Sermons and Readings

February 11, 2024: Readings for the last Sunday after the Epiphany

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February 4, 2024: Readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

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January 28, 2024: Readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany 

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January 21, 2024: Third Sunday after the Epiphany Readings


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January 14, 2024: Second Sunday after the Epiphany Readings and Sermon


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Sermon for All Saints’ Church, January 14th 2024

The internet, as many of us know, is a distracting thing, with an almost infinite capacity to waste our time. Used wisely, however, it can also free up our time, saving enormous amounts of time and effort that we used to spend on routine tasks.

This thought came back to me when my phone randomly re-connected me to a documentary piece on the BBC which I had first viewed several months ago. It was entitled “why are the Dutch so direct?” I stress that this was not an exercise in xenophobia: most of the speakers interviewed were either Dutch linguists or cultural commentators themselves, or people who had lived in the Netherlands. The point made was this: if a Dutch person disagrees with you, they will tend to tell you so, rather than saying “that is interesting … let me think about that”.

Well, I have many Dutch friends: in fact, I published with a Dutch publisher two years ago. I have encountered both helpful, sincere directness and straightforward rudeness, and have learned (I think) to tell them apart from each other.

The story of Nathanael from John’s Gospel reminded me of this exploration of the Dutch way of speaking. For here, Nathanael is another direct, straightforward person who says exactly what is in his mind. Nathanael may, in fact, be a symbolic person rather than a historic figure. He represents guileless, honest, forthright embodiment of Israel: he says what he thinks and doesn’t care what anyone else might feel. Hence, we hear his comment when Philip tells him that he has found the promised Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he replies. Jesus recognizes this forthrightness, and admires it. He reveals, not for the last time, that he knows what kind of person he is dealing with, and sees the good that is in that honesty and directness. How refreshing not to meet someone who double-talks! What a relief to find someone who doesn’t try to talk Jesus into trouble!

And then, suddenly, Nathanael equally directly recognizes Jesus for who he is, with greater certainty and conviction than most people in the Gospels. Jesus finds Nathanael’s directness mildly amusing, and responds, as he so often did, with gentle sarcasm. “You think my recognizing you under a tree was amazing? You really have seen nothing yet.”

The story of Jesus and Nathanael is, like the best parts of the Bible, a story about recognizable real people, their emotions, and how they react with each other. God knows how to be present in the everyday interactions of life.

But do we recognize God in the everyday interactions of life? You wouldn’t expect the Bible to be full of stories where God conceals the divine presence, where life seems to go on its ordinary way as though God were not present.

Yet that is exactly the background to our first reading from Hebrew Scripture. The author goes out of the way to stress that this was a time when “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” This was an ordinary time, not a crisis time. It was one of those times when life just seemed to go along as normal. In those circumstances, it was easy to assume that the everyday business of living would go on without interruption.

A few weeks ago, we heard a reading from Zephaniah which expressed a warning about those same kinds of times (though at a different period): in Zephaniah 1:12 we read about “the people who rest complacently* on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm.’”

In other words, the story of the child Samuel happens in a time when it looks as though God is not paying much attention. Eli, we are told, has not restrained his children when they spoke disrespectfully about God.

And, we are also told, the impression that God is not noticing is an illusion. God is absolutely paying attention, but does not always make that attention obvious.

The sons of Eli believed that what they said about God did not matter. Some of Paul’s followers in Corinth seem to have believed that since the religious life was lived in the spirit, what they did with their bodies did not matter.

You may have found that rather bleak passage from I Corinthians a little lacking in the compassion that we hope to find in scripture. What Paul was actually saying is that we should treat the human body as just as sacred as the soul. Our whole lives, our whole being, can be part of our life of worship. Paul may not have chosen the best of words (sometimes he just didn’t – look at II Corinthians for that); but the message is in the end meant to be a positive one.

There is something of a legend among amateur historians of Puritan names that some poor children were inflicted with the name “Flee-fornication” as a reference to verse 18 of the reading that we heard. I have to say that after a few decades of working in religious history, I personally have not come across anyone so abused as to be given that as a baptismal name: though some of the slightly less bizarre ones, such as Praise-God, Fear-God, and Accepted are quite real.

God notices what we do, even when, as is our normal experience, there are no extraordinary voices of prophecy warning us against our recklessness.

There is a particularly dangerous form of assuming that God is not listening. That is the assumption that we can speak for God; that we know the will of God so perfectly, that we can decide which commands to receive and to ignore.

Some people nowadays believe that so long as they hate those things and those people whom they disapprove of – and whom they assume God also disapproves of – then they are Christians. They need not worry about caring for the needy, welcoming the stranger, showing compassionate love for the outcast, or any of the things which Jesus explicitly, repeatedly, taught by both word and example.

Let me say clearly: the Gospel is not a political slogan. It does not compress itself to fit in the small minds of human ideologies. The Gospel continually challenges us to be real, to be honest with ourselves, to be guileless and frank as Nathanael was. There is no sin that Jesus condemns so explicitly as hypocrisy. And how many times in this day and age do we hear ethical values manipulated for ideological and partisan advantage, by those who do not live by those values?

But let’s keep it real. Will God intervene as he promised to do in the story of Eli, saying “I am about to do something … that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle?” Will God, as Zephaniah described, “search Jerusalem with lamps, and … punish the people who rest complacently?”

We have learned down the ages to be a little more subtle than that. Church history is littered with episodes when human beings thought that they could call on God to vindicate their warnings, and the dramatic divine intervention did not happen – or at least, did not happen in that way.

For I firmly believe that injustice ultimately brings its own recompense. Endless anger leads to futile embattlement and isolation. Those who suppose that their lives would be perfect, if only everyone they disliked were somehow done away with, are doomed to a lifetime of frustration and disappointment. The universe does not, after all, revolve around them and their prejudices.

Listening to some of today’s politicians who spend all their time ranting against wrongs which they either exaggerate or just imagine, I hope that they are putting on an act. I really do – otherwise I am so deeply sorry for them.

And conversely, I firmly believe that love builds its own spaces. Of itself love cannot conquer structural poverty, endemic inequality and prejudice, environmental destruction, or climate change. But love can build communities in which we begin to address these questions seriously and with hope. The love that makes all things possible is, quite literally, the work of the Spirit of God among us.

It will not happen immediately. You will, I am sure, recall that Martin Luther King, whom we remember at this season of the year, was hopeful but realistic. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Those words were uttered in the National Cathedral nearly 56 years ago. There has been remarkable progress; and one of the signs of that progress is a holy impatience with the amount of justice work that still remains to be done.

That is the space where God speaks. God speaks in the call to us to recognize, and then to share, that there is a better way to live. The wonderful thing about living in the Spirit of the loving God is that it is self-reinforcing, it creates its own space, it is its own reward. We have to listen: to calm all of our own noise, and just listen, and then to respond.

“Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”









January 7, 2024: The Baptism of Our Lord Readings

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December 31, 2023: First Sunday after Christmas

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December 24, 2023: Christmas Eve

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December 24, 2023: Fourth Sunday of Advent Readings

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December 17, 2023: Third Sunday of Advent Readings

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December 10, 2023: Second Sunday of Advent Readings

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December 3, 2023: First Sunday of Advent Readings

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November 26, 2023: Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Readings

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November 19, 2023: Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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November 12, 2023: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints’ Ivoryton November 12 th 2023

We are rapidly approaching the end of the Church’s year and the beginning of a

new annual cycle of scripture readings with the First Sunday of Advent, which

begins on 3 rd December.

It seems as though today’s readings are already anticipating the Advent themes of

preparation, both for the celebration of the Nativity, and for the Second Coming

of Christ as foretold in our creeds.

If you are mildly uncomfortable with the language of Second Coming, please be

reassured that you are not alone: I for one also feel a little discomfort, and also a

duty to make the best use that we can of this aspect of our heritage.

Scholars believe that the First Letter to the Thessalonians, to the church at

Thessalonica in northern Greece, may have been one of the first of Paul’s

surviving letters to be written. It has been dated to the very early 50s of our era,

so less than twenty years after Jesus’s ministry.

You will all be aware, I expect, that following Paul’s life-changing encounter with

Jesus on the way to Damascus, he and the first followers of Jesus almost certainly

all expected to see Jesus return in his glory within a relatively short time. When

that message had been preached in all the communities of Paul’s mission, there

was an eager sense of anticipation. And then, as time passed, some of those who

were awaiting Jesus’s return had died. What, the churches wondered, would

become of them?

Paul wrote this dramatic foretelling of the Second Coming essentially out of a

spirit of gentle, pastoral reassurance. Don’t worry, he says: when Christ comes

again, first will come the resurrection of his deceased followers, then the

exaltation of the living followers to meet the returning Jesus.

Reassuring those who might grieve about the destiny of their friends was Paul’s

objective. But of course, with the passing of time, the focus in Christian thought

has shifted towards the second part of Paul’s foretelling, the sketch of what it will

be like for the living believers to “be caught up in the clouds together with them

to meet the Lord in the air.” This passage is one very fragmentary biblical passage

on which the whole complicated architecture of the so-called “rapture” has been

built up.

But even from almost the beginning of the church, it has been necessary to warn

people that they should not live as though this life was provisional, as though

waiting for something to happen. Live fully, the followers of Jesus were told, live

your best life by supporting and loving each other. Let the coming of Christ look

after itself.

In his later letters, Paul turned this “waiting time” into a vital theological principle.

Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, the powers of evil have been

conquered. The arc of history is not in doubt. It tends irresistibly towards God’s

loving plan for the restoration of all things in Christ. And, at the same time, while

we know that the ultimate victory of God’s plan is not in doubt, we live in a world

where that victory is not yet visible – or at least it is only partly visible. The

powers of hatred, anger, distrust and violence are still thrashing around. That was

true in the first century as much as it is true now. The challenge to people of faith

is to live into an imagined future while being realistic about living in the here and

now.

That brings us to today’s Gospel. I wonder if you find the story of the wise and

foolish bridesmaids (or as the Greek text calls them parthenoi, traditionally

rendered as “virgins”) a little bewildering?

This story, which appears only in Matthew, must have made sense to those who

heard it. Yet it is puzzling. Why is the bridegroom not at his wedding feast

already? Where is the bride, for a start? She goes unmentioned here. The

implication is that the young people of the community, if they turned up to give

the bridal party a torchlit welcome as they arrived home after the ceremony,

would be invited in for free food and drink. Incidentally, the word “parthenoi”

translated as bridesmaids in the NRSV and virgins in the KJV, had an extremely

imprecise meaning in antiquity. It could mean young people, unmarried people,

even women who had not yet given birth, as well as those who were virginal in

the sense that we understand it. At any rate, these were young people who would

be supporters of the newly married – the kind of people to whom bouquets are

thrown in our own culture.

So they need to play their part and light the couple home, or they don’t get the

free meal.

That, of course, is an extended metaphor. Jesus – or Matthew – is telling the

hearers that no matter how long we have to wait for the coming of Christ, we

must continuously live in such a way as to be prepared – morally, spiritually,

emotionally prepared – to meet with the Jesus whom we worship.

This could sound like a recipe for infinite, eternal frustration. I fear that it must be

so for some of those who take the Book of Revelation as a kind of roadmap to the

end of time, and feel dismayed when the “imminent” Second Coming fails to

materialize.

A few years ago, I read the doctrinal statement of an evangelical school called

Liberty University. At that time, students and all other members were required to

sign on to the statement that “We affirm that the return of Christ for all believers

is imminent. It will be followed by seven years of great tribulation, and then the

coming of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom for a thousand years.” In the

current doctrinal statement, which may or may not have superseded that form

(the website is not clear) this claim is absent.

I am not here in the business of criticizing the faith of others (though I definitely

disagree with some of the very narrow and unloving ethical principles which they

derive from that faith). What I want to do here is to suggest to us that waiting,

with an air of frustration, for the signs of the Second Coming is missing the point,

and it is missing something absolutely wonderful.

Jesus, and Paul, seem to be saying by their acts and their teachings, that we

should live our lives in the confident faith that Jesus has conquered the forces of

evil in the world. With that confidence, we are called to trust, absolutely, that

doing the best we can, being the most loving people that we can be, is absolutely

and eternally worth it.

It would be so easy to be the opposite, would it not? If you wish to look for

reasons to be discouraged and pessimistic, there is plenty of raw material out

there.

Across the world, there are peoples who utterly refuse to allow their neighbours

who are different to live in peace alongside them. And as a result, everyone

suffers. We see that in Ukraine, and we see it in Gaza. The consequences of that

refusal, in the seeds and the fruits of hatred and violence, make it very difficult for

anyone in those tormented situations to rise above the hate and to seek peace.

And in our own countries – yours and mine – politicians and media figures do the

most they can to arouse fear and hatred of those coming into the country from

outside, who are in some way seen as threats to the traditional way of life of our

host countries. Is our way of life were so fragile, so unattractive to a minority who

came to live with us, that it could not withstand being shared with others?

The Gospel calls us to do much, much better than fear and distrust. And the most

vitally important thing about that, is that the same Gospel tells us that it is always,

eternally, worth doing much, much better. To live by the principles of sacrificial

love, of limitlessly including and welcoming those who are different, is not a naïve

and pointless waste of time. It is living into the incoming kingdom of God.

Remember how our Gospel begins: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like

this.” Endless readiness, endless preparation for a better world, means living as

though that better world is already here – and knowing that, in a sense, it already

is.

We are not called to frustration that Christ is not here yet. We are called to

rejoicing, welcoming, embracing the possibilities that our life in the foretaste of

the kingdom of God brings us.


November 5, 2023: Festival of All Saints 

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October 29, 2023: Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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October 22, 2023: Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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October 15, 2023: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

September 17, 2023: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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October 8, 2023: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints’ Ivoryton, October 8th 2023


One of the problems about writing sermons for every week in this Pentecost

season is that sometimes one unintentionally steals material from future weeks.

Two weeks ago, on 24th September, you may recall that I preached on the parable

of the laborers in the vineyard.

I tried then to explain what vineyards meant to Jesus’s hearers. Vineyards were a

familiar metaphor in the prophets and the Psalms for the people of Israel, as they

are here. That sermon quoted the celebrated “song of the vineyard” from Isaiah 5.

My original text also included a quotation from Psalm 80, but I left that out, in

order not to overload the text with scripture passages.

Two weeks later, our readings for today include – of course – Isaiah chapter 5 and

Psalm 80, with their very powerful “vineyard” passages. Oh dear, I have already

used at least one of those texts. Repetition is always a risk in preaching sermons,

but I don’t want to repeat myself any more than can be avoided.

However, if one looks closely, there is a subtle and very important difference

between the “vineyard” passages in Hebrew Scripture and those in the teachings

of Jesus. I wonder if we noticed that?

In Isaiah, it is the vineyard itself – the people of Israel – who have failed to

produce good results as God expected. For that reason, the vineyard is

threatened with devastation. In Psalm 80, the vineyard is already desolate,

despite all the care that God lavished on it: it has been overrun by outsiders and

laid waste.

As is usually the case in Hebrew Scripture, the relationship between God and the

people is conceived of in terms of the governance of the whole people, and the

protection of the whole people from their enemies. The vineyard, we might say, is

a political concept.

Now look at the way that Jesus uses the metaphor of the vineyard. In all the

vineyard images which have been grouped together in this part of Matthew’s

Gospel, the vines and the grapes themselves do not seem to be the problem. They

are growing and yielding their produce just fine.

Jesus’s issue is rather with the people who work in the vineyard. Those who begin

to work early feel superior to those who are called later. One son refuses to work

there and changes his mind; another offers to work but does not. In today’s

Gospel passage, the resident workers refuse to respect the prophets and the

Messiah when they come in the name of the owner of the vineyard, who is God.

The problem, Jesus seems to be saying, lies not with the people collectively, but

with those who are entrusted with the care of their spiritual life. The problem

that Jesus identifies, again and again, is the sense of religious entitlement.

As I suggested last week, one group which more than any other embodied

religious entitlement is the high priestly caste of Judaea. The high priests probably

still looked back to their ancestors among the Hasmonaean priest-kings of the

centuries just before Herod. However, the issue here is not with a particular

group of people – certainly not Jewish believers as a whole, and maybe not even

with the high priests as a whole – but with an attitude, the attitude that “God

owes me, and the rest of you should see that”.

Let us move sideways for a moment, and look at the passage from Paul’s letter to

the Church at Philippi. Paul was powerfully aware of just how religious he was. In

the reading that we heard, he stressed that not only his membership among the

people of Israel, but his impeccable conduct as a devout practitioner of his

tradition, entitled him to be regarded as a loyal follower of the God of Israel.

And shockingly, in a way, Paul sets all those things aside. Let us be clear: Paul does

not renounce his Jewishness. There is absolutely no reason to think that he lived a

life that was any less devout according to the Law, after Jesus Christ made himself

known to Paul and changed Paul’s life. Nor does Paul suggest that sincere Jewish

believers should be any less Jewish. What he does argue, repeatedly and in many

different ways in different letters, is that what matters is faith in Christ. Faith in

Jesus the Messiah is what really transforms. All one’s sense of one’s own religious

excellence withers away, like dry leaves in autumn, in the light of Jesus’s

presence.

Jesus, also, speaks a great deal about faith. Sometimes people show such

outstanding faith that Jesus exclaims in approval. Sometimes they lack sufficient

faith when they should display it.

Jesus repeatedly praises the faith of those on the margins of religious

respectability. In Matthew chapter 8 a Roman centurion, desperately worried

about the life of a beloved servant, shows greater faith than the people of Israel.

In the following chapter a woman with continuous menstrual flow, impure

according to the Levitical code, is healed by her faith, even though she has

“contaminated” Jesus by touching his garment. In chapter 15, a woman from

Syrian Phoenicia calls insistently on Jesus to help her daughter and will not be

refused, even though she is an alien.

In each case these people brought, not their sense of entitlement – for they had

none – but their acute sense of need to Jesus. It was not even that they turned to

Jesus first: the woman with hemorrhages turned to Jesus in despair after all else

had failed. But even faith born of desperation was still faith, and could be far

more sincere, than the attitude of those who believed that they had the God

thing worked out and pinned down.

Just as a reminder, it is not just the religious elite who fail to show faith. The

disciples themselves, repeatedly in Matthew, lack trust in Jesus even after they

have been travelling with him for months and have seen all that he has done.

Peter starts to sink into the Sea of Galilee when walking on the water because his

faith wavers. The disciples cannot cure the epileptic in chapter 17 because of their

lack of faith.

For us, these passages convey a lesson which is quite a paradox, and needs to be

thought about carefully.

We are most at risk of lacking faith when we are at our most religious.

That is, if we ever feel that our regular religious practice, our prayer, our

attendance in and participation in church life, our regular receiving of the

sacrament, that these things of themselves put us in a good place with God, then

we have misunderstood what the Christian life is about.

Prayer, life in community, and the sacraments are all good and blessed things, and

please do not suppose that I am suggesting that we do any less of them. You all

know better than that. But these good and blessed things help to sustain, nurture,

and protect faith. That is why they matter: not to replace faith, but to support it.

Sometimes we shall be like the centurion or the Syrophoenician woman, where

our clamor for help in our extreme need blocks out everything else. But we do not

need to become outsiders to experience such need.

When I was growing up, there was much use made of the New English Bible, a

translation – in some ways more of a paraphrase of Scripture – which had been

exhaustively worked over by teams of scholars from the middle 1940s to the

1960s. It has largely fallen from favor since the NRSV, closer to the King James

version but modernized in respect of both language and scholarship, has become

available.

However, NEB has one moment of brilliance, where it translates the first

beatitude as “How blest are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of

Heaven is theirs”. That translation of the text traditionally rendered as “blessed

are the poor in spirit” has stuck with me down the years, and I feel there is

inspiration in it.

