Monday, December 25, 2017

Midnight Communion Service 2017

(I preached a similar version of this in 2016)

The self-humbling God who raises up the humble

Midnight Communion Sermon 2017 Dallington

Also used a similar version at Warbleton in 2016


Isaiah 9:1-7 (p693)

Luke 1:26-55 (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?

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.

Did Jesus walk on his bath water?

I suspect not, 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 Old Testament book of the prophet 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 famous hit 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 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.


Carol Service Sermon 2017

The unchanging, life-changing message of Christmas

Carol Service Sermon Notes 2017

I want to break with all convention and do something deeply embarrassing:

I want to ask you a question.

Not a rhetorical question but a real, actual question, to which I’m hoping you’ll respond.

I’m sorry!

Forgive me: it is nearly Christmas!

Please would you put your hand up if you came to this service last year.

Thank you very much.

Thank you for coming.

And thank you for coming back – that’s always encouraging!

Well, the message of Christmas hasn’t changed.

So I refer you to my sermon from last year!

2017 is nearly over.

And it’s been an eventful year.

Much has changed.

Teressa May lost her majority.

The Brexit saga continues and Article 50 has been triggered.

There’s no escaping Brexit, not even at the Carol Service!

North Korea has had us on the brink of nuclear war.  

Some have feared that Russia is running America and that the DUP are running Britain.

Our bank notes and coins have changed, and are worth rather less.

Having Googled changes in 2017 for you, I can tell you that Katy Perry, who ever she is, has radically changed her hairstyle at least 4 times – blonde, platinum, short, then clipped, if you’re wondering.

Maybe things have changed for you and for your family this year.

Everything changes, and yet nothing changes.

The world is fundamentally the same.

In some ways we still walk in darkness.

I read a news review of 2017 recently and the thing that struck me was the number of terrorist incidents.

There was another suicide attack in Pakistan last week.

The security services here tell us they have prevented a plot over Christmas.  

We still seem just as adept at making a mess of our world.

We still stand in need of the peace and good will.

The message of Christmas is unchanged.

I trust our readings and our carols have made something of that message clear.

The hope and dreams of all years are met in Jesus, the baby of Bethlehem.

He is the long-promised rescuer-king, the Son who is given to us, the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.

He is Emmanuel, God with us – God come in the flesh, into the mess and darkness of our world.

He was from the very beginning hunted and hated,  a refugee, fleeing from terror.

Yet his humble birth is news of great joy for all the people.

He is a Saviour who is Christ, the Lord – the Saviour of the world, of all nations.

The government is upon his shoulders.

He is the ultimate strong and stable leader.

Strong, because he is Almighty God.

Stable, because, well…

See what I did there?

Strong and stable.

There was no room at the inn, you see?

So, stable?

(Oh dear, I don’t know why I bother…)

Jesus means to change our world, one life at a time.

The unchanging message of Christmas is still relevant – still vital.

It still meets the most fundamental needs of our world, your most fundamental needs and mine.

Joseph was told to call the baby Jesus, which means God’s saves, Saviour, because the Christ-child would save people from their sins.

According to the Bible all the world’s problems, all your problems and mine, track back to sin – to rebellion against God, to our living of our lives our way for ourselves.

We sin and we are sinned against.

And so we need a Saviour.

Jesus is the one and only human being who never sinned, who has come to pay the price of sin.

If, like the Shepherds, we will go and check these things out, we would find the baby no longer wrapped in swaddling-clothes and lying in a manger, but in the Scriptures.

Jesus comes to us clothed in the pages of the Bible.  

And the Bible presents Jesus to us as the Saviour of sinners, the one who perfectly meets our greatest needs.

The baby who was born, would live a perfect life, and die an undeserved death, and rise victorious over sin and death and hell, so that sinners like you and me might be forgiven, so that we might have peace with God.

I want to finish by asking you another question.

This time I won’t ask you to put your hand up, but I hope you’ll think about it.

The good news of Christmas hasn’t changed, but has the good news of Christmas changed you?

I don’t so much mean have you tried to show peace and good will to other people this year, although of course I hope you have.

I mean has Jesus made a difference to you this year?

He came to rescue, to renew and transform.

When he came he split time in two and he meant to leave nothing the same.

Has he changed you?

If I may be cheesey for a moment -

And what is Christmas about, if not an excess of cheese:

Jesus is the reason for the season.

And Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas.

Has Jesus been your saviour, your Lord, this year?

His promise to all who believe in him is that, whoever we are, and whatever we’ve done, we can live as God’s restored, beloved children.

In Jesus are the light and life for which we were made.

All the blessings of God’s love are for all who will receive Jesus.

I hope you’ll come back to this service in 2018 – and perhaps not just to this one.

But even more, I hope that the unchanging Jesus changes you and me, and changes our 2018.

My prayer is that like the Shepherds we might go on our way rejoicing, because we have met Jesus – and that nothing will ever be the same.

Christmas changes everything.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

I hope some of you will want to find out more about Jesus in the year ahead.

I realise you might have questions.

This God born in Bethlehem is a lot to take in.

A virgin birth takes some believing.

I hope you’ll give some time to asking yourself, could what we’ve been singing actually be true?

When I look at Jesus, can I see the Godhead there veiled in flesh?

And what difference would it make?

What difference will He, Jesus, make to me?

On your service sheet, you’ll see details of an evening we’re putting on on Wed 10th January when you can come and hear something more about what it is Christians believe and ask any questions.

We’d love to see you there.

And indeed, you can always give me a ring or drop me an email.

I’d be delighted to talk to you further about this life-changing message.

A very Merry Christmas to you.

And Amen.

Christmas Day All Age Family Service and Holy Communion as Jesus' Birthday Party

Some jottings:

Prayer Book: The nativity of our Lord, or the Birth-Day of Christ, Commonly called Christmas Day

Jesus’ birth day

Our service as Jesus’ Birthday Party!

Luke 2:8-20

Matthew 2:1-12

The guest lists

Who gets a party invitation?

Shepherds – local no bodies

Wise Men – international somebodies

RSVP – respond to Jesus’ invitation

The presents

Gifts fit for a king

Time, money, effort – ourselves, our hearts, trust / loyalty

The cake – candles - 2017

Jesus’ life and death

Jesus alive today

Happy Birthday to Jesus!

(Party games

-        Pin the tail on the donkey / Jesus in the manger

-        Pass the parcel

-        Musical chairs – no room at the inn

-        Charades – really incarnate, not play acting

The party bag – more important than anything we might give Jesus, what he gives us: salvation, peace, joy, purpose, the gift of his Holy Spirit etc.

Eucharist – Jesus’ party tea! Jesus often at meals / talking about the Kingdom / heaven as a party etc. The Lord’s Supper as a foretaste of heaven

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Remaining Christmas and New Year Services

Just in case there is anyone in the world who is not bored of hearing this, and partly as a reminder to self as where to be, our remaining Christmas and New Year services in the Benefice are:

Christmas Eve 11am Holy Communion at Warbleton

Christmas Eve 4pm Crib Service at Warbleton aimed at children and families, approx. half an hour, real live donkey

Christmas Eve 6pm Carols by Candlelight at Bodle Street Green followed by refreshments in the village hall

Christmas Eve 11:30pm First Holy Communion of Christmas at Dallington

Christmas Day 9:30am All Age Family Service with Holy Communion at Bodle Street

Christmas Day 11am All Age Family Service with Holy Communion at Warbleton

Sunday 31st December 10am Holy Communion at Dallington

Sunday 31st December 11am Morning Worship at Warbleton

Monday 1st January 12pm New Year’s Day Service followed by bring and share lunch in the village hall

From Sunday 7th January, God willing, the normal pattern of services will resume. Details in notice sheet, magazine, notice boards and online.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Clergy Anywhere's Everywhere

Like me, you are perhaps vaguely aware of the idea that people can be thought of as Somewheres or Anywheres.

Ministry selectors are looking for people who will be deployable in the C of E, which as we know is a broad national church.

Many Ordinands are graduates. In fact at my theological college it seemed like an unreasonable number of people had been to Oxbridge.

And many clergy move away to Vicar factory to do a degree as they train for ministry.

They then move to a curacy, normally not in their sending parish.

Then they move to an incumbency. Where they rarely stay for their whole career. Another move or two would be not unusual.

So most of the clergy are probably Anywheres.

The communities they serve will be a mixture of Somewheres and Anywheres, but in very different proportions from place to place. In some places Somewheres will dominate very heavily.

And the clergy are still theoretically everywhere. Every soul, every blade of grass, has its responsible clergyman.

It might be fruitful, I think, to reflect on how the Anywhere Clergy might best serve everyone Everywhere, and particularly the Somewheres Somewhere.

It is perhaps especially hard for clergy families to put down real roots in a community (3 generations in the churchyard roots makes you qualify as a proper local here!) particularly when the understandable and helpful convention is that the vicar will move away from his former parish on retirement.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

One of those Christmas letters

We are pleased to say that 2017 has seen no great occurrences in the lives of the Lloyds. Please feel free to skip to the final paragraph if you would like to miss out the boastful padding in which I (Marc) largely go on about myself.

I had a 3-month sabbatical. The diocese currently allows these for 10 years of good behaviour, so I have started being good again and counting the days! It made me look forward to retirement – though I may well have to go on until I’m dribbling into the chalice. Although I worked pretty hard for most of it, it really was wonderful to please myself and not the have the weekly treadmill of preparation. I didn’t look at a single agenda or revise any minutes, though I did (perhaps foolishly) keep half an eye on my emails. I spent 10 days speaking on an Oak Hall trip to Israel (my first time) which I would highly recommend as the most economical way to see Biblical sites in around Jerusalem and Galilee, and with an evangelical set up. The parishioners are demanding slide shows! Unfortunately, I, and many on the trip, were afflicted with E-Coli. I will need to go back again to explore The Mount of Olives which I missed for the sake of close fellowship with the loo! It was a tremendous relief to get off the plane without accident. As well as a bit of praying and reflecting and that sort of thing, I also spent 3 weeks at London Seminary and have 90% written two potential journal articles about the doctrine of Scripture. I now need to fuss around in the footnotes with the Chicago Manual of Style, so they will probably never see the light of day. I have not done a stroke on them since returning to work in July.

Parish ministry continues to proceed happily enough. For the first time in living memory every post in the Deanery is filled so I don’t have to worry too much about interregna for the time being. Mrs Lloyd’s toddler group continues to be beating people off with a stick and we are rejoicing that 7 mums and 2 leaders have been studying the Bible together at the Rectory. This feels like a dramatic breakthrough for us!

The nappy years are drawing to an end and Mrs Lloyd (age undisclosed) has been having high powered singing lessons, has joined 2 choirs and been involved in a number of concerts, recently enjoying singing in the Messiah. Scripture is being hummed around the house. Oh, and we have splashed out on a baby grand piano. We are pretentiously calling The Old Study, The Music Room!

Jono (10) is often beating me at chess now. He continues to disappoint me by having an inordinate knowledge of the round-ball Premiership and so on. Our Saturdays are often spent transporting him to some cold and rainy part of Kent or Sussex so that he can chase around in the mud.

Abi (7) continues to Irish dance and won a trophy at her first competition (an extraordinary occasion to be seen to be believed) and has joined Warbleton Brass Band which is virtually free and provides instruments. We were getting Reveille at 5am on the cornet at one stage, but thankfully that has diminished. We now need to find a happy medium between over-eagerness and little or no practice.

After much lamenting of “I’m rubbish and I can’t do it” middle-child syndrome Matthew (5) is now reading confidently and enjoying taking his spellings to bed with him. Meal times are perhaps too dominated by maths quizzes, when anyone can get a word in edge ways.   

Thomas (3) is as lively as ever. He has just starred in his nursery nativity play as the star and made the most of his line (“I am the star!”) by shouting it repeatedly.

Caleb the dog is showing signs of age as he approaches 10. He was a 30th birthday present for me so I am also wondering whether I should have some kind of midlife crisis and invest in a red sports car.

A very Merry Christmas to you! Marc, Yvonne, Jono, Abigail, Matt Matt, Tommy and Caleb the dog. Oh, and Esther the cat, who is also flourishing, recently obtained a distinction in Grade 8 Oboe and has applied to read medicine at Oxford.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

An advent sermon introduction (notes)

I know it’s a boring cliché for the Vicar to complain about the fact that Christmas now follows hot on the heals of Halloween.

But its true, isn’t it?

The supermarkets have been piled high with mince pies since 1st November.

And now we are very much into maximum tinsel and fairy lights.

And, without being too much of a misery-guts party-pooper, there are some losses to it, I think.

One of the negative consequences of that is that we tend to miss out on the 12 days of Christmas.

Did you know that traditionally Christmas is a long old feast?

But we have a 2 month build up to one morning followed by dreadful anti-climax.

The columnist Peter Hitchens has complained, lamenting:

"what actually lies beyond Christmas Day is flat disappointment, every sense stirred and tuned to expect something marvellous, and then just a lot to eat and drink, a few presents and a long, numb celebration of the miraculous birth of TV."

That’s made us all feel jolly, hasn’t it?!

I hope your Christmas will be more than the celebration of the birth of TV, or even of Santa!

But the greater problem is front-loaded, I think.

The Christmas build up has almost totally eclipsed Advent.

It just so happens that this is the only time this year I’ll preach a proper Advent Sermon to you, so here we go:

Traditionally you would save Christmas till Christmas Eve.

Now, we can’t hold back the tide.

And as I say it would be rather unattractive for church people to pour a bucket of cold water on pagan festivity.

 But traditionally Advent would be a stripped back, spare time of waiting, of anticipation, of preparation – and it can be something of that for us still.

Now, you wont find the seasons of the church’s year as such explicitly in the Bible.

But you’ve got to divide up and count and label time somehow.

So the life of Jesus seems a good way to organise the calendar.

And Advent seems an important part of that.

We think, you’ll recall, about Jesus’ coming.

“Coming” or “arrival” is what advent means.

There should be bonus points for those who manage to slip the word “advent” into conversation over coffee.

We anticipate the celebration of Christ’ first advent at Christmas, and traditionally especially his second Advent when he shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Here is the time of the year to focus at least in part on that.

Traditionally Advent focused on what are called the Four Last Things:



Heaven and Hell.

They are not exactly Santa and sleigh-bells, are they?

Very different from the extended season of school nativities and pre-Christmas office parties.

All these have their place, of course.

I can see that Advent as traditionally conceived might not make you feel very warm and fuzzy, but would it not do us good?

Are these four things not grand and momentous, serious, life-changing?

They really matter to us all, don’t they?

At least sometimes, is it not right to recall the death to which we are all inexorably and certainly moving?

Momento mori.

Slave who supposedly whispered in the Roman Emperor’s ear – remember your mortality, glory fades

Victorians – facts of life and fact of death.

Our death will certainly come and it could come at any time.

Far more important to be ready for that than to be ready for the last posting day before Christmas – which actually is Fri 22nd in the UK if you send it Special Delivery Guaranteed for Saturday.

That probably costs your entire life savings.

More important to pre-order your place in heaven than your free-range-organic-corn-fed turkey for 12.

It is appointed to human beings to die and then the judgement.

It is not necessarily an easy or a happy thing to think about.

It is very tempting for the vicar to just tell a few jokes and anecdotes.

Keep it light and uplifting.

But these 4 last things surely matter.

I don’t recommend this, but often medieval churches would have a fresco of the last judgement, or the doom, as it was sometimes called, on the West Wall over there so that as you went out of church it was the last thing you would see.

It’s saying: live in the light of eternity.

Live as those who have an everlasting soul, as those who will stand before the judgement seat of Christ.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Advent: Watching for the imminent return of Christ

We are sometimes told that we should live in the imminent expectation of Christ’s return.

Jesus is coming back!

And he could come at any moment!


Keep alert!

Be ready!

Is that what the Bible teaches?

Well, maybe.

Sort of.


You see, the thing is, if you lived in the imminent expectation of Christ’s return, you would have been wrong so far, by definition!

Could Jesus come again today?

Well, yes, certainly, if he wanted to.

Will he?

More than likely not.

Indeed, I’d bet you £1000 he doesn’t.

Probably doesn’t matter if you lose, does it?!

Many Christians throughout church history have expected the imminent return of Christ, and so far at least they have been wrong.

Eventually they will be right, of course, but maybe not in your lifetime or mine.

Maybe not for many generations.

Martin Luther allegedly once said, even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree.
(Apparently its almost certain that Luther never said that, but he should have done!)

We need to both live as if Christ could come today and as if he might not come for 10 000 years.

We need to teach our children.

We need to build institutions.

It is no good failing to prepare your sermon because Jesus might come again on Saturday night.

We must have both a short term and a long term approach.

That is, I will be faithful now and I will do what I can to increase the amount of faithfulness around when I am long gone.

Imagine two scenarios.

A teacher leaves the classroom.

I’ll be back, she says, until then read the text book and answer the questions.

One group lives in the imminent expectation of the teacher’s return.

They post two look outs and they live it up.

The cards and the fags are broken out.

The paper aeroplanes fly.

The text books are neglected.

But they are alert and watchful.

In a way they are always ready:

When the teacher hoves into view they can be sat at their desks quietly, but the room will stink of tobacco and the questions will be unanswered.

Another group gets on with the questions from the textbook.

Are they always ready for the return of the teacher at any moment?

Yes, because they are being faithful.

Are they obsessed with when the return will be?


That is not a matter for them.

They are absorbed in the text on page 39, as the teacher said they should be.

They are not always expecting the imminent return of the teacher – she could even slip back into the room suddenly unnoticed - but they are always ready because they are faithful.

Will the Son of Man find faithfulness in our classroom when he comes?

(PS. nothing original here. I think I got that analogy from one of my theological college teachers)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Vicar Writes To His Parishioners

From The Rectory

It is with some trepidation that I pen this letter to parishioners. On 4th December, The Daily Telegraph reported that The Revd Andy Thewlis had written a strongly worded letter to the members of his church. He told them off amongst other things for arrogance, gossip, disunity, lack of warmth and welcome and for being unco-operative. He thought their worship and church-life had suffered and he said he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his health and his family’s well-being by putting up with it all. The hapless cleric has since had an urgent meeting with his Bishop, has written a letter of apology, is taking a sabbatical and looking for another job! Much as I enjoyed my recent sabbatical, I hope this parish magazine item wont lead to the Bishop telling me to clear off for another three months!

Now, of course, we don’t know the ins and outs of The Revd Mr Thewlis’ situation. We haven’t even seen the full text of the letter. No doubt there are rights and wrongs on both sides. And the Vicar has obviously conceded, albeit perhaps under a degree of pressure, that there were things for which he ought to apologise. But I’d like to bet many members of the clergy will have been tempted to give their congregations a few aptly worded home truths. And I know for certain that many ministers have been blessed with communications from parishioners telling them how to sort out their lives, or families, or their gardens even (“The state of your lawn brings the gospel into disrepute, Vicar!”), and how to do their job rather better. Some clergy even say they receive what they can only call hate-mail. There is a lot to be said for restraint before hitting “Send” or especially “Reply All” on both “sides”.

My purpose here is not to whine about the lot of a Vicar. Obviously a doubling of stipend would be welcome. The role certainly has its challenges but it also has many blessings. The complaints of some clergy can sound like first world problems. In many ways there are lots of harder jobs and many would say that being a vicar is the best job in the world – a huge privilege at least. There might be emotional and spiritual demands to clerical life, but I regularly give thanks for my twenty-second commute, as well as for more exalted spiritual aspects of the vocation!

But maybe I might presume to make two points both for clergy and people.

The first is about criticism and encouragement. It can be easy to find fault. And often this will be legitimate. Sometimes it might even be helpful. But we ought to remember the words of someone rather important about specks and logs. We hear helpful suggestions much better in a context of respect and appreciation. We ought to say “thank you!” often. When I worked for the Christian Union movement we had a mantra of “encourage the good wherever you find it”. I used to quip that sometimes I was reduced to saying to students, “Oh, I like your shirt”, but it is a good principle.  

The second is about allowing God to criticise us. Although the Apostle Paul sometimes did so, it is probably unwise for Vicars to write to all their parishioners naming names of the most unhelpful people in their living. As I’ve said, criticism can very easily be overdone. And of course we should not equate the Vicar’s voice with the voice of God. But is anyone able to challenge or correct us? Do we admit that we are sinners who actually sin and who have real stuff we ought to repent of? When was the last time you said sorry to anyone? God’s Word the Bible is given in part for correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. We should pray for the Spirit’s work to actually show us our moral faults and to transform us. Church life can be too cosy and comfortable for some and there is wisdom in the old adage that the preacher should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Well, I hope this letter was helpful. I heard recently of a Vicar who used to post any critical correspondence he received on the church notice board. It is perhaps a 20th century version of re-tweeting and so exposing abusive messages. I probably won’t be doing that, but we should always remember that things spoken in a corner will be proclaimed from the rooftops and that there is one to whom we will give an account for every careless word.

The Revd Marc Lloyd


To my mind, "Scholasticism" should not be a theological dirty word. The attempt to distinguish and speak precisely is an important part of the theologian's tool-kit. However, it is not the only nor necessarily the best apparatus he has at his disposal. Ideally the theologian will be both scholastic and poet. He will teach and pray and sing.

The would-be scholastic must remember the primacy of the Bible. The Bible remains normative and it is the best form of speech for the purposes for which God gave it. Sometimes it is more scholastic, sometimes less so, but on the whole it is a book of stories and songs and prayers and letters and proverbs and laws and visions and so on, not a Systematic Theology text book - and we must say that it is all the better for that. God could have inspired a 10 volume Dogmatics had he wished. He did not.

Secondly, we should remember that it is both true to say that God does not change and that God repented, although in different ways. Language is never absolutely univocal and language about God is always especially analogical. This is true even of the most precise statements of the scholastics.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Andrew Wilson, Unbreakable: What The Son of God Said About The Word of God

Some very brief study questions / notes / passages to discuss for our book group:

What’s the basic idea of the book? Where does it start?

Do you find that a convincing approach? Why?

Did anything strike you about the summary of the Bible’s story pp11-14?

How would you sum up Jesus’ attitude to the Bible?

Could you go into any detail or give any examples?

Temptation narrative – Jesus uses the bible as the final, authoritative court of appeal – Mt 4:4, 7, 10 p17

God’s word enough, coherent, authoritative

David speaking by the Holy Spirit – Mt 22:41-46 – v43; Mk 12:35-37 – inspiration

Human writers like different musical instruments

2 Pt 1:21

2 Tim 3:16

John 10:22-39 – you are gods – Scripture cannot be broken

Matthew 5:17-19

How should we react when the bible seems broken? p25

The coherence of Scripture - Marriage at the resurrection - Mk 12:18-27 quoting Ex 3

Prov 26:4-5 – answering a fool according to his folly

What is the central message of the Scriptures? Lk 24:13-35

Jesus the new Adam, Eve etc. p32ff – the deep coherent artistry of Scripture a strong case for its inspiration

Canon – how do we know what books ought to be in the Bible? Ch 6 – p35ff

See p37 and fn 21 p73, Jesus gave his own teaching an authority equal to Scripture

The New Testament as from the Apostolic circle

Is the Bible clear? Ch 8 p44ff

The sufficiency of scripture – Lk 16:19-31, parable of Lazarus and the rich man

2 Tim 3:16f

The point of the Scriptures – Jn 5:39-40

Do you find the 5 principles of interpretation given in the epilogue helpful? p63f

Friday, November 03, 2017

Psalm 10 - an outline

Psalm 10: A poem

Not rhyme but parallelism

And a broken acrostic with Psalm 9

A poetic description not a systematic theology text book

A Problem: why is God far off in times of trouble? (v1)

A Picture of a bad person getting away with it (vv2-11)

A Prayer that God would act (vv12-18)

Promises that God sees and will act, judging and saving (v14, vv16-17)

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Samey Psalms

There has been much discussion in recent years over the grouping of the Psalms. Presumably the editors of the Psalter did not merely throw them up in the air and see where they landed. And they are not obviously grouped according to form (for example, its not shortest to longest). So it seems fair to assume that there might be some kind of thematic grouping. And indeed that often seems to be the case.

This presents both an opportunity and a challenge to the preacher:

It is helpful to read the Psalm in conjunction with the surrounding Psalms. They can amplify or balance what an individual Psalm has to say.

But the preacher has to work especially hard to see the distinctive contribution of this Psalm. If preaching through the Psalter (which may or may not be the best approach) he can't say, well, Psalm 9, I repeat the sermon I gave on Psalm 7 and then shut up. Or at least he shouldn't. And, of course, this is especially so if he thinks the situation or feeling of his people is not immediately similar to the particular psalms he has before him.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

gods, garbage, good gifts

Mrs Lloyd has been reading an extract about caffeine from The Revd Steve Hoppe's new book, Sipping Salt Water, on the Good Book Company blog. Hoppe says we can treat created things as gods, garbage or good gifts, and the schema seemed worth stealing to me. As we know, things make good servants and bad masters. They should be neither worshipped nor despised but received from God's hands as good gifts with gratitude and used for his glory and the good of ourselves and others.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Poetry not Systematic Theology

The Bible is not a Systematic Theology text book. Arguably, at least, the books of Proverbs and Psalms are particularly far from being so.

So for example, when Psalm 10:1 asks, "Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" we have a cry from the Psalmist's heart arising from his experience, although ultimately intended to be of benefit to believers in general.

We should not expect the rest of the Psalm to be a sustained, exhaustive, scientific account of all the possible reasons why God may be or seem aloof from any believer in any circumstances. The Psalms express a truth or truths but not necessarily the whole truth, and they express themselves in a poetic manner. As inspired Scripture, what the Psalm says is true but it might be true of some people in some circumstances from a certain point of view in a sense or manner of speaking and there might be many other things to say.

This is particularly obvious and important when it comes to reading the Psalms and the Proverbs, but actually, it is worth keeping in mind when reading the Epistles, which seem to be the Bible at its most doctrinal. God in his wisdom has given the catholic church occasional letters to specific churches which are meant to be significant for us all, though not necessarily quite in the same way that they applied to the 1st Century Corinthian church. Yes, go back to  Corinth but come back with rightly understood and applied goodies.

A poem what I wrote about English and Hebrew poems

I am currently preaching a little sermon series off and on in the Psalms and I am thinking of using the following at a forthcoming family service to illustrate a difference between English and Biblical Hebrew poetry and hopefully in the process to help people to read the Psalms. Probably there are rather better examples out there doing the same thing. Improvements or alternatives are of course welcome.

Update: over lunch today the kids revealed that the Reader had suggested to them another technique which began with a c or possibly a kicking k, which turned out to be a chiasm. So the very cleverest readers might be able to spot one of them too, though maybe sometimes they are imagined and made up!

A Poem what I wrote about English and Biblical Poems

Rhyme is a technique English poems often use.

It is a sign of our versing muse.

But Biblical Psalms often use parallelism.

They might repeat ideas.

They might say the same thing twice.

Or something similar - maybe adding something.

Or not - it might be a contrast.


Biblical poetry

Can be acrostic.

Do you see?

Scholars love to spot chiasms in the Bible.

Here one element matches another later on.

The middle term might be stressed.

And something corresponds to something earlier.

Some experts identify these chiasms often in Scripture.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Luther's self-image

He was not keen that people should call themselves Lutherans rather than Christians. He said, how should I, poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am, have anyone called after my name? Quoted in Ryrie, Protestants, p32.

Funeral Planning

Ryrie tells us that the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had been dying for years. From 1514 till his death in 1519, he took a coffin with him wherever he travelled. Protestants, p25.

Luther's other theses

I don't know what they were but Ryrie tells us that Luther himself had "published" theses many times before on different subjects before his famous 95. Protestants, p23.

Reformation Pamphlets

Were a new form which "cost roughly the same as a hen in sixteenth-century Germany and could offer more lasting and spicier nourishment."

Ryrie, Protestants p22

The church at the time of the Reformation

Rightly or wrongly, one proverb claimed that once the church had golden priests who served from wooden chalices whereas now wooden priests served from golden chalices.

Quoted in Ryrie, Protestants p17


Thus far I have read only a fraction of Alec Ryrie's Protestants: The Radicals who made the modern world (London: William Collins, 2017). I have found it enjoyable and informative.

Ryrie is an eminent historian. An expert on the British Reformation in particular. And a Reader in the dear old C of E. And he can write.

He chooses a genealogical definition of Protestantism (the descendants of Luther) rather than a theological one (say, adherence to the Trinity as a necessary condition). But he is also willing to say that some such as the Mormons are so distantly related to Luther that they no longer bear the family likeness. If Protestant means influenced by Luther than the whole world, not least the Catholic church, is Protestant!

Ryrie sees Protestants as both lovers and fighters who are defined by a direct encounter with God and his grace through the Bible. The fire has burnt in different ways, sometimes raging, sometimes smouldering, and has spread far and wide but Luther and the God he rediscovered in Scripture were the spark of it all.

Ryrie's ambitious account takes in The Third Reich, apartheid South Africa, Korea and China and even attempts to look into the future of Protestantism, which he suspects will be largely Pentecostal but continually adapted to its cultures.

His focus is especially on the protestants as people and their political impact (not, for example, especially on their ideas or their artistic or economic achievements). Bach, he tells us, deserves a chapter of a similar book but only gets a sentence.

Ryrie traces our world's free inquiry, democracy and apoliticism to Protestantism. He finds in the movement a generic restlessness, an itchy instability.

MacCulloch has called the book a treat. I suspect there will be much delight and fascinate here - as well as perhaps not a few frustrations.

Jokes in Luther?

In his biography of Martin Luther, Peter Stanford explains that at a literary festival historian Prof Peter Hennessy delighted the audience by challenging Stanford to find a single joke that Luther ever told (p4).

Now, this tells us something about the popular image of Luther, maybe, but it is surely very wide of the mark. For Calvin, perhaps it would be more understandable, but surely not for Luther. He could be beer-swilling, gregarious and crowd-pleasing.

Luther was a professor and a pastor not a stand up comedian.

And even an acknowledged 16th Century wit may not have left many one-liners to history.

But much of Luther's extraordinarily voluminous output was popular. And his Table Talk records a version of his conversation.

How laugh out loud funny you find Luther will depend on how amused you are by poo.

Much of Luther's prose is larger than life. Erasmus called him doctor hyperbolicus, the doctor of overstatement (Alec Ryrie, Protestants, p21). His writing is often satirical and funny, sometimes no doubt intentionally so.

I shall from now on be on the look out for the best gags in Luther. It is shame that Stanford has not so far listed any.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Basil on Song


“The Holy Spirit sees how much difficulty mankind has in loving virtue, and how we prefer the lure of pleasure to the straight and narrow path. What does he do? He adds the grace of music to the truth of doctrine. Charmed by what we hear, we pluck the fruit of the words without realizing it.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

A prayer towards the end of a clergy sabbatical

I wrote this prayer towards the beginning of my sabbatical.

Here's something of what I've been praying this final week of my sabbatical:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this sabbatical:

For the financial assistance I’ve received;

For time and space and freedom;

For the privilege of worshiping with your people in a variety of different places without being responsible for leading.

Thank you for all who have ministered to me and who have helped me;

For those who have given of their time and expertise;

For those I’ve met who have been a blessing to me;

For all that I’ve been able to do and to think about;

For the rest, refreshment and challenges;

For the opportunity to experience new places and different things.

Thank you for every encouragement.

Thank you for the ways in which I’ve been stretched and stimulated.

And for the ways I’ve been able to minister and study.

Thank you for all that has been achieved.

Thank you for those who have looked after my responsibilities in my absence.

Help me not to be preoccupied by what has not been done.

I continue to pray that the study I have done might bear fruit for me and for the church.

Help me as I consider my return to my normal ministries.

Help me to listen as I seek to discover what has happened in my absence and how things have been.

Give me grace where I might have done things differently.

Help me particularly as I return to the busyness of perhaps a number of things that are over-due my attention.

Give me wisdom as I consider priorities for the immediate and longer-term future.

Help me to say “no” to things appropriately where that’s the right thing to do.

In particular, help me to give myself to prayer the ministry of the Word.

Help me to be a faithful pastor to those you’ve entrusted to my care and to do the work of an evangelist.

Make me willing to serve whole-heartedly and self-sacrificially in all the roles to which you’ve called me.

Again, I pray that you would help me to have in place patterns that will help to sustain a healthy long-term ministry.

Bless and guard our family-life.   

Give me those who will partner with me faithfully in prayer and ministry and help me to be a good friend and fellow-worker to others.

Help me as I share ideas for future ministry with others.

Give me grace to encourage others.

Give us grace to consider what we should pursue and what good things we should leave undone.

Forgive my sins and failures.

Grant me your grace and empower me with your Spirit.
In your mercy, may I play my part in your purposes faithfully and to your glory. Amen