Category Archives: Sermons

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

cross-and-crown-of-thornsI wonder if you have ever been to a Death Café? There are or have been nearly 3,000 around the world since the first was held in London in 2011. Visit www.deathcafe.com, enter your postcode and you will be directed to the nearest. There was one at Virginia Water Library last week. “At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. The objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion about death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session. – With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action – Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!” I welcome this initiative to break the taboo of talking about death. But how much more helpful and above all hopeful to discuss our mortality in the light of the most significant death in all of history.

John Owen, the 17th Century pastor and theologian, who became chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, managed to squeeze ‘death’ into the title of a book about Jesus, three times. “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” dwells on the love of Christ and the deep conviction that Christ’s work on the cross literally saves us from the deadly nature of sin.

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Easter in Three Dimensions

Between Good Friday and tomorrow Easter Monday – that is four days – we the great British public (and some very nice Expats) will have consumed rather a lot of Easter Eggs. Do you know how many? If you put them in one big pile, how much would it weigh?  Is it 260 tons of chocolate, 2,600 tons, or is it 26,000 tons. Yes its 26,000 tons. That is a lot of chocolate to eat in four days.

Do you know what the link is between the egg and Easter? It goes back to the time when chickens laid their eggs in the Spring, like sheep have their lambs. Easter marked the end of Winter and the Lenten fast.  People celebrated Easter by feasting on things like new laid eggs which were traditionally scarce in Winter. It all got a bit confused when farmers realised they could trick chickens into laying eggs all year round by keeping them in light warm buildings,

and it got really confusing when Mr Cadbury in the 1870s realised there was more money to be made in selling hand-painted chocolate Easter eggs than real ones. Everything else is, as they say, history.

The encouraging fact, however, is that in a recent national survey, one in three people in Britain indicated that they believed in the historical and physical resurrection of Jesus.  Whether they understand the purpose is another matter.

C. S. Lewis once said, “Easter is not primarily a comfort, but a challenge. Its message is either the supreme fact in history or else a gigantic hoax...”

This morning I’d like us to think about how the resurrection of Jesus is three dimensional.


 

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Jesus and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016You would really have to be from a galaxy far, far away to not know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already set new box office records in the USA and the UK.  Indeed the latest sci-fi drama is predicted to become the highest grossing film of all-time, perhaps succeeded only by the two anticipated sequels. Given its epic story and massive popularity, it is worth exploring why, for example in the 2011 UK Census 176,632 people described themselves as Jedi knights. The criteria are really quite appealing. 1) Fight evil. 2) Do good. 3) respect all life even if it is ugly and slithers. 4) rescue princess. 5) save planet. Clearly the mystical Force that binds all things together in Star Wars does not equate with the personal infinite Creator God revealed in Scripture. Nevertheless, those of us who firmly believe in the supernatural shouldn’t dismiss or discourage the conviction that all life is somehow divinely charged. Obi-Wan’s teaching that the Force “surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together” strikingly mirrors the imagery of the Bible which reveals, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he expands on this:

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

There is much more to Star Wars than a cool new world with aliens, spaceships, hi-tech gadgets, a princess, and a darkly evil bad guy. We are drawn to a story of “an underdog who takes on an evil Empire of unsurpassed power, overwhelming technology, and unchecked authority” with impossible odds (Caleb Grimes). Josh Hayes observes, “This is how art works, it reflects and interprets life. We love stories because at some level we as human beings realize that we are part of one.” Because we bear God’s image, we have a sense of purpose, we believe history is going somewhere, that life matters.

Star Wars helps to awaken this sense that we participate in something greater than ourselves… “Most great stories, regardless of their creators’ intentions, mimic the Creator’s story and will on some level fit the template of creation, fall, redemption and new creation.  Drama, of course, predicates on conflict and resolution, and God was the first to think up such a concept. Good versus evil. The hero against the villain. The underdog winning against the seemingly invincible. The light overcoming the darkness. There’s a reason these dynamics are repeated and yet never get old or go out of style. They are strangely familiar because they belong to the original story—God’s story, our story.” (Josh Hayes).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, points us, however imperfectly to three profound truths written large in our Bible reading from John’s gospel tonight about God’s story – our story:

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Christmas according to Paddington Bear

Trains were humming, loudspeakers blaring, porters rushing about shouting at one another, and altogether there was so much noise that Mr Brown, who saw him first, had to tell his wife several times before she understood. ‘A bear? On Paddington station?’

Mrs Brown looked at her husband in amazement. ‘Don’t be silly, Henry. There can’t be!” “Seeing that something was expected of it the bear stood up and politely raised its hat, revealing two black ears. ‘Good afternoon,’ it said, in a small clear voice … The bear puffed out its chest. ‘I’m a very rare sort of bear,’ he replied importantly. ‘There aren’t many of us left where I come from.’ ‘And where is that?’ asked Mrs Brown. The bear looked round carefully before replying. ‘Darkest Peru. I’m not really supposed to be here at all. I’m a stowaway.'”[1] Michael Bond’s marmalade sandwich-loving Peruvian bear first sauntered onto the page in 1958’s A Bear Called Paddington.

Named after the London station at which he was found, Paddington has been delighting generations of children the world over, ever since. Now for the first time he is appearing in the cinema too. Paddington, is a charming and funny little adventure about a very polite and friendly bear who yearns for a new home in London. Harry Potter producer David Heyman says: “Paddington Bear is a universally loved character, treasured for his optimism, his sense of fair play and his perfect manners, and of course for his unintentional talent for comic chaos.”

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Advent: Preparing the Way (Luke 3:1-6)

Our Advent reading from Luke 3 introduces us to the three most important themes of the Bible.  They can be summed up in three questions.   The primary theme in the gospels concerns the identity of Jesus. “Who is Jesus?” The second theme has to do with the mission of Jesus. “Why did Jesus come?” The third theme has to do with the call of Jesus. “What does Jesus demand of us?”  When you read the gospels thoughtfully – you discover that every event, every story, every quote, every conversation is about one of these three themes.  It is asking or answering one of these three fundamental questions. About Jesus’ identity; his mission; and his call.  Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? And what does Jesus demand of me? Let us try and answer these three questions this morning. Then we can celebrate Advent and look forward to the return of Jesus. Continue reading

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Who is my Neighbour?


A sermon preached at New Covenant United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, based on the famous parable of Jesus found in Luke 10:25-37. Continue reading

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Hypocrisy in High Places

A young boy asked his father a question, “Why must we surrender our Jewish faith and attend Lutheran services here in Germany?” The father replied, “Son, we must abandon our faith so that people will accept us and support our business adventures!”  The boy never got over his disappointment or bitterness. His faith in his father was crushed. He gave up on religion. He left Germany and came to England to study. He spent many months in the Reading Room of the British Museum developing his convictions. These he published in 1848 in “The Communist Manifesto”. His name was Karl Marx.  Marx argued that capitalism would inevitably self-destruct, and be replaced by communism. And religion, he insisted,

“…is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

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The Christian Jihad (Struggle)

As a young man I once visited an American friend serving with the US military on Lakenheath Airbase.  As I left the base, on the perimeter wall, hidden from the main road and the gaze of British civilians, I saw a large sign, about 40 feet long with lettering two feet high. Intended for US military personnel only, it read “Danger – you are now entering a war zone.” It was probably intended to improve their survival rates driving on the wrong side of British roads,

I’ve thought a lot about that message.  “Danger – you are now entering a war zone.” I would be tempted to hand a similar sign over the entrance to a Church. I just can’t decide whether to put it on the inside for those leaving or the outside for those…
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Eating Jesus

“Follow me, Vicar, into the red zone… Life is too short, and my time left too precious…This is why I shall not be going to church any more. I’ve never been a fan of the baby Jesus, but now, as the summer of middle age begins to fade, I can no longer tolerate the interminable hymns and the dreary psalms and the saccharine lectures on peace and imperialism and recycling from beardy in the pulpit. In the past I could sit on my hands and bite my tongue and count the seconds, knowing that soon I’d be released into the fresh air. But today I just don’t have the time to waste and I’m filled with a sometimes uncontrollable urge to throttle the vicar, goose the organist and make a break for freedom through the vestry….Me? Well, since I believe you should live life and not spend half of it in church, preparing for death, I’d take the Mazda, warts, beeps and all, every time.”

That’s how Jeremy Clarkson introduced the new Mazda CX-7 in the Sunday Times
recently. Although I’m already a fan of Mazdas, Jesus was right, when he said “you cannot serve both God and money” or in the case of Jeremy, “You cannot serve both God and cars.” I would love to have a one-to-one with Jeremy and find out whether, like many other people, he has been turned off Jesus by the caricature of Christianity he may have encountered.

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Water into Wine

I want to bring out three ways Jesus brought blessing to a couple on their special day, three ways in which I believe he longs to bless each of us today also.

The Blessing Of Jesus’ Presence : (John 2:1-2)

Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a wedding. In Israel they do things properly.  The wedding reception lasts a week. Everything stops in the community and everyone joins in. When you think of Jesus what do you imagine His schedule looked like?    Can you imagine Jesus relaxed, laughing and enjoying himself at a wedding reception surrounded by people in festive mood, for a whole week?  No watch, no mobile phone, no emails, no post, no distractions, just a week of eating and drinking good food and wine celebrating the shared joy of a new marriage in the community. Can you? Continue reading

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