St. Matthew the Apostle - Visit us for Traditional Christian Worship in Ottawa | Traditional Anglican Church Ottawa Ontario Canada

Our Worship

 At St. Matthew’s, we exclusively use the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  The following is adapted from the website of the Prayer Book Society of Canada (http://prayerbook.ca/the-prayer-book):

 

The Book of Common Prayer has been called "the priceless possession of the Anglican Church”.  Aroundchurch the world, the BCP is known wherever the Anglican Church took root. Versions of the BCP (or simply "the Prayer Book”) are used in over fifty countries and have been translated into 150 languages.  In Canada alone, it is available in French, Inuktitut, Mohawk and Cree, as well as in English.  The 1962 Canadian revision of the BCP is the official prayer book of the Anglican Church of Canada. 

Why so much interest in a book?  The reason is that the Book of Common Prayer, refined in the crucible of the Reformation in England, is a system of Christian devotion almost without peer.  The first Book of Common Prayer was compiled in 1549.  ...  The aim of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and his collaborators was to streamline and condense the Latin service books of the medieval Church, and to produce in English a simple, convenient and comprehensive volume as an authoritative guide for priest and people – hence the name "Book of Common Prayer”.  They did not wish ... to discard the liturgical heritage of the western Church and start afresh, but to prune away later accretions and to produce a book of worship that would reflect more clearly the Christianity of the Bible and the early Church.  

The result was a book of scrupulous fidelity to the teaching of the original undivided Church and to Holy Scripture.  It remains the standard of doctrine and worship of almost the whole of the worldwide Anglican Communion to this day.  It is also a book of matchless beauty of language, which has nourished countless generations of Anglicans spiritually and devotionally.  The Prayer Book has come to be recognized as a liturgical classic, and is widely admired by Christians of other denominations.

 

Sunday Worship

We celebrate The Lord’s Supper at 9am every Sunday, unless the Rector is away and there is no one to take his place. Then we pray the service of Morning Prayer, also from the Prayer Book.

 

Other Forms of Ministry

 Familiarization with the BCP 

We recommend that those who have never attended a church service that follows the Book of Common Prayer contact the Rector to arrange for a short meeting to familiarize themselves with the Prayer Book.

 Healing Service

On the first Sunday of every month, we follow The Lord’s Supper with a short healing service for those who are in need of God’s healing power. In this service, beginning on p.584 of the Prayer Book, our priest lays his hands on each person while saying the designated prayer. This is followed by anointing with holy oil those who wish to be anointed. The priest will also visit those who are sick in hospital, or shut in at home to pray the healing service. Such visits may also allow the administration of Holy Communion to people who can and wish to receive it.

 Baptismal services 

Baptisms are offered as needed, using the service beginning on p523 in the Prayer Book. We prefer to conduct baptisms on Sunday, unless an emergency requires otherwise. Since Baptism is an important sacrament, we request at least two weeks notice so that the priest has time to instruct the parents and Godparents.  We do not charge fees for a baptism. However, donations are gratefully accepted.

 Confirmation

 In the Anglican tradition, as in other parts of the Body of Christ, Confirmation is the customary adjunct to baptism. The service requires the laying on of hands by the bishop following a period of spiritual preparation and study into certain aspects of the faith. Confirmation services require considerable time to be arranged, especially since our current bishop has a very large charge under his care.

 Marriage services 

Marriages are offered as needed, using the service of Holy Matrimony beginning on p573 of the Prayer Book. We take marriage very seriously, as a lifelong Christian commitment:

1.    We require the parties to meet the priest, or someone appointed by him, for instruction about Christian marriage;

2.    At least one person in the couple must be baptised. If neither is baptised, we strongly encourage one or both to be baptised before the marriage, and to seek confirmation afterwards;

3.    We need at least one month’s notice so that the banns can be read on each of three Sundays before the marriage;

4.    If either party has been married before and divorced, they must seek permission from our bishop, who may request information leading to an annulment in church terms of the former marriage.

We do not charge fees for marriage ceremonies, but once again a donation would be welcome. In our present agreement with the Lutheran church, a small fee is required to use the church.

 The Burial Office 

This office begins on p591 in the Prayer Book. Experience has shown that this service reaches the hearts of those present in truly wonderful ways. Consequently we discourage additions, such as testimonies by family and friends. These can more appropriately be given at a reception afterwards. We recommend that we are called in time to pray with and to give Holy Communion to those communicants who seem to be close to death. After the burial, at a time agreed with family and friends, we offer a full requiem, including Holy Communion, to those communicants who request it.

 

Sermons

The Second Sunday After Trinity, June 25th, 2017

Come; for all things are now readyLuke 14:

The kingdom of heaven is constantly offered to us humans and it is perpetually ready for us!  What a wonderfully comforting thought that is, or at least it should be.  However, while the kingdom of heaven is so gloriously prepared and ready for us; while every human being who has encountered the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be saying, “Yes, I will come”, it is a sad reality that far too many of us will ignore the invitation and miss that amazing feast.

It is one thing to encounter the Gospel, but it is another thing to devote ourselves to it, to visit it often so that we are fed and nourished by that most precious, vital food.  In the Gospel is everything we need to be saved, simply because in and through the Gospel we meet and become joined to our Lord Jesus Christ.  Then our souls are fully nourished and converted to fully accept the invitation of Jesus to be saved.

Jesus Christ is all we need.  Listen to what He says, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)  That is the rich food of the Holy Gospel, but later in Chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus goes further.

He speaks to His sacrifice upon the Cross and to the institution of the Holy Eucharist, although He does not name either of them directly.  Listen again: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.  I am that bread of life.  Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: ant the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He that eatheth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.  As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.  John 6:47 – 56.

How can we hear those words of Jesus and not joyfully accept Him as the precious food our souls need; the food of this life which prepares us to attend that majestic feast prepared for us in the next life.  The Father has everything ready for us in heaven. 

Now please listen to what J.C. Ryle says, If man is not saved, the fault is not on God’s side.  The Father is ready to receive all who come to Him by Christ.  The Son is ready to cleanse all from their sins whoi apply to Him by faith.  The Spirit is ready to come to all who ask for Him.  There is an infinite willingness in God to save man, if man is only willing to be saved.

Bishop Ryle puts his finger on a critical issue there.  Jesus invites us to come to Him frequently in the Gospels, but how often do those invitations fall on deaf ears.  To the tired and burdened, He says, Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28).  To those thirsting, He says, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. (John 7:37).

Let that word, come, when it is spoken by Jesus register with you and then let Jesus turn it into a flame of determination to believe in Him, which you hear Him say, him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out

The simple fact is that Jesus wants us to join Him in heaven.  Let us not even be tempted to be like those we read about in today’s Gospel passage, And they all with one consent began to make excuse.  Their fate was sealed by their foolishness.  Jesus says, For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

The choice is ours, and it should be a simple one to make.  Come, for all things are now ready.  When we learn of Jesus, believe in Him, trust Him and love Him, how can we not burn with desire to join Him at God’s glorious feast?  

The First Sunday After Trinity, June 18th, 2017

 

If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the deadLuke 16:31

I am sure everyone here today owns a Bible.  The question is, do we fully understand its importance?

When the rich man died he went to Hell and there he was tormented in the flames.  He had had a comfortable life, faring sumptuously every day.  Unfortunately, while focused on his earthly comforts he forgot about the needs of his soul. 

The rich man had access to the temple and to all the Jewish scriptures.  For sure, being rich, he also had access to all the Jewish leaders; to the scribes and the Pharisees.  If he had had any questions about the scriptures, or about how he should have been living his life, he could have called upon one of those religious leaders to answer him.

But it seems the rich man simply ignored the scriptures, ignored the religion of the Jews, ignored any matter relating to the next world completely, including, it appears, caring for the poor man Lazarus who he must have seen frequently.

So he ended up in the flames of hell.  There in his torment, he at least remembered his five brethren.  Obviously, they were living the same kind of luxurious, self-centred life that he had lived.  But when he appealed to Abraham to send Lazarus back to give them reason to change their ways, that appeal was denied.  Abraham  reminded the suffering rich man that his brethren, have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.

But the man knew that they would ignore all that was in their scriptures, just as he had done.  Abraham’s final response is very powerful and very important to us: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. 

As I said earlier, I am sure everyone here today owns a Bible.  The question is, do we fully understand its importance?

Abraham told the tormented rich man that there was all he had needed in Moses and the prophets to guide him away from hell.

We not only have all that information available to us today, but we have far more.  We have all the New Testament books – the Gospels, the Acts of The Apostles, the Epistles and the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Bible lays out for us the road map to our salvation – every single thing we need to know in order to be saved!

The Gospels introduce us to our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  They lay out His incomparable Love for us; the Love poured down from heaven and manifested  in His willing sacrifice upon the Cross.

We must understand that Jesus was sent by God, His Father, to be the propitiation for our sins.  He carried on that Cross the enormous burden of all our sins.  So much flows from there.

Beloved, St. John writes in his First Epistle, If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.  Unlike that rich man we need to pay attention to Holy Scripture and seek the grace of God to live by what those precious books teach us.

The rich man showed at least a hint of caring for his five brethren when he begged Abraham to send Lazarus to help them, but it was too late.  Let us not make that mistake.  None of us knows when we are going to die; that is entirely up to God.  But we must be prepared for it, living the most righteous lives we can in accordance with the teachings of the Bible.  And, of course, with the help of God.

Those teachings start with love, flourish in love, and end in love.  St. John expresses it beautifully in his First Epistle, as beautifully as you would expect from one inspired by God the Holy Spirit.  He writes, God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.  Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement; because as he is, so are we in this world. 

All of the Bible is important, but there is one message of over-riding importance – the message of love.  We simply must have that message engraved in our hearts.  Let us make sure that we have absorbed and understood all that the Bible teaches us about love.

How do we know that God is dwelling inside us, as St. John says is the perfection of our love?  That great Nineteenth Century English Bishop, Walsham Howe, said we know it simply by the fact that love for God and for those around us becomes a dominating habit and not an occasional emotion.  Love becomes the driving force in our lives when God makes His home inside us.  Then we can indeed look forward to the day of judgement with confidence.

We believe in Jesus Christ; we study and learn what He teaches; we seek and accept His saving grace; we walk with Him down that path of righteousness laid out by Him and so brilliantly lit by His Love.

Opened in the love of God; read in the love of God; understood and believed through the love of God – the importance of the Bible becomes crystal clear and absolutely undeniable.  The more often we visit the Bible the better we shall become and the surer our place in heaven!

Trinity Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3.

What an emphatic statement that is!  There are no “ifs”, “buts”, or “maybes”.  Jesus tells us with crystal clarity that if we want to see heaven we must be born again.  Let me acknowledge right now that while the statement is crystal clear, it is far from easy for many human beings to understand.

Nicodemus – to whom it was originally addressed, obviously did not get the meaning, and he was a learned Pharisee.  His story, for he appears several times in the Gospels, is a really encouraging story which we should all look at and contemplate carefully.  I will come back to Nicodemus shortly.

First, let us remember that last week we celebrated the day of Pentecost, that wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit, first upon the Apostles and then on many, many more people.  Acts 2 tells us, When the day of Pentecost was fully come they (i.e. the Apostles) were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it rested upon each of them: and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit

In a very real sense those twelve Apostles were born again.  There were twelve of them, the eleven remaining original men having been joined by Matthias, and filled with the Holy Spirit they began speaking in tongues which had a huge impact on those who heard them.  Many were amazed by the large diversity of tongues they were hearing. Some, however, simply decided that the men were drunk, which led Peter to preach that amazing sermon, though which God the Holy Spirit added three thousand souls to the Church.  Acts 2:41 tells us, Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day were added unto them about three thousand souls.

Three thousand people were born again!  Some might ask, of course, “But did it last with those converts?”  The answer is given in Acts 2:42, and it is an emphatic Yes!  We read, And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers.

I hope – I really hope – that every one of us here is truly born again.  If we have any doubts about that, which would not be strange or unusual, they can be shed by the story of Nicodemus.  When that Pharisee came to Jesus there is no doubt that he was motivated by concerns about his soul.  True, he did not want anyone else to know of his visit to Jesus, so he, came to Jesus by night.  But he did make the visit and came to his Lord.

When Jesus told him, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, the meaning was totally lost on Nicodemus, despite his long experience as a Scripturally conversant Pharisee.  He was led to ask, How can a man be born again when he is oldCan he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?  So Jesus gently expands on that vitally important statement, ...except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God

Jesus continued to address Nicodemus for some time but we are not told what effect the Lord’s words had on the Pharisee.  Much later, however, we see that they did indeed have an effect.  When the Pharisees were plotting against Jesus, Nicodemus stood up and asked, Doth our law judge any man before it hear him and know what he doeth?  Inside Nicodemus the seed was growing and he was being born again.  Some are fortunate to be granted an instantaneous re-birth, like St. Paul on the Damascus Road, but with many of us, and it is probably more accurate to say, most of us, being born again is a slow, gradual process.

Later, when Jesus was slain upon the Cross, Nicodemus showed that he was indeed fully born again.  He was one of only two men who honoured our Lord’s precious body, the other being Joseph of Arimethea.  St. John tells us, And there came also Nicodemus.....and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes: about an hundred pound weight

So being born again is not always, or necessarily an instantaneous thing.  The Holy Spirit knows how we will respond and can, an will, take all the time He needs to bring about that re-birth.  We must do whatever we can to welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts.  Then we must repent, learn steadfastly about our Saviour Jesus Christ and believe in Him without reservation.  Then, with the ever present help of the Holy Spirit, sent to us by Jesus Christ in the Love of God, we can become true Christians. 

We will experience a change, which St. Peter says is, being called out of darkness into light, (1 Peter 2:9) and being, made a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Yes, we must be born again, and we must give thanks to God for offering us that re-birth and making it possible.  In it, when we think about it, we see the involvement of all three persons of our one, true God.

WhitSunday, June 4th, 2017

Because I live, ye shall live also.  John 14:19.

Aside from His birth there are three amazingly significant events in the earthly life of our Lord.  The first of these was His crucifixion, that horrible death from being nailed to the wood of the Cross.  That Friday teaches us a great deal about our faults as human beings, creatures who have the capacity to condemn and kill a perfectly innocent man.  But when we remember that it was nothing less than the sacrifice of the Son of God, and that God ordained that sacrifice for our redemption, then we can see a whole different aspect of what we now call “Good Friday”.  It is the clearest manifestation of God’s Love for us, and through it we see that His Love for us has no limits.

On the third day after His death and burial, we see the second of these three most significant events.  Our Lord rose from the dead.  This we refer to as His “glorious Resurrection” because that is exactly what it was.  Listen to the words of the Proper Preface for Easter Sunday, But chiefly are we bound to praise thee for the glorious Resurrection of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord: for He is the very Paschal Lamb which was offered for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world; who by His death hath destroyed death, and by His rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life.

That leaves one final significant event, the Ascension of our Beloved Lord into heaven.  One of the things I find surprising and most interesting about His Ascension is that it did not occur until forty days after His Resurrection.  I can only think that He wanted time to make sure there would be no doubts in His Apostles that His Resurrection was an absolute reality.  No doubt in their minds and none in ours.

One of the great blessings which pours down upon us from Christ’s heavenly throne is the help He offers us to remain faithful and to grow ever closer to Him.  We should reject any doubts about Jesus that may creep into our minds and pray for His strength to keep such doubts at bay.  We must be true Christians.  Then Jesus will see that our faith bonds us as closely to Him as our heads and arms and legs are bonded to our bodies.  This is so important.

Jesus says, Because I live, ye shall live also.  He reigns in heaven as a divine being.  He cannot die, and what He says means that we who believe in Him, we who are committed members of the Body of Christ, shall never perish.  We have an invisible union with our Saviour.  In Him we live and move and have our very being.  He is, for now, invisible to us in heaven, but that will end beautifully when we join Him there.

I will not leave you comfortless, He promises.  Nor will He – He loves us too much for that.  So God the Holy Spirit is ever present, ever sent by God the Son, to comfort us and guide us; to maintain our union with Jesus.

So much about that union is a mystery to us and it will remain a mystery until Christ comes again.  For now we must humbly accept and believe in our union with our Lord and, as J.C. Ryle says, to receive on trust the things we cannot explain

That will change when Christ comes again.  At that day, Jesus says, ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.  The darkness of this world will disappear for us, as will the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.  We will fully understand the Virgin Birth and those other three significant events of His earthly life.

And I have no doubt that we shall then give thanks to Him and sing His praises in the perpetual glory of His heavenly kingdom.  For now, let us give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit, poured out so bountifully on the day of Pentecost and since then ever present to help us grow in faith and righteousness.

REFLECTIONS ON THE ASCENSION, May 28th, 2017

And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. 1Peter 4:8.

This past Thursday we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension.  The glorious Ascension of our Lord marks the completion of the Incarnation and as such it surely deserves a great deal of attention.

First of all what does the Ascension actually mean, especially when we consider it in light of the New Catechism of the Roman Church, which teaches that Jesus was with the Father from the time of His Resurrection.  The theology of that is somewhat complicated and it is for another time, but let us keep it in mind for a few moments.

C.B. Moss, a determinedly Anglican theologian, in his 1943 work, The Christian Faith states categorically that the Ascension was Not a physical ascent into the sky.  He says, Our Lord appears to have risen up off the earth and passed into a cloud, as a sign that He would be seen on earth no more.  Those words can certainly be taken as supporting the Catholic Catechism statement that Jesus was with the Father from the time of the Resurrection.

Now, I have to admit that like a lot of people I did tend to think of the Ascension rather in terms of a helicopter climbing up to some astronomically remote place.  But Moss continues, The Ascension is much more wonderful and mysterious than that.  He passed out of time and space altogether.

In Acts St. Luke tells us that as the Apostles were watching Him, He was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  How often do we read in Holy Scripture of a cloud hiding God.  In Exodus 13:21, for example, as the Israelites were being led out of Egypt, we are told, The Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way.  Our Lord, in the very act of His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, came from the spiritual world into the natural world, absorbing humanity into the Godhead for a time.   In His Ascension He passes from the natural world back into the supernatural world.  One reason we describe His Ascension as “glorious” is because Jesus takes upon Him once more the full glory of God and that is too much for human eyes to behold.  C.B. Moss describes the Ascension as, an event in the spiritual world, the exaltation of the Manhood of Jesus Christ to the glory of Heaven.  Hence the need for the cloud.  

But if our Lord has passed from human sight, He most certainly has not passed from human presence.  He is nearer to us now than we are to each other, and that nearness exists wherever we are.  The Incarnate Lord was visible to His disciples only where and when He and they were in the same place.  The Ascended Lord is present with us everywhere and at all times.  In that, we surely have another reason for the Ascension.  And in that we have one of the blessings of the Ascension.

So St. Paul could declare to the men of Athens in the Areopagus, He is not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17:27-28.  Paul, of course, at the time of his conversion on the Damascus road, was a very early beneficiary of the ability of our Lord to appear to men from the spiritual world.    

And St. Peter could write, And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins, for if we walk in Jesus we walk in Love.  If we walk in Love, we walk in Jesus, because we love because God first Loves us.

It is interesting, isn’t it, how such an ideal arises in the supernatural and crosses to the natural world and then returns to where it came from.  The Incarnation is all about the Love of God for us, His fallen creatures.  Jesus is our supreme example of Love.  He teaches us how to receive the Love of God – He says, for example, that we are to be born again.  Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.  And later He amplifies this, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:3 & 3:5.   We are to be given the Holy Spirit through the necessary Sacrament of Baptism and drawing on the help of that same spirit, we are to be pure in heart.  In the Sermon on the Mount He says, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Mt.5:8.

The Love of God comes to us, the help of God comes to us, through God the Holy Spirit, sent to us by our Ascended Lord just as He promises.  We, through that help, return to the ways of God in this life, and to an eternity with our Risen Ascended Lord in the next life.

Love is absolutely key and central to the Christian soul, to the Christian way of life, and to the charge given by Jesus just before His Ascension, Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15.

St. Paul understood this to the very depths of his heart, and nowhere does he express it more fervently than in his first letter to the Corinthians, If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Whatever we do, we must do with true, Christian love, inspired by the Holy Ghost.  Love is everything, and if we doubt that for one second, let us turn our thoughts to Jesus Christ nailed to the Cross.  Nowhere and at no time was Love expressed so profoundly, but occasionally, if we are fortunate, we come across Christians who seem to come close.

Last week we witnessed that disgusting bomb attack on young people in Manchester.  So far, I have neither seen nor heard of any acts of vengeful violence against the Muslim community from where the attack originated.  That reminds me of what the Vicar of Bhagdad told me when I asked him how we should respond to Muslims.  His answer was – Love them!  On Friday I was able to attend a talk and discussion with pastor Edward Awabdeh, a minister from Damascus in Syria.  He said exactly the same thing, we should reach out to Muslims in love.

It is that attitude, that radiance of the Love of God, which brings more people to Christ in countries where Christians suffer persecution.    

Now, if radiating the Love of God works so well in areas of persecution, surely we must see that it will also work in our own society.  And that is precisely what St. Peter is telling us, when he says, for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.  He is not referring to our sins, but is saying that through Love we can ignore the sins we think others have committed against us and reach out to them with love.

The truth of that is so obvious when you think about it, and so tied up with the command of our Lord to preach the Gospel to every creature.  If someone has committed a sin against us, leaving us angry with them and unforgiving, what does anger and an unforgiving spirit gain us?  Nothing – such an attitude creates barriers at best and enemies at worst.  More importantly it says to others that there is little or nothing to distinguish Christians from all the rest of humanity who behave in the same way.  Only by using the Love of God to set our self aside, ignore the transgressions of the other and reach out with Love can we bridge the gap created by the other’s perceived wrong against us.

Doing that is preaching the Gospel.  The Love of God is never self-centred.  Jesus Christ did not die upon the Cross for God – He died there for us in an act of complete humility, surrendering Himself to the will and Love of God.

Ladislaus Boros, at one time a Professor of Theology in the University of Inssbruck, wrote in his book Meditations – Reflections on the Incarnation, If we remain attached to ourselves while loving, it is not love at all.  There is no room for self in genuine Christian Love.  Self leads us into sin – if we are self centred we cannot forgive and we are sinning against the precepts of Jesus Christ.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, Jesus says in the Beatitudes, and he refers to the same teaching.  The meek overlook transgressions against them, not out of weakness but out of strength; they do not take offence at insults, or respond to aggression with aggression.  They build spiritual wealth by practising, and thereby preaching, the Gospel.

These are just some of the things Jesus taught us during His Incarnation.  Now He reigns over us from that throne of glory to which He ascended.  Ascension Day is truly the Feast of Christ the King.  And from His position of highest honour and power, usually encapsulated in the words sat on the right hand of God, as in Mark 16:19, He is the head of the Church, our Mediator and our Advocate with God the Father.

Let us give thanks for the Ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, through which He is nearer to us than we are to each other; nearer to us than we can ever fully comprehend.

The Fifth Sunday After Easter (Rogation Sunday) May 21st, 2017

Jesus answered and said, Do ye now believe? John 16:31.

How our Lord’s heart must have ached when He felt the need to ask His Apostles that question.  Their time with Him – those precious three years – was coming to an end and they still did not really comprehend His importance.  Jesus knew that, despite what they had just said to Him, Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou comest forth from God

Jesus knew that He was soon to be taken captive and slain.  Snd He knew that those eleven men would have their belief shrouded by the evil of the world – they would abandon Him and hide themselves away.  Behold, the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone. (John 16:32)

Those men had their belief re-awakened when Jesus appeared to them after His Resurrection.  But what they really needed was that great gift from God, the outpouring on them of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  That brought about what can only be described as monumental changes in the Apostles.  There is no doubt that after that they believed and that their belief was unshakeable. 

Now – what about us?  Do we believe?  We surely must, to some extent at least, or we would not be here today.  Hopefully, we are all also seeking the help of God to make our belief grow in depth and in strength.  God is constantly with us, but it is a fact that it is to the divinest presence among us that we are most blind.  The Gospels teach us how difficult it is for men to recognise among themselves the working and the Person of God.#

What can we do about this?  Pray and try harder!  Jesus, our Risen, Ascended Lord is the source and centre of the spiritual life of the world.  Everything we need to know about Him is laid out in Holy Scripture.  Our task is to learn and absorb all that we can.  But it is more than a task, it is a source of peace and joy, which as we experience the peace and joy brings us face to face with the working and Person of God.  As we open our Bibles, which I trust is often, we should pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in what we are about to read.  I expect all of us have had the experience of reading a passage several times and having little or nothing in it make an impact on us.  Then one day the fullness of its meaning is made clear.  It jumps out and registers with us as the Holy Spirit guides and teaches us.

That is truly a manifestation of the Love of God for us.  As Jesus says, For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.  (John 16:27.)  Let us keep our belief growing as strongly as possible.  It should never happen that we tell ourselves we believe enough and stop there.  That puts us in great danger of going backwards down an ugly, slippery slope.

So St. Paul warned the Corinthians, Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.  (1Cor.10:12).  We simply cannot stand on our own.  We need the constant help of God.  Remember the words of the Psalmist, Hole thou me up and I shall be safe.  (Ps.119:117).  He knew his needs, and believed in, his source of strength.  What an example he is for us.

Do ye now believe?  Let us make sure we can always ask ourselves that question without fear.  And let us make sure our truthful answer is always, Yes!  As  Jesus tells us, believing in Him is our one, sure key to the door of heaven.  Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47).  Let us never, never allow that glorious reward to slip away in a cloud of doubt and unbelief.

The Fourth Sunday After Easter, May 14th, 2017

It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. John.16:7.

As we continue to rejoice in our Risen, Living Lord, and the sacrifice He made for us upon the Cross, the Gospel today gives us cause to remember and reflect on the nature of our God.  He is one God but within Him are three persons.  St. John states this very clearly in Chapter 5 of his First Epistle, For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, The Word (i.e. Jesus The Son) and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (vs.7)

Christians are often accused by members of other religions of believing in multiple gods, which is as far from the truth as one could get.  We should never hesitate to remind such people that we have one God, the true God, who created everything around us.  Yes there are three persons in our God, but these three are one.

In Chapter 3 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew there are two beautiful verses in which we see the three persons of the Trinity.  Verses 16 and 17 read, And Jesus, when He was baptised went up straightway out of hte water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him: and lo, a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased

We can acknowledge, without fear, that there are three persons in our one God.  We may be tempted to ask ourselves, Why?  But we will never come up with the complete answer to that question, so it is better not to get too wrapped up in it.  One thing is obvious from Scripture and that is that these three persons, at least some of the time, fulfil different roles.

So Jesus, in reference to His ascension says, If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.  His Apostles were afraid of losing Him, which is understandable because they had been in such close contact with Him for 3 years.  Their minds could not grasp the reality that the mission of His Incarnation ended with His death, resurrection and ascension.  Upon His ascension He sealed the accomplishment of what He came among us physically to achieve.

Then, as J.C. Ryle states so simply, His bodily absence would bed more useful than His presence.  Jesus went back to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father and there to be our Advocate and Mediator.

He also went, as He says, to send the Comforter to us.  He makes it clear that that would not happen unless He went away.  Now, we need to be clear here that Jesus is not implying that the Holy Ghost had not already been active in the world.  No human being had ever believed in, or served God without the grace of the Holy Spirit working in them.  He was the power behind the Old Testament saints and any person who truly served God.

What Jesus is pointing us to is that after His Ascension the Holy Spirit would operate among us with far more power.  God, through His Holy Spirit, as a consequence of the wonderful incarnate life of His Son, would dramatically extend His influence upon humankind.

That all started on the fiftieth day after our Lord’s Resurrection – the day we call Pentecost.  We can find the amazing truth in Acts Chapter 2, And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

People who hear them thought they were drunk.  So Peter, that humble fisherman, stood up and, inspired by the Spirit, delivered that amazing sermon which ended with him saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

There we see what can only be described as an explosive growth in the Christian Church.  And so it continued.  The Holy Spirit came upon many unbelieving Jews, silencing their attacks on Jesus, changing their erroneous thoughts about Him and converting them into believers.  Perhaps the most eminent example is Saul, a Jew who devoted himself to persecuting Christians.   Jesus Himself met Saul on the Damascus Road and changed the man’s mind. And from then on Saul was filled with the Holy Ghost and spent the rest of his life obediently bringing some Jews and many, many Gentiles to Jesus.

The impact of the Holy Spirit has been really immense, far greater than most of us will ever fully understand.  A Nineteenth Century British Christian named Scott summarised it like this: It is worthy of notice that an immense proportion of the human race, since the pouring out of the Holy Spirit after our Lord’s Ascension, have been led to form such sentiments, as the world up to that time had not the most remote conception of; so that a far higher standard of morals has been fixed throughout numerous nations than was at all thought of before.

Jesus says, When he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.  He is here to inspire us in the right way, to teach us the right things, to guide us to heaven.

Thanks be to God for who and what He is.  Thanks be to God for the loving sacrifice of His Son for us.  Thanks be to God for the Resurrection and Ascension of His Son to sit in glory as our Advocate and Mediator.  And thanks be to God for the constant presence throughout this world of God the Holy Spirit.  Never hesitate to call Him when you feel the need.  He will not let you down. 

The Second Sunday After Easter, April 30th, 2017

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. John 10:11.

How absolutely right Jesus was when He spoke those words.  He was, and remains to this day, THE Good Shepherd, and true Christians are so blessed by that reality.  When Jesus spoke He was addressing a group of people who could relate directly to what He was saying.  Around probably every city and town were flocks of sheep cared for by a shepherd.

In this day and age we rarely see such flocks, especially when we live and spend most of our time in cities.  I am not sure we would find a flock of sheep in this country existing as they did in Palestine in Jesus’ time,  I am far from certain that we could find a person looking after sheep in a way which even slightly resembles what was necessary back then.

Jesus distinguishes between “good shepherds”, the owners of the sheep, and bad shepherds, or “hirelings”.  He says, the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.  But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.

The shepherd had full responsibility for the sheep.  If the flock was attacked and anything bad did happen to them, the shepherd had to show proof that it was not his fault.  So in chapter 3:12, Amos refers to the shepherd taking, out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear.  That, which seems like a pretty desperate act, stems from a law laid down in Exodus 22:13, If it be torn in pieces let him bring it for a witness.

The shepherd also had to guard against robbers and the tradition was that they had to be prepared to lay down their lives to protect the flock.  So the true shepherd never hesitated to risk his life for the sheep, even to the point of death.

The hireling, as Jesus calls the less than faithful shepherd, behaved very differently, because he careth not for the sheep.  To put it simply, that man was in it for the money and bore little or no sense of responsibility for the sheep he was hired to care for.

As I mentioned earlier, we live in times when we may find it difficult to understand the references Jesus makes to sheep and their shepherds.  But we must surely try, because what He says relates very closely to His Church.  That is clear from His words in v.16, And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd

Jesus was speaking to a group of Jews, the members of that first fold or flock.  But He knew that His Incarnation was not just to benefit the Jews, but the Gentiles also – the other sheep who devoted followers like St. Paul would bring into the one fold, the one Church.  The human beings who would learn to believe in Jesus Christ. 

I know my sheep, Jesus says.  There is not a thing about us that He does not know, and, like the Good Shepherd He is, He cares tenderly for His believing people.  He patiently bears our weaknesses and when we stray He lovingly reaches out to bring us back to where we should be.  How blessed we are when we believe in our Lord!

We are all His sheep, but as true believers we all need to look for opportunities also to be His servants in whatever way He calls us to serve Him.  That means we should never think or act like hirelings.  Sadly, too many people do that, including some who enter the ministry just for the money.  When a man does that he places himself in serious danger.  Ministry in the Church is not a job!

J.C. Ryle quotes a Christian called A. Clarke on this subject.  Clarke observed, How can any worldly-minded hirelings, fox-hunting, card-playing priests, read these words without trembling to the centre of their souls.  The leadership of a minister MUST be based on the perfect example of Jesus Christ.

Let us never forget that Jesus, THE Good Shepherd, gave His life for the sheep.  And He did so willingly because of His boundless Love for us.  He knew that His precious blood was, and is, the only source of redemption with God the Father.  We Christians are sheep in the only fold that matters.  How blessed we are in and through our beloved Good Shepherd!

The First Sunday After Easter, April 23rd, 2017

The same day at evening came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto youJohn 20:19.

Today is the first Sunday after Easter, that wonderful day on which we celebrate the occasion of our Lord rising from the dead.  He is our Risen, Living, Lord, which gives special meaning to those words He spoke to His gathered Apostles, Peace be unto you.  Jesus lives among us here and now, and those words should be echoing in our hearts.

The Apostles were still deeply disturbed by what had happened on Calvary.  There they had witnessed the agonised death of Jesus upon the Cross.  They were focused on the dreadful loss of the one they had faithfully followed for the past three years.  They had not yet come to terms with how they should live without Him, because that was exactly what they though their lives would now be – lives deprived of Jesus.  Lives without their leader, their teacher, their source of inspiration!  Lives perhaps dominated in the aftermath of the crucifixion by fear of the Jews.  That was understandable.  If the Jews could crucify Jesus they could be expected to be equally vicious to His closest followers, especially if they continued to spread His message.

So in His first appearance to His gathered Apostles, on the evening of His Resurrection, He utters those four beautiful words to calm their minds, Peace be unto you.

He made no attempt to find fault with the Jews, or even to hint at attaching blame to them for His violent death.  He did not want His Apostles to think that way either.  Peace was what He wanted – first in their own, disturbed minds, and then emanating from them as a most important message to those around them.  Christianity, the world has to be constantly reminded, is a religion of peace.  In fact I would go as far as to say that it is essentially THE religion of peace, unlike some others I could mention.

Remember how the angels celebrated Christ’s birth – they sang, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.  That message of peace resonates through Christ’s earthly ministry, during which He gave examples of it, first to His disciples and then to everyone who seeks to be a true, practicing Christian.  There is a wonderful example of this in Luke 10.  Jesus adds seventy men to go out with His Apostles to spread His message.  In His instructions to them He includes this, And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. Luke 10:5.

That message of peace was so often on our Lord’s lips and He wanted it to be so with all who would follow Him.  The Christian message must joyfully proclaim that there is peace between God and man through the precious blood of atonement.  The Christian Church, and all its members, must seek to encourage peace between man and man through the infusion of grace and charity.

I have mentioned before how sad it is that there is such rigid division, and even animosity, between so many branches of the Church.  This is not peace, and it contradicts the teachings and desire of Jesus.  It has led to some dreadful actions being pronounce and carried out falsely in Jesus’ name.  J.C. Ryle refers to one such action when he says, Any form of Christianity which burns men at the stake, in order to promote its own success, carries with it the stamp of apostasy.

We need to take great care that we are not bearing the stamp of apostasy.  Nor do we need even to run the risk of that.  Jesus is alive and full of love for us.  His message of peace echoes from His heavenly throne as part of that river of love.

Let us return that majestic Love by opening our hearts to Jesus Christ and doing whatever we can to fulfill His desire to spread true peace.  He will love us for that and He will reward us as only He can reward us.

Alleluia – Christ is risen!

Easter Sunday, April 16th, 2017

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

You may remember me saying last Easter that I sincerely hope there is not a single person in this church who looks down upon women to any degree at all.  But we have to admit that in society around us, in this country and elsewhere, there are far too many people who regard women as inferior to men.  In fact, some groups which are referred to as religions, which is an erroneous term for them, state that women are inferior and treat them that way.

The saddest explanation for that is that such people do not know the Bible, and worse, they do not know our God.  In the love that God has for His human creatures there is no distinction between men and women.  We are all created equal by Him and all loved equally by Him.  On this day, a day of such importance to Christianity, I believe it is absolutely wonderful that God shows his Love for women through the esteem He grants them.

There are two keys on which the salvation in Christianity hinges.  On the Cross, Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, in His full humanity, died for all – men and women alike.  The sins of all of us were His burden on the Cross.

And in His mighty Resurrection, Jesus, in His full divinity was restored to life for the justification of all, men and women alike.  Justification is the gift of God, the forgiveness of the sins of a believer, a man or a woman who responds to the Gospel with faith.  As St. Paul says, we are justified by faith alone and not by works.

In the Gospels there are two women called Mary who we should look upon with great respect and love.  We should also witness the high regard God shows for women.  The brilliant light of that regard shines on these women and through them.

The first Mary is the Blessed Virgin, chosen by God to be the vehicle for God the Son to take on human form.  What a unique honour God gives there to woman kind.

The second Mary is Mary Magdalene, and it is easy to consider her honour as being almost equal to that of the Blessed Virgin.  Mary Magdalene found the open tomb of our Lord, and it was to her just a short time later – just a paltry few minutes later – that Jesus, our Risen Lord, showed Himself to her.  The first human being to see our Risen Lord.

Mary Magdalene has much to teach us.  She first appears in the Gospels, in Luke 8:2, for example, as a woman who had been freed from seven devils.  Mary sinned terribly because of those seven devils, but there is not a shred of evidence anywhere that she sinned against the Seventh Commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery, which all too many people want to believe.  I am shocked by the number of commentators who accuse her of this sin.

St. Luke does not say that Jesus drove out those evil spirits, but the evidence from Mary’s subsequent behavior certainly tells us that Jesus was the one who cured her. 

Mary became a most faithful disciple.  In Luke 8:3 we learn that she, and other women, provided for Jesus and the twelve Apostles from “out of their means”.  This took place perhaps two full years before the crucifixion of our Lord, when we learn of her presence at the foot of the Cross.  She remained at the foot of the Cross throughout our Lord’s agony there.  In the 19th Century, Bishop Andrews said this, She was last at His cross, and first at His grave.  She staid longest there and was soonest here.  She could not rest until she was up to seek Him.  She sought Him while it was yet dark, even before she had light to seek Him by.

Mary Magdalene obviously believed in Jesus.  She may not have fully appreciated His divine nature until after His Resurrection, but she had great faith in Him and was devoted to Him.    

That devotion, and her sense of debt to Him, was enough for Jesus to reward her so specially by revealing His Risen person to her outside the tomb.  What an honour!  Mary was then able to go to the Apostles and tell them she had seen the Lord.  Mary Magdalene knew her God.

There are millions of people today who call themselves Christians, but they do so little for the Saviour whose name they live under.  We need to think carefully about that sense of debt Mary Magdalene carried and ask how strong our own sense of debt to Jesus is.  We need to ask first if we really do know our Beloved Lord and Saviour.  In Matthew Henry’s 17th Century commentary on the Bible, he wrote something which made me sit up very straight.  He said, And are there not many now called Christians, who are zealous in their devotions, yet the great object of their worship is to them an unknown God. What a sobering thought that is!

On this glorious Easter Morning when the cry, Alleluia! He is risen! rings out all over the Christian world, we need to be absolutely sure that we know our God; that we know our Risen, Living, Lord.

We can never understand God fully and we are well advised to leave the mysteries alone until we pass through the veil.  But we must know Him well enough to have complete faith in Him.  We must quietly seek Him in our daily lives, in our precious Bible and in our church experiences.

Let us go back to the sepulchre for a moment.  Mary saw Jesus but perhaps because of the tears flooding her eyes she did not recognize Him.  Jesus asked her, Woman, why weepest thou?  whom sleekest thou?  St. John continues, She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.  Jesus saith unto her, Mary.  She turned herself and saith unto him, Raboni; which is to say, Master.  (John 20:13 – 16.)

Mary knew her beloved Lord just because He said her name.  Remember what we read in John 10, he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out….and the sheep follow him for they know his voice.  Jesus promises us the help of the Holy Spirit to help us to know our God.  That help may come as quietly as it did from Jesus to Mary Magdalene.  But if we believe in Him we can be absolutely sure that it will come.

Jesus died on the Cross for our sins.  He rose again for our justification.  When we understand that, we know our God.  We know our Risen, Living, Lord.  And we know that to Him, all human beings are equal, all are the beneficial objects of His inestimable Love.

Alleluia – Christ is risen!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 2nd, 2017

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.  Matthew 20:28.

God sent His only begotten Son into the world for our redemption.  He lived among us for 33 years and for most of those years He dwelt in obscurity, quietly working in His earthly father Joseph’s carpentry shop.

That is such a remarkable thing.  Remember those words in verse 3 of the Gospel according to St. John, All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.  Jesus was the mighty being who created the world we see around us – extending to the boundaries of what scientists have identified as the universe, and quite probably even beyond that.

A being of such power has the capacity to make any changes He wants to make in what He has created.  He could have looked at the sinfulness of fallen mankind, wiped the human race out and started all over again.  But God chose not to do that.  He chose another, very different way.

God brought Jesus into the world through the womb of a terribly young, terribly humble, virgin woman.  Right there we see that God thinks and acts very differently from the ways in which we think and act.

The Jews were waiting for the Messiah, a person invested by God with special powers and sent to be the divinely appointed ruler of Israel.  He was expected to be exceptionally strong and to live in a grand palace with all the trappings of wealth and power.

But Jesus came among us not to be ministered unto, but to ministerHe came to lay before us His way of life and in His teachings, all we need to know to avail ourselves or His saving grace.

So much of that is contrary to our natural inclinations.  Ye know, He says, that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them and they that are great exercise authority upon them.  That is the way our human society works.  All too often we are driven by ambition to become more wealthy; to work ourselves into positions in which we can tell others what to do; to exercise control over more and more of what is around us.

That is NOT what Jesus wants us to do!  He says, to His Apostles and to us, But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.  The standards of this world, and the standards of our Beloved Lord are very contradictory.  We have to remember that, because one day we will leave this world and where we go next will depend on which standards we have lived by.

J.C. Ryle says, Among the children of God he is reckoned the greatest who does most to promote the spiritual and temporal happiness of his fellow creatures.  True greatness consists, not in receiving but in giving; not in selfish absorption of good things, but in imparting good to others; not in being served but in serving.

Jesus Christ is our perfect example of these standards, even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.  Therein is the perfect reason for us to keep learning all that we can about our Lord.  Everything in His earthly ministry can only strengthen our belief in Him, and that is so important.  Jesus says, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3:16.

Which brings us to the crowning glory of His ministry, the critical key which opens the door of heaven for all who do truly believe in Him.  Jesus says He came, to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.  He willingly sacrificed Himself upon the Cross to atone for our sins.

His life He gave as the one perfect sacrifice acceptable to God.  As we read in the first Epistle of St. Peter, He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.  I Peter 3:18.

Let us cherish that sacrifice, believe in and love Jesus Christ, learn all we can about His earthly ministry and then seek His help to live faithfully by that ministry, walking carefully in the footsteps of our Saviour.

 

The Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 26th, 2017

And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were sat down. John 6:11.

The feeding of the five thousand is frequently described by commentators on the Bible as our Lord’s mightiest miracle, and I am certainly not going to argue with that.  In fact, this miracle shows us very clearly the unlimited creative power residing in Jesus, the Son of God.  It may, perhaps should, return our thoughts to what St. John says right at the beginning of his Gospel account.  He refers to Jesus as “the Word” and declares Him to be God.

Then He refers us to the extraordinary creative powers bestowed on the Son of God, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. John 1:3.

It is those same creative powers which are engaged in the feeding of the five thousand.  A lad has five loaves and two small fish, not enough to feed even Jesus and His Apostles.  But Jesus takes those items and gives thanks for them, a simple fact worth registering with us.  Then He starts breaking the bread and passing it to His Apostles to distribute to the huge, hungry crowd.  He does the same with the fish until all are well fed.  Jesus creates something out of nothing and satisfies the hunger of over five thousand people.  I say over five thousand because that is the number of the men, but there were undoubtedly women there as well.  They all were satisfied, but it doesn’t end there.  Jesus had His men gather up the fragments of the loaves and these filled twelve baskets, many more than did the five barley loaves Jesus began with.

Let us remember that the power was exclusively in Jesus, not in His Apostles.  Jesus created the food and passed it on to those men.  They took it humbly, and faithfully, obediently, delivered it to the hungry.

There are important lessons for us in this story.  First let us remember that when we come here to feed on the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, the priest is simply doing what the Apostles did at the feeding of the five thousand.  He is distributing the precious food created by Jesus to those who come to receive it.  The bread and wine are consecrated into the Body and Blood of Jesus, but how this happens we do not know, any more than those at that miraculous feeding of the five thousand knew how the bread and fish kept coming and coming.

The beautiful thing is that if we come in faith to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, that is what we do receive.  Nothing is impossible with Jesus and we must acknowledge and believe that.  The priest is simply receiving the bread of life provided by our Lord and distributing it to the waiting souls.

We should also draw great comfort from this miraculous feeding, especially when we remember the great variety of all the other miracles Jesus did.  He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and speech to the dumb.  He even raised the dead.

There are no limits to His powers.  And there are no limits to His Love for us.  So if we fall off that straight and narrow path to heaven, as all of us may do from time to time, let us quickly seek the power of Jesus to put us back where we should be – where He wants us to be!

Not even a soul in the worst possible condition is outside the saving power of Jesus.  Remember the opening words of the Collect for Ash Wednesday, Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made.  That cogent reminder of God’s Love for us is shortly followed by, Create and make in us new and contrite heartsThere is a direct call upon the Love of God and upon that inexhaustible creative power of Jesus Christ.  What a great blessing a new and contrite heart is to those who receive such.

No matter how desperately bad we feel we have become, Jesus can save us.  He fed the five thousand with earthly food He created from nothing.

He can, and He will feed us with the spiritual food that cleanses our hearts and sustains our souls.  We should never be reluctant to turn to Him and ask Him to feed us.  That is nothing less than what He wants to do throughout our earthly lives.  He will never leave unsatisfied those who humbly lay their needs before Him.

The Third Sunday in Lent, March 19th, 2017

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against itself falleth.  Luke11:17.

Bishop J.C. Ryle concludes his commentary on these verses with this statement: When Christians keep up needless divisions they show themselves more foolish than Satan himself.  Oh how I wish every Christian could and would read those words in the context in which they were written!

The Church is a kingdom, the visible, earthly kingdom of God.  In his epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul calls us to give thanks to the Father, Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son.  Col.1:13.

Jesus tells us clearly and simply that the Church is His and He builds it.  He tells us this in a passage in the Gospel according to St. Matthew which, paradoxically, has led to many divisions in the Church. 

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?  And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jo-na: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Note our Lord’s words, I will build my church.  I believe all church growth has taken place, does take place and will continue to take place through the guiding Spirit of Jesus Christ working through His carefully selected men and women.

St. Peter was important in the implementation of Church building, as we see from the events of the Day of Pentecost.  Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached a wonderful sermon and three thousand souls were brought into the Church.  Then, in Acts 10 we read of the conversion of the first Gentiles, Cornelius and his family, again because of what Peter said, but actually completed by the Holy Spirit.

When Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.  Those Gentiles were then baptized into the Body of Christ.

It is a mistake to think that Peter alone was doing work to expand the Church, but Roman Catholic writers have all too often tried to give Peter supremacy over the other Apostles, and from that to claim supremacy of the Roman Church.  There is one of the most obvious examples of division caused by human beings reading into one part of Scripture something which they see as being to their benefit.  In this particular case they ignore a verse in Revelation 21, which gives equal importance to all the Apostles: And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the lamb. Rev.21:14.

It is unreasonable to expect that twelve Apostles, sometimes spreading themselves out in very different areas would establish identical forms of worship wherever they went.  That is just fine, especially because I am sure that everywhere they went they laid down a worship service which included what we know as Holy Communion.

That was such an important thing for them to do because it is the only service, if we wish to call it that, which Jesus initiated.  In Holy Communion we receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord.  We, in the Traditional Anglican Church, believe that Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, is one of only two Sacraments ordained by Christ.  The other Sacrament is baptism

A Sacrament is defined as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ himself.  In the case of Holy Communion, the outward sign is bread and wine, which Jesus commanded to be used.  The inward part, which we cannot see, is the Body and Blood of Christ.  Let me quote the Rev. C.B. Moss here: When the bread and wine are blessed by the priest, God the Holy Ghost changes them into the Body and Blood of Christ, in a heavenly manner which we cannot understand.

In 1917 Dr. B.W. Randolph, Canon of Ely Cathedral, wrote this: “At the consecration the bread and wine still remain what they were, but they also become what they were not.  By the power of the Holy Spirit they become to us the Body and Blood of Christ.”  “How this is done we do not know; it is a mystery.  It is the work of God and it is only by faith that we can realize it.”

That faith is so important because it brings us into communion with our Lord Jesus Christ, just as He says: He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.  John6:56.

So, in our wonderful Book of Common Prayer, just before we come to receive that precious Body and Blood, we kneel and pray together the Prayer of Humble Access, which includes these beautiful words: Grant us therefore, Gracious Lord, So to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, And to drink his Blood, That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, And our souls washed through his most precious Blood, And that we may evermore dwell in him, And he in us.

All this shines a brilliant spotlight on how fundamentally important the service of Holy Communion, instituted by Christ, is to all Christians.  Would you not expect, then, that all Christians, especially their leaders, would have worked hard and constantly to ensure Church unity on this matter.

Tragically that has not been the case and it remains that way to this day.  So deep are the divisions that I cannot go into some churches and receive Communion.  The most important Body and Blood of our Lord is denied us because parts of the Body of Christ have polluted the Lord’s Supper with false doctrines.

It is time we all woke up and listened to the words of Jesus, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against itself fallethJesus wants His Church, His Body, to be whole.  What are we going to do about that to satisfy Him?

The Second Sunday of Lent, March 12th, 2017

Truth Lord, yet...Matthew 15:

There are no limits to our Lord’s love for us, and there are no limits to the ways in which He can and will exercise that love for us.  Jesus walks into the region of Tyre and Sidon, and there is no obvious reason why He does that.  Inside Him, however, He is being drawn to a person in desperate need.

Walking towards Him from the coast is a very agitated woman led, we can be sure, by the Holy Spirit to the one sure source of help for her problem.  Her problem was the sickness of her daughter, who was “grievously vexed with a devil”.  It was certainly not the devil which directed her to Jesus; but God used the devil to set her on that path.

Oh! how often God turns nasty situations into blessings!

People find themselves oppressed by serious physical sickness, poverty, dangers from those around them, fear, or one of a host of other things, and they turn to God for His help.  Or, just like the Canaanite woman, they may seek help for someone they love, a daughter, a son, a parent or someone else who is close to them and in trouble.

Whatever the condition may be, the most important thing is to turn to God for help.  Then we should look carefully for any lessons He is building into our condition and take great care to learn them.  They are there because God loves us.

We often assume that our situation results from sin, which may be the case, but not always.  In Jerusalem one day Jesus met a blind man, And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth.  And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.  John 9:1 – 3.  The cure of that man was to the glory of Jesus Christ, which remains the case to this day.

Now we may seek the help of God with faith in Him, and that is essential.  But rarely is our faith perfect and God may subject us to trials to strengthen  our faith.  Jesus did that with the Canaanite woman. 

 At the borders of Tyre and Sidon, St. Mark tells us, Jesus went into a house and hid Himself.  But the woman, demonstrating both her determination and her already strong faith in Jesus, found Him.  She cried out to Him, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.  What a noise she must have made, because His disciples, besought Him, saying, Send her away for she crieth after us.  So Jesus tells them, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

The woman remains determined, forces her way closer to Jesus and utters her pleading prayer, Lord, help me.  At this point she has fallen on her knees, worshipping Him.

Now we must remember that in the heart of Jesus Christ there is nothing but love for this woman.  We must keep that in mind when we hear His apparently chill response, It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs.  That response would be enough to make many people turn and leave.  Others would have tried to contradict Jesus, which Charles Spurgeon says we must never do!  Always remember that Jesus is Almighty God, and agree with Him.  There can be no peace of mind, no fruitful outcome from a fight with the Lord.  There is only one winner in such battles and it is the Lord.  That is why we believe and accept what we read in the Bible – His Holy Word!

But the woman does not leave, she shows both her faith and her wisdom in her reply, Truth, Lord.  Then she demonstrates that quality I keep referring to as being so very important – humility.  She continues, yet the little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table

Remember, this is a Syro-Phenecian woman speaking to a Jewish man and seeking from Him what He must see as a crumb, or so she seems to believe.  The woman has been patient and persistent, showing a surprising faith in Jesus Christ and presenting invaluable lessons to us.  Her prayers to Jesus are answered – beautifully and without reservation.  O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.  And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.  

Let us show in this Lenten season the same persistence as that woman.  Let us constantly seek the help of Jesus in rejecting the efforts of the devil to soil our souls.  Let us draw ever closer to Him in the sure knowledge and faith that He is our Saviour.  Let us never doubt or argue with His mighty ability to make us whole, and welcome with open hearts the love He has for us in doing that. 

The First Sunday of Lent, March 5th, 2017

Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Matthew 4:1.

There is no doubt that the devil will attack us, and as often as he can he will tempt us to sin.  The devil is a mighty enemy who is not afraid to tempt Jesus, so we must expect him to assault us and we must be prepared for it.  He has been tempting humans and leading them astray for thousands of years, so he has had plenty of practice and a great deal of success.  Let us make up our minds that we do not want to be added to the devil’s table of success and that we will do what is necessary to resist his attacks.  Jesus teaches us what is necessary.

There is mystery in today’s Gospel passage from Matthew 4.  Right after His baptism in the River Jordan, Matthew tells us, ...the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him: and lo, a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Matthew 3:16 – 17.

But the next thing that happens is that the Spirit leads Him into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.  As I said, this is full of mystery.  It was, without doubt, a difficult period for Jesus.  He was, after all, fully human and, as St. Mark records, He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by the devil.  St. Luke tells us the same thing, so we know that Satan worked very hard to make Jesus fall, especially at the end of that forty days and forty nights, when Jesus, in His manhood, was an hungered.

Right there is a very important lesson for us.  Satan knows when we are in a weakened state.  It may be through anxiety, or stress.  It may be through some illness.  It may be through over indulgence in partying one way or another, or through drinking too much alcohol.  Or we may, like Jesus, be very hungry.

Whatever the reason, our guard must be up, and Jesus points us to a very important way to keep our guard up.  He illuminates the vital importance of the word of God, and He does this three times.

First, the devil tries to take advantage of Jesus’s hunger pains.  If thou be the Son of God, he says, command that these stones be made bread.  Jesus answers, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Now, I am sure that all of us will have read the entire Bible several times, but, if you are like me, you will not be able to quote that much of it.  It is wonderful to be able to quote it when the opportunity arises, but the most important thing is to have absorbed the commands and the messages and to be living by them.

Then the devil takes Jesus up to a pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, and says, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, telling Him that the angels will save Him.  Our Lord’s response – It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God

Finally, the devil takes Jesus up a very high mountain and offers to give Him all the glorious kingdoms of the world that can be seen from there, If thou wilt fall down and worship me.  At which point the devil was really pushing his luck, and he hears the response, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him alone shalt thou serve.

In each of these responses, Jesus is pointing us to the vital fact that the Holy Bible is nothing less than our armour against the attacks of Satan.  There can be no better reason, can there, to visit the Bible, especially the Gospels, often.

Actually, there is a better reason, although it does not take away one jot of the importance of putting on the armour of God to shield us from the evil one.  In the Confession in our Daily Offices are the words, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.

The path to righteousness is clearly laid out in the Bible, as Jesus so brilliantly illustrates in His responses.  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.  And, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him alone shalt thou serve.  The Bible, especially the Gospels, tell us the things we ought to do.  God never forces us to do them, but the devil is all too often trying to stop us from doing them.

The choice is ours, and the right choice is very obvious – choose the way of God because when we are doing the right things we are not sinning.  That is what Jesus did and we have o be profoundly thankful for that.  His victory over Satan was  real, as it had to be for Jesus to be our Saviour.

But Satan did not leave Jesus alone.  After He left the wilderness the temptations continued for the rest of His life.  So He had to utter those harsh words to Peter, Get thee behind me Satan: thou art a stumbling block unto me.  (Mt.16:23)  Then, shortly before His betrayal in Gethsemane, He tells His Apostles, Ye are they which have continued with Me in my temptations. Luke 22:28.

That alone tells us that Satan will not give up on us.  Unlike Jesus, who was pure within and could only be attacked fro without, we are blighted with the frailty of being fallen man, making it possible for Satan to use those inner weaknesses to plunge us into sin.

But remember always that Jesus was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1John3:8)  He is our constant help to resist the devil.  The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted.  Heb.2:18.  And St. James tells us, Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  We can conquer sin through the triumph of God’s grace, present in us and working in us.

Let us learn from Holy Scripture as much as we can about God and His inestimable love for us.  And let us always be ready to draw on the help of our Beloved Lord to drive the tempter away.  As someone once said, Get thee hence Satan; thou hast no part in me; my part is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ash Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast.  Matthew 6:17 – 18.

The Book of Common Prayer designates two days in the Christian Year as major fast days.  They are today, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday.  You may remember that on Sunday I said that Lent is not a season of misery and I referred to Dr. F.W. Farrar, who, in his book The Life of Lives, points out that self inflicted miseries are not the way to grow in righteousness.

Now, a day of fasting need not be a day of misery and it is worth doing if we are physically able to do it.  But we must also have the right things in mind.  For example, God reminds us in Zechariah 7:5 that He should be the reason we fast, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, did ye at all fast unto me? 

Jesus is really stressing this in the verse I quoted from Matthew 6, But thou, when thou fastest, anoint they head and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast.  In other words, we should fast quietly, secretly and as a private mark of dedication to God.

There are many references to fasting in the Old Testament.  For example, David fasted when his child was sick, and Daniel fasted when he sought special light from God.  In the New Testament we also find numerous references to fasting.  Paul and Barnabas fasted when they appointed elders in the churches.  They prayed with fasting and they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed.  Acts 14:23.  And in Matthew 4:2, we read that Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness.

However, nowhere in the New Testament are we commanded to fast.  It is our choice to do so, and we must do it as Jesus tells us, quietly, secretly and with no ostentatious claims or showing off.  In our hearts we should be doing it for love and respect for God, laying up our treasures in heaven, as Jesus also tells us.

It is a simple fact that this Lenten season offers us a prolonged, daily opportunity to lay up our treasures in heaven.  Repent, said John the Baptist, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  So each day we need to examine ourselves with the utmost honesty, confess our sins to God and express our sincere sorrows for them to Him.  A broken and a contrite heart is encouraged and is very important.  If we find we are not sorry we must acknowledge that we need to seek God’s help for true penitence.  Then, when we have confessed and done all we can to wipe out any consequences of our wrong acts, let us forget about them altogether.

Brooding about our sins focuses our attention on this world.  That is dangerous because, as William Temple pointed out in a sermon to Repton School, In all of us there is an evil far deeper seated, which reveals itself not in the wrong things we do, but in the right things which we leave undone.  We are not providing good service, Christian service, to the world around us, and we are most certainly not laying up treasures in heaven.

 So then, if we choose to fast, let us make sure we are doing it not because we have been led to believe that it is a rule of the Church, but because it is an act of respect and love for God.  A very private and personal act directed towards that treasury in heaven. 

Rules devised by humans are ineffective in bringing us to our heavenly home.  What we really need is the maximum influence of Jesus Christ in our daily lives.  Genuine repentance opens our hearts to that influence.  It allows us to love God without restrictions.

What shall I do to be saved? Said a young man once to St. Augustine.  The Saint replied, Love God; and do what you like.  For if we love God, what we like will be the right thing.  That is a quote from William Temple’s sermon to Repton School.

So in this Lenten season, let us not get tied up in rules and regulations.  Let us wake up each and every morning determined to reach out for the loving hand of Jesus Christ and spend our day in His company and His service.  Lent, and every other season of the year will then bring us eternal peace and joy.

Quinquagesima Sunday, February 26th, 2017

For He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on; and they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again. St. Luke 18:32–33.

Throughout His earthly life Jesus knew that it would end painfully and in a storm of contempt for Him from so many of those men and women who lived in and around Jerusalem.  He knew that His own Jewish leaders would deliver Him to the Gentiles, who would commit all those disgusting acts against Him – mocking Him, spitefully entreating Him, spitting on Him and, after scourging Him to the point where many men would have died, nailing Him to the Cross.

As we enter the penitential season of Lent it is a good idea to keep in mind what Jesus endured, and why.  He did not bring it upon Himself.  He died upon the Cross for our salvation.  Nothing is so important to us as believing in Jesus, acknowledging Him as our Saviour and as our Lord.  Intimately linked with those things has to be our recognition of our own sinfulness.  Lent is the season of the Christian year in which we are encouraged to root out and acknowledge our sinfulness and bring our specific sins to the foot of the Cross.

But Lent is not a season of misery.  It should be a season of hope, and of quiet, internal joy.  Jesus says, And the third day He shall rise again.  He was victorious over death, and He, our Risen, Living, Lord offers us victory over death.  So the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us in chapter 2:14, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.

And St. John, in his first Epistle, chapter 3, repeats that message: For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

As I said last week, the devil is never far away and tries very hard to separate us from Christ.  But if we believe in Jesus and walk with Him, the powers of the devil become insignificant.  That is an important enough reason to believe in and love Jesus.

How we practice that love is another matter.  Dr. F.W. Farrar, who was Dean of Canterbury around the turn of the 19th Century, included some interesting thoughts on this in his book, The Life of Lives.  He points out that self inflicted miseries are not the way to grow in righteousness, contrary to what happened in many monasteries, for example, over many centuries.  He writes, The anguish Christ endured for our sakes was not self sought.  Though voluntarily endured as an inevitable portion of His great self sacrifice, it was inflictedon Him by the wickedness of men and could not have been avoided except at the impossible cost of swerving from the path of duty and righteousness.

Dr. Farrar also says, The notion that mirth and pleasure are in themselves sinful is an idle superstition.  The cross we are to take up is not one of our own devising, but only the cross which God may see fit to lay upon us.  Nor must we forget that all sorrow which is not self-sought and not self-inflicted has its own boundless and eternal consolations.  Whatever cross we are given to bear in this life must come from God.  We are not able to design one ourselves in the hope of satisfying what we may imagine to be the desires of God.  He knows our needs and we must leave it to Him to look after them.

Jesus suffered and died for us, but as He reminds us, on the third day He rose again.  Soon after that He ascended into heaven and there He reigns in glory.  Our greatest desire should be to join Him there – a desire which grows from, and along with, truly believing in Him.

St. Paul reminds us in the Epistle to the Romans, It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who also maketh intercession for us.  Christ’s love for us never fades away.  His willingness to help us never fades away.  He was raised up on that Cross to draw us to Him – And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.  He refers to His crucifixion as His glorification, The hour is come, that the Son of Man should be glorified.  John 12:23.

Please, let us enter the season of Lent with our hearts set on Jesus Christ, our glorious Lord, and throw out any misery we attach to our human condition.  Flagellating ourselves, physically or mentally, is not in compliance with God’s wishes.  He knows our needs and He knows far better than we do how to deal with them. 

In 1639, Bishop Reynolds wrote this: If we want power, we have the power of the Cross; if wisdom, we have the wisdom; if peace we have the peace of His Cross.  Thus is Christ crucified a treasure to His Church, full of all sufficient provision both for its necessity and delight.

Lent is not a season of misery or self flagellation.  Penitential it must be, but penitence is an essential part of believing in Jesus Christ, and genuine belief in our Lord and Saviour can only bring internal peace and joy.

Septuagesima Sunday, Feb.12th, 2017

Take that thine is and go thy way.  I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own.  Mt.20:14 -15

God and God alone holds the keys to His heavenly kingdom.  We need to remember that, and to bear in mind that it is God who decides who will enter His kingdom.  It is God who will call us into His service and He will do that as and when He wants to.  We must be alert for and recognise His call, and then serve Him as faithfully as we can in whatever way He leads us to serve.  This may be as simple as expressing privately our devotion to Him and spending time with Him, through and with His Holy Bible.

As we enter this season of three Sundays leading up to the beginning of Lent, our attention should turn to repentance.  That is the true start to serving God – recognising our sinfulness, acknowledging it before Him and seeking His forgiveness.  Fortunately we are blessed with a most merciful God, as the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross demonstrates so clearly.

That call to repent, that call to God’s service, may come at any time in our lives.  With Timothy, for example, it came early, and he laboured in the Lord’s vineyard for 40 or 50 years.  Contrast Timothy with the thief crucified beside Jesus.  That man repented very late.  When the other thief made an impertinent deman, If thou be the Christ save thyself and us, the other rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God? and he pointed out that Jesus, hath done nothing amiss.  And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

The man showed signs of repentance, acknowledging his own sinfulness.  And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39 – 43)

This man’s sin undoubtedly exceeded anything that Timothy might have been guilty of.  But, as J.C. Ryle says, ...the whole tenor of the Gospel leads us to believe that both these men are equally forgiven before God.  Both are equally washed in Christ’s blood, and clothed in Christ’s righteousness.  Both are equally justified, both accepted, and both will be found at Christ’s right hand at the last day.

What a reminder that is that salvation cannot be obtained by works.  It is so sad that so many convince themselves that if they do what they think are good things they will earn a place in heaven.  Wrong!  We can never put God in debt to us.  The right way involves a repentant heart full of love for God and a faithful commitment to do what He calls us to do.  And then we should keep in mind what Jesus said to His Apostles, ...when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

In those words our Lord is reminding us once more of the importance of humility.  When God calls us, we do what He leads us to do but never should we let pride tarnish our duty with any thoughts that we are doing it exceptionally well.  We may be doing so, but the glory belongs to God.

Especially dangerous is allowing ourselves to think that we are righteous, because in comparison with God, we are not.  But we must always seek God’s help to grow in righteousness.  We cannot do it alone!  Isaiah reminds us of this in 61:10, I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robes of righteousness

In the Gospels Jesus lays out for us how to respond to God’s call and become clothed in righteousness.  For example, just before we learn of the Lord’s Supper we hear Him say this: Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in?  or naked and clothed thee?  or when saw we thee sick, or in prison and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done in unto me.

So often God’s call comes to us from the Bible.  We should turn to that precious volume often if for no other reason than to tune our inner ears to His call.  And we should receive that call with joyful thanks, whether it comes in the early morning of our lives, or at noon, or in the evening.  That is the choice of God and only of God.  God alone holds the keys to His heavenly kingdom.

The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, Feb.5th., 2017

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man which sowed good seed in his field.  But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat.  St. Matthew 13:24 – 25.

In the parable we read today Jesus lays before us a simple reality – good and bad will always exist side by side.  This applies even to the Church, the Body of Christ, and it will be that way until the end of the world when Jesus comes again.  That is the picture Jesus paints for us, the pure wheat – the believing Christian, will be intermingled with “tares” – those who do not really believe.  Amongst the converted will sit the unconverted.

Jesus tells us that this is no accident.  He says, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat.  Satan hates the Church.  He hates the idea of any one of us receiving the salvation of Jesus Christ.  It is a fact that should terrify us, that Satan all too often accomplishes his evil objective.  But it does not have to be that way because Jesus is far more powerful than Satan and His might shines through His love for us.

Now I am going to share with you some information which comes from a sermon preached, as far as I can tell, between WW1 and WW2 by Walter Maier, a Lutheran pastor.

Early in the 20th Century there lived in the UK a man called Dr. Cyril Joad, described as “a noted University of London Professor of Philosophy and Psychology”.  He confessed himself to be a “derider of religion, a misleader of youth and an enemy of the Church”.  This man was highly honoured in Britain and abroad, but he seems to have been a hard working emissary for Satan.  He ridiculed the Biblical teachings of God and dismissed heaven and hell as fairy tales.  He pronounced barbed, blasphemous sarcasm against our Saviour and His followers.

This went on for years and Joad built a sizable following of atheist writers, who accepted, for example, Joad’s position that sin is accidental and incidental.  Then, and I don’t know how this happened, Professor Joad met Jesus and became a changed man, so much so that he shocked the scientific and sceptical world.

He reversed his position on sin, stating instead that man is evil from his first breath and that “The Christian doctrine of original sin expresses a deep and essential insight into human nature.  The renewed man stated that he placed his hope in, “the Christian doctrine that God sent His Son into the world to save sinners”.

Now we come to the point in Joad’s story which relates most closely to today’s Gospel reading.  His new understanding led him to state this: “Since it is impossible to live a Christian life alone, let alone to worship God by oneself, the next step was to join a corporate body for Christian worship, to return, in fact, to the bosom of the Church, and to set one’s feet on the path that leads to heaven”.

That quotation is worth taking to heart.  Of course we must spend time privately praying to and worshipping God.  But Jesus Christ established His Church so that we could come together and worship Him collectively in groups.  There, in amongst the pure wheat we will find those tares.  They will not be shouting against Christianity like Professor Joad did before his conversion.  But they will be bad and potentially dangerous.  Those tares are sown by the devil and as such they can be nothing but dangerous.

However, Jesus cautions us against trying to weed them out, Lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.  What we should do is set the best possible example by our own Christ-inspired conduct and leave the tares to Jesus.  First of all we need to be extremely careful about judging others.  Secondly we should remember those wise words of St. Augustin, Those who are tares today, may be wheat tomorrow.  Remember the conversion of Professor Joad.

Let us keep focused on Jesus Christ, and be fully determined to grow as pure wheat in His loving care.  One day He will come again, His second Advent and for far too many people, that will be a terrible event.  Among those cast into the furnace of fire will be those who were not fully faithful to Christ, the worldly, the ungodly, the careless and the unconverted, as J.C. Ryle describes them.

For those of us who remain good wheat, that day will be vastly different – we will be summoned to join a perfect Church and a perfect communion of saints Ryle says.  And St. Paul said this to the Colossians, When Christ who is your life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.  Col. 3:4.

The 4th Sunday After the Epiphany, Jan .29th, 2017

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.  St. Mark 4:37.

It is so easy to think that when we believe in Jesus Christ and decide to follow Him, our lives will become much easier and trouble free.  The short passage we read today from the Gospel according to St. Mark teaches us how far from reality such thinking can be.

The men in the boat with Jesus were His close disciples, His chosen twelve.  They, perhaps more than anyone at that time, were surely thinking that their lives would be safe and smooth.  They did not stop to consider that they had much still to learn.  So it is with us – in this life we should never think we have learned all that Jesus wants us to learn.  We should always be seeking to learn more, more about Jesus and more about how He wants us to live.

So a storm strikes the little boat, in the back of which Jesus calmly sleeps through it.  But not the twelve disciples.  They are in that boat because they have given up what had been their life styles to follow Jesus obediently wherever He went.  They were absorbed in and by His ministry and thy help whenever they can.  Their very actions, and their words, testify to their belief in Jesus and to their love for Him.

But Jesus knows that they still have much to learn, so He allows the storm to strike the boat and fill the men with fear.  When they wake Him up, He immediately calms the storm and gently asks His disciples, Why are ye so fearful?  how is it that ye have no faith?  Whenever we are with Jesus, we are safe.

So what is Jesus teaching His chosen disciples here?  First of all they are to learn a lesson most important for all of Christ’s followers: Christ’s service does not grant us immunity from storms, from troubles of one sort or another.  The true Christian should not expect a totally smooth journey to heaven.  J.C. Ryle says this: We must count it as no strange thing if we have to endure sicknesses, losses, bereavements and disappointments, just like other men.  Free pardon and full forgiveness, grace by the way and glory at the end – all this our Saviour has promised to give.  But He has never promised that we shall have no afflictions.

In fact, we should not just expect afflictions, we should welcome them.  We should be ready to thank God for them, because in them there will be lessons He knows we must learn.  And we know that if we struggle, as we surely will from time to time, our Lord is here to help us.  Our afflictions in fact help to wean us from this world and become more focused on heaven, to walk here and now more closely with Jesus Christ.

Jesus knows our needs and our weaknesses.  He lived on this earth as fully human as we are.  His body suffered the things that we suffer – hunger, thirst, pain and exhaustion.  That is why He slept on that pillow in the back of the boat.  He was simply exhausted from His ministry, and He fell asleep.  So the writer of Hebrews says of Jesus, We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. (Heb. 4:15)  On the contrary, He knows exactly what we are experiencing and all He is waiting for is for us  to turn to Him for help in complete faith that He can and will help us.

The faith of the twelve in that boat was not as solid as it should have been.  They should have known that if Jesus was sleeping through the storm, He and they would come to no harm.  And they had witnessed by then enough of His miracles to know that He possessed mighty powers.  How easily we humans forget even such things.  So when Jesus is aroused, He stands and rebukes the wind and commands the sea, Peace, be still. And the afflictions Hisw disciples are suffering, the sources of their fear, are removed.  This demonstration of Hi power, which is different from anything He has shown before, leaves His disciples shaken to their cores, but how it must have strengthened their faith!

Those three words, Peace, be still, are worth remembering when we encounter problems.  Jesus lives, reigning in heaven and full of love for us.  Yes, He will allow us to meet trials of one sort or another.  Yes, He knows that we will occasionally fall and sin.  But if we truly repent and believe in Him, He will never abandon us to any storm.

From His throne at the right hand of God, He will utter those words, Peace, be still, in one form or another, and our troubles will be calmed just like the wind and the waves were.

The 3rd Sunday After The Epiphany, Jan. 22nd, 2017

And when Jesus was come into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion beseeching Him and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy and grievously tormented.  And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. Mt.8:5-7.

We read today the first 13 verses from St. Matthew Chapter 8.  They are the kind of Gospel passage any preacher should love to see, because they abound in opportunities to preach.  I cannot imagine what depths Charles Spurgeon, for example, would have mined in this passage, but I am sure they were deep indeed.

As I have said several times before from this pulpit, there are very few redundant words in the Gospel narratives.  I would add to that that there are no redundant ideas or illustrations, and in that respect, this particular miracle is quite extraordinary.

The centurion is a Gentile, a member of the Roman army.  He is not just any member, however, but a man who, as he says of himself is, a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say unto this man, Go, and he goeth; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

We often think of the Roman soldiers, of any rank, as rough men, given to violence rather than to acts of kindness.  Their servants were really slaves and were often treated harshly.  The first lesson we learn from this man then, is, not to jump to conclusions – not to judge.  St. Luke, in chapter 7, tells us rather more than Matthew does about this soldier.  In the first place we are told that the centurion sends to Jesus the elders of the Jews, beseeching Him that He would come and heal his servant. 

Of course, it would have been perfectly possible for the centurion to have done this as a straightforward command and the elders would have had little choice but to obey.  That is not what happens, however, as Luke 7 vv 4 and 5 tell us.  And when they came to Jesus, they besought Him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom He should do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built a synagogue.

This Gentile soldier had earned the love and respect of the Jews by first showing them love and respect.  What is that but a Gospel truth – we love God because God first Loves us.  More than that, the centurion had shown respect for the religion of the Jews, even though there is no hint that he converted to Judaism. 

He built them a synagogue, and although this is speculative, it seems likely that he went to services there, at which he would hear in the ancient scriptures the Messianic prophecies.  If so, he may have suspected in what he knew of Jesus, that the Messiah had indeed arrived.   Being in contact with his surroundings was part of the centurion’s job, so he would have had excellent intelligence and would have paid attention to anything out of the ordinary.  The stories of Jesus, of his miracles, of his teaching and of the crowds which gathered around him were anything but ordinary, and so would be a feature of the regular reports the man’s informants and fellow Roman functionaries would provide him.  If he did not suspect Jesus to be the Messiah, the centurion certainly knew that He had extraordinary healing powers.

So here is a man many commentators describe as a “heathen” who lives among a conquered people, yet shows enough love and respect for their religion to build them a place of worship.  The Holy Spirit operates even in what may seem to be barren wasteland.  What great hope that should give us!  What great determination it should foster in us to use the knowledge we have to turn to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to fill us to overflowing with the guiding light of our Lord Jesus Christ!

But there is more.  It is not for himself that the centurion turns to Jesus, it is for his seriously ill servant.  All too often a servant in that position would have been turned out to die and replaced with a servant strong and capable of completing his duties.  Even today that goes on, in corporations and in homes of the wealthy. 

The centurion again shows himself to be different.  His love goes beyond a love of a strange religion – it extends to humble human servants.  This man may not be a member of what we could consider a godly religion, but he is a godly man.  The Holy Spirit works in wondrous ways, and He turns the centurion towards the great healer to obtain help for his servant.

Look at what is happening here.  The Holy Spirit has united Jew and Gentile and brought them to Jesus Christ for healing.  That in itself is miraculous and never, never, should we underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to produce good from what we may be inclined to think of as hopeless cases.

I have been guilty in the past of speaking disparagingly of Christians in other denominations, but in my work with the Persecuted Church I come across Christians of all denominations and I now know that I was utterly wrong to do that.  A Presbyterian, a Baptist, a Mennonite or a Pentecostal serving Jesus in the dirt of Africa is no less a Christian than a Roman Catholic in Ottawa, an Anglican in London or a Cardinal in Rome.  They are all united in the Holy Spirit, and if they are not it is because their Christianity is skin deep.

How often do we hear a prayer ended with the words, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God world without end.  If the Holy Spirit describes the unity of God, how much more must the same Spirit describe the unity of God’s people.

The centurion, then, has his mind on higher things in which his understanding must surely be growing; but he is also very mindful of earthly things – of the need of those around him who are less fortunate than he is.  What an outstanding example that is for Christians.  We must keep God first and foremost in our minds, but let us never lose sight of the fact that a soul dwells in a body prone to so many sicknesses and it is the duty of Christians to tend both.  We cannot afford to become so spiritual that, in the words of Charles Spurgeon, we spirit away the spirit of Christianity.  Christian charity is a holistic love, caring for body and soul in those around us who need our care.  That is why, in our Prayer Book, we have a healing service in which we lay on hands and anoint the sick.  It is why we give to the church, but also give to the Red Cross or some other organisation serving the bodily needs of those in trouble.

Look at the miracles in today’s reading; not one, but two physical healings.  The purpose of our Lord’s Incarnation was our redemption, the most spiritual of purposes.  Yet he never once turns aside from healing the physical ailments of the people around him.  Sometimes it must have looked as if He was actually in a hospital, because the sick were brought to Him in a constant stream.  The blind cried out to Him as He passed by; the lame staggered to Him on crutches; the possessed foamed at the mouth as the devils within screamed in terror at the one force they could not resist.  Even, on some occasions, the dead lay waiting for the touch of His unique power.  And Jesus healed them all.  He is the great physician.

So Jesus says very simply to the centurion, I will come and heal him.

At once, we learn two more things about the centurion; two more essential elements which make up the genuine Christian character.  We learn of his humility and of his faith.

The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof. Mt.8:8.  Roman centurions did not call others Lord unless they were aware of a reason to do so.  It is often the case that an outsider will recognise a truth which those who are completely immersed in the evidence will miss.  So it may well be that the centurion saw in Jesus the promised Messiah, and it kindled in him that remarkable humility, expressed in the statement, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.

Perhaps the man was appalled that his request would lead to an interruption of Jesus’ great works of preaching, teaching and healing.  He knew how fully occupied in these things Jesus was, how the crowds followed Him and gathered around Him no matter where He went.   Perhaps he took a good look at Jesus, poorly dressed and ill shod as He was, and thought – no way, I don’t want this man in my beautiful home!  I can certainly think of a few people who would react that way.

No, whatever the cause of his statement, there can be no doubt that the centurion’s humility was genuine.  Had it not been, had it been a cloak to achieve an end, Jesus would surely have exposed it, but the Lord’s response shows that the centurion is not feigning humility, but is acting out of it.  Jesus displays not the slightest mistrust of the Roman’s motives or actions.

In recognising that, we should also admire the courage of the centurion in bringing his request to one whose greatness he is convinced of.  Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.  What an amazing acknowledgment of the power of Jesus Christ.  What faith the centurion shows in that power.

Do we feel sometimes that our prayers are not answered?  Of course we do!  Then let us look at ourselves and ask if our approach to God resembles closely, distantly, or in any way at all the approach of the centurion.  Do we acknowledge the glory of the God to whom we pray?  Do we truly come to Him fully respecting the power He wields?

If not, we might just as well phone up our local MP and ask him or her for the same thing.  If we do not believe that God can accomplish anything we ask of Him, it is a waste of time asking.  The centurion had that faith.  He knew Jesus did not have to move one step closer to the sick servant to cure Him.  He knew that the power of the Lord can cross time and space to accomplish what the Lord wants done.

That is the kind of faith, rooted in humility, to which God responds.  In fact, if we do not have the humility which allows us, in the very depths of our being, to acknowledge the greatness of God we will never develop the faith we need to have in Him.

Even with such faith, we may not get the answer we want.  We will, however, get the answer we need.  God Loves us and He will always do for us what is in our best interests.

So Jesus does not move one step closer to the sick servant.  Remaining where He is, He says to the centurion, Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so it shall be done unto thee.  And his servant was healed in the self-same hour.    

Across time and space, the right hand of God will stretch forth to help and defend us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

The 2nd Sunday After The Epiphany, Jan. 15th, 2017

 And the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and Jesus also was bidden, and His disciples to the wedding.  John 2:1.

In the marriage service in our precious Book of Common Prayer, the first address from the priest includes this description of holy matrimony – which is an honourable estate, instituted by God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His Church.

That rather brings into perspective our Lord’s first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.  That miracle, the fact that it was His first miracle, at least the first recorded in public, and the performing of it at a wedding, speaks loud volumes about the importance of marriage.  Jesus did nothing without good reason and there at Cana we see Him adorning marriage and stressing for us the very, very high regard that God has for this institution which He created.

We should be terrified of anything which detracts from the institution of marriage because if we fail, especially as a church, to maintain and protect the essential elements deeply embedded by God in marriage, God will call us to account and we will pay a heavy price.

If we approach marriage with the respect due to something given by God, then, just as those present at Cana, we have reason to celebrate.  And again, the miraculous actions of our Lord shows us that there is nothing wrong with celebrating, at least not in the right circumstances, for the right reasons.

This was not a new idea.  Way back in the Book of Ecclesiastes, written more than 900 years before our Lord’s human birth, we read, a feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry.  Eccles. 10:19.  Jesus was not only present when people were rejoicing and wine was being drunk, He made, right there, the best quality wine for them to drink, converting water into wine.

Jesus was, in reality, promoting joy and gladness.  That is something wverey Christian should remember.  There is, or should be, a great inner joy to being a Christian, to walking in the footsteps of Jesus with our hearts set on joining Him in heaven.  If we are walking with Him we have every reason to be joyful and no reason to be miserable or sombre.  And His presence with us will help us to guard against overdoing the celebrations.  That, especially when too much wine is consumed, is courting the dangers of sin.  Jesus does not want us to do that.

But nor does He want us to hide ourselves away from the rest of society.  His disciples were with Him at that wedding feast, a great example for us.  If we do break ourselves off from the rest of society, how can we set an example of Christian behaviour?  How can we expect to find opportunities to spread the Gospel?

J.C. Ryle says, The Christian who withdraws entirely from the society of his fellow-men, and walks the earth with a face as melancholy as if he was always attending a funeral, does injury to the cause of the Gospel.  It is a positive misfortune to Christianity when a Christian cannot smile.  A merry heart, and a readiness to take part in all innocent mirth, are gifts of inestimable value.  They go far to soften prejudices, to take up stumbling blocks out of the way, and to make way for Christ and the Gospel.

When Jesus used His power to change water into wine, He did it so that the wedding guests could relax and rejoice.  That last thing He wanted was for them to get drunk and sin.  That is the barrier we must be aware of whenever we go to a feast.  We must y try always to be about our Father’s business, just as Jesus was.

That becomes easier to do when we keep in mind that Jesus Himself turned the water into wine, proving that He is very God.  As such He continues to exercise His mighty power on behalf of His believing people.  He is our Saviour!  He is our Lord!  He wants us with Him, as He said to the Father, Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.  Jn.17:24.  What exquisite words those are.

Let us never forget that miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, and let us never forget the much greater wedding feast that Jesus Himself is calling us to.  We read in Rev. 19:9, Blessed are they with are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Hear that call, believe in Jesus, the Lamb, and trust in His mighty, loving power to help you to answer His call.

The First Sunday After The Epiphany, Jan 8th 2017

Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

We are in the season of Epiphany, the season in which we celebrate the showing forth of our Lord’s glory.  As the canticle on p.25 of the BCP says, The Lord hath manifested forth his glory:/O come, let us worship.  To me, the really significant part of that canticle is O come, let us worship.  Jesus deserves all the worship we can give Him!

Those words He uttered as a 12 year old boy are truly remarkable.  Shining through them is the divinity of our Lord.  Mary had just referred to her husband Joseph as Jesus’s father, when they finally found the young boy, she said to him that she and his father had been extremely worried and asked him why he did what He did, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?.  Jesus’s response is one of the things which shows his divinity.  He gently, humbly points out that his real Father is in heaven, and he does it with the utmost compassion for Mary and Joseph, so gently that most of us would not be able to match it.

There is a great lesson for us in what he says.  When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, he taught us to begin by saying, Our Father, who art in heaven.  Our Father!  God the Father is the true father of us all and if we ever want to meet him, we must learn to treat God the Father in the same way as Jesus did, to approach Him as Jesus did and to love Him as Jesus did.

First of all we must be obedient, just as Jesus was, and that requires the humility that Jesus shows.  After this incident, as the Gospel tells us, He went back to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and went into obscurity for 18 full years.  The Gospel tells us that he was submissive to them.  He knew that he was divine, but he was submissive to his earthly parents.  That in itself was remarkable, but in doing so we see Jesus truly honouring them as the 5th commandment tells us we must do, Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord giveth thee

Then, 18 years after, at the age of 30, when his Father called him, he left behind him the humble trade of a carpenter and began to serve God through his public, earthly ministry.  This is exactly what we must do – listen for God’s call and then in his service make full use of the gifts, the talents which he has given us.  They are many and varied.  Some will be called to be nurses or doctors, given gifts through which they can care for the sick.  The important word there is “care”, care for the sick, because if doctors and nurses don’t care, they are not operating in God’s service.  I have the privilege of being married to someone who I honestly believe is the most caring person I have ever met, and it has shown throughout her career as a nurse.

Other people, others of us, will be called by God to operate as scientists, led by God to reveal the hidden secrets of God’s wonderful creation.  But they must crush their pride over what they discover and acknowledge the guiding hand of God, which has led them to those discoveries.

More of us will occupy more humble positions, perhaps fashioning furniture as Jesus did himself in Joseph’s carpentry shop.  He did that for many, many years, which teaches us that while we may think of such an occupation as humble, it was good enough for the Lord.  So we must not look down on what may be considered to be humble occupations.  And people in those occupations must remember to thank God for giving them the skills to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads. 

No matter what we are doing, it is appropriate to ask, and to ask more than once – to ask from time to time, if we are fully applying our talents to our Father’s business.  Sometimes I have cause to ask that of myself, and I am afraid I have to admit that the only answer I could give is, No, I am not.  I have recognised that too much time in every day gets wasted on trivial things.  But by revealing to me this condition I appear to have, God has reminded me that this earthly life is short and we have to treat it as valuable, and we have to put it to good use as fully as possible, and that means serving God.  Serving God in whatever way he calls us, recognising that that call may change as we go through our lives.

There are many reminders of that call in the Bible.  St. Paul in Romans 12 says this, starting at verse 1, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. A living sacrifice, says it all.  This is not a part time occupation, serving God.  It is a full time occupation in which we must dedicate ourselves, one way or another, 110% to God, and we must make sure that that dedication is holy and acceptable to God.  And the Gospels tell us so much that we need to know that it is indeed holy and acceptable to God.

St. Paul continues, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  We are not left alone in any of these things.  We will be led.  Our job is to ask in prayer the right questions. 

Jesus himself tells us, in the Sermon on the Mount, that we must be single minded about our service to God.  He says, No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.

It’s pretty crystal clear.  We have to make that choice, we have to make that decision and that decision needs to be, no matter what our circumstances, to serve God 110%. 

One thing is certain, we cannot serve God unless we love him.  Jesus teaches us that with great clarity.  We must love God as He first loves us.  That love will lead us to serving God through serving those around us one way or another.  St. Paul expresses it wonderfully in his epistle to the Galatians.  He says, in chapter 5:13, For you were called to freedom brothers. Serving God wholeheartedly is nothing less than freedom, because it separates us from the problems of this world, from the sin of this world in a very real way.  It makes us free in this life not just in the next life, when we are completely free from any of the trials and tribulations of this world.  St. Paul continues, Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

In order to love our neighbours in the right way, we do have to learn to love ourselves, and the only way we can genuinely love ourselves is by following the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, enjoying that freedom which comes from serving God genuinely, sincerely and completely.  And then we will be able to love our neighbour in the right way.

St. Paul continues with a little reminder that there are consequences to not doing this, But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Serving God is the only way really and it is the way to freedom.

So let us be sure that every day, we are, like Jesus Christ, about our Father’s business.

The First Sunday After Christmas, Jan1st.  2017

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.  Mt.1:21

I expect most of you have noticed that in the KJV of The Bible in that particular verse, Matthew 1:21, the name JESUS is capitalised.  Similarly, in v.25 it is capitalised again.  In Luke 2:21 the name is also capitalised, And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, his name was called JESUS.

In both Matthew and Luke our attention is drawn by those capitalisations to the significance of the name Jesus.  Jesus means, Saviour...thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.  That baby to whom these verses refer is God Incarnate, and He has the power of God.  It is a misconception that our Saviour saves us only from the punishment of our sins.  Yes, He does do that, but of perhaps more importance is that He can save us from the power of sin as well as from its punishment.  He saves us from sin itself here in this life as well as from the fruits of sin hereafter.  The salvation of Jesus is a present as well as a future salvation.

Small wonder the name JESUS is capitalised in those three verses of the Gospels.  The name, and the Son of God to whom it is applied, are of supreme importance to us.  Jesus is the name of Love, the pure, unbounded Love of God.  The Love which draws us to our heavenly home and which makes it possible for us to reach there.

Jesus is the very name of salvation.  As St. Peter told the Jewish High Priest and other leaders in Jerusalem, there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

All the Apostles knew and taught the importance of that name.  St. Paul, for example, in his letter to the Philippians wrote, ...God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow.  And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Phil.2:9 and 10.

He is our Lord, even as He lay wrapped in swaddling bands in that manger in Bethlehem.  What we cannot fail to see there is the beginning of that most basic of lessons He lays before us, the lesson of humility.  Humility is a lesson which radiates from Jesus from the time of His birth to His sacrificial death upon the Cross.  It is a quality we must never stop asking Him to bless us with.  Those instances where His name is written in capitals should serve to remind us not just how great Jesus is, but how weak and how low we are in comparison to Him.  Then, from that blessed condition of humility we are able to reach out to Him for His help and He will not refuse it.  Jesus tells us, For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.  John 3:17.  He is our great hope and our great helper!

We must believe in the name of Jesus, as He teaches, He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already.  Basically that is a very simple choice – believe in Jesus or don’t believe in Him.  But it is a choice which Satan and the world around us can blight with confusion.

Questions arise, like, “Why would God allow his son to be born in a stable?”  “If that really is God, why is he not in a palace, clothed in silk and fine jewellery, and surrounded by mighty lords and ladies?”  “Why did he even need to come as a baby, when he could have appeared as the most powerful of kings?”

The simple fact is that God does things His way, and we must do our best to learn the lessons He lays before us in whatever He does and however He does it.  Just think of His name in capital letters and take it from there.  Jesus is our Saviour.  He is God with us, which is what the name Emmanuel means.  He is perfect man and perfect God.  His divinity is so powerful that if we truly believe in Him, none can pluck us from His hand.

Jesus says, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  Le us make sure our belief is rock solid.  Say the Lord’s Prayer every day, and reflect on that line, Give us this day our daily bread.  Jesus is teaching us there to ask for Him.  And we have every reason to do so.

I am that bread of life.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live fore ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.  John 6:48 and 51.

When we put the baby in the manger in that context, capitalising His name, JESUS, seems the perfect thing to do.  Kneeling before Him and giving God thanks from the bottom of our heart becomes natural – and impossible to do too often.

Christmas, 2016

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him nothing was made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.  John 1:1 – 5.

Christmas is a time of great celebration.  Perhaps for Christians it is THE time of great celebration.  But let us be absolutely sure we know where the focus of our celebration should be.  Yes we should celebrate that tiny baby born in a stable in Bethlehem and laid in a humble manger.  But let us never forget who that baby really is.

St. John most certainly did not forget and so he begins his Gospel account with five of the most important verses in the entire Bible.  In the beginning was the Word, he writes, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  John reminds us there of a basic belief which has to be locked into our minds and remain there without ever being shadowed by doubt.  Jesus Christ is truly God, eternal and divine.  As He says in John 17:5, He had glory with the Father, ...before the world was.

Then John, inspired of course by God the Holy Spirit, lays out before us the immense, the unlimited power of Jesus Christ.  All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  Let me back up a little here.  In that first verse, the Holy Spirit makes it clear that there is a distinctive nature to Jesus Christ.  The Word, He has John write, was with God.  God the Father and God the Son are two distinctive persons, but they are most clearly united as the next phrase states, and the Word was God

So it was the distinct person of Jesus Christ through whom all things were made, but we can be sure that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit were just as involved in creation as was the Word, God the Son; involved in some way or another.  We don’t need to try to explain this, just accept that it is a glorious thing brought about by the Triune Godhead, through the Second Person, God the Son, Jesus Christ.

All this is really very complicated and it is enough, I believe, to accept it simply as great Biblical truth, and not stress ourselves out in trying to unravel it.  Especially when we realise that there is even more to that baby in the manger.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  Jesus is, as J.C. Ryle puts it, The eternal fountain from which alone the sons of men have ever derived life.  Whatever spiritual life and light Adam and Eve possessed before the fall, was from Christ.  Whatever deliverance from sin and spiritual death any child of Adam has enjoyed since the fall, whatever light of conscience or understanding any one has obtained, all has flowed from Christ.

Sadly, for far too many human beings, the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.  In other words, the light of Christ shines perpetually, but the dark hearts of fallen men are unable to recognise it.  Far too many human beings ae incapable of recognising the light of Christ for what it is – the very beacon of salvation.

There is too much to the Word, so much that we will never come to know in our earthly lives.  But there is also so much to the Word that we must welcome, give thanks for and rejoice in.  There is so much that we must believe in and we must ever seek to learn more and grow ever closer to Him in faith.

Jesus, the Word, became flesh and in His full humanity He feels all the temptations, all the despair, all the pain that we feel.  But He remains Almighty God and He can, and wants to, help us through all our trials.

Jesus, the Word, became flesh, and in His full humanity He set before us the one, perfect example of how we should live our lives.  That is the light which shines for us, the beacon we need to respond to.  The baby in the manger is exquisitely beautiful.  The rewards which come from faithfully responding to that bright, bright beacon are even more beautiful.

Jesus, the Word, became flesh, and in His full humanity He offers us a different vision of ourselves.  If God the Son could take upon Himself a body like ours, surely that makes it something we should regard as precious.  We should take care to prevent it from being defiled by sin.  We should seek God’s help to respect ourselves enough to grow ever closer to the likeness of Jesus Christ.  Jesus took His human body up to heaven.  That is where He wants us to be and where we should direct our daily thoughts and actions.

That baby in the manger is nothing less than our Saviour.  Lying there, fully human and fully God, He points us to the door of heaven, the door for which He offers us the key.  Let us welcome Him, worship Him and set our hearts to walk with Him every step of the way ahead.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 18th, 2016

And this is the record of John when the Jews sent priests and levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?  And he confessed, and denied not: but confessed, I am not the Christ.  St. John 1:19.

St. John the Baptist is spoken of by Jesus Christ in what I can only describe as glowing terms.  He says, Among men born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.  Mt.11:11.  And in the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus describes the Baptist as a burning and a shining light.

I have absolutely no doubt that a most important factor in allowing John the Baptist to rise to such high stature in the eyes of his Lord was his humility.  He was blessed by God with the grace of being truly humble in spirit.  He is a great example for us with respect to humility.

In the passage we read this morning John is approached by a group of priests and Levites sent to him by their leaders.  These men were sent to get definite answers on John, such that the Jews could honour him.  Art thou Elias? They asked, and, Art thou that prophet?  Such questions, coming from what was a formal delegation sent from the Sanhedrin with the authority to seek answers, show the willingness of the Jewish leaders to exalt John.

But the answer they received, from the very man to whom thousands were flocking to be baptised, was an answer showing the extraordinary humility which pervaded John’s heart and soul.  I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

Out of that humility came John’s great obedience to our God.  He was living alone in the wilderness, clothed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey when God called him.  ...the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  Luke 3. 2-3.

Thousands of people came to him, people of all rank and social stature, but his humility remained intact.  When it was revealed to him that people were asking whether he were the Christ John’s response was emphatic; I indeed baptise you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.  Luke 3:16.

That was the voice of one crying in the wilderness and making straight the way of the Lord!

It is a simple fact that without the grace of humility we will not recognise our unworthiness and we will not turn to God to help us to grow in holiness.  As Frances de Sales wrote in his book, Introduction To The Devout Life, To receive God’s grace our hearts must be empty of pride.  The greatest saints have always honoured humility above the other moral virtues.

de Sales, and all those great saints, were surely aware of our Lord’s own teachings .  For example, He begins His parable of those invited to a wedding feast with the words, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room.  And He concluded the parable with, For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Luke 14. 8 and 11.

The parable of the Pharisee and the publican going into the temple to pray is perhaps even more impactful.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God I thank thee that I am not like other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.  I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.  And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful unto me a sinner.  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Remember now that John the Baptist came to make straight the way of thte Lord.  He never lost his humility because he knew where he stood in relation to his Lord.  Next Sunday we will commemorate one of the two greatest acts of humility ever set before us; the birth of our Lord through a humble peasant woman in a humble stable.

Can we find a better reason than that to seek the grace of humility for ourselves and to make it the vital property of our daily lives?  When we rejoice  over that baby let us never forget to kneel down before Him and acknowledge Him as our Saviour, our King and the beloved Son of God.

ADVENT 1, NOVEMBER 27TH, 2016

All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek and sitting upon an ass, And a colt, the foal of an ass. Mt.21:4-5.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the period in the Christian year in which we prepare to celebrate Jesus in His Nativity.  That is one of the most joy filled days of the Christian year – Christmas Day.  Why, then, do we read a Gospel passage which marks the beginning of the end of His earthly life?  Which relates His entry into Jerusalem, there to be treated with naked hatred by the Jewish leaders and sent to His death upon the Cross?

There is no doubt that Jesus knew the words of the Prophet Zecharia.  You will find them in the 9th verse of the 9th chapter of the Book of Zecharia.  Matthew does not include all of Zecharia’s words in his passage, but the most important elements are there.

For example, Jesus is referred to as thy King which we know Him to be.  Even in that creadle in the humble manger in which He was born, His Kingship was acknowledged; firsts by the Angels, then by the shepherds, and lastly by the three Wise Men.  But His Kingship was very special.  For a start, it was not what those Jewish leaders expected and wanted from the long awaited Messiah.  Jesus was not a king who took up a sword and led armies into battle.  He was not incarnated to drive the Roman conquerors out and set the Jewish people free.  His freedom was a very different form of freedom, and His Kingship a very different form of kingship.

He was not a warrior king leading armies into battles against other armies.  He was the King who came to inspire us poor human beings to fight against Satan and sin; to consider our human failings and to turn to God for His help in overcoming them.

So, from His birth in that humble stable He shows us that all important quality of humility.  Throughout His incarnate life His actions and His teachings emphasise that vital quality.  And so He rode into Jerusalem humbly seated upon a colt, the foal of an ass.  He was not interested in claiming the throne of some human kingdom.  His is the spiritual kingdom, and it is over our hearts that He must be welcomed as our King.

In those Middle Eastern countries kings engaged in war, or preparing for it, rode around on horses.  When they came in peace they almost always rode on asses.  Jesus is the King of peace and on that humble animal, the foal of an ass, He signals loud and clear that He came, as William Barclay puts it, not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help; not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.

If we are not too sure about that message we should take a moment to consider the circumstances of His entry into Jerusalem and the courage it required.  Jesus knew that the leaders of that city hated Him.  He was well aware that they fully intended to have Him put to death and that that was within their power. 

Even bearing that knowledge He did not wait until after dark to slip into the city un-noticed.  He rode in like the King He is, And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees and strawed them in the way.  And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

Jesus knew that His death could not occur in obscurity.  It was for our redemption, born out of the Love of God for us and that mighty expression of Love had to be as visible as possible.

These are things we should reflect on during the season of Advent; things which will add glory to His birth.  St. Luke tells us a little more about our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem.  He says, And when He was come near, He beheld the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. Luke 19:41 – 42.

Those two verses make it easier to understand why we read the Gospel passage from St. Matthew on Advent 1.  The verses should encourage us to open our hearts to Jesus Christ; to see Him and love Him as our Saviour and our King.  To absorb as best we can His perfect humility.  Then, on Christmas Day there need be nothing to obstruct or obscure that wonderful message and meaning of His birth.  Then we need not fear that the things which belong to our peace are hid from our eyes. 

Hosanna means, Save now we beseech Thee!  That is God’s purpose in bringing His Son into the world.  Hosanna! is a great, meaningful and beautiful cry for us to utter frequently during this Advent season.  It is a perfect cry of acknowledgement that Jesus is our King, the only king who really matters to us.