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In February and March 2019 we have started a 7 week SERMON SERIES on the 'I am' sayings of Jesus which tell us about who Jesus is and also how we should respond to Him.


March 17th 2019 - St Mary's Hutton - John 11: 27 -

I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

If you asked people in the street what happens after you die you would get a whole range of answers – some might talk about reincarnation and coming back as a cat or another person, others might say there is nothing – called nihilism, others think of the soul leaving the body and wafting about like a ghost or spirit in heaven, or that if you have led a good life you come back to a better one, or there is the belief in the soul that spends eternity in some heavenly bliss – some Christians think this. But Jesus and all of the apostles in their writings accepted none of these. Instead they talked about the resurrection of the body as a supernatural gift given to all believers. Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 death for the believer means the end of this earthly existence and a new bodily existence in the presence of Christ. He speaks not of the immortality of the soul but of the resurrection when we are given a new ‘spiritual body’.The Christian idea is that our body expresses who we are; it is the outward form of the real us. To live with Christ in heaven we cannot be less than who we were on earth, that is bodiless. We are rather perfected. This amazing gift of resurrection life is given, Jesus makes clear, to those who believe and are given the gift of eternal life. So Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and by ‘life’ he means ‘eternal life. Paul speaks about it – Jesus speaks about it but he also demonstrates it.

The first proof is here in this account in John 11. Jesus in his busy life had a bolthole and it was in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were more than friends – they were like family to him. Now a crisis has happened – Lazarus is ill and the sisters do what anyone of us would do – they call for help. They send word to Jesus about what is happening. But instead of dropping everything Jesus stays put for 2 more days. Jesus has a greater plan – he knows that Lazarus won’t die, he also knows that somehow through this crisis and suffering God will show his glory through Him. Jesus has the big picture whereas Mary and Martha are caught in the urgency of the crisis. Jesus chooses to do nothing – he doesn’t heal him. Jesus knew everything that was going on – he knew when Lazarus had died. It is hard to understand why he didn’t act – even though he knew that Lazarus would live surely he would want to save the sisters this terrible grief at losing their brother. Yet as I’ve said there is something bigger going on here.

There was a risk in Jesus and the disciples returning to Bethany though – Bethany was near Jerusalem and Jesus had nearly been attacked there before. But again the big plan prevailed. Jesus was not driven by the crisis but by what he knew to be the right thing to do. I don’t know how you act in a crisis or when there is a need, especially when someone is dying or has died. I have been taking funeral since I was 25 yet when my mum died it was a completely different thing. She suddenly dropped dead and was found 2 days later in her flat. It was a very scary and unsettling time – like you are in an earthquake and everything is shifting round you. Mary and Martha must have been feeling like this. In the last week I have had 2 end of life visits and I went quickly – unlike Jesus did. It is so easy to drop everything and run – but really we should stop and wait and pray and be directed as to how to respond. Sometimes later is better. We need to learn to do things the Jesus way – which is not always the obvious way.

So Jesus walks into a place of grief. He meets Martha who blames Jesus – only if you had been here my brother would not have died. ‘If only’ is a phrase that is often used after someone has died. And sometimes blame is also another part of grief – to blame the doctor or the hospital or God or even yourself. But Martha is not trapped in this blame and if onlys – she had amazing faith in Jesus. She knows that prayer works – that when Jesus asks God his father – he delivers. Martha like many Jews believes in the resurrection. But then comes the great revelation that it is faith in Jesus that brings one back to life at the resurrection. Life is in and through Jesus and knowing Him. That through and because of Jesus, death is no more. And then we hear Jesus’ big question ‘Do you believe this?’ Do you believe in the resurrection of the body? I wonder how you would respond. Her response is much like Peter’s when Jesus asks ‘Who you do say I am? ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.’ She knows he is from God and that he has come to save them. Martha then goes and gets her sister who comes to Jesus and he gets the if only you had been here speech again. The important thing is that they both come to Jesus – despite their if onlys and blame. They don’t push Jesus away. Grief can do one of 2 things to people – it can turn them to Jesus and it can turn them against him (even those who have had faith). It’s like the carrot and the egg in boiling water – one goes hard, one goes soft – both have had the same experience. Those with Mary, as well as her, are weeping – more likely wailing and we read that Jesus is deeply moved in spirit and troubled. A better translation would be ‘became angry in spirit and very agitated.’ Maybe Jesus is angry at their lack of faith – maybe he is angry at death itself. I have often felt this anger when someone has been taken away too soon, too young. Jesus shows that he really cares and understands and weeps with those who weep and mourns with those who mourn – he is indeed fully human. God cries when he sees suffering. His heart breaks because he loves us.

People sometimes say where is God and the answer is there with the people weeping with them. Then Jesus acts. ‘Take away the stone’. But there are objections – rightly so – it will smell. But Jesus reminds them who he is and what would happen – they were going to see his glory. So they move it and Jesus prays to his Father and then he commands Lazarus to come out and Lazarus does – looking like a mummy. How frightening but how awesome it must have been. But why did Jesus do it? Why did he not heal at a distance, why did he allow him to die? Why did he allow the suffering of his beloved friends?

1. He wanted the disciples to believe – they were ordinary men and he needed to show them something out of the ordinary to make them see who he really was. Not their mate Jesus – but Jesus the son of God, come from God, full of his power. Sometimes God allows something to happen so that we might believe.

2. It got them thinking about life after death – it got them thinking about resurrection. It was a visual aid. Soon an even greater raising from the dead would happen. Lazarus was restored – he was like he was before he died but he would still have to die one day. Jesus resurrection would be different – he did things that normal humans didn’t do – he appeared and disappeared, he was Jesus but was somehow different. He was real but transformed. Death can point us to beyond death – to resurrection that comes through knowing Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection and the amazing evidence that it really happened should give us real hope and assurance that it will be the same for us. I won’t become a wafty wafty spirit resting in peace in some bliss – no I will be given a new body, a perfect body – maybe in the new heaven and the new earth, worshipping and praising and see Jesus face to face.

3. Jesus is concerned with life and bringing forth life from death. He brings new life and new birth through the forgiveness of sin. Sin brings death and so Jesus has dealt with sin and so he has dealt with death on the cross.

The Christian faith is about life – life in and with God. All that we do as Christians should shout life – that Jesus is alive. What in us has become dead – what in us needs Jesus to call out ‘Come out’ be reborn. What in our church life and worship has grown dead and needs to be reborn. Life is about change – Jesus is about change because he is always wanting to bring new life and transformation. 4. Jesus showed that faith could come through suffering. They saw and they believed – it was the power of God at work. God’s work is often most powerful when we are at our weakest and most broken. Miracles happen when there is pain and suffering. It is a mystery but it is true. The whole account points us forward to Holy Week and to Easter Sunday – it is a …….let’s turn our thoughts to the new life of Jesus, let’s turn our thoughts to the resurrection life that will be ours in Jesus, let’s know that Jesus cares when we suffer and that He can work and show His glory even in the midst of pain and death. Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

March 10th 2019 - St Augustine's Locking - John 10:1 – 17

I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD

I would secretly love to have a dog – though I know that the cat would leave home if I got one. I suppose it’s because of that wonderful friendship that people have with their dog – that special bond. They come when they are called, they are faithful and stick by you. Cats aren’t like that, they are their own person and very independent – we are their slaves. Today we are not thinking about dogs and owners but sheep and shepherds. Last week in Hutton I was talking about sheep and shepherds being very different from those today in 2019 England. We think of large flocks and of the shepherd using a sheep dog or even a quad bike to round them up. They are predominately left on their own to graze. In Jesus’ time the shepherd would have had 20 – 100 sheep and would have known each one by name. They would have known his voice and would have ignored any other voice, following only the shepherd. The relationship between sheep and shepherd was very special – much like that of a man and his dog. I have a friend called Alan who used to be a shepherd at Lee Abbey, where many of us will be going in the summer. Alan looked after Jacob sheep – they had really big horns. Alan knew every single sheep by name – they all began with a J. Today we are looking at another I AM saying of Jesus – I am the good shepherd. Today we are also having a healing Communion – Jesus being the good shepherd has a lot to say to those who need healing and help.

So I want to begin by looking at the reading from John 10 and then looking at Psalm 23. So firstly John 10: 11 we read of Jesus laying down his life for the sheep. Last week we heard how a shepherd would lay down at the entrance of the sheep pen as a gate to protect the sheep. In doing this the shepherd was risking his own life. We know that Jesus didn’t risk His life but He laid it down – He gave His life that we might have life and as we read in verse 10 – and have it to the full. Because of Jesus’s death that eternal life and healing is made available to us. In Isaiah 53: 5 it says ‘By His wounds we are healed.’ There were many dangers around the flock and here Jesus talks about the hired hand not protecting the flock when the wolf came. When danger came then the flock scattered and was in even greater danger. The sheep that Jesus is talking about is us. Often we are attacked and in danger and need to be protected. In the reading the hired hand was paid to look after the sheep, but didn’t really care for them. Maybe as people we have been let down by people who should have cared and looked after us – perhaps in our families or at school or work. When push came to shove they didn’t defend you, they did a runner or did nothing and didn’t help you, they just didn’t care when they should have done. They let you done and you suffered because of it. The good news though is that we now have a good shepherd who loves and cares for us, we are precious to Him because we are His. He loves us so much that He has died for us.

This caring nature of God the shepherd is there in Isaiah 40:11 which points to Jesus the good shepherd. ‘See the Lord comes … He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those with young.’ (Is. 40:11) Such a beautiful picture. Jesus says ‘I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.’ Jesus knows you – He knows your past – where you have come from, your history – with all its joys and sorrows – the stuff that people know about and the stuff that only you know – He knows it all. I don’t know how that makes you feel. We are now in Lent and that is a time to allow God to search us and to allow Him to deal with the rubbish in our lives. It’s also a time to get to know Jesus better – my sheep know me. How well do you know Jesus? Getting to know someone takes time – time set aside – quality time. Lent is a time to open ourselves to God and to allow Him to love us. In loving us He may point things out that we need to change with His help.

So let’s now look at Psalm 23 – probably the most famous Psalm of all. It’s clearly come out of a time of struggle and darkness but it offers us amazing comfort and hope. David the author was once a shepherd and uses this image again. It comes after Psalm 22 – the Psalm of the cross which begins with ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The words Jesus said on the cross. In the Psalm there are many references to Jesus’ suffering. It comes after a time of real suffering and desolation – a Good Friday experience. ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.’ With Jesus we lack nothing. In Him we have everything that we need – we have no need to worry because He will provide for us in the same way that a shepherd will make sure that his sheep have good food, good pasture, clean water, be cared for when sick or injured and if necessary carried home on the shepherd’s shoulders. I wonder what things you need today in your life – what sustenance, what refreshment – where are you hungry and what for? Love – to love and to be loved, security, significance, belonging, fulfillment in life. ‘He makes me life down in green pastures.’ Jesus leads us to good places in order to rest and to feed. Sometimes that is real, food and real rest – because that is what we need – healing for our bodies. Sometimes it is to stop and rest with God and to be fed by Him through His word. ‘He leads me beside quiet waters’ – there is nothing more calming than gentle water lapping on the beach or in a stream. Jesus promises us living water – the Holy Spirit. ‘He restores my soul.’

Life batters and bruises us more often than we care to admit. We get damaged and hurt. Often the most difficult people I have known I suspect are like that because inside they are hurting. Pain spills out however hard we try to keep it hidden. An angry word, a critical word, anger, unkindness. We need our souls restoring. Like a broken vase there will also be the cracks. The Japanese mend their pots with gold – it is called kintsugi meaning golden joinery. The pot is restored but is more beautiful than it was before. That is what Jesus can do with us. The Psalmist clearly has been going through a tough time – even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – or sometimes it’s translated – even though I walk through the darkest valley. Death shadows all of us – because we will all have to face it. But for some it is like a dark shadow forever behind them. It may be unresolved grief, it may be the fear of our own death or that of a loved one, it may be a bad memory. Many people walk through dark valleys – it can be a scary place – a place of evil even. But here we are told that we never travel there alone – ‘For you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.’ Shepherds in Jesus’ time never left the sheep – ever! I will never leave you or forsake you – Jesus promises. A shepherd carries a rod and staff – to ward off wild animals and to rescue the sheep from danger. If you are in a dark valley then ask Jesus to be real to you – that you can sense His presence and know His promises. Sometimes we have to just walk through that dark valley because we have no choice. Sometimes though there is an escape route and we have to choose to leave it – to get ourselves sorted, to leave the sorrow, to seek healing and the light of Jesus. At the end of the Psalm we are shown a time of goodness – a table of food, a head anointed with oil, our cup overflowing, goodness and love filling our life. It’s that abundant life again. It closes with the assurance of eternal life in the Father’s house.

Today is an opportunity to meet with the Lord – the Good shepherd and to ask Him for His help, healing and blessing in our lives. He is there for all our needs, for who are weary and need rest and feeding, those whose souls are damaged and broken – He can mend, for those who need guidance in His way, for those in a dark valley – He promises His presence. So come to the good shepherd – He loves His sheep – you and me – more than we can ever imagine. Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking



March 3rd 2019 - St Augustine's Locking - JOHN chapter 10. Verses 1-10

I AM THE GATE

Does anyone remember Star Trek ? Captain Kirk ... Spock ...Scotty ...McCoy ? When it first came out I remember thinking how marvellous it was that doors opened automatically as they walked around the ship. It was futuristic stuff then. But now of course they are everywhere, except that a good number don't work like the entry to the Sovereign Centre in town and the Halifax have got large signs saying Pull on one side and Push on the other! When they are working you walk up to them wondering if they going to open in time?

Massive changes in a few years and all a far cry from the days when Jesus was around. So when we read the Bible stories and listen to what Jesus was saying, there has to be a certain amount of translating done so that we can fully understand the point he is making. He was very keen on using picture language to teach his disciples and he drew on things that they were used to in everyday life at the time. In this next of our short sermon series of looking at the 'I am' sayings of Jesus, we have reached the passage we heard earlier In John chapter 10 and V7 ‘I am the gate for the sheep’. How are we supposed to interpret that today when our experience of sheep, that is if we have any experience at all, is so different to what it was 2000 years ago? For the folk listening then they would undoubtedly have had an immediate grasp of the illustration because it was familiar to them. If he as here today he would be using stories relating to supermarkets or car parks, airports or planes. Today we aren't so familiar with the need to keep sheep in a pen overnight because of wolves. The difference. between then and now is so vast it needs a little explanation, especially as firstly Jesus is making a statement about himself and that is really important. But these few verses also go further than that. Secondly, it helps us understand more about what being a Christian means. Finally, it includes warnings about false teachers and leaders. Let's take a look at how we can learn from this important passage.

We need to note here that Jesus is keen to reassure them that what he is saying is the truth, V1 ‘I tell you the truth’ and V7 ‘I tell vou the truth'. Getting at the truth is always essential. What is it that witnesses have to say when giving evidence in a court of law with a hand on the Bible? 'I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God'. Out of interest did you know that that statement was formulated but the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople in about 560 AD.

The passage in front of us is exclusively from Jesus himself and when he says it's the truth we know that it is. Coming from the lips of the Son of God, we need do nothing else other than do our best to learn from it and apply it to our lives. And the vital truth is that Jesus Is the gate for the sheep. Ok let's identify the physical picture he is using so that we sort out the spiritual teaching. In V1 He speaks of a sheep pen. This was simply a place where all the sheep would be brought together for safety and of necessity there would be one way both to come in and go out by, and this is the gate. These pens would be scattered around as the shepherds moved about, and the entrance would not usually have a gate as we know it. It was very common for the shepherd to be the gate. He would sleep across the opening at night so keeping the sheep in and the wolves out. In the morning he would call them out. They would recognise his voice and that was the way the sheep were led in those days, by voice recognition, not sheepdogs.

So what we see here is that the sheep and the shepherd have a relationship of trust, that the sheep knew who their shepherd was and depended on him for safety. So Jesus, in taking this practical everyday picture, is saving that he is the equivalent of the gate. And it's not difficult to work out that the sheepfold or pen is the Kingdom of God and that the sheep are his followers i.e. Christians, those who choose to follow Jesus. This is the basis of the illustration so what does that teach us? I have 4 brief but vital points to make:-

Point 1 is that there needs to be a firm and trusting relationship between each Christian and Jesus the gate. A relationship that is based on knowing him, on knowing his voice and standards through his teaching, and that he can be depended upon. And that's important because when we allow the thieves and robbers to squeeze their way into our lives, which comes in the form of temptation, we need to know the difference and, as Jesus puts it in V5 ‘We will run away from and not follow the stranger'. As with any friendship, we can only know the voice or guidance of Jesus if we speak to him often and regularly. That helps us to know how to decide when we are tempted or when we listen to false teachers that want to lead us away from being followers of Jesus.