The vital point in that beatitude is that the “spiritually poor”, those who know

that they are not sufficient of themselves, but need God’s help, are already

welcomed within God’s realm. They do not have to aspire or struggle for anything:

the very fact that they acknowledge their need is all that God asks.

There will be times of crisis and challenge when we are compelled to

acknowledge our need of God, because of the struggles that confront us. When

we are in deep distress, we cry out for help, and God is present with us whether

we feel it or not. The challenge to faith is to keep that sense of our dependence

on our loving God when things are going well, and we may feel tempted to be

self-sufficient.

If we receive the Christ who comes to us through faith, and place our hope and

trust in that expression of divine love, then that, in itself, will make us “a people that 

produces the fruits of the kingdom.”


Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron



September 17, 2023: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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September 10, 2023: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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September 3, 2023: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings


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August 27, 2023: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints’ Ivoryton, August 27 th 2023

Who do we all think Jesus is?

Matthew’s Gospel quotes “the people” giving answers to the question which fall

in line with Jewish tradition. Jesus must occupy a place in the sequence of the

prophets. There seems to be a belief that prophetic figures may be resurrected,

or reappear in the form of another person, or like Elijah, simply reappear after

being carried up into heaven.

But Peter then says, blurts out almost, that Jesus is the Messiah, the one anointed

of God to save the people. The “Messiah” is also a profoundly Jewish concept,

built into Jewish cosmology and beliefs about the final goal of history. But to

make that claim means that Jesus occupies a unique place in the history of Israel.

He is more than just a resuscitated or reappearing prophet.

But we have to make our own answer, from our own tradition and experience.

One of the problems about this question, for me as a historian of the Church, is

that for a very long time Christian thinkers were preoccupied (and some still are)

with a different question. They have asked, instead:

What do we think Jesus is? What kind of being is he / was he?

Down the ages many and various answers have been proposed and argued for as

answers to this question.

Trying to make sense of the proposed answers brings us into a subject area called

metaphysics. Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy which tries to make rational

sense of statements about what it means for something to exist, especially

regarding spiritual existence.

Please note: there is not, in ancient Christianity, much of an impulse to say “it is a

mystery beyond our understanding, and we should believe without thinking too

hard”. On the contrary, the history of the Church is that people did think through,

maybe over-think, these questions, and often argued bitterly over the answers.

Some early movements could not accept the idea that Jesus had a material

existence. Physical body was nasty, smelly, and unpleasant, and a philosophical

person wanted to live in the spirit. Hence a “heresy” arose, known as Docetism,

which claimed that Jesus only “seemed” to have a physical body, but that in

reality he could not have eaten and drunk, been maltreated by the Romans, been

crucified and died. This idea did terrible violence to the idea of incarnation.

That “heresy” was discredited fairly early in late antiquity. Thereafter, the

majority view was that Jesus was both fully human, and also fully divine. The next

bitterly divisive question was how the divine Jesus and the human Jesus related

one to another. Various answers were proposed, and angrily debated, in the early

Christian centuries.

One idea, associated with Nestorius of Constantiople, was that Jesus had two

distinct and separable natures, divine and human.

In violent reaction against Nestorius, another group argued that Jesus had one

single nature, which in some way contained divine and human aspects. These

believers became known as “Miaphysites” which means “people who believe in

one nature.”

In the year 451 a Church Council held at Chalcedon, in an area which is now an

outer suburb of Istanbul, adopted a formula whereby Jesus had two natures,

which were indivisibly linked, but were nonetheless separate and should not be

confused with one another. The formula of Chalcedon was accepted by the main

Eastern Orthodox Churches and throughout the West, but was (and still is)

rejected by the Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, and Ethiopian churches.

Perhaps absurdly, perhaps terrifyingly, these differences in understanding Jesus’s

natures still keep these “Miaphysite” churches separate from the rest of Eastern

Christianity. A few years ago, a highly educated physician who was also a Coptic

Orthodox Christian explained how important those divisions were to him.

Then, about a hundred years ago, an enormously influential German Protestant

theologian called Adolf Harnack said that this obsession with the metaphysics of

Jesus’s being had, in fact, been a terrible distraction and a mistake. It drew people

away from what Jesus taught to an unhealthy preoccupation with what Jesus

was.

In some modern Western traditions, there is a tendency to go to the opposite

extreme. Some radical progressive Christians stress not only the humanity, but

the political engagement of the human Jesus. In this way of thinking, Jesus was a

friend and supporter of the oppressed poor in Roman-dominated Galilee and

Judaea. He identified with those who were desperately poor, and proposed a set

of values and a way of life that was subtly (and sometimes not subtly) critical of

the imperial structures of the time. “Empire-critical” analysis is extremely popular

at the moment among New Testament scholars. (I sometimes wonder if it is

dangerous if I express skepticism about it to my Union colleagues.)

My problem with this way of thinking is that focusing on the material, political

Jesus involves setting aside, not only the whole history of the Church after the

early decades post-Pentecost: it also involves setting aside most of the New

Testament. There were plenty of political-economic rebels against Rome in the

first two centuries of our era, and we know who they were. Nothing about their

movements lived after them. Jesus was mysteriously and vitally different.

However, it is a legitimate question whether we have been asking the wrong

question, “what” was Jesus, rather than the question he asked Peter and the

other disciples, “who do you say that I am”?

Who is the person, Jesus? The oldest Gospel, that of Mark, begins with the very

blunt statement “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

(Confusingly, some early manuscripts do not have the words “son of God”, but

many scholars believe that the words are nevertheless authentic.)

Most of us would, I think, say that in Jesus we are given a unique insight into the

mind and purposes of a God who is, otherwise, utterly beyond our limited

understanding. That is the message and the wonder of incarnation.

At one and the same time, Jesus brings good news, and in a sense is the good

news. He invites us to trust in the message which he brings, and to believe in who

he is.

We need always to hold these things – Jesus’s message and his core being – in

balance. The first three Gospels (especially) tell us a great deal about what Jesus

taught and did. The Fourth Gospel and all the writings of Paul focus more on the

meaning of who Jesus was, and what his ministry achieved. Yet there is plenty of

overlap: one aspect never entirely pushes out the other.

Jesus as a teacher makes claims that are, to the wisdom of the world, wildly

implausible and contrary to our expectations (think of the Beatitudes)

He says that those who suffer – not just from poverty or oppression, but

also from grief, loss, or lack of confidence – have a special place in the love

of God and can trust in that divine love for them.

 He says that the forces of power – of money, of state-sponsored violence,

of the arrogance of those in authority, of the terrifying entitlement which

sucks people into its orbit and exploits them – may seem to rule the world,

but in the last analysis they do not.

 He says that those who hold positions of religious prestige may not be

those who are closest to God, especially if they make their religious status a

matter of outward show.

How is Jesus in a position to make these counter-cultural and frankly implausible

claims? Because of who he is, shown by his ministry, his speaking “with

authority”, and the conviction, that grew among his friends after his post-

resurrection appearances, that he occupied a unique place in the very being of

God.

Nowadays many of us would not wish to argue that faith in Jesus is the only valid

revelation of God, but would affirm the divine insights of other traditions as well.

How does a more inclusive, interfaith approach affect our understanding of Jesus?

The revelation of Jesus can be added to the other ways that God has made God’s

nature known. It needs not to be rigorously exclusive; but for us who are called to

the Christian way, it will be for us the best and highest way that God is revealed.

In the end, let me offer a very Episcopalian answer. To the extent that we feel

that liturgical repetition of the creed of the Council of Nicea expresses our beliefs,

let us feel fully justified in holding on to that. And if one embraces, in addition,

one’s own personal set of questions? Let us trust that Jesus welcomes and

cherishes the fact that we actually care enough, to try to answer that same

question that Peter answered nearly two thousand years ago.

Who do you say that I am?

submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron


August 20, 2023: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost Readings


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August 13, 2023: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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August 6, 2023: The Transfiguration Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for August 6th, 2023: Feast of the Transfiguration

Why are we celebrating this commemoration on this date? Most years, we mark the Sunday of the Transfiguration at the end of the Epiphany season before the Sunday in Lent, where in a sense it “belongs” in the way that we tell the story of Jesus’s journey towards his Passion.

Essentially, we mark this day because there has been a historic commemoration of the Transfiguration at this time for many centuries. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Transfiguration was definitely assigned to 6th August in 1456. Pope Callixtus III elevated it to a Feast day in that year, when the news arrived that the Ottoman siege of Belgrade had been lifted by the Hungarian Janos Hunyadi. This was just a few years after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. There was a real fear in the West that all Christendom might be overrun, so any setbacks to that advance were seen as providential (however problematic we might find that attitude).

It was not a strong tradition in the early history of the Church of England, but was reintroduced to Anglicanism by the 1892 revision of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, and remains there.

It is only celebrated on a Sunday if 6th August happens to fall on a Sunday, otherwise it would be marked in the daily office. According to the BCP, three feasts, appointed on fixed days, take precedence of a Sunday: The Holy Name, The Presentation, The Transfiguration.

So, it is a special day in the way that we organize our worship life.

Right, that’s the liturgical geekery out of the way.

From the time of Origen in the 3rd century, the Transfiguration is believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor, a 1,900 foot mountain in the plain of Jezreel 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee. There are Franciscan and Orthodox monasteries on its summit.

Four accounts of the experience survive in Scripture: three in the Synoptic Gospels and one in the letter of Peter which we just heard. Our Gospel account for today comes from Luke. Each Gospel includes slightly different details and emphases although the basic story is the same.

Let us focus on the essential message first. By even the standards of Scripture, the event we know as the transfiguration (a Latin word invented to express the Greek word metamorphosis) was an extraordinary experience. Jesus was still in the midst of his Galilean ministry, though according to some accounts he

was reaching the end of that phase and beginning to turn his attention to Jerusalem.

This miraculous event, we are told, gave divine witness to Jesus’s unique status as the beloved son of God. Jesus is transformed – Luke’s Gospel does not say “transfigured” or “metamorphosed” but rather “became different” and glows with his own internal light.

