Sunday, 18 October 2020

Service of the Word - 16/10/20


Scripture ~ A Sermon for St Luke's Day

Today the church gives thanks for the life and witness of St Luke, and like so many other saints we celebrate over the course of the year, we know very little about him. We know he was a gentile, a friend and companion of St Paul who calls him ‘the beloved physician’ so we have assumed he is a doctor, and because history records him as the Gospel writer, which he writes to Theophilus, and the Acts of the Apostles is similarly addressed, we have assumed that the two works were written by the same person. Acts, regularly uses the word ‘we’ so it is fair to assume that some of that account is first hand. And that’s about it. He gets no mention in the Gospels. There are no other works of his that we have sight of. And yet, what was written in his name has shaped the Scripture, the church and human history.

I’m struck by the opening words of the Gospel that bears his name: ‘... Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed…’ In writing, Luke knows he’s not doing anything new in accumulating the story and sayings of Jesus. Many have done this before him. But Luke is clearly writing for a purpose - to record an evidenced and ordered account of the life of Jesus which might answer any questions or issues that his reader might have concerning the faith. His gospel in that sense is designed to be evangelistic and apologetic - evangelistic in that he shares what he believes to be true and apologetic in that he seeks to provide evidence to back his arguments.

I also note that Luke writes his two works to Theophilus. We have no idea whether this is a real person or not, but Theophilus literally means God Lover. Luke’s works in scripture are constructed to aid the growth in faith of someone hungry to know more of the things of God. TO fall in love with Him.

Jesus appoints seventy, other than the twelve disciples, and sends them off to where He himself intends to go. There is a strategy to Jesus’ ministry. Whether we understand Jesus’ words as He will have gone before them spiritually to prepare the ground in those communities by the work of God, or whether they are to prepare the communities for His coming later, we will never know. What is key to note is that the work of the 70 and the work of God in Jesus go hand in hand. They are not sent randomly; rather with a focus and a task with Jesus. The Lord of the Harvest sends out labourers - this work is the work of the Lord.

The mission of the seventy is simple - go relying on God and others for safety and provision, get to a town, find somewhere to stay, proclaim peace, cure the sick, and their presence there and the healings themselves evidence the breaking in of God’s reign amongst the people.

Jesus is clear how He is sending them. Being sent like lambs amidst wolves. When my parents lived in rural Lancashire, their neighbours kept two orphaned lambs - Colin and Annie, don’t ask… - Colin on one occasion made his way into my parents garden. Now I am no wolf, but trying to catch Colin as he zipped and sprung around the garden was one of the singularly most frustrating and exhausting things I have ever done. I tried sneaking, I tried chasing, I tried a sort of rugby tackle, I tried with a sheet. The lamb was a feisty bugger. Just refusing to be caught. So put to one side the image of a little meek lamb sat all vulnerable waiting to be devoured - the call to be lamb like I guess is about being quick footed, resourceful, able to change direction. And the wolves? Are the seventy to be aware of the wolves because there are people whom they will encounter who will want to kill them? History shows that to be true. On the other hand are the wolves hungry, ready to eat whatever they can catch however small a morsel of the good news of the Kingdom of God?

I’ve said elsewhere - I’ve never ministered in a pandemic before. We’ve never been church together in this context. Yet I am more convinced that ever of the need for us to return to prayer, sharing the sacraments and reading scripture in these days. This passage from the Gospel as we recall St Luke today, for me at least, demonstrates why engaging with scripture is so key, especially at the moment.
In the last months we have been sent out from our church buildings and the doors shut behind us. We have been sent to our own communities, staying in the same house to save lives. We have been sent out like lambs and we have had to learn to be quick-footed and resourceful as what we knew as church had to be reshaped rapidly. Sometimes the direction we have taken hasn’t been quite right, but it has been about adapting with speed. We will have to continue to do this together in the coming weeks and months - adapting to live, learn, worship and serve still. Knowing that the mission on which we are sent is Jesus’, that there are some around us hungry for Gospel morsels, and He goes with us.

Luke as he wrote encouraged his readers in their faith. I encourage you to read scripture yourself. Read Luke’s account a small portion every day. Ask - how is what Luke writes seeking to encourage me in my faith today? What can we learn about what it means to be church.

Stay in the same house eating whatever they provide. Part of our being fed spiritually in these days, as continue to largely stay at home, is to read scripture. To find Jesus in the words; to be encouraged by the stories; to ask - what is God saying to me/us to help growth in faith. Amen

Sung Eucharist - St Luke


Monday, 12 October 2020

Prayer - A Sermon

 Here's a version of what I preached at St Thomas' at 10am on 11/10/20 based on Philippians 4:1-9.


In a crisis, everyone prays. Earlier on in the year, when the pandemic first reared its head, the number of online searches seeking information about prayer sky-rocketed. Using Google Trends data on internet searches for the word prayer, for 75 countries worldwide, it was discovered that searches for ‘prayer’ doubled every 80,000 new registered cases of COVID-19. In fact, the researcher who carried out this study concluded that humans have a tendency to use religion as a way to cope with a crisis.

I have no idea whether that’s because in our current crisis, we have been forced to live neo-monastic lived largely cloistered indoors, with the occasional trip into the outside world, living routines of homeschooling, calling of face-timing relatives and friends, and making more bread than the local bakers; or whether we look as finite beings to the infinite, the horizon our existence when confronted with a crisis, in the hope that God is making his way just over the hill.

It’s true though - we do all pray in extremis - whether it’s uttered namelessly behind that wheel stuck in a traffic jam - don’t let me be late; or at the bedside of a loved one - please God don’t let them suffer. I think this research hints at what we all know deep down.

Paul is writing this letter to the Christian community in a time of what might have been crisis for him. He has been imprisoned, possibly in Rome, possibly in Caeserea, but we don’t know for sure. The letter’s tone doesn't reveal in inner crisis though, rather Paul writes with a sense of hope and maybe even of joy, encouraging the community to keep on keeping on and to pray.

In this section Paul addresses his brothers and sisters - his source of joy, his beloved and then he particularly mentions Euodia and Syntyche and Clement and he alludes to Timothy and others. When talking about the women particularly, it sounds like he’s referring to a disagreement between them, but by urging them to ‘have the same mind’ he’s actually asking them to continue to do what they are already doing, alongside Clement, Timothy and others - they are seeking to still be the church where everyone has a part to play; no one is a passive observer; no one ‘just does this or that’; all are active in not going to church but being church. It was the church community that fed the poor and cared for the sick; it was the church who prayed believing that God would transform the present circumstances of the world in justice; it was the church that radically lived as a new community where the social prejudices of the day were swept aside and a new way being together was demonstrated. But they lived and gathered together like this because their faith compelled them to and not because of a diocesan initiative or a parish vision document. ‘...Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you..’ says Paul to them.

Paul doesn't encourage the church in Caesera Philippi to pray because they or the nation are in  crisis. Paul’s call to prayer is not borne out of a fresh realisation of the Philippians mortality. ‘.. But in everything…’ he says, in every occasion, at all times, in all places, pray.

Prayer though isn’t some sort of transaction for the super holy. Paul isn’t encouraging prayer because the Philippians should believe that God will listen somehow more attentively to them. Prior to the encouragement to prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, Paul reminds the church of the nearness of God, and after the call to prayer, he speaks of the completeness of God’s work in them - the peace, the shalom of God - guarding their hearts and lives. Prayer for Paul here feels like a response to sensing God’s nearness; being attentive to or even noticing God present and an ongoing trust in God’s guiding of living and speaking and acting. Paul, even though he encourages the church to make prayerful requests, suggests that prayer aligns lives in God’s peace, will, and purposes.

We may not be at a time when we can find much joy when confronted by rising unemployment, a global pandemic and environmental crisis. Paul’s encouragement for the church to rejoice may seem alien and difficult but Desmond Tutu (whose life has been shaped by much difficulty and tragedy yet seems to be filled with infectious joy) says that to experience true joy we need to bring it to others.

In days that may seem to lack joy, we can each bring it in simple acts of love and kindness to others. In days when it feels like we are having to learn how to be church again - we can keep on keeping on together, with each of us playing an active part. And above all else, we can become a people who pray once more - intentionally attentive to God’s presence, bringing our requests and trusting His guiding of our everyday living.


Worship at Home - St Wilfrid - 12/10/20