Thursday 29 March 2012

Palm Sunday Message

Sunday is Palm Sunday the beginning of the most holy week in the Church’s calendar. All four gospel writers tell the story of that first momentous week, let us turn to Mark in Chapter 11.

The Chapter opens where Jesus is about to make the final stage of His life’s journey which will end at the Cross, and He plans it with great detail, sending two of His Apostles to arrange for the donkey on which He will ride into Jerusalem. In the course of the next few days He would celebrate the Last Supper with His Apostles, see one of them betray Him, face a mock trial and be sentenced to death, led to the Cross and crucified.

During His earthly ministry Jesus sought to withdraw from public attention and did what He had to do quietly, often asking people He helped not to tell; now He is deliberately seeking attention as He rides into the city at the greatest public festival of the Jewish year to proclaim Himself to be the Messiah. This was the feast of the Passover, so revered as a memory of when God led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, and when most people would be in the city. Jesus will fulfil the purpose for which He came when He will surrender His life in order that we may have eternal life.

His works had become well known and the crowds greeted Him with shouts of Hosanna, which means ‘save us’, seeing Him as the one who would lead them to glory in world conquest. When they realised this was not His mission, the same crowds would later in the week shout’ ‘crucify Him’.

As with every Bible passage there is a meaning and a message for us to-day. Just as the Jews then rejected Jesus, so do so many people now. But God allows us free will to make a decision to be with Jesus or not. Even those who claim to be Christians can be lukewarm and allow their commitment to grow cold. It is not enough to pay the odd visit to nod to the Almighty at Christmas, Easter or to a baptism service. There is a little ditty, ‘each time I pass may parish Church I pay a little visit, so when at last I’m carried in, the Lord won’t say who is it’. Everyone has to take responsibility for the way they respond to the Lord.

There is an American story about a young man who painted a portrait of his friend shortly before the friend died. The young man took the portrait to his friend’s father, a rich man, who offered him a huge sum of money, which the young man refused. Some time later the father died and all his priceless possessions were auctioned. The first item up for auction was the portrait, which no one showed any interest in except the father’s old black servant. He offered a few dollars, all he had, and got the painting. The auctioneer to everyone's surprise closed the auction. The father’s will said ‘he who accepts the son has everything’. We can reject the Son as they did at Jerusalem all those years ago

I read a story of a Minister counselling a couple with married difficulties. At one point the husband said in anger to his wife, ‘I have given you a new home, new car , …and so the list went on.’ The wife answered, ‘yes that is true, you have given me everything but yourself.’ The greatest gift you can give for another is yourself, and that is what Jesus did, gave Himself.

The action of our Lord demands a response, and we all need to ask ourselves if we stood before the Lord today and we were asked why we should be allowed into heaven, what would we say. It is easy to say I am a Christian, 95% of the population believe as long as you are honest, kind and helpful to others you have a passport to heaven. It can be very hard to be a Christian when so many organisations, government and public busybodies try to suppress your faith under pain of some sanction. How Jesus would weep over society today as He wept over Jerusalem. Jesus Christ lovingly and finally kept God’s law and voluntarily paid sin’s price at Calvary, and He did it for you and for me.

A famous actor attended a meeting and was asked to recite a piece of literary art. He offered to say the 23rd Psalm if an elderly preacher present would do so after he had finished. The actor recited the psalm with much dramatic emphasis, as you see those actors doing so on religious programmes on television. The preacher then recited in a rough broken voice and when he had finished received prolonged applause. When someone asked the actor why he thought that was so, the actor said, ‘I know the psalm, he knew the shepherd’. Do you know the shepherd ?

For so many people the Cross has little relevance beyond being a fashion accessory. They may make an odd mistake, but at heart are good and to suggest they are sinful and need forgiving is a step too far. The message of the cross is that we must humble ourselves and surrender to God which is an affront to many people.

We learn from this account of history that we have to do more than just pay a passing visit. When we appear before Christ on the last day He will not ask if we had occasional thoughts about Him. The question will be, did we accept Him as our Lord and Saviour.

Friday 23 March 2012

John 12

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Welcome to this column. A sermon for the week-end is published each week, with comment on Church issues mid-week.

The reading for Sunday comes from John;s gospel in Chapter 12,verses 20-33. Turn with me to this passage which John alone tells.

Jesus had entered Jerusalem for the Passover festival having just raised Lazarus from the dead, and was receiving an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of people gathered for the festival. This was the major festival held annually to remember how God saved Israel. But there were some who did not welcome Jesus, and indeed were plotting His death.

