Bible Readings and Reflection

Check out Archdeacon Andy's blog for daily Bible reflections

The Bishop's Pastoral Letter (November)

We have recently been celebrating the season of the Saints. This begins on 1st November, when we celebrate All Saints’ Day, and continues through to the celebration of All the Saints of Wales on 8th. It is a good reminder that we are all, every single follower of Jesus, called to be saints. The word “saint” comes from the Latin, “sanctus”, meaning “holy”, and there is a tendency for us to use the word to imply that a saint is someone extraordinary. “She’s been a saint,” we might say, “to have put up with him for all these years.” There is both truth and falsehood in this. The truth is that most of the disciples of Jesus recognised in our Calendar as Saints are examples of lives of “heroic virtue” – that’s how they get into our calendar. However, it overlooks a profound truth about the Christian faith: that to be a saint is a gift. In the Book of Revelation, the saints are described as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7.14), while in Paul’s letters, the saints are simply the Christians of any place. This is because those who receive Jesus Christ as Lord are already bought by his sacrifice on the Cross, and awarded the status of the righteousness of Christ. Holiness is a gift to be received, and not a prize to be striven for. It is given at our adoption as children of God in baptism, by which we are spiritually and symbolically buried and resurrected with Jesus. We don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it: Christ has won our sanctification. I sometimes think that we can take this too much for granted. “Herein is God’s love,” wrote John, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4.10) However, the fact that God’s love for us is so profound, so embracing and so accepting, doesn’t mean that it should be taken for granted. It is meant to change us forever. This is a question which Paul tackles in his Letter to the Romans, a masterclass on how God is at work in the world in Jesus. In the first five chapters of the letter, Paul argues as strongly as he can for God’s free gift of salvation in Jesus – it is given, not earned. In Chapter 6, however, he has to address an obvious question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Should be just accept God’s love saves us, and not care how we respond and live? Not at all, says Paul. That’s not how it is meant to work. God’s love bought us in order to win us into a life of holiness, so now we must let the power of the Spirit govern our lives, and grow into wholeness and holiness and become like him. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is the spiritual worship that you can offer. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you can test out what God’s will for you is, good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12.2) Christians therefore live in a “now and not yet” situation. God’s love accepts us as we are, but God’s love should also drive us to be transformed, to live into a fullness of life according to his will. Christianity isn’t just about letting God plant his seeds of grace in us, but it is also about allowing the gardener to prune what is unholy from our lives, and to bring about the growth of what is holy instead. There is no laziness in Christianity: grace is gift, but also a summons; it is free, but it calls for commitment. We’re about to go into the season of Advent, and the whole thing is expressed in one of the central ideas of Advent. We ask God to stir us up, so that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light – that we might be transformed by God’s gift of love to  become all that God wishes for us to become: saints in word and deed.

John 18

There is a well-known story about Queen Elizabeth II when she was a young girl. One day she was wandering around one of the royal estates when a stranger asked her ‘Who are you?’ “Oh, I’m no one’, she replied, ‘but my father is the King.’

Knowing the truth of who we are and where we belong can be empowering. Today we celebrate the festival of Christ the King, and the truth of who we are when we belong to him.

We are going to reflect upon three ways this morning using our gospel reading by focusing on

1.   a kingdom without a king

2.   The kingdom with a king

3.   Characteristics of the kingdom

Firstly, a kingdom without a King

Most of us will never have met, or even seen a king or a queen in real life but, if asked, I imagine we would describe kingship of this world to be about majesty and riches or maybe power and authority. Maybe we might describe kingship from a different source. For you and I and every child who was old enough to hear a bedtime story knows about Kings and Queens. Kings and Queens who were noble and ruled their people with wisdom and might or Kings and Queens who were wicked and had no consideration for the needs of their own people.

Or maybe in our imagine we yearn for the presence of royalty in our lives. Whether we like it or not, there is something in us that long for the wise king or queen born of a long line to be relate to us.

The ancient world knew more about kings than we modern do. People knew about what kings did. Kings ruled people according to their own wishes and whims. They could promote one person and demote another. They were all powerful.

People knew how kings became kings too. Often the crown would pass from father to son, or to some other close relative. From time to time there would be a revolution. The way to the crown, for anyone not in the direct family line was through violence.

Here from our Gospel reading we read about what a kingdom without a king looks like. We read that these Jews were extremely religious because instead of having faith in God their king they instead simply picked and choose what laws to obey and what laws to disobey.

In other words, they held the authority or so they thought. The Jews led Jesus to Pilate’s house, the Praetorium but would not enter themselves because they did not wish to defile themselves by entering into a home of a gentile. Think with me about a religion without faith that says they would rather plot murder because it suited their needs while at the same time not go into Pilate’s mansion because they would defile themselves and not take part or continue to take part in the Passover celebration. That seems to be very twisted. Murder is ok that wouldn’t defile them but stepping into Pilate’s house would.

Secondly, a kingdom with a King

What kind of king is Jesus? While Pilate and Jesus walk back inside of the mansion leaving the Jews outside. It is here that Jesus is put on trial. On one hand Pilate, the governor, summons Jesus before him, a vulnerable rabbi standing in chains.

As Pilate faces Jesus someone beforehand must have hinted about why Jesus was there. Maybe the chief priests or the messagers or even the soldiers who handed him over talked about him claiming to be king. Pilate doesn’t understand the ins and outs of the odd ways in which the Jews organised their lives but he does know what kings are, what kingdoms are, where they come from and how they behave. He comes out with it and asks “Are you the King of the Jews?”

The question for me is a crucial one. Jesus’ life or death hangs on the answer to this question. What’s important to note here is that Jesus now begins to ask the questions of Pilate. Pilate discovers, as many have discovered before Jesus that when you ask him a question the answer is likely to be another question. Jesus is in fact interrogating Pilate.

Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?

In other words, Jesus is getting at is this – If Pilate is asking this on his own then he has in mind a political king who could be a threat to him and Roman rule. However, if he’s asking because the Jews had said that Jesus was claiming to be a king, then he would have in mind the king of the Jews.

We know from John’s gospel that Jesus is the King of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah, the King from the line of David. Jesus cannot simply say yes or no. He is a King but not like Pilate was thinking.

‘My Kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here’.

Jesus’ answer is both incriminating and deeply revealing. His kingdom doesn’t come from this world. Jesus is talking about the world as it is. The world is fallen, broken, not living up to the dream. Jesus is denying that his kingdom has a this-worldly origin or quality.

God intended peace but the world is a violent place. The world is full of greed, cruelty, hurt, but Jesus says his kingdom isn’t like any other kingdom. Its source is in God. He is not denying that it has a this-worldly destination because that is why he was sent, and will send his followers into the world. His kingdom doesn’t come from this world, but it is for this world.

In particular as Jesus points out, if his kingdom were of the normal type, his followers would fight to stop him being handed over. They nearly did but Jesus stopped them and restrained them. Peter needed to learn the lesson Jesus was teaching Pilate and it would take nothing less than the resurrection to get it through to him. Jesus is indeed claiming to be a king, even though he isn’t the sort of king that Herod the great was or even Caesar.

Thirdly, the characteristics of the kingdom

Within the conversation with Pilate. Jesus reveals characteristics of his kingship and kingdom.

1.   His Kingship is about meekness and humility – He came to serve, not to be served

2.   His Kingship is about love

3.   His Kingship is not about violence but instead built upon peace

His Kingship is not about the kind of power or authority that this world understands. His kingship is actually what we long for, deep inside of us.

Jesus talked about his kingdom and by this point Pilate still doesn’t get it. He can only see things from a this-worldly perspective. As far as he knows, the only place you get truth is out of a sword. His world of armies and weapons and power and authority doesn’t compute.

As Christians we cannot view things like the world does. We must have a godly perspective on the world not a worldly one. Ultimately, for Pilate, it comes to truth, his truth against Jesus’ truth, my power against your weakness, my cross to hang your naked body on.

So you’re a king? “You say so,” Jesus replies. “You say I’m a king. For this I was born,”.

For Jesus, truth is not something to be manipulated and twisted like the world does but He came to reveal truth. Jesus even prayed that God’s truth would sanctify us or make us holy and set us apart from the world.

The truth that says that everyone who belongs to the truth hears his voice. Our work is discerning Jesus’ voice, the voice of the King. When we’re able to do that, it changes everything.

How long does it take for babies to recognise the voice of different people? When my daughter was aged 4, I was in a pantomime and my daughter went to watch me perform. Every time I sang or spoke, she became more attentive.

She had tuned into my voice. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is something that we learn to do. We recognize voices that we listen to regularly. Do we listen to God’s voice often enough to recognize it?

I wandered alone along the beach sometimes and as I took in the sights and sounds around me – the clouds floating across the sky, the waves crashing against the shore, the seagulls calling high above,

I really sensed God’s presence deep within my soul. I could feel His Love all around. I was filled with a deep peace and joy and I wanted to worship Him there and then. This is hearing the voice of God.

This is opening our hearts through prayer - to hear God’s voice is by sensing the voice of Love calling to the very depths of our hearts.

When we stop, and listen for the voice of the King, it pulls our hearts up to heaven, and roots them in His Kingdom. The truth, pure and simple, is that God is Love and God is speaking to you in love right now. God’s invitation to us is to listen attentively, to listen devoutly, and to know the truth of His Love.

On this day of joy as we celebrate Christ the King,

We call Jesus’ King not as the world understands it but because he’s the one who brings acceptance, mercy, healing, forgiveness and justice.

We call Jesus King because we believe that in following him, we bring about His Kingdom to ourselves, in others, and to those who need to know that God wants to know them.

We call Jesus King because as one man dies others would go free and so we testify to the truth and those who belong to the truth hear the sound of His voice.

Pilate didn’t see it at the time. Even cunning Caiaphas probably didn’t appreciate what Jesus was doing but for John the gospel writer he wants us to see it. This is what the truth is come and follow Jesus – worship him, serve him and testify to that truth by living by his example in love, hope, peace and joy with all people.



Acts 16:16-34 & John 17:20-26  - Rev Chris Spencer

This morning I’m going to talk about unity. The type of unity that we find in God, with God and through God. Both our readings talk about unity but express it in different ways.

Let’s turn towards the story of Paul and Silas. They are travelling in Philippi and we hear that they are on the way to the place of prayer. The first mention of unity that we hear is that Paul and Silas are on the way to pray with other Christians and with God.

They were more or less on their way when they encounter a woman possessed by a spirit. They commanded it to leave her in the name of Jesus, which it did. They were in unity with Jesus, to cast out the spirit from the woman.

We don’t know what happened afterwards, but we see that Paul and Silas operate in unity with the authority of Jesus to free her.

For their troubles, they end up being taken, beaten and stripped by the local authorities and eventually imprisoned.

Paul and Silas however sing praises to God and show that they are in unity with Jesus who went through his own experience of trial and punishment.

Later that night, Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God and there was an earthquake which shook loose their chains and burst open the prison. Just picture that moment and it reminds me of Jesus’ own story. Where Jesus died, the temple shook, the curtain was torn in two and the chains of death were loosened for all of us. Jesus burst open the tomb to show he had conquered death and was alive again.

Now we could say that this point in Paul and Silas’ story ties up with Jesus’ story as a reminder to us that Jesus brings us all together in unity in so many different ways if we just spend a moment to think about them.