Point 2 teaches us clearly that there is only one way in to being a Christian, and that is by believing in Jesus. He is the gateway to forgiveness, the gateway to Heaven, the gateway to new life. There is no back door entry, no amount of good works, no amount of generosity or bribery, no appeal to never having done any wrong to anyone, there is simply only one way into God's family and the promise of eternity with him, and that is through Jesus. He consistently makes this claim about himself. There are theologians and others who would like to water this down in favour of a less precise and easier way of gaining access. That means sweeping under the .carpet these words of Jesus so that faith is more accessible and acceptable to more people. To take that line is to ignore the force of what Jesus is saying at our peril.

Point 3 in V9 Jesus refers to our safety, that when we are part of his flock, he is in control and ensures our protection. Him being the Gate is not the gate that imprisons, traps or restricts, much rather it is the gateway to freedom, protection and peace.

Point 4. Also from V9 Jesus is making it clear that those enter through him are saved and that they are open to life in all its fullness both for now as we live out our lives and for eternity. There cannot be a better way to live our lives.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we do need to consider the warnings Jesus gave about false teachers and leaders. Listen again to his words:-
V1 ‘He who climbs in (that is to the pen) by a different way is a thief and a robber’.
V8 'All who came before me were thieves and robbers’.
V10 'The thief comes only to kill and destroy’.

So who are the thieves and robbers who come in another way? In the previous chapter Jesus points in the direction of the Pharisees accusing them of being spiritually blind and therefore unable to lead. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel has a lot to say about so called shepherds of the people, the Israelites, who only take care of themselves rather than the flock. It is because of them that the spiritual growth of the people has failed.and they have become like the nations around them, not knowing or serving God. The blindness of the spiritual leaders in the first century is now being made clear in their rejection of Jesus. It is the Pharisees that Jesus identifies as thieves and robbers. Where does that leave us today?

We dare not conclude that the threat of false teachers ended with the Pharisees. We dare not assume that ordination or any other initiation into ministry automatically guarantees that they are part of those who have entered through Jesus. We dare not take our eyes off or stop communicating with Jesus because otherwise we may be fooled by the voice of the stranger. As Jesus was highlighting a threat
to the flock so we have no reason to think that the threat is any the less now.

For us as followers of Jesus, we can develop a kind of spiritual instinct which will help us distinguish 'right from wrong. We need to be developing our spiritual antenna so that it is alert and ready to question rather than simply accepting because of who is saying it. Do you remember that craze when kids wore those wobbly insect like antennae on their heads? We need those! Our antenna should wobble, testing, exploring scripture, praying, talking to others, worshipping and serving. All are invited to come through the gate of Jesus into safety and eternity with the Father. Please be sure that you are one of that flock.

Rev Geoff Hobden


 

March 3rd 2019 - St Mary's Hutton - JOHN chapter 10. Verses 1-10

I AM THE GATE

If you drive up the Bury towards Locking you will see that on your left there are sheep in the field. It is a lovely sight and typifies the English pastoral scenery with fluffy lambs in the meadows quietly grazing. You can almost imagine Beethoven’s pastoral symphony playing in the background. In our reading we have Jesus using the picture of sheep. To understand this teaching we need to put almost all of our 21st century English thinking about sheep farms and sheep to one side. We are not listening to Jesus the 21st century English shepherd who thinks of farms with thousands of sheep, using dogs and quadbikes to round them up. We are listening to Jesus in whose mind a shepherd was a person who owned between 20 to a 100 sheep. He spent his days walking around with them making sure they were safe, well fed and watered. He knew each sheep by name and he prized them mainly for their wool. In the Old Testament there were many passages that spoke of the Jewish rulers as good or bad shepherds.

We find this in Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel as well as in the Psalms. And I’m sure you are all thinking now of Psalm 23 which begins ‘the Lord is my shepherd.’ Where it talks about God being the perfect shepherd. The people would also have remembered that God had promised to send the Jewish people a Messianic shepherd, a second king David, who would care for them like God himself cared for them. ‘I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them and be their shepherd’ (Ez. 34:23). It is this prophesied messianic shepherd that Jesus identifies himself with. The sheepfold is where the sheep sleep for the night. It is a safe place. Usually shepherds would bring their flocks back to the village as the sun began to set and pen them often with 2 or 3 other flocks. If they had taken the sheep far away they would gather them in a cave or gulley, or if these were not available make a pen for them out of bushes and logs. The aim was to protect the sheep throughout the night. If the sheepfold was in the village it would usually have a strong gate or door (the Greek word can mean gate or door). Through this door the shepherd would enter in the morning to call out his sheep. Thieves and robbers in contrast, would climb in some other way. If the sheepfold were in the countryside, the shepherd himself would sleep across the entrance as a human door. These two kinds of sheepfold and entrances to them are mentioned in this teaching. The intimacy between the Jewish shepherd of old and his sheep is brought out most powerfully when Jesus says the sheep know the shepherds voice and they follow him because they know his voice (v. 3). What immediately comes to mind is the relationship people have with their pets – dogs especially. I’m afraid our cat only comes if she hears the Dreamies being shaken. This is the kind of relationship a shepherd had with each of his sheep. The minute they heard his voice their tails wagged. Another’s voice made no impact on them. What this story envisages is more than one flock in the sheepfold. When the first shepherd comes to the door in the morning he calls out and his sheep immediately recognise his voice and file out. The other sheep take no notice. Many people recount seeing this very thing in third world countries today where shepherds care for small flocks.In this teaching Jesus is the shepherd and we his followers are the sheep. He is telling us that our relationship with him is like that of the loving, caring shepherd and we his disciples are to think of ourselves like sheep that know the shepherd’s voice and follow him. Isn’t this an incredible thought? Jesus is our loving, shepherd who cares for us and knows us. We have followed him because we have heard him call us. When we ‘hear’ his voice we go to him.

In the first century the shepherd had to be constantly on the watch for those who would steal his sheep. Often this was done by getting into the sheepfold at night by some other way than the guarded door. Such thieves, Jesus says, come only to ‘steal and kill and destroy’ (v. 10). The welfare of the sheep is of no interest to them. The sheep do not freely follow such interlopers because they do not hear their master’s voice. Who are the thieves Jesus is a alluding to? For him they are the self-serving Jewish leaders of his day who are supposed to be good shepherds of God’s people Israel but are good only to themselves. Today the thieves are any who would snatch from the fold one of Christ’s precious sheep. Fervent atheists, leaders of cults and those who teach wrong things – saying that we can save ourselves for example. We need to be wise about who we listen to and what we read. Jesus said, ‘I am the door’ (10:7, 9). This comment envisages the shepherd sleeping across the entrance to the sheepfold which was normal practice when the sheepfold was not an established one in the village. When the shepherd lay across the entrance no one could enter or leave without passing over him. He was the door to the sheepfold. Entering the sheepfold means to enter into salvation. Jesus says explicitly, ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture’ (v. 9). He then adds. I have come to give my sheep ‘abundant life’. ‘Abundant life’ is life in all its fullness; it is life in relationship with God revealed in Jesus Christ and made present by the Holy Spirit; it is a quality of life that even death can’t destroy. This is an important thing we need to understand that Jesus is the way, the only way to eternal life, he feeds us, he protects us, and he gives us life in all its fullness. These are things only God can do.

What this passage teaches us more than anything else is that once we become part of the good shepherds’ flock he will protect us and feed us. We need to make sure we are in the flock, that we have entered through Jesus and when we are in then we need to keep listening to His voice every day and not just on a Sunday. We also need to make sure we stay with the flock as well as stay with Jesus. Without a shepherd the sheep will stray off and get into danger. They also tend to follow each other – there have even been stories of one sheep jumping off a cliff and then several hundred others following it. Being in the flock and staying close to the shepherd Jesus is the best way. Jesus is the door, Jesus is the gate. There is that wonderful Holman Hunt painting of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. The handle is on the inside because we have to chose to open the door ourselves. That door is the way to an amazing life today and also life after death – it is the door to eternal life. Somebody once wrote: Life is full of choices and doors. Choosing the right doors in life is important. Unlike the game show, we don’t have to guess and hope we picked the right door. We don’t have to wonder which way to go, or what to do. Jesus says, listen for my voice, look for my leading. To the weak, to the timid, to the fearful, to the guilty, to those who are worn out and tired, he calls us all…come to me you who are weary and I will give you rest, to all of us sinners he says, my grace is sufficient for you. To those who have been abused or abandoned he says you are wanted and safe with me. I will never leave you or forsake you. If you have been confused or lost your way, if you have wandered and knocked on doors with empty promises, come, come to me and I will give you abundant life. To the faithful who have persevered, to all who will come, from the side streets, from the highways, down the mountainsides, across the rivers and through the meadows, come to me, for I Am the Gate! And all who enter through me will find peace that only I can give, the joy of true acceptance, the comfort of assurance and salvation for your soul!

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

February 25th 2019 - St Augustine's Locking - JOHN ch15. Vses 1-80

I AM THE TRUE VINE

I have a confession to make: I am no great gardener. Living in a place like Hutton, where there are many skilled and gifted gardeners, that is something I would like to change. I can do pots and bulbs but I’ve always struggled with shrubs. I don’t like cutting things back. So Tony has always done the pruning, with me standing by, saying ‘do be careful’. Every year he explains to me the how and why of pruning roses. A rose bush if left to itself will get straggly and tangled, growing into itself. It will produce a number of small, straggly roses rather than a number of splendid ones. It will get in its own light. It needs help to grow in the right direction and to the right end. So we prune to stop it wasting its energies and being unproductive. The parts of the plant that are growing inwards are cut out. The shoots that are growing outwards, towards the light are encouraged the rose is helped to be itself and be its best.

As far as I understand, it’s more or less the same with vines. And that is why Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine, something that the disciples would be familiar with. And not only that: the disciples would be familiar with the images of Israel as a vine, as we heard in Zechariah. But then he develops this image in a new way by associating the word ‘remain’. At this point, at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he is going away and that they can’t follow him yet. He is showing them what it all means for their future life, their own sorrows and joys and their mission in the world. He also promises that they will not be left alone, comforting his disciples (and us) with the promise that we and they are not to be abandoned or left alone, but can be confident of his continuing presence. Jesus tells the disciples ‘ I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.’ That can only mean that he is the true Israel. It is on him that God’s purposes are resting. And his followers are members of God’s true people if they belong to him and remain in him. And if they remain with him they too will be cultivated by God, the gardener.“ I am the vine; you are the branches’. It is a two way process: Jesus does not leave his followers alone and if they stay with him they will grow and bear good fruit.

The imagery of bearing good fruit has been there from the very beginning, when God caused fruit trees to spring from the ground and bear fruit (Genesis 1:11-12) and told humans to be ‘fruitful and multiply’ (verse 28). So, if we think of ourselves as a fruiting plant, Jesus promises that fruiting plants are valuable and will receive good care. Taking this a bit further, we have to imagine that God, as ‘Vine Grower’, grafts us onto the rootstock of Jesus, provides water, fertiliser, and protection; prunes our branches don’t to increase the yield of our grapes whilst constantly checking our needs, viability, and productivity.

Fruit-bearing is not something that branches do by force of will. The fruit happens organically because the branches remain in a vine that is true and the gardener good. The branches have to remain because without the vine, they are fruitless; they can do nothing. The branches need to be shaped by the one who tends them; they cannot make themselves fruitful. Branches that remain in the vine and submit to the pruner’s knife when necessary live and bear fruit. That is the prospect that Jesus holds out to his followers.

So how do we remain in Jesus? What does it look like in practice? Well, we need to remain in the community that knows and loves Jesus and celebrates him as Lord. We cannot be solitary Christians: we need the support and encouragement of each other. (As we approach Lent, I’d encourage everyone to join a Lent group, to come together to explore our faith). We also need to develop our personal relationship with Jesus so that we remain in him and he in us. We do that through prayer, through reading our bibles, through talking to him, through wondering at creation. We must also be prepared to be ‘pruned’, to let go of ‘the way we’ve always done this’ if it is hindering our progress or to let go of prejudices, blind spots, of things that get in the way of our relationship with others and with God. The church itself needs to be open to pruning. We will be pruned with care: we need to respond to that pruning by rejoicing that we can grow more strongly towards the light of Christ.

In v7 Jesus tells the disciples ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.’ That asking should be aimed at carrying forward the work that Jesus did: the teaching, the feeding, the healing, the challenging, the loving. Jesus wants his followers, his disciples, us, to carry on his work. God wants us to be as fully productive as we can be so that our fruit can be useful to others, in whatever way is needed, as Jesus said, ‘ showing yourselves to be my disciples’. God is glorified in the work of his son, the true vine, and in the fruit bearing of his disciples. We need to reflect on what our fruit is, how it can best be used and how we can bear more for others. We are not left alone to grow in whichever way we want, to get straggly, to be deprived of direction. We are tended by a loving God, fed by his Son and the Holy Spirit and destined to bear good fruit. Recall the words of the hymn: ‘so we’ll grow in your love and we’ll go in your name, so the world will surely know you have the power to heal and to save’. We are not alone.

God of love,
plant us in the soil of your grace.
Nurture us with the strength of Christ,
the vine of everlasting life.
Enlighten us with the wisdom of your Spirit,
which flows through us today and all days.
Abide in us,
that we may abide in you
and live in your love.
In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Jane Barry, Reader St Mary's Hutton


 

February 10th 2019 - 10am St Mary's Hutton - JOHN ch8. Vses 25 - 40

I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE

I wonder what bread means to you – what memories you associate it with. As a child I remember going to the bakers shop called Barton’s bakers with my mum. I ended up having to look up the name of this and ended going on a big nostalgia trip of the parade of shops my mum shopped in. Bread then was mostly white – Hovis was the nearest you got to wholemeal. Then there was that horrible Nimble bread. It’s such a contrast to today when you can get all different sorts of bread from all over the world. We don’t buy bread any more but Chris makes bread in the bread maker and it is wonderful to wake up to the smell of baking bread. It’s on a par with the smell of coffee and bacon. I really love bread – I find it hard to resist and I’ve often thought of going without – but I can’t. Yet in western culture we don’t need it – it’s an add on to our rich and varied diet. In contrast, in the Mediterranean world of Jesus day, bread was the most important and basic part of the diet. If you had bread and water or a little wine you had a meal. If you also had some fish or red meat, a slice of cheese or a few dates you ate very well. The grains of the Middle East, mainly wheat and barley, were used to make bread. In the East rice is the equivalent and it could be eaten simply by boiling it. When Jesus said ’I am the bread of life’ he was not saying, ‘I am like a freshly baked loaf from Greggs with sesame seeds on top’ but I am what you need to live. I am the only one who can really nourish you along life’s journey. When Jesus spoke of himself as ‘the bread of life’ his Jewish hearers would have immediately thought of Moses who fed the Israelite’s in the wilderness with bread. So not surprisingly, someone in the crowd called out, ‘Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven”’ (Jn 6:31). In reply Jesus says, I am the bread of life.’ You may revere Moses but I offer you something that Moses could not offer. I do not give you ‘bread’ that decays and only feeds the body. I give you bread that offers eternal life. I surpass Moses.

All the Gospels tell of Jesus feeding the 5000 with ‘five barley loaves and two fish’; only John has a long account of what took place before this and how Jesus explains it. John tells us the next day a large crowd again came to Jesus and this time Jesus rebukes them, saying that they had only come hoping to be fed again (6: 22-34). He said what they should do is seek after the ‘true bread from heaven’ … the bread ‘that gives life to the world’ (6:33). The crowd took Jesus words literally. They want as much of this bread as they can have so they cry out, ‘Give us this bread always’. In reply Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ It is clear that Jesus is speaking again in pictures. The bread Jesus offers gives eternal life and quenches spiritual thirst. It does not relieve physical hunger and thirst. And ‘coming’ to Jesus for this bread is not a literal coming as one might come to a shop that sells bread; it involves believing; coming to Jesus to find eternal life/salvation. Note, Jesus does not say, come to church each week and you will get the bread of life, or working for the poor and needy will earn you the bread of life, or even believing in God will give you the bread of life. Jesus is the bread of life and he gives this bread to those who believe in him. That is, those who recognise that in Jesus, God is at work to save, and so trust in him. He is the one who offers bread that truly satisfies. Everything we are and have is a gift from God, including all our material blessings. The material is not evil. However, Jesus’ teaching constantly reminds us that there is something more important than money, homes, cars, family, holidays, etc.; it is a relationship with God revealed in Jesus Christ and made present through the Holy Spirit. If we want life in all its fullness, then we need most of all the bread that Jesus alone can give. Only this can sustain us along life’s journey and prepare us for the life to come. We might think, ‘How did the Jews miss the point when Jesus spoke of bread that truly satisfies?’ Why did they did they first think of ordinary bread? The answer is because they were just like us. The material rewards of life were more pressing and attractive than spiritual rewards. What they wanted was an unending supply of bread that could make their daily life easier.

Imagine, if one night in a dream we heard Jesus say to us, ’I have a wonderful gift for you’. I bet most of us would say, ‘How much money are you giving me?’ Or, ‘Is it a new car? Or, “Is it a great holiday?’ We so easily count our blessings in material terms. Sam Shepard was an American actor, playwright, author, screenwriter, and director whose career spanned half a century. He won ten Obie Awards for writing and directing, the most won by any writer or director. Yet he said ‘The funny thing about having all this so-called success is that behind it is a certain horrible emptiness. Everything we are and have is a gift from God, including all our material blessings. The material is not evil. However, Jesus’ teaching constantly reminds us that there is something more important than money, homes, cars, family, holidays, etc.; in fact none of these will truly satisfy us. You know you buy something new and it’s all exciting and gives you a buzz, but after a few weeks you forget about it and start looking for the next thing to fill that emptiness. What we need is a relationship with God revealed in Jesus Christ and made present through the Holy Spirit. If we want life in all its fullness, then we need most of all the bread that Jesus alone can give. Only this can sustain us along life’s journey and prepare us for the life to come. I wonder if you feel empty today – why are you empty – where are you looking to fill that hunger? Turn to Jesus and ask him to fill that emptiness. Jesus says ‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of man will give you’. (Jn 6:27).

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

February 3rd 2019 - 10am St Augustine's Locking - JOHN ch8. Vses 12-25

I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Today, as I mentioned a fortnight ago, we start our series on the great “I am” statements made by Jesus.

The 7 well-known “I ams” are all found in the Gospel of John – and in the Bible, remember, 7 is the number of completeness. As Bill said in his talk on the water into wine miracle, Johns Gospel is structured quite differently from the other 3 gospels. To understand why, I think, we can use two short passages – one from the first chapter, read earlier for us by Marion, and one from the last chapter but one. Ch1 vses 10-13 and 18….. and Ch20 vses 30/31.

That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…..

John was selective in the particular stories he recounted – because he wanted his hearers/readers to know that they could make a principled faith decision that Jesus was who he claimed to be.

And it is in this context that the “ I am” passages are included in his Gospel. Remember, his hearers would have been mostly Jews, and would have included a goodly number of Pharisees and other religious leaders…….and they would have known that for Jesus to start a sentence of teaching by saying “I am”, he wasn’t using it in the way we 21st century Brits would say “I am Cliff”. Just an introductory comment. No, to believing Jewish ears, the words “I am” would immediately hark back to the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush in Exodus Ch3 v13/14….when God introduced himself by saying “I am who I am” For Jesus to introduce a statement with the words “I am” he was actually saying he was God and that he spoke the words of God. So please don’t think that the reaction of the Pharisees to Jesus was over-the-top; they genuinely – but misguidedly - believed he was a dangerous revolutionary spouting blasphemy.

But there is another theme running through the I am statements which connects with us in the 21st – and any – century. The statements between them add up to the answers to all the deepest heart questions of the human race EG Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd”. People in the UK in 2019 – and this is VERY topical at present - ask “Is there anyone in authority whose words we can trust to lead us?”. What about “I am the way, the truth and the life”. That is the Jesus answer to the contemporary question “Aren’t all religions the same? Cant I just do a pick-and-mix between them and call myself spiritual?” A 3rd one “I am the door of the sheepfold” connects with one of the biggest anxieties of our constantly buzzing internet age “How can I know real security?”

And Jesus said – and still says – that knowing Him brings with it , by the Holy Spirit coming to live within each one of us, the answers to all of these questions.

Which brings us to todays passage “I am the Light of the World”. What human question is Jesus addressing with this statement. Well, I would suggest it is this one….. “Am I on my own in an impersonal world which cares nothing about who I am or what I face?”

Sooner or later all of us, despite our busy, materialistic and/or hedonistic lifestyles, find we have to face up to these questions as human beings

THE PROMISE… We only need light if there is darkness – it applies in the physical world, it applies in the bitter conflicts we see in and between nations and people groups, it applies in our individual human worlds with their daily dilemmas and decisions. When Jesus came, he saw the INSTITUTIONAL DARKNESS – after all, he was born in a land full of darkness, with a cruel occupying army, a puppet government, and a religious establishment which made peoples lives harder rather than less oppressive. But he also saw the DARKNESS in the lives of the ordinary people - remember he described them as sheep without a shepherd – their spiritual deadness, their failings, the things that haunted them, the lack of freedom, the seeming impossibility of change.. Or, as expressed by the irascible narcissistic weatherman Phil Connors in the film Groundhog Day, as he is forced to live through the same day again and again until he renounces his self-centred lifestyle……..”You want a prediction about the weather? Its going to be cold, its going to be dark, and its going to last you for the rest of your lives”. That quote is from a pivotal part of the film, when “the light dawns” that something has to change – and that thing is him!

Groundhog Day is, of course, just a fable of redemption, but to the real-life Phil Connors of this world, and to all of us, Jesus makes this wonderful promise and offer – whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

Never walk in darkness. Not sometimes, not once in a while, NEVER. Come on, I hear you say, get real! Look I’m not saying that we wont walk through darkness, that we wont know dark times – nor was Jesus saying it if you look at His life path. What He was saying is that at all times, happy or sad, light or dark, we have Gods light and life to guide and comfort us. Primarily, through Gods Holy Spirit, living within every Christian, but also through prayer, through reading the scriptures, through other people – particularly Christians.

And all this imagery of light would have resounded loudly with the people to whom Jesus was speaking, because He was in the temple in Jerusalem, during a religious festival in which large lamps were lit and continually burned..as a commemoration of the Jewish peoples journey long ago from Egypt, through 40years in the desert, through to the Promised Land. And during those 40 years – 40 years of amazing highs and dreadful lows – Gods presence went with them, ahead of them, every day, as a Pillar of Fire. Their Light in a strange and foreign land. The promise that he would never forsake them.

THE QUALIFICATION…. Well, theres always a qualification to any offer, isn’t there? Just look at the TV ads or the leaflets that come unbidden through our doors which promise so much! In these verses of John 8 there’s a qualification as well – it’s a simple one but a profound one. You want light, says Jesus, well its available to WHOEVER FOLLOWS ME. Its not for the undecideds, the don’t knows.

There is a famous quotation from C S Lewis – the Narnia man – but it comes not from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe but from Mere Christianity, the book Lewis wrote about his own reluctant journey to faith. In it he says this -……..

Jesus calls us to follow him, and promises in return to give us light to live by, light to see the world by. And for lots of my life as a Christian, things have been pretty sunny. BUT THEN…….

If I may, let me give you 3 illustrations of the walk of life with the Light of Christ which I’ve found helpful when I’ve been in dark phases. None of them are my originals.

The first is this. It is like when you see a spotlight on an actor on an otherwise dark stage. The spotlight shows enough light for the actor to go forward the next step and be confident – and as he moves, so does the light. But it doesn’t lighten up the whole stage – just as often in our circumstances we cant see the full picture at the time.

The second is this. It’s the miners helmet with a light on it – the miner cant do his job without it, its an integral part of him; without it he cant get to his destination. But he has to CHOOSE to wear it, just as we have to choose to follow Jesus, and live by the light that the Holy Spirit gives, living within us.

The third is the Footprints in the Sand poem……And sometimes we are carried through on the prayers of other Christians. Just because we cant see the Light, doesn’t mean its not there, just as the sun is still there and exercising its lightening and warming effect, even on a cloudy day.

THE CHALLENGE…Matthew 5 v14-16. We’re in the Sermon on the Mount – arguably the core teaching that Jesus gave – kind of the Jesus manifesto – just before the passage in Ch6 where Jesus gives what we now call “The Lords Prayer”. As he embodied THE Light of the World, he now hands the baton on to his disciples……and to us. Phew, that’s an impossible example to follow, I hear you say! Of course it is, if he meant you and me on our own and in our own strength. But note these things – when he said you, he wasn’t speaking to an individual, he was speaking to his disciples…his followers…TOGETHER. Also, he didn’t say “You need to be” or “You better had be” the light of the world – he said YOU ARE. And how are we? By living open lives – out there in our community, known not just as “churchgoers” but as “Jesus people”, and by “our good deeds” ie doing not just saying, walking the walk as much as we talk the talk. And his promise is – much as it astonishes us – that currently not-yet-believing people will be drawn to faith through who we are and what we do.

We live in a time in this country when nothing is stable, all the things and people that ordinary folks relied upon have been found wanting, and where the future seems to be nothing but a huge question mark. What better a time for us to rely on, and introduce people to, the one who is the Light of the World for all humanity, for all time.

Cliff Dumbell - Reader St. Augustine's Locking


 

February 3rd 2019 - 10am St Marys Hutton - JOHN ch8. Vses 12-25

I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Many children don’t like the dark. I was a very frightened child with a very vivid imagination and had to sleep with the bedside table lamp on. It wasn’t until I left home and went to college that I slept in total darkness. Now I love the dark and find it hard to sleep if somebody has left the landing light on and then the cat comes in and leaves the door ajar – leaving the light to stream in. Also being a townie at heart I hate it being in the middle of nowhere where there is no street lighting and you can’t see one foot in front of the other. That’s more of a fear of tripping over something or falling down a step rather than monsters in the dark. Thank goodness for torches in mobile phones now. I guess the dark can be scary, make us feel uneasy and fearful – whereas the light is reassuring and hides nothing. All around the world, darkness is often a metaphor for evil, lostness, and uncertainty. Light is a metaphor for hope, direction, certainty. Not surprisingly, Jesus often used such picture words in his teaching.

Today we are beginning a new sermon series on the 7 'I AM' sayings of Jesus. On this Candlemas Sunday it is apt to be looking at Jesus saying ‘I am the light of the world.’ Let’s begin by looking at the Old Testament background to this.
In using the phrase ‘I am’ Jesus is claiming the name of Yahweh, the word for God in the OT. When God calls Moses to go, this is what is said in Exodus 3:13-15 - Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

So by using I AM Jesus is saying I am God. The Jews thought of the coming Messiah, not only as a new King, but also as God’s light coming into the world. In the Isaiah reading it says ‘I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.’ And in chapter 9 we read ‘the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.’ So Jesus as he begins his ministry quotes Isiah. 9:1-2, ‘the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light … light has dawned’. In fact Jesus quotes this verse as he begins his ministry in Matthew 4. Today is Candlemas when we think of Jesus being taken to the temple and his parents meet Simeon and Anna. Simeon while holding the child Jesus declares ‘For my eyes have seen your salvation … a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people, Israel’. Jesus says I am the light of the world in 2 places – John 8: 12 and also John 9:5. Each one is said in a different context which tell us different things.

In John 8 Jesus is teaching in the Temple on ‘the last day’ of the feast of Tabernacles. On the first day of this feast there was a ceremony called ‘the illumination of the Temple,’ that involved the lighting of four large candelabra by the priests and each person present lighting their own candles. It must have been like a temple carols by candlelight. The Jewish writings from the time tell us that these candles produced so much light that it pierced the darkness of the city of Jerusalem, lightening every street and home. On the last day of the feast there were no lit candles. So when Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’, the temple was in darkness and the city was in darkness. Jesus addresses these words to the hostile Jewish leaders who want to destroy him. Their closed minds he sees as a form of darkness. His hearers react strongly. They say, you are giving false testimony; you are wrong. The Law and the temple are God’s light in the world and we are the custodians. No, says Jesus, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ It is not in the temple or by keeping the Law you will find light and life but by following me, says Jesus. ‘Following me’, means becoming my disciple. In these words Jesus is referring to the end of temple worship and the end of the Jewish law. No wonder the Jewish leaders were very angry and hostile. What was most important to them has been challenged. So the darkness that Jesus is talking about is rules and regulations, going through the motions, refusing to acknowledge that we have it wrong and instead turn to Jesus. They did not want to let go of their way of doing things.

The second time Jesus says, ‘I am the light of the world’ (9:5) are found in the context of the healing of the man born blind. It was an amazing miracle. It involved creating new tissue, nerves and blood vessels, and giving his brain the ability to interpret the variations in light impacting on his cortex. Only God can do this sort of miracle. John’s account of this miracle is a sermon on its own.

So why did Jesus here speak of himself as ‘the light of the world.’ The answer is seen at the end of the account when Jesus calls on the man who has been healed to believe in him. Jesus says to him, ‘I came into this world ‘so that those who do not see may see’ (9:39). The healed man shows that physical and spiritual healing has taken place when he responds, ‘I believe.’ The physical healing was truly amazing – but the spiritual seeing was even more so. When somebody becomes a Christian and decides to follow Jesus it is if they are seeing things in a new way. They see Jesus for who He really is and they see themselves for who they really are. The coming to faith is a gift, as the gift of sight to the blind is a gift. Both can only come from God through Jesus. As we think about Jesus being the light I wonder what darkness we encounter in our own lives, in the lives of those we know and in the world around us. I guess that we see much hopelessness and despair, fear and uncertainty. For some darkness comes in the form of depression and anxiety – people say – I am in a dark place. For others it means that they have lost their way – like being in the pitch dark without a torch. It can mean being without hope and a future. When we look at the nation and the world we see the darkness of hatred and violence, of oppression and persecution, of greed and selfishness. Darkness can be in people who are blinkered, like the Jewish leaders were – they refused to see the way of Jesus and they held tightly to their ways and laws. They were spiritually blind. Being without faith in Jesus is like being in the dark. Also being in the grip of sin and guilt can feel like a dark cloud over us. Or having bad past memories that come to us like the dementors in Harry Potter and come to suck out all the joy in us.

The thing is with darkness – you only need a little light and the darkness is dispelled. Jesus says ‘I am the light of the world.’ We need Jesus like we need light. Jesus is more than somebody who jollies you along and says that things will be OK – he shines his power and light into our lives by the Holy Spirit. He can dispel our darkest darkness – we just have to open the door of our lives and let Him shine His light and His love in. That light is indeed power and love and joy and peace. Light warms us, gives us direction, make us feel warm and loved, it shows up the dust and dirt, it illuminates and helps us see things clearly. If there is any darkness in our lives then ask Jesus to come into that area of your life – it may need you to repent and ask for forgiveness, it may mean be open to change, it may mean saying we are wrong, it also may mean healing from past darkness. Jesus is the light of the world. Be encouraged to pray about the darkness in the world and claim it for Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world – he is our light, he is my light, he is your light. Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking

 


In June / July / August 2018 we had a SERMON SERIES on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

Date Book Title
Sunday 3rd June 2018 Ephesians 1: 1 - 14 Our Spiritual Treasures

Sunday 10th June 2018

Ephesians 1: 15 - 23
The best prayer ever!
Sunday 17th June 2018
Ephesians 2: 1 - 10 Coming alive
Sunday 1st July 2018 Ephesians 2: 11 - 22 No more divisions
Sunday 8th July 2018 Ephesians 3: 1 - 13 A mystery solved
Sunday 15th July 2018 Ephesians 3: 14 - 21 Strengthened in power, rooted in love
Sunday 22nd July 2018 Ephesians 4 1-16 Growing Up
Sunday 29th July Ephesians 4: 17 - 31 Take off your old clothes
Sunday 5th August Ephesians 5: 1 - 21 Keeping out of the dark
Sunday 12th August Ephesians 5: 22 - 33 Being married
Sunday 19th August Ephesians 6: 1 - 9 My family, my work
Sunday 26th August Ehesians 6: 10 - 23 Being in a war zone

 

August 26th 2018 - Ephesians 6 10-23

Today we come to the end of the sermon series based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which we began in June. Now in my previous life as a teacher, two things would happen at the end of a course. The first would be a summing up and the next would be a test on what had been learnt. Old habits do indeed die hard, so here goes.