The contrast with Moses’s appearance on the mountain when he received the Law is deliberate and emphatic. Moses’s face shone because he had been in the presence of God, and the glow on his face was so extreme that it was uncomfortable for people to look upon.

(Forgive a little digression. For centuries the passage in Exodus about Moses’s face “shining” was mistranslated in the Latin Bible used in the Western Church. The Hebrew word that our bibles translate as “shining” can be read two different ways in Hebrew. Jerome, the 4th-century translator of the Latin Bible, read it in the other possible way in verses 29 and 35, as “horned” rather than “shining”. That is why, in many medieval and Renaissance works of art – including a famous sculpture by Michelangelo –Moses is shown with little horns on his head.)

Back to the point. Moses shone with reflected light; in contrast, the glow that came from Jesus came from within. God was present, but the divine light issued from the body of the incarnate Jesus himself.

Let’s not waste time thinking how this was supposed to happen, or what the apostles and evangelists might “really” have seen. As always, focus on the meaning of the story.

Jesus embodies the power of God within his very self. And he appears accompanied by Moses, who represents the tradition of the Law, and Elijah, who represents the tradition of the prophets. In Luke’s Gospel, and only there, we read that the Moses and Elijah also appeared “in glory”.

The message is familiar. As the Gospels keep saying, Jesus taught that he was the fulfilment and culmination of the Hebrew tradition.

This insight is then confirmed by a heavenly voice. The principal other point at which such a voice is recorded is at the time of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist, where we read in 3:17:

“And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Only in John’s Gospel do we read of divine voices at other points in the story of Jesus. In the first three Gospels, God speaks and identifies Jesus as God’s own, at two critical moments in Jesus’s mission. Even so, the disciples are confused about who he really is; the rest of the world is reluctant or disbelieving.

Jesus is revealed in glory only to a select few, and even they don’t quite understand what is happening. In his ordinary ministry, Jesus teaches and heals, and calls on people to learn and draw their own conclusions. The transfiguration is there as a reassurance, but it does not take away the daily struggle of mission and proclamation.

The Gospels are true to our experience. We may experience moments of sudden enlightenment which reassure us of God’s loving presence in our lives. Those moments may come in encounter with the Bible, with the sacraments, with each other, or indeed with the creation. There are many ways in which we can be made to “glow” with the reflected light of God’s presence. But those moments do not last, and they are not meant to last. Some Christians try to stay on the mountain top: mystics and saints who have spent long lives in prayer and contemplation. Jesus prayed, profoundly and often; but he also descended from his secret places of prayer to teach, to challenge, to confront evil forces.

Blazing light can be – as it was in these Gospel stories – a symbol of the powerful presence of a loving God. It can also be morally neutral: uncountable stars across the universe blaze with light, because it is their physical nature to do so. And sometimes, blazing light can signify destruction. 72 years ago on this day, the first of two atomic bombs exploded over Japan, in attacks which brought about the surrender of an otherwise stubbornly resolute military regime.

It is not our task here to reflect on the morality of the use of these terrible weapons. At multiple times in our lifetime, these weapons came dangerously close to destroying life on our world. You and I have spent quite a lot of our lives on what, in purely human terms, has felt like a knife-edge.

And a loving God took human form, and embodied forever the sacrificial love that God shows towards all creation. That cannot change.

But as we descend from the mountain into the messy realities of life, we must always struggle to share the message of love with those who are reluctant, confused, or stubborn. There are a lot of false Messiahs out there. Some of the greatest tragedies of the past century or so arose when would-be-leaders persuaded other human beings to join a movement based on the hatred of one group of people for another – on aggressive division and difference. We see just how fallible humanity is, when so many people trust their identities and their security to utterly unworthy leader-figures.

The real threat to life lies not in our weapons of destruction in themselves (though they are bad enough) but in the shaky quality of those who might use them. Frail egos and needy self-images, among those in power, can all too easily sacrifice human life to their own self-importance.

As people of faith, of hope, and of love, we must speak, and above all we must act, so as to dissuade those around us from the reckless pursuit of security at the expense of others. We must live as though the love of God encompasses everyone, and threatens no-one. We must pray, work, and live for a more equal sharing of resources, care for the creation, and the breaking down of barriers between one people and another.

It is not easy. It was not easy for the apostles and the early Church. But the experience of Jesus transfigured, glowing with his own and God’s light, reassured them, and it is there to reassure us. As the author of 2 Peter wrote, “we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed … be attentive to this as

to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”


Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron



July 30, 2023: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for July 30th 2023, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)

We have now reached the stage in Matthew’s account of Jesus’s teaching where Jesus describes, in a series of compact and rather graphic images, the “kingdom of heaven” (which other evangelists, and Matthew himself at times, also call the “kingdom of God”.) There is no real difference between these two expressions: speaking of “heaven” when one means “God and God’s realm” was a bit like referring to “the White House” as an entity, when one means the office of the President.