At such a time as this many Gentiles would go to the city and although not Jews would join in the celebrations. Some Greeks were amongst the crowds who had heard of Jesus and were determined to meet Him. They were from a settlement in the North of Galilee and went to Philip who came from near their area and said to him, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’.

Having heard the stories of what Jesus had done they realised something was missing from their lives and wanted to receive from Him that something So when they said they wanted to see Jesus, they were in fact seeking a meeting with Him.

In many small evangelical churches in the United States, they have these words inscribed on the pulpit to remind the preacher that people have come to hear about Jesus Christ. . I had the joy of preaching recently at a small Methodist Church which had the same words inscribed on the pulpit. It is a call to the preacher that he must only preach Jesus Christ and not engage in philosophy, politics, or be submissive to political correctness. These words were the theme of the preacher when I was ordained at Chester Cathedral, one of the godliest men you could possibly meet

When Jesus was told of their request He was pleased and responded immediately. He had not gone to Jerusalem to enter for the same purpose as the crowds had in mind, events were building up and were leading to the time of our Lord’s road to the Cross. So when He heard a group of people were genuinely seeking Him, He said, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.

The Jews would not have understood what Jesus meant. For them the Son of Man conveyed an image of someone who would lead to world conquest and so attain glory, but Jesus meant it was time for Him to make the supreme sacrifice for the world by dying on the Cross so bringing glory to Him and to God

He went on to say "Truly, truly, I say to you." Whenever Jesus used those words, it meant that He was going to say something important. Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone." He was pointing out that when a seed died ir brought forth fruit, and death brings life through people.

As Christians were martyred for the faith, so the Church grew, and He was here meaning that He was like the grain of wheat and unless He went to the cross, His whole purpose in coming to earth will have been in vain. He knew what He had to face, and that He is going to be glorified through the sacrifice the cross, because by that cruel death the way to forgiveness for all believers was made possible. If He had not made the sacrifice on the Cross, you and I and everybody else, could not have forgiveness. His death meant eternal life for all who believed in Him.

When He met those Greeks it was as the first sign that the gospel was to go to all the world, and part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the Gentiles, the symbol of the great harvest for which He came.

If He had not died we probably would not know any more about Him for He would have just been another figure of history, of no greater significance than any other great religious leader. Because of the cross, He was able to do something He could never have done otherwise.

Jesus said the one loves their life will lose it. He was referring to those who live solely for themselves and out to get as much as they can without thought for others. Billy Graham received offers which would have made him a very rich man, but made clear his greatest desire was to preach the gospel for which he only took the salary of an ordinary Baptist Minister.

Christians generally are called to put service of the Lord first, and indeed there are many men and women who could have followed brilliant careers for rich rewards, but chose to go on mission fields far away from their homeland.

We see the humanity of Jesus displayed when He expressed his fear at the thought of the Cross, but was ready to give obedience to God and suffer much pain which would ultimately lead to triumph. God spoke to Jesus in His hour of torment, just as He did at His baptism and when on the Mount of Transfiguration. God is always ready to give strength when we seek it for the tasks we face in His name and cause

At the cross, Jesus underwent the judgement we deserve and paid our debt to God. His death gives us hope of everlasting life with Him one day. He wants to give you that hope in your life today. He alone can give you that new life that can never fade, and you can find that new life by meeting Jesus.

People in these high pressure days are so often weary and depressed and looking for that spiritual something. People are looking for something beyond themselves, looking for a way that gets the most out of life, yet carrying a load of guilt, fear and worry. Jesus said, ‘come unto me all you are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest’

A day is coming when we will all see Jesus. The Bible says everyone will assemble before Him as He sits on the judgement throne. Some will go one way with the goats, some the other way with the sheep. We will have either joy in the after life with Jesus, or eternity with the lost. The criterion is how we respond whilst we are here on earth. The bible says ‘now is the time of God’s favour, now is the time of salvation’. It will be too late after we have died, and no amount of intercession will then save us.

May we ever be like the Greeks in our passage today and want to see Jesus and seek Him with all our hearts.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Happy Mothering Sunday!

We have come to the fourth Sunday in Lent which is traditionally known as ‘Mothering Sunday’, the day we remember with love our mothers. We dedicate this service to them, for we will all have fond memories of our mothers even though many years have passed on.

This tradition originated in the 17th century when most of the population would attend Church, usually to the Church at which they had been baptised. Often whole villages would have processions to the Church with banners, even the servants of large houses would be allowed time to attend.

