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