Read the Bible, Generation Z

St Mary’s Leigh, & St John’s Hildenborough, Kent. Deuteronomy Ch.6: v4-9, Matthew 22: v34-46.

One of my favourite TV programmes is Newsnight.  30 years ago, Jeremy Paxman was its presenter, and whatever problems I may have had during the day, it was good to watch all the people Mr Paxman interviewed, squirming under his sharp questioning.  I could go to bed thinking that at least, any questioners I may have had during the day had not given me anything like such a hard time.

The ability to answer anything people throw at us, with grace – and yet to get to the bottom of what the issue really is, is a great ability, a great gift.  Jesus clearly had that ability, as we see him answering the Pharisees, here at the end of Matthew 22.

Jesus answers their question clearly, but then asks them a question back – directly:  “What do you think about the Christ, the Messiah?”  They give an evasive reply, they know that the common people are calling Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.  So they give an evasive answer: “The son of David.”  No-one can argue with that, their scriptures state it quite clearly.

But Jesus knows his Bible, the Old Testament, better than the Pharisees questioning him.  Jesus knows His place in the Jewish scriptures.  He turns to the verse in one of the Psalms of David, Psalm 110 v1, where there is the enigmatic statement about David’s “son” being his lord.  “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”  The Pharisees could not answer.

“In their own scriptures, it is stated that the Messiah is indeed David’s son, but he is also David’s Lord as well.  That does not fit their idea of a merely earthly and political Messiah.  Jesus is trying to open their eyes to the futility of a Messianic hope which does not rise above the human level.  Son of David is not an adequate title for him.  He is Son of God, whom Matthew knows to be exalted to the right hand of God, where he shares God’s rule over the world.  No lesser concept is big enough to embrace one who is both David’s son and David’s Lord.  But, the Pharisees have blinded their eyes to the truth, wilfully turning away from the One who had come to reconcile them to God.  Woe has come to the leaders of Israel, and that is the subject of the next chapter in Matthew’s Gospel.” (thanks, Michael Green, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel!)

But we now, go back to the first part of our Gospel reading, the two-fold commandment as it is called, which summarises the 10 Commandments.

For 23 years, as team rector of St Lawrence, Morden in south London, I stood under great golden panels with the detail of all ten of the commandments, inscribed into the glass of our east window, a fine example of 17th Century Dutch glass-making.  In early morning sun-light, the sun shines through the glass bathing the whole church in golden light.  And as I read through the old Communion service, reading out the ten commandments, I – and the congregation – had time to think about all of them.  All ten.

I wonder if I put you all on the spot, and asked you each to recite the 10 commandments, could you remember them all?  Sadly, I suspect that most people these days could not, I suspect that most RE taught in schools, does not require children to learn them.  (After the service, I was told by one teenager that at the local church school, she had been taught the 10 commandments).

When, about 100 years ago, some churches stopped reading them out every Sunday, clergy began to ride light on them, and society followed.  Keeping the Lord’s day special was the first to be undermined, when parliament allowed big shops to open on a Sunday.

50 years ago, if a clergyman got divorced, he could no longer lead a parish.  That is how I got my first parish, after serving a 5-year curacy.  The previous vicar’s marriage had broken up – sadly, I think one could truly say that for him and his wife, it was a ‘no fault’ divorce, on either side, but still in those days, rules were rules.

Now, marriage in today’s society means something very different than between a woman and man, for life.

Telling the truth – not bearing false witness.  Shall I go on?  We have plenty of this commandment ignored in modern politics….  I could go on, but I want to get to the heart of what I think our readings for today, say.  And that is, we must be careful not to pick and choose what is God is saying to us – just as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day did, and just as most people do today.

 “Yes of course, we love God (in our own way)….  Yes of course we love our neighbour as ourselves.”  How many times have I heard over 50 years of conducting funerals, “They never hurt anyone.”  The number of perfect individuals I have been asked to bring to God at their funerals in the hope of resurrection, runs to well over 1000.

No, it is not enough to just live by the two-fold commandment, making “love” to mean what we want it to mean.  To live by God’s law, the law of love – for that, to understand that, you need 10 commandments, and then the whole of scripture to explain how it is through the cross, the death of Jesus on the cross, you can receive God’s Holy Spirit to guide you, and to herp to guide society.

It takes a lifetime.  Until 100 years ago, most people in Britain had a basic understanding of the Bible, even if they chose not to live by it.  In my South London parish of 30,000 people, in1950 most children went to Sunday School in the afternoon, led by dozens of Sunday School teachers,. in several of local state school buildings.  Literally thousands of children.  Now, barely a handful attend Sunday schools, at the same time as church services in each of the four churches in the parish.

Two weeks ago, I found myself outside Tonbridge station, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  It was heaving with teenagers coming out of the various schools from up the hill, catching buses and trains.  Streaming down the road, as far as the eye could see, jostling one another, and any unfortunate people standing in their way.  How many of them have any meaningful understanding of what it means to live, happy and meaningful lives, as God intends?

You know, a higher proportion of people in China are practising Christians, than in Britain.  Probably in Russia as well, whatever we think of their governments.

I finish with the challenge to you, to read the Bible regularly, daily if possible.  The best way to do that, that I know is with Scripture Union.  “Daily Bread” and “Encounter with God” printed notes, on short passages of the Bible for each day.  In three years you would cover the Bible, apart from the bits that are doubled up anyway.  You don’t have to pay for Scripture Union notes to be posted to you, although I find it really useful to have a printed copy, and I can give you details on how to get them posted to you.  You can also  find them on the internet, free.  Just google, and follow the links.  Then, if you have time, follow through to Facebook, and join in a discussion.

And I ask for your prayers, that with a few others, I am working on ways to encourage teenagers to read their Bibles, and so to find Jesus, his background, and a sure guide for their future – the  never-ending future they have been created to enjoy in the face to face presence of God in Christ, as well as making the best of their earthly lives.

Because teenagers spend so much time on their ‘screens’, I am hoping we can find a way to use the internet positively, maybe by using an app some of you will know already, “WhatsApp”, which has a moderate level on encryption.  Of course,  the dangers that go with much of social media need to be avoided, but to avoid it altogether, is a bit like the burning of printed Bibles back in the 14-15 hundreds, to avoid the general populace being contaminated without priestly interpretation.  I am suggesting that parents also join the “WhatsApp” group, and use the Encounter with God / Going Deeper notes, while the teenagers use the more basic Daily Bread / Explore notes.

Scripture Union has a scheme involving what they call “Faith Guides”, and my  idea is that in smaller churches, and in villages, the same kind of youth fellowship could grow up, led by a faith guide, such as many of us probably benefitted from, a generation or two ago.  Please pray.  I am keeping your families and children’s worker here in Leigh, David Bennie in the loop.

Ordination 50th anniversary

The service features:
## Garth Hewitt singing two songs,
## an interview with bishop Precious Omuku,
## Richard Bewes version of the Venite, and a traditional chanting of Psalm 84 (by Newbottle church choir, in 1986!)
## my ‘on-line’ sermon of August 30th 2020, at Bidborough
## a ‘Book of Common Prayer’ communion service with Hilary
## and a summing up from me (provisional).

About ‘on-line’ communion. As I understand Church of England rules, if you share something to eat, maybe a bit of bread, and drink something a beverage at the same time as an on-line communion, that constitutes a ‘spiritual communion’ but not an actual communion. Hmmm. My own understanding is that God is bigger than our space and time, so if you want to count it as an actual communion, He does too – even if the Church of England does not. It does not need my magical/ priestly touch.
If you do join Hilary and I, please let us know by email, so that at some point in the future, I will know how many joined us in this 50th anniversary of ordination Holy Communion.
You can of course email me anyway, even if only to say you could have spent the time watching something much more interesting.

Dec 12th 2021, then June 6th 2021, then Christmas 2020 & February 14th 2021

Bidborough December 12th 2021 – 3rd Sunday in Advent. Readings: Malachi 3:1-12, John 15:5-11

The theme of my sermon is simple:  Remain faithful, and Wait for God, wait for God’s time.

Our first reading was from Malachi, a Hebrew name, a word that means messenger. Malachi the messenger wrote his book, four short chapters, 500 years BC, before Christ, and his message was: Remain faithful, and Wait; God’s promises may seem a long time coming, but come they surely will.

Waiting for something often reminds me of an old friend, and friend of my father’s –   Lesley Lyall, one of the China Inland Mission statesmen of the last century. I brushed shoulders with him a few times, once when a friend of mine upset him with a cheeky question, at a meeting Lesley Lyall had been speaking at.  My dad was annoyed that we had annoyed his old friend – they had sailed together for China as new missionaries, barely turned 21, back in 1929.

I finally I came across him at Cornford House in Pembury, then just a retirement home for China missionaries, a few of whom are still there, but the home is now open to all comers.  Lesley found living there pretty boring, his wife had died and he was not in good health.  He said to me one day when he was feeling down: “this place is just like a waiting room.” I think I drew a smile from him, when I said: “Maybe, but it is a VIP waiting room.”  Waiting isn’t easy, especially for those used to being active.

Malachi’s little book comes at the end of the Old Testament, the last of its 39 books.  I was looking up how the Old Testament came into being…..

Several centuries before the time of Christ, Jewish authorities had gathered together the 39 books, the books of Moses and the Law, the Psalms, and the prophetic writings, and laid them up in the temple in Jerusalem as the foundation texts of the Jewish people.  They were then copied and sent round to the synagogues in many different towns and villages.

By the time of Christ, there were other books that were given importance too, what we now call the Apocrypha, with stories from the time of Alexander the Great. Those stories must have thrilled the boy Jesus, of battles with elephants, and the Jewish people finding their brief period of independence between the Greek and Roman empires.

But the temple authorities had decided that Malachi, even though it had been written a century or so before some of the other books, made a fitting conclusion to their official scriptures, 500 years before Jesus was born.  A long wait for the one that Malachi had recorded God’s promise, that a prophet like Elijah would come and announce the beginning of the ‘Last Days’.

We heard read some verses from the beginning of the third of Malachi’s four chapters.  (Read 3:1) Then v5 of ch. 4…. “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes…” And Jesus was clear, that that promise had been finally fulfilled 500 years after it was written down, with the coming of John the Baptist.

Some days I find it easier to wait for God than other days. I had been thinking about this sermon for some time, but the day before I wrote most of it, was a waiting day. That evening I had what might have been a difficult meeting, but I felt that I should not rush in to speaking out, but wait for God’s prompting.  The prompting came – later than I* had exoected, but it came, and good things came from it.

Like Malachi, wait for God’s time.  And while you wait, then Malachi has some good advice.  Too much to summarise properly in the few minutes left to me. If you want the full summary, then please look up, Scripture Union’s website, and look back to 30th November to December 6th, where there are two excellent commentaries on Malachi.

There is quite a lot in Malachi about breaking the Commandments, the Ten Commandments. Archbishop Cranmer when he compiled our first English prayerbook, specified that every week, the Ten Commandments should be read aloud in parish churches, and it is still a rule that they should be written up in a prominent place.

Modern liturgies assume that what is called the two-fold commandment, Love God and love your neighbour as yourself, is enough.  Jesus said it summed up the Law and the prophets, but he clearly assumed that everyone knew and lived by the 10 C.

I wonder if I called you out one by one, if the first few would stumble over the 10? Shall I try?  (pause).

The evangelist JJohn wrote an excellent modern commentary on the Commandments.  Please, make sure you know them.  If only our present bishops and political leaders knew them, and lived by them.

Theft.  How much of our modern way of life steals from others, if not directly by unfair trade and unjust economic systems where the wealthy do not share their wealth?  Murder follows close behind – how much of our way of life kills others?

Family, the nuclear family at their heart.  The nurture of children by the parents that conceived them, and husbands and wives keeping their marriage vows.

Bearing false witness.  I could go on.

One other main criticism that Malachi levels against his people, while they wait for God to act – they fail to live as stewards of God’s earth, his creation. A steward knows well what tithing means – giving to the real owner of the land a fair share of the harvest.  In Old Testament times, 10%. I commend the St Lawrence Church Council for tithing the money raised for the new toilet and other improvements to the building, by giving 10% to Water Aid. If we all tithed, how generous we could be!  I could go on.

Stephen gave us four themes for the four Sundays of Advent.  Two weeks ago: Hope.  Last Sunday: Peace.  Today’s theme is Joy.  Our second reading from St John’s Gospel, ch 15, Jesus the vine we are the branches.  If we remain in him, keep his commandments, “My joy may be in you” He says “that your joy may be complete.”

Wait for Him, in the little things, and the big things of life.  And live joyfully. Enjoy God in Christ. Listen for His promises, read His Word, regularly.  His promises will be fulfilled.  He will surely come.


Penshurst June 5th 2021

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Mark 3 20 – 35

Our first reading was from 2 Corinthians 4, where a Psalm is quoted, Psalm 116.  “Even when I said: I am afflicted, I believed.”  A great psalm of faith, composed many centuries before Jesus lived on earth.  But the whole psalm needs to be read, as Jesus himself would have been taught it as a child, knowing it by heart, and living by it.  And then quoted here by St Paul…. (Read 2 Cor 4:13-16a?)

The Gospel reading is a good passage for the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.  I am told that last Sunday Bill McDougall, explained a little about how we can relate to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Today, we take a step back from the theology, and stand with the family of Jesus, trying to work out who he is.

“He is out of his mind”, they said (Mark 3:21).

St Mark has not wasted any time, in getting into the adult ministry of Jesus.  Before the end of the first chapter of his Gospel, we have had Jesus’ baptism, his temptations in the wilderness, calling his first disciples, and many healing miracles described.

In chapter two, another healing, the call of Matthew, and teaching about the Kingdom.

Now in chapter 3 another healing miracle and the final tally of 12 disciples in place. And then, at the end of the chapter – the verdict of those who knew him best: “He is out of his mind.”.

So: what do we what do you make of Jesus?  It was C.S.Lewis who said: “Either Jesus was the greatest liar who has ever lived, or he was a lunatic, or he is Lord/God.”  Who do you think Jesus was? – Or, better, is and will be?  How do you understand him?  Do you expect to see Jesus in Heaven separate from God the Father?

I don’t.  And I think I have scriptural authority for saying so.

While at the beginning of St John’s great Revelation, the last book of the Bible, Jesus stands before the throne of God, and is found to be the only one who can break the seven seals, of the scrolls that explain the whole purpose of God in creation, that answer all the unanswered questions which we on earth quite properly ask: ‘Why do the innocent suffer?’ being just one.  But by the end of Revelation, the Lamb (the name given to Jesus by John) is upon the throne.

A contemporary Christian minister, Steve Chalke, heads up Oasis, which sponsors dozens of secondary school academies.  Steve quite properly criticises the whole mind picture of Jesus and God being separate beings, of God in Heaven sending his Son to die on earth – as Steve suggests: a form of cosmic child abuse.  There may be other things that I disagree with Steve Chalke about, but on this he is surely right.

As I prepared this sermon, I came across a claim that may well be true, that at least one of the so-called trinitarian formulas in the New Testament, was doubted by no less than the reformers Erasmus and Luther – I refer to the Baptismal command that Jesus is recorded as saying, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.  I have yet to check this out.  But of one thing I am sure, I believe with Jesus, that God is One (see Mark 12:29-34).

But I am also sure, that with all the New Testament scholarship of Erasmus, as he translated from the earliest Greek texts, and Luther who lived ten years longer than Erasmus, We can regard the idea that God is three persons as a Latin addition, onto the Greek text.

Here, please forgive me, I will claim the cloak or authority of Erasmus, as I grew up in \Bidborough and where I now live.  The Dutchman Didier Erasmus allegedly preached in Bidborough church when staying with his friend Sir Thomas More, at Great Bounds, in the parish of Bidborough.  I am talking of course 500 years ago or so, but to have preached in the same place as Erasmus, must surely give me a certain authority if not infamy, even if half a millennium divide us.

And for light relief, I can tell you a story about two ladies of 100 years ago.  Bidborough church was modernised by the Victorians in around 1880, and a whole new aisle was added, and all the old pews and pulpit replaced.  The pulpit, from which Erasmus had preached, was left in the Rectory stables, crumbling away with woodworm, but was faithfully visited once a year by two ladies who left flowers on it, to honour the memory of Erasmus.  They were very upset to arrive one days, and found that the verger had burned it!

If you discount the whole Gospel record as accurate, then of course you can draw one other conclusion from C.S.Lewis: that Jesus was only a good man, standing in the line of Old Testament prophets – as well over a billion people have been taught, those who inhabit the world of Islam, but you have to discount most of the New Testament for that opinion.

For most Muslims, for whom – they are taught – early Christians distorted the records, they are taught that Jesus was a great prophet, but was not crucified – someone else was crucified on his place – leaving Jesus to ascend to heaven much as the prophet Elijah did.  And, so most Muslims believe, Jesus will return at the end of our world’s time, as God’s regent, for the day of judgement; but very definitely, not as God.  The first statement of Muslim belief: “God is One” – is of course the same as for Jews, so clearly taught in the books of Moses.

As it was believed of course, but all those first century Christians who came from a Jewish background, the disciples of Jesus, and including of course, St Pau, who called himself a pharisee of the Pharisees.

And Jesus himself clearly taught that.  Again, Mark 12: 29-34.

But, and for me this is a very important ‘but’, and one that takes up more of my time now than I could give it before retirement.  Please forgive what may seem like a short digression::

Recent scholarship has uncovered the fact that in the early centuries of Islam, whether Jesus died on the cross or not, was not an issue of great division.  And down the centuries there have been a few Muslim scholars who have remained ambivalent as to whether the Qur’an denies the cross.  There is in fact very little in the Qur’an about it, and – as scholars have recently been really digging down into the exact meaning the Quranic Arabic, it does seem that there is increasing evidence that maybe, just maybe, Muslims do not need to deny the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

So as I finish, two points to sum up:  first, I ask for your prayers, as I work more on this theme:  that the Qur’an may not deny that Jesus died on the cross and rose again.

And second, and most important:  Make sure that Jesus did not die in vain – for you.  As we share in this communion, let us each one, make it a clear re-making of our baptisms and confirmation commitment.  On this, the Sunday after Trinity, allow God’s Holy Spirit to work in your lives in a renewed way in the days ahead.  And may God bless you richly in the next chapter of what is now the united Benefice of Penshurst, Fordcombe and the Chiddingstones.  


For the 6 minute talk that was part of this sermon, go forward 10 minutes. Most of this blog was written before 2013, while I was team rector of Morden, south London, There are a few more recent entries. Use the search box to find subjects of interest, ie Mission, Time, Traidcraft, House of the Forest of Lebanon, etc.


 Then, Sunday before Lent – 14th February 2021  ….. and Ash Wednesday 17th Feb: Epistle from 2 Cor. 4:3-6,             How do you picture the face of Christ? (v6), followed by the Gospel of Mark 9:2-9,   the transfiguration of Jesus, and concluding with his three temptations in the wilderness (for the beginning of Lent).

I am thinking about my older sister Valerie and what she looks like.  She is now in heaven, she died a few days ago.  How to remember her, what she looked like?  She had had a series of strokes during the last 18 months, these last few months she could not speak, sometimes managing a smile.  She needed a hoist to get out of bed, but mercifully died at home with her family around her.  As her husband, son, daughter and three young grandchildren prepare for her funeral, we are choosing which photographs to remember her by.  Certainly not as she has been this last year or so.  We have a lovely photo of Val proudly wearing her nurses’ uniform, shortly after she qualified.  Only one or two of her as a small child, growing up in war-torn China.  The last time she was able to walk to her front gate to see me off after a visit, that is a precious photo for me.

Our epistle reading finished with a reference to ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.’  How will we recognise Jesus?

Jesus was a carpenter, like his father.  We have no real idea what he looked like as a young adult.  Certainly not as a blond Scandinavian, he almost certainly had brown skin.  He had younger brothers and sisters the Gospels tell us, and he was best known as an adult by his closer band of disciples.  Leading up to, and at the cross, he would have been terribly disfigured; the fact was after his resurrection, Mary Magdalene together with the disciples on the Emmaeus road, they did not recognise him, at first.

I had the privilege once of commissioning the main window, for a new church in Oman, to be called the Church of the Good Shepherd.  I chose an old Victorian print, of Jesus as a shepherd clinging to the side of a mountain, reaching down to rescue a lost sheep.  The design was etched onto clear glass, behind which the real mountains could be seen.  The shepherd was viewed from the back, so you couldn’t see his face, just the halo over his head and the mark of nails in his hands.  But the sheep was looking up, and can see his face.

In order to try and imagine what Jesus would look like, I suggest for a few moments, we recall what we know about Jesus, and that may help us picture him better, see his face in our minds…..  First, the 12-year old Jesus:

He was brought up in a village surrounded by hills, ‘up north’ – well away from the heart of his cultural centre down in Jerusalem, although he knows his parents came from near there.  He has been taught about all the great heroes of his people – Abraham, Moses, Ruth, King David, and prophets like Elijah.  Not far back from living memory, the great war of independence that had been won against the old Greek empire, by Judas Maccabaeus – rather like children these days may be taught about Winston Churchill.  On a hill within walking distance of his village, a great new modern town was being built by the Roman occupiers, Sephoris.  Jesus’ father was a carpenter, almost certainly worked in Sephoris much of the time.  But then, around his 12th birthday, as he transitioned from childhood to adulthood, he went down south to Jerusalem, to take on adult responsibilities.  There were no teenagers in those days.

And there in Jerusalem, so many of the questions he had bothered his teachers with, in the Synagogue school in Nazareth, came to find their answers.  That sense that somehow, his parents’ deep religious faith was real, their trust in God complete, that the nation Jesus were part of had been chosen by God to be a blessing to the whole world, despite all the times it had failed to live up to that destiny.  And somehow, he was still working it out, he felt that jhe had a crucial role to play in bringing that blessing to the whole world, all its people, his own Jewish people, and everyone else in the world, bringing God’s blessing to all people.  Not just his own people, but all Middle Easterners, and to the Greeks, the Romans, even the wild blond barbarians that his uncle Joseph from Arithmathea told stories about, when he came back from his voyages to the far west, trading for precious tin.

Jesus got so caught up in the wonder of things falling into place, that his parents had to come and find him as he talked with the scholars and religious leaders in the Jerusalem temple courts.  But then, back home, working no doubt alongside his dad, spending as much time as he could at the synagogue with others in his peer-group.  And of course, like so many young Muslim children today, he had been taught to remember scripture by heart, to use memory so much more than people today have to.

Then, Into his 20’s – tradition has it that Joseph died and Jesus needed to work on as a carpenter, to support his mother bringing up younger siblings.  Almost certainly, walking daily between Nazareth and Sephoris, employed by the Romans to build their new town, with its modern streets, lights at night, nearly as bright as the festival of light celebrated each year in Jerusalem with the lighting of a great light in the temple.  And sadly, on many occasions, Jesus would walk past crosses beside the road, petty criminals sometimes, more often crazies who had tried to start an uprising against the occupying Romans, even claiming to be like Judas Maccabaeus, sent by God to free God’s people, a messiah in the Hebrew language, ‘xristos’ in Greek.

When he could, Jesus also visited family down at the lake, or sea of Galilee, he had relations there who were fishermen.  He rarely ate meat of course, just at Passover time, and maybe the odd scrawny chicken, but fish was a more common supplement to bread, vegetables, fruit and dates.  And then, that cousin of Jesus, John.  Jesus. Mother Mary had been there at John’s birth down near Jerusalem, his father, Jesus’ uncle a priest in the temple.  John was only a few months older than Jesus.  Then his parents had died, and it is quite possible that he went off to join a religious community out in the desert, near a place called Qumran.  And then, had started to baptise people in the Jordan river that ran south from Galilee lake.

Now imagine Jesus as 30 years old.  His younger brothers and sisters are grown up and looking after Mary.  Unlike most of Jesus’ contemporaries, he is particularly sensitive to other people’s feelings, never intentionally hurting anyone, and animals too.  He loves the whole natural world, and the God that scripture point too, God always feels so close to him.  He never wants to break any of God’s guidelines for happy living, his commands, although Jesus was critical of how sometimes they are interpreted.  He hated double-dealing, he was well-known for honesty, integrity – and generosity.

And, Jesus had a growing sense of the power behind the old Jewish answer for breaking God’s law, which is to see in the shedding of an animal’s blood, a price that is paid.  Nearly always of course, that is for a sheep or goat, occasionally a cow or bull, that is killed for its meat.  Occasionally in Jerusalem at the temple, the whole animal if offered to God as a burnt sacrifice.  But Jesus knew that is only a sign of something deeper, even as he came to terms with death and the teaching of scripture, that God loves us beyond death, has created us not just for love in this life, but love with Him, and with one another, for ever.

And so Jesus goes down to the river, to where cousin John is baptising.  He does not want to baptise Jesus, he says he didn’t need it, but Jesus insisted, and then the thunder and the voice: “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”

Of course, he knew that this does not mean that God was claiming him to be his biological son.  God called King David his Son, it was simply a description of a really close relationship.  ‘Beloved’ is just as important a part, of what the voice from Heaven calls Jesus.  And then an overwhelming sense of God’s presence, the coming upon Jesus Holy Spirit power, as never known before.

In the Old Testament scriptures, there was much about God’s Holy Spirit.  ‘Brooding’ over the very earliest stages of creation (Genesis 1:2).  From an earth viewpoint, ‘hovering over the face of the waters’ – but we know now, many, many light years before matter came together for the creation of our little globe, the light of the furthest galaxy was created – the first ‘day’ of creation.  And remember the word for ‘day’ in Hebrew is any period of time, not only precisely 24 hours in our little days.  ‘A thousand years in they sight are as a day’ sang David.

Then God revealing himself to the very first humans, to Noah and his family, and then to Abraham, with the specific promise of blessing through him for all the world.  I love the statement of Abraham’s servant when he found a wife for Isaac “I, being in the way, the Lord led me.” (Genesis 24:27).  Then Isaac’s son Jacob dream at Bethel, and then later wrestling with God.  Then the way Joseph was led by God, and then of course Moses.

The Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ – ruach – literally, wind.  I used to be a cross-country runner, and I joked that my side-burns picked up the wind when I was running.   (They were actually grown to make myself look older when in my 20’s I still had a baby-face).  Another Hebrew word for the Spirit of God is wisdom, where it is given a female pronoun.

But of course, to any Jew, God is One, indivisible.  The first ones of the 10 commandments emphasises the fact.  And Jesus went to his death, praying to God as he taught us to pray to God, as Our Father.  Yes, he did go as far as to say apparently outrageous things such as: “I am the Father are One” (John 10:30) but of course that is only one verse after “My father… is greater than all.” (John 10:29)

That is repeated in John 14:28, in the final teaching of Jesus at the Last Supper.  That continues through to John 17, and there Jesus prays for his disciples: “that they may be all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.”

And so we come now to the Gospel reading for the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, and Lent.  Mark 9:2-9:

Jesus meeting with Moses and Elijah on the mount of Transfiguration.  Moses, the one God called to lead the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, the patriarchs, out of Egypt to the Promised Land.  Moses, the one who God gave the 10 commandments to.  And Elijah.

In thinking about Elijah, I came across the meaning of his name: ‘El’, the Lord – the origin of the Arabic name for God, Allah – and ‘Jah’, Yahweh in Hebrew, the name God gave for himself to Abraham:  literally in English, “I am”.  “I am who I am.”  The name Elijah means that God’s, Allah’s name is Jahweh, “I am”.  Now there are some Christian preachers, especially in the USA, who say that the God of the Bible is not Allah.  They are wrong.  The very name Elijah says that Allah is Yahweh, “I am.”  For a Christian, the name for God “I am” has particular meaning, because Jesus used it so often.  Was Jesus therefore saying he thought he was God?  I don’t think so, for the reasons I stated earlier.

But I turn now to the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, because in three days time, it is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when Christians around the world especially remember Jesus, working out how his life was to be lived from then on.  Briefly, three temptations:

            1) to turn stones into bread – to use his power for his own ends, to bribe people to follow him, and not to emphasise the first importance, of living in complete dependence on God.

            2) to throw himself off the top of the temple, and trust God to save him from harm.  At the time of Jesus, every morning a priest would stand there, and sound a trumpet at the rising of the sun.  But Jesus was not to be a sensation seeker, and certainly not to test God in such a way.

            3) and so the third and most insidious of the temptations:  worship me, worship yourself, worship anything but the true God, and you will inherit all the kingdoms of the world.  Compromise, just a little, a white lie here or there, fake news – just a little.  Come to terms with the world and its standards.

            And Jesus knew what rejection of these temptations meant.  Nothing short of the road to the cross. That is how he understood where the Old Testament scriptures would lead.  But that God’s road for him, would not stop there.  That it would lead him to God, or back to God.  And of course, his disciples came to realise that in fact: In Him the fulness of God dwells.  Colossians 1:19, 2:9…………..

Nine years ago, I wrote this in my blog, after visiting Bishop Cragg, he died not after my visit, age 99….. I don’t know of any power able to direct human destiny better than the cross of Christ. Yesterday I visited a 97-year old friend, Bishop Kenneth Cragg.  I agree with his view of the cross, as being   “the only sufficient answer both to the credible trustworthiness of a good creation, and a sane and sober realism about humankind.”


The service was introduced by the Rector, Stephen Hills, he explained the origin of our Rogation service.  Its name comes from the Latin word Rogare ‘to ask’.  Traditionally in many rural parishes, a service would include a ‘beating of the bounds of the parish, so that parishioners would know its limits.  It is said that boys might be thrown into nettle or bramble patches to drive the lesson home.  I’m sure that never happened in Bidborough.  Now in May 2020, much of the world is in ‘Lock-down’ because of the Corona virus, churches are closed, and services conducted ‘on line.’  This is the outline of our service.  Each section was read by a young person ….

1) Photo of Village Hall….
A prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your care and love for all creation.
We pray for your continued blessing upon this good earth, our town and villages.
Forgive us we pray, for the many ways we spoil and destroy what you have made. Help us to understand better your way of love, shown to us through the cross.
Give us we pray, the ability to share with you in your work of creation –
for the shalom/ salaam, the Peace of all people, especially the poor and weak,
for children and old people.
Thank you, for all the good things you give us, above all
for coming to us in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and for the gift of your Holy Spirit to guide, encourage and strengthen us,
day by day. Amen.

2) Photo of cornfield, with young shoots appearing:
Jesus said: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
And from the Benedicite, and ancient hymn of the church: “O all you green things upon the earth, bless the Lord, praise him and magnify him for ever.”
Heavenly Father, We ask for your blessing upon all the work done, in the production of the food we and others need. We pray for the shop workers who bring it to us. We pray for crops grown in other parts of the world, rice, wheat, corn, for vegetable and fruit farmers. We pray for a fair and just distribution of the earth’s food resources. Help us not to waste food. We pray for the many in our world who are hungry, may we be able to control climate change, so that enough crops can be grown to feed all the world’s people. We pray that the right balance will be found between land for crops, and for our woods and forests. We pray for our gardens and allotments, thank you for all the pleasure and great benefit they give us.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

3) Photo of sheep field
Again, from the Benedicite: “O all you beasts and cattle, bless the Lord. Praise him and magnify him for ever. O all you birds of the air, bless the Lord. Praise him and magnify him for ever.”
Heavenly father, you give us animals to share with us our lives here on earth. Grant that we may show our gratitude to you, by treating with gentleness and consideration all living creatures entrusted to our care. Whether domesticated or wild, your creation is so wonderfully varied. Thank you for our pets and the lessons we learn from them. May future generations be able to look back on our generation, and give thanks for the way we achieved the right balance between the needs of humanity and the rest of your created world.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

4) Photo of Victorian pumping station:
This photo is of the old pumping station that was built in the lower part of our parish, where water was pumped up from a deep well, to the reservoir at the top of the village.
Jesus said: “Whoever drinks of this water, will thirst again. Whoever drinks of the water I give them, will never thirst. The water I give will be a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
And from the Benedicite: “O you wells, bless the Lord, praise him and magnify him for ever. O you rivers and oceans, bless the Lord, praise him and magnify him for ever.”
Heavenly Father, we thank you for those who supply clean water for us, as well as those who deal with waste water and its treatment. We pray for the many in our world who do not have clean water to drink, may this most basic of human rights be soon provided for all.  And we pray for our rivers and oceans. May the water that reaches the sea be clean, free of plastic and other pollutants. May the fish and all life in the sea be free from all that threatens and destroys their environment. And we pray for our fishing fleets, whether of this country or across the world, that we may learn better how to fish responsibly, providing food for this and future generations.
Lord, in your mercy, here our prayer..

5) Photo of Medical Centre
Jesus said to his disciples after healing: “Greater things you shall do than this…” and from the Benedicite: “O you servants of the Lord, bless the Lord. Praise him and magnify him for ever.”
Heavenly Father we thank you, for all our health and caring services. Thankyou for those who research the cure for disease and sickness, and healing for injury. Thank you for those who work in Care Homes, and in the Community supporting the vulnerable. Especially in these days of the Corona virus, we pray against its spread to the most vulnerable in our word, in the poorer countries and in refugee camps. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

6) Photo of traffic on the Medway bridge
From the Benedicite: “O you Children of men, bless the Lord. Praise him and magnify him for ever.”   And from the Epistle of James: “Now listen, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, carry on business and make money.  Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring…. you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will do this or that…”  ”
Heavenly Father, we pray for our world in this twenty-first century. Help us we pray to find good ways to share the world’s resources fairly, without destroying the environment. As we are learning now, help us to use the internet in ways that benefit all the nations of the world, even as we are drawn together into one global village. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

7) Photo of St Peters church
Reading: Matthew 5:25-34, followed by my summing up.  This is the text of the video at the top of this blog entry…..                                                                 The Benedicite concludes: “O Ananaias, Azarias and Misael, bless ye the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever.” If we were together in one building, I would ask who knows who those three people were? The answer is, the three mentioned in the book of Daniel, chapter one, but better known by the names given them in Daniel chapter 7, Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego (or to bed we go?).

So this old psalm of the New Testament church finishes by naming martyrs of the Old Testament, those willing to put their lives on the line for God. It used to be said twenty years ago, that in the 20th Century, there were more Christian martyrs, Christians killed for being Christians, that in all the centuries before. I wonder how long it will be in this 21st century, before the number of Christians killed for their faith, outnumbers those from the last century?

This last week, my phone has kept beeping at me, because of my WhatsApp App keeping me informed about death threats to a Christian couple from Somaliland. During ‘lockdown’ with the Corona virus situation, most of us are using the internet more than ever, including of course the streaming of this service. But the internet also means that any innocent comment or picture can be misinterpreted, accidentally or maliciously. Our young people especially need to be warned of this. But also any statement of Christian faith can be held against us, by anyone who does not like what we say ‘on line.’

I ask for prayer, in the work I do, in trying to open the minds of Muslim friends that the Arabic of the Qur’an may not deny that Jesus died on the cross. I was only just got back from Oman before ‘lockdown’, I had gone there for the publication of an old book I wrote, just translated into Arabic which suggests this.

What is our prayer together, for the parish of St Lawrence and St Peters? As we come to terms with the new world of the internet, the World Wide Web, and a post Corona virus world, how does God want us to take hope of a new way to communicate eternal truth? Yes, applying it to our local community, not just the fields and woods, not just its community facilities, cricket grounds, community groups, village halls, but all the relationships now possible ‘virtually’, instantly?

I finish with the Prayer Book prayer for today, suggested 400 years ago, by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. It is why today is called Rogation Sunday, the Sunday when we bring our petition for the growing crops especially before God. But more generally, it applies to all that we ask for. What is your special prayer request, for yourself, your family, your friends, your enemy?, your church, your nation, our world? As I say this prayer, or as you read it, notice the phrase especially: “by your merciful guidance…” It seems that while most of the prayer is a Latin prayer, much older than 400 years, the word ‘merciful’ was added by Cranmer. And literally in Latin, it means ‘pilot.’ We are praying that God in Christ will be our pilot, our merciful pilot. We don’t deserve Him, but he loves us enough to give us what it best for us, like the pilot safely guiding our ship away from danger, and piloting us home.

O Lord, from whom all good things come. Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration, we may think those things that be good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday before Easter April 5th 2020


If you would prefer to read it….. Text of sermon preached April 5th 2020, during ‘Lock-down’, when the Corona virus was spreading around the world.
Palm Sunday. Luke 19:41-44  “If only you had known”

If only you had known

I am not about to explain why God sent, or at least allowed to happen, the Coronavirus. The book of Job in the Old Testament explains that human suffering sometimes simply cannot be explained. If you are looking for good theological teaching, then I recommend Ian Paul’s blog, it has the strange name: Psiphizo. But. Just google ‘Ian Paul’ and you will find it. I for one, am happy with the thought that…. We are “in time” and of limited and finite minds, whereas God is outside time and of infinite mind… So I’m happy to come to a point where I say “This much I know…” and trust that is all I need to know for now, from God in Heaven’s point of view – because he hasn’t told us everything…

… and the human Jesus believed that too. He knew a lot, but not everything. This picture used to hang over the door of the study in Bidborough Rectory when dad was rector. I don’t know who the artist was, in the corner it is ‘copyright 1907.’

Jesus looks across a valley, to the artist’s impression of Jerusalem. On the back of the frame, just the words hand-written on the label of the Hastings’ framer: “If thou hast known.” Jesus could foresee the tragedy that was soon to overtake Jerusalem, as Roman armies destroyed it, utterly.

Sunday is Easter. But of course, you can’t have Resurrection without a death. The event at the very centre of all our world’s history is not Easter, but death, the death of Jesus. His resurrection followed of course, But you can’t celebrate Easter without first, the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ death is the most certain event of history. Some have tried to deny that it happened, for an increasing number of people in the West, they think of Jesus much like they think of Santa. Now, I believe in Santa Claus, or rather St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, he lived 1,600 years ago. (See footnote 1 if you are interested). There is a historical root to the fable. But real history is as important, as science.

I don’t intend now, to go into the arguments for the four Gospels and the other books of the New Testament; or of the Old Testament being reliable history. But the evidence is as certain as any historical fact, that Jesus the boy was immersed in the Jewish scriptures, he knew them inside out, and as a man saw himself fulfilling them. And, that would mean allowing himself to be done to death by people who thought they were Godly. And, it was a most terrible death.

Behind the words: “If only you knew….” lies the anguish of the Old Testament prophets, who had such a profound effect on Jesus, as he grew to adulthood, and came to the agonising conclusion, that he was to be the answer:. The answer to selfishness, to putting self in the place of God, to working for the advantage of one’s own family or tribe against other families and tribes. The Bible word for all that is, sin . Jesus’ answer was the laying down of his own selfless life, allowing it to be (apparently) destroyed by sin, as he challenged death itself. And, then looking forward to life after death, sending his Spirit to all those who committed their lives as his disciples, and able to lead the world into real peace, Shalom/ Salaam, life at the very top of the scale, life in all its possible fullness.

So for us and our world, Passion Week2020, and the seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter Day. What challenges face us? I think of the village where my wife and I, and one daughter and her family live. Here, there are some promising signs, with no less than 80 volunteers to help with a ‘good neighbour’ scheme during this health crisis. And of course in the wider community, so many volunteers to help the National Health Service, in whatever ways they can.

What of the wide world? Nigeria and Africa, including the island of Madagascar where a daughter served as a missionary doctor for ten years. That continent is scheduled on present predictions, to see millions die in the coming months from Coronavirus. Unless that is, the call to the G20 nations is heard, from the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, for trillions of dollars to be committed to help the developing world combat the virus.

Maybe, just maybe, realisation is dawning, that it is simply not acceptable that the richest 10% in the world, own 85% of the world’s wealth. That means of course, 90% of the world’s population only have access to 15% of the worlds wealth to live on. Maybe even now, we can change our philosophy of life and our lifestyles. Do we hang on to old viewpoints and way of life, and live and die with the consequences? Or do we listen to the anguished words of God in Christ: “If only you knew…”?

It is the way of the cross. Thankfully, not as He faced it, but, empowered by the Spirit of God in Christ released through the cross, we stop living for ourselves, selfishly, sinfully, making ourselves to be God. Instead, we put Him and His Way first in our lives. Then, as He promised (in what is called His Sermon on the Mount – in chapter 6 of St Matthew’s gospel) “…all these things will be added to you”. Put Him First. It is “all or nothing.” How often do we settle for second best, for compromise. Sometimes in life we need to, but not with Jesus. “If only you knew… what makes for peace.” It has to be whole-hearted commitment., in order to live – life in all its fulness.

I dare to make the comparison: unless we follow the clear guidelines of how to fight this present health crisis, millions will die; but also, if we try to compromise with Jesus, we die, eternally. I urge you, stop playing games with God, God who in Christ laid down his perfect life, so that we might live. Please, pray with me, this prayer of commitment, or re-commitment. I prayed it, pretty much like this, age 12. It was a mission in Bidborough, led by someone called Ken Prior, and he put the challenge of the cross so clearly, that I was able to pray this prayer. Of course, I have back-tracked many times, but for you, let this prayer be, if not the first time you have prayed it, then a re-commitment prayer…….
“God in Christ, I am a sinner.
Thank you that You died for me.
Forgive me through Your Cross.
I come to You now, come into my life,
and live with me, for ever. Amen”

Ray Skinner:


The Man Behind the Story of Father Christmas/Santa Claus
St Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a very rich man because his parents died when he was young and left him a lot of money. He was also a very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. There are several legends about St. Nicholas, although we don’t know if any of them are true!

The most famous story about St. Nicholas tells how the custom of hanging up stockings to put presents in first started! It goes like this:
There was a poor man who had three daughters. The man was so poor that he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn’t get married. (A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the brides parents on the wedding day. This still happens in some countries, even today.) One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house (This meant that the oldest daughter was then able to be married.). The bag fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with the second daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given him the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man to not tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want to bring attention to himself. But soon the news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from Nicholas.
Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. St. Nicholas is not only the saint of children but also of sailors! One story tells of him helping some sailors that were caught in a dreadful storm off the coast of Turkey. The storm was raging around them and all the men were terrified that their ship would sink beneath the giant waves. They prayed to St. Nicholas to help them. Suddenly, he was standing on the deck before them. He ordered the sea to be calm, the storm died away, and they were able to sail their ship safely to port.
St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and later put in prison during the persecution by the Emperor Diocletian. No one is really knows when he died, but it was on 6th December in either 345 or 352. In 1087, his bones were stolen from Turkey by some Italian merchant sailors. The bones are now kept in the Church named after him in the Italian port of Bari. On St. Nicholas feast day (6th December), the sailors of Bari still carry his statue from the Cathedral out to sea, so that he can bless the waters and so give them safe voyages throughout the year.
in 1066, before he set sail to England, William the Conqueror prayed to St. Nicholas asking that his conquest would go well.

In the Netherlands it is St Nicholas, not Father Christmas or Santa, who brings gifts for children before Christm

The power of the Cross

Bidbro church

SUNDAY APRIL 28th 2019

St Lawrence Bidborough – April 28th 2019.  Acts 17:22-34

Opening prayer from Eph. 1:18 “I pray that your minds may be opened, that you may know the hope to which God in Christ has called you, Amen.”

What a mess the world is in.  I could babble on about the two new political parties formed in Britain this month, and the two elections coming up in May – threatening to overturn our cranky political system completely, but I won’t.

For a moment, I will focus on one issue – that of population:  there are more children as a proportion of the world’s population than ever before.  We know how to bring babies to birth better than ever before, and with less mothers dying in childbirth.  We also know how to bring children safely to adulthood, with basic good food, clean air, and of course, safety from war and terrorist attack…  Enough said on that.

With regards to overall population growth, the world’s population has I think trebled in my lifetime, please correct me if I am wrong.  China has led the way in overall population control, and of course our western culture is turning away from the safe nurture of children within the love of the parents that conceived them – enough said on that.  If you don’t agree with me when I say, what a mess the world is in, again, please correct me after the service.

And so it must have seemed to the people of Athens 2,000 years ago, as St Paul spoke to them from the steps of the Areopagus.  Maybe the Romans had established a comfortable way of life for the free and richer people of Athens, but of course if they were honest, they were only a small proportion of the world of their day.

Questions such as “Does God exist, does He care for us, is there life after death, and what of miracles?  Were debated endlessly.  There were those, as today, who would simply not believe that a person could rise from the dead (v32 of Acts 17)  Put yourself in their shoes….

Was Jesus dead?  He died by crucifixion.  There are historical facts.  At an internet level of course there are plenty of ‘Jesus mythers’ around, just as there are holocaust deniers, and climate change deniers.  The fact is, even the most critical scholars accept that Jesus was baptised by John, he made disciples, the inner group and many others from a wider circle.  Then, no serious scholar however critical, would deny that Jesus was a miracle worker, that he taught mainly about something called the Kingdom of God, and that he died on a Roman cross.

How did crucifixion work?  It was a step process.  Scourging, the half death, leather things, bits of bone, veins and arteries exposed.  Julius Caesar: “it is more grievous to scourged than to be put to death.”  Then Jesus was nailed to a cross while blood drained.  Third step, death blow.  It is among the most certain fact of history, that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

Did he rise?  Official credal statements made it very clear that he died.  The most interesting source is the creed to be found in 1 Cor 15:3-7 creed, repeated by St Paul as he writes to the church in Corinth.  James Dunn, a Durham professor,  I contributed to a book he wrote about church life in the North-East.  He says of 1 Cor 15:3-7: “This tradition, we can be entirely confident was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus death.  Gert Ludemann: “the elements of the tradition are to be dated in the first two years after the crucifixion”.  Paul Barnett:  “…within 2 or 3 years of the first Easter.”  Richard Burridge and Graham Gould: “from only a few years after Jesus death”.  Robert Funk of the Jesus seminar: “within 2 or 3 years at most.”  Richard Hays: “within about 3 years”, Very early material  1 Cor 15:3-8 (read it together).

Notice what we have here, it was for forgiveness of sins, Jesus death and burial, resurrection.

Lee Strobel wrote a book 40 years ago “The Case for Christ.”  Two years ago, it was made into a film.  What follows summarises something along the lines of what he said and what is in the film….  He summarises what other Bible scholars have taught….  There were the appearances to individuals (Cephas), small groups, large group more than 500.  James and Paul untimely born.  All of this as authoritative and very early tradition.  Friends and Foes.  James did not believe his brother was the Messiah, Paul persecuted the church.  This passage eliminates two sceptical responses, to Jesus resurrection.  The legend hypothesis, and the hallucination hypothesis.  It is the heart of Christian teaching from the beginning.  Hallucinations are not shared and most certainly, not by many people at the same time.

And, the fatal flaw in both the legend and the hallucination arguments against Jesus’ resurrection:  is that those who have them, or make the up, they make poor martyrs.  I accept that suicide bombers make martyrs of themselves, having been deluded by extremist teaching, and only for instant and presumably near painless death.

(READ ALOUD 2 Cor 11:24-27).  Consider becoming a Xian?   it’s a GREAT LIFE !!  So many of the first disciples were stoned, willing to endure prison, flogging and death.  Yet….

Gerd Ludemann again: “it may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which he appeared to them as the risen Christ.”  Bart Ehrmanh:  “We can say with certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that Jesus had appeared to them, and had convinced them that he had been raised from the dead.  “It is a historical fact that some of J followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.  Paul Fredriksen: “I know that in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus.”  For Fredriksen, he goes on: “I’m not saying that they really did see the raised J, I wasn’t there, I don’t know what they saw.  But I do know that, as a historian, they must have seen something.

I know what they saw, for me it is obvious, the sort of thing that would convince that a man who had been dead was in front of them and explaining why he had to die and rise again.  Yet, so many do not believe in the historical evidence.  Two broad issues emerge.  Many people have a prior commitment to reject supernatural events, they are committed to refuse that miracles never happen.

Pew Forum:  “Spirit and Power, a 10-country survey of Charismatics and Pentecostals – the  USA, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, S. Africa, India, the Philippines, and S.Korea.  Researches found that 200,000,000 Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians have personally witnessed miraculous healings.  Not counting Christians in other countries.  Edmond Tang:  “All Christian churches in China practice some form of healing. in fact, according to some surveys, 90% of new believers say that miraculous healing is a reason for their conversion.  Craig Keener in Miracles:  It is no longer plausible to tout uniform human experience as a basis for denying miracles, as in the traditional modern arguments.  Hundreds of millions of claims would have to be explained in non-supernatural terms for this appeal to succeed.  While many may be so explained, one cannot adopt the conclusion of uniformity as a promise without investigating all of them.”  In other words, those who deny such miracles, without investigating them, do so by a blind faith, and ignore all the evidence against their unbelief.

So to conclude:  If Jesus rose from the dead, it is surely a good idea to listen to his teaching – about sin, judgement, and salvation.  If we don’t want to take his teaching seriously, we need to deny it, and reject the evidence.  We must decide what we want to believe ahead of time, and simply reject the evidence.  We call science, anti-science, as bigots, we call others bigoted.

The facts are, that Jesus died by crucifixion, and that is recognised by friends and foes.  The friends of Jesus, those who became his disciples, were willing to face torture and death.  So, if anyone can tell me about God, its Jesus, God who became a human being, humbling himself, even to death, death on a cross, God in Christ.

I began by talking about children in our world.  I finish with a saying by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who died in Flossenburg concentration camp, 9th April 1945, probably by hanging but slowly.  He wrote: “You can measure the morality of a society and culture by how it cares for its children and their future.”  A challenge for our society.

And personally?  How do you respond?

Treasure in Heaven

Bidbro church

Bidborough St Lawrence – Matthew 6:19-24

After Hilary and I were married here, 46 years ago, our first home was an old terraced house in Newcastle.  It was in an area where, if you left your home for any time, you needed to make sure it was secure from burglars breaking in.  It had basement windows, and on one occasion when we went away, I used strong boards over them and bolted them up through to the inside, and secured the doors pretty well.  But when we came home, we found that burglars had chiselled out the bricks from under the stairs up to the back door, and there was a neat hole through the brickwork.  It was not that we had many valuables in the house anyway, but it served to remind us that treasure on earth should not be too important to us – and to work out what our treasure actually is.

Here in Bidborough, quite a number of people work for a bank, or used to and a bank pays their pension.  Banks are usually a good place to put our money, but of course they can fail, as did Northern Rock, a bank where once we had a mortgage, fortunately paying it off before the bank failed.  Jesus warns us not to put that which is most valuable to us as money in a bank, or property, but to work out what our treasure really is, and to put it safely, in Heaven.

But then the question needs to be asked: “where is Heaven?”  Next Sunday’s Bible readings include the Lord’s Prayer, and there Jesus tells us that when we pray to God, we should ask: “Your Kingdom come on earth, as it is in Heaven.”  God’s Kingdom and Heaven are closely related.

The Bible tells us that we are created for relationship.  Relationship with God – receiving His Love, although we do not deserve it – and then giving love to Him, through relationship with others – family, neighbours, remembering the parable that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan, where the most hated person becomes our neighbour.

The story has often been told here, of how St Lawrence was a deacon in the  church in Rome in 258 AD,  and he had the job of distributing money given to the church, to the poorest people in Rome.  When the Roman emperor Valerian wanted the church’s money, he called Lawrence in to hand over the money.  Lawrence asked for three days in which to gather the riches of the church together, and then gave the money to the beggars from the streets of Rome, and took them to the emperor saying: “Here is the church’s treasure.”

As Christians, disciples of Jesus, our treasure is in relationship – with God and then with those He has given us to be in relationship with.  In the 10 Commandments God gave us through Moses, marriage and parenting come second after our relationship with God.  Not everyone is married of course, Jesus wasn’t, Paul wasn’t, but the relationship we have with each other when we put first our relationship with Go – that is what should be most important to us.  “Let the children come to me” said Jesus, and the blind and the lame, and the beggars – the poor of our world, who God loves every bit as much as he loves each of us.  One day, we will be called to account, (like St Lawrence was) as to where our treasure is.

In 1984, 34 years ago, David Jenkins, a liberal theology professor from Leeds University became Bishop of Durham – he did not believe in the virgin birth and spoke about Jesus’ resurrection in a way that made many believe he was denying that Jesus ever rose from the dead.  I was then vicar and rural dean in a coal-mining area near Durham, and was on record as saying as the first story in BBC national news one day, that David Jenkins’ being made a bishop should be delayed until he had explained himself more clearly.  I lasted three more years before leaving Durham diocese – on one occasion he came to speak to my deanery synod, when he said something I really did like:  “When we get to heaven, we will need eternity to talk with everyone in heaven to find out how they had experienced God’s love while on earth.”

That makes good sense to me.  We will need a very long time, to talk with Old Testament characters, the famous ones and the quiet ones, New Testament characters, and all those through history, in far-off places and cultures very different from our own.  Billions of people, presumably angels too.  Surely, we will need eternity to hear about how God had directed their lives, and been to them shepherd, saviour and king, how they had expressed in their lives on earth, their relationship with Him, their devotion to Him (v24 of Matthew 6), and how that had worked out through their relationship with others.

So when we read about, hear from the human Jesus 2,000 years ago talking about heaven, we need to listen.  When He tells us to “lay up our treasure in heaven….”  What did he mean by that?  Surely, to work at the relationships He has given us, now, to try to make sure that – as far as possible – they are grounded in His love for us.  “Be my witnesses…” said Jesus.  He should be at the heart of all our relationships.  And so we bring Heaven to earth, and become the answer to our prayer: “Your Kingdom come on earth as in Heaven.”.

Did you know, that one day, God will judge you, “according to what you have done?”  St John, in Chapter 20 of the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation,   writes:  11) Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  12)  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

God – outside our little world of time and space – in the same way that a painter stands outside his painting, adding a detail here and there with all the time in his or her world, focusing on the moment being fixed on the canvas – the God who created us, loved us enough to die for us, on whose hand is written our unique name – that God knows us far more than twitter, google, facebook or any other social media.  Whatever clever algorithms different social media use to learn all about us, God knows us far better and in greater detail.

So: where are you banking your treasure?  I hope it is in relationships that are grounded in the relationship that you have with God in Christ.  (“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”)  Then, you will be beginning to answer the prayer: “Your Kingdom come on earth.”  Then you will be building the foundation for all those conversations that in eternity, you will enjoy with the friends of God from every age and culture.

Read Psalm 84, preferably with others.  While the psalm describes the temple in Jerusalem, it is surely also a metaphor for humanity being in relationship together, reflecting the first and most important relationship on offer, between ourselves and God.  (v6 – a dry valley, v10 – wicked = those who put themselves before God.)

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka (the dry valley), they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God; look with favour on your anointed one.

10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;  I would rather be a              doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favou r and honour;
no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

12 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.



Church of England General Synod and SOCE

Gen Synod 2017

Four months since I write a blog, in November 2016 I explained why I would not be ‘blogging’ so often as before.  However, voting in two debates of General Synod last weekend drives me back to the keyboard.

Synod has met twice this year.  In February, bishops presented their report on same-sex relationships (only one bishop voted against, and that was by mistake as he pressed the wrong button) and the house of laity supported the bishops’ report, it was the clergy who voted against, and as all three ‘houses’ have to agree a motion, it was rejected.

Last weekend, Synod voted against SOCE – Sexual Orientation Change Efforts.  Such efforts were not defined, asking only that any effort should not be attempted.  Government was even called upon to legislate against such (undefined) efforts.  Neither was there any attempt at theological engagement or Biblical exegesis on the subject.

Of course, early attempts at conversion therapy were nearly always misguided and often cruel, leading to suicidal thoughts and sometimes suicide itself.  The film ‘The Imitation Game’ about Alan Turing tells that story well.  I accept the conclusion of Andrew Goddard and Glyn Harrison, of the “lack of high quality evidence for the prospect of radical change (e.g. the absence of reliable Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) and the potential for harm that could result, especially from unrealistic expectations and promises of benefit from any particular counselling support. Indeed, we note that influential support groups for Christians who experience same-sex attraction such as ‘Living Out’ and ‘True Freedom Trust’ focus on the need for acceptance and formation in Christian discipleship rather than offering bold claims of sudden shifts in the patterning of sexual interests and attraction.”  I recommend reading Harrison and Goddard’s full reflection, on Ian Paul’s blog Psephizo (July 6, 2017)

My particular concern focuses around Synod’s passing comment that “sexual fluidity does occur…”, but does not follow it up.  In the 1980-85 Synod, I tried unsuccessfully to speak along the lines that this was my own teenage experience, as well as that of many of my peer group.  I wrote later about this.  I suggest that this has been true for every generation, and from a study of 1960’s pyschology, more of a male issue than female.  A culture that is built to last encourages its children to understand, that attraction to the opposite sex is the better option.  The Old Testament and the Qur’an, emphasise the importance of not only conceiving children but nurturing them by the parents that conceived them.  Jesus, in the New Testament, defines marriage as between one man and one woman, for life, as do the apostles.

Those who press for a liberal attitude for sexual expression would do well to look beyond the end of their noses and give credence to the significantly higher birth-rate among our Muslim co-citizens.  How long do they think it will be before strict marriage laws are enforced by a government representing the concerns of a Muslim population moving towards majority influence, but without a New Testament understanding of the complementing of male and female in God’s creation ordinance?  As expressed before on this blog, I would prefer to encourage Muslims to read the Qur’an as not denying the cross of Christ.

More important, how many excellent would-be parents will lose the life-enhancing experience of nurturing their own children, and grand-children, by not gently being discouraged from expressing teenage same-sex attraction, and allowing themselves time to – yes – mature sexually?  Of course for some that will not happen, and for them either the high calling of celibacy.  For others, either married or in a civil partnership without direct nurturing responsibilities, the opportunity to serve the community in ways that parents cannot.

How to get this across to the now wavering bishops of the Church of England (who had only in February presented a pretty good report on the subject), to our increasingly female clergy (who maybe do not understand fully the male tendency to promiscuity), and to the house of laity?

(written before reading Ian Paul’s Psephizo blog of today’s date.)

Mothers Day, and apparent tragedy

My evening sermon today began with a rant against “Mother’s Day” (at least call it by its original name ‘Mothering Sunday’ when servants were given a day off to visit their mothers).  I objected also to ‘Fathers day’, and proposed a ‘Parenting Sunday’ instead to give thanks to God for both our parents – these days sharing responsibilities (apart from ironing).

I referred to the crucial role people who do not conceive children play, in the care and protection of children (ie Jesus, St Paul, and not forgetting the millions of young people, mainly men suffering their ‘lesser Calvaries’ (Studdart Kennedy) of 100 and 75 years ago.

It was however, apparently random events which God allows and even wills that was my main concern.  We read Psalm 105, with its reference to God over-ruling through the apparent chance events of Joseph’s life, bringing about the survival of Egypt and the Israelite nation in time of famine.  We had also read the verses at the end of Matthew 10 where Jesus speaks about sparrows and each hair of our heads being God’s concern.

I then told of three ‘tragedies’. of children of missionaries losing a parent .

100 years ago, missionary doctor Sharon Thoms died, falling from a telegraph pole he was fixing a phone line to, between two hospitals across mountains, in Muscat and Muttrah in Oman. His little son Wells was at his father’s funeral at a cove near Muscat.  Wells trained as a the United States, then returned to Oman to serve as a doctor all his adult life.

Steve Saint’s father Nate was killed by Auca Indians in the Amazon jungle 60 years ago, when Steve was a small boy.  (It was Nate’s colleague Jim Elliott, killed at the same time who had said prophetically before his death: “He is no fool, who parts with what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” – words originally written by Nonconformist preacher Philip Henry in the 1600’s).

15 years ago, Steve tried to comfort little Cory Bowers at the funeral of Cory’s missionary mother and baby sister who had been killed.  They were in a plane flying over Peruvian jungle, which was shot at, mistaken for drug runners.  One bullet killed his mum and then his sister.  Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot, Kevin was wounded but managed to get the plane down.  Steve said to Cory:

“Cory, my name is Steve. You know what? A long time ago when I was just about your size, I was in a meeting just like this. I was sitting down there and I really didn’t know completely what was going on. . . . But you know, now I understand it better. A lot of adults used a word then that I didn’t understand. They used a word that’s called tragedy. . . But you know, now I’m kind of an old guy, and now when people come to me and they say, “Oh I remember when that tragedy happened so long ago.” I know, Cory, that they were wrong.

You see, my dad, who was a pilot like the man you probably call Uncle Kevin, and four of his really good friends had just been buried out in the jungles, and my mom told me that my dad was never coming home again.  My mom wasn’t really sad. So, I asked her, “Where did my dad go?” And she said, “He went to live with Jesus.” And you know, that’s where my mom and dad had told me that we all wanted to go and live. Well, I thought, isn’t that great that Daddy got to go sooner than the rest of us? And you know what? Now when people say, “That was a tragedy,” I know they were wrong.”

Then Steve Saint looked up at these twelve hundred people and told them the difference between the unbelieving world and the followers of Jesus. He said, “For them, the pain is fundamental and the joy is superficial because it won’t last. For us, the pain is superficial and the joy is fundamental.”

So:  what of the apparent tragedies that God allows?

Like Joseph as retold in Psalm 105?  in Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” When it says, “God meant it,” it says more than, “God used it.”

Then consider the words of Jesus on why missionary candidates should not fear to go to the hard and dangerous places, and why mothers should not fear to let their sons and daughters go — or even take them. In Matthew 10:28-31 Jesus says to his disciples to get them ready for suffering:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (29). Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (30) But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (31) So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

At the end  of the sermon, I should have emphasised, that:

Jesus knows that people will kill the bodies of his missionaries. This is going to happen. But, he says, “don’t fear those who can only kill the body, and can’t kill the soul” (Matthew 10, verse 28).

Jesus said:  we don’t need to fear hostility because no sparrow falls to the ground apart from God. And you, his disciples, are more valuable than many sparrows. So how much less will you be shot out of the sky apart from God! God governs the flight of a sparrow, and God governs the flight of arrows and bullets. This is the basis of every Bible story about the victory of GodBird flight and arrow flight and bullet flight belong to the Lord. This is the solid ground of our comfort in calamity: God’s sovereign goodness to all who trust him.

Restating the Trinity

Sermon preached on March 5th 2017.

READINGS:  John 5: 19-24, Romans 6:4-11, 19-end.

My challenge you today, to think through one question:  When you get to Heaven, do you expect see Jesus and God as one and the same, or two separate beings?  To put it another way:  Was Jesus’ death on the cross, one person offering to another person the sacrifice of their own life on behalf of the world?  Or, was it the same person, making the ultimate sacrifice?

Grandchildren composed these two poems, when I told their parents my sermon theme, they gave me permission to use them.  No problem for the children with my theme…….

Fully God Fully Man!  by Phoebe Linley (11)

Jesus is the King of Kings…

But He had to learn how to go to the toilet!!!

Jesus is the Word…

But He had to learn how to write His name.

Jesus is the unchanging God…

But at times He was tired.

Jesus is all powerful…

But sometimes He had to sweep the floor!!!


Fully God Fully Man!  by Jonah Linley (9)

Spirit Word but

Tired Sad

King of Kings but

Cold wet

Heavenly throne to

Stinky Manger

All powerful but

Helpless baby

The Great I am

Punished for all our sins

As St Paul put it in Philippians 2, (and this is closest to the meaning of the Greek language that he wrote in):  “God was  in Christ, reconciling the cosmos, (the world) to Himself.”  “…Theos ein en Christo…”

Steve Chalke, the well-known Baptist church minister who founded the Christian charity Oasis, puts it like this:  When Jesus died on the cross, was it God the Father accepting the death of His Son, as redeeming human sin, or not?  When he asks the question – ‘was the cross a form of child abuse by the parent?’ – clearly, he thinks it was not.  I disagree with Steve on other things, but I think he has it right on this one.  It was God Himself, having come to earth in the person of Jesus, paying the price of human sin, in His own body, on the Cross.”

So, what do you think?  Keep thinking….  As a human being, Jesus called God “Father”, and he taught us to pray to God: “Our Father…..”, his Father and ours.  And in our Romans 6 passage, v10 – St Paul speaks of Jesus “being in fellowship with God”, making it sound as if there are two different personalities involved.  And, indeed, that is what the foundation document of the Church of England says:  Article One of the 39 Articles:  “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.  And in unity of this Godhead there be three persons of one substance power and eternity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

 I spent a while, trying to research where the phrase “three persons” originally comes from, it would have been two or three hundred years after the books of the New Testament were written down.  The word Trinity is not in the New Testament, nor any formulated doctrine of the Trinity – the use of the word Trinity did not become accepted generally until late in the fourth century.

For me, I go to St John for the best explanation as to the relationship of the human being Jesus of Nazareth, with and “the One Living and True God…” of Holy Scripture, from its very beginning in Genesis, to other Gospel writers and Paul.  That is why I chose our first reading, from St John’s Gospel, chapter 5…..  There, John describes the healing of a lame man, on the Sabbath, and the lame man is then questioned by the Jewish authorities, who then question Jesus.  Verses 19 and following give Jesus’ answer: “…….. (read these…..)  +Tom Wright suggests that these verses seem almost to be a parable.

Jesus told other parsables, about Fathers and Sons – the parable of the vineyard owner, whose son is killed by the tenants of his vineyard?  And then of course, the parable of the Prodigal Son of course, although it should be called ‘the parable of the two sons’, as the denouement only comes when the older son’s reaction is described.

Ken Bailey suggests that as Jesus told it, he left the end of the parable untold – let me try to tell it, as Ken did once to a Cyprus and the Gulf clergy retreat that I was at:  (read St Luke’s Gospel Chapter 15: 28ff…)  Then Ken’s extra v33: “But the older son became even angrier, and struck his father down to the ground, and kicked him until he was dead.  And so the honour of the village was satisfied, the prodigal son sent out of the village for ever without a penny, and all the villagers applauded the older son for restoring justice over forgiveness.”

Does that seem far-fetched?  But remember the immediate context of Luke 15:2 “The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling about Jesus and saying ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and even eats with them…”  And then the final context, as the religious rulers had Jesus crucified.  Is he not then to be identified, in this parable, with the father?

Near the beginning of St John’s Revelation, Jesus is quite clearly identified with ‘The Lamb before the Throne,’ and on into this final book of the New Testament.  But as we come to the last two chapters of Revelation, there is, I believe a quite deliberate bringing together of Jesus and God Almighty, the great ‘I AM’ of the Old Testament, ‘Yahweh’ Himself.  Vv 5-7 of Rev. 21: “He who was seated upon the throne…”  notice incidentally, how the members of the church, the Bride of Christ, are called ‘Sons of God.’

Vv 22-23……

v 24: “….by its light”, not their light.

Then Ch 22:1, 3 – v4 “They will see His face….” not their faces, but His Face.  Do I need to go on?

As we read through St Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome, I believe we have to keep in mind the fact that Jesus, the risen Christ, who met with St Paul on the Damascus road, is the one and the same as God.

And, I suggest, that increasingly these days, we need to explain what we mean when we call Jesus, God’s Son.  Of course we should as scripture does, seven times in the book of Romans.  But we are called Sons of God (Romans 8:14 and 19).  But there are today in Britain 2-3 million Muslims, for whom calling Jesusd God’s Son is heresy, because the Qur’an assumes that when Christians call Jesus God’s son, they mean it in a biological sense.  Of course we don’t, but they think we do.

So I suggest that as other words change their meaning and we stop using them in a general sense, (I leave you to think of such words), so we should explain our meaning of Jesus as God’s Son.

And while you are writing me off as a hopeless heretic, I will stick my neck out further, and say, I find the word Trinity in these days, as not saying all I want to say about God.  I said earlier, it is not a Bible word, and maybe, just despite it taking 400 years or so for the Church to come by it, we need to find other ways as well to explain how Jesus lived on earth as a human being ‘in every respect like us’, and yet was at the same time, Almighty God.

I may have tried falteringly before in sermons in this church, how I have tried to explain it to teenagers, that while the term ‘Trinity’ is quite adequate in our 3-dimensional world, it is not all that can be said about God, who is outside our 3-D world of space and time.  Growing up here, I have had more than 60 years to think about the passing of time, with the poem that my dad found on a little card attached to a small clock in Chester cathedral, copied it down and gave it to Mr Cramer, the then verger, to inscribe on the clock pendulum as it slowly swings there under the tower.  (Well, I think he must have stopped the clock to attach it).  And you coming to St Lawrence now, have this constant reminder to use our lifetime well, as time speeds up as we grow older.

Psalm 90 tells us that God is outside our time….

So, while not denying the Trinity, I suggest we need to say that God is more than just Trinity.  With youngsters, I use the crude illustration of moving from a 2-D world to a 3-D one.  An artist can of course spend a great deal of time, painting a 2-Dimensional picture.  Time is frozen in such a painting.  Time spent in an Art gallery can be of course very pleasant indeed, gazing at faces or events.  But how much better to see the face in the flesh, or the landscape opening up in front of us, so we can walk out into it.

Maybe, just maybe, the world that God inhabits is just like that.  Our 3-D  ‘3score years and ten’ and now increasingly our 4score years, can be thought of as taking up only a tiny space in God’s greater 4-D world.

I’m sorry though, if that is too obtuse to understand.  Here is another attempt, to explain how the word Trinity is not all there is that can said about God…….  Maybe we should consider a 3-D model of the standard 2-D triangle (or clover-leaf) to illustrate the Trinity…..

(Show model of Tetrahedron, and offer cards with web address to make them):


Finish with song, (can be found on YouTube):  The power of the cross




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