Sunday, Lent 3


Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Eternal God, give us insight to discern your will for us, to give up what harms us, and to seek the perfection we are promised in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Exodus 20:1–17


1  The heavens are telling the glory of God •

   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2  One day pours out its song to another •

   and one night unfolds knowledge to another.

3  They have neither speech nor language •

   and their voices are not heard,

4  Yet their sound has gone out into all lands •

   and their words to the ends of the world.

5  In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, •

   that comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber

      and rejoices as a champion to run his course.

6  It goes forth from the end of the heavens

      and runs to the very end again, •

   and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

7  The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; •

   the testimony of the Lord is sure

      and gives wisdom to the simple.

8  The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; •

   the commandment of the Lord is pure

      and gives light to the eyes.

9  The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; •

   the judgements of the Lord are true

      and righteous altogether.

10  More to be desired are they than gold,

      more than much fine gold, •

   sweeter also than honey,

      dripping from the honeycomb.

11  By them also is your servant taught •

   and in keeping them there is great reward.

12  Who can tell how often they offend? •

   O cleanse me from my secret faults!

13  Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins

      lest they get dominion over me; •

   so shall I be undefiled,

      and innocent of great offence.

14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

      be acceptable in your sight, •

   O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Psalm 19


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

   and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18–25


The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13–22

Sermon on Third Sunday of Lent

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

What are the idols of our time? In this age of terror, what do we set in front of us – to keep us safe in our time? What intervenes between the face of God and ourselves, so that we do not see the divine in our lives?

We must be living in a time when our great-grandparents must have done something so iniquitous that our God has punished our parents and us, and it seems that God will punish our children. What can we do now to ensure that the steadfast love of God will be shown to the thousandth generation from us?

But this raises the question, if three or four generations back have been so evil, how is it that we here in church still look to the love of God, how do we know that there is a steadfast love of God? If that previous generation had been so wicked, why do we still pray for the grace and mercy of God? Or are we the fifth generation – the generation that will redeem humanity? Are we the generation which will bring the steadfast love of God to that generation a thousand generations from this time?

Surely, in this dreadful period of history, when there are so many wars, famines and now the terror of hatred – surely this generation is doomed as the one which has been cursed by God. How often do we hear people say such things round about us? How are we tempted to acquiesce into an agreement with such a judgement, and in the lee of this decision about ourselves we agree to that opinion and condemn all of our neighbours and ourselves to punishment and do nothing about our sinfulness? This has not happened just in our generation. Throughout the history of the west we have people submitting to this bullying thought, kowtowing to the wicked because they “have the power”, and the theologians in their generations have justified such a deference to the fates of the pagan religions or to the notion of predestination of our own protestant forbears.

And then when we hear Paul’s words, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” doesn’t everything get turned upside down? It makes the statements of the mass of humanity, that anonymous silent majority, nonsense. Paul is saying that wickedness makes no sense, that the visible behaviour of the so-called “normal” people is just plain wrong, and that justice and truth, goodness and mercy, they are the real marks of reality – what we really do want.

The wisdom of this world is not really the message from the OT and it certainly has not come down from Jesus, has it? On the contrary, even in this verse condemning idolatry there is hope, there is an expectation that every generation will work toward that steadfast love of God.

Those idols, what we might call “the wisdom of the world”, which we place in front of the face of God have bamboozled us into inactivity, a lack of decision for what is right and working to enact the good in our lives – in spite of the fact that no one seems to care. In the extremes of our lives, don’t we ask about mercy and goodness?

Jesus was a prophet who spoke for God, and his life and death was the focus for God’s saving action in the world. In the Gospel reading for today, we heard about Jesus cleansing the temple of the thieves who had taken up residence in the most holy of places for the Jew. Jesus in prophetic zeal acted for what was right, in spite of the fact that everyone was prepared to allow the morally questionable to continue. When I read this story, I wonder what my zeal has accomplished.

I stand here in this out-dated garb in a building that the majority of the population here has never entered, and I do wonder what my zeal has accomplished. When I read this story about Jesus, I ask whether my zeal should be cleansing the temples of our age. In my doubt, I suppose that many look at me as I stand up front here and they must wonder what I am doing. My zeal for worship is foreign to so many – but not you who are here so often, of course. However, for those who come only for baptisms, weddings and funerals, our worship is a completely foreign language. Does our zeal for our God in fact make any sense to the unchurched?

How can we be zealous for a vengeful God, which all so easily remember from their religious education in school? How can we be zealous for a seemingly uncaring God who allows all this mayhem on a global scale and above all this personal suffering? However, I ask in response, “Is this the God we worship?” Especially, after we have read our lessons for today. I now  have to ask myself “Have we really understood our God at all?”

We are in the midst of Lent, when we have to ask ourselves these hard questions. We are supposed to examine our lives in depth during Lent, aren’t we? We are to put our zeal under the microscope and understand just what its intention is.

An alternative collect for today is this:

Eternal God, give us insight to discern your will for us, to give up what harms us, and to seek the perfection we are promised in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lent is the time we are to “discern God’s will” for ourselves – and I mean this in two ways.

First, we must work God’s will out as it is in our lives – perhaps to attribute all the good that we have experienced to God, and all the bad to our own wickedness. We need to see that goodness and mercy has flowed from God to the world and, in particular, to ourselves individually.

Second, I mean that we need to “discern God’s will” by our own efforts, albeit founded on the grace of God’s granting us insight. We need to disentangle ourselves from the “wisdom of the world” and that oftentimes is not in our own power, that moment is the time of grace in our lives, when we begin to act in righteous humility with mercy to all around us. That is a life-changing moment – a revelation which emerges from a Lenten discipline, when we truly understand for ourselves the idols of our times and we begin to overthrow them for the true divinity Jesus Christ showed when he scourged the traders in the temple.


Sunday, Lent 1


Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Heavenly Father, your Son battled with the powers of darkness, and grew closer to you in the desert: help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer that we may witness to your saving love in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

Genesis 9:8–17


1  To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;

      O my God, in you I trust; •

   let me not be put to shame;

      let not my enemies triumph over me.

2  Let none who look to you be put to shame, •

   but let the treacherous be shamed and frustrated.

3  Make me to know your ways, O Lord, •

   and teach me your paths.

4  Lead me in your truth and teach me, •

   for you are the God of my salvation;

      for you have I hoped all the day long.

5  Remember, Lord, your compassion and love, •

   for they are from everlasting.

6  Remember not the sins of my youth

      or my transgressions, •

   but think on me in your goodness, O Lord,

      according to your steadfast love.

7  Gracious and upright is the Lord; •

   therefore shall he teach sinners in the way.

8  He will guide the humble in doing right •

   and teach his way to the lowly.