The series started with the first fourteen verses of Ch 1: Our Spiritual Treasures. And what treasures! Paul reminds the Ephesians and us that ‘In love’ God chose us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In Christ we have redemption though his blood and through Christ we know of God’s plan to bring all things in heaven and on earth together. And for our part we are called to be ‘holy and blameless’ . That doesn’t mean holier than thou or squeaky clean, it means following Christ’s example, which is a different one from the world’s. So as chosen people, loved by God, we have a precious treasures to guide us and to share.

Now the test: do you model the way of Christ in your lives, sharing those treasures and that love with others?

The second focus of the series was Ephesians 1 15-23, entitled The Best Prayer Ever. Paul prays for the Ephesians to know Jesus really well. He prays for wisdom, for revelation, for enlightenment and therefore for power in and through Jesus Christ. And that should be our prayer too, that each one if us comes to know Jesus even better than we do now, through our reading of Scripture, through our prayers, through our relationship with each other and our witness in the world.

Now the test: do you really know Jesus Christ and his power?

The third focus was Ephesians 2 2-10: Coming Alive. In this part of the letter Paul is telling the Ephesians ‘This is how you were; this is how you are now; this is what you will be in the future.’ Through God’s grace, the Ephesian Christians had been saved from their former lives because of grace, through faith. And Paul reminds them and us, ‘we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ We too are made alive in Christ, but not just for ourselves but for others too.

Now the test: do you share your life in Christ and from Christ with the world, to change it?

The fourth focus was Ephesians 2: 11-22: No More Divisions.
Paul writes that all those who believe in Christ should come together, for Christ is our peace and our cornerstone. Christ preached peace to those who were far away and near. In Christ all believers are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his spirit. It is a call for unity, for support and most of all for love of fellow Christians and for those who are still far off.

Now the test: what are you doing in love to eradicate divisions that exist within your life, the life of the church and within society?

The fifth focus was on Ephesians 3: 1-13: A Mystery Solved.
Paul writes about the mystery of faith, the truth known only by divine revelation. Through Jesus this wonderful gift has been made clear, the gift of grace to share the wisdom of God. Even he, Paul, had been chosen. And no matter what hardships that might entail, Paul, the prisoner, encourages his readers to approach God with freedom and confidence.

Now the test: do you trust God enough to go and share this wonderful gift?

The fifth focus was Ephesians 3 14-21: Strengthened in Power, Rooted in Love. I think this is one of the most powerful prayers in Scripture. Paul’s prayer ‘to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’ fills me wonder, awe, amazement and love. It is the essence of our faith, our hope, our joy and our purpose.

Now the test: how have you responded to that prayer and do you pray it for others?

The sixth focus was Ephesians 4 1-16: Time to Grow Up. Paul writes to the new church ‘ Be completely humble and gentle, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ Everyone has a different role to play in the building of the body of Christ and with unity will come maturity, which will mean that ‘speaking the truth in love’ we will all become more like Christ. And though Paul’s letter was to a young church, it is still very relevant for now.

Now the test: do your words, your actions contribute to a mature, united body of Christ?

The seventh focus was Ephesians 4 17-31: Take off your old clothes. Paul tells the Ephesians they must cast off the old, sinful ways of living. The unacceptable ways strike a chord with each one of us here and now and are a salutary checklist. But Paul’s final words of this chapter remind us of God’s mercy: ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’

Now the test: what of your ways do you need to get rid of?

The eight focus was Ephesians 5 1-21: Keeping out of the dark. Paul carries on with the previous theme and urges the Ephesians to be ‘imitators of God’ and to ‘live a life of love’. He warns against immorality and urges the believers, who once were in darkness, to live as children of light. Christians should not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is, always giving thanks.

Now the test: do you live a life of love, always giving thanks to God?

The ninth focus was Ephesians 5 22-33: ‘Being married.’ And the tenth focus was Ephesians 6 1-9 ‘ My family, my work” Paul sums up Ch 5of the letter with the words: ‘each one of you must love his wife and the wife must respect her husband’. In Ch 6 he tells children to obey their parents and tells fathers to bring up the children in the training and instruction of the Lord. As for slaves and masters, they should treat other in the same way as God would want ‘because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does whether he is slave or free.’ Paul was referencing society as it was in that time, emphasising that in all cases all should be behaving towards others in the way that God would want them to do.

Now the test: in your relationships at home and at work, do you treat people as God would, encouraging, caring and respecting them?

I think those tests are hard, not of my making but because of the ways in which they challenge us all in the way we live and in the way we love. The letter is full of love. We can hear Paul’s love for the Ephesians and for all believers. His experiences have taught him that no matter how hard things might be, God wants us to follow the example of his son because he loves us. God has a plan in which believers are part and he wants that plan and love and direction to be shared, because he loves his creation. In this letter Paul tells the Ephesians, tells us, what not to do but he also tells then what to do, why and how. He prays for them in love. And the expectation now and then is that those who hear the letter and read the letter will live in the ways of God, in God’s love.
So the final question is: what are you going to do to respond the challenges raised throughout this letter? And when?

Paul finishes his letter by giving the Ephesians the tools they need to go forward. He uses the image of armour because he knows from experience that the fight against evil or apathy or mistrust is hard. He tells the Ephesians to be strong in the Lord and to put on the full armour of God. Truth is a belt to hold everything together; righteousness (knowing what is right) is a defensive breastplate; ‘the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’ means that feet are ready to move swiftly to give the message; faith is a shield from the arrows of evil; the knowledge of salvation is a helmet for the head, for the brain; and the word of God is a sword in this spiritual fight. And underpinning all of these strategies is prayer, praying in the power of the Holy Spirit, depending on God and on his word. Like any good teacher, Paul gives to those he is encouraging strategies, advice and encouragement and he makes it sound do-able. And the reason he can write as he does is because of his experience of God’s love for creation and of his own experiences in following Jesus Christ.

Hopefully, throughout this sermon series, each one of us will have been challenged by Paul’s words. But that challenge will be nothing if we do not act upon those challenges. So I finish with some of the last words in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him: let this be a prayer for ourselves too

‘Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.’
Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.’

Jane Barry



Locking 10am 12th August 2018 - Ephesians 6: 1- 9 'My family, my work'

This coming Wednesday I become the mother of 2 fully grown up adult children. I am well aware though that this doesn’t mean I hang my hat up and say – job done let them get on with it now. Many of you here have grown up children – some of them are parents themselves. I hear many stories about the trials and tribulations of people with grown up children. I also have the privilege of visiting and getting to know many young couples with very young children. It is really tough being a parent today as the world is such a different place than say 20 even 10 years ago. Once your baby is placed in your arms there is no going back – it’s a 24/7 job for life. I became a mum 2 years after I was ordained. For me being a priest and being a mum were very closely linked. They were both callings – they were both 24/7 jobs – they were more than that – they are what I am not just what I do. They both require very similar gifts and skills – teaching, guiding, being an example, looking after and loving, nurturing and disciplining (very close to the word disciple). Both their aims are to have people who are mature and equipped to go out into the world.

This morning we are thinking about our families and our work. Please don’t switch off if you are not a parent or you are retired or unemployed – Paul’s words apply to everyone. Paul begins by talking to children. We may think that children have a hard time today – broken families, bullying, stress and anxiety, peer pressures, social media problems. But in Paul’s day being a child was horrendous and very dangerous. A Roman father had absolute power over the family and he could do what he liked with his children – they could be sold as slaves, made to work as slaves, even kill them. This didn’t stop when the child became an adult – that father had absolute power over his children for the rest of their lives. We all get very excited when a new baby is born or expected – but in Roman times a baby was placed between the feet of the father – if he picked it up the baby was kept – if he walked away the baby was literally thrown out. Babies that were deformed or sickly were drowned. Babies were left in the Roman forum and people could take them as slaves or for brothels. We think that we live in a throw - away society but the Romans treated children as things to be kept or thrown away like rubbish. So what Paul says – and the effect the Christian faith had on families was revolutionary – and should still be. Paul tells children to obey their parents in the Lord – ‘Honour your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ It’s taken from Deuteronomy 5:16. It is the only one of the ten commandments with a promise. Though I would not say that people who die young have disobeyed their parents. To honour your parents is not just to pay lip service to them – it means showing respect, obeying them and not causing them pain. Billy Graham said ‘A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have respect for anyone.’ It has to start from when a child is a baby – they have to learn to obey and respect. They start saying no and pushing the boundaries very young. Honour and respect should continue right through childhood to when we are adults ourselves.

If we have parents still alive, as their children how do you relate to them? Do you love and care for them, listen to their advice, show them respect? As a church I would love to see us supporting parents more as they bring up their children. Paul uses the term ‘in the Lord’ so he is talking about children who are Christians. Christian families should be modelling a different way from the ways of the world. It is hard when a child is a Christian and the parents not. I would say that the child should still honour the parent but not obey if what they are saying is against their faith – tricky one! Paul then says ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ He repeats this idea in Colossians 3: 21 ‘Fathers do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged.’ Children are a product of their upbringing and of their parents. Fathers have an important role in how children turn out. Maybe if you look at your own life and the sort of person you have become you can see that the root of it is in your childhood. Aristotle said ‘Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” I sort of believe this – but as a Christian I also believe in healing and restoration. As a 7 year old I was a mouse, terrified of people because I had suffered the loss of my father and abuse by a male family member. On paper my future looked very bleak – but God had his hand on me and He did wonders and brought healing and redemption – and here I am today. Fathers can do so much damage to their children – criticism, unkind words (you’ll never be any good, you’re ugly, you’re stupid), cruel actions, violence, foul language, lack of love – no hugs, never I’m proud of you and certainly never ‘I love you son or daughter. Or maybe the father just isn’t there – always working (that’s the next subject) or has died (like mine did). If you are a father think about how you have dealt with your children – how are you relating to them now? Do you need to say sorry, do you need to ask Jesus to change your heart? Have you put your children down, discouraged them, stopped them becoming the person that God made them to be? Have you not been an imitator of God and shown the love of Jesus to your children? There is no such thing as a perfect parent but I believe there is such a thing as a bad parent.

Many young parents today really struggle with needing to work and wanting to spend time with their children. It’s a tough one. Paul goes on to talk to slaves and masters. In our context we need to think about employees and employers (yet there is still hidden slavery in our land). In Roman law a slave was not a person but a thing – no better than an animal. The master could do with slave as he pleased – his life and death were in the master’s hands. Paul does not tell them to rebel but he tells them to be a Christian where they are. This applies to whether you are in paid employment, doing voluntary work, looking after the grandchildren, being a stay at home mum, serving the church – it all counts. Our attitude to those we work for should be one of obedience and respect – again tough if the person you work for is not a Christian and treats you badly. We are to be there to imitate Jesus and be a light in those work places. We are to be different. Also our attitude to our work and what we do in the week should be different. We are not to be lazy and try to get away with not pulling our weight. Instead all that we do in life that can be regarded as work – from the ironing to being a nurse, from cleaning the toilets from running the country – should be done as if we are doing it for Jesus. In a book called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence he says “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” My Bishop told me to read this book when I had a very cold and boring job at Tesco’s. I learned to use the idea that all I was doing was for the glory of God and as if it was for him. It was an opportunity to pray for the customers and the staff. In the week as Christians, wherever we are, we are to reflect something of the love and goodness of God. If we truly believe that Jesus comes with us – wherever we go and in whatever we are doing – that will transform how we view the work and will allow God to work through us. The word to those who employ or oversee people is that you should treat them well and remember that you are also serving God. You too are to me imitators of God in how you deal with people.

This is all such important teaching as if you think about the majority of our day is spent working in some way and in relating to those in our family. We need to get these 2 areas of our lives right and allow Jesus through His spirit to work in and through us in them. Going back to chapter 4 we are to live as children of light in the workplace and in the home. In our prayers later there will be opportunity to respond to the things we have heard. Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

Hutton 10am 19th August 2018 Ephesians 6: 1- 9 'My family, my work'

As a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, it was a frequent occurrence to hear the angry tones of the mother next door shout “I’ll tell your father of you when he gets home!” to her children, who were a similar age to myself. I don’t believe she ever did, and whatever the issue was, that caused the frequent shouting matches, usually blew over as quickly as it had arisen. This was sad, my mum used to say to me “There she goes again”. I’m so glad that my home wasn’t like that. Sure, mine wasn’t a perfect home – I don’t think the “Perfect home” exists – my mum had had a hard time for the first five years of my life: she was unmarried, I was a surviving twin and we lived with my grandmother, who ran a boarding house, in Weston. Mum then met and married my dad, who had been previously diagnosed back in the war (second, not first!) with having a rare form of muscular dystrophy. I loved my mum and there was a strong bond between us, I think coming from the fact that we shared the same bedroom till I was almost 6 and she was only 20 when I was born, so not that much age difference. It was easy to obey my parents: dad was mainly out working until he retired early due to ill health, by which time I was busy at secondary school, so a lot of the time, it was mum and I, until my brother was born when I was coming up to 11.

As a teenager, I made a commitment to Jesus when I was 15 and sometime soon after that, read the verse from Luke 22: 27, where Jesus says that “I am among you as one who serves.” This is the decision that I took for myself to put into practice as a growing Christian, so as my parents were Christians as well, it wasn’t a problem to obey them, as they followed Paul’s next instruction (probably without knowing it) not to exasperate their children. It was a mostly happy household in my teenage years and early twenties.

Last week, you heard Jenny preach about the relationship between wives and husbands, this week, Paul continues his teaching on relationships and writes about children and parents, followed by slaves and masters, so he is looking at home life and work life. This passage, which we heard read to us today, is a continuation of that which was started at chapter 4 at verse 17 entitled “Living as children of the light”, where Paul addresses the individual and their walk with Jesus and how they should now live, how they should relate to those other believers in the church, the body of Christ here on earth, how they should relate to their spouses and now, how children and parents should relate to each other. Finally, Paul talks about the relationship between slaves and masters.

I have spoken briefly about my home life, but things though were totally different in Paul’s time. Roman fathers had absolute rule over their children. Barclay, in his commentary, writes that the Roman father had absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves, he could make them work in his fields even in chains, he could take the law into his own hands and punish as he liked. He could even inflict the death penalty on his child. This rule of the Roman father over his child lasted for the child’s whole life. The child never came of age. Not only that, but there was the custom of child exposure, where the new born child was placed at the feet of the father. If the father stooped and lifted up the child, this meant that the father acknowledged the child and wished it to be kept. If he turned and walked away, it meant that the child was not wanted and could literally be thrown out. Unwanted children were commonly left in the Roman forum, which was like the town’s main square, a meeting point for people and tradesmen; there they became the property of anyone who cared to pick them up. They were collected at night, brought up and then sold as slaves, or to stock the brothels in Rome. Barclay goes on to say that should a child be sickly or deformed, then, quoting Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher and later advisor to Emperor Nero, who wrote about the seemingly common practice of “we slaughter a fierce ox; we strangle a mad dog; we plunge the knife into sickly cattle, lest they taint the heard: children who are born weakly and deformed, we drown”, so the weak or deformed child had little hope of survival.