But their story doesn’t end there. Turning now to our Gospel reading, the prayer that Jesus prayed to the Father. It provides the backdrop for what happens next with Paul and Silas and points to exactly what Jesus wants for us here today.

Jesus prays for all his believers. That’s all believers, not just the ones he was living with while he was alive on the earth. All believers. That’s you and me.

Imagine some great figures of the past, Shakespeare, George Washington, or people you respect and admire. Now imagine that historians have just found a letter from that great person but the letter is talking about you… How would you feel?

That is how you should feel as you hear these words

‘I’m not simply praying for them. I’m praying too, for the people who will come to believe in me because of their word.’

Jesus is talking about you, me, all the Christians down the road, the Christians who are being persecuted in the Middle East, the ones who meet in the underground churches in China, the ones who have been put to death for their faith in the centuries leading to today. Everyone.

Jesus prays for all believers, but he also prays for the work of his disciples. In this there we have another way of showing unity. We are unified with the disciples and believers from the very first meeting of Jesus right through history to today. But not only are we in unity with them, we are unified in prayer with Jesus who also prays for us.

Jesus prays that the world is community with itself just as he is in community with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We are created to be in unity, with each other and our unity with God.

We are placed where we are, with the people we live and work and worship with, with the skills and talents we have, with our quirks and our strange ways.

We are carefully place to be here by the God who knows us and loves us and wants us to be living in unity with him and with each other. But why?

The simple answer is so that the world knows that God loves it and them and us. He works through us and around us, in unity with us, to make his love known in the world.

Jesus also prayed that the world is unity with itself and with God, just as he and the Holy Spirit are in unity with the Father. The three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist and live in a continually ebbing and flowing way, where there is no separation between them and no distinction between them. The three persons are one being.

If we understand this then Jesus wants us to exist in that way with God. We are then not just simply surrounded by God, or supported by God but God is within us as we are within God. There is a continual ebb and flow of being with God.

We might think of God as an external being to ourselves but he isn’t. Not if we understand that we exist in unity with him and we accept that he is within us.

It is a bit like driving. As a passenger you see a particular view of the road. The responsibilities for the journey are different as a passenger than they are as the driver. Not better, not harder, not easier, just different. And it’s only when we become the driver that we get a deeper appreciation of what the other viewpoint is.

Those who are in the caring professions – different being a patient on the receiving end of care from that to dispense it. Teachers different being a pupil in a classroom form being stood at the front delivering a lesson.

Anything where we were once taking one view and then we move to another view helps us to see that viewing God as outside of us to God being within us. We then know that he is there to help us in our difficulties, or to turn to when times are hard.

We turn then back to poor old Paul and Silas, stuck in prison, but with loosened chains and ruined brickwork. It would be easy for me to say to you ‘see, God was with them in that darkest place, the middle of the night fears of what’s going to happen next, but that is selling God short.

God of course was there with them in that dark place, but because he was inside them, not simply as their comfort blanket as we perhaps like to think he was.

So, what was the outcome of that place – we turn to the jailer. He was petrified that he had lost the prisoners, that they had escaped, he was so fearful his first reaction was to kill himself and plunged right down to the bottom of despair. Yet something of God’s love was at work because he immediately asked to be baptised after hearing Paul and Silas’ words about being saved through Jesus Christ.

Paul, Silas and the jailer who are all at rock bottom are unified in their fear and darkness and they were unified in baptism with each other and with God and the wider Christian community to. All unified together.

What I find fascinating about this reading is that the jailer’s first response was to offer hospitality. Food was given and drink supplied as Paul and Silas joined in the feast. A man who went from the brink of death to being baptised and throwing a feast for honoured guests. These honoured guests as it happens were now fugitives who were no doubt on the run from the authorities and so the jailer was risking his very life and those of his household to entertain Paul and Silas.

What does this teach us about our unity? We are going to celebrate holy communion shortly this morning and that is a way of showing that we are indeed in unity with each other because we are celebrating at the same time, but with the wider church across the world because we are all unified in Christ. Everyone is welcome to the Lord’s table as we are in unity with the one who creates and sustains us. It’s what Jesus himself prayed for. Amen.

Reformation Day 31st October- Stephen Nicols

A single event on a single day changed the world. It was October 31, 1517. Brother Martin, a monk and a scholar, had struggled for years with his church, the church in Rome. He had been greatly disturbed by an unprecedented indulgence sale. The story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Let’s meet the cast.

First, there is the young bishop—too young by church laws—Albert of Mainz. Not only was he bishop over two bishoprics, he desired an additional archbishopric over Mainz. This, too, was against church laws. So Albert appealed to the pope in Rome, Leo X. From the De Medici family, Leo X greedily allowed his tastes to exceed his financial resources. Enter the artists and sculptors, Raphael and Michelangelo.

When Albert of Mainz appealed for a papal dispensation, Leo X was ready to deal. Albert, with the papal blessing, would sell indulgences for past, present, and future sins. All of this sickened the monk Martin Luther. Can we buy our way into heaven? Luther had to speak out.

But why October 31? November 1 held a special place in the church calendar as All Saints’ Day. On November 1, 1517, a massive exhibit of newly acquired relics would be on display at Wittenberg, Luther’s home city. Pilgrims would come from all over, genuflect before the relics, and take hundreds, if not thousands, of years off time in purgatory. Luther’s soul grew even more vexed. None of this seemed right.

Martin Luther, a scholar, took quill in hand, dipped it in his inkwell and penned his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 1517. These were intended to spark a debate, to stir some soul-searching among his fellow brothers in the church. The Ninety-Five Theses sparked far more than a debate. The Ninety-Five Theses also revealed the church was far beyond rehabilitation. It needed a reformation. The church—and the world—would never be the same.

One of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses simply declares, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That alone is the meaning of Reformation Day. The church had lost sight of the gospel because it had long ago papered over the pages of God’s Word with layer upon layer of tradition. Mere tradition often brings about systems of works, of earning your way back to God. It was true of the Pharisees, and it was true of medieval Roman Catholicism. Didn’t Christ Himself say, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”? Reformation Day celebrates the joyful beauty of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and many other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only supreme authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.

So we celebrate Reformation Day. This day reminds us to be thankful for our past and to the monk turned Reformer. What’s more, this day reminds us of our duty, our obligation, to keep the light of the gospel at the center of all we do.

Sermon:  Exodus 33:12-23 & John 17:1-5

Prayer: Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We look at how Jesus prayed in John chapter 17 as a model for us how we can pray. John 17 is known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus and Jesus prayed this prayer after the last supper the night before he was crucified. A priest is someone who acts as an intermediary between God and people and so as Jesus prays, we learn how to go before God on behalf of ourselves and others.

If you knew you, we going to die tomorrow, what would you pray for? For a longer life? For more time with those you love? When Jesus prayed this prayer, he knew he was going to die tomorrow.

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come…

The hour has come. The hour of his passion, his trial, his crucifixion, his rejection, his execution.

Recently I watched the film Braveheart. Braveheart is a story of William Wallace, who rallies the Scottish against their English oppressors. At the end of the film, he’s been betrayed and is awaiting his execution in an English prison when his love interest comes to him and gives him a sedative to drink so that his death will be easier. She makes him drink it, kisses him goodbye, and when she leaves, he spits it out. He wants to face his trial fully aware so that he won’t betray Scotland in a moment of weakness. Jesus could pray here for a sedative, “Father, make it hurt less. Father, make it go fast, Father, save me.” But instead, he prays

 “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. (NIV®)

Jesus prays for glory for himself so that he can glorify his Father. Does this remind you of any other prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray?

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, (NIV®)

To “hallow” something means to make it holy. Here in John 17 and Matthew 6 we see 2 examples of Jesus praying and, in both examples, he focuses on honouring and glorifying his Father.

So, when we pray, we can begin with glory.

What is glory? What is Jesus praying for? Glory means to honour or praise. It’s recognizing the worth or character of something. To glorify something is to reveal its honour. The glory is God’s presence revealed.

Jesus prays, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you’ he is praying to reveal the honour of the Son so that the Son may reveal the honour of the Father.

From our Old Testament reading Exodus Moses was on Mount Sinai talking to God, the people of Israel got worried and made a golden calf to worship. Because of this, God nearly destroys the whole Israelite people but Moses intercedes for the people just like Jesus intercedes for us, and God relents. He promises to send an angel with them to the promised land, but he won’t go with them. Everyone breaks into mourning and Moses asks once more for God’s presence to go with them.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (NIV®)

Moses isn’t satisfied with God’s answer, he wants a sign, he needs to see God for himself to know that God will not abandon him and so he asks  “Now show me your glory.” (NIV®)

Moses asks for God to reveal his glory. God reveals his character. Good. Merciful. Compassionate. Don’t you want to see God’s glory?

Have you ever wanted to see something because you knew it was greater in person than in pictures? I never saw the ocean until I was about 16 years old. I saw when in Peru the Pacific Ocean. All at once I was surrounded by the body of water I had ever seen. The ocean was huge! I couldn’t see the end of it! Isn’t the ocean glorious? Do you think my interest in the ocean was only in seeing it or reading about it in books or in experiencing it? I didn’t just want to look at it and then carry on. I wanted to touch the water, to smell the ocean to know if this thing was everything, I’d ever heard it to be. When we pray “God, show me your glory” we’re praying for God to let us dip our toes in the shoreline waves of his infinitely good present.

God show me your glory. Splash me with your ocean. Soak me in your presence. The Fathers says, “Have you seen my son?” Glory is God’s presence revealed in Jesus Christ.

Have you ever wanted to see God’s glory? Look at Jesus

 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth. (NIV®)

Jesus reveals his Father’s glory. God’s presence is in Jesus. God’s goodness, his mercy, and compassion are all in Christ Jesus. In a few months’ time we will enter into Christmas. There’s something glorious about Christmas, the lights, snow, trees, decorations, gifts, smiles, laughter, food. People giving and receiving gifts and of course celebrating God’s glory breaking into this world in the form of a tiny baby.

When we pray, we can start just like Jesus starts his prayer. We can pray for honour and glorify Jesus and the Father. “Father be glorified. Jesus, would you be glorified. Would my words and thoughts not only honour you but would they reveal your presence to this world? Show me your presence through Christ Jesus. Amen.” When we start by focusing on glorifying God and experiencing his glory, it turns our prayers from being about ourselves and being towards God.

When we pray this way, we’re asking God to lead us into the ocean of his glory. But how do we know we don’t drown? How do we know we won’t be crushed by the waves?

When we pray, we begin with glory and we can pray for eternal life. We come humbly before Jesus Christ, confessing our sins and asking him to give us life.

Eternal life is a gift and is not something we can earn by doing good. It’s not a badge we wear or a promotion or an award. Eternal life is a gift.

 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (NIV®)

To experience God’s glory, we need the gift of eternal life, which we can’t have through our own works.

Jesus says he only gives this gift to those his Father gave him. So, it’s like Jesus is re-gifting a gift his Father gave him. What is the gift of eternal life?

Eternal life is the gift of knowing the father and the Son. Eternal life is a relationship.

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (NIV®)

Eternal life is knowing the only true God and knowing Jesus Christ himself. Do you want to experience glory? Then you have to know the Father and Jesus. John the writer is explaining to us the intimate relationship between Father and Son. It’s like saying I know my wife or I know my children. Do you only have intellectual understanding of them? Or do we know their fears. Their joys, what they love, what makes them laugh? Do you know Jesus? Does Jesus know you? Do you tell your Father in heaven your fears, your joys, what you love?

So, when we pray, we can begin with glory, we can pray for eternal life and so how can we close our prayers?

We can close in praise. The right response to glory is praise. The right response to God’s goodness revealed in Christ is worship. That’s want we do.

 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (NIV®)

Jesus says he has finished the work of his Father gave him to do. What’s his work? It’s a life lived in obedience to the Father – teaching the word of God to his disciples, healing the blind, rebuking the hard-hearted. Jesus is about to also include his final work the cross. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus are his final works. He will die, rise again and ascend into heaven and sit down in glory.

Back to the film of Braveheart the final words William Wallace yells out before he is executed is “Freedom”! When Jesus died, he finished his work to give us freedom. Are you free? Are you experiencing his finished work?

We can pray this way because of the finished work of Jesus. When we pray: we can begin with glory because Jesus stepped down out of glory to reveal God’s glorious presence to us. We can pray for eternal life because Jesus scarified his life for us.

We can have a relationship with our heavenly Father and we can close in praise because right now Jesus sits with His Father at the throne in heaven, completely victorious over sin and death. So, I finish with these words

Father, show us your glory!


A Pastoral Letter for the Teulu Asaph from the bishop: October 2021

One of my very favourite poems is by George Herbert, the seventeenth century Anglican theologian and minister.  Entitled “Love (III)”, it is for me an interpretation of the very heart of the Gospel – the Good News that we as Christians are called upon to proclaim.

Jesus himself spoke about the Kingdom of God as a banquet, a great party, which God would hold at the end of this world, and which would inaugurate the next.  In Herbert’s poem, Love (God himself) invites us to this heavenly feast.

However, as set out in Scripture, there is a problem, what theologians name our inherent “sinfulness”.  In other words, a flaw at the heart of our being makes every single one of us less than perfect, unqualified for heaven.  The subject of the poem – the “I” – knows the problem:  he has marred the divine image in his life and he is “guilty of dust and sin”, so that shame (what we might call repentance) will not let him enter the feast.

Yet, where the Bible identifies the problem, the Bible also reveals a solution:  “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3.16). In the poem, Love takes on the sin and shame of the world: “Who bore the blame?”  It is a reference to God’s sacrifice of himself in Jesus upon the cross, where God takes on himself all the pain, fault and cost of human failure  (Colossians 2.13,14), and pays the price of salvation, the price of entry into the feast.  To pray this poem, and make it our own, is to be a Christian.

The Church’s central purpose is to live into this promise, and to invite others to live into it as well.  God longs for us to attend an eternal feast that none of us are qualified to enter, but by his love and grace, by his sacrifice, the way is made open, if we will but accept that the price is paid.  It is this exchange which is at the heart of the Gospel, the good news of salvation: it is what salvation means, and it is reflected throughout the New Testament as a description of God’s action in Jesus.  “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4.10) “If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8.31).  What greater invitation could there be?

As we come out of lockdown, and enter again into our mission, which is the purpose for which God sends us into the world, let us remember that the proclamation of reconciliation through the Cross is the heart of everything we believe and do.  This is the Gospel of the Lord, and throwing the doors of our hearts wide open to Jesus is the one action, above all else, to which we are called.

Sermon:  Exodus 33:12-23 & John 16:1-15

As we come into chapter 16, the last chapter of this farewell discourse, we find the direction of changing from that of teaching to that of prediction. Jesus here tells his disciples what will soon happen. One way of breaking this scripture is by looking at it in two parts, What Jesus has said and what the Spirit will say.


“I have said all these things to you to keep you from failing away”. Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his soon departure. He is ensuring that they will not be surprised about what is to come. He has warned them that they will be persecuted for his name’s sake, and that the world will hate them.

Now he prepares them for the fact that ‘they will put you out of the synagogues.

Not only does Jesus mean this literally that they will be outcasts from the Jewish religion, but that their reputations will suffer. They will become margallized from their community.

While it is the Romans who will persecute the church in later years, at first it would be the Jews. Jesus warns “indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” And that is exactly what happens in the case of Saul, later to become Paul.

Jesus tells his disciples all of these warnings at the right time because he says “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” Jesus gives these warnings about his departure and the persecutions ahead until he was about to leave. Jesus speaks that more is to come through the work of the Holy Spirit.



The disciples can heard Jesus when he taught but the text actually says that the Holy Spirit “will speak”.

But this is not an audible speech but rather, it is the Spirit working in the hearts and minds of the disciples to give them faith and say the words of God.

The text explains the works of the Holy Spirit in three ways. These regard sin, righteousness and judgment.

Let’s look at SIN

The works of the Holy Spirit is the convicting the world of sin. Many people believe they are ‘just fine’. They will say ‘I’m not as bad as this person.’ They just do not know how bad they are. For all of us are sinners, and sin is against God himself, holy and righteousness. The Holy Spirit works in people so that they are convicted of the sin. It is a bit like sometimes the light comes in through the window in a strong piercing beam and you thought the room you were in was clean. But in the light beam you see thousands of particles of dust floating around. The work of the Spirit is like the light beam, making you aware of the dust in the air which is the sin in your soul. The Spirit works to convict you not only of a particular sin, but by our very nature of being a sinful person. Jesus says “They do not believe in me.” Sin become then a barrier before us and God and so before a person comes to God we need to say sorry first.


The Holy Spirit convicts us to seek out God’s forgiveness or his righteousness or our right understanding with God. Righteousness is not something that we can possess. We all need to be made right and so we all need a saviour to but it right. The Holy Spirit convicts our sin and of the need for righteousness which needs to judgment.


Jesus speaks of something that is now in the past to us. The Spirit works to overcome our past failures, our past sins, our boundaries before God and through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross we can be forgiven. Sin and death has lost its grip over us.

We are to be convicted that we are now set free, by the grace of God.

So, the Holy Spirit works to convict: our sin, righteousness and judgment and acts as our guide into all truth.

The text says “The Spirit leads me into all truth” this doesn’t mean you don’t have to study for a test, or that the big decisions in life regarding jobs, marriage, spending money are made for you.

The truth is the revelation of God in his word. Jesus teaches his disciples but there is more that they need to know. The Spirit inspires the disciples, speaks truth through them which was committed into writing the Scriptures about Jesus Christ.

All of God’s word is true and, in this life, all the truth that we can know is from God’s word. The scriptures are complete. They provide all things necessary for God’s own glory. The Spirit speaks in our hearts and minds through God’s word because the words of Jesus are not just for those disciples then but for us to. As Christ died for our sins, the Holy Spirit gives us faith to bring us back to the glory of God.

Jesus speaks and the Spirit speaks but the question for us this week is do we listen?

Do we listen to Jesus Christ call for us to read his father’s word? Do we read the bible, listen with understanding God’s word and accept this truth? Do we listen to the Spirit who convicts us of sinning and do we come to God for his forgiveness?

Let’s pray…

Faithful God, thank you that your son Jesus Christ died for our sins so we can be forgiven. Thank you for the truth of your word, but Lord helps us to read your word everyday and as we listen helps us to hear your Son and Spirit at work in our lives and those around us. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Reflection:  Psalm 69:1-13 & John 15:18-27

When you were a child did you ever play ball games with your friends? If could be football or catch or simply throwing a ball against a wall. Anyone who has done this or played a game which uses a single piece of sporting equipment, has probably experienced the childish moment where the person whose ball it is picks up the ball because it isn’t going their way and takes it home. That moment when someone selfishly decides that, because they aren’t getting their way then no one can be able to play either. It has been years since that happened to me.

I came across a new evangelism tool being rolled out called Talking Jesus. It is a series of videos, followed by a group discussion, designed to give people the tools to feel confident enough to discuss their faith with others. It’s a great idea, very similar to the Alpha Course, and has the potential to equip Christians to share their faith.

This like many other ideas help us to talk about our faith in our world, and Jesus too is preparing his disciples to live in the world who remain faithful. But he also addresses to them that there are people who hate us too. There are people who want Christianity consigned to the history books. There are those who think it has no place in our society. But here’s the thing; Jesus told us this would be the case. He told us that the world would hate us for following him. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

What should come as a surprise is how some Christians and parts of the Church choose to react to this. We heard Jesus in John’s Gospel talking about the hatred and persecution his followers could expect to encounter, but what he doesn’t tell us is that we should throw our toys out of the pram when we come up against any resistance or opposition. He doesn’t tell us that we should try to impose His teachings on everybody else and that we should cry about being persecuted when everybody else won’t accept that.

I say this because it feels that Christians are in a definite minority in this country, and what I mean is that people who follow and worship Christ as opposed to those who simply identify as Christian. There are laws passed, workplace rules enacted, and social norms widely accepted which all go against the Law of God. We see greed, hatred, prejudice and immoral behaviour all around us, woven into the fabric of our society, and we should absolutely take a stand against it.

However, the thing we may be getting wrong isn’t whether or not to make a stand, but how we make those stands and what issues we choose to stand against. For example, there is a lot of publicity generated about Christians who are disciplined at work, or even fired, for either sharing their faith or for refusing to carry out basic responsibilities of their job because it goes against their beliefs. Christian media, Church leaders and various newspapers pile in, all shouting about the erosion of faith in this country.

Very often, though, when we look at the cases, we find that there is an awful lot more to these cases than headlines and soundbites present to us. A teacher was recently fired, apparently just for sharing her faith. Pressure groups such as Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre got the story into papers, TV and radio, presenting it as another way Christians are being persecuted in the UK. However, in reality, the teacher involved had told pupils they were going to Hell for not being Christians, made derogatory comments about pupils’ dress and consistently preached at classes despite being an English teacher, not an RE one.

If we worry that we are ridiculed by society, maybe we are making a rod for our own back here. We are called by Christ to live in truth; when we simply react to half heard stories or one-sided headlines, when we complain because society isn’t exactly how we want it to be, we remove ourselves from truth and, rather than living in Christ, we live in a world of our own making and with our own values. We can bemoan the fact that the world isn’t how we want it to be all we want, but simply stomping our feet and saying things that isn’t true, is just counter-productive.

So, if this isn’t the way to go, then what is. Jesus tells us plainly here. In verse 21 He says, “But they will do all this to you because you are mine; for they do not know the one who has sent me.”

If the world truly does hate us, then Jesus is clear that it is because they don’t know God the Father. This is not a reason for us to throw our hands up and ask “what’s the point?”, but it’s an invitation to go out into the world and show the father to it. Not to beat people with religious talk, not to try to force everyone into following God’s Law, but to speak in truth and love, and to demonstrate God’s love for all in every interaction we have.

That is why we need to learn how to share our faith in an effective way. Rather, we need to be able to share our faith by our actions, never being afraid to let people know whose name we act in, and never being afraid to talk about Him when the time is right. But always, in a way which gives Him glory and shows others love.

And yes. It still does sound quite scary. But Jesus tells us about how we are not alone in this,
The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father.

I will send him to you from the father, and he will speak about me. And you, too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning.”

We cannot hope to act in God’s name or speak in God’s name if we do not possess God’s Spirit within us. And He offers this to us. We always need to remember that it is by the Spirit, not by our own efforts, that we will show the Father to the world.

Some people will not want to know. Many will reject what God is doing and what we are saying in His name. But that has always and will always be the case and, while we should never give up, we should learn to accept that opposition to Christ will always exist.
But some people will start to listen. Some people will open themselves up to God’s truth. But this can only happen if we stop focusing on how the world makes us feel and start focusing more on Him.