9  All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth •

   to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Psalm 25


For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

1 Peter 3:18-22


In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Mark 1:9–15

Sermon on First Sunday Lent

How many times have we seen a rainbow? What are our thoughts when we see it?

Pots of gold? Leprechauns?

How many times do we think of this story of Noah when we see a rainbow? Do we ever consider the covenant when we see a rainbow? Actually, how often do we think of this awesome covenant which we, the people of God, have with the Almighty?

Imagine Noah looking into the distance at the dark clouds after that great storm and its flood disappearing – what are his thoughts? He has carried out the instructions from God – he has saved all of creation in its two by two’s, hasn’t he? And now he realises why he has done so. – So that God should not utterly destroy his own creation. Noah now sees a bright rainbow, perhaps a double rainbow, in the sky, bright against the dark clouds as they dissipate into the sunshine of the new day, that day when the dove returned with that branch of new hope for the future.

How many times when we look at a rainbow are we reminded of this story of Noah? Do we consider the delicate balance in which the world stands when we see the rainbow?

God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

The covenant is what the rainbow signifies, a promise that if the covenant is kept, all things will stand on earth. But do we keep the covenant made on that day? Do we act as the guardians of a trust which allows the promise to be kept?

One of the hardest things I had to understand at college was this notion of Covenant. The Hebrew people started the Covenant with God when they walked out of Egypt. They began to understand it as they wandered for forty years in the desert. The Jews at Jerusalem took up the Covenant again at the temple, with its ritual sacrifices. The early christians believed in the covenant as the chosen people of God. We have inherited that belief, haven’t we? We know that we have been part of a tremendous transaction with God in the life of Jesus, that cross of Christ, something far more miraculous than a rainbow!

All of us “chosen ones” have acted – let us say – not as humbly as we should have. In our pride we have forgotten that we have a part to play in this Covenant. Like in what they call the “social contract”, we have obligations which undoubtedly we have not held up as our part of the bargain. In the “social contract” I would simply say that our part is honesty and helpfulness. – But have we behaved honestly and helpfully at all times? – I wonder if anyone watch the television drama, Collateral. There we could see everyone breaking the terms of the social contract. Everyone was not totally honest, and no one was very helpful. So everything was falling apart. Can’t we see this in our contract, our covenant, with God? We are not keeping up our side of the bargain, are we? Our leaders behave as though morality has nothing to do with our lives together. So, should we be surprised that the climate is shifting? that society is nothing stable? that people are terrified? I don’t think so. I don’t think many act under the terms of the social contract, let alone the covenant we have accepted from God, that contract we have to keep the commandments, the law which are the terms humanity has accepted, the terms of the contract God has made and sealed with the rainbow.

Whenever the Law is discussed in the OT, we are told time and again that if we keep the covenant we shall benefit. The land will flow with milk and honey, water and wine, like the gardens of paradise. But have we kept the covenant? – Scientists question our keeping of the environment, our leaders have come under scrutiny in their keeping of the most basic parts of the social contract, honesty and helpfulness – we ourselves have been tasked in this period of Lent to examine ourselves – to consider how we have kept the law Jesus gave to his disciples, to us, that we love one another. I imagine we all have fallen short of that mark Jesus has set before us.

This is particularly poignant language during the Olympics, isn’t it? All those athletes striving for perfection in their disciplines, and only tiny errors have taken the medals away – a slight mis-step or a wobble because of the wind might cause an attempt to fail, but just by less than half a second or a point out of three hundred.

As Paul says, we are all athletes attempting to win the race. We are all doing our best to equip ourselves for the contest, practising and pummelling our bodies into submission to achieve the highest reward, that laurel wreath of a champion, that gold medal of today’s Olympics. But as christians we are in training for something greater! – The prize we long for is not of this world, a kingdom beyond all things, to be with God. The prize symbolised by that rainbow of promise Noah first saw. – No worldly prize could come close to those aspirations, could it? The kingdom we wish to win has a peace the world cannot give, a justice no earthly court can dispense, mercy with which not even a mother’s care can compare. We know all of this because of the rainbow, that promise of God to creation, a creation worthy of preservation. If the creation, which is so unlike our aspiration for the kingdom of God, is worthy of protection, what of that covenant we have with God? Surely the terms of that agreement exceed all earthly expectations, just like that rainbow.

Don’t we marvel at the beauty of those colours in the sky after the terror of a storm? What can we offer to God to keep the covenant? Well, I think it is those two commandments Jesus gave. They transcend all worldly behaviour and should be immanent in all our behaviour. Loving God and our neighbour are activities the sinful human being fails to fulfill. But this is Lent, when sinful humanity repents of its failure to fulfill the Law. Lent is when we look around us at the evidence of our failure, isn’t it? This is Lent when we should be examining ourselves so that we may accomplish the Law in our lives. But we also need to look into the sky when the storm breaks and see the rainbow. We need to come to Easter renewed in energy and purpose so that we might grasp life in all its fullness. Lent is our olympic training for the great prize. We will walk the walk Jesus taught. We will stride on that narrow road to salvation in the footsteps of Christ, won’t we? But we have to come through the Lenten discipline, don’t we? Let us, like Noah, look to the horizon’s rainbow in order to see the promise of life given to us, and let us keep the great covenant by fulfilling the Law Christ gave us.


Second Sunday before Lent


Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth and made us in your own image: teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.


Almighty God, give us reverence for all creation and respect for every person, that we may mirror your likeness in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

Does not wisdom call,

   and does not understanding raise her voice?

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,

   the first of his acts of long ago.

Ages ago I was set up,

   at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When there were no depths I was brought forth,

   when there were no springs abounding with water.

Before the mountains had been shaped,

   before the hills, I was brought forth—

when he had not yet made earth and fields,

   or the world’s first bits of soil.

When he established the heavens, I was there,

   when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

when he made firm the skies above,

   when he established the fountains of the deep,

when he assigned to the sea its limit,

   so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

   then I was beside him, like a master worker;

and I was daily his delight,

   rejoicing before him always,

rejoicing in his inhabited world

   and delighting in the human race.

Proverbs 8:1, 22–31


26  O Lord, how manifold are your works! •

   In wisdom you have made them all;

      the earth is full of your creatures.

27  There is the sea, spread far and wide, •

   and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.

Psalm 104


He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15–20


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1–14

Sermon on Second Sunday before Lent

Here we are – we have completed our Christmass celebrations, and yet today we read the prologue to the gospel of John, where he lays out the glory of the logos – the Word. Normally, this is a lesson for Christmass Day, isn’t it? So let us bear in mind what John says in one of today’s verses.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Candlemass and Christmass combine in one of the longest celebrations of a theological verity, the incarnation of God. I think we must take this notion on into Lent. For if Lent and Easter are to make sense, the glory of the Lord must be foreshadowed in what we understand as the reality of the incarnation.