Into all this, Paul writes about a completely new way of relating to one another, a Christ-centred way, a way which those who have accepted Jesus as their saviour from sin and death and who is now Lord of their lives, should live. This is a totally different way of relating to one-another and turns the world’s way on its head. It is totally different to the Roman way, and reinforces what Paul has written earlier on, in ch 5: 1 – 2 “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” We are not to follow the ways of the world, but copy God because we are dearly loved. So here is the difference: love. The love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit permeating our lives, making us more like Jesus, as Paul writes in Romans 12: 2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And this will have the effect of changing our heart of stone into a heart of flesh, as the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel wrote in Ch 36: 26. Why does God want to change us? Matthew, in his gospel, Ch 5:16 puts it succinctly: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”, so that the love we have received from God, through the forgiveness of our sins, which was accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross, is now shown in obeying our parents and as parents who similarly know God’s love, showing this love by not exasperating their children and also by bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

This brings me onto the next part of the reading: the relationship between slaves and masters. My first question I want to ask is “Is this passage from Ephesians, written by Paul nearly 2000 years ago relevant in today’s society?” to which I would answer an emphatic “Yes!” There might not be the obvious slavery and the culture that went with it today, as in Paul’s time, but we still work and have managers over us, to whom we are responsible. This is followed by a second question “Is this passage from Ephesians, written nearly 2000 years ago relevant to St Mary’s church and the people sitting in the pews and the choir stalls here today?” again, I would answer an emphatic “Yes!”, but I hear you think “I’m retired and gave up paid employment years ago!”. That might be true, but it all goes back to how the word “Work” is defined. Here is a definition: “work is activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result.” And how would Paul like us to work? Ephesians 6: 7 “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.” Serve wholeheartedly. I find that there is nothing worse than something done slapdash or with a bad grace “If I make a bad job of this, I won’t be asked to do it again!” “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.” How does this relate to us here? Welcomers – how do you welcome people and hand them their books? I would hope wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. Choir, how do you sing? I would hope wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. Bill, and thank you for being here today covering for Eric, how do you play the organ and lead the worship? I would hope wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. Readers, how do you read the lessons? I would hope wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. Churchwardens, John and Mary, how do you carry out your wardens’ duties? I would hope wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. Geoff, how do you lead the service and celebrate Holy Communion? I would hope wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. Ladies, how do you serve teas and coffees after the service? I would hope wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. All of us: how do we live our lives? How do we talk to others? How do we bless people and say thank you? How do we share our faith? How do we visit the sick, care for the needy, support the orphan and widow? How do we pray for those in need? How do we work at anything in our lives? I would hope wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.

Let’s hear again what Paul writes in this passage about slaves and masters:

Ephesians 6: V5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

V9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.

I want to spend a few moments now waiting on the Holy Spirit. Maybe there are some things I have spoken about that you would like to have time to reflect upon: maybe as a child, you didn’t obey your parents and want to say sorry, that even though they have died, God, in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit can and will forgive you. Maybe as pareSnts, you exasperated your children, and want to ask God’s forgiveness for this. Perhaps as a past employee, there are things you would like to say sorry for, or as an employer, you feel you could have done better with the people under you. I don’t know, but God does.

So we pray “Come Holy Spirit”

We come to God as one from whom no secrets are hidden, to ask for his forgiveness and peace. (New patterns of worship B26 page 80)
May the Father forgive us by the death of his Son and strengthen us to live in the power of the Spirit all our days. Amen.
(New patterns of worship B77 page 96)

Chris Wilkins


 

12th August 2018 - Ephesians 5: 22 - 33 'Being married'

So we have arrived at this passage in Ephesians as we go through the book, and I will admit that it's not one that I would have chosen to preach on. Why? Because it's probably one of the least culturally acceptable statements in the Bible. Which one do I, mean?
Verse 22 Wives submit to your husbands. This was included in the 1662 prayer book marriage service as “I take thee to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth". It will be familiar to many of you and maybe the promise "to obey" was a question for you?

The bit to 'obey' has now quite definitely been ditched and rejected as being culturally unacceptable by the great majority, and for the hundreds of couples I have married over the years, a small handful stayed with the original but I suspect that there were probably some others who would have included it, but fearful of the reaction from friends. You may be interested to know that a revised prayer book was issued in 1928 which left out 'obey' but that book was not accepted as a replacement for the original. But why the fuss? Is Paul simply being culturally persuaded here by the position women had in society at the time? That is certainly the view of some, but it is not my view. So where do we go from here?

Before we explore the rest of the scripture, because there is always a context, let me ask you if you remember in the marriage service - what did the man promise his wife to do? We have the same lead in ”for better for worse” etc then .... to love, cherish and WORSHIP. When our chief aim as Christians is to worship God, I can't help feeling that promising to worship our wives is just, if not more demanding
than to obey. This is actually an important point because Paul I believe, is making the same kind of comparison.

Verse 22 continues ... submit to your husbands .... as to the Lord.
Verse 25 husbands love your wives ... as Christ loved the church
Verse 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands
Verse 28. In this same way (i.e. Christ sacrificing himself for the church) husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.
Verse 32 This is a profound mystery, I am talking about Christ and the church.

Remember, the church is the bride of Christ, and the sentiments being expressed by Paul here are spiritual statements of perfection, of how God would like it to be. For God, human marriage is on the same level with the same principles. This is not a culturally sensitive statement by Paul it emanates directly from how God sees a relationship working well. By the way, if we want to be picky, nowhere in the text does it say that the wife is to love her husband, whereas he is told twice, and that kind of love is allied in v 25-27 with Christ sacrificing himself for the church.

The bigger context of this is the message of Jesus and especially in the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. The theme is one of renewal, of each of us needing to be renewed in our attitudes, relationships and particularly in our understanding of God and his love for us in sending Jesus. What at first sight appears to be a rather demanding outline of how husband and wife are to be with one another, merely highlights God's standard of love, obedience, submission, respect and leadership. It is a relationship of perfect love, as shown by Jesus. The reality is, That the standard is beyond us; either in our physical or spiritual lives. We fail, and it seems to me that as a society we have moved away from simply ignoring any acknowledgment of what God offers as guidance, toward outright rejection of it. Rejecting the word obey (Or submission) in the marriage service is just an illustration of that development.

A young couple were preparing for marriage and were asked to fill in a questionnaire. The young man reached the last one which asked
....... are you entering this marriage of your own free will? He glanced at his fiancee. She said "Write down Yes"

What I want to try and achieve with this line of thought is to increase our confidence in the Bible. If we look at this passage and think ‘I could never show that to a modern young lady and hope that she might embrace the Gospel', then we begin by being apologetic and feeling we have to excuse some bits in Scripture that our modern culture has rejected as old fashioned. Our inability to explain something doesn't automatically mean that there isn't an answer. What we can try to do is to step outside of both our culture and the culture when it was
written, and see that Paul is pointing to a basic truth concerning our marriage relationships in particular and relationships in general. In effect, he is writing to this new church, as he was also doing in his other letters, notably to the Colossians, and setting out rules for living as disciples of Christ.

If it were possible to live according to these guidelines it would remove at a stroke all cynicism and scepticism, disillusionment and disappointment and much else besides. Our fallen world is a long way from attaining or indeed wanting that fo themselves. But that shouldn't reduce our trust in what the Bible says.

Now in reading that passage from Ephesians you have to concentrate, because Paul, in drawing a direct comparison about relationships between our selves on the one hand, and our relationship as the church to God on the other, he wavers from one to the other and sometimes you need to read it twice to make sure which one he is referring to. We have already seen examples of this but one sequence especially illustrates the point:- Read verses 31-33. Paul's thinking it seems just cannot separate the two. Christ and the Church or marriage relationship. They are one and the same.

Let’s take an example from nature to illustrate just how close the comparison is between the two. You will all be familiar with lichen. It grows on trees or rocks and can look very beautiful indeed. What lichen actually is, is a combination of two different forms of plant life ... algae and fungus. Algae is capable of producing chlorophyll, whereas fungus cannot. They grow and depend on each other for survival. It's called symbiosis and it strikes me that our relationships, principally in marriage, are so tied up with and dependant upon the relationship between us, the church, and Christ.

As Christians we do need goals/standards/ guidelines and one of those can be to be prepared for how it's going to be in heaven. Christ the groom is preparing the church, the bride and will one day come and take her to be united with him for ever. Then we will see the perfection of this marriage relationship with Christ as the head.This idea of headship as is in Verse 25 primarily a duty of love.

That is the model of Christ's love for us, an agape love which is totally unselfish and strives for the one who is loved, and led him to die for us.This is the model of a husband for his wife. Picking up again the word submission as a duty of the wife, Christ has shown his
love for us the church by coming here and submitting to death. Given that example, we should have no problem in understanding our role as submissive to Him and so also wives should be submissive. The problem with the word submission is simply because the imperfections of mans love are all too apparent. Christ is perfect, man is not. Christ deserves our submission to Him because his love is perfect. Human males do not compare and therefore the word submission grates. But the principle which is God given still holds.

At the beginning of the current wedding service it reads ‘Marriage is given that as husband and wife grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the church'. It is, in a sense, aiming for the impossible, and as a result words like submission and headship seem unattractive to the modern ear. But acknowledging failure does not mean that the principle is wrong.

Rev Geoff Hobden


 

5th August 2018 - Ephesians 5: 1 - 21 'Keeping out of the dark'

Last week we were thinking about taking off our old clothes and putting on the new clothes of a new life that Jesus was giving us. Because at the beginning of this week’s reading we have one more item of clothing to remove let’s do a resume of the other ones. Paul talked about taking off lies and putting on the truth, taking off outbursts of rage and anger in response to injured pride, revenge and spite and instead putting on righteous anger in the face of evil. He says about taking off stealing and putting on working so that we can give to those in need. Take off using your mouth for evil – to take off any unwholesome talk or words that come from it – but instead put on using our words to build up and encourage. And finally to take off being unkind, bitter or hostile and to put on kindness and forgiveness. Paul says that all these old rotten clothes bring disunity in the body of Christ and all the new clothes bring unity and love. We need to remove all these old rotten smelly garments that are part of our old selves.

So the reading today begins ‘Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love.’ I wonder who you imitate. All parents will know the moment when their children say something or do something or you see a mannerism and you think oh my goodness that is me – I use words like that, I wave my hands like that, I react like that to a situation. It might be something good in you that they have copied – or it might be something not so good and you would rather they had not copied. The person we should model our lives on is Jesus – ‘just as Christ loved us’ Paul writes. Do we live a life of love I wonder? If we compare our lives to that of Jesus then we are very lacking. Years ago young people used to wear bracelets with WWJD on them – which meant what would Jesus do? It’s a good question that we should ask ourselves every day – what would Jesus do, how would he respond, what would he say, how would he love? If we are children of the Father then we are to act like His children and we have the Son as our example. Paul says that Jesus ‘gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ The idea of a fragrant offering was very familiar to the Jewish people as the odour of the sacrifice was seen to be pleasing to God. Paul uses this idea to talk about the sacrifice of Jesus being pleasing to God. His sacrifice was complete obedience to God and complete love shown to humans.

Often though our lives exude a bad smell. When I go home from church I can often smell the perfume of ladies who I have given a hug to. In the same way a bad smell can rub off onto us if people are unkind, cruel, gossiping, critical in our hearing. But if we are acting like Jesus then the smell will be sweet – sweet to God and to others – and will attract others to us. So going back to taking off old clothes – Paul goes on to talk about removing sexual immorality, impurity, greed. Saying that these have no room with God’s people who should be holy. He goes from talking about self- sacrifice to talking about self-indulgence. From talking about godly love to lust and greed. He goes on to say there should be no obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking. But rather thanksgiving. Today we think that we live in a permissive society but the ancient world regarded sexual immortality lightly and as normal. It was expected that men would have mistresses, temples were full of priestesses who were sacred prostitutes – whose profits were used to build temples. Paul forbids the Christians to even talk about such things. Let’s be honest we live in an equally permissive society – people’s immortality is plastered all over the tabloid newspapers, on social media, on the news even. Plays, films and books are full of men and women behaving badly – just look at the success of the ‘50 shades of grey’ films and books – I haven’t read any by the way! Programmes like Love Island draw in millions of people in the hope of some juicy scandal or worse. Internet porn is a major problem with all ages – not just the young. I ask you – what do you need to throw out of your life that is not holy? What do you need to get rid of that you read, watch, talk about or think about? Rather than all this we need to be people who are full of thanksgiving to God for the good things he has given us in body, mind and spirit. Paul calls us to unity and purity in the church . What we are, what we believe and how we behave should not be separated. For what we are (God’s children, saved by Jesus) governs what we think and how we think governs how we act. There should be no chasm between our Christian faith and our private lives. If there is then we are living a lie and being hypocrites and making a mockery of God. No such person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. There will be judgment for those who give themselves up to a life of immortality and who do not repent.

We now go onto Paul’s next theme and idea – keep out of the dark. These last few weeks we have been told – keep out of the sun – because it will do you harm and will burn you. But Paul says ‘For you were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.’ Notice Paul doesn’t say people are in the dark – but we were once darkness but are now light in the Lord. So what does he mean by being light. 1. It produces the good fruit of goodness, righteousness and truth. It is about having a life that shines with all that is good and right and true. To live in the light is to live a transparent life with nothing to hide. The light of Christ when it comes into contact with darkness with show up hidden things. Just the presence of a Christian in a family or business or group will make a difference. We don’t have to go round pointing the finger – the light of Christ in us will do it’s work. 2. We need to be careful how we live and be wise. In some versions it says – be careful how you walk or how you behave. How we behave must not be how the world behaves or what our desires tells us to do – instead it must be worthy of God’s call on our life. We need to take care how we walk as there are trip hazards everywhere. The other week I walked into a barrier at the Tate Modern because I wasn’t paying attention. We trip and fall because we are not focusing on Jesus. In my life I have witnessed some diabolical behaviour in churches – diabolical because it is of the devil who wants to wreck and divide Christians and churches. We are to be wise – making the best of our time because the days are evil. Somebody once advertised ‘ Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with 60 diamond minutes. No reward offered, for they are gone for ever. Use you time well it is priceless.

Wise people discern God’s will – we all know God’s general will – to make us like Jesus. But each of us needs to discern God’s will for our own lives – we need wisdom. Finally fill your life with good things – not wine and getting drink – but be filled with the Holy Spirit. Speak good words – from the Bible, singing hymns and songs. Be a thankful person – half glass full not half empty. Give thanks for everything and make it a godly habit. Keeping in the light requires a decision – to follow Christ or not – to allow him to lead and direct your life or not. To put God’s ways in place rather than your own wants and desires. It is a choice that we must make every day – and if we do then we will slowly but surely be changed into new people.

Let us pray….
Lord help me to take off my old self – which is like old rotten garments and instead put on Jesus. Lord help me take off impurity and anything that isn’t holy. May our lives be as a sweet fragrance. Lord help me to not just live in the light but to be light – may I live my life wisely – using every moment to the full, may we seek you will for our lives each day, may we be thankful for everything and be ready to worship you in praise and thanksgiving rather than be seeing what we don’t have and grumbling. Lord purify my mind, change my heart and may I use my body to serve you. In Jesus name. Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

29th July 2018 - Ephesians 4: 17 – 31 'Take off your old clothes'

I must admit that while I am well into middle age I still like fashion. It always amuses me that if you keep something long enough it will be the height of fashion again. Vintage shops are full of the stuff of my child and teenage years – some of it is really gruesome! Tom and I were in Oxford Street last week and it is clear that this winter the in - colour is mustard yellow and the patterns are all tartans – so get out your trews and your kilts and you will be well away!

This week Paul is using the image of clothes to talk about the Christian life. It is a great image because it is something we all need and which we do every day – take off clothes and put them on. It doesn’t matter if you grab the first thing in the drawer or you take your time choosing what you think will look good. Paul begins very strongly – ‘I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.’ This he says is the old life, this is what our former life was like – and which we are to remove like old clothes. So what is this old life like – these old clothes that we must remove? He says that the root of the problem is their hearts in that they have become petrified like stone. The word that is used is a medical word – porosis – and is used to describe stone that has formed in joints which gives paralysis or a callus that has developed after a bone has been re-set – it is tougher than the bone. The idea is that there is a loss of sensation and feeling towards other people, towards God and in relation to their behavior – they have lost any sense of conscience and of right from wrong. And in so doing are involved in a whole manner of impure and immoral things. The result also of a hardened heart is that their minds are empty – their thinking is futile, their minds are darkened, they are ignorant and know nothing of God’s ways. So the process is a hard heart – a darkened mind – a dead soul (separate from the life of God) which leads to a reckless life.

This sort of description brings to mind people involved in gangs, of drug dealers, terrorists, those who traffic young women into slavery, those who commit atrocious crimes with no feeling or thought as to other people. This is all relevant to such people – but that does not let us off the hook. Don’t be smug thinking that you don’t have an old life to remove and leave behind. We too can have hard hearts and be unloving and uncaring towards others, we too can be ignorant of the ways of God, we too are drawn to the wrongs things and are corrupted by our own deceitful desires. Let’s face it – would you want everything you have ever thought or felt or done published in a book for all to read? I rest my case. Paul says that as Christians we are to be different – really different – we are to live a life worthy of the calling of God on it. We are not to have empty minds but minds that have learned Christ, (Come to know Christ) heard him, been taught in him and who know the truth. We often think that conversion, becoming a Christian begins in the heart – but it begins in the mind. Romans 12:2 sums this up brilliantly ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ Paul says in Ephesians ‘To be made new in the attitude of your minds.’ So we need to know and learn about Jesus and his truths and ways.

