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.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: