Opening our Treasure Chests

The wise men from the East, who have followed the star arrive at the crib. God first reveals his love in a stable before animals and shepherds and then come the wise men.

In contrast to the animals and shepherds, from the stable and the fields, the wise men represent the power and prestige of the world. They remind us that though this baby was born amidst mess and muddle, he’s for all people, rich and poor, those with little and those with lots.

Christmas 2015 is fading from our memory. The decorations have come down and the carol CD’s are put away for next year.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve reflected on the birth of Christ and what it continues to mean for us today.

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Blackberries and the Kingdom of God

Where do blackberries come from? Was one of the questions I asked at an Assembly at Austhorpe School last week. One little boy with his hand up replied “The supermarket.” Thankfully a good many more knew that at this time of year blackberries are quote “in the bushes”.

The humble blackberry is one of the joys of this time of year, something we can all harvest and take home for our pies and crumbles. Yet as I went on to tell the children the blackberry is not a cost free fruit.

The bramble on which it grows is prickly and if you pick them you’ll acquire a few thorns along the way too. The blackberry the fruit that makes us glad. The prickly picking that elicits the cry “ouch.”

And there lies the connection with our Gospel. At its end we heard ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ whilst being commanded not to worry. The fruit- the kingdom of God. The prickly stem – the worry, the struggle to keep that kingdom in our minds amidst our daily lives.

And how we worry. We worry about small things. We worry about big things. We know, intellectually at least that worry cannot ‘add a single hour to our span of life’ and yet we do it anyway.

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Giving is Good for You

In giving we receive. That’s what we called it this time last year when we launched a giving campaign to increase our financial income. It ended two weeks later with a Harvest Lunch of Thanksgiving. I was delighted with the result. We increased our income, including gift aid by just under a third. There was much to be thankful for.

However we were starting from what I felt given our number and our relative affluence was a low income. Consequently though we’ve made good progress there is more to be done. We are still some way short of meeting our commitments not least to our diocese through our parish share. We have not paid what we have been asked for over a number of years which is something of an embarrassment.

Yet we will get there not because I stand here and make you feel guilty, I don’t want to do that anyway, but because we are growing and know that our giving is central to who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.

Money is of course part of our life. We need it to pay the bills, to support those whom we love, to enjoy our life and to be free from worry. I am not immune to those feelings, quite the opposite and so I have to keep asking myself, as we all should, whether these notes have an excessive hold on me. Continue reading “Giving is Good for You”

The Election Manifesto

Not sure if you saw it, but a few nights ago there was a party political broadcast for Jesus. Just kidding but just imagine for a moment if there was.

Election Fever will, I fear, build over the next few months as we prepare for the general election next May.

Each of the parties will vie for attention, every word will be picked over and analysed. Political commentators working overtime. Party Leaders will worry about what to say and do.

But let’s stay with that though of Jesus standing for election, what would his policies look like? Would we vote for Jesus? The man whom this day we acclaim as king.

In conventional terms his manifesto would look strange.

He doesn’t seem worried about money ‘sell your possessions and give to the poor(1).

He doesn’t much care for status or palaces ‘the son of man has nowhere to lay his head(2)

He doesn’t engage in spin for when before Pilate he could have saved himself he ‘makes no reply’(3)

He doesn’t do power instead he washes his disciples feet and talks of serving each other(4)

He doesn’t really do grand arrivals but instead is ‘born in a stable’(5).

Jesus’ manifesto looks strange yet St. Paul writes of ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power.

A strange sort of power then is revealed in this give it away, homeless, sometimes silent, foot washing servant who is born in a shed.

Strange Power this yet Christ is the King. We’re here this morning because that’s what we believe and each of us, in our own way desires to follow this King wherever he leads us.

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References   [ + ]

1. Luke 12.33
2. Luke 9.58
3. Mark 15.5
4. John 13
5. Luke 2

Heart Speaks To Heart

An archaeologist was digging in the Negev Desert in Israel and came upon a casket containing a mummy. After examining it, he called the curator of a prestigious natural-history museum.

“I’ve just discovered a 3,000 year-old mummy of a man who died of heart attack!” the excited scientist exclaimed. To which the curator replied, “Bring him in. We’ll check it out.”

A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. “You were right about the mummy’s age and cause of death. How in the world did you know?” “Easy. There was a piece of paper in his hand that said, ‘10,000 Shekels on Goliath’.”

I wanted to use that to introduce my theme for today which is to talk in three little connected sections about the heart. Not that beating organ that keeps us alive rather the word that in faith goes someway to describing our very essence, who we are, our deepest, truest selves.

And I do so because the heart takes centre stage in both our readings. St. Paul writes ‘The word is near you on your lips and in your heart.’ Then a little later ‘One believes with the heart and so is saved.’ And then in our Gospel Jesus says to the disciples ‘take heart it is I.’

So where to begin?

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He had compassion on them

What made him do it? He’d taken his little boat and found a nice quiet spot. Maybe it was time for a bit of carefree day dreaming rather than the earnest prayer we might usually think of, but his peace didn’t last.

The crowds he’d left behind were there again. All he wanted was a bit of peace of quiet yet there they are like lost sheep. Maybe he was tempted to say “Go away” or “Get lost” but he doesn’t, instead ‘He has compassion on them.’ He sees their need. They are hungry. So he has compassion on them, feeds them and in so doing reveals to them something of the nature of God’s love.

But what is compassion? How might we define it? Well for me, putting on one side precise dictionary definitions it’s something about both see another in need and how that need brings forth from us a change of heart. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

Now you’re all much nicer than me but I’m afraid I can think of times when I’ve been arguing about something or other. In the midst of it I can certainly be angry but then often something happens for when I see the distress caused something changes, so that I don’t want to be angry and argue anymore.

For me that’s something about compassion taking over and changing the situation.

Think also for example of how you might once have held very strong opinions on things, like divorce or abortion or race or religion. Maybe once you were clear about what you believed until that is you become emotionally involved in a situation through family, friends and neighbours.

For when you walk alongside someone who is struggling, our compassion for them and therefore our understanding of those kind of situations changes.

Compassion changes things.

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A word sown with love can never be fruitless

I spend a lot of time dealing with words. My own words written to be spoken, looking at words to be read, words in an email or letter and so on. And if you think about it unless we are called to a life of silence, every one of us will use an awful lot of words every single day, even if it’s just arguing with ourselves.

When I think about words, though I love them, much of the time I can echo the philosopher Winnie the Pooh’s words when he said ‘I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.’

During the last week especially words have been on my mind a bit more as I’ve been thinking about that lovely passage from Isaiah we heard a few moments ago. In those words we heard that the word of God ‘shall not return empty (or as another translation puts it fruitless) but it shall accomplish that which I (God that is) purpose and succeed in the task I gave it.’

I live this vivid and dynamic picture of the word of God going out into the world with a purpose of bringing all into an encounter with God’s love. We can think of that word, as the Eternal Word, the Christ but also the more mundane and ordinary, the words of life.

It seems to me that words are everywhere, inevitably so perhaps, they are how we communicate, but maybe it seems that nowadays there are more words flying about, perhaps it’s something about instant communication through text messaging or emails or through social media.

I came across some information the other day that said there are 1,280 million, users of Facebook, 644 million users of qzone that’s seems to be in the Far East and 255 million users of Twitter. Even if you don’t use any of them you can at least see from those numbers what a powerful tool they are.

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The Reality of Sin and the Invitation to Dance

‘We played the flute for you but you did not dance.’ 

Dolly Parton invited those who heard her at Glastonbury to dance last Sunday and so they did for she was front page news in most of the newspapers last Monday.

This morning however Jesus speaks of a different kind of dance, a dance he invites those who hear his word to share in. They refuse, dismissing his dancing, eating and drinking as the symptoms of a glutton and a drunkard.

I suppose this reminds us how easy it is for us to chunter at another’s celebration. Think of that party next door that goes on for too long, all of us, quite understandably sometimes can be party poopers.

Sin though is what Paul in our first reading is identifying as the party pooper in our lives. That which can hinder our dancing, shield our ears from the tune Christ is playing for us, at least for a time.

But how might we describe sin, that word to describe that which we’re all acquainted with. In simple terms sin is about choice, when we by our words and actions turn away from the source of life and love.

And contrary to what we might sometimes think when we read some of his other writing, Paul was well acquainted with sin.

So his words for us this morning can be reassuring, we all know something of what he writes ‘I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I can will what is right but I cannot do it.’ 

Any of that sound familiar?

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