This September we are having a start course which will look at the big questions of life – it’s an opportunity to renew your mind. So as Christians we are to take off the old self which is like a rotten garment and put on clean clothing. I bet in this hot weather you have been changing your clothes more often – imagine never changing them for a week or a month – or never – you would stink. Do we ever emit the odour of our old lives? We are to be an example of the new humanity of Jesus – to be recreated in God’s image. Colossians 3: 9,10 ‘Since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.’ Becoming a Christian involves repentance and conversion – repentance is what we do – we turn away from the old life, the old corrupt us. Conversion and re-creation – is what God does. Paul now gives us 6 ways that we are to live our new lives. They are all concerned with the relationships that we have with each other in that they bring harmony and unity. For each one there is a take off – remove item and then a put on item. And usually a reason for doing so. 1. Verse 25 – remove lies – put on truth. For Paul lies would probably have meant idols and for truth he would have meant Jesus. We are to shun anything that we worship that is not God – for that is falsehood. We are to be people of the truth – John Stott - ‘The followers of Jesus (in whom there is truth) should be known in their community as honest, reliable people whose word can be trusted. Why – because we are members of one body. Telling lies in church (or at all) is like stabbing that body in the back. 2. Take off losing your temper – put on righteous godly anger. It is not wrong as a Christian to be angry at the injustices you see or the unfairness in the world, or in the face of evil.

Last week we went to the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. This evil event thrived on lies, hatred and silence. Bonheoffer wrote: ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Righteous anger in the face of evil is a godly anger. Yet the anger we are to remove is anger that comes from injured pride, spite, malice, revenge, hatred. When anger is nursed it becomes a monster indeed. Deal with it and don’t let it fester – it will harm you and not the one it’s directed towards. Why? Because the devil hangs around angry people – when we are angry we justify our behaviour and we don’t think straight – and it causes untold harm. 3. Take off stealing – put on useful work. Stealing can be many things – tax evasion, being lazy at work, cheating on what someone deserves. Why? Because we are meant to be givers not takers – to be helping those in need not lining our own pockets. 4. Take off unwholesome talk – put on building up others with your words at their point of need. Use your mouth for good and not evil. Sadly in my experience this is the one that churches need to work on the most. It is one of the things that causes the most damage to the church and to its mission. If people outside the church hear a church member slagging somebody off, gossiping, spreading lies, criticising someone – then the devil is dancing for joy. Brothers and sisters we are meant to be different – we need to understand that being a Christian is not just about going to church but about a life that has been transformed and renewed By Jesus – and that includes what comes out of our mouths.

The word Paul uses for unwholesome is evil and is used about rotten trees and fruit. How often does evil come out of our mouths? So why should this be? Because if we persist in these things we are grieving the Holy Spirit. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit is a person who can be grieved by our unholiness and our disunity – for all these things attack the unity of the church. Our speech needs to build others up, encourage them, Proverbs 12: 18 ‘Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.’ 5. Take off unkindness – bitterness – having a sour spirit, rage and anger (outward hostility and explosive outbursts or passive aggression – the silent approach),brawling – slanging matches, slander – speaking ill of another behind their backs, malice – plotting evil against someone. Instead put on kindness– the word for kind is chrestos – ironic as it sounds like Christos – Christ – put on Jesus. Put on compassion – be tender-hearted – not having a heart of stone, be forgiving as Christ has forgiven you. So I ask you as I ask myself – how are you dressed today – in the filthy disgusting rags of your old self – or are you clothed in the new man or woman that Christ wants to clothe you with? If you know your clothes are dirty – make a conscious decision to remove them – you may love them because you have had them for ages – bad habits, ways of thinking, ways of speaking, a critical spirit, an addiction, pride, hidden bitterness or even hatred. Then take it off – get rid of it for good – and become the person that Christ wants you to become. Silence…..

Lies, temper, stealing, unwholesome talk, unkindness

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking



July 22nd 2018 - Ephesians 4: 1-16 'Growing Up'

Our grandson, William, finished his primary school years on Friday. There is a photo of him at 4, standing outside the house in his new uniform with his thumbs up, all excited about going to his new school. The photos from show a relaxed boy with his friends, happy and confident, looking forward to the summer holidays and the future. How he has grown in so many ways. But we all know that he still has a lot of growing up to do in all sorts of other ways, along with the thousands of children who are leaving school their primary schools at this time of year. about They will all need help, guidance, perameters, challenges and a great deal of patience to help them achieve their potential and become useful members of society. And most of all, they will need love, a love that values them, nurtures them and encourages them throughout their journey.

And that applies to us all, doesn’t it? Life is a process of growing up. When did you feel that you had ‘ grown up’? I remember voting for this first time on my 18th birthday and feeling very grown up. I also remember once thinking I’d grown up when I looked out of the window on a sunny day and thought ‘It’s a good day for drying the washing’! Actually, what does ‘growing up’ mean? Does it merely mean achieving our full height or does it mean reaching a point at which we cannot improve/achieve/grow any more. Does it mean a time when we have taken on full responsibility for ourselves? Is it a time when we have learnt all we need to know and can consider ourselves complete?

This challenge about growth is the one that Paul is presenting to the new Christians in his letter. He is also presenting it to all Christians, to all churches now. ‘ I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’ First of all he reminds the church about the need for unity. This unity of which Paul wrote is not one which the Christian needs to create, but one which already exists and must be diligently preserved ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ It is based upon our sharing life in one body, the universal church. That is the universal truth for all Christian denominations, all forms of Christian worship, all types of services. And that unity must be preserved by Christians: ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ The love which we have for one another should prompt us to put up with the eccentricities of our fellow-Christians. Or as a commentator put it, “lovingly putting up with all that is disagreeable in other people.” And I would add “just as they put up with you”

Of course, unity does not imply uniformity. It does not mean that all Christians will think alike or perform identical ministries. It does imply a common purpose and interdependence within the body of Christ. To every individual within the body of Christ is given a particular capacity for ministry, the outcome of which is of spiritual benefit to the body of Christ. Paul writes about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who work ‘to prepare God’s people for the work of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ ‘The whole measure of the fullness of Christ! That means that we, each one of us and each church, reaches the maturity of the perfectly balanced character of Jesus Christ himself. That is very highest standard and one that none of us will ever achieve. But it doesn’t stop anyone of us striving to get there or as near as we can and it certainly doesn’t stop us working in unity to help each other in God’s service. The responsibility for this work doesn’t lie just with the ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers’, it lies with us all. We all have a role in the unity of the church. Paul was telling the new Christians that and it is a message we should take to our hearts also.

This ultimate measure of maturity is followed by another measure. In v14 Paul writes, ‘Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.’ If we are truly grounded in knowledge of the scriptures, in Jesus’ teachings and in unity, we will be stable. The image of wave tossed boat would have been very familiar to Paul’s listeners and indeed it rings true today with the news that 16 people were lost in a boating disaster in the US on Friday. And ‘Deceitful scheming’ has been with us all since that snake in Eden. We have to be aware, be armed against things that can divert us from Jesus’ love and power. Paul had written about unity in Ch2 of Ephesians: ‘And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit’. Coming together, unity, was vital for this new church with the coming together of Jew and Gentile. In Ch4 Paul is urging them to look out for the attacks that are going to come from outside. We too have to be aware of those attacks to our unity. And that threat does not always come from outside the church. It comes from within the church, both globally, nationally and locally. As Tom Wright writes: ‘Unless we are working to maintain, defend and develop the unity we already enjoy and to overcome, demolish and put behind us the disunity we still find ourselves in, we can scarcely claim to be following Paul’s teachings.’

So we must grow up. We must become mature, as human beings and as Christians. And we must not rest until we attain it. As Paul writes ‘Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.’

So what do our churches here in Hutton and Locking need to grow towards maturity and unity? Do we fully realise and utilise the gifts that God has given us enable this to take place? And are we aware of the how disunity occurs and how we can overcome it? Well, as a start, last week, Anne reminded us that next Sunday is a fifth Sunday and so there is a joint morning service, this time in Locking. We should all be there. There is no excuse about transport: many people drive to church anyway and if you need a lift, ask me at the end of the service and one will be organised. And it is not a ‘Sunday off’. It is a time for Christians to come together in unity to worship God and to share fellowship.
And there’s the Tent service on September 2nd. Everyone should be there. It’s a service that’s attended by people who don’t often come to church: let’s show them our numbers, our unity, our welcome. You know, I bet we don’t have any trouble filling Hutton church on Sept 30th when Bishop Ruth comes: it would be good to see those numbers every Sunday, just for God. We need to be unified, with each other and with all members of our church communities such as Messy Church, Holiday Club, Hutton and Locking Schools, the uniformed groups. We must reach out together to all parts of the benefice and beyond to show our unity as the body of Christ and to share his love. How much this world, this country needs unity today.

We can also ask ourselves what gifts we have been given both as churches and individuals and ask whether we use them to help each other in maturing as Christians. Are we called to pray for others? If so, how can we spread prayer and the knowledge of that prayer? Can we come alongside others in their times of need and joy? If so, how can that be achieved? We all have gifts: don’t hide them! And if you feel that someone has a gift that isn’t being realised for some reasons, encourage them. Like William and all our young people, we, even at our advanced ages, have to keep on growing and maturing as Christians, as part of the body of Christ.

And like William and all our young people, we all need love, encouragement and unity to help us achieve our best. Paul was writing to a very young church as it set out on its journey; in relative terms it is still young and has a long way to go. So let us commit ourselves once again to our part in ‘speaking the truth in love’ so that we will be united in faith, in mission and will make every effort to keep ‘the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace’

Jane Barry



July 8th 2018 - Ephesians 3: 1 - 13 'A mystery solved'

Last week when we were on holiday Chris and I visited 4 national trust properties – one of these was Greenway – the summer home of Agatha Christie. It was an amazing place to visit. We went down to the boathouse where the murder of Marlene in Dead Man’s Folly took place. I must admit I have never read any Agatha Christie murder mysteries but I have read a few P.D James. Though I intend to read at least one Agatha Christie over the summer. Do you like a good murder mystery – Poirot or Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes? Well today’s sermon is called a mystery solved – but it’s not a murder mystery but something not fictional or made up but something real and based on historical fact.

Here we have Paul a prisoner in Rome chained to a Roman soldier day and night. He was a prisoner of the Roman government but Paul never thought of himself as that – instead he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus. His whole perception of the situation that he was in, was determined by his faith – not poor old me, how awful this is – but no, in this situation I am doing something for Jesus. It is amazing that he is able to write this inspiring and uplifting letter. Paul is an example of focusing on Jesus and others when we are in dire straits. When we suffer because of our faith we are not victims but champions of Christ. In this letter Paul is talking about the great revelation that came to him of the great secret of God. As we know it was a dramatic revelation when Paul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and in an instant Paul the murderer of Christians became a follower of Christ himself. It must have been a totally amazing experience for Paul and it turned his life upside down and inside out. To me it shows that nobody is beyond the grace of God. In fact in verse 2 he uses the words grace ‘the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you.’ The word for grace is charis and it means gift – something amazing being given to you that you haven’t earned or that you deserve at all. Paul knew his past and his attitude to Jesus and he was aware of the great kindness and mercy of God towards him. He knew that he was a follower of Jesus not because of anything good in him or a choice he had made – no – it was purely and simply because God had intervened in his life and had given him this truly wonderful gift of new life and becoming a new person. It is a challenge to us when we think that it is us who has chosen Jesus and that it is us who made the first move and that somehow we are good enough to be Christians. But no it is never about us – it was God in Jesus who made the first move, who chose us and who enabled us to choose Jesus. All that we are and have and are becoming now and in eternity is all a free gift. In John 15: 16 Jesus says ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit -fruit that will last -and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.’

So Paul knew that he has been given an amazing gift. But that gift he says was given to me for you. When you are given a gift you usually keep it to yourself. But here Paul knew that the gift must be shared. And that gift he says is a mystery but it one that has been uncovered. That mystery was that the good news of Jesus was not just for the Jews, for Israel, but is for the Gentiles. And if you are not a Jew then this mystery is all about you and me. Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles. The Lord said to Ananias about Paul ‘This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.’ In the ancient world nobody thought that God’s gifts and privileges were for all people. This was totally revolutionary and something that we need to remember as Gentile Christians. If it wasn’t for Paul maybe the Gentiles (us) would never have heard the good news. You would think that being given this special mission he would be all proud and full of his own self – importance. Yet he is humble and sees his task not as a burden but as a privilege. He sees himself as a servant of the gospel given to him and says in verse 8 ‘I am less than the least of all God’s people.’ So we have been given something wonderful that we are not to keep to ourselves – never ever in the Bible is there any mention or indication of a private faith. People sometimes say to me ‘My faith is just between me and God – I don’t like to talk about it.’ They put it on the same level as telling the world about what they spend their money on or how much they have in the bank or their love lives (you woke up then!). But the gospel is different – because if you are a Christian it is not something secret to be hidden away – it is by definition something to be shared with others. William Barclay writes ‘It is one of the great warnings of the Christian life that is we keep them (the things of Christianity) to ourselves we lose them.’ As a sharer of the gospel Paul was humble, he knew he was bringing a gift, he knew he would suffer because of it. So let’s go back to the mystery, the secret that has been revealed.

1. We are heirs with Israel – we are now also God’s people. Jesus came for all people – Jew and Gentile – today we could add all the other faiths too– the message is not for just white middle class people – but everybody without exception.

2. Christians – whatever their background are one body. Heaven will be a great mixture of people, colours, tongues – wonderful. ‘Members together of one body’ Paul writes. And because of this we need to do all that we can to be together, not in separate groups. We are one body with our sister church in Locking. So when we have united service I want to see (because God expects us to) everyone in both churches come together as one body – one church – to worship him. We are coming together because God wants us to be together – it is nothing about our wishes and wants – we are one body so we must behave as one body. One body worshipping the Lord.

3. All Christians have been given this gift – the word Paul uses for manifold wisdom is polupoililos. Great word meaning many- coloured. The idea being that the grace and wisdom of God will match any situation which life may bring to us. Like a rainbow I suppose. No light or dark, sunshine or shadow can’t be touched by that grace and wisdom. It’s a good thing to remember and also know in our own life. But we should want others to know that. We are going to be doing different things in the autumn to help us all become more confident about sharing our faith with others. Paul writes that ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.’ And Paul is not just talking about preachers – the church is everyone. In using this word polupoililos he is also talking about what the church should be – like a rainbow, like a beautiful tapestry. Reflecting something of God’s new society

4. As Christians we all have access to God and can come to him in freedom and confidence. No longer just the Jewish priests can come before God – we all have access to the Father. We have this not because of who we are but because of who God is – the Father who loves us. We come by the Son who died for us to remove that barrier between us and God. That is why the curtain of the temple was torn in two when Jesus died.

So Paul challenges and encourages us with many things. We have now been included in God’s people – we have been given a wonderful gift to share with others and not keep to ourselves – we are one body with all Christians and we must behave so – we are a rainbow people reflecting the wisdom and gifts of God. We need to pray for help to do and become all these things. Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking



July 1st 2018 - Ephesians 2: 11- 22 - 'No more divisions'

The introductory notes in my study bible to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians includes the sentence ‘Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and to come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church’. Now, some may think that as these letters were written nearly 2,000 years ago they have no relevance for today. But I think that they are just as relevant and challenging as they were when they were written. In today’s focus on the letters to the Ephesians, 2 11- end, Paul writes about how all people have been brought together through the blood of Christ, how Christ has ‘destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’. How much we still need those barriers to come down, those dividing walls of hostility to disappear or in some cases not to be built.

From writing about the salvation of the individual, in this section of his letter, Paul writes about another aspects of God’s salvation, the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles, not just to each other but to Him. The Gentiles, the majority of those in Ephesus, had not had God in their lives. They hadn’t known about the God’s covenant. Their gods had been false. They had been excluded from society because they were not Jews. But they had been brought to God through Jesus’ blood. And Christ’s blood had also made the two peoples one, Jews and Gentiles alike. ‘For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ The Jews had been brought to God, not through man-made ceremonies like circumcision nor their man-made rules but through the blood of Christ. This coming together of Jew and Gentile in the one family was achieved through the cross of Jesus the Messiah. It had brought the pagans close in; it had torn down the barriers between the two families; it had abolished the Jewish laws that kept the peoples apart. Hostility had been killed on the cross. In v15-16, Paul writes:
‘His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.’

Paul is making it clear to the Ephesians that those who believe in Jesus Christ should be one: across the centuries that truth still applies. The body of Christ, the church of believers, should be united. That is the on-going challenge for the church today. If the church is divided in any way because of cultural, racial or liturgical lines, how can it claim to be the church that God wants? If Jesus broke down the barriers, how has the church allowed them to rise again? The church of believers should be working for unity with all people: the young; the old; the asylum seeker; the outcast; the awkward: all of God’s people. As the church, that’s what each one of us should be doing.

Paul’s letter continues with a reassurance to the Gentiles. Jesus came and preached peace to those who were far away and those who were near. As a consequence, there are no foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens of God’s household ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.’ This would have been challenging to all new believers. Paul is referring to the Jewish Temple, the religious heart of the nation, the place of pilgrimage of Jews throughout the world, the political, social, musical, cultural heart of Jerusalem, the place where God had promised to dwell, the temple that Jesus said would be destroyed. Paul is now declaring that the living God is building a new temple, not of stones but of people with Christ himself as the cornerstone, a reference to Isaiah 28:16. ‘And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’ Paul makes it clear that for all Christians a church building is not a temple in the strict sense. It is the people themselves who are the place in which God is living. The living God seeks to make his home in the hearts and lives of those people and communities that have declared their loyalty to Jesus and are determined to live by the gospel.

Again, Paul’s challenge echoes down the centuries. If the church is the body of Christ, does it live like the living Christ did? The words of v19 ‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,’ must strike a chord with us today with the issues of migrants so to the fore, the issues of Brexit , the issues of parents being separated from their children in the US, the issues around the Windrush generation. Is a society that accepts Food Banks as a norm a society that lives in a way that God would want? Who are our fellow citizens? And what is his church now doing to bring down barriers, to be bring God’s love and justice to all, to see others as fellow citizens who want the same as us, peace, love and hope?

Those big questions can threaten to overwhelm us: they certainly overwhelm me. I read Paul’s letters and I am filled with hope and determination. Then I read the papers and wonder what difference I can make in a fractured world. And then I read or hear something like Mark’s gospel. The woman we heard about this morning is one of my favourite people in the gospels. She believed in the power of Jesus but was uncertain of her worthiness, as she had been an outcast for so many years because of her illness, and she needed physical reassurance. So she did a very small but very brave thing: she touched his cloak. And he knew! And he knew how important it was to her that she was affirmed. She came to him in fear and trembling but told him the whole truth. His words: ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’ was the beginning of her new life. She was healed, she was accepted and she was part of Jesus’ family, his daughter. She could forward into her new life in peace. It proves to me that our actions that are done in faith, no matter how small, are noticed by God so we should have the courage to go out in faith, as we say each Sunday to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. As part of the living church together we should encourage each other, we should encourage those who feel they are unworthy to reach out in faith and we should encourage those who we might think are unworthy to reach out in faith. And if people say: ‘What on earth are you doing?’, we reply: “What God calls us to do.’ In those ways, God’s peace and love will spread among the people he loves so much, his church will grow and divisions will crumble.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a letter to us all: read it again when you get home. For as my bible notes said ‘Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and to come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church’

Jane Barry


 

Locking 17th June 10.00am - Ephesians 2: 1 - 10 'Coming Alive '

You can't get a much greater contrast than the difference between life and death. Would you agree ??? There are loads of other contrasts in life sickness/ health .. rich/poor .... male/female ..... war/peace .... old/young. But the issue of whether we are alive or dead seems fairly critical. This is the subject matter we have this morning as we delve into this letter of Paul to the Christians at Ephesus,
and we continue a sermon series until the end of July.

So what is Paul saying at the beginning of this 2nd chapter? He is explaining to these fairly new Christians that in terms of the greatest contrast of all, i.e. life and death, they used to be dead, but are now alive. Of course, his point of reference is Spiritual life not physical life, but spiritual life has by far the greater value because it is eternal, whereas physical life has a distinct ending, of which we are all well aware. So we have v.1 Paul telling them that 'As for you, you were dead in your sins' leading to v.4 'But God in his love and mercy makes us alive with Christ' which is a reference to the Easter resurrection of Jesus after defeating physical death.

I'll explain more about this shortly but I got to wondering what other 'belief’ systemsmake of this strong understanding of the fact of a spiritual life . The one that seemed to me to be quite the opposite is Humanism, which has no concept of the need for a spiritual existence or a spiritual influence like God. They are unable to make any attempt at explaining why we should have moral codes, simply suggesting that our moral values are founded on human nature and experience with each one of us creating our own set of ethics. So do your best and enjoy life! A simple philosophy which some find attractive as it removes any further debate. However it leaves as a big question mark over all the fundamental questions about life, the universe, and why we are here. For the Christian there is no question mark. Spirituality has been and still is an issue which pervades all generations and cultures. So Paul was no humanist and he is at pains to bring hope both to these new churches, and to us as well.

Paul's big picture to these folk goes something like this:-
This is how you were
This is how you are now
This is what you will be in the future.
And it all makes so much good sense. It explains life, which comes from God the creator. It explains our world full of violence and greed. It satisfies our spiritual appetite. It gives a guarantee of a future beyond the grave. So what has made the difference? Only God's love in thecoming of Jesus and the offer of forgiveness.

Now hope is such and important word. When Paul told these folk that they used to be dead in their sins he was saying that they had no hope - no hope of a future beyond physical death - no relationship with God, but when he assures them they are now alive he is promising quite the opposite, that their relationship with God will continue for eternity. So the contrast between being spiritually dead or alive as far as God is concerned, is the difference between being a humanist or any other creed that refuses to acknowledge God and Jesus on the one hand, and having surrendered to God's forgiveness as a Christian on the other. The latter means being alive and living in the joy of knowing God and trusting his promises. So Paul is describing people who have moved from one state to another. In v.3 he says that all of us are initially in the same state of being dead spiritually, that is existing purely to satisfy ourselves and subject to strong temptations. Paul uses an interesting and powerful turn of phrase in saying that we start out as 'objects of wrath' which in simple terms means that God cannot look on evil of any kind, and until we ask for forgiveness we are not under protection and are ‘objects of his wrath'.

However, transformation is possible and is offered by God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And it is that transformation that Paul is saying has happened to the folk receiving his letter. It is a transformation which has led them from death to life an as a result living with the joy of forgiveness and hope.

For us here and now, whoever we are, we live within the tension of our sinful natures pulling us away from following and believing in God. To be spiritually dead is to avoid the challenge of accepting that we need God's forgiveness and also bypassing
the truth behind the message of Jesus’s life and death. Every single person physically alive has the potential to respond to God's offer of forgiveness, and even Paul struggles to adequately describe what God has in store for those who do. Listen again to his words here in vs 6 and 7 speaking of those who are spiritually alive he says:- "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages (eternity) He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness in Jesus."

What does that mean? ‘Incomparable riches of His grace’ Well nothing less than ‘out of this world’, beyond our understanding and wildest dreams, all of which will be a completion of the transformation for us as individuals in our relationship with God. So a tantalizing glimpse of what Heaven will be like. A glimpse that gives all Christians a real sense of Joy at the prospect, and when it comes to funerals a celebration for the one who has dies and moved from physical death to perfection.

Forgive me for pointing to a rather earthy illustration when I mention the film Beauty and the Beast. Just to remind you that it was the love of beauty which changed the beast into a handsome Prince. God's love for us, even though we are sinful by nature caused Him to send Jesus to die for us so that we might become spiritually alive.

In explaining why and how this happens Paul uses that wonderful word 'Grace'. He says that it is by God's grace that you have been saved.
In V.8 it is by Grace you have been saved through faith. And just to make the point clear in case we want to somehow take the credit in V8 &9 he says 'It is a gift from God, not by works so that no one can boast' This is a fantastic truth, something we don't deserve, in fact quite the opposite. What we can become i.e. spiritually alive, is only possible because of the grace, love and mercy of God. Who we are, what we have done, how we have lived is of no consequence to God either for good or ill. When we accept God's offer of forgiveness we begin again, the past is gone. God has created us with the ability to make choices, we have genuine free will and that is at the heart of our faith. There is a lot on offer amongst the different belief systems throughout the world but nothing compares to the truth we see in the scriptures. Nothing else offers the peace and promises that are found in this book.

For Paul, death is the wonderful and exciting gateway to the 'incomparable riches of God's grace'. As physical people we may understandably at times be a little apprehensive about the process of getting there, but Jesus says ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’ and death should hold no fear for us. As Paul points forward to our eventual future, so he also paints a picture of how we can live now once we are spiritually alive. V10 'For we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.'

It seems quite clear that our good works and the way we live out our faith should follow on naturally after we have been saved by grace. So our Christian witness today, tomorrow, next month and for the rest of our lives can be a response to two powerful features of God's activity :-

1. In coming (as Jesus) as beauty to kiss the beast (that's us) with love and forgiveness.
2. In giving a cast iron promise of what awaits us in Heaven.

When you think about, that should be more than enough to motivate every committed Christian to good works. Other faiths have no such motivation, especially the humanists I mentioned earlier. In the words of Aristotle they are 'to pursue happiness and the good life of pleasure,nfriendship, absence of pain and peace of mind.' bThankfully, the Christian Gospel is devoid of such shallow selfishness and instead seeks to be the bearer of the Good News to all who will listen and receive it for themselves.

How we do that is a challenge but certainly should not include us declaring from the rooftops using Paul's words that 'you are objects of wrath'.No, but what we must do is to find way of sharing God's love in our lives, and there lies the challenge for us all.
Hopefully you are all still alive ?? And hopefully too that is both physically and spiritually.

Rev Geoff Hobden


 

Locking 6.00pm 17th June 2018, and Hutton 10.00am 24th June.

Ephesians 2: 1 – 10 'Coming Alive'.

When you look around you, what do you see? Do you see hope, beauty, adventure, love, peace and other admirable attributes? Or do you see despair, ugliness, inertia, animosity, discord and other ugly characteristics?

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, had seen ugly characteristics in the people who are now believers in Christ. This is how he opens chapter 2. Paul is the sort of person to call a spade a spade and doesn’t hold back on his description of the Ephesian Christians and how they once behaved. He starts by describing them as dead. They might have been physically alive, but inside they were dead, spiritually dead, stuck in a stagnant life of transgressions and sins. Paul uses the Greek word paraptoma (par-ap'-to-mah), for the word transgressions, or trespasses (as used in the old version of the Lord’s Prayer) which is a word that literally means a slip or a fall. It is used for a person who loses their way and strays from the right road, or someone who fails to grasp and slips away from the truth. Paul also links the word transgressions with the word sin, and uses the Greek word hamartia. This is a hunting word and literally means a miss, when one fails to hit the target. Now, this could be a near miss, just missing the target by a hairs breadth, or it could be a miss by miles, but a miss is still a miss. Sin is still sin, no matter how small or large it is. Sin is a failure to hit the target of life; sin is a failure of what we ought to be and what we could be. Sin is a failure to be the person God designed us to be. This is where we once were, away from God and following the ways of this world, in the world’s kingdom and being lead and influenced by the world’s cravings and desires, missing the mark and slipping from the truth, not being the person we ought to be or could be. Everyone has been like this at some time in their lives because Paul writes in verse 1 “As for you” in other words the Saints in Ephesus – who were gentiles, then in verse 3 he writes “All of us .... gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following it’s desires and thoughts” in other words the Jews, as Paul is a Jew, so everyone has been dead in their transgressions and sins.

What does a living dead person look like? It is somebody who has lost their innocence. No-one is the same after they have sinned. It takes the shine off one’s life, it loses the sparkle in someone’s eyes. Looking back, life has become tarnished and damaged. Sin kills ideals, which is a principle or value to be aimed at. For example, one might regard doing a wrong thing with horror, but then is tempted into doing it, but knows that it is wrong, then one does it again and again without a qualm, until, even though it is wrong, it becomes normalised in one’s life. This is the power of sin, in that each sin makes the next one easier and then imperceptibly and gradually sin kills the ideals which make life worthwhile. Sin also kills the will, making one powerless to stop doing the wrong thing. One might engage in a forbidden pleasure because it gives a thrill, but this can soon become an addiction and one cannot help doing it. It is a habit and soon becomes a necessity, and when the secret or forbidden practice has become a necessity, it can soon master and enslave one, so the will is powerless to resist and is dead.
All this is what Paul means about being dead in sin and transgressions – missing the target, slipping and falling away from the truth. There is no hope, nothing on the horizon can change things from a human point of view.

Or is there?.... Is there nothing that can change things?.....

Verse 4 is the turning point. There is a ray of light in an otherwise hopeless situation. Two words bring hope, and what are they? The two words are “But God”.... “But God”..... God takes the initiative. He sees that we are helpless and stuck in sin. This ray of light now turns into a brilliant new dawn. Paul writes “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” God loves us not just a tiny bit, not just a bit bigger bit, not just a larger bit, but God’s love for us is a huge great immeasurable massive enormous gigantic all enveloping love. God is abounding in love and rich in mercy and this is seen by Jesus’ actions on the cross, where all the wrong that man has ever done and will do has been undone. Where sin’s power is broken, the effects of sin, being alienation with God and our fellow humans is cancelled and the spiritually dead brought back to life. Just as God the Father raised Jesus to life on the first Easter day, which happened through the working of the power of God the Holy Spirit. God also forgives our sins and raises us to life, and this grace, this underserved love and mercy of God, saves us from the killing effects of our sins, our missing the target, our slipping and falling away from the truth. We are brought back to life, through the same power of the working of God the Holy Spirit, in us. This reverses the effect of the lost innocence – guilt is removed, sparkle is restored and the tarnish becomes a shine. Ideals in life are restored and power, coming from the Holy Spirit, is given to the person who has turned to Jesus, to stop doing the wrong thing. So the target in life is aimed at and hit, ones direction in life is re-established and all because of God’s great love for us in Christ, his saving grace, saving us from the effects of sin and death. Not only this, being saved from the effects of sin and death, God raises us up with Christ and seats us with him in the heavenly realms. So no more living in the gutter of life and sinking deeper into the effects of sin and death, no, we are gloriously raised up and seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms, we now see the world through Jesus’ eyes and begin to experience and understand the incomparable riches of God’s grace and what he has in store for us. All this is a free gift from God, it can’t be earnt or deserved, it can’t be worked for, there is no competition in God’s kingdom, so there is no boasting, no “I’m better than you” or “You don’t deserve to be here” or “God won’t love you”. There is none of this in God’s kingdom because it is by grace that we have been saved, through faith in God. This abounding love of God changes us. We don’t want to sin any more, our will has returned, and our will is now pointing us towards God and asking “Because of your great love for me, what can I do to say thank you?” This new love compels one towards goodness and self control, it changes one from “what can I get from you?” to “how can I serve you?”, from wanting vengeance, to giving forgiveness, from living for one’s self, to living for God. Paul finishes this section with the encouraging words in verse 10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God made us, brought us alive again in Christ, lavished on us great love as a free gift, and this causes in us a response, which is to do “Good works for God” and do you know what? These “Good works” have been prepared by God, in advance, for us to do. These Good Works will build his kingdom, will show his love to others, but also will help us, his children, to find fulfilment in our lives.

So to sum up; Paul starts off this passage by saying that we were dead in our transgressions and sins, that we followed the ways of this world, living to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature by following its desires and thoughts. But God made us alive in Christ, saving us from our sins and raising us up to be with him in the heavenly realms and this as a free gift from him, which can’t be earnt or deserved, so that no one can boast, as all this saving work is totally from God and accepted by us through faith, then as a response to God’s immeasurable love for us, we come to Him and ask “What are we going to do today?” being ready to do the “Good Works” which God has prepared in advance for us to do.
But maybe you are wondering “What are the Good Works that God wants me to do?” maybe you have a feeling inside you that is trying to burst forth into some new kind of action or good works and you are not sure what it is.....

So as I finish, it would be good to spend a few moments in quiet now, and ask that God would show each one of us, what those “Good Works” are, which he would like us to do, in response to his great love for us.
Let us pray: Father, we come to you now and ask that you would show us what good works you would have us do, to bring you praise and glory and extend your Kingdom. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.
Come Holy Spirit.... Amen.

Chris Wilkins


 

Locking 10th June - Ephesians 1: 15 – 23 The best prayer ever!