In the United States President Woodrow Wilson passed an Act of Congress in May 1914 decreeing that the second Sunday in May should be known as ‘Mothers Day,’ in order that love and reverence for mothers could be shown. Retailers and non Church members in this country have adopted that title rather than the English understanding of the religious significance.
This day also gives us the opportunity to remember Mary the mother of Jesus, and think of how our Lord honoured motherhood even by showing concern for His mother when dying on the Cross. In our time the home and family are under sustained attack. Soon we will no longer be expected to use the term husband and wife, and another name for mother will no doubt we found just to please the diversity maniacs.

The foundation for every home is a father and mother (of different sexes) and the breakdown of family life and influenced is reflected in the breakdown of the nation’s morality. It is now unrealistic to expect marriage to be for life but rather until we get fed up with each other.

A mother’s presence in the home is essential, and there has never been a more urgent time when good mothers are needed. I have never known a Jewish child get involved in anti-social behaviour or criminal activities, and that is due to the control the Jewish mama has over her family.
God intended motherhood to be of the highest calling yet government is advocating children can be brought up by two men, which is irresponsibility of the highest order. An American psychologist stated a child will never come to full development psychologically without a mother in the home. In an older generation a woman would not go to work when her children wee in infancy now we see even babies being left in nurseries with strangers to care for them. I realise it is a different economic and social climate but children’s development has not changed.

An article in a newspaper once said that women were leaving Christianity for Islam because of the greater moral code. Without denigrating the strict Islamic moral code, it is also a fact that no religion has greater respect for women than Christianity, and the Christian code is as moral as any, it is just Christians do not adopt it.

The emancipation of women began with Christianity 2000 years ago when Mary received a message from an angel and was told she would be the only woman ever to wear the red rose of maternity with the white rose of virginity and be the mother of the Saviour of the world. When her Son grew up He gave women a new place in human relations with a dignity that wherever Christianity has gone women have been respected.

When god created the world He made man and He made woman, and gave each different characters, equal but different to fulfil different functions in life, and for women He gave a more caring nature in order to be mothers. Abraham Lincoln once remarked that no nation is greater than its mothers for they are the makers of men

Female politicians, especially in modern government have tried to turn this upside down, and in the false name of equality have made some women to adopt the worst practices of men. For 2000 years women had in many respects been superior to men, but in the cause of equality and feminism, have adopted the worst vices of men.

The Bible calls on older women who have an honoured place in society, to play a major part in guiding younger women in the bringing up of children from their years of experience. We must have concern for women bringing up children in a world where all moral values are being eroded. Theirs is a big responsibility, especially when the nation’s broadcasting system gives out such foul talk and explicit scenes that cause weaker minds to think that is the natural way of life.

We need women who will lead their families back to more old style morality decency and purity. Children are being brought up without any religious knowledge, knowing nothing about Jesus or Biblical characters even in the homes of whatever class of home. An idealism prevails as to how children should behave, but it is often a source of admiration and being in modern phraseology ‘cool’ for a child to be sexually aware. Schools play little part in educating children in religion or conduct unless the school is a private one.

Spiritual matters should be of concern to mothers. Promises are made at baptism services that children will be brought up in the fellowship of the Church, although few have ever any intention of honouring the promises made. When my two sons were growing up my then occupation required me to be away from the home for many long hours, and so much care fell upon my wife. It is to her credit that they both entered the Christian ministry after being youth leaders at their local Church. Today they are successful Vicars at Churches of their own where they have been a powerful influence in the Churches they have served.

I would encourage every mother to teach their children the stories of Jesus, and other stories from the Bible, it will give them a sure foundation for life. To bear a child is a costly and sometimes very painful act calling for endurance sometimes beyond the mother herself. Mothering Sunday calls on us to remember it is the giving of oneself.

Mothers continue to care and worry for their children even when they reach adulthood. We have numerous examples of godly mothers in the Bible as an example for us to follow such as the mother of James and John who sought favour for them from Jesus, Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth Salome, and of course above all Mary the mother of Jesus.
Women have been asked on radio and television what their occupation was , and have replied, ‘only a housewife and mother’. There is nothing to justify the word ‘only’, such is one of the most honourable and worthy occupations.

May God richly bless all mothers.

Saturday 10 March 2012


This a draft of a sermon preached on Sunday 11th March 2012
I have chosen marriage as my subject for this morning for it seemed appropriate as we are celebrating a diamond wedding and the subject of marriage is very much in the public domain at the moment.
The Catholic Archbishop of England and Wales has issued a pastoral letter which will be read in all Catholic churches this morning in response to the government’s proposed redefinition of marriage, so it is further appropriate we should join our Catholic brothers and sisters and think together about marriage.
Let us turn to some verses from the Old Testament in the book of Genesis, God said, ‘ it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper for him. So the Lord God caused man to fall into a deep sleep. Then the Lord God made a woman and brought her to the man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they shall become one flesh’
If you but a new car or electrical implement you are given a manual which tells you how to get the best of what you have got, and a sensible person will abide by the manual. When God created the world He ordained marriage, He set out in His manual how we can have the best in that relationship, it is called the Bible.
I once attended a Church where the Minister refused to have the Old Testament read or preached upon as he considered it of no relevance. Our Lord constantly referred to the Old Testament particularly when referring to marriage.
Let us turn then to the Scriptures.
God having created the earth with all its elements and animals then created man. He then saw that man was lonely and loneliness can lead to depression. God saw that man needed a companion,
We are told the man was sleeping when God decided to make woman. So God gave woman as man’s helper, someone who can be at man’s side who will give life more meaning, pleasure and support; someone to love and cherish. Matthew Henry wrote, ‘woman was made not out of man’s head to rule over him, not out of his foot to be trampled on, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, near to his heart to be loved’
Most men if honest would concede how their wife has been of much help. When I was a Vicar, Olive attended every service I took, and not being one who liked the limelight, preferred to be amongst the congregation, where in fact she became very popular. People who wanted me to know something, but didn’t want to tell me directly, would use her as a communication, and I would be advised as to who needed attention and help, in addition of course to telling me what I shouldn’t have said.
The Bible states, ‘he who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord.’
God has now made two people, man and woman, Adam and Eve. We must accept that God knows best and when he wanted man to have a companion He made a woman as the perfect answer, someone who could complement man in every way, physically and mentally in a way other men could not, and men throughout the ages have appreciated and recognised this. God wanted to supply what was lacking in man’s life and together they could have children and create the ideal family. God planned the human heart to love, marry and have children.
So we have two people, equal yet different, no question of superiority or inferiority. They were not meant to be identical, men are generally stronger physically, more aggressive, with a greater propensity for leadership, women more softer and sensitive and caring, specially equipped to be mothers, and usually live longer
In the film ‘my fair lady’ Rex Harrison playing a professor of phonetics asks ‘why can’t a woman be like a man, and gets the answer, ‘because she wasn’t created to be’. We are a mixture that complements one another.
The Bible states a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Cleave means glued together, so the two should grow in love through the years in an exclusive commitment. As they do so they share likes and dislikes, and whilst they will have different strengths and weaknesses, each will help the other. They will find they can know the other’s feelings and often anticipate what the other is thinking. They need to trust each other and have no secrets. The wife is now the one in the man’s life who takes precedence over all others.
Marriage today is under attack as never before and not seen as a lifelong commitment, divorce is easy and generally taken as acceptable. Jesus laid strictness on marriage but ruled divorce out. In Britain we have one of the lowest marriage rates in Europe but the highest number of divorces.
In the days of Henry Ford and the Model T, someone asked him to what formula he attributed his successful marriage. He said, "The same formula as the making of a successful car: stick to one model."
Marriage is the bedrock of society yet now long held beliefs are being challenged. Marriage lends stability to society and builds a framework which is held in high esteem. It is one of the most important aspects of our culture which no government has the right to redefine or diminish its value.
. Jesus highly valued marriage and performed His first miracle at a wedding. One boy asked by his father what he learned at Sunday School, told the story of this wedding and his father asked him what that taught him. The boy answered, ‘if you are going to have a wedding make sure Jesus is there’. A much better answer than that of another boy who was asked did Prince and Cinderella live happily ever after said, ‘No they got married’
Marriage is a solid foundation for the bringing up of children, who are a key factor in God’s intention for marriage. As many of you will know I was a Police Officer in the country’s most vibrant city, and I once remarked to a Jewish Rabbi that I had never known a Jewish boy (or girl) get into trouble for anti-social or violent behaviour. I asked him what he attributed this to and he said ‘the Jewish Mama, she keeps control of her family.’ I am sure that is true, but there are man Christian mamas too, perhaps not as many as hitherto.
Those of you in my generation will remember that women when they married did not usually go out to work, most in fact thought it their privilege to look after the home and children, which again is why there was nothing of the anti-social behaviour we now hear of and see.
When God’s plan for marriage is not followed there are so many failed ones. We need to return to the Biblical pattern where the secrets of a happy married life are laid out.
When two people appear together at Church for the wedding service, they pledge their faithfulness to each other and there is the giving of a ring(s). The ring has no break, no ending, signifying unending love. The ring is made of gold for precious and longevity. This what God intended
I close with the words of Archbishop Nichols, ‘we have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.

Friday 2 March 2012

Being a disciple, Mark 8 v 34/38

The Lectionary reading for this Sunday (Gospel) is taken from Mark’s gospel, Chapter 8 verses 31-38, but it will help to understand more clearly if we look at the verses before.

Jesus has asked the Apostles who people say He is and they tell Him various answers. Peter then made his famous confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. (Matthew describes it a little more fully by telling how Jesus was pleased with this answer and said He would build His Church on that reply)

At the start of our passage Jesus tells them that He is going to suffer at the hands of His enemies and then be killed. Peter challenges Him, causing Jesus to tell Peter he doesn’t understand the plan of God. Jesus was pointing out that it was necessary for Him to die as a sacrifice on the Cross, which is why He came to earth so that He could pay the penalty for our sins.

We cannot preach the gospel unless we refer to the Cross. The death of Jesus cannot be kept out of any gospel message. Billy Graham, who was more successful than any other preacher in Christian history, made clear every message he preached would contain the message of the Cross.

This passage could be titled ‘what it means to be a disciple’ for Jesus went on to tell what He expects from those who want to follow Him and be His disciple.

Firstly, to deny oneself. One of the most favourite pieces of music requested at funeral services, as well as being a universal favourite, is Frank Sinatra’s record, ‘my way’. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus in the Frank Sinatra style. Jesus requires us to live His way as He taught, and to put Him first rather than oneself. We are to deny doing the things that contradict a way of living to that laid down in Scripture. This does not mean we have to give up enjoying the luxuries and joys of life, it is our self we are to deny if it causes us to act against His way.

Jesus wants us to submit ourselves to His leadership and Lordship. There can be no discipleship apart from this,which is an essential part of discipleship.

Society is generally motivated in trying to acquire wealth and material possessions, sometimes by any means, and a priority in putting oneself first and enjoying oneself with little or no time for God or Christ. Worship is very low on the list of priorities, if at all. People who live only for this life will find that in the end they will lose it without having attained anything lasting. They will have wasted so many years on transient matters.

Secondly, we are to take up the cross. For Jesus the cross represents intense suffering, a rejection of Him by the world, but a sign of His complete obedience to God. To us the Cross is not just a story from the Bible, it is accepting God’s will for our life. As Jesus went freely to the Cross on our behalf and gave up His life for us, we must be prepared to put aside all that hinders our following Him, and give our life in service to Him. This will no doubt entail some suffering on our part, and even rejection by people we thought to be friends, but it is not likely to be physical suffering. The cross stands forever as a symbol of those circumstances which humble us, and offends our pride.

Thirdly, our lives can only be truly fulfilled and be worthwhile by following Jesus. He said if we hold on to our lives in this world we will lose the chance of living with Him in eternity. We can attain all this world offers, but if we do so and forsake Him we lose our soul. Jesus is calling for complete obedience, ready to do or say whatever He commands

Finally, Jesus stated if anyone is ashamed of Him now they will pay the price when the day comes when we will all face Him and give an account of our lives here. If we reject Him now, He will reject us on the day when we answer to Him.

Christianity is regularly attacked on radio and television, mostly by rather coarse and vulgar people, who think it a subject for amusing rebuke. Ministers of religion are portrayed as odd characters totally removed from normal people. One advertisement shows a Vicar acting in a befuddled way, to be associated with food which is boring, in contrast to jolly people enjoying the advertiser’s food.

We can be deemed to be ashamed of Jesus if we allow such attacks to go unchallenged, and we should remember the words of the hymn ‘stand up for Jesus’ and be prepared to let other know we resent such abuse.

Jesus is calling for commitment, which means picking up the Cross for Him. There are many people who claim to be followers, without having any justification. They have no intention of denying themselves and giving up things for Him.

Think, if you asked your friends or members of your family what they thought of Jesus, what would they be likely to say? But more importantly, if someone asked you ‘who do you say Jesus is’, what would be your answer?

Let each person ask oneself that question and let us hope and pray the answer will be, ‘He was the Son of God who came to earth to give His life as a ransom for me by dying on a Cross so that the sins of all mankind could be forgiven, and was raised on the third day by God to prove He conquered death, and now reigns in glory where one day all who have denied themselves, taken up the Cross and followed Him will live with Him in heaven.

And which way will you choose, the way of the cross or the way of the world