As we follow the lectionary, we have been reading in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews about the perfect priest who offers humanity up to God as if we ourselves were being given as an offering. That perfect priest incorporates all of us in himself, our frail corporeality which can fail, as easily as it can fulfill, its potential.

Here in our readings we have the presentation of Wisdom in the world. Wisdom is the companion of the creator, the apprentice to the master. Wisdom

was daily his delight,

   rejoicing before him always,

rejoicing in his inhabited world

   and delighting in the human race.

The apprentice watched the master create the world in which the human race would dwell, rejoicing in humanity’s aspiration to wisdom. We still attempt to emulate the apprentice, don’t we? Don’t we, like wisdom, call out – perhaps in that indistinct groaning Paul calls prayer somewhere or in our petitions to solve the state of the world.

Does not wisdom call,

   and does not understanding raise her voice

about the state of the world and human fallibility? How everything has been “going to the dogs”? The despair of the understanding mind is all too apparent as wisdom is applied to what human being has done to God’s handiwork, that creation which delighted Wisdom when first unveiled in the light of a brand new sun.

We decry all sorts of things, don’t we? – when we call out against the injustice of the courts and laws, when we call out against the senselessness of our society, when we call out against the emptiness of our hearts … We call out, as wisdom does, into the abyss which lays all around us, where we must leap into life in all its fullness.

However, do we always emulate that apprentice of God, Wisdom, in all her delight in the creation? Do we care for the world around us, the oceans, the beaches, the farmland, even our own habitations, in the manner which would prove our delight in the creation, the work of our God for us, the reality which we confess of Jesus? When we profess that Jesus is fully human, just like us, we have perhaps forgotten that reality in our joy of Christmass, when we showed ourselves as party animals.

But today! – Today we are called back to this moment, two Sundays before Lent begins in earnest, when our discipline takes hold of our self-indulgent behaviour and beats it into submission with the great fast. Lent forces us to turn again to what is right, to what is just, to what is holy. We turn now to that “sober life” which the prayer book’s collect enjoins on us.

Wisdom and the glory of God are, I think, synonymous. They issue forth in that Logos of the gospel, don’t they? At one point we see the Logos as the wisdom of God, that unassailable argument about what love is perhaps. At another point we might see the Logos as the glory of God wrapped up in that love which has no vice, what I think fired Paul up to write his letter to the Corinthians. We are left to consider the Logos in its glory and its demand on us, aren’t we? Lent is an austere time when the glory of Christmass and Epiphany are not at all apparent. With the dousing of the lights in the church at Candlemass, we have perhaps left the world bereft of enlightenment.

The other night I was reading in the daily missal about Candlemass. The ritual of the day actually was quite different from what we did last week, when we celebrated the feast. Instead of extinguishing the candles, everyone should have been given a candle in order to go out into the world as lights. We were to become individual beacons in the world where there is so much darkness – in hearts, in corners of rooms, in forgotten areas of communities, in the halls of state where the affairs of individuals are determined with scant recourse to the people themselves. We are bid to keep our lights lit for the sake of others, not hidden away in the dark.

The dark corners of the world exist – they should not be denied. Terrorism is darkness unleashed on each and every one of us, and no one realises their complicity in those acts we dread.

When we look to the light of Christ, in that supreme act of love which is the reason for everything we cherish – when we light our candles in this dark world, we do more than hope that the flame will not go out. When we hold our candles in the wind, we profess a profound faith – a faith which the world bludgeons to smithereens because it does not want to love without any desire to control. The love of the candle flame has no concupiscence, no grasping of the other. Rather the flame’s light is given to all and sundry, the worthy and the unworthy. Like the sun’s rays, it illuminates all, were their eyes open to see.

How many times have we tried to tell our contemporaries that message? That “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

The grace and truth of the Word become flesh, can be lived out in the flickering flames of faith, hope and charity in our lives, but it blazes ever so clearly in that christian love of the other whatever the time and place, opportune or ever so inconvenient. That is why I think we are asked to turn to the beginning of John’s Gospel just as we enter into our great fast of Lent, when we aspire to do great deeds in the name of Christ.


Sunday, Epiphany 3


Almighty God, whose Son revealed in signs and miracles the wonder of your saving presence: renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


God of all mercy, your Son proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom to the oppressed: anoint us with your Holy Spirit and set all your people free to praise you in Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Jonah 3:1–5, 10


5  Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul; •

   for in him is my hope.

6  He alone is my rock and my salvation, •

   my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

7  In God is my strength and my glory; •

   God is my strong rock; in him is my refuge.

8  Put your trust in him always, my people; •

   pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

9  The peoples are but a breath,

      the whole human race a deceit; •

   on the scales they are altogether lighter than air.

10  Put no trust in oppression; in robbery take no empty pride; •

   though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.

11  God spoke once, and twice have I heard the same, •

   that power belongs to God.

12  Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord, •

   for you repay everyone according to their deeds.

Psalm 128


I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

I Corinthians 7:29–31


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Mark 1:14–20

Sermon in Family Worship – Sunday Epiphany 2

“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short. … For the present form of this world is passing away.” These are apocalyptic words from the apostle Paul. What can they possibly mean today, 2,000 years after they were written?

The appointed time for the world, which Paul declared, has passed hasn’t it? The world is still here – and yet we still bewail “the form of this world”, but do we believe with Paul that everything as we know it is about to end, and that the Lord will be with us imminently?

These are questions my teacher asked me when I first began to study scripture, and I had no answer. I still ask these questions again, because as I listen to the news, talk with friends and neighbours and overhear strangers talking here and there, I am very disturbed. On very bad days, I, with the whole of the country, quake in terror because of what the future could hold for us all. So I do believe the time is short and the form of this world truly is passing away.

I think Paul is asking us to live up to a standard which the “form of the world” does not recognise. I think he wants us to delve deep into our notion of the future, a future which is my ownmost possibility, that one thing which the world does not offer me – some sort of constant reality. The present form of the world is transient – it is “passing away” – what are we to do? Paul talks about everyday things in these few verses, doesn’t he? He talks about wives and husbands, the sadness of mourning our loved ones who have died, the transactions of everyday, even the joy of those who rejoice – this is business as usual. Paul is talking about those things which pass away. However, he wants us not to overly engage with these things.

Paul tells us to be like the Stoics, those dispassionate souls, who, like Kipling in his poem If, would treat victory and defeat, in fact any of the polar opposites of everyday life, in the same way. The Stoics were not like the manic–depressive who one moment would be cock-a-hoop shouting to the heavens with the utmost joy and at another time would be curled up in a darkened room groaning in black despair. The Stoics would show the most even of tempers, composed in joy or despair, never veering from that middle way.

Who among us would “buy as though they had no possessions”? Are you one who deals with the world as though you had no dealings with it? Those people are few and far between, aren’t they? We, however, worry about the slightest things to the exclusion of all else. We all know the catalogue of woes and we can recite all the passing forms of this world.

When we take that view of all things which Paul is urging on us, what do we see as the core of the world? Our families and friends, obviously, our homes where we gather to keep warm on cold winter nights, our work and the making of wages and then our pensions. – Oh, so many things can take our attention away into the passing world!

The forms of the passing world are the everyday concerns which overwhelm us. Instead of concentrating on our love for our neighbour and family, we would worry about what the stranger might take from us. That is not a middle way, is it? We need to love our neighbours, like the Good Samaritan, through what we do, with and for, them. We should be forgetful of our own personal problems so that our overarching care for the world around us takes hold. I should be able to forget my worries about this and that and remember that the person facing me is the most important fact at that very moment. I should not care more for the next big thing. I should not be deflected from that person before me. – I need to look that person in the eye so that the other can see my caring soul.

When we act in this manner, with that fundamental christian love, don’t worldly concerns fade into insignificance? That is the joy the Stoics reveal. The transcendent matters of life – my ownmost possibility – become the priority. No longer do my business worries control me – no longer do my neighbours worry me because of their foibles. – I have come to recognise the passing forms of this world.

Paul’s outlook – his focus on love – was very different from our own everyday attitude, isn’t it? He is looking to a future where the Kingdom of God is realised in the coming of the Lord Jesus, a future when only God’s will for the created order will rule. Obviously my own petty concerns fade into nothing, but I can love! My ownmost possibility has been realised.

No longer do I have to save my green stamps, my loyalty card points, in order to be happy. My joy will be complete when I let those forms of the world pass away. No longer will I feel the snubs of people passing by, AND no longer will I pass by on the other side.

I will be able to live life to the full because I will engage meaningfully with the whole of creation. I understand the love of God which my life should reflect and place that as the only rule I have in life.

This golden rule sets all at nought except itself. My care extends universally when I get it right. I reflect the attitude Paul wants the christian to have. In another place in the epistle Paul sings his hymn of love. Over against love everything pales into insignificance. The forms of this world pass away and a grander vision is to be grasped. This is how Paul is asking us to deal with the world – without any anxiety. That triad of faith, hope and love never pass away while the everyday does.

“The time is fulfilled.” Jesus preaches. “The Kingdom of God has come close to hand.” “The time is ripe for a proper harvest” of decision – of faith, hope and love.

All salvation was accomplished in Christ as Paul never tires telling us. The ever-loving Christ, Son of God, Love from Love, calls us to faith. The decision needs to be made now, before it is too late. Even if Christ does not come within the nonce, it is imperative that we live as though in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, the last trump will sound – and everything Jesus promised will come to pass.

Living in that present of faith, hope and love places us right in the moment of the coming of Christ. We can, like Paul, live in that ultimate moment of our ownmost possibility, the moment when Christ is beside me and you and only love remains.


Sunday, Epiphany 2


Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or) **

Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:1–20


1  O Lord, you have searched me out and known me; •

   you know my sitting down and my rising up;

      you discern my thoughts from afar.

2  You mark out my journeys and my resting place •

   and are acquainted with all my ways.

3  For there is not a word on my tongue, •

   but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

4  You encompass me behind and before •

   and lay your hand upon me.

5  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, •

   so high that I cannot attain it.

12  For you yourself created my inmost parts; •

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13  I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; •

   marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.

14  My frame was not hidden from you, •

   when I was made in secret

      and woven in the depths of the earth.

15  Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished; •

   already in your book were all my members written,

16  As day by day they were fashioned •

   when as yet there was none of them.

17  How deep are your counsels to me, O God! •

   How great is the sum of them!

18  If I count them, they are more in number than the sand, •

   and at the end, I am still in your presence.

Psalm 139


Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:

‘You are worthy to take the scroll

   and to open its seals,

for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God

   saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;

you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,

   and they will reign on earth.’

Revelation 5:1–10


The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

John 1:43–51

Sermon on Second Sunday after Epiphany

“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” When do you think those days were? I think the story about Samuel could be told about anyone right here and now.

Whenever someone says that he or she has had a vision, don’t we all tell them to go back to sleep just as Eli did – at first. I think we do this to our friends and acquaintances time and again. There is nothing bitter and twisted about our lack of belief in what they are saying, only a revelation that we aren’t as good friends as we should be.

One of the ancient philosophers wrote a treatise called On Friendship, in which we can read about the great goodness of a true friend. The one thing I always remember is that a friend will always accept what you say, never judge you, but always talk with you about what you are saying to see whether there is truth in it. This, I think, is where our society has gone awry, for we certainly do not delve for truth in all our conversations and I wonder about people in calling them friends in that strict definition of the philosopher. Rather, we say that you can trust no one, and, even worse than that, is that we believe everyone lies purposely. Why is that? I don’t know but I think we certainly treat no one like a true friend.

Our time is full of difficulties and we are a little to selfish to speak to larger matters than whether someone is lying because they want something from us. – I remember being in Detroit with a friend at a local community centre. I was just myself and talking with a few children, as you do. It was a nice time, and later my friend told me that the kids didn’t know what to make of me because the only people who ever talked to them wanted something from them. No one ever talked with them for themselves. That was where I was different from everyone else they usually met in that city. Everyone had an angle they were running on the kids. However, I  was running no scam: I didn’t want anything from them. They did not know what to make of me. I suppose I wanted to be for those children that philosopher’s dispassionate and compassionate friend. I was willing to listen to them for their own sake.

That experience in Detroit encapsulates what I fear is the problem all around us. Everyone is trying to play some scam to “make a few bucks” or to “mess with your head.” Everyone does it, don’t we? So what do we do when our friend comes to tell us their vision? — Well, I think we should really talk about it. I think we both could learn something about each other if we could engage with the message of the vision. We both could learn. I would learn about your hopes and dreams, and I could learn about myself, about my own hopes and dreams as we talk about your vision. In this discussion you would learn about yourself and your place in the world because of your vision.

Isn’t this what happened with Samuel and Eli? Three times he asked Samuel to go back to sleep, but at the third, he realised that something else was happening, that the voice had to be heard for what it truly was, no longer the master to a slave, but the Lord of the universe was calling to him from the depths of space and time. It is up to Samuel to listen to that voice and up to Eli to help interpret the vision with Samuel for their own time. In other words, we have to encourage the other to listen to what they have encountered. We all need to take our perceptions seriously.

So, what are the visions we have? Some are little daydreams – how we would like to care for a loved one – some are revelatory – what we would like to do for the rest of our lives for the sake of the world. Our visions are statements of intent, aren’t they? Our visions focus us on a goal out there, sometimes they are really out there beyond our usual compass, but usually the goals of our visions are limited. We are not the world’s visionaries, are we? Rather, we would like to live our lives of desperation quietly, don’t we? We don’t want the trouble of the world beating their way to our door for our paltry insights into life and how to live.

But imagine if the words we have heard were like these which Samuel heard, “I am about to do something that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” Wouldn’t we rise and do what we have been asked? But, as I said, we don’t have those big things in our lives, do we? Or do we? Haven’t we heard the Word of God week in and week out? Haven’t we had those words tingle both of our ears?

I think we have – why else would we come here week after week? Our vision is one that must be shared, isn’t it? Why do we stand alone against the bulk of the population talking with one another about our hopes and fears? Who knows – perhaps they have heard something that has tingled both their ears. What should we do for those friends?

I think we should talk with them with that philosopher’s attitude, to learn about meaning with them through their visions. We should take them as seriously as we take ourselves – to discuss their hopes and fears out there in their world, just as we do with each other here in Church. Their hopes and fears out there in the world are just as real as our own here within the church’s sanctuary.

“Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me.’” Are these the words we ask our friends when they rise from their visions? Do we reply truthfully when our friends ask us about what we have seen?

The joke about answering whether these clothes make me look big is not without its point. How many times have we said, “Those clothes do nothing for you”? We cannot disappoint anyone, can we? Aren’t we just like the court around the emperor when he showed off his new clothes? We say nothing, and the vision the emperor has is faulty and may even harm someone. Is this what friends do for each other?

Let us be good friends. Let us speak with clarity and honesty with our friends. Let us be clear about our vision and share it with our friends, so that everyone will benefit.

Sometimes visions are extraordinary things – we see something others don’t. Speaking to Nathaniel. “Jesus said, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?’” If we talked with others, our visions could have a life of their own for people who will be true friends, and no one need be left out.




O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may at last behold your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or) **

Creator of the heavens, who led the Magi by a star to worship the Christ-child: guide and sustain us, that we may find our journey’s end in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

Arise, shine; for your light has come,

   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

   and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

   and his glory will appear over you.

Nations shall come to your light,

   and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

   they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

   and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;

   your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,

   the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

   the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

   all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

   and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:1–6 



1  Give the king your judgements, O God, •

   and your righteousness to the son of a king.

2  Then shall he judge your people righteously •

   and your poor with justice.

3  May the mountains bring forth peace, •

   and the little hills righteousness for the people.

4  May he defend the poor among the people, •

   deliver the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.

5  May he live as long as the sun and moon endure, •

   from one generation to another.

6  May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, •

   like the showers that water the earth.

7  In his time shall righteousness flourish, •

   and abundance of peace

      till the moon shall be no more.

8  May his dominion extend from sea to sea •

   and from the River to the ends of the earth.

9  May his foes kneel before him •

   and his enemies lick the dust.


10  The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute; •

   the kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring gifts.

11  All kings shall fall down before him; •

   all nations shall do him service.

12  For he shall deliver the poor that cry out, •

   the needy and those who have no helper.

13  He shall have pity on the weak and poor; •

   he shall preserve the lives of the needy.

14  He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, •

   and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

15  Long may he live;

      unto him may be given gold from Sheba; •

   may prayer be made for him continually

      and may they bless him all the day long.

Psalm 72


This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Ephesians 3:1–12 


In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Matthew 2:1–12
Sermon on Epiphany

La nuit des trois rois” I learned this phrase from Pointless over the holiday. We heard that it meant Epiphany – Twelfth Night (yesterday, in fact, but the Church is celebrating this holy feast day today because this is the closest Sunday to the date).

We like the three kings, don’t we? I think we must because it has become the butt of childish humour. That carol’s outrageous substitute lyrics – like “smoking on a rubber cigar” – proves this point to me. But why do we like the kings?

Let’s look at the reading a little more closely. “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem” – what a start to the story. Wise men are something about whom we know nothing. Who are these “magi”? They are completely outlandish characters in the course of this narrative, aren’t they? These strangers went straight to the king, Herod. Who would be that brazen today – to go to the head of state to ask what is actually that very private question, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ After all, this child should be well known to the current king of the Jews, don’t you think? Who should know the answer to this question, but the king himself? “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Why should anyone be frightened at a new-born? The reason may lie in the fact that King Herod was a puppet-ruler: he was king in Jerusalem because the Romans appointed him to be so. The birth of another King of the Jews would upset everything, wouldn’t it? Herod would no longer hold sway and the Romans would want to subjugate this new king. Fear would be the first reaction in the ordinary world. Everyone is afraid that the world order would change – and everyone’s place in that new world would be up for grabs. No wonder everyone is frightened.

The star has guided these kings, these wise men, these men of mystery who can read the signs of the times – signs that no one else has noticed. The star has commanded the magi to make their way to Jerusalem. They have wound up in Jerusalem, not Rome, to ask their question about the new king. No wonder everyone is petrified. Imagine what the Romans would do if they heard about it!

In our everyday understanding, isn’t it a good thing that Herod secretly met with them? He had discovered the answer to their enquiry. The wisest of the Jews, the scribes, pharisees and priests of the temple, all agreed that they should pass on to another place, to Bethlehem, an obscure town in the countryside to find him. And the star helped as it continued to that other region to take its place there. By discretely answering their question Herod would not upset anyone, and he would quietly have intelligence about the new ruler in the region before the Romans did. Like all politicians, Herod was hedging his bets, he kept the new king in obscurity, but he also said, ‘Bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’

But we have to remember that we are dealing with a king who is anointed by God, which means all bets are off. Herod cannot hedge anything, can he? Herod is merely a Roman appointee, not really seen as part of a theocracy. God sets all our plans at nought, forcing us into his providence, a purpose human frailty can never comprehend. So whether we wager on this child or another in our human political lottery, we won’t necessarily win any jackpot, will we? Herod certainly did not. – When the magi sneaked away having given their gifts to the newborn child, Herod was wroth. In his anger, he began a progrom against the under-two-year-old-boy-children in his kingdom. Imagine that, a king murdering all boy children under two years old! This is the sort of thing which has happened all too often in human history, leaders have turned their faces against certain groups and the zealous have carried out wicked programs of slaughter. We need not go on about the fickle plans of human leaders, do we?

However, the three magi in their wisdom, in their appreciation of the divine, did go on to worship with joy, offering gold, frankincense and myrrh to this child whose star they followed right to the house where Jesus lay. And then they went home by another route, avoiding Jerusalem and all the bother Herod was stirring up in the meantime.

I think we can see these three men with their gifts and prognostication as trouble-makers. They came in, stirred up the palace, the temple and the streets with their question about a new king, then they scuttled off home, never to be heard from again. No wonder everyone was afraid in Jerusalem – They were all waiting for the jackboot of tyrannical oppression belonging to a conquering army to come crashing down on their necks. Rulers of that period were not known for sweet reasonableness, never mind the soldiers doing the bidding of a ruthless regime. The three men of our story avoided the consequences of the questions they asked on their way to Bethlehem by taking another route home.

“They were overwhelmed with joy” St Matthew tells us about these wise men who came from the East. Because they were migrant holy men, they could do what they wished – come to Jerusalem, ask questions about a new king, stir up the palace, and go submit themselves to the new king. No wonder Herod was mad. What is a fellow to do? – We know now that we should not do as Herod did. He has never had a good word said about him, has he? What good word will be said about us if we do not go to the child born at Christmass?

The night of the three kings – their story of the quest to find Jesus on his natal night inspires us every Epiphany, doesn’t it? They may have been a little late, but they did finally come to his side, just like we do every Christmass, to worship with joy.

I want us to live this story in our own lives today. We need to look into our world to see that star shining to guide us to our Lord and Saviour. There in the bleak midwinter we will lay our very selves as homage. The hopes and fears of all the years will be met in the person of our new-born king. There in that child who will give himself over to death on a cross just for me – just for each and every one of us – so I will become myself. I will surrender to Jesus and become free. I will offer up the most dear of my possessions in humility and joy because the world has been overthrown and I have no fear. I will live a life of fullness. Isn’t this what Bishop Rachel’s call for “LIFE” is all about?


Christmass Day


Almighty God, you have given us your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Lord Jesus Christ, your birth at Bethlehem draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth: accept our heartfelt praise as we worship you, our Saviour and our eternal God.


Old Testament

The people who walked in darkness

   have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness—

   on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,

   you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

   as with joy at the harvest,

   as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,

   and the bar across their shoulders,

   the rod of their oppressor,

   you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For all the boots of the tramping warriors

   and all the garments rolled in blood

   shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us,

   a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

   and he is named

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,

   and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

   He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

   from this time onwards and for evermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2–7 


1  Sing to the Lord a new song; •

   sing to the Lord, all the earth.

2  Sing to the Lord and bless his name; •

   tell out his salvation from day to day.

3  Declare his glory among the nations •

   and his wonders among all peoples.

4  For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; •

   he is more to be feared than all gods.

5  For all the gods of the nations are but idols; •

   it is the Lord who made the heavens.

6  Honour and majesty are before him; •

   power and splendour are in his sanctuary.

7  Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; •

   ascribe to the Lord honour and strength.

8  Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name; •

   bring offerings and come into his courts.

9  O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; •

   let the whole earth tremble before him.

10  Tell it out among the nations that the Lord is king. •

   He has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;

      he will judge the peoples with equity.

11  Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad; •

   let the sea thunder and all that is in it;

12  Let the fields be joyful and all that is in them; •

   let all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord.

13  For he comes, he comes to judge the earth; •

   with righteousness he will judge the world

      and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 96


For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11–14


In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,

   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:1–20

Sermon on Christmass Day

Now the parties should really begin, shouldn’t they? Today is the Feast of the Incarnation and starts the Twelve Days of Christmass. Forget Santa Claus, his elves, the overindulgences of office parties, everything the television has been foisting upon us during the last eight weeks or more, the trite songs of wishing every day is Christmass as they blare to encourage shopping. Today we keep Christmass with our families close. We enjoy the holidays with our loved ones, for the most part, don’t we? Today we can practice that christian love, making ready for the new year of peace to all.

I think we should  now remember the child born in the midst of a time of terror. Let us celebrate with joy that God is with us in the Christ, whatever the situation. Let us rejoice in the hope we now have because of Christmass.

Yesterday I mentioned the infinite possibility of the new-born child and I would like to start there, with the infant Christ in the manger. This is the image we wake to on Christmass morning, isn’t it? Of course we honour our loved ones with presents whatever the cost, but we remember that our giving to our loved ones is just what those shepherds did two thousand years ago when they left the fields on that cold and frosty night or later on what the magi did when they followed their star to Bethlehem.

Our waking thoughts this morning were not of the profit we can make from the deal, but the love we have received from those with whom we are to exchange those presents. Our giving of presents is not a reflection of the political reality of deals which has oppressed us for over a year. No, our gifts on Christmass Day are not transactions, they are offerings without expectation of an exchange of equivalent items. We are not making deals on Christmass Day, or are we? Do you think that Christmass is just one huge potlach? – I may be referring to something you may not know about. Does anyone else know what a potlach is? The native americans of the northwest of the continent used to outdo each other with gifts – once a gift had been given, you had to return a more expensive gift (it became a gift race, not an arms race). I suppose it is like when the King or Queen visits – they always require such lavish hospitality. How can one out-do regal hospitality? – But we try in any case, don’t we? Christmass is not this sort of potlach, is it? Christmass is an opening of hearts to one another, with no thought of anything in return – a pure form of charity, agape, christian love.

We have woken to a new day – the newest of mornings, as the hymn goes – today, a day unlike any other during the year. We are celebrating the Christ-child as he presents himself, as we present him, in the manger. There he is in infinite possibility – let alone  the majesty – of a new-born. There he lies before us in his finite transcendence. There he is in his very real existence so we can ponder and wonder.

Christmass Day is the day we wake up that new morning and we place ourselves in the world as if for the first time. We individually awake to our ownmost possibility,that of each and every one of us. This is a great mystery, isn’t it? That my fate is infinite. There are no bounds to what I am in my self, the self that I choose to be even though I have been thrown into these particular circumstances.

In essence, today we know that we are all like Christ at the beginning of life. With Christ we hold the infinite universe in the minutest of hands. No one who gazes at a new-born, whose little finger is grasped and tugged by the infant’s tiny hand, doubts this. We are filled with wonder as we gaze down, wondering what the future will be for that wee bairn.

We wonder what our own future is on this most glorious of mornings, as we look into the manger, don’t we? What one possibility can be my very own? Which one of the infinite possibilities will I take to my heart authentically?

These are the thoughts of a Christmass morning for me.I think of my immediate possibility of turkey with all the trimmings, the spare place set for the stranger who may come, opening of presents from far and near, the tokens of love from friends and family tumbling anew into our hearts today. I will eat my fill as we have for the last forty years together but feel as if this is the first day of creation. In the midst of traditional Christmass, I am renewed – a new man, yet again. – When I was a student I read about traditional cultures where the myths, symbols and rituals were repeated exactly the same as they always had been, but they were the renewal of the world, precisely because they were done in the way they happened at the beginning of the creation, their very own world. – My repeating of the elements of Christmass Day is much like rituals of those traditional societies. I renew my world with these comforting routines – church, the turkey and all its trimming, the opening of presents that unite me to loved ones near and far – and I hope that the world will be one of peace and joy to all.

And I say this is the case because this morning I looked into the manger to find Christ staring up at me from amidst the warming straw. On this cold winter’s day I have been enlivened, fired up even, by seeing the innocence of a baby giving me hope in my quest for my ownmost possibility. I realise that I can find what I ultimately am in the absolutely new of the unknown just as in the repetition of the traditional, that boring ever-the-same, beloved of the very reactionary conservative. However, I realise that it is neither the strange nor the familiar, but I realise that my engagement with the tradition and world around me makes the world new this morning. I make the world my own as I settle into the tradition which reflects my very real world around me.

That is what the manger and my looking at an infant has done for me today, to bring me right into the present where life is to be found. Perhaps this is what Bishop Rachel is trying to do with her LIFE campaign, to raise everything into the foreground where we can live it anew every morning. Jesus promised life in all its fullness – that is what I have today, even if it is the same ritual of so many years, with the ancient symbols hanging all around us, as I tell the old, old story of Jesus Christ to myself and to you as you listen to my rambling story of a new creation here today.

So let the Christmass parties begin in authentic earnest. Everything up to today has been a practice run for our celebrations. Now we can open our hearts with our presents – we can make the history of salvation our own by sharing it with all, whoever and wherever they are. Now we can really enjoy the closeness of friends and family and even strangers, as we gather everyone together during these twelve days of Christmass, and in the tradition of this benefice until we light up our churches on Candlemass.


Fourth Sunday of Advent/Christmass Eve


God our redeemer, who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.

2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16


1  My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: •

   with my mouth will I proclaim your faithfulness

      throughout all generations.

2  I will declare that your love is established for ever; •

   you have set your faithfulness as firm as the heavens.

3  For you said: ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one; •

   I have sworn an oath to David my servant:

4  ‘ “Your seed will I establish for ever •

   and build up your throne for all generations.” ’

19  You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people: •

   ‘I have set a youth above the mighty;

      I have raised a young man over the people.

20  ‘I have found David my servant; •

   with my holy oil have I anointed him.

21  ‘My hand shall hold him fast •

   and my arm shall strengthen him.

22  ‘No enemy shall deceive him, •

   nor any wicked person afflict him.

23  ‘I will strike down his foes before his face •

   and beat down those that hate him.

24  ‘My truth also and my steadfast love shall be with him, •

   and in my name shall his head be exalted.

25  ‘I will set his dominion upon the sea •

   and his right hand upon the rivers.

26  ‘He shall call to me, “You are my Father, •

   my God, and the rock of my salvation;”

Psalm 89


Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.

Romans 16:25–27


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26–38 

Sermon at Morning Prayer, Fourth Sunday of Advent/Christmass Eve 

This Sunday’s advent candle is special, it is pink – to remind us of the Mother of God, theotokos, as our orthodox brethren call the Blessed Virgin Mary. So I want to ask: How do we in the modern, scientific West remember the human parents of Jesus Christ?

The Eastern name for Mary is quite different from the West’s Blessed Virgin, isn’t it? I think theotokos in itself goes well beyond the West’s epithet in marking Mary as a unique point in time and space, part of the central point in the history of salvation. There are theologians who find the whole history of the world and its culmination in Jesus Christ’s existence. Up to that point, everything anticipates him; after that life everything looks back to Jesus as the saving event. All the prophets pointed to the coming saviour of the world. All the saints who have followed on from the cross take Jesus as the model of life and imitate Christ in their lives of flesh and spirit.

Without Mary, we could not understand that Jesus was born amongst us historical human beings. Without Mary we could not comprehend that God is with us in that baby of salvation. Mary is the point to which mothers all look. They understand their own motherhood in the light of Mary’s, for their children are the sum of their hopes. Every child expresses the hope of the world, a mother’s hope. Each child could be the next miracle worker, a new world leader, a doctor who could cure the common cold, a model citizen, a person to whom people would turn in times of trouble. Why that child may even become a priest who through sacraments, teaching and prayer will bring holiness to everyone’s lives! These are just some of the infinite possibilities of the new-born child we see in its mother’s arms.

In the midst of all these possibilities of life which the new-born baby represents – which the new-born baby symbolises – let us consider the historical reality of Mary’s boy-child. The period of the birth of Jesus was one of great turmoil. Foreigners invading, violence, wars, famines, plagues – it was a time of terror, not unlike the fear we experience today. Jesus’ era was one in which the faithful hoped for a king to rule with a mighty hand, a king whose hand is graced by a ring which would rule them all. The mothers of this time hoped for their children, that one of them might be that ruler in the name of God. Every mother at that time had great expectations for the future, and for their children. They often gave them symbolic names, none less significant than the name ‘Jesus’.

Mary was one of those women whose expectations will be met in her child tonight. Doesn’t the angel tell her everything?

‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

These words, however, are not comforting – they foreshadow the trials and tribulations to come. Being called “great” and “Son of the Most High” are blasphemous when they issue from mortal mouths. Imagine Mary’s terror when she took that on board! Imagine how she must have shaken when she thought about how this tiny scion of David was to take over the reign of the house of Jacob. We all know the bloody history of the succession of kings, don’t we? The many historical dramas have illustrated that in great detail, haven’t they? Why even our own limited study of history should do this for us! Did Mary really want to give her son up to that game of thrones?

Mary must have been absolutely terrified at the prospect of this life of political leadership being prophesied for her expected child. Wouldn’t we all pale at the prospect of such a fate for our own children? We have watched the stories of the powerful and their demons, how kings and queens have battled to do the good in spite of their frailty and fear – and how so many have failed. If we know this, we who live in relatively peaceful times, imagine how Mary must have felt as she heard this news with the iron-shod tramping of foreign invaders all around her.

The real terror is that our hopes for, and the realities of, life do not correspond in any way. How can I hope for my child to be great at all when the political forces around me conspire to keep me under their heels? How can my innocent child become the heir to the throne of such a power? Why would I place my child on that seat bathed in, and stained by, blood? Parents have no wish for their child to take on that future, do they? — The infant has infinite possibilities. They open all around the child and remain myriad until I, as that child, come to ask what my “ownmost possibility” is. What is my destiny? How do I know that is the only thing that I should be? This is the heart of the existential dilemma. How am I authentically what I choose to be? The infant can be anything, but choices made begin to limit the child, and even more so as the child becomes an adult and finally the limitations of old age.

However, knowing the limitations of my life gives me freedom to be who I am at every moment. I seize upon who I am at that very instant. I ultimately choose my destiny. Theologically, this is the heart of human free will, the ultimate choice for belief or despair.

When we do not choose to be what we are, fate, others, or perhaps the anonymous “they” are given power over us. As Mary heard those words from the angel, she chose her own destiny, to be the “Mother of God” – Mary chose to be the Blessed Virgin.

[When] Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,’ and the angel departed from her,

she chose her infinite future before God with an angel as her witness. The best of mothers make up their minds for the sake of their children, don’t they? Our mothers don’t choose our fate, rather they place us in a field of infinite possibility and keep it clear for us until we hem ourselves in to our ownmost possibility, whatever that may be.

Our mothers have chosen their fate to be for their children. Like Mary, theotokos and ever-Blessed Virgin – the pure woman, is how we consider our mothers, isn’t it? Mother has bared her heart to take that sword which pierces it so painfully as we grow to be what we can be. The hopes and fears of a mother’s expecting of her child are what Advent is all about. We await the coming, glorious Messiah. That is our ownmost possibility as christians today and tomorrow – to welcome our messianic saviour.

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Advent Sunday


Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Old Testament 

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

   so that the mountains would quake at your presence –

as when fire kindles brushwood

   and the fire causes water to boil –

to make your name known to your adversaries,

   so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,

   you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard,

   no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

   who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right,

   those who remember you in your ways.

But you were angry, and we sinned;

   because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean,

   and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf,

   and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name,

   or attempts to take hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us,

   and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;

   we are the clay, and you are our potter;

   we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,

   and do not remember iniquity for ever.

   Now consider, we are all your people.

Isaiah 64:1–9


1  Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, •

   you that led Joseph like a flock;

2  Shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim, •

   before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.

3  Stir up your mighty strength •

   and come to our salvation.

4  Turn us again, O God; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

5  O Lord God of hosts, •

   how long will you be angry at your people’s prayer?

6  You feed them with the bread of tears; •

   you give them abundance of tears to drink.

7  You have made us the derision of our neighbours, •

   and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

8  Turn us again, O God of hosts; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

18  Let your hand be upon the man at your right hand, •

   the son of man you made so strong for yourself.

19  And so will we not go back from you; •

   give us life, and we shall call upon your name.

20  Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Psalm 80


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:3–9


‘But in those days, after that suffering,

 the sun will be darkened,

   and the moon will not give its light,

 and the stars will be falling from heaven,

   and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Mark 13:24–37

Sermon on Advent Sunday

Advent has been the time we traditionally consider the four last things – death, heaven, hell and judgement. In fact our collect for today elicits these thoughts, if we were to consider the prayer carefully.

… that on the last day, when the Lord shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal …

I wonder if we have ever thought about the four last things as part of our Advent preparation for Christmass. Advent is supposed to be like Lent – a period of preparation for the great feast of the Church during which we celebrate the mystery of Jesus Christ – that is why we use purple for both seasons’ colour. Advent and Lent.are purple times; we are supposed to be making ready for the Christ in our lives, here and now, a very present help in the troubles of our own times. We prepare in Advent for the Incarnation and in Lent we prepare for the Resurrection, the two events which define our salvation.

Advent is our preparation for the very real presence of Christ in the world, at the centre of time and space in the saving act of the Incarnation – as St Athanasius wrote, “God became a man, so that men might become godlike.” The collect prayer today points us to the εσχατον, the last moment in time, which St John’s book of Revelations describes, when the world will be overturned and Christ will walk the earth in the glory he is, while in his earthly ministry he only hinted at that glory. He did so through his ministry of teaching, healing and miracles.

The collect prayer is our collective meditation on the point of our faith, our relation with the divine through the person of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In Advent we concentrate on the incarnation, the coming into the world of God in the form of a human being – the very real historicity of the divine, that God is with us, no longer a remote abstraction with no connection to the lives we really live.

I would say the feast of the incarnation reflects our ownmost possibility, if those words of Athanasius explain Christmass, if those words of Athanasius explain the purpose of incarnation. The incarnation is the reciprocal relation between God and human being, that God has come down for us so that we can go up for God, as that saying in the letter of Hebrews says, and that we sing in carol.

Incarnation is something we don’t really take very seriously in the West. Our culture is the expression of mind over matter without realising that the world around us is one of matter in which we find ourselves.

The philosophers following Plato and Aristotle elevated the spiritual – the mind – over the flesh, and much of the Church’s thought followed that intellectual path. This idealism is the background to much of the New Testament as well as the patristic and medieval periods of the Church.

This trajectory of thought has brought so much of the history of the Church with it. We live in this world of dualism where body and soul, flesh and spirit, are sharply defined and one is despised while the other is lifted high into the sky. That ethereal realm is far from the everyday with which we deal – the nitty-gritty of recalcitrant matter, the grey area of life with others (our lovers and our enemies), the very knotty problems of ethics.

However, we have lost that world-view, haven’t we? We admit that we do live in a world where other people dwell with us. Since we have established our connectedness with all things, we become incarnate. We become grounded in our selves which are both material and spiritual at the same time in the same space.

This is a very different message from that of the Church traditionally. The Church in the West sees the spirit as the goal, the essence of human being. I would rather see the spirit as the completion of the flesh. This is the union of flesh and spirit into a whole, what I have called our “ownmost possibility”.

All of our prayers have a focus, in the case of our Collect for today, our ownmost possibility; this focus is the focus for our Advent preparations. How do I become precisely what only I can become? This ownmost possibility is what we here in this building call “redemption”, “forgiveness”, “salvation”. The whole point of my life is this very summation, my ownmost possibility.

Don’t think that this is my own idea – I am merely repeating what the philosopher has talked about – something I have overheard and, in the classic manner of the schools, have repeated in my own words, if only to use the philosopher’s phrase, “ownmost possibility”.

Wherever that phrase comes from, I can only hope that it helps us understand what Advent preparation is all about. Undoubtedly, I will come back to this theme throughout Advent. I hope that it starts us all on our preparation for the celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. The most important part of our preparation is prayer, the focus of our very selves on the ground and end of our lives.

Prayer can take many forms. Meditation, intercession, confession, are some types of prayer. Sometimes, like Paul, we pray with incoherent groanings, when the very heart of life cries out unintelligibly but with the utmost of meaning. Sometimes, with the Carthusians, our prayer is silent.

Prayers connect us with our ownmost possibility when it is sincere and true. When we pray with all our heart, don’t we choke up with tears? Don’t our bodies come to the fore when our spirit opens itself to its final form? So I would like to suggest that we can pray our collects week by week in this manner – with our whole selves.

The alternative collect for today is this:

Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Let’s use this collect as a starting point in our Advent preparation. This can be used throughout Advent, not just on this, the first Sunday of Advent.

Collects are prayers which prepare us for the worship ahead – they guide us into the theme of the particular worship we attend to. However, they also point us to a very real future for each and every one of us. We should take our collects into the whole of our lives, because they force us to confront our ownmost possibilities.

Let us pray fervently through Advent using our public Collects and our private prayers to attain the ownmost possibility for each and every one of us, to move ourselves closer to that Kingdom to which we aspire.