Sunday, December 25, 2016

Next year's childrens' talk for Christmas

I think it might be a red and white striped candy cane:

J - for Jesus
red for his blood
white for forgiveness / cleaning / our sins made as white as snow
stripes - by his stripes we are healed
sweet taste - taste and see that the Lord is good?!

The Real Meaning of Christmas: Chocolate!

A Chocolate Nativity, adapted from:

I want to talk to you about the real meaning of Christmas today: chocolate!

That’s a joke!

I want us to use some chocolate to talk about the real meaning of Christmas.

I should warn you that some of this is slightly tenuous!

There’s a bit of artistic licence, and you have to hold yourself in readiness for some really bad puns, I’m afraid.

Please laugh politely.

It is Christmas!

And if anyone wants to buy some chocolate afterwards, we may be able to do a deal!

In the beginning, God created the galaxies.

But people decided to break away from God.

And it all became rocky.

God had promised that he would send a Saviour, who would put the world right.

Eventually, an angel appeared to a girl named Mary, and she was terrified.

The angel thought it might-eas-‘er (Malteseer) distress if he said to her, “Do not be afraid”.

Mary felt very unworthy, but she was God’s selection to be the mother of his son.

Although she was in a bit of a Twirl, Mary humbly put her trust in God.

Mary was promised in marriage to Joseph.

This was all kin’er a surprise (Kinder Surprise) to him.

He was a good egg (Kinder Surprise egg) so he planned to divorce Mary quietly, but an angel appeared to him in a dream to tell him that this was all God’s doing.

His son would save the people from their sins.

The Roman Emperor, Ceaser Augustus, d-├ęclair-ed that everyone had to go back to their home town to be taxed.

So Mary and Joseph had to make the journey betwixt Nazareth and Bethlehem, the city of great King David of old, because Joseph was of the house and line of David.

With Mary heavily pregnant, it was no picnic.

Of course they couldn’t take a Double Decker.

So I guess they buttoned up their coats – if they had Buttons in those days.

Maybe they put on their snickers.

Just when Mary was beginning to Flake, they came to the inn.

It may have been in a Quality Street.

Perhaps it was After Eight when they got there.

The inn keeper might have said to them, “If I had a room, I’d give you your-key (Yorkie), but we’re totally full.

You can use the stable if you like.

Of course you won’t be able to Locket, but at least it’s pretty dry”

Perhaps there were some Animals in the stable

There may have been a kitty kat.

Did it Nestle up to Jesus?

Certainly no Penguins.

Anyway, Jesus, God the Son, was born and they laid him in a manger.

Shepherds were out in the fields taking care of their sheep, when God gave them a boost.

Angels told them to go to see the baby who was born to be their saviour, Christ the Lord.

It was news of great joy for all the people.

Straight as an Aero (arrow) they headed into town.

They were there in a jaffa.

When they had seen the baby, they went on their way with celebrations, rejoicing and praising God.

The wise men from the East had seen a star (Starbar), perhaps up in the Milky Way or near Mars, which spoke to them of a new king.

They went for a hob nob with King Herod in his palace in Jerusalem.

They had heard a whisper of the one who was to be born king of the Jews.

But, horribole (Haribo) wicked king Herod was a Jammie Dodger.

He tried to fudge it and trick the wise men.

Herod said he wanted to worship Jesus, but really he wanted to kill him.

But the wise men were smarties and they didn’t fall for it.

God warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.

In fact, they were heros because they risked their lives for Jesus by defying king Herod.

The wise men came to Jesus and presented him with their bounty, their gifts of gold, frankinsense and myrrh, and they bowed down and worshiped the baby as their king and their God.

You might say that the shepherds and the wise men were randoms.

They remind us that Jesus came for All Sorts.

His birth is good news of great joy today for you and for me.

I hope that’s been a useful Refresher on the Christmas story.

It would be great to take some Time out midst the Christmas Revels to think about God’s great gift to us of his Son.

The crunch(ie) question is whether we will trust him as our Saviour and seek to live with him as our Lord.

As the Bible says, we are to taste and see that the Lord is good.

* * *

I might also have said the wise men brought "Kingsize" gifts

Maybe used a Lion bar – I’m not Lion (lying)

Is there some chocolate called Divine?

Can you still get Planets? etc. etc.

A Carol Service sermon on Matthew 2:1-12

[preached at Emmanuel, Hastings this year] 

I guess we’re all familiar with this story of the visit of the wise men, which we just read.

We’ve seen them on enough Christmas cards.

And we’ve watched the slightly baffled children being shoved on to the stage in their nativity plays, dressed as the teachers’ images of oriental kings.

It’s a familiar story, so we might miss just how extraordinary this whole episode is.

These are surprising visitors

Who make a surprising journey

On a surprising search

Bringing surprising gifts.

Let’s look at some of these surprises together.

First, these are surprising visitors.

They sweep into our story and they sweep out again.

We know next to nothing about them.

Our passage calls them Magi, from which we get our word magicians.

They are maybe priest philosophers.

Wise men probably isn’t a bad description.

Certainly they are astrologers.

And astrology gets a bad press in the Bible.

In the Bible’s terms, these are not religiously orthodox people.

They’ve got some funny ideas.

Yet God invites them to the birth of his son.

And they’re foreigners.

They’re not part of God’s special chosen people, Israel.

The visit of these wise men, is a hint who God invites to himself.

They’re outsiders.

They’re slightly dodgey.

But God welcomes them.

They show us that Jesus is of worldwide, global significance.

He’s come for all the nations.

For all people.

In fact, the star is a sign that Jesus is of cosmic importance.

They are surprising visitors.


They’ve made a surprising journey.

Our passage tells us simply that they came from the East.

We don’t know where there from exactly.

The best guess is probably that they come from Babylon, present day Iraq, where God’s people had once been in exile.

If you go straight across the desert, it’s 540 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Despite the spoof version of the carol, of course, they didn’t come “one in a taxi, one in a car, [and] one in a scooter sounder his hooter.”

They had to walk or ride.

The journey would have taken at least a month, probably much longer.

By the time the wise men get to Jesus he’s not in the manger any more – he’s been able to upgrade to a house.

By now Jesus is called “a child” rather than “a baby”.

Later on it turns out that the star might have appeared up to 2 years earlier.

A journey like this would have been an expensive, difficult business.

The wise men end up risking their lives for Jesus’ sake, by defying the murderous king Herod.

They tell us it’s worth taking the time and effort to find out who Jesus really is, whatever it takes.

It’s worth crossing a continent to find out about Jesus!

Thankfully, we don’t have to journey across deserts on camels, but we do need to investigate Jesus’ claims for ourselves.

For us, it’s relatively easy.

Like those at Herod’s court, we have the Bible readily available.

We only have to make it as far as the church here to find out more about Jesus.

There’s a corny old car bumper sticker which says, “Wise men sought Jesus – they still do”.

They are on a surprising search.

We sometimes talk about these wise men as the 3 kings.

This passage doesn’t tell us they were kings.

And it doesn’t tell us there were 3 of them.

This is actually a passage about 2 kings – King Herod and King Jesus.

The wise men ask Herod, “Where is the one who has been born to be king of the Jews?”

Now, Herod, of course, is the king of the Jews.

When they ask for the King of the Jews, Herod thinks well, that’s me!

And he doesn’t welcome the idea of a vacancy!

Herod knows that the wise men must be seeking the Christ – that is, the long-awaited rescuer king, whom God had promised.

The one who would bring in God’s kingdom in all its fullness and put everything right.

He is going to be the ruler who will shepherd the people of Israel.

Jesus will be a totally different sort of king from Herod.

He will provide for and protect his people.

In the very next section of Matthew’s gospel, Herod sends in his soldiers to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem.

Herod kills his people.

In contrast, Jesus will die for them.

This is a search for the true and ultimate king, the Saviour of the world.

Lastly, these wise men bring surprising gifts.

They give Jesus gold.

It’s a present fit for a king.

And remember Jesus is an ordinary peasant boy.

After all, he was born in the outbuilding of a one star-hotel!


Frankinsense / incense

In the Old Testament incense was offered to God as a symbol of prayer

The wise men bow down and worship Jesus.

It seems they recognise him as more than a mere human being.

Jesus is God come in the flesh, who deserves our worship.


Spice used in embalming the dead

We’ve got 4 children and they’ve received all sorts of gifts over the years, but they’ve never been given a toy hearse or a cuddly undertaker.

Jesus was born to die.

He had come to die in the place of all who would trust in him, that they might be forgiven.

Jesus remains a surprising king.

This Christmas I want to encourage you to seriously investigate for yourself who he is.

You might find that he surprises you. 

Midnight Communion Sermon

Midnight Communion Sermon 2016


Luke 1:26-28 (p1026)

Luke 1:39-55 (p1026)


Little Johnny: Daddy, where did I come from?

Daddy: “well, birds and bees, mummies and daddies love one another… etc.

Johnny: because David says he comes from Scotland and I was wondering where I come from?]

I don’t know if Mary and Joseph ever had such conversations with Jesus.

Where did he come from?

Well, from heaven, of course.

How must it have been for Mary?

She was a youngster, engaged to be married to Joseph.

And we know he was a good guy.

She looked to have an ordinary happy life ahead of her.

And then completely out of the blue, God gives her this greatly troubling message that she can’t get her head around – at least to begin with.

And who could blame her for her fright and confusion?

An angel appears.

In the Bible angels are terrifying beings, not sweet girls with tinsel and drooping wings, but the fearsome messengers of God, warriors, even.

This divine emissary informs Mary that she will give birth to a son, who will be the Son of God, and who will be conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.

That’s quite some message to take on board!

She’s never asked for this.

It’s not what she had planned at all.

How will Joseph take it?

Or her parents?

Can you imagine even broaching the subject?

An illegitimate son will be the talk of the whole village.

A child out of wedlock would be a great scandal in Mary’s day.

And who’s going to believe her story about an angel and a virgin birth?

So I’m not sure Mary would necessarily have thought that this Christmas angel had brought unqualified good news!

Perhaps it seemed like a disaster.

She could imagine all her dreams crashing down.

Her life is ruined.

And it’s God’s fault!

Later in the gospel, Mary is warned that Jesus will be rejected and that a sword will pierce her own soul too.

She will watch as her son is crucified.

How can this be God’s plan?

And what’s good about it?

I’d like us to watch a 4 minute Christmas video now.

Although Jesus was a real, genuine human being, I expect being the Mother of God had its moments.

It’s not exactly normal!

Jesus was no ordinary boy.

Of course, it wasn’t like this:

[Jesus standing on his bath water cartoon]

But Jesus must often have baffled his parents.

Having said that, in our readings, Mary quickly shows remarkable insight into this baby and what his coming will mean.

Whatever her doubts and questions, she’s quickly able to accept this impossible news.

And to see it as the most wonderful news.

Part of the reason for that, I bet, is that Mary knew her Bible.

The song which she sings here is very similar to the song that Hannah had sung centuries before, back in 1 Samuel, about the birth of her son, Samuel.

He too will be God’s servant.

It was another miraculous birth because Hannah and her husband had been unable to have children.

Hannah’s song ends by looking forward to a time when God will judge the whole world through his anointed king.

“Anointed” is the meaning of “Messiah” or “Christ”, the promised rescuer king who was specially chosen by God and who would put everything right and rule for ever.

Mary rightly understands Jesus’ birth as the fulfilment of Hannah’s hopes.

And Mary sings a kind of slightly adapted cover version of Hannah’s song.

At last, as Mary sings, all the ancient promises of God are being kept.

All the longings of God’s people will be fulfilled.  

The child in her womb is the culmination of all God’s purposes from the days of Abraham, 2000 years earlier.

He is the one chosen and marked out to bring in God’s kingdom in all its fullness.

God is, as Mary puts it, “remembering to be merciful”, as he se said he would.

Jesus is the Son of David, the king who will be even greater than great King David of old.

Mary rightly sees the birth of Jesus as a revolutionary act which will lead to a great reversal.

Christmas is the scattering of the proud, she sings:

The bringing down of rulers from their thrones,

The sending of the rich empty away.

Think of wicked king Herod who just doesn’t get it, who rages against this Christ, and tries to kill him.

Herod is confounded.

His attempt to rebel against God is terrible, but it’s also ridiculous and pathetic.

God’s mighty purposes are unstoppable.

It’s both laughable and tragic for anyone to think they could stand in the way of God.

The powers that be are overturned but the humble are lifted up.

The hungry are filled.


Because God has come down.

He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all.

Christmas is the true story of the self-humbling of God.

The eternal Son of God has taken on flesh.

He has become a tiny embryo in the womb of Mary and then a helpless baby in a manger.

So that changes everything.

The revolution has begun.

Here in this insignificant corner of the Roman Empire, in the family of a peasant girl who can’t even get a room for the night, here is true might, true greatness.

If only the inn-keeper had known that he had consigned his creator to his out-buildings!

The presidential suite was inadequate for this baby.

In the humility and vulnerability of a baby, born out of love, to save us, is the fullness of the everlasting God.

Even as God the Son governs all things, he will cry out in hunger and fall asleep.

The one who upholds the universe will be held by his mother.

He who succours all things will nurse at Mary’s breast.

The King of Kings becomes helpless and dependant.

Soon he will be a marked baby, wanted, hunted, hated – and will flee as a refugee. 

Eventually he will die in our place so that we might be forgiven.

The humiliation of God.

This baby will utterly confound all human thinking.

He bursts our categories, to such an extent that we will do away with him.

He is so counter-cultural, so unexpected and unacceptable that he cannot be allowed to live.

Jesus will go down into the very depths of death for us, but he will be exalted to the highest place and given the name above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.

In the topsy turvey kingdom of God, the way up is down.

Death leads to new life.

And so Jesus bids us come and die, that we might live.

Mary says, “He [the Lord] has filled the hungry with good things.”

That’s good news as we come to his table tonight.

We come to him empty handed and hungry and he will feed us.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means The House of Bread.

He was placed in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough.

Jesus is food – food for the world.

He would say, “I am the bread of life.”

He invites us to come and feast on him, in our hearts, by faith.

He is all we need.

He alone can really satisfy. 

Mary shows us the right response:

The response of obedient faith.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” she says.

“May it be to me as you a have said”.

It might not be as we’ve planned it, we might not understand it all, but Almighty God can do the impossible.

Christmas proves it. 

This Christmas, let us, with Mary glorify God and rejoice in God Our Saviour.


A short carol service sermon - Who Do You Think You Are? Jesus' family tree

 Carol Service Sermon 2016

I don’t know if you’re a fan of the family history programme, Who Do You Think You Are?

The latest 13th series is currently showing.

It opened with East Enders actor, Danny Dyer, tracing his ancestors back to the Norman Conquest. 

My aunt has tried to trace our family history.

Amongst the Lloyds, she could only get as far back as Thomas Lloyd, who was an iron puddler, born around 1822 in South Wales and his father Thomas, who was a coaker.

If you know what a coaker is, perhaps you’d tell me afterwards.

I’d be very interested for the 1st time, perhaps less so after the 50th person!

As far as I know, there was nothing especially remarkable about the Lloyds.

Who Do You Think You Are? thrives on surprising revelations.

For a really good family tree, you want some royalty.

And a few black sheep.

People often find it very moving to discover their family history, and it can make a real difference to them.

The Bible gives us accounts of Jesus’ family tree.

I didn’t have them read because I thought I’d spare you all that begetting and long lists of hard to pronounce names.

But they would make a wonderful Who Do You Think You Are?

There’s royalty, and a few dodgey characters.

And it ought to make a difference to us.

The very fact that the Bible tells us Jesus’ family tree, reminds us that when it comes to the Christmas story, we’re in the realm of history.

Jesus’ birth was in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Ceasar Augustus, when Quirinius was the governor of Syria.

It’s wasn’t “once upon a time in a land far, far away”.  

This is not a fairy story, or myth, or make-believe.

The nativity is not just a beautiful story designed to teach us lessons about life.

Christmas is not just for the kids!

Here is good news of God entering human history in a specific time and place, as part of a specific family, with a troubled history.

It’s a family tree with royalty.

Jesus is a descendant of the greatest Biblical king of all, King David.

In fulfilment of prophecy he is born in Bethlehem, the city of David.

David had been promised that one of his sons would have an everlasting kingdom.

As we read from the prophet Isaiah, this child who would be born would reign for ever on David’s throne with justice and righteousness.

Jesus is that promised rescuer-king, who would put the world to rights.

Jesus is also a descendant of Abraham, the great founding father of the people of God in the Bible.

Jesus is the seed or offspring of Abraham, through whom God had promised that all the nations of the world would be blessed.

The Bible even traces Jesus’ family tree right back to Adam.

The Bible is stressing that Jesus, although he’s God, is also a real human being.

His birth is for the whole of humanity, for all the nations.

Jesus will a new and better Adam.

He’ll be faithful where Adam failed.

He will un-do the effects of Adam’s sin for all those who put their trust in him.

We are all children of Adam, but we can all be included in Jesus, the New Adam, by faith.

There are some other surprises in Jesus’ family tree.

A number of women are mentioned, which would have been unusual in those days.

And Jesus’ family tree includes a number of Gentiles, non-Jews, who weren’t members of God’s chosen people, Israel.

Jesus’ family means to include those whom others would exclude.

His family is open to all who will come to him.

And there’s scandal in Jesus’ family too.

We spoke about great king David.

But Jesus’ family tree refers to him as: David, the father of Solomon, “whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”

Therein lies a tale!

Jesus’ family tree deliberately brings up one of the most shameful incidents in the Bible.

Uriah was one of David’s closest friends, to whom he owed his life.

Yet, when Uriah was away fighting David’s wars for him, David took his wife and then arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle to cover his tracks.

David was a murderer and an adulterer.

And the Bible wants us to notice that.

Jesus’ family tree includes Rahab the prostitute.

It mentions:

“Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar” (Mt 1v3)

Now I realise that might be taxing your Sunday School knowledge a bit!

In fact, they probably left out this story as rather unsuitable.

Tamar had been wronged by her father in law, Judah, so she tricked him into sleeping with her, so that she might have a child.

East Enders has nothing on that, does it?

Why bring these skeletons out of the cupboard and show them off?

The family Jesus is from tells us the family he came for, the family he came to form.

Jesus is born into a family that’s all too human, that’s sometimes messed up and dysfunctional.

But the Bible doesn’t cover up these dark family secrets.

It’s because of them that Jesus came.

He joins us in our predicament to sort it out.

He comes as a Saviour – to a family with issues, a problem family - to rescue and forgive.

Jesus joined our family so that we might join his.

He became a human being so that we might become children of God.

Whatever our background or pedigree, whoever we are, whatever we’ve done, Jesus invites us to join his family as his beloved brother and sisters, restored and forgiven.

As we just read from John’s gospel:

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave us the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, … but born of God.” (1v12f)

Who do you think you are?

The Bible would say we are all members of Adam’s fallen family.

But Jesus came to be our brother.

He welcomes all who will put their trust in him to be children of God in his renewed family.

The great question of Christmas is how we will relate to Jesus who is the Saviour, Christ the Lord.

May God bless you and your family, this Christmas. Amen.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Some stuff to steal - I mean, adapt

I'm told this could be the answer to all your assembly / children's talk / all age needs:

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

European Communities Act v Dangerous Dogs Act

The European Communities Act is undoubtedly constitutionally important and creates a new legal landscape. However, if the Supreme Court decides that the government can withdraw from the EU merely by using prerogative powers, it must be granted that the ECA has less enduring force than, say, The Dangerous Dogs Act.

Monday, December 05, 2016

The government will do it immediately

Perhaps the most obvious thing that watching a little bit of the Supreme Court Brexit case shows is that there is an inordinate amount of paperwork, and of course I haven't read it! Presumably the High Court was not stupid.

But it seems obvious to me that during the Referendum Campaign, Mr Cameron thought that he had the power to trigger Article 50 immediately and that no one challenged that. Presumably that was relevant to the question of what parliament thought it was doing?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An immoral theologian?

There was some discussion on Radio 4 this morning about whether Fidel Castro was a good man or a bad man, a good thing for the people of Cuba and the world or not. The speaker argued that, like us all, though in a much more extreme way, he was both bad and good.

Orwell's famous statement was quoted:

"One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being."

(Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali available here:

But can the same be said of a theologian? Could one say that someone is a good theologian but a bad person?

Of course, none of us is perfect; we are all a mixture of good and bad. Our theology will inevitably be mixed and contaminated with error.

But theology is a uniquely experimental science. The truth leads to Godliness. If it does not do so, it has not really been embraced.

Of course, an unbelieving theologian might give a brilliant analysis of some doctrine, but is not theology faith seeking understanding rather than unbelief seeking clarity?

If the scandal around Karl Barth's relationship with his secretary was justified, is that relevant to how we read his theology?

Friday, November 04, 2016

Calvin's staff meeting / chapter

Calvin was in the habit of meeting with the pastors of Geneva and the surrounding district every Friday morning to examine candidates for the ministry and discuss theological and practical matters of local or international concern.

see Scott M. Manetsch,  Calvin's Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609, OUP Oxford Studies in Historical Theology, 2013, p2

Don't change a thing!

It is disappointing, it seems to me, that amongst Calvin's dying words to the pastors of Geneva was a charge not to change anything. For good or ill it was not advice that they were able to follow exactly.

(see Scott M. Manetsch,  Calvin's Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609, OUP Oxford Studies in Historical Theology, 2013, p1)

Tuesday, November 01, 2016


As it's Reformation time of year, and I have just finished and enjoyed a biography of Luther, I have been reading a tiny bit of Calvin biography for fun.

One of the issues in reading any writer is what degree of unity and consistency we expect.

Did the writer's ideas develop over time?

Did they change to such a degree that what he wrote later contradicted what he wrote before?

To what extent did the writer realise that some of his views were in tension or were contradictory?

With a great writer, perhaps especially one given to logical thought and systemisation, we should assume a high level of consistency. Self-awareness is a different issue. It would be a mistake to say that even a great writer can't contradict himself, sometimes without knowing it.

In reading anyone else, we need to wonder to what extent we might understand him better than he understood himself. Or better than his contemporaries did.

And if these issues arise when reading any writer, they also apply to reading Scripture. Since God is the ultimate author of the Bible, all his words are consistent but there is certainly development and change (not least between the Testaments). We must not flatten out the different contributions of the human authors. Perhaps they could not see the tensions or the unity. Perhaps we can't. But with the Bible we do know that we have one united symphony.

With other writers, there will be some wrong notes. Some themes will be discordant. But which ones?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hard working

God willing I will preach on Romans 16 this coming Lord's Day.

Paul greets a number of co-workers and those who have worked hard in the Lord. He does so warmly and affectionately - something which might not seem very British to some of us!

The gospel of the grace of God in Christ which has saved the Roman Christians not by works also motivates and equips them to work hard.

Many in our churches will similarly work hard, often behind the scenes and unthanked.

It can seem invidious to name individuals, but Paul takes that risk.

Of course people do not serve so as to be thanked, but Paul's example suggests that it is right to publically recognise and commend those who work hard in the life of the church for the sake of Jesus.

In a typical church there will be an army of volunteers serving in all sorts of way.

But at the same time, the burden will fall on comparatively few who will serve like troopers and get things done. Certain people will be totally reliable and unfailingly offer to help and deliver on what they have promised. It is the same names that will tend to appear on the rotas, sometimes in multiple places each week.

I am going to resist giving a list of names here but, thank you. We know something of what you do. And we are grateful. Indeed, we give thanks to God for you.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monastic Hours

I was aware that some monasteries would combine some of the hours of prayer to make life easier - less getting up in the middle of the night and then going back to sleep for a bit before getting up again.

But Lyndal Roper's biography of Luther says that this sometimes happened on a greater scale. At one stage Luther was apparently saving up all the monastic hours 'till Saturday, which actually proved rather punishing but allowed him more uniterupted time for writing. Just before he finally dropped the observance of the hours he had apparently saved up a whole quarter's worth of praying.

Sunday, October 09, 2016


I hope it is clear that I make no great claims to originality in my preaching.

And I do not think that sermons are really the place for footnotes.

But today my conscience troubles me in particular.

As ever, it has been a busy week. The time is easily filled without sermon preparation.

And I have to preach 3 different sermons today.

But I feel I should confess that the introduction, headings and content of today's main sermon have a striking similarity to a sermon by The Revd Vaughan Roberts.

I have also listened to The Revds Rico Tice and Tom Parsons with profit.

And indeed I even opened a commentary and worked away at the text myself.

But I find Vaughan's sermons are often so clear and compelling that it is hard to improve on them.

So today, with apologies and tweaks, I will mainly be channelling the great man.

I hope no body feels this is anything less than the best which will please you for your good to build you up - one of the things I hope to bring out of Romans 12v2 shortly!

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Know, Love, Follow Jesus - a handout

Know, Love, Follow Jesus

The diocesan strategy 2015-2020

The Prayer of St Richard of Chichester (mid-13th C Bishop):

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

What does each of these things mean?

Why should we do so?

How might we do so?


Not the Jesus we like to imagine but the real Jesus

            Tacitus Annals 15.44 on fire in Rome at time of Nero, AD 64

            Pliny The Younger, letter to the Emperor Trajan Epistles x. 96 c. AD 112

Jewish historian Josephus, Antiquities 18.63-64, 1st C AD

Jewish Babylonian Talmud from A.D. 70-200

Lucian of Samosata, 2nd C Greek satirist

Gospels, but also Epistles and Old Testament etc.

“These are the Scriptures that testify about me” – “written that you may come to me and have life”

Luke 24

2 Timothy 3:16f

Cf. knowing Jesus and knowing about him – prayer, the Holy Spirit

Start by reading a Gospel

Consider joining a home group


Love of God and neighbour

Jesus is God the Son, God come in the flesh

Our love for Jesus flows from his undeserved love for us supremely demonstrated at the cross

“Those who [know they] are forgiven much, love much”

“If you love me, you will obey my commandments”

Often evidenced by love for others


The calling of the first disciples

The cost of discipleship

Jesus bids us come and die! (Bonhoeffer)


The Bible – a good modern translation such as The New International Version (NIV)

Bible reading notes such as those from The Good Book Company

An audio Bible – e.g. David Suchet’s reading – free online

A short summary of the Christian faith e.g. 3 2 1 or Two Ways To Live

Christian music

Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (a journalist investigates Christianity)

Frank Morison, Who Moved The Stone (a formerly sceptical lawyer on evidence for the resurrection)

Vaughan Roberts, Turning Points (Creation, fall, Cross, resurrection etc.); God’s Big Picture (Bible Overview), Distinctives (Christian Life)

John Stott, Basic Christianity

Tom Wright, Simply Christianity

C S Lewis, Mere Christianity

John Chapman, A Fresh Start

Glen Scrivner, 3 2 1

Mark Jones, Knowing Christ (not a basic introductory book)

A course such as 3, 2, 1; Christianity or Life Explored; Identity; Simply Christianity; Christianity Explained

Any Questions? 7:30pm Sat 15th Oct, Warbleton Church Rooms

Getting started in personal Bible reading and prayer

Something I wrote a little while ago. Other tips?

 Getting Started in Personal Bible Reading and Prayer

It would be great to aim to read the Bible and pray briefly most days.

Be realistic. Starting with a few minutes each day is better than setting the alarm for 5am, hoping to do an hour’s Bible Study, but hitting the snooze button.

Where and when would work for you? Lots of people prefer first thing in the morning, but another pattern might suit you better.

Bible Reading

Begin by praying, asking God to help you.

Use a modern translation of the Bible. At church, we use the New International Version (NIV), which would be a good choice for most people. Children or those for whom English is a second language or those who struggle with reading might go for something like The Good News Bible (GNB) which uses simpler language. The English Standard Version (ESV) might be good for in depth study.

Read systematically rather than opening the Bible at random. Use a bookmark! Perhaps start with one of the Gospels, e.g. Mark.

Stop to think about what you read.

Jesus is the key to the Bible. The Old Testament points forward to him. The New Testament looks back to him. How might what you are reading relate to Jesus?

Perhaps ask yourself questions like:

What does this passage tell me about God / Jesus / myself / the world / following Jesus?

Is there a promise to obey or a command to follow or a warning to listen to?

Are there examples to follow or avoid?

What do you find striking / surprising about what you’re reading?

What do you think the main point or big idea of what you’re reading might be?

Pray in the light of what you’ve read:

What could you praise or thank God for?

What could you ask for his help with?

You might find some Bible Reading Notes would help you. The Good Book Company sell a good range!

Don’t worry too much about the things you don’t understand. You could make a note of them and do some research or ask someone to help you with them. What about the bits you do understand?!


Just talk to God naturally in your own words. You could sit or stand or kneel or whatever works for you. Some people find it helps them to concentrate if they put their hands together and close their eyes, but you don’t have to. It may also help you to pray out loud quietly under your breath.

You could think of using a structure like:

SORRY – say sorry to God for anything wrong you’ve done or said or thought or failed to do, since you last prayed that comes to mind.

THANK YOU – say thank you to God for his forgiveness, for Jesus and the good news about him and for any other blessings for conscious of e.g. your sleep, your breakfast!

PLEASE – ask God to help you. Pray about the day ahead. Pray that you might be more like Jesus today and that you’d be a blessing to others.

It’s good to remember to pray for others too e.g. your family and friends.

Local or national or international events might inform your prayers.

You might like to make a note of a one or two different things to pray for each day to broaden your prayers and give variety.


MONDAY: Uncle Ted

The missionaries we support in Japan

TUESDAY: The local school

The government

WEDNESDAY: The God-children

The Vicar!

You might like to finish your prayers by saying The Lord’s Prayer or use other written prayers from time to time too (e.g. The Collects from the church notice sheet or something from Common Worship or The Book of Common Prayer = The Prayer Book. An English Prayer Book gives a version of the BCP in modern English).

Roper on Luther (and other Luther biographies)

It being almost 2017, every Christian and anyone who cares about history, culture or religion will obviously want to read a biography or two of Luther.

Lyndal Roper, Regius Prof of History at Oxford, has written the obvious up to date choice.

Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (577pp, Bodley Head / Penguin Random House, 2016)

My copy only arrived today, but she can certainly write.

And this is, as one would expect, a scholarly well-annotated biography.

There are also 75+ illustrations too!

Roper's main focus is Luther's inner life and personal development in historical context. It remains to be seen whether all her psychoanalysing will seem convincing but it is surely a worthwhile project to really try to understand what made this man tick. His many letters at least provide a wealth of material. Roper suggests we know more about Luther's inner life than that of anyone else from the 16th C.

Roper is obviously impressed with Luther's courage and charisma. She finds him to be a man of contradictions. This is no hagiography but neither is it obviously set out to he a hatchet job.

In particular, Roper writes with feminist interests, and I imagine Luther will be criticised on this score, though she also notes his unusual emphasis on husband and wife enjoying marital sex. Luther's anti-Semitism and his foul-mouthed polemic will be explored.

And she highlights Luther's doctrine of the real presence (rather than salvation by grace alone through faith alone or sola scriptura) as a particularly significant and original part of his theology.

Roper calls Heiko Oberman's biography of Luther "a classic ... still ... the best biography of the man." (p13)

Roper also says that Heinz Schilling's biography (which appears to be due out in March in English) is magnificent and is "the first to put Luther in a more rounded historical context and to give equal weight to his opponent Charles V." (p13)

It is of interest that Roper's own father was a Presbyterian minister.

Roper also mentions that Simon Ponsonby read and commented the whole manuscript and made her re-think many of her interpretations. I don't know if this is Simon Ponsonby of St Aldates, Oxford, or someone else?

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Know, Love, Follow Jesus

In which I draft a summary of a meeting before it has taken place!

From The Rectory

On Thursday 6th October, a number of us met in the Old School in Dallington to discuss what it might mean to “Know, Love and Follow Jesus” and how we might do so. I’m grateful to Mike for taking a lead in organising this valuable evening, to those who came, and helped, and contributed to an interesting discussion.

The phrase “Know, Love and Follow Jesus” is what might be called the Diocesan slogan which has emerged from the 2015-2020 Diocesan Strategy. It echoes the Prayer of St Richard of Chichester (who was Bishop in the mid-13th Century):

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

We can certainly know of the existence of Jesus from non-Christian historical sources. But we can know little about him. We depend on the Bible to know Jesus. He said that the Scriptures testify to him and that their purpose is that we might come to him and have life. He said that if his contemporaries would not believe on the basis of what Moses had written about him in the Bible, they would not believe even if someone were to rise from the dead – which of course Our Lord went on to do. The Apostle Paul, writing in Scripture, claims that all of the biblical writings are inspired by God and are able to make us wise for salvation through Jesus Christ.

By reading the Scriptures we actually meet with Jesus. The Bible is God speaking to us. Jesus is not a dead hero whom we learn about but our living Lord whom we encounter. The Holy Spirit connects us to Jesus today. Believers are even said to be “in Christ”. Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. The church is Jesus’ body – we are members of him.

Knowing Jesus naturally leads to loving Jesus – because he is so lovely, so lovable. There are many reasons to love Jesus. Who his what. What he has done for us. Our love for him flows from his love for us, which was supremely demonstrated at the cross. Out of love, The King of Love died for loveless sinners like you and me. His love for us is utterly undeserved and entirely unreserved. And we owe him an infinite debt of love.

Jesus said that the first and most important commandment is to love God. And Jesus is God the Son, God come in the flesh. He also taught that it is those who realise they have been forgiven much who will love much.

Love for Jesus (whom we cannot see) will often be demonstrated by love for others (who we can see). That is part of what it means to follow Jesus – to seek to love our neighbour as ourself, as he alone did perfectly.  

Jesus asks his disciples to go the same way he went, the way of the cross, of self-sacrifice, of forgetting about ourselves and focussing on God and others. With Jesus’ help we seek to say “no” to our own selfish desires so that we might say “yes” to Him. Ironically it is as we do so that we find our true selves – the fulfilment in Christ for which we were created.

 The task of knowing, loving and following Jesus is never finished. It is an invitation to a life-long adventure. May we know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly, day by day. Amen.

The Revd Marc Lloyd