Can you remember the last time that somebody prayed for you or you prayed for somebody else? It might have been here after the service or at homegroup or maybe with a friend or someone in your family. I wonder what you prayed for – or what you normally pray when you pray for another person or what you ask for prayer for yourself. I guess that most of us would say that we pray for healing or guidance or in response to a difficult time in somebody’s life – like ill – health or worry about a family member. We usually pray for another person in response or ask for prayer for us in response to a problem of some sort. I wonder if instead of this you have prayed for somebody’ spiritual life – which is not a great phrase as us being a follower of Jesus should touch and affect every part of our life. But has somebody ever prayed for you to grow in faith for example or for you to grow in deeper knowledge and love of Jesus. Or have you ever prayed that for somebody. I have called today’s sermon ‘the best prayer ever’. Because Paul here is in prison and writing to the church in Ephesus and he tells them that he is praying for them. He’s not sitting there feeling sorry for himself but he is directing his thoughts and prayers to them. And he’s not praying in response to some big problem – some church fallout or disagreement or some great sin – no he is praying for their growth and deepening of their relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. In verses 3 – 14 Paul blesses God for blessing us in Christ. Because he knows the huge extend of the blessings of God he is able to turn his thoughts and prayers to others. That is why he begins ‘for this reason’. In other words because of the amazing blessings of God – I want them to pray that they also know and experience these things.

So let’s see what Paul prays for them. Well firstly we learn something about the church in Ephesus – they are people of faith and love. ‘Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.’ These are the same attributes of the church in Colossae too in 1: 4. Faith and love are inseparable. If we have faith but no love then we are fooling ourselves and grieving God. If we have love without faith – then we are good people but not saved as Christians. 1 John 3:15 ‘Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.’ The church’s love and faith was so evident that Paul had heard about it. It was evident and obvious. Faith and love are the marks of a healthy church. So despite all this good stuff what is Paul praying for them about.

1. He prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation. The word for wisdom if Sophia – it is about the deep things of God. He wants them to understand more and more about Jesus. ‘So that you might know him better’ he says. Here he is talking about knowledge – as in facts and learning – which we do through reading the Bible and Christian books and in our homegroups – but that is not enough – that is just about head knowledge – like me reading about a famous person but never meeting them. Knowledge is also about getting to know somebody. We should always be learning about Jesus in our heads and in our hearts. The longer we are a Christian the more we should learn about Jesus and the deeper our relationship with him. My question to you is – how well do you know Jesus – is he just a name in a book or is he your friend and Saviour?

2. Paul prays for them to know hope. My goodness we need to know hope today in this world. There is so much hopelessness and people are despondent and depressed – things will never change, they feel helpless and trapped. I found some modern quotes about hopelessness ‘Hopelessness is a really toxic and dangerous state’ ‘People don’t believe or understand that a community can lose hope. You can have a whole community where hopelessness is the norm, where folks don’t have faith that things will get better because history and circumstances have proven over 30,40 or 50 years that things don’t get better.’ Into this Paul writes ‘I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.’ We might think that hope is a feeling or a state of mind in us but here it seems that hope is outside of us, it is a gift and that we have been called to it. This is not a human thing but a spiritual thing – it is about God showing us the hope that is ours. It may not be hope for today and this life – but it is about future hope, hope because Jesus died and rose again and will return and there will be a new heaven and earth. This hope will affect our day to day and will conquer any feelings of hopelessness we may have.

3. He prays that they will know the riches of his inheritance that is linked to hope. If we know that there is something glorious to look forward to then we will have the strength to keep going. I also believe that some of these riches are available to us now – the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit and the help and guidance that we get through our relationship with Jesus.

4. Paul also prays that they will know ‘his incomparable great power for us who believe.’ So he has called us (past) to a hope (future) now we have the bit in between – the now, the present. Who feels that they need God’s power in their lives? I do – big time. Paul writes in 1 Cor 4: 20 ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.’ I think that we underestimate the power of God, we ignore it. But it is a gift – because it comes from the Holy Spirit. But we treat it like a gift that is given to us, we take it and then put it in the cupboard and forget about it. Maybe we feel that we don’t need God’s power – or we are frightened of it – that we will unleash something that we can’t control or is scary. Maybe we think of the day of Pentecost and think – I don’t want that. But the fact is that we cannot live as Christians – and effective Christians – if we do not have the power of Jesus – the Holy Spirit in us. Paul says that this power is the mighty strength of the Father. We have a powerful Father – which for many will be an unsettling image if your father has been controlling and abusive. Your heavenly Father is 100% loving, always wanting the best for you – and wanting to give you His power and strength. We are weak and need that power in us. This power is strong and gentle – it raised Jesus from the dead – can you just picture how that might have happened - it brings things back to life, it transforms and renews and brings energy. We need it as much as we need oxygen. Paul goes on and talks about Jesus his reign and rule – sitting at God’s right hand over and above all things – both material things and earthly people and powers and also over heavenly beings and powers . Paul wants them and us to know how great Jesus is. Finally he refers to Jesus as the head and the church as His body. Paul in writing this letter is addressing all the disunity in the world and he sees that Jesus died to bring all things together and bring reconciliation between humans and between us and God.

It is the job of the church to take out the message to enable the bring unity and reconciliation. So here as well as this amazing prayer we have the marks of a growing Christian and a healthy church. We should be people of faith and love – we should be growing in the knowledge of Jesus, we should be people of hope, who know the riches of what God has given to us and will give, we should be open to the power of God. As Christians we should not be static in our relationship with God. We need to be more honest with each other as to where we are in our Christian lives and to be ready to ask for prayer and to pray for each other. So let’s do that now…..

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking



Locking, Sunday 3rd June - Ephesians 1: 1 - 14 'Our Spiritual Treasures'

Today we start here in Locking and also in Hutton a new sermon series, so for the next few weeks we shall be looking and studying one of Paul’s great and wonderful letters. In all Paul wrote 13 letters to various churches. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus known to us as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the letter we shall study for the next few Sundays. Some theologians would have it that Paul was not the author, but myself I have no doubt as its typical of his hand. But as someone said to me recently does it really matter for regardless of who penned it? There is little doubt that it was inspired by God. A thought worth pondering on is that Paul was a wonderful author and inspired by God as I am sure most if not all the writers of the Bible were.

So then let’s turn to this inspired letter, to the opening verses sent to a people whom Paul had great love and concern for. Yes this is indeed an inspired letter - a piece of scripture that I am sure I shall in no way do justice too. It was probably written from his prison cell in Rome during Paul's first imprisonment a chapter in his life that we shall study later in the series, and written soon after his arrival there in the year AD62 which was quite a few years after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. So let’s just stop for a moment and consider what is to me another confirming piece of evidence that it was God inspired written some 30 years after Christ ascension.

I don’t know about you but I have difficulty remembering what I did yesterday let alone 30 years ago. Let’s turn to the reason Paul wrote to the people Ephesus and what was the purpose of this epistle, this letter from Paul. Well it seems to me that Paul wanted to make his readers fully aware of the fact and perhaps one of the greatest of all biblical facts that it is “By grace and by grace alone that we have been saved". Grace is God's wonderful and precious gift to each and every one of us. And this saving grace has got nothing to do with what we have done for ourselves, nothing of our own doing; it is a gift from God, and as Paul says because it is a gift from God no one can boast that it is of their own doing. But we must ask ourselves why we would ever boast about our salvation for we did nothing to deserve it. There were many in those days who believed that one gained access to heaven only by good deeds, and may be some today who still believe that is the way to God. No, God’s grace is given freely to all, to each and every one of us who believe and trust and confess our sins to the Lord Jesus.

Ephesians 1 verses 5 says that God had already decided from the beginning of time to make us his sons and daughters, and that’s what you could call long term planning. Yes, God was the initiator of our calling. He was the means of our salvation through his son Jesus and not we ourselves. It is he who has provided the way to a place with him at the end of our earthly lives. That way was through Christ and the cross, the cross of salvation. It is this fact and this fact alone that it is the death of Christ on the cross that should keep us humble and grateful and obedient to his word. Let us never forget that Christ was rejected by many but was sacrificed for all. As Christians should we not say “There would go we except for the grace of God; his wonderful sacrifice for our sins upon the cross.”

There was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew that he would soon have to choose his successor. Having no children of his own he called all the young men of his kingdom to a meeting in the palace. To each one he gave a flower pot filled with soil and a paper bag. Go plant the seed from then bag and return in a year with what has grown. Ling a quiet lad was worried as nothing grew from his pot not even a single green shoot. All the other lads he met boasted about their plants and flowers but not Ling. His mother persuaded his to take his empty pot to the palace on the anniversary of the planting. Ling hid behind all the other young men afraid the King would mock him with his empty flower pot, all the other lads had wonderful plants and flowers for the King. The King mounted the steps to his throne and beckoned for Ling to come forward. This was it the moment when Ling would be ridiculed. But the King sat him on the throne much to the amazement of all the other young men, and announced this is your new king. You see said the King I gave you all a glass marble not a seed so it would never grow, this young man has been honest in bringing an empty pot.

So what does this story say to us here today? Well it says quite simply that God did not choose us because of the things we have grown or done through our own strength and efforts. He loves us completely for who we are, empty pot and all. God chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he adopted us as his sons and daughters through Christ, and more than anything else wants us to share a place with him in heaven Ephesians 1:4-5. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, and settled on us as the focus of his love, so that we could be made whole and holy by his love for us. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. Can you sense Paul’s urgency to tell the people of Ephesus of this great fact and all from a prison cell. What a great man he was and all from a disastrous beginning. Yes God turned him around on the Damascus road to become one of his greatest apostles. As we delve further into Pauls writings we shall learn more of this man and his love of Jesus.

So then let’s remind ourselves of the opening verses of this wonderful letter. Chapter 1 Verses 1-4 Paul tells us that we are “Chosen by God", to be holy and without blame before Him. The Gospel does not simply begin with God, it begins with a God who chooses, yes he chose us.
This is the beginning of the letter. Paul writes to this growing thriving church dominated by gentiles and for whom the idea of the one living God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ would have been someting entirely new and unexpected

I want us to stop and think about that statement for a minute. People want to know the purpose of their lives. People want to know what we are supposed to be doing. Why are we here? God had a purpose for us and every human being before we were ever created. That purpose is to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ. Our destiny is to enter the family of God so that we might become children of God. God created us to belong to the family in Christ.

So with all that knowledge and God promises we know that we have been "Accepted by God", that is, to be highly favoured by Him. What a wonderful thought and realisation accepted by the God of creation; God has redeemed us; God has saved us. Verse 7a reminds us that "God has saved us "through the precious blood of His Son".

Bill Dredge - Reader, St Augustine's church, Locking



Hutton, Sunday 3rd June - Ephesians 1: 1 – 14 'Our Spiritual Treasures'

Today we are starting the first in a teaching series on the letter to the Ephesians. It has been called the Queen of the Epistles. It is full of the most wonderful teaching, theology and also practical teaching. So before we jump in the deep end let’s get some background to the letter.

Ephesus was a port and was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. A lot of business took place there as it was on the trade route from Rome to the east. There was a huge temple to Diana, which was seen as one of the seven wonders of the world. It was an important place which Paul visited twice, the first was a short visit in Acts 18 and then a much longer visit for 3 years. It was during that time that he packed in the baptism of John the Baptist’s followers, did unusual miracles curing people with hankies he had touched, he performed exorcisms and sorcerers became Christians and he gave a long address to the church leaders before leaving. Paul also caused a riot as because of his preaching people were no longer buying silver models of Diana’s temple. Paul had got to know the city of Ephesus and the church at Ephesus very well. It was a challenging place to live as a Christian as there was idolatry, there was temple prostitution – it was an immoral and sinful place. Ephesians was written to the church to encourage them to build a new society in the middle of all this. The letter contains practical and spiritual advice as to how to do this. The letter will cover the areas of unity, of purity and love in the way we behave, of our relationships in the home and at work, in our fight against the powers of evil. The letter was written between 60 and 62 AD – but it is still relevant for us today as we live in an equally sinful and idolatrous society. We too are called to be different and build a new society in the middle of all the mess and confusion. This letter was also written when Paul was imprisoned – so he had much time to think and reflect on the message. So what is that message?

The letter begins with a greeting in verses 1 and 2. ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus, by the will of God.’ Here Paul is saying some very important things - as an apostle he belonged to Jesus – his life was not his own – he must always live as Jesus wanted him to live. He was sent out by Jesus to serve him in this world. Any power he had was not from within himself but was from Jesus Christ. All this was by God’s will – here we have Paul being amazed at what had happened to him and how God was using him. All that he did and was had nothing to do with him at all. There was no room at all for pride. Then we get to know about the recipients- to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Jesus Christ. Paul’s friends are members of 2 kingdoms – they live in Ephesus and in Christ. So too us – we live in Hutton or Locking and in Christ. Paul greets them with grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace means gift and peace means that inner peace from God. He is a prisoner while writing this so he knows what real peace is. Verses 3 – 14 make up the next part of the letter. In fact when they were written there would have been no verses or even sentences – as it was one long sentence with no breaks – phew.

There is so much packed into these verses – it is full of jewels – but a bit like a jewellery box where you take out one necklace and out come all the rest knotted together. It’s been called a gateway, a golden chain, a kaleidoscope, a snowball, a racehorse, an overture, a flight of an eagle. See what you would call it! I’ve tried to untangle it all and I have 3 points.

1. God chooses us. We read in verse 4 ‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world….. in love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.’ Then verse 11 ‘In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.’ The fact is that as Christians we think that we have chosen Jesus (partly true as we have to decide to give our lives to him). But first and foremost we have been chosen. Not because we are clever or handsome, rich or skilled, British or white, respectable or famous. No – he has chosen us because he loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us. In love he chose us….because he wanted to, because he wanted us and it pleased him. Jesus says in John 15 ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you.’ God the Father chose you before the creation of the world. To all who feel little, rubbish maybe, that life and all its opportunities has passed them by, those who feel they are not important, not special and even not loved – then God says – listen – I chose you. To those who feel it’s all about them – I’m important, look at me…. He says – listen – it was me who chose you. You are loved and special because of who you belong to. You are part of his plan. So what has he chosen us to be – his adopted sons and daughters. When adoption happened in Roman law the person had all the rights of a blood child and he was regarded as a new person. Adoption wipes out the past and makes us new.

2. Secondly God chose to bless us with things that only He can give. When we talk about being blessed we make the mistake of talking about money or family or friends or health. But here Paul is talking about spiritual blessings – the treasures of heaven given to us. So what are they? Verse 7 – redemption through his blood – the word means to release somebody from a situation that he could never get out of himself or from a penalty that he could never pay. The fact is that we can’t sort our lives out. Today there are so many self – help books – you have the power in you to change your life – try this, try that – but it never works because we are unable ourselves to sort out the biggest problem – which is sin. Deep down we know that something is wrong – and deep down we know what we can’t sort it. Jesus came to free us and redeem us – he bought our freedom on the cross. Through Jesus our sins are forgiven. We have no need to fear ‘No condemnation now I dread we sing.’ Again it is not about us – but about what Jesus has done for us. That is why Paul begins ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing. When we know this for ourselves then we will want to worship. Paul talks about the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with wisdom and understanding. Wisdom – Sophia is about the big questions about life and death, eternity, God and humans etc. Understanding is more about common sense. In and through Jesus we are gifted with wisdom about eternal things and help and guidance with the day to day. We are also told that we have been let in on a mystery – that all things will be brought together. We see disharmony all around us – between people, between the nations, classes, ideologies, between Jew and Gentile, we see civil wars, between humans and God and also in the heavenly realms there is a war. Paul looks to a future where all are brought together – this is God’s purpose for the world – one family in Christ. Until Jesus returns our task is to model this unity and enable harmony.

3. Thirdly Paul tells us the purpose of his choosing us. Verse 4 tells us this ‘To be holy and blameless in his sight.’ Holy means to be different, set apart. This was so important for the Christians in Ephesus and is still important for us today. It should be possible to identify the Christian in the workplace or the hobby group, in the neighbourhood. If enough Christians became really different then society would be transformed. The church should be a model of what society could become. That’s a challenge! We are called to be blameless – the word was used for an animal offered for sacrifice – without any blemishes. It is about us being an acceptable offering to God. So we are all very very rich, you are loved and cherished and have been chosen. God has given you all that you need spiritually. We are chosen to be holy and different, we are to be in the world to transform it – and for us that begins in Hutton and Locking.
Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking