Category Archives: Expository Preaching

The Real Jesus I Never Knew

Before I was appointed vicar of Virginia Water, I attended an Alpha taster evening incognito. I sat next to a lady and we got talking. Then she asked me “What do you do for a living?” I replied “Guess”. Without batting an eyelid she said, “Well, you are either an estate agent, a vicar or an undertaker.” I replied, “How did you guess?”, She replied “Because I am married to one”. She was in fact a local vicar’s wife. J. John the evangelist has a better answer.

“I like to be a bit creative in telling people what I do. I sat next to this lady on an airplane at Heathrow airport and I said, ‘Hello’, and she said, ‘Hello’. Then I said to her, ‘Where are you going?’ and she said, ‘I’m going to Singapore’. And she said to me, ‘Where are you going?’ and I said, ‘I’m going to Australia’.  I said, ‘What do you do?’ and she told me; then she said to me, ‘What do you do?’ and I said, ‘Well….’ ‘… I work for a global enterprise.’ She said, ‘Do you?’ I said, ‘Yes I do.’ I said, ‘We’ve got outlets in nearly every country of the world.’ She said, ‘Have you?’ I said, ‘Yes we have.’ I said, ‘We’ve got hospitals and hospices and homeless shelters,’ I said, ‘We do marriage work, we’ve got orphanages, we’ve got feeding programmes, educational programmes.’ I said, ‘We do all sorts of justice and reconciliation things’. I said, ‘Basically, we look after people from birth to death, and we deal in the area of behavioural alteration.’ She went, ‘Wow!’ And it was so loud, loads of people turned round and looked at us. She said, ‘What’s it called?’ I said, ‘It’s called the church … have you not heard of it?’

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Jesus Mean and Wild: Three Mission Priorities (Mark 1:29-39)

The last time I was in China, I visited the grave of one of my hero’s. Robert Morrison’s mortal remains lie in a small churchyard in Macau, just across the Pearl River from Hong Kong. Robert grew up in an austere Scottish Presbyterian home. When he told his parents he wanted to become a missionary, they were distraught. His mother insisted young Robert promise that he would not go abroad while she was still alive. Robert obeyed and waited till she had died before beginning theological studies at the Gosport Academy. The London Missionary Society accepted Robert in 1805. He then continued his studies in medicine, astronomy, and Chinese. When his father fell seriously ill, his brother and sisters pleaded with him to return. He loved his father, but wrote this letter,

“Honoured father, brother, and sisters… the account of my father’s leg growing worse and worse concerns me; but what can I do? I look to my God and my father’s God… You advise me to return home. I thank you for your good intentions; may the Lord bless you for them. But I have no inclination to do so; having set my hand to the plough, I would not look back. It hath pleased the Lord to prosper me so far, and grant me favour in the eyes of this people”. 

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Holy War in Palestine (Mark 1:21-28)

On June 6th, 1944, a huge amphibious and airborne force landed on the coast of Northern France intent on reversing the tide of the Second World War. The meticulously planned operation included waves of beach assaults, naval bombardments, air strikes and parachute drops – all on a scale never seen before. Code-named “D-Day,” the invasion saw the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Europe. D-Day has been re-enacted in at least five major films.  I am sure you will have seen at least one of them.

Where Eagles Dare focuses on a group of commandos sent high into the Alps on a daring mission to rescue a captured American officer before he divulges D-Day plans. The Big Red One is a more factual account. The film title refers to the US Army 1st Infantry Division, who wore the insignia of a red ‘one’ as they landed on Omaha Beach on June 6th. Director, Samuel Fuller actually served with the Big Red One in real life, earning the Silver Star on D-Day. Perhaps the definitive film about D-Day, shot in black & white, was appropriately entitled, The Longest Day. The film encompasses the American, British, French as well as the German perspective, as D-Day unfolds. The ten-part Band of Brothers is a more recent visually stunning and accurate portrayal of the 101st Airborne Division’s role in WW2. These US paratroopers were one of the first Allied units to go into battle on D-Day, and the series captures their war with gritty realism. But probably the most iconic portrayal of D-Day takes centre-stage in the gripping war film, Saving Private Ryan.  The film is considered one of the greatest as well as most controversial war films of all time. Its half hour depiction of the bloody fighting on Omaha Beach is both vivid and terrifying. Apparently psychiatrists treating veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Vietnam and Iraq wars, advised them not to watch the film.[1] If you have seen it you will understand why. It’s the kind of film you probably won’t want to watch twice.

However terrifying, the reality of D Day June 6th, 1944 was, by comparison with our subject today, only a minor skirmish in a global war against evil that has raged since before the creation of the world. 

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Discovering my Purpose in Life (John 1)

When you were a child, who or what did you want to be when you grew up? As a child, I dreaded the Christmas visits to aunts and uncles. Every year they would ask me the same question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I hadn’t a clue. In many societies, you are expected to join the family trade or you may become an apprentice to a master craftsman. That’s how my grandfather Lewis learnt his trade. My great-grandmother paid a local carpenter to take Lewis on as a young boy and teach him carpentry skills. I still have his articles of indenture. My grandfather became his pupil, a learner. Then when he too became a master craftsman, he took on my father who became his disciple. I broke the family tradition although I’m pretty good at putting Ikea furniture together.  The greatest tragedy in life is not death, but life without meaning, without purpose. Many people go through life without ever discovering God’s purpose for their lives. We are not an accident. We were created for a purpose. We were made to have meaning. 

In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance…” In our Gospel reading we learn about God’s purposes, not just the first disciples, but for us too.  The context for their meeting with Jesus begins in verse 35.

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Four Kings and a Joker: Jesus, Herod & the Magi (Matthew 2)

Despite criticism of their alleged involvement, virtually everyone on both sides of the Atlantic, including the US President, Joe Biden and the British Monarch King Charles, have been celebrating the visit of an Iranian delegation to Palestine. In the Epiphany story, we remember how a group of Iranians visited Palestine carrying funding for an opposition figure the authorities wanted dead. Then the Iranians evaded the authorities, ignoring the correct exit procedures and fled the country. Of course, King Charles, the Prime Minister and US President have not been celebrating contemporary Iranian involvement, but the historic visit of a past Iranian delegation – the Magi (the ‘Wise Men’ or ‘Kings’) who came to Bethlehem bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for Jesus. It is ironic that without Iran and Iranian involvement, we would not have exchanged gifts on Christmas Day! 

The passage before us today is a study in contrasts. The contrast between religious hypocrisy and spiritual integrity. Between the religious hypocrisy of Herod and the Priests, and the spiritual integrity of the Magi. How can we distinguish one from the other? By their response to God’s revelation in nature, but above all His self revelation in the Scriptures. For the scriptures demand a response, not passive acquiescence nor mere lip service, but submission. In this passage we are going to consider the Kings Hypocrisy, the Scripture’s Testimony, and the Magi’s Integrity.

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All Creatures of our God and King: Psalm 148

The Psalms have a unique place in scripture. They have been likened to a hymn book. But not just any old hymnbook. Whether we feel like worship or not, as we begin to recite the verses of the psalms, something begins to happen in our hearts. It is as if the saying of the words draws us in to praise. John Piper says, “Thanksgiving with the mouth stirs up thankfulness in the heart.”[1]

I don’t know about you, but I cannot read more than a few verses of Psalm 148 without wanting to sing the beautiful hymn “All Creatures of our God and King”. It was written by William Henry Draper, based on a poem by Francis of Assisi, and set to a tune composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  But as we sing, or say, the words of this psalm, I also confess that I smile at the absurd idea that somehow we human beings can instruct the angels, the sun and moon, the weather, the mountains, the seas, reptiles, birds and animals, to praise God. Why? Because the scriptures tell us this is something which they already do, naturally and instinctively, all the time. [2]  

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I am the Lord’s Servant: Luke 1

Remember the last time you filled out a job application? You listed your education, your skills, your work experience. Then you hit the final question: “What is it that makes you uniquely qualified for this position?” How do you answer without appearing arrogant? And when I am asked to give a reference for someone, the question I stumble over is “What are the applicant’s weaknesses? Employers assume your availability, but what they really want to know about is your liabilities. Most employers hire on the basis of competence. They look at your skill set and maybe your personality type. Only the enlightened ones care much about your character.  But God doesn’t operate this way. In today’s reading from Luke, we learn what it means to say “I am the Lord’s servant comma”

1. No matter who you are, the Lord can use you 

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1:26-27)

Mary teaches us God is not as interested as your abilities as He is in your availability. No matter who you are, God can use you. Luke describes an ordinary girl with some serious liabilities: 

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Jesus: The Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World (John 1)

“Since then your Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” [i]

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saint’s Church, Wittenberg, in 1517, he sparked the Protestant Reformation right across Europe. On the 500th anniversary of that momentous event, in 2017, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a statement.  

“The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe. In this Reformation Anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed. Amongst much else these would include clear proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible to all in their own language and the recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God in the world and in the church. Many will also remember the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love.”

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The Good News of Jesus (Mark 1)

Have you ever wondered why the Christian year begins with Advent and the return of Jesus rather than with Christmas and the birth of Jesus? It sounds back to front. And yet from an eternal perspective, the most important event in the future will be the return of Jesus.

It is ironic that much of our time is given to looking back re-living the history of God’s redemptive plan from Genesis when actually the emphasis in the New Testament is upon the future and the necessity of being ready for Christ’s return. The return of Jesus is good news especially for all suffering injustice, persecution, marginalisation today. None more so for the people of Palestine and Gaza, in particular, who are facing genocide and ethnic cleansing this Christmas. While Western churches will celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Church in Palestine has cancelled their Christmas services and will instead be praying for his return to bring justice and peace. They long for the vision found in Revelation 21 of God coming to his people and wiping away every tear from their eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:4-5).

How ironic that Christ was born under brutal settler colonial military occupation, which ruthlessly crushed any dissent. So much so Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt as refugees to save his life. They very likely will have gone via Rafah in Gaza. The Christmas celebrations and messages this year will therefore expose how vast the chasm is between the authentic and counterfeit. It is timely then that we consider the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel today for the summarise who Jesus is and why he came. 

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This Present Darkness is Never Darkness in Your Sight: Psalm 90

Fifty years ago this month, I began to have a sense of God’s call on my life. A few years later, I was humbled to be accepted for training for the Anglican ministry. But there was just one problem. I was terrified at the thought of having to take funerals. But the Lord was gracious. He removed my fears while at theological college in Bristol. Three months after our first daughter was born, my wife Joanna’s father died suddenly. Then, just a month later, my own father died suddenly. At the age of 29 I became the oldest man in either family. In one month, I gained all the personal experience I needed to be able to empathise with others. And a verse from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians took on special significance. 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

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