Jesus didn’t go out into the world and complain that the Jewish leaders were trying to kill him, or that he wasn’t being listened to by everyone, or that his followers were being marginalised, or that he was chased out of some towns.

No, he found people in every situation he could find; people in authority, people with no authority, the educated and the uneducated, the tax collector, adulteress, widow, fisherman, soldier, rabbi and all other walks of life. He found these people where they were and he showed them love, accepted them, told them the truth and left it for them to respond as they wished.

This is how he calls us to be as well. Not to throw our toys out of the pram when the world won’t conform to our standards, but to love others and demonstrate the hope that comes from living in Christ. It isn’t something to complain about, but something to be rejoiced about for all eternity. Amen.


Sermon:  Psalm 69:1-13 & John 15:18-27

Expectations are a very powerful thing, aren’t they? And we all have them. We may not even realize that we have expectations, but we certainly do. We expect that life in general, and certain aspects of life in particular, will go a certain way. It’s not those expectations are bad in and of themselves, but I think you would agree that they can have a devastating effect upon us if they are false.

Recently I have met up with a few couples who want to get married and we talk about all sorts of things. But one of the issues is about expectations. “What do you expect marriage to be like?”, or “what do you expect from your future spouse?”, is the question. If the answer sounds like it is based off a scene from a Disney film rather than the scriptures, I know that some serious conversations are needed. False expectations concerning marriage inevitably lead to disappointment.

I am here thinking of those instances where expectations are too high, but I suppose it is also possible for expectations to be too low. A bride or groom might assume that marriage will be so difficult that they in fact set themselves up for failure. Either way, the point it that expectations are powerful. When they fail to square with the reality of things, they lead to disappointment and failure. For this reason, it is important for us to help foster realistic exceptions – expectations that square with reality – in the people that we have influence over.

This is exactly what Jesus was doing with his disciples in the hours leading up to his betrayal and eventual crucifixion. He was preparing them for his departure.

He encouraged their hearts with the word that he was leaving them for a good reason: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

He comforted them with the promise that he would not leave them alone and helpless: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, (John 14:16–18, ESV)

And he also instructed them concerning the way to an abundant and fruitful life “Abide in me, and I in you. (John 15:4–5, ESV)

So you see, Jesus is preparing his disciples to live in this world until he returns. These are words of preparation. And here he prepares us by addressing our expectations.

How will it go for us in this world as we live between Jesus Christs first and second comings? What exactly should we expect? To expect the wrong things will inevitably lead to disappointment and despair, and so Christ equips us with proper expectations as we look together at three questions.

Q1: How will it go, then, for the followers of Christ as we live in this world awaiting the Lord’s return?

A: The simple answer is this: As it was for Jesus, so will it be for us. 

And how was it for Jesus in this world? Though some believed in him, the vast majority rejected him.

Look at verse 18 and see how Jesus prepared his disciples: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” 

Verse 20: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:18, 20, ESV)

Two things are to be noticed concerning the way that the world responded to Jesus Christ.


First of all, the world hated Jesus Christ.  The crucifixion was the ultimate expression of this hatred, but it was not the only expression of it. The whole of Jesus’ life and ministry were marked by conflict with the world. He was despised and rejected from beginning to end by the world – that is, by those not given to him by the Father. Jesus emphasized this with his disciples in order to prepare them for life in this world. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you”, he said. Expect it. Do not let the persecution take you by surprise.

But notice, secondly, that there were some who did receive Jesus’ word. They were the ones given to Jesus by the Father. When they heard Jesus’ word, they received it. And there is a promise here in this passage that the same thing will continue after Jesus’ departure. Verse 20 begins by warning, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” But it ends with this encouragement: “If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

I take all of this to mean that the same pattern will occur Christ was hated by the world while on earth – his followers will be hated by the world too. But some did believe in Christ while he was on earth – and there will also be some who will believe upon the word of Christ spoken by his people after his ascension to the right hand of the Father.

And so we are to be optimistically pessimistic concerning the world. On the one hand, we should expect to experience (to one degree or another) resistance, hostility, persecution, and hatred. But on the other hand, we ought to expect victory. The gospel will go forth. The kingdom of God will advance. The word of Christ will “not return …empty, but it shall… succeed in the thing for which [he] sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV)

I’m sure there are some who are thinking, I don’t know if I like all of this negative talk concerning the hostility of the world towards Christians. Perhaps you’re thinking, I have friends who are non-Christians. They do not hate me, nor are they hostile towards me. In fact, they are really very nice people!

Let me say two things concerning this.

First of all, I think there is again some confusion over the word world. If we demand that “world” mean every individual person on the planet without exception then we have Jesus saying that every individual person on the earth hated him and will hate you if you are a Christian. It is far better to recognize that the word “world” is consistently used in John to refer to this place in which we live in a more general way. It refers to all of the peoples of this earth, Jew and gentile alike.

It also carries with it moral implications – this world is in darkness, and is against God, and the things of God. So, it is true, the world – the way of the world – is hostile to God and the things of God. And Christians, as long as they live in this place, should expect to face a degree of hostility and hatred. But that is different from saying that every non-Christian hate and is hostile toward every Christians.

Secondly, we should also recognize that there are different levels of hatred, and different manifestation of it. It may be that they simply hate the gospel of Christ or the way it has been presented to them. It maybe that they are not wanting to repent and turn to Christ.

It could all number of reasons, so when we hear Jesus warn us that the world will hate his disciples, do not take this to mean that every individual who is not in Christ will respond with all out hatred and hostility.

Persecution should not take us by surprise. Hatred and opposition should not catch us off guard. Though the gospel will advance, and though the kingdom of God will grow.

Q2: The second question, then, is why does the world hate Christ and those who belong to him?

A: The answer: The world hates Christ and those who belong to him because they are not of this world. 

In verse 19 where Jesus says to his followers, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19, ESV)

First, it is important to remember that Christ is not of this world. This has already been said in John’s gospel. “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23, ESV) Jesus’ origins were heavenly.

He came to us from the Father. He belonged, then, to a different order of things. He did not belong to this world, nor to the systems, or way, of this world.

Second, it is important to remember that you, if you are in Christ, are not of this world. Those who believe in Christ believe in him because they have been born of God (John 1:12-13). In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that “unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, NET)

And throughout John we encounter this truth, that Jesus has chosen some out of this world to belong to him. That theme is here in John 15. See verse 16 where Jesus speaks to his disciples saying, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:16, ESV) And notice again verse 19: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19, ESV)

Those who believe upon Christ believe upon him because Christ has graciously chosen them and called them. But notice that they have been chosen out of the world. 

Two things are implied here. One, when we hear that those who belong to Christ were chosen and called out of the world it reminds us that we were no different from the world before Christ graciously intervened. In other words, Christians are not Christians because they were the cream of the crop. No, all were of the world and Christ graciously chose us out of the world. Two, when we hear that those who belong to Christ were chosen and called out of the world, does it not remind us that Christians no longer belong to this world – to its systems and ways. We, like Christ, belong to another order of things. We have been chosen out of the world and belong to it no longer.

This is why the world hates Christ and those who belong to him.

The world loves its own people. The world has great fondness for those who think and live as they do.

The world, which lives in darkness, is irritated by the light. When Christ or his followers confront the world concerning their sin – either through words or by refusing to join in the world turns at it. Consider also that the gospel which brings life to those who believe.

That, is what verse 21-25 are getting at. When Jesus came, and as he presented himself to the world, the works and the words that he spoke force people to a decision concerning him as the Christ. In other words, when Christ came, he spoke the final world concerning God’s love for the world and when this final word was spoken it also prompted men and women to give their final response – yes or no – concerning him as the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Saviour.

You see, the same thing happens today. When we share the gospel with others it is for them to choose how they respond in one way or another. They have heard God’s word through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they are indeed prompted to respond.

It is no wonder that the world hates Christ and those who belong to him. We are not of this world. We do not belong to it – the kingdom of heaven is our true to home; we have been raised with Christ and are seated with him in the heavenly places; we are pilgrims on this earth, having been born from above – and as a result we do not live according to customs of this world. We do not walk in the same way.

We think, and speak, and live in a way that is different from the world – or at least we should. The world loves its own. If we were of the world, the world would love us.

But because we are not of the world, the world to one degree or another, is trouble by us.

Q3: The third question that comes to mind is if this is all true, how then can a Christian possibly stand in this world in the face of such hostility?

A: The answer: The Christian will stand with the help of the Spirit, with an ever-increasing love for the Father, and the Christ whom he sent. 

In verse 26 Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26–27, ESV)

This is very significant. It is a reminder that we are united to, and in the service of, the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He, in all his power and glory, stands with those who are his as we live in this world, though we be not of it. The Holy Spirit is our Helper.

He is sent by Jesus God’s own Son, proceeding from the Father, in order to bear witness concerning Jesus Christ.

We are not alone. Christ did not leave us as orphans – helpless and vulnerable. No, though it is true that we live in a hostile environment, we serve the Lord of lords, and King of kings, who has richly supplied us with all that we need, and supports us in every way, so that his purposes might prevail.

What do you expect as you walk with Christ in this world? It is not right to expect hostility from every person in the world who is not a Christian. We should not withdraw out of the world. But we should not be surprised when the world is hostile towards us. We are to be in the world, but not of it.

Are you willing to suffer as a follower of Christ? I find that many Christians are tempted to go the way of the world – to think, and talk, and walk but that is not the way of Christ nor his people. We need to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully, and to live according to our Father’s will.  Amen.

Sermon: Psalm 98 & John 15:9-17

You may remember a few years ago a British romantic comedy called Love Actually. It opened with the scenes of a busy airport passenger area and a voiceover from one of the characters saying that whenever he gets gloomy about the state of the world, he thinks about the arrivals terminal at Heathrow Airport and the uncomplicated delight you see on the faces of friends and family as they find each other and reconnect. Then he goes on to say that all the known parting messages by people who died on 9/11 were messages of love, not hate. And at the end, the film closes with another scene of airport greetings.


I would bet we’ve all glimpsed those moments in airports—the teary hugs and farewells, the ecstatic greetings even with flowers and balloons. There is something about parting and about coming back together that focuses us on what matters most.

It’s often a time when we say things, we’ve left unsaid. And especially if we’re saying good-bye, we often utter what’s on our mind, what we most want someone we love to hold onto as we part.

The lessons for these weeks come from the last urgent words Jesus speaks to his disciples before he went to the cross. They are his farewell words, what the scholars call the “Farewell Discourses.” They are intense, packed with advice. In fact, they often sound repetitive, as if Jesus needs to keep circling around the same words and ideas so they will stick in his followers’ ears.

Last week and this he keeps talking about abiding. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” he said in last week’s passage, “abide in me as I abide in you.” This week he’s at it again. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my life. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love.”


Then, like a worried mother at the airport pouring out her last urgent words of advice before her son our daughter steps on a plane for two months away, or like a professor giving his last lecture and trying to sum up what he has wanted to say over a lifetime, in these crucial moments for Jesus, the words come tumbling out:

Love one another as I have loved you.
I do not call you servants any longer; but I have called you friends.
You did not choose me but I chose you. I appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last….
[And then, again,] I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another

But beneath all the words pouring out of Jesus’ heart, there was really one word, and that word expressed the reason for his whole life. It’s love, actually. For Jesus, love is the reason God made the world, love is the way we are made to live, love is what worship and life are made to show us, love is why Jesus came to us, love is what God will never stop trying to draw us into embracing, love is what we are meant to abide in all our days.

