are you with him, I wonder?

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Ten green bottles…

I’ve written this for my sermon today, it’s the story of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus where only one came back to say thankyou.  I started wondering what it would be like to tell the story from the perspective of one who didn’t go back to say thanks.

Simple costume (towel headband, no stole) to identify character

It’s hard, being caught in the middle like that. Neither one thing nor the other.  We used to joke about it! We had to joke about it, we would have just given up otherwise.  There were ten of us, ten outcasts, ten refugees, ten…nobodies. Ten green bottles, went the joke – which of us would fall first?

I remember when I first realised what was happening. The rash which led to the stares which led to the avoidance, which led to the exile.  I had been happy, I had a good job, a lovely family, it was all taken away so quickly.  The problem is that once you’ve got that label you can’t shift it. That’s how they define you – you’re an outcast, an untouchable, one of “them”  So we had to stick with our own kind, our new own kind.

There were ten of us, some from Galilee, some from Samaria and we hung about in the scrubland between the two regions.  They hated each other so not many people crossed between them which suited us just fine.

The great irony is that before all this I had treated the Samaritans just like my people were now treating me!  I’d kept my distance, I’d told jokes behind their backs, even laughed about ‘Samaratianitis’ being infectious. Now that I think about it I was proper horrible to them.  The Samaritans in our group are just normal people, once you get your head round the accent they’re no different from the rest of us.  So there we were, ten nobodies, living a half-life in no-mans-land.  Ten green bottles, waiting to fall.

Then we started to hear the rumours. Rumours of a healer, Rumours of a Rabbi who wasn’t afraid, Rumours of a way out.  Now these kind of rumours fly around our community all the time so you have to take them with a pinch of salt – people with no hope will take whatever crumbs of hope they can get.  But these rumours wouldn’t go away so, without anything better to do, we kept an eye out for this itinerant young Rabbi.

One day the ten of us were sat in the dust, trying to find whatever shade we could behind the old wall when we saw movement in the distance.  There was someone coming towards us, heading South towards the village. I’m sure he spotted us about the same time we spotted him but, unusually, he didn’t turn away.  He just kept plodding on through the heat towards the village.  When he got close enough to hear us we began our usual begging routine: “Spare some change mate?”

Now usually there are three types of responses to this.  Some chuck a few coins towards us before scuttling past, some look guilty but walk on by anyway, and some just walk past like we weren’t even there.  This guy was different, he didn’t ignore us but he didn’t get any money out either. He just…stood there, like he was waiting for us to say something.

What was that Rabbi’s name? Joshua? Jairus? Jesus! “Jesus!” We called out. He smiled.  “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!” we cried, like our lives depended on it, which, I guess, they did. “Have mercy!”  He took a step forward. Instinctively we took a step back.  “Go!”, he called out. Our hearts began to sink. I’m not sure I could cope with yet another disappointment. “Go…and show yourselves to the priests”.  We all knew what that meant, the priests were the only ones who could say that we were better, say that we were no longer unclean, no longer outcasts, exiles, refugees.

Excitedly I looked at my hands, expecting them to be miraculously better but…they weren’t.  How many hours, how many long, angry hours had I stared at those scars, willing, wishing, praying for them to disappear, all to no avail. And now it was like those same scars were draining away the surge of hope I had felt. How could I show myself to the priests looking like this? They’d laugh me back out of town!

“Go on”, he urged, more gently this time, “go and show yourselves to the priests”.

To turn and make that first step was about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. They talk about stepping out in faith but I’m not sure how much faith I had left by this point.  It was more a case of stepping out in desparation but I managed it and once I’d taken that first step the second seemed a little easier.

I heard my mates just behind me so I inched ahead. If we were doing this then I was going to be first. Soon we were all running full pelt towards the village where we knew there was a little synagogue.  As I ran I felt my muscles getting stronger, I felt my fists clench tighter, I felt more alive than I had done in years! I didn’t dare look at my hands again, I couldn’t cope with another setback so I just concentrated on running and let the wind do its work.

When we finally made it to the synagogue we banged on the door and as the priest opened it we tumbled inside.  I don’t know how he made sense of our ramblings but eventually he got the gist of it and, after inspecting each of us he pronounced us all clean.

Then he got some parchment and started handing us notes to confirm this. 1..2..3..4..5..6..7..8..9. Nine? But there were ten of us? Who wasn’t here? One of the samaritans. Maybe he’d gone the other way, into Samaria? No that wouldn’t make sense. Maybe he’d not been healed? No he was definitely with us. What had happened to him? I staggered to my feet and stuck my head out of the synagogue door.

In the distance I could see two figures. One was out on the road, walking slowly towards the village, the other was running away from the village towards him. As they met, the second figure threw himself on the floor at the feet of the first. In an instant I realised what was happening – he was saying thankyou! I had been so caught up in my own feelings I’d barely thought about thanking the man who had transformed my life!

I turned back to my friends in the synagogue and told them what I’d seen, said that we should go back and say thankyou as well but when I looked back towards the road he was gone. There was just the solitary figure of our companion making his own journey towards the synagogue.

My life was completely changed after that day. I went back to my home town, complete with my certificate proving that I was ok, that I was clean again.
I was welcomed back into my family, I got a new job, picked up the pieces of my life again. But I was never quite the same.

Whenever my mates started making fun of the Samaritans I’d make them stop, I’d tell them that we shouldn’t fear people just because they are different from us – we are more alike than you know.
Whenever I saw someone sleeping on the streets I’d stop and talk to them, look them in the eye.

And even from a distance I kept an ear out for news of Jesus.
I heard rumours that he’d been rounded up and killed by the Romans for associating with people like me. I heard even stranger rumours that he was seen alive again afterwards.

And although I never got to say thankyou to him in person I make sure that I never take what I have for granted. That I am thankful every day for the new life that God has given me.

A roof over my head, a meal in my belly, a hug from a friend – these have taken on a whole new meaning for me. They are no longer ordinary, everyday things.

They are blessings from God, who lifts up the downtrodden and comforts the brokenhearted.

Blessings from God who turns mourning into laughter and tears of sorrow into tears of joy.

Blessings from God, whose mercies are new every morning, even when the night has been long and dark.

And for that I will always be thankful.

“The Acts of Luke!”

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I wrote and performed this sketch at Church this morning.  The readings were Acts 16:9-15 and John 14:23-29.

~ ~ ~

Setup: dressed as hiker, big backpack, walking boots, shorts, fleece, hat, map, notebook (with script in!)
walk in from back of church…

Hi there, hi, hi, hiya, has anyone seen Paul? You know, Paul? Big celebrity preacher guy?
Used to be a baddie, now he’s a goodie? Road to Damascus and all that?
Paul? Anyone seen him? (ad lib to front)
This is Phillipi, right? I’m sure he’s here somewhere (hunt around choir stalls etc.)

Sorry, so rude of me, not introducing myself – I’m Luke.
I’m a doctor by trade but since they started throwing any of us who refused to work an 8 day week to the lions I decided it was time to pack it in.

I’m a writer now. I’m onto my second book already – you might have heard of the first one, I called it “the gospel of Luke”. Not bad for a first effort if I do say so myself, would have been a real hit too if those other guys hadn’t pinched my idea.

I mean I don’t mind them writing about Jesus too, everyone’s doing it these days – but did they have to be so blatant about pinching my title? The gospel of Matthew…the gospel of Mark…the gospel of John – I’ll bet we just get lumped together as “the gospels” and everyone will think we were working together.

Anyway I’m onto my second book now – thought I’d cash in on writing a sequel before those other guys do. The Acts of Luke, I’m planning on calling it – although my publisher reckons “the Acts of the Apostles” is a bit catchier. Nice alliteration and all that.
So I’ve been following Paul around for a while, doing a bit of investigative journalism, you know the sort – an in-depth exposee on the man behind the myth. Problem is he keeps disappearing off all over the place!

Seriously, one minute he’s in Troas, talking to the church there, then you nip out to buy a kebab and when you come back he’s apparently had a dream, hopped on a boat, and sailed off to Macedonia!

So I followed him to Samothrace – beautiful island that – trying to catch up but by the time I’d got there he’d sailed on to Neapolis.
These aren’t easy waters to sail on either, you might have seen pictures of people on the news fleeing for their lives, trying to cross over these very waters from Turkey into Greece in these shabby little boats. It’s a nightmare.

Anyway thankfully I’m not fleeing for my life but it’s still not much fun. So I had to wait to catch a ferry to Neapolis and when I got there I heard that he’d been and gone – headed straight off to Phillipi, not even waited for me. Phillipi’s sort of the capital city around here so hopefully he’ll stay there for a while and I can catch up.

It’s not the first time he’s done this sort of thing, dashing from one place to another with no warning. I asked him once why he does it and he said he’s just following the Holy Spirit.

I said, What’s that then? And he said that when Jesus left us he promised that the Father would send his ‘Holy Spirit’ to be with us always, to teach us and to guide us and to help us follow him.

He said that in the olden days God only sent his Spirit on a few people at particular times for particular reasons, but now he’s given her to everyone who follows him – young or old, boy or girl.
He also said that the Spirit would give us peace. Well I have to admit I’m not feeling all that peaceful right now, chasing after him halfway round the empire.

I would say something but he’s very fond of quoting Jesus when he said “The spirit blows where she pleases” – that’s not even from my gospel – I think he does it on purpose!

It’s quite exciting when you think about it though, God’s spirit is in each and every one of us! Helping us make good decisions, reminding us of the things that Jesus said.

Sometimes she speaks to people in dreams, other times by drawing our attention to something we might have missed – a verse in the Bible or a beautiful flower or a comment from a friend.

Sometimes she’s like a voice in the back of our head or an invisible rope pulling us in a particular direction even though we don’t know why we feel like we should go there.

Sometimes she helps us say the right thing when we’re lost for words or reminds us of a person we haven’t thought about for ages.

And we can choose to ignore her, drown out the voice of the Spirit with our own busyness, but she never really goes away, just lurks there like a satnav quietly saying “turn around where possible…turn around where possible…”

Well Paul never seems to have that trouble – he’s always off following the Spirit’s call, hopping from one country to the next setting up churches and moving on. I just hope he’s stuck around in Phillipi for a while.
What’s that? He’s gone to Lydia’s house? She’s leading the Church there is she? Excellent. Right well I’d better be on my way before the Holy Spirit has chance to give Paul any new directions!
See you later!

 

The Baptism of Christ

I don’t often post sermons on here but I wrote this one much more like a blog post so here it is.

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The Baptism of Christ

I

The road from the village of Llangynog slowly winds its way up the valley.
The trees grow denser as the track gets higher then fade away as it drops back down to the valley floor.
A mile or so along, the footpath leaves the deserted road behind and begins to trace the contours across the fields.
No-one knows when pilgrims began taking this route, but all who follow in their footsteps understand why they did.

The trail, more a shadow than a path now, drops down to the valley floor once more, joining the two streams just as they begin to work together.
The hills rise majestically above, providing both protection and perspective to weary travellers.
And then, in the distance, a glimpse of a slate grey spire brings eyes back downwards.
As it draws nearer the sense that this is a holy place grows ever stronger.
The shrine lies in the centre of a circle of Yew trees, some said to be nearly 2,000 years old. How many pilgrims have sheltered under their boughs and breathed their air?

The shrine itself is a mere 800 years old, a relative newcomer to this ancient space.
It marks the place where Melangell, a young woman in the 7th century, established a small monastic community.

Is this place sacred because she settled here?
Or did she settle here because it was a sacred place?

 

II

For the Ancient Israelites the land was covered with sacred places. Some marked by altars, some by cairns, some simply remembered.
These were, for the most part, places where God had met with his people.
Places where the curtain between Heaven and Earth had, for a time, broken down.
And so pilgrims went to those places to meet with God once again.

Among the plethora of Holy sites in the Holy land, the river Jordan held a particularly prominent place in the hearts and minds of the Jews.
This fertile river basin was where Abraham and Lot settled in response to God’s call.
On the banks of this River Jacob wrestled with God and was given the name Israel.
After 40 years wandering in the wilderness, Joshua finally led the people through this river and into the promised land.
For the Jews the river Jordan was a holy river, a sign of hope, the place where God would do new things.

So it’s no surprise that when John the Baptist pitched his camp on the banks of the Jordan and began to speak about the coming messiah, the people flocked to see.
Perhaps celebrity culture isn’t so unique to our society after all.
But John didn’t simply use the river as a backdrop, effective as that may have been, he took this ancient, holy place and gave it new significance, new meaning.

The practice of baptism wasn’t completely new. The circumcision of baby boys as a sign of joining God’s covenant people was often followed by a symbolic washing, a cleansing of their former self.
But John’s revolutionary step was to suggest that simply being a Jew was not enough to guarantee a relationship with God.
Instead what was needed was a genuine desire to repent
The Greek word used here, metanoia, means ‘to turn around’.
And so, in figuratively and literally passing through the sacred waters of the river Jordan, John’s followers were turning back to God.

The crowds flocked out to see John, to encounter God, and Jesus, still a young man, joined them.
It was not a baptism of repentance that he was seeking, but it was a turning point nonetheless.
A turning away from his life as the son of a carpenter, and a turning towards all that was in store as he began to reveal his identity as the son of God.
And in that moment of turning, in that holy river, the curtain between Heaven and Earth was torn apart and a voice cried out, “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased”

 

III

The river Jordan, like the Shrine of St Melangell, remains a place of pilgrimage today. And yet for almost all of its 65 mile journey from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea it is little more than a dirty polluted trickle.
The pressures of agriculture, conflict, and the ever increasing burden of refugee camps, means that were John the Baptist to camp out there today he would find far fewer people willing to be plunged under its scummy surface, and they certainly wouldn’t come out feeling cleansed.

The glory of that holy place has been dulled by centuries of violence and greed. And yet what began there has spread out into every corner of the globe.
In rivers and lakes, in fonts and pools, in churches and chapels and all manner of sacred sites, Christians the world over pass through the waters of the Jordan as they are baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And for each and every one of us, old or young, who passes through those waters, the curtain between Heaven and Earth is torn and God cries out “you are my son, you are my daughter, you are my beloved child: with you I am well pleased”

 

IV

Our land is covered with sacred places, places where the curtain between Heaven and Earth is worn away. Some, like this place, are marked with churches or shrines, some with cairns or signs, some are simply remembered.
And when you find yourself in these places, when you are brought to a halt by the presence of God, Ask yourself this:

Did I meet God here because this place is sacred,
or is this place sacred because I met God here?

And whatever answers you find, you can journey on, a child of God, knowing that the curtain between Heaven and Earth has been worn that little bit thinner by your passing.

[Collect for the Baptism of Christ]
Heavenly Father,
at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
May we recognise him as our Lord
and know ourselves to be your beloved children;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen

Feeding of the 5,000 – a sketch

‘Erman the ‘ermit is a recurring character of mine, he tries to escape from the crowds but somehow they always seem to find him!  He is usually seen wearing a camp blanket and silly hat…

~ ~ ~

 

Hello,
My name’s ‘erman. ‘erman the ‘ermit.
This is my ‘ill. I like my ‘ill, it’s nice and peaceful like. Quiet.
Can I tell you a story ’bout something that ‘appened ‘ere the other day?

I were sat ‘ere on my ‘ill, enjoyin’ the peace and quiet when this bloke comes up the side of me ‘ill and sits down over there.
Well I could see he were ‘ere for the peace and quiet too so I left ‘im alone like. Didn’t want to interrupt.

‘E were clearly upset, like ‘e’d ‘ad some bad news or sommat. You know that look, gazin’ off into the distance.
That said, it’s a reet nice view from me ‘ill so you never know, ‘e might have just been gazin’ off into the distance!

Anyway, where was I?
Oh yes, so we was sat on me ‘ill, just the two of us like, enjoyin’ the peace and quiet when this huge crowd of people comes stompin’ up, chattin’ and laughin’, makin’ a right rumpus.

Well I know I ‘ad that letter published in t’ Galilee Times which ruffled a few feathers like, so I thought they was comin’ to see me about it, this bein’ my ‘ill and all, but no!
They went right past me as if I wasn’t ‘ere, straight up to the other bloke.

Turns out ‘e was some teacher or sommat, and they all wanted to ‘ear what he had to say for ‘imself.
‘e were clearly a bit miffed as ‘e’d come up ‘ere for a bit of peace a quiet like, but he stood up anyway and started tellin’ ’em all these stories. Wonderful things, all about, what was it ‘e called it? Oh aye, the Kingdom of ‘eaven. ‘ow it were a place of peace and beauty.

Well I felt like shoutin’ out that my ‘ill were a place of peace and beauty before this lot came tramplin’ all over it!
But I didn’t. ‘e seemed like such a nice lad I didn’t want to spoil it for ‘im.

After e’d been goin’ for a while another crowd made it up me ‘ill. They’d clearly ‘ad a rough time of it as they was all covered in bandages and the like. But it turned out that they was all sick and poorly and they wanted this Jesus lad to ‘eal ’em.

And you know what? ‘e did! Every last one of ’em, better just like that! Then he carries on talkin’ about this Kingdom of ‘eaven, ‘ow it’s a place where nobody is sick, or dyin’ or even ‘ungry.
Well by this point I were getting’ a bit peckish so I shouts out, “’ave you got some food as well then?”
He stops, looks at me, then turns to ‘is mates and says “Give ’em something to eat then”
Well ‘is mates didn’t like that at all, there was so many people up ‘ere that they’d never be able to feed us all.

I tried countin’ everyone but the kids was all runnin’ about as kids do, and the women was all chasin’ the kids about as they do, fortunately the men was sat there oblivious so I could count ’em fairly simple like. I reckon there must ‘ave been five thousand of ’em at least! ‘ow the ‘eck were we all goin’ to eat up ‘ere on me ‘ill? I mean, I knows the bilberries are quite nice this time of year but that’s not exactly what you’d call a proper meal is it!

While I were countin’, they’d managed to rustle up a few bits of barley loaf and a couple of sardines. Nice idea but not quite enough fer a crowd like this after a long hot day.

Well this Jesus didn’t seem worried, ‘e took the bread, lifted it up over ‘is ‘ead, and prayed a lovely prayer. I can’t quite remember it now, I wish I’d written it down really but I don’t normally ‘ave much need for takin’ notes, what with bein’ an ‘ermit and all.

Anyways, after ‘e’d done this he gave it to ‘is mates and told ’em to start passin’ it round the crowd. I were about ‘alf way back so I weren’t reckonin’ on getting’ much but when they got to me I get a big chunk of bread and nearly ‘alf a fish! And I weren’t the only one!
It were amazin’ really. When we’d all ‘ad enough there were a dozen whackin’ great baskets all full of crumbs left over. I tell you what I didn’t envy whoever ‘ad to carry them back down me ‘ill.

But it got me thinkin’ like. What if this Kingdom of ‘eaven thing really is real? I mean I’d seen it with me own eyes, people bein’ ‘ealed, the ‘ungry bein’ fed.
It reminded me of old Prophet Isaiah.
I do like them prophets, miserable lot most of the time but they ‘ave their moments, much like us ‘ermits really.

Anyways there’s this bit where ‘e says
“Everyone who’s thirsty, come to the water,
And you that’s got no money, come buy and eat,
Come buy wine and milk without money and without price”

Aye, it seems to me that if that’s what the kingdom of ‘eaven is like then I want in.
So I goes up to Jesus afterwards, just as the crowds are goin’, and I asks ‘im what I should do about it, and ‘e says:
“Love God, and love your neighbour”
I said lovin’ God I can do, but love me neighbour? That’s a bit tricky bein’ an ‘ermit, we don’t really ‘ave neighbours!
But ‘e just chuckled, gave me a wink, and wandered off to join ‘is mates.

I sat there in the peace and quiet like, and I suddenly felt a bit lonely.
So I made meself a promise that next time someone came up me ‘ill I’d give ’em a bite to eat. And if they ‘urt themselves on the way down I’d look after them. And if they asked why I were doin’ all that I’d tell ’em about Jesus, about the kingdom of ‘eaven, and ‘ow it weren’t just some distant land but that it were about what we do ‘ere and now to make our world more like God wants it.

Anyways, I’d better get on, this sittin’ quietly doesn’t ‘appen by itself you know. And I think you lot ‘ave got an Hymn to sing, so you’d better stand up and get on with it.

St Michael and All Angels sermon – 29th September 2010

  • Today is Michaelmas, the feast day celebrating St Michael and All Angels.
    • Often seen as the start of Autumn and traditionally marks the start of a new semester for universities and a new term in the legal profession.
    • There are lots of traditional English customs surrounding Michaelmas including eating goose (the Nottingham Goose Fair takes place around this date), the giving of ‘Michaelmas Daisies’, and the end of the season for eating blackberries!
    • This day celebrating Michael and the angels is part of the fabric of our national heritage, however if you didn’t know you would be hard pressed to see that it has its roots in Christian faith!

Popular belief in Angels

  • I think the same could be said of Angels
  • A quick search for angels on Google revealed some interesting results, the top results included:
    • Various fancy dress costumes, A couple of links to psychic/paranormal/astrology sites, several links to the Robbie Williams song, some businesses with ‘Angels’ in their name, even a link to the LA angels baseball team
    • But it wasn’t until I got about half way down page 4 that I found any reference to Christian belief in Angels (and that was the words to ‘Hark the herald angels sing’!)
  • Belief in angels permeates our culture, according to a poll last year 38% of people believe they have a guardian angel and I’m sure even more would agree that angels exist.
  • Indeed it seems perfectly acceptable to openly believe in angels when it is not necessarily acceptable to openly believe in God.

Christian belief in angels

  • Christians however seem much more reticent to talk about angels, we rarely talk about them and often seem to have relegated them to the status of embarrassing theological oddity.
  • The bible however is full of references to and descriptions of angels and very few of them look like the fluffy baby cherubs that we are used to seeing!
  • So lets have a look at what the bible says about angels
    • there are lots of things we could say but I haven’t got long so we’ll just have a look at the 2 passages that we have read this morning
    • I’ve also produced a little handout sheet with lots more references to angels which you can look at in your own time if you wish

John 1:40-end

  • Jesus was calling his disciples to follow him, he was very good at getting to their heart immediately – first impressions are important!
    • e.g. ‘Fishers of men’
  • One of the first things Jesus said to Nathaniel was “you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”
  • This would have immediately reminded Nathaniel of the story of Jacob in Genesis 28 where Jacob has a dream where he sees angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. This marked a pivotal moment in Jacob’s relationship with God and was a significant moment in the history of the Israelite nation
  • Jesus is reminding Nathaniel of that and telling him that this is a pivotal moment for him too.
  • However we are not thinking about Jesus and Nathaniel, we are thinking about angels!
  • I think this image of angels ‘ascending and descending’ from Heaven tells us something very significant
    • Angels are able to travel between heaven and earth, they are spiritual beings who are able to take on physical forms when needed
    • When Gabriel comes to Zechariah he says “I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you”
    • There’s a beautiful description of an angel in Philip Pullman’s ‘The amber spyglass’ where the angel is described as “not shining but shone on though there was no other source of light”
  • Angels are not just our helpers or our guardians though they can do that
  • Their primary role is to serve and worship God in the spiritual realm and the earthly realm

Revelation 12:7-12

  • This passage blows the whole ‘fluffy cuddly angels’ image right out of the water!
  • This describes the huge battle between Michael and his angels and Satan and his angels, I imagine this like something out of Star Wars – an absolutely gigantic battle!
  • Eventually Michael and his angels win and Satan is cast down onto the Earth.
  • This again reminds us that angels are not earthly creatures, they can work, worship and indeed make war in the spiritual realm as well as on earth
    • There’s a story in Joshua 5 where Joshua meets the commander of the Lord’s army (often taken to mean Michael)
    • Joshua asks him “are you for us or for our enemies?”, the angel replies “neither, but as commander of the Lord’s army I have come”
    • He is not looking at the battle as Joshua is seeing it, Joshua sees a battle between the Israelites and the Canaanites but the angel sees a battle between good and evil, between right and wrong and we can’t always assume we are on the right side of that!

Application

  • These 2 passages both remind us that there is more to this world than this world alone!
  • There are deeper things going on that we can’t easily see
    • We need to ask God to open our eyes to what He is doing and not get so caught up in what we are doing.
  • They also remind us that angels are very much real and are incredibly powerful
    • So many of the most significant messages in the bible (Moses and the burning bush, Birth of Jesus to name but 2) were given by Angels
    • Hebrews tells us that by entertaining strangers some have entertained angels without realising
  • Our culture may have forgotten the truth about angels but we should not be fooled by fluffy baby angels who are just there to look after us and make us feel better
    • Angels are God’s creatures, created to serve and worship him alone
  • Perhaps Michaelmas gives us an opportunity once a year to remind ourselves of that and to praise our amazing God who is the creator of “Heaven and earth, all that is, seen and unseen”
  • Amen

The parable of the shrewd manager – Luke 16:1-13

The parable of the shrewd manager

Holy Trinity, Hadley, 19th September 2010

Introduction

  • I’m sure Lucie would tell you that I am the worst person to be talking about any passage to do with money as I am completely incompetent when it comes to banks, direct debits, insurance and all that stuff!
  • the ‘Giving pledge’ (beginning of August)
    • Bill Gates & Warren Buffet encouraging billionaires to give away at least half of their wealth to charity. So far 40 of the worlds richest individuals and families have signed up.
      • Laura and John Arnold: “We view our wealth in this light – not as an end in itself, but as an instrument to effect positive and transformative change.”
      • Peter G. Peterson: “As I watched and learned from my father’s example, I noticed how much pleasure his giving to others gave him. Indeed, today, I get much more pleasure giving money to what I consider worthwhile causes than making the money in the first place.”
      • Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest: “The ultimate achievement in life is how you feel about yourself. And giving your wealth away to have an impact for good does help with that feeling.”
    • Some of these guys may have gained their money by, if not immoral then at least unethical means, however the benefits of their generosity are very real regardless of the means by which they are able to be generous.

Parable

  • This has been described as the “most difficult passage in Luke’s gospel
  • When you come across difficult passages in the bible then it’s good to look at the passages around it to get an idea of the context.
  • Part of a section of Luke’s gospel on things of value
    • Lost sheep, lost coin, lost son, shrewd manager, rich man + Lazarus
    • Trying to get across the difference between worldly wealth and heavenly treasure, importance of looking after the things that you have been entrusted with.
  • Jesus shows a real engagement with the ways of the world, knows the sorts of tricks that go on.
  • Manager is squandering his masters possessions, gets called to account and is unceremoniously sacked
    • Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer
  • uses the position he is in to help others so that when he is sacked he will not have to stoop so low for help himself.
    • I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg
  • Gets commended, not for his dishonesty but for his shrewdness
  • He used the resources available to him to both help others and to help himself
  • Some people argue that Jesus is saying that it’s ok to be dishonest
  • I don’t believe that’s the point Jesus is making, he’s not commenting on the morality of the manager’s behaviour
  • He is giving an example of how people use money/possessions shrewdly and for a gain that is more than just money
    • He enhances his position and helps his master’s debtors
  • He is saying: “Even the crooks of the world know that money is a tool and not an end in itself, why can’t you people of faith understand that?”
  • coming back to the ‘Giving Pledge’ I mentioned earlier, regardless of how they earned their money
    • how many of those billionaires will end up worse off in any significant way?
      • Warren Buffett: “Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”
    • How many of them would end up looking bad as a result of giving half their money to charity?

Application

  • So how does this apply to us?
    • No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and Money
  • We are called to serve God and money is just one tool which we can use to do that
  • Anne Robertson says of this passage:
    • Earthly money is like Monopoly money…it is how we practice being faithful
  • As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6
    • Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”
  • It’s easy to think, especially in this economic climate, that we just don’t have enough to be generous, it can be a real struggle to give away a little of your hard earned money
    • However, if we don’t get in the habit of being generous when we have a little then, if circumstances change and we do find ourselves in a position of wealth, it can be harder to change that habit.
  • The other point that Jesus is making is about being shrewd and responsible with money.
    • It’s easy to separate our Christian lives off from our financial lives but Jesus’ point is that actually our faith should influence every single sphere of our lives, including our finances.
    • We should be checking we are getting a good deal on our insurance, mortgages, loans etc. indeed it’s biblical to do so.
    • If we are using our money efficiently then it will free us up to be more generous
  • If we are wise and generous with the gifts God has given us on this earth, not seeking wealth for wealth’s sake but looking to serve God with whatever we have, then God will bless us, both in this world and in the world to come.
  • However if we cannot be faithful with what we have in this world then why would God trust us with anything of real value?
  • No servant can serve two masters, we need to make our choice.