This love isn’t an individual decision to act a certain way in a particular situation, although that’s always where love will take us. “Abide in my love,” Jesus keeps saying. Being a Christian entails a willingness to dwell in, to enter into the outpouring stream of divine love flowing endlessly through the world like waves surging around us.

“God is love,” Jesus says, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” That’s the sentence that finally opened again the door of faith for me again after years of questioning. As part of my searching, I had been slowly reading the New Testament straight through, night after night. And one night I came on this passage, and all of a sudden talk about God that for so long had seemed remote and abstract became concrete and real to me.

To love, I saw, is literally to experience God. God is the energy of existence, the energy of communion, the secret unity that holds everything together in one unity and that moves through atoms and molecules and rivers and mountains and people and the forces of history.

So, when I love, when I move out of myself to care for another, I am stepping into the flow of God’s love, I became united with the power of life moving through the universe. And when I don’t love, I cut myself off from God and those around me.

I sometimes wonder if the word love is even recoverable. It’s used for so many different things. I love chocolate ice cream, I love that new car, I love baseball. Any minister will tell you that much of what couples often bring to the altar at a wedding is the strong sense of feeling in love. That’s the natural place for a marriage to begin, but unless their love grows deeper the marriage probably won’t survive. The love we speak of in Christian marriage speaks of isn’t about feelings. It’s an act of will, a commitment, to care for the other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer over a lifetime.” And it’s that promise, that commitment, that will provide a safe, strong harbour of love and devotion as feelings come and go.


I have to say that for all the charm of the movie Love Actually, I don’t remember seeing much love in it.

It seemed more about physical attraction and the complex ways people keep “falling in love.”


You see, love is changing nappies and doing the dishes, it’s living with the ups and downs of life with pre-teenagers, and the ups and downs of parents too, for that matter. Love is speaking honestly to someone who has hurt us. It’s telling a friend she is drinking too much. It’s putting a career on hold because our family needs us. Love is making sure that values deeper than the bottom line drive our business decisions.

Love is the heart of it all. It’s what finally matters for every human being, Christian or not. Because when we love God is in us and we are in God, whether we believe in God or not. Coming to church doesn’t save our souls. But it shows us the things that do—love, forgiveness, compassion and it enables us to receive Christ’s energy and Spirit, which make those things possible

Love for all others, even the difficult ones, is a harder calling, but maybe that makes it easier to focus on. Jesus called us into community that’s going to take wise, emotional, spiritual and creative work.

“The more I think about it,
the more I feel there’s nothing more artistic than to love people.” Vincent Van Gogh

And yet, in spite of all this sustaining love we trip up. We are to ‘love one another’ in the way Jesus loved us. It’s strange to be commanded to love? Maybe it’s the radical nature of this love that makes a commandment necessary. The Oxford Dictionary says the word command means mandate, authority, control, instruction, decree, direction. We wouldn’t find ourselves saying,

“I command you to love that person.” “As I have loved you.” Not as duty dictates or as you might have figured out for yourself, but as Christ loved you. And the love of Christ is far richer than a love that comes from duty. The great gift of love comes first, making discipleship possible. Jesus then called his disciples friends. The gospel of John tells us friendship is the highest form of love.

Often Jesus’ chooses images or contrasts with which to challenge his disciples and all who hear his words. In this passage John puts things very clearly. The command to love is unavoidable.

What love means will often seen mysterious. Love itself, the love of God, is given without reserve and without control in the offering of Jesus’ life to death and beyond. This is not a love which we recognise in ourselves. But we should not focus on our inadequacy, but on the possibility that it is within us. The important thing is the ability to love at all. That we are able to give of ourselves, that we are able to ask ourselves what is the loving thing to do, is a clue which points to the image of God within us.

Although we are bad at loving, the fact remains possible. If love is possible, everything is possible. It is this possibility that opens our eyes and minds to the image of the fruit that lasts.

How often have we though what a bizarre thing to say because we know that fruit doesn’t last. As everyone who has ever been to the supermarket or the greengrocers to buy a range of healthy fruit, we take it home and arrange it carefully in our fruit bowl and then we spend the next several days watching it rot and not looking its best.

If it lasts, it might be for a week or because something is wrong with it. Fruit that lasts, isn’t quite what we want. Last week Jesus presented us with the image of the vine and the branches and the insistence of Jesus that apart from me you can do nothing.

The fruit which the branches, which the disciples produce, is not something which they have brought into being themselves, but something which stems from the creative power which is the love of God. The outpouring of that love into our lives is what we as Christians call grace.

We hear today the text that follows directly from that the grace from God enables the Father to love us, so I have loved you. To remain in his love if we keep his commandments. What is the commandment? To love one another, as I have loved you.

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them,” Jesus said.

And he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Fruit is not simply profound, it is productive. Jesus talks not of some miraculous fruit which doesn’t behave the way fruit ought to behave, but of fruit doing what fruit ought to do. He is concerned with the ongoing creativity which comes from the life cycle in which the fruit of a plant bears the seeds if its reproduction. The seed of human fulfilment is the love of God and nothing else. The love by which we abide, by which we remain in Christ and in the Father, is our motivation, our point of being alive. Our existence is the fulfilment which is only to be found in God himself – the desire and ability to love is the gift of God by which we are drawn towards that fulfilment.

So, this is the fruit which will not rot. The fruit which lasts, which reproduces, is love. Love initiates new relationships, it identifies new possibilities, it opens new horizons for all who give and receive it. It is the fullest expression of human life. If we wish to live, we must try to love in all that we do, with all we encounter, we must have this simple question what is the loving thing to do? That’s the centre, the heart of Christianity, the point of it all. It’s love, actually. Amen.

Sermon: 1 John 4:7-21 & John 15:1-8

I love gardening and I remember as a child in my grandad’s garden picking blackberries. I would spend ages potting, planting and picking different soft fruits around his garden and in turn he would show me how to grow things. He taught me a lot about different kinds of soil, that some plants like a lot of light and some that like the shade best.

For me I can mow a lawn, I can grow plants especially spring flowers are my favourite. I can prune roses. Someone told me how when I was a bit older as a child and I’ve never forgotten. In fact, I not only know how to do it, I even know why. A rose bush, left to itself, will get straggly and tangled and grow in on itself. It will produce quite a lot of not so good roses rather than a smaller number of splendid ones. It will get in its own light. It needs help to grow in the right directions and to the right ends. So you prune it to stop it wasting its energy and being unproductive. You cut out, the parts of the plant that are growing inwards and getting tangled up. You encourage the shoots that are growing outwards, towards the light. You prune the rose in other words, to help it to be its true self.

As far as I understand it, more or less the same thing works with vines. Vines too need to focus their energy on producing good quality grapes, rather than lots of second-rate ones. Vines too need to grow towards the light rather than getting in a tangled mass. Left to themselves they produce a lot of superfluous growth which must be cut away if the vine is truly to be what its capable of.

In the previous chapter it ends with Jesus inviting the disciples to ‘Rise, to go from here’ and they ‘go out’ across the valley to Gethsemane.

Within the gospel John writes about Jesus declaring himself simply as ‘I am’, and then adding something on as well. Here Jesus says that he is the vine.

Within the Jewish tradition, the vine was a picture of Israel. God brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it in the promised land. It had been ravaged by wild animals and needed to be protected and re-established. The vineyard of Israel, said in Isaiah 5, has borne wild grapes instead of proper ones. The prophets add further negative images but Jesus sharply gives a positive use to show that he is the true vine and those who remain in him will indeed bear much good fruit. This can mean that he is, in himself the true Israel. He is the one God’s purposes are not resting and his followers are members of God’s true people – if they belong to him and remain in him. The picture of the vine isn’t just a clever illustration form gardening it is about who Jesus and his people really are and what in now going to happen to them as a result.

Another thought is that vines were used in architecture and adorned the entrance to the Temple. In its architecture the temple connects Israel as the fruitful vine and in the temple is the presence of God dwelling in their midst. Jesus has already claimed to be the true temple presence of God in John’s gospel back in chapter 2 and now he claims to be the true vine that grows fruitfully in God’s presence. ‘If let us go from here’ means that Jesus is speaking to his disciples as they walk through the city, then they might have not only seen a vine or vineyard but might have had sight of the vine on the temple as Jesus teaches on it.

Another way is that the disciples themselves might have known like us on how to grow a vine. Vines like a rose bush need training to grow over rocks or on trellises or wires but they need to kinds of pruning. In the spring the new shoots need trimming so that they do not grow too far or too fast, thus getting the plant to put it energy into producing fruit rather than just adding more greenery. According to Monty Don on BBC’s gardener’s World this cutting /trimming allows the grapes to grow larger.

The second pruning happens in the autumn, when the branches are exhausted leaving buds at the base to produce next year’s branches that will bear fruit for the new season. As Jesus speaks to his disciples maybe they had this in mind or about their own relationship with him.

The urgent question then is this How do we remain in him? What does it look like in practice?

Well, we are a people of productivity. It is, for the most part, the standard by how we live and the measure of our success. It is built into our lives everywhere. Productivity is the basis of our economic system. Those who produce are rewarded and get more. Those who do not produce are thrown out. Within our educational system the students who do well and produce are recognized and supported while those who do not produce get lost in the system. Careers and promotions are based on productivity. Productivity at some level is at the core of the debates around poverty, welfare, healthcare, and the elderly. “They” do not produce and our care of and for them often reflects what we think of that.

We have been convinced that productivity is the goal and only the fittest survive. I wonder if that isn’t how many of us live our spiritual lives. How many of us have been told, in some form or fashion, or come to believe that pruned branches go to heaven and removed branches go to hell? Pruned branches produced so they are rewarded while non-productive branches are punished.

In that (mis)understanding fruit is God’s demand upon our life and the means by which we appease God. If we are not careful we’ll get stuck categorizing ourselves and one another into fruit bearing or non-fruit bearing branches. There is, however, a deeper issue than the production of fruit. Productivity does not usually create deep abiding and intimate relationships. It creates transactions. Jesus is not talking about or demanding productivity. He wants and offers connectivity, relationship, and intimacy.

Fruit or the lack thereof is a manifestation of our interior life and health. It describes and reveals whether we are living connected or disconnected lives. Fruit production is the natural consequence of staying connected. You can see that in long-term friendships, marriages, community loyalty. We do not choose whether or not we produce fruit. We do, however, choose where we remain and how we stay connected.

You know how that is. Sometimes we lose touch with a particular person. We no longer know where he or she is, what she is doing, or what is happening in her life. One day we run into him or her. It’s a bit awkward. No one is sure what to say. There’s not much to talk about.

There was no deep abiding presence, the connection is lost, and it seems as if what was has been thrown away.

Other people we run into after five or ten years and the conversation immediately picks up where we left off those many years ago. Even though we were apart we never left each other. There was and remains a connection and mutual abiding that time, distance, and the circumstances of life cannot sever.

“What fruit am I producing?” “How much?” “Is it an acceptable quality?” Those are good questions if we understand and ask them for ourselves, as questions not about the quantity of our lives but the quality of our lives. That’s what Jesus is after. That is the deeper question he is asking. It is the invitation to join the conversation, jump into the game, to participate, and to live fully alive. That only happens when the life, the love, and the goodness and holiness of Christ flow in us. We become an extension of and manifest his life, love, and holiness.

It is a relationship of union even as a branch is united to the vine. We live our lives as one. This is not just about relationship with Jesus; it affects and is the basis for our relationships with one another. Love for Jesus, one another, and ourselves become one love.

We soon discover we are living one life and the fruit of that life and love is abundant, overflowing, and Father glorifying.

That urgent question then is this How do we remain in him? What does it look like in practice?

We must remain in the community that knows and loves him and celebrates him as Lord. But we must also remain as people or prayer and worship in our own intimate, private lives. We must make sure to be in touch, in tune with Jesus knowing him and being known by him.

Finally, though it always hurts, we must be ready for the father’s pruning knife. God is glorified, and so will we be, by bearing fruit and lots of it. Amen.

Sermon Colossians 1: 24-29 & John 14:15-31

So here we are, once more, back from holiday as we embark on the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and have listened to the drama of his passion. From now on every week will bring us closer to the last days of Jesus Christ.

Many of us journey through this every year at Easter with a familiar path, with a few surprises as well but in our Gospel reading the disciples are getting ready as well.

The disciples and friends of Jesus who first had to travel this journey alongside and behind their master, Jesus, were certainly closer than any of us to the events in real time, but stumbling along without any of the comforting guides, we enjoy. What unimaginable horrors lie in store for them in the next few days: Their highest hopes and their deepest love – crushed by extreme yet casual brutality. How will they make it through this awful journey without losing their way?

The evangelist John has sometimes been accused of downplaying the horrors and agony of Jesus’ passion. Jesus is depicted as calm and composed as he walks to the cross, he is “lifted up” (John 12:31) and dies with the triumphant words “It is finished” on his lips (John 19:30). There is hardly any pain and anguish visible; instead, John seems to paint the passion as a beautiful icon, shimmering golden in candle light.

But the Jesus we meet in John’s Gospel is not an aloof character, barely touching the earth. He is sovereign, yes, but he fully knows of the anguish and trouble, which can grip the human heart. In his farewell speeches, of which our Gospel is part of, Jesus addresses this anguish: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid. (14:27)” And in a later chapter: “You will weep and mourn. (16:20)” “You will be in pain, a pain as fierce as labour pain” (16:21-22). “In the world you face tribulation” (16:33). There will indeed be a deep unsettling of the heart. There will be an onrush of pain, where life and death are wrestling closely with each other.



Jesus acknowledges that the journey his disciples and friends are to embark upon is a journey into the heart of darkness. Jesus uses his sovereignty to speak words of great authority into this situation. Jesus speaks with the voice, which calmed the storm, the voice, which raised Lazarus from his grave. “Peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).

The word, which leaps out to me first in this rich text is “I do not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you” (14:18).

At some point we all want or even need to hear these words. They speak directly to some of our greatest fears and challenges; abandonment and isolation, loneliness, vulnerability. They remind us that we are not destined to walk this earth without an identity or direction. We do not stand alone.

There are seasons of life, moments even, when the transitions change, tragedies come upon us and leave us feeling as orphans. Whether spoken or unspoken the questions begin – what will I do now? Where do I go? What happens next?

Who will love and guide me? Who stands on my side? What will become of me?

Those and other questions I imagine would run through the heads and hearts of the disciples.

It is the last supper. The disciples have been fed, feet washed, the betrayer left. It is night, dark, and Jesus announces he is leaving. “We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” “Show us the father” – more questions.

As a family we have felt the same way the time when we would be moving to another place after a few years. What will we do? What will happen to us? The feeling of being an orphan is real. Anyone who has ever loved and lost knows these questions too.

We fear becoming orphaned and it is that fear that points to the deeper reality that by ourselves we are not enough. It is not, however, because we are deficient but rather because we were never intended or created to be self-sufficient. We were never to stand alone as individuals.

We were created to loved and be loved, to live in relationships as persons giving themselves to each other, to dwell, to abide, to remain within each other and even as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father.

I will not leave you is a promise. Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, storms, death, separation, we have never been and will never be orphaned by God. How strange that must have sounded to the disciples. Jesus tells them that he is leaving and coming. Leaving and coming sure sounds like opposites but it is rather a means to see and live in a different away. It is the same thing I can teach my Chloe when every time I am away from her or at a training event, I can let her know by speaking or texting her that “even though we are apart I will never leave you.”

Leaving and coming or being present and absent need to be held in tension because that is what Jesus sets before us today.

That tension confronts us with the question of whether Jesus for us, is a past memory or a present reality, a story that makes us feel good or a living experience that guides and nurtures our life.

According to Jesus the answer to the question is determined by love, love that is revealed and fulfilled in keeping his commandments. Do we keep his commandments? What are the boundaries of love? Is our love growing, expanding, transforming the world?

Jesus’ promise is still real and remains faithful if we simply claim it and keep his commandments. These commandments do not earn us Jesus’ love but reveal our love for him, a love that abides in his presence within us. Every time we expand the boundaries of our love we push back the orphans of this world to show others where Jesus is and they too are loved.

I will not leave you orphaned. Over and over, day after day, regardless of what is happening in our lives that is Jesus’ promise. Amen.



St. Thomas’

Prayer: Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So here we are, once more, back from holiday as we embark on the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and have listened to the drama of his passion. From now on every week will bring us closer to the last days of Jesus Christ.

Many of us journey through this every year at Easter with a familiar path, with a few surprises as well but in our Gospel reading the disciples are getting ready as well.

The disciples and friends of Jesus who first had to travel this journey alongside and behind their master, Jesus, were certainly closer than any of us to the events in real time, but stumbling along without any of the comforting guides, we enjoy. What unimaginable horrors lie in store for them in the next few days: Their highest hopes and their deepest love – crushed by extreme yet casual brutality. How will they make it through this awful journey without losing their way?

The evangelist John has sometimes been accused of downplaying the horrors and agony of Jesus’ passion. Jesus is depicted as calm and composed as he walks to the cross, he is “lifted up” (John 12:31) and dies with the triumphant words “It is finished” on his lips (John 19:30). There is hardly any pain and anguish visible; instead, John seems to paint the passion as a beautiful icon, shimmering golden in candle light.

But the Jesus we meet in John’s Gospel is not an aloof character, barely touching the earth. He is sovereign, yes, but he fully knows of the anguish and trouble, which can grip the human heart. In his farewell speeches, of which our Gospel is part of, Jesus addresses this anguish: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid. (14:27)” And in a later chapter: “You will weep and mourn. (16:20)” “You will be in pain, a pain as fierce as labour pain” (16:21-22). “In the world you face tribulation” (16:33). There will indeed be a deep unsettling of the heart. There will be an onrush of pain, where life and death are wrestling closely with each other.

Jesus acknowledges that the journey his disciples and friends are to embark upon is a journey into the heart of darkness.

Jesus uses his sovereignty to speak words of great authority into this situation. Jesus speaks with the voice, which calmed the storm, the voice, which raised Lazarus from his grave. “Peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).

The word, which leaps out to me first in this rich text is “I do not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you” (14:18).

I do not know about you, but I do not really know many orphans in the classical sense of the word, children of minor age, who have lost both biological parents and who are more or less left to fend for themselves.

I mostly learnt about such orphans through fairy tales, films and books. Orphans were portrayed as living in abandoned sheds and ruined castles, catching fish and stealing bread, fighting rival gangs and bravely defying the police. I realized that if you are an orphan you have to grow up very quickly. You must toughen up fast and either take control or find a pack with a strong leader. Orphans cannot easily let down their guard, they have to use all their wits and grab what they can get.

Jesus does not give an encouraging talk for his disciples to function as a tough and smart group of orphans after his death, defying the reality of their great loss and fending for themselves somehow. Because they will not be orphans. They will not be abandoned. In their journey into darkness the disciples will not merely see Jesus vanish beyond reach. They will be met by him in wholly new ways as the risen Lord who will speak peace into their lives and give them life. “I do not leave you as orphans. I am coming to you.”

It would be a mistake, though, to picture this presence of the Spirit and of Jesus as a sheltering presence from all danger and harm. The comforter and advocate Jesus promises will not run and snatch up the disciples after they have stumbled a few steps onto the road of darkness. Jesus does not promise his disciples and friends the comfortable space of a nursery, filled with bright colours and the warm, comforting smell of milk. But he promises the Spirit, who will lead them on this journey into darkness and through the darkness. This Spirit of truth will lead the disciples into all truth as Jesus puts it a few chapters later in the Gospel of John (16:13). There is no comfortable settling down any time soon.

A friend of mine once said very wisely that there is never any going back in our life as Christians and as the church. We cannot ever pretend that some things simply have not happened. Or pretend that things are still the same as they used to be.


There will be no going back for the disciples to the time when they were a close-knit group following their Master on his journeys, eating with him and talking to him. May be for us this means: There is no going back to the time when our faith was a child-like trust and the world was beautifully simple. Or: There is no going back to the time when the church was an undisputed authority, a cultural force. I think my friend is right. If we try to preserve these good things in a thick syrup of nostalgia, we are likely to distort them and we lose them in the end. The Spirit of Truth will lead us onward from where we are now.

But where does the Spirit of truth lead us? Is this just an exciting but rather uninformed journey into the blue, choosing directions and destinations on a whim?

Our Gospel reading makes it clear that this is not the case. This journey, led by the Spirit of truth, is the journey into an ever-deepening communion with the Father and the Son. It is not simply about moving on, but about going deeper and deeper.  “You will know on that day that I am in the Father and you in me and I in you” says Jesus (14:20). “The Father and I will come and make our home with them (14:23). “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (14:15). The disciples will not be left as orphans. Instead, they will share in the very same love, which unites the Father and the Son.

They will dwell in this love, make it their home.  And this will be their text, their rule of life, their commanding reality: To reflect this love in their life together.

The evangelist John has the boldness to insist that precisely at the heart of darkness, in the midst of horrific and mindless brutality Jesus reveals the mystery, which is at the heart of the universe, which called forth all things and holds them together: The communion of love between the Father and the Son, opening up for human beings (see also John 17:26). The cross reveals Jesus’ love for the Father (14:31). It reveals his love for his own (John 15:13). And it reveals the love of the Father for the whole world (John 3:16). By journeying into the heart of darkness, Jesus will take hold of the darkness, will conquer and transform it. By journeying after him, led by the Spirit of Truth there is ultimately no other truth to be discovered, in good times and bad times, than the reality of this love, which turns around our orphan hearts and grafts us into eternal love.

So here we are, once again, embarking on the journey of Jesus’ last days. Whoever we are, may we be led on by the Spirit of truth, not as orphans, but as beloved children. Wherever we come from, may this journey into the heart of darkness become for us the journey into the heart of glory.


Sermon Genesis 1: 1-8 and John 12:34-50

Hymn: The Spirit lives to set us free

Prayer: Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Seeing is believing, we are told. If we could only see for ourselves, we would have faith and believe.

It was 7 O clock in the evening when my mum called the family in. She had worked hard all day to prepare this meal and she was excited, eyes sparkling, on the edge to see what they would say. Delicious smells came from the kitchen. She sat us down at the table. The candlelight twinkled on the silver and glass. She went back to the kitchen and emerged with the first course, a spicy soup she had taken special care over. We began to eat and talk about the day we had. Mum then brought out the main course. It was a three-bird roast with every possible trimming and sauce, a feast for our eyes as well as the palate. This was it. The moment she been waiting for. Then my dad boomed, ‘is that it’. Afterwards mum began to carve and did it mechanically but her heart had gone cold.

Now supposing, on the 7th day of creation, when God had made the heavens and the earth, there had been a watching audience. Earth and sea coming out of mud. Trees, flowers and plants: every colour you can think of. Fish, birds, animals of every king even the human race, the crown and glory of it all; male and female, to reflect God’s image into the world. God saw everything and declared it was very good. But suppose the onlookers remained unimpressed? Supposing they objected because that wasn’t quite what they’d had in mind? Because it all looked a bit messy and disorganised?

John has been telling us the story of new creation. The ‘signs’ have been building up: water into wine, the nobleman’s son, the healing of the cripple, the bread in the desert, the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus. John has hinted and will say again later that Jesus did many, many other signs as well.

John is concluding his so called ‘Book of signs’, a record of seven signs and several discourses over chapters 1 to 12. By means of these signs and sayings, Jesus reveals his glory, both his identity and his mission.

These six are just the tip of the iceberg, selected to make their individual points about new creation, new dimensions to God’s work, new Exodus, new life, new light and yet…

…everyone went on with their conversations. He had done all these things and they still didn’t believe.

Firstly, we hear that the Jews didn’t believe in Him.

At the time, with Jesus with them, the majority of Jesus’ hearers, the Jews for whom he came, did not believe in him, receive him, or even understand him. John’s executive summary and conclusion of the Jewish response to Jesus’ signs and words is in keeping with what he has written elsewhere.

As John tells the story of Jesus spectacular achievements and the people’s remarkable lack of interest, his mind goes back to the two Old Testament themes. Moses in Egypt, did a whole string of signs in front of Pharaoh and they did not believe. The only conclusion people could come to was that somehow their hearts had been hardened, so that God’s liberation of his people would be all the more dramatic.

Isaiah, faced with the people of Israel rebellion against God, found himself called to speak God’s word to them, knowing it would only make matters worse. They had become like Pharoah himself, their eyes were shut, their hearts were hard, and it seemed as though God had made it that way.

They were so sunk in their sin and rebellion that the only course for God now would be judgment; even though, as Isaiah saw, through that judgment an extraordinary new work of salvation would emerge.

John with both of these terrifying examples in his mind, looks at the Jews who saw Jesus’ signs. Generally speaking, the Jewish people have not seen that Jesus is the Messiah from the signs that he has done. They have rejected the testimony of the signs.


Moreover, neither has anyone responded properly to Jesus when he teaches that he must suffer just like the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 suffers. Even the disciples could not believe that Jesus the Messiah had to suffer, die, and rise again. They only understood it after Jesus rose again. No one has believed Christ’s own report about his coming glorification. In that sense, no one then was able to believe, not even those who did believe he was the Christ. But many could not even believe that Jesus was the Christ. At least the disciples were able to believe that much.

The only explanation he can find for their failure to believe – and for the fear and secrecy of those who did believe – was that something similar had happened. Most of the people were simply hard hearted. They went on with their own conversations. They criticized.

Even those who were soft-hearted, who really did believe that Jesus was the Christ, didn’t say so, because they were more concerned about what other people would say about them that about what God thought of them.

It was God who hardened the hearts of Jesus’ hearers. In Isaiah, it is God who speaks, God whose word through Isaiah harden the hearts of those that heard. So, since Jesus speaks the word of his Father and does his will, then it is safe to infer that it is God who blinds the eyes and hardens the hearts of the Jewish hearers of Jesus.

The question, then, is, “Why?” Why does God harden hearts and blind eyes when he, at another level, truly wants people to believe in his Son?

Because the Jews as a whole don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ. If they believed in him, why would the rulers seek to put him to death on the cross? It was Jesus’ mission to be put to death and then rise again.

Secondly, God could have arranged such things that the Jewish leadership who spoke to Jesus would not believe in Him. God might have done that at least temporarily, so that the Jews put Jesus to death as predicted and prophesied in Isaiah and elsewhere. Therefore, God might have then softened their hearts, so that they do believe that Jesus was the Christ after his death and resurrection.

Ultimately John is clear and we should be clear as well that the new creation was coming ahead in Jesus. The new Exodus was proceeding faster than anyone realized. The sign signs were leading to a 7th, the moment when all the themes in the gospel would come rushing together and leave history stamped forever with the image of a dying man on a cross, lifted up for all the world to see, opening the blind eyes and softening hard hearts with the love of God

The challenge for us is are we just going to go on with our own conversations, as God unveils the project, he’s been working on all this time? Are we going to complain that we wish he’d done something else instead? Are we going to say that we probably believe in it but would rather people didn’t know? Or are going to admit to ourselves and to the watching world that in looking at this Jesus we see the glory of God?

For John doesn’t end at that point because it writes a speech that Jesus gave between his hearing the voice in Jerusalem and the last supper in the upper room. Jesus certainly gave his teachings and sermons on more than one occasion and here He cries out before He approaches his glorification as His time draws near. This is Jesus final public sermon and is passionately delivered.

So, in verse 44, the fact that believers in Jesus actually are believing in the Father who sent him, was taught in John 5:24, when Jesus says, “the one hears my word and believes in the one who sent me”. In a similar way, verse 45, “the one who sees me sees he who sent me”, anticipates John 14:9, “the one who has seen me has seen the father”. Likewise, in verse 46, Jesus is the light so that believers don’t walk in darkness, just as both Jesus himself and John the Gospel writer) have said previously. Again, verses 49 and 50 show yet again that Jesus Christ regards himself as speaking from the Father who sent him.

But Jesus here, warns of the judgement to come as well as showing that a person’s decision now about him will affect the outcome of that judgement. Jesus’ final public work is about the judgement.

One of the oldest cliches in the movie business is the final showdown between the arch-opponents. The hero and the villain have been plotting against one another all through the story. Their allies and helpers have struggled and fought. There have been gains and losses on both sides. Finally, when the audience knows the movie must nearly be over, the other battles and skirmishes fall away and the two central characters face each other for the first time.

There comes a moment when the issue is clear, one side or the other, good versus evil. We know how it ought to end, but we’re never sure how it’s going to get there.

At least, if you have eyes to see. Of course, there is still to come the moment when Jesus meets Pilate, but he isn’t the real villain. He is the villain’s cat paw not even Caesar in Rome is the villain. The real villain is the darkness itself, the darkness that John has not yet named. The darkness will soon gather itself into a heap and take possession of one of Jesus’ own friends. Once ‘the Satan’ has entered Judas, we are not surprised when he goes out into the night.

This moment, draws together the challenge that to John’s eyes, Jesus has presented to the people of Israel from the very first until now. The light has come into the world, shinning in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The light has been with them, inviting them to make it their own and walk in it, so they won’t stumble. There is light enough for the whole world to see by, but not everyone wants to see; it might, they think, be embarrassing or shaming or two challenging by half.

But for those who choose to remain in the darkness, Jesus tells us strange words of new challenge and warning. He indicates that he did not come to judge the world but save the world. Jesus’ mission in coming into the world was a mercy mission, a mission of grace upon grace, to bring eternal life.

But doing this meant that the light would shine more brightly than ever before, and that the shadows it cast would be darker than ever before. When the light shines brightly, even though it has come with the aim of healing, rescuing, loving people back to life, it means that when people choose darkness there can be no question that that is indeed what they have chosen.

When Jesus speaks of the words of love, the words of God, the words that would heal the world, people who reject those words will find themselves confronted in the end, not by Jesus himself but by those very words, the words they have heard, the words they can’t pretend they didn’t hear. The words themselves will be judges, will rise up and condemn them.

The words have power because they are the words which the father himself instructed Jesus to say. Here at the final confrontation before Jesus withdraws from the crowds to be with the disciples for a last evening, we find once more, drawing together all we have seen so far, that Jesus speaks the words of God. People who believe him are believing in God; people who look at him and see who he truly is are looking as in a mirror upon the true reflection of God.

What if Jesus really was the mouthpiece of the living God? What if seeing Him really did mean seeing the Father? What if hearing his words and not believing them really did mean having those words return as judges at the end?

We would do well to ponder this, to reflect the word made flesh.

The next time Jesus sees the crowd would be as a prisoner, standing before Pilate. He will be on trial, and his words will be given as evidence against him. But the real trial is already under way, Jesus is staring into the darkness and the darkness is staring back.

So, in turn, we would do well to believe in Jesus Christ. We too need to respond properly to him, by believing in him, which John variously describes as coming to him, looking at him lifted up, remaining in him, and eating his flesh and drinking his blood. All of this we must do to enjoy eternal life. Amen.

Sermon John 12:12-19; Philippians 2:5-11

All glory laud and honour!

Prayer: Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From the Roman point of view, there was nothing great about Palm Sunday. After all, what happened was almost nothing compared to what happened in Rome. Whenever a Roman general or emperor had victory on foreign soil, killed at least 5,000 of the enemy, gained new territory, he was given a triumphal parade when he returned to Rome. The victorious general would enter the city displaying the trophies he had won and the parade ended at the arena. Compared to this, Jesus own entry into Jerusalem seemed small and inconsequential. Yet, as we will find out this morning, Jesus had an interesting relationship with crowds.

The scene we encounter in John 12:12-19 occurs at the time of Passover, when Jews came to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt, and that was always a time of big crowds.

Joseph a historian at the time mentions that around 2.7 million Jews were at Jerusalem for the Passover in 65AD, which gives us some idea of the size of the crowd in 30AD.

When we look at our text, we see that John picks out four crowds in particular. They are interesting for how they reflect on the way they approach Jesus in their own way.

The first crowd: The curious and caught-in-the-moment

From verse 12 we read, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So, they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him’.

The crowd goes out in a celebration mood. Went out to meet him was a phrase regularly used in Greek culture, when such joyful receptions happened. There was a buzz that surrounded Jesus and the news that he was drawing nearer.

Verse 18 gives us more insight on the motivation of this crowd: “The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.”

Their motive was curiosity and a sense of excitement at the fame of Jesus. Their excitement was kind of the paparazzi excitement wanting to capture an image to show others. They wanted to say that they had seen the miracle worker who raised Lazarus from the dead.

There is no indication of this crowd believing in Jesus nor is there any kind of relationship with him. They did not know Him, rather they have heard of Him and wanted to see the show on offer.

This might also be the same crowd who in a short time will shout I unison for Jesus’ crucifixion because their curiosity gave way to disappointment, because Jesus was not a clown who performed to impress people and they turned on him

 But back to this moment, they took up a kind of praise by gapping palm tree branches. Some might see these people were sincere worshippers, after all, they use church words like Hosanna meaning save now. If they meant this literally, they seemed to be calling Jesus to immediately grant their wish and desire to free them from the Romans. Save us! Free us now! Do it Now! Start the revolt! Drive out the Romans! It is possible though that by the first century the word had simply come to mean a general cry of religious enthusiasm much like a Amen!

Either way, the religious cry proved short sighted and short-lived. It either revealed a kind of selfish approach to Jesus but it was not sincere. It was not genuine praise built on a relationship. It is a show. The cries of Hosanna give way to cries of Crucify and the actual hearts of the people are betrayed and revealed. Curiosity will give way to horrible cries for the death of Jesus.

This is always the result for those who come to Jesus seeking a show, a display, a performance is it not? Oftentimes true that people mistake curiosity concerning Jesus for actual faith in Jesus. Religious excitement is not faith. Joining the mob is not the same as trusting in Christ.

These people are religious consumers, chasing the latest, greatest, hottest religious commodity. These people want to see the show, the experience, get a bit excited.

We need to be honest with ourselves now: have we confused curiosity with actual conviction? Are we a consumer, a spectator, an observer? It is our desire that Christ would perform for us, would please us, would put on a good show?

The second crowd the celebrating and proclaiming crowd.

Thankfully, we see a crowd of those who believe.

In verse 17, we read “the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.”

This is the crowd who saw what Jesus had done and who could not stop talking about it. Like the first crowd, this crowd celebrates Jesus, but unlike the first crowd, this crowd knows why it is celebrating. They had witnessed, the miracles of Jesus including the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

They had seen it and believed. This is the crowd we wish we could fit in naturally as believers, At our most faithful, this is us, we proclaim and rejoice. We testify and bear witness to Jesus. They bore witness naturally to experience a relationship with him.

People who have experienced something amazing never really have to be told to share it, do they?

I remember when Leah was born and I wanted to share that news immediately and even Chloe and her grandma travelled half the way through Bristol to join us in the hospital to celebrate the arrival of Leah.

We can all have share stories and experiences that when something amazing happens we what to talk about it because it shapes our lives.

This should be the case with us the people of God and our relationship with Jesus as well. We should say naturally and easily that we have a great God that He has come to us in Jesus and we speak and witness to that relationship.

We can ask ourselves are we in this crowd? Do you know Jesus and do you share his witness to others?

The third crowd who believes but still tries to understand

More often than not, I think we look at the disciples of Jesus to help us understand a passage. This is where we find them somewhere in the middle because they had trusted in Jesus and they loved Him but they are still trying to understand who He was and what it was He is doing.

Verse 14, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,” I do not know about you, but at times I find the disciples not understand brings some comfort but have we ever experienced this? We follow Jesus but sometimes we struggle to grasp what it is He is doing?

The disciples were not left in confusion forever as when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

We might call this a growth experience. This is the crowd that believes but has to grow into their belief. The disciples are aware that something important is happening but they will not grasp the full importance until after these events until later.

Let me offer some encouragement to those of you who might be still trying to understand this type of crowd because we do not always understand Jesus all of a sudden. The Christian life is a journey of experiences and then unpacking these experiences. Many of us fluctuate between this crowd and the crowd just before it between praise and belief between confusion and grasping what God is doing in our lives and in our world.

In time, as the disciples continued in their journeys, God revealed more truth and He does the same with us as well. So, we to ask ourselves where are we on His journey with us?

There is another crowd here too, the fourth crowd, the disbelieving and bitter crowd. I am speaking here of the Pharisees and their insights are given into what they are observing. Listen “So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him,”.

While Jesus is the focal point of the other crowds’ consideration, the Pharisees are looking at one another in dismay. They are unmasked, their tongues drip with poison, there is bitterness, there is resentment, there is rage.

The Pharisees are not winning the day. That last statement has an emphasis on the him. This is jealousy and frustration.

Here is the crowd that resents the work of God in the world. Here is the crowd with bitterness at the advance of Jesus in the world. The Pharisees boil with hatred both at Jesus and at the response of the crowd.

Of course, it is easy to depict these Pharisees as sinister figures or band of miscreants. We like to put them down. We see as it is written they hate Jesus; they loathe him but we at times can be like them in their mindsets. Is it true that we are totally not like the Pharisees? We ask ourselves this: have there been times in our own lives when we have secretly resented some work of God?

Or resented that God blessed that person and not me? Of that God has changed that person that you would like to keep as an enemy?

We do need to consider the possibility that we ourselves at times have been a part of this crowd as well and we too can find ourselves along the way standing in the corner resenting some work of God.

So, this week we are left with some questions to ponder…

Where are you in this story?

In what crowd do you find yourself?

Where do you stand with Jesus?


Reflection: John 11 (part 2)

"Lazarus, come out!" That's what Jesus yelled. "Lazarus come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Do you know what Jesus prayed before He did this miracle?

(Jn 11:41-42) "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

After Jesus prayed this, He called Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Jesus asked, then, that all those who saw the resurrection of Lazarus would believe.

Was this prayer answered? Or, maybe I should ask, how was this prayer answered? This is what John writes after the raising of Lazarus:

(Jn 11:45) Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

I don't know about you, but I would like to see and hear more of these people. I would like to listen as Lazarus describes to them the dying and rising experience. I would like to listen as Lazarus describes to them what he saw and felt during the four days between his death and resurrection. I would like to listen as Jesus explains this is what happens to every person who trusts the Saviour of how he or she experiences a spiritual resurrection by going from death to life.

I would also like to see or hear something about the party, the time of celebration, that followed the resurrection because you can be sure there was feasting and dancing in Bethany that day. I would like to witness the rejoicing of Mary and Martha and Lazarus.

But John tells us none of this! Instead, John focuses our attention on three other groups of people who none of them believed in Jesus as Saviour or accepted Him as Lord; yet, according to the set purpose and knowledge of God, they were all used to bring Jesus to the cross and the grave. John tells us about informers, Plotters, and Betrayers. As we hear man at their worst and God at His best.




The Informers

John identifies the first group as informers, or snitches or tattle-tales. This group left the cemetery that day and rushed to Jerusalem.

What did they do there? They "went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done" (Jn 11:46). They reported to the religious leaders on what had happened in Bethany. These informants were so near the kingdom, yet they did not believe. They saw the resurrection of Lazarus yet they did not put their faith in Jesus and as we will see when we look at the next group the Plotters, they were instrumental in bringing Jesus to the cross.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of a rich man and Lazarus (not the same Lazarus that was raised by Jesus). Upon death, Lazarus was carried to Abraham's side while the rich man ended in the torments of hell. Do you remember the conversation between Abraham and the rich man?

(Lk 16:27-31) "I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, (28) for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." (29) Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them." (30) "No, father Abraham," he said, "but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent." (31) He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

So true. Even though the Informers saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead they still would not believe. We see, don't we, how hard is the heart of man?

"Many ... put their faith in him. But some ... went to the Pharisees." Isn't this the twofold response that we see continually throughout the Gospels? Isn't this the twofold response that we see even today? Maybe both responses are to be found among those in worship this morning some believe and some do not.

Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?


The Plotters

The informers tell on Jesus to the Pharisees. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting on the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the "supreme court" of Israel. It was made up of 71 members chiefly Sadducees and Pharisees. Its head was the High Priest. The Sanhedrin was given a limited scope of power by the Romans to take care of matters local to Israel.

"What are we accomplishing?" they asked (Jn 11:47). That's a strange question. "What are we accomplishing?" In other words, they have been trying to stop Jesus. They have questioned John the Baptist about baptism, they heard with alarm that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John. When many of the pilgrim crowd put their faith in Jesus, they sent the temple guards to arrest Him (Jn 7:32); and, when the temple guards returned empty-handed, they accused the guards of being deceived by Jesus (Jn 7:45-47). They challenged Jesus' teaching (Jn 8:13). They closely examined the blind man healed by Jesus (Jn 9:13ff).

To sum up: they questioned, they examined, they accused, they challenged, and they tried to arrest. "What are we accomplishing?" No matter what they did to thwart Jesus and stop Jesus and refute Jesus, they were getting nowhere. In fact, Jesus was gaining in popularity.

Listen: "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs" (Jn 11:47). Did you hear that? These are the bitter enemies of Jesus speaking. They testify to the reality of our Lord's miracles! Yet, they refuse to believe the truth. They knew about the miracles. But they refused to believe.

Rather than asking if Jesus was the Messiah they asked, "How do we stop Him?" They should have been rejoicing in Jesus and receiving Him with open arms. Yet, they took the lead in rejecting and opposing Him.

"If we let him go on like this ..." (Jn11:48). What kind of statement is that? Do you hear the underlying premise? That the miracles and teachings being done by Jesus require their permission and their blessing. Of course, this permission and blessing would never be given.

"If we let him go on like this ..." As if it was up to them. As if God had nothing to do with this. They claimed to believe in God but lived and ruled as though they were god.

Why this increasing hostility towards Jesus? Why were they so opposed to Him and His ministry?

"If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him" (Jn 11:48). At first glance, it might appear they wanted to protect the people from a false teacher. But later events confirm they were not concerned about truth or heresy. For if they were concerned, they would have fully examined Jesus' claims about Himself.

The key word in their response is "everyone." "Everyone will believe in him." Jesus was becoming too popular. His crowds were getting too big. He had too many followers. And, here is the real deal, people were listening to Jesus rather than them. Which means they will lose their influence and their authority. They worried that "the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation" (Jn 11:48).

Selfish fear and envy. Those were the motives driving the Sanhedrin. How sad it is that they rejected Christ for the things of this world. How sad it is that they swapped eternity for a few short years on earth.

It was Caiaphas the High Priest, the leader of the Sanhedrin, who proposed a solution:

(Jn 11:50) "You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."

The words of Caiaphas marked a turning point. From that day on the Pharisees and chief priests looked for ways and means to kill Jesus. Thanks to Caiaphas, they knew what to do. "So from that day on," says Scripture, "they plotted to take his life" (John 11:53).

The Sanhedrin decided it was best "that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." Thus, thanks to the Informers, the Plotters started the events that we remember at Jesus death.

"It is better for you that one man die for the people." The High Priest was determining God's will in a particular situation. What he said came from God. So, John says,
(John 11:51) He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation ...


Caiaphas was speaking of God's eternal plan for our salvation in which it is necessary, absolutely necessary, for the One to die so that the many may live. Unknowingly, Caiaphas was stating the Gospel in a nut-shell. Unknowingly, Caiaphas was stating the very reason for which Christ has entered our world in human flesh.


These words of Caiaphas speak of Christ’s death. From our Isaiah reading it speaks of
(Isa 53:4-5) Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... (5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Do you hear that word "our"? Our infirmities, our sorrows, our transgressions, our iniquities ... We have gone astray. We have sinned. But He was punished. He was crucified. He was killed. He was forsaken by God and us. He died for me so I don't have to perish. One man for many just as the High Priest said and the Sanhedrin plotted. This is what Christ has done for us.

For us the question we face is did He die for you?


We have seen the informers and focused on the plotters but what about the betrayers?


The Betrayers


After this, says Scripture, "Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews" (Jn 11:54). He withdrew to a region near the desert. He went into hiding. Why? His time had not yet come (cf Jn 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 13:1). It wasn't yet the time ordained by the Father from eternity for His death and resurrection. So, with the sentence of death hanging over Him, Jesus withdrew.

God has a plan. This plan must be followed. Jesus was not to die until His time had come.

However, the people were looking for Jesus. They were asking about Jesus. Of course, they were. Because once you believe in Jesus you cannot get enough of Him. Because once you believe in Jesus, you want Him always there.

Knowing this, notice what the chief priests and Pharisees do next: they gave "orders that if anyone found where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him" (Jn 11:57). The chief priests and Pharisees know that Jesus would never leave or forsake His followers and used that against Him.

Those who respond to these orders of the Sanhedrin identify as Betrayers or Traitors. We know of at least one in this group Judas, who betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver (cf Jn 13:18-30).

I wonder how many of you noticed the progression in the passage. The story starts with informers running to Jerusalem. It moves to plotters wanting to kill Jesus.

And it ends with those who betray the Lord into the hands of men. All these wicked men were used by God to bring Jesus to the cross and grave so we could be saved.