But that introduces our first problem. Kings: I have one and mostly, you don’t (save for any Commonwealth passport-holders, or citizens of the European constitutional monarchies amongst us). The image of “king” can be at least as problematical, if not more so, than the image of “father”, given that the world’s experience of kings has not always, or even very much, been a good one. And relating to the imagery of kingship, when your whole political culture rests on repudiating that idea, may seem really quite a challenge.

Yet we persistently assign the title of “king” to Jesus, even though when his followers tried to make him a king in the conventional sense, Jesus ducked and dodged. Being accused of aspiring to kingship in the Roman Empire put one’s life in imminent danger.

The term “kingdom of God” was already known to some late ancient Jewish teachers and rabbis, and even in Scripture itself. According to the Wisdom of Solomon chapter 10, personified Wisdom showed a righteous man “the kingdom of God”. However, while scholars have been able to trace divine kingship in the writings of the time before Jesus, there is no doubt that Jesus, (i) used the expression “the kingdom” of heaven, or of God, far more often than anyone before him; and (ii) that he completely transformed its meaning into something very personal and very special.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what “kingship” would have meant for the Jewish people of Jesus’s time. First, kingship was something which the Jewish people had been given, and had lost. Above all it was the kingship of David, who was believed to have created a unified and expanded Israel by his military skill; and of his son Solomon, the one of legendary wisdom and discernment, and the founder of the Temple. Then it had all gone wrong: the kingdom had been divided, and one half was picked off by the Assyrians and the other a century or so later by the Babylonians. Ever since then the royal rulers of Judaea had been outsiders.

Kingship also meant priesthood. In a particular sense the king was the intermediary between the people and their God. In the later history of Judaea there had been a kind of overlap between political and religious leadership in the persons of the Hasmonean high priests. 

Then there was the kingship of the Messiah. For many Jewish believers, kingship was tied up with their hope and expectation that God would give the people a powerful and godly leader who would restore kingship, autonomy, self-government and respect to the people and the nation.

When people heard the expression “the kingdom of God”, it was almost impossible for them not to think of a worldly, political restoration of the nation, either within time, or at the end of history through God’s direct action.

That was a huge burden of expectation for Jesus to take on through his preaching; and yet, rather than avoiding it entirely because of the persistent risk of being misunderstood, he embraced the talk of the “kingdom” and transformed it.

For John the Baptist, and Jesus after him, the “kingdom” was breaking into the world. It was close; it was near at hand; it was waiting to be discovered; it was, in a sense, already among us. It just needed to be recognized.

And in parables, as I have suggested many times, Jesus intends to provoke thought, to challenge, to use powerful and often bewildering imagery to make people reflect, to get them out of their familiar thought-spaces.

What message do our Gospel passages send about the kingdom?

God’s new order seems insignificant in itself, but when it establishes itself in a place where it can grow, it will grow spectacularly, and have influence far beyond itself.

God’s new order is of unimaginable worth; the person who discovers it will feel that it exceeds in value anything else that they own.

God’s new order welcomes everyone, although, sadly, it seems that not everyone will have the grace to receive it.

God’s new order does not supersede or replace God’s former promises, but it does build on them. Teachers trained for the kingdom of heaven bring from their treasure what is new and what is old.

Here Jesus is preaching about nothing less than his own mission and his own message. The “kingdom of heaven” is what the world looks like, when it lives in the way that God intends for it to do.

That means that there are some questions that are not worth asking about the kingdom of God, because seeking answers to them leads one off in the wrong direction.

Don’t ask “where is it?” because it is not some institutional structure which has a headquarters and borders.

Don’t ask “when is it coming?” because it will not come with pomp and ceremony, like the procession of a worldly monarch, and attract everyone’s attention. It will grow silently and unnoticed.

Don’t ask “who is included?” because it is not the special property of any one group of people.

But do ask “how will it transform my life, and how can I (and more importantly, we) be ready to receive it?”

Because it rests on images and parables, there are plenty of sincere people around who try for one reason or another to reduce the kingdom of God to something easier to comprehend.

There are still those who believe that Jesus was fundamentally an insurrectionary leader seeking to free the people of Judaea from Roman imperial control. Even those who do not buy entirely into the Jesus-as-zealot interpretation still make a great deal of what they call “empire-critical” interpretations of scripture. In this view, Jesus’s kingship was an intentional challenge to the Roman emperors who claimed to be divine beings (Vespasian’s “O dear, I think I’m becoming a god!”)

In a different way, an earnest and sincere Lutheran student submitted a dissertation in which she proposed with, I thought, rather too much confidence, that Jesus’s kingdom was a sort of agricultural collective, where the poor of the land could live self-sufficiently away, from the demands of the wealthy landowning classes.

Now, there is nothing wrong in criticizing the lust for power that suffuses so much of the world’s politics, or in seeking to help the poor to lead decent and self-sufficient lives, away from the demands of those who would oppress them. But these good things will ultimately happen, if we first understand how to grow into the kingdom of God.

Jesus’s kingdom does not necessarily entail subverting or destroying the existing political order, nor does it mean escaping to a utopian community outside the normal social order.

It means something bolder: transforming from within the societies we all live in. It means, among many things, being the tiny amount of yeast which transforms the flour in the whole large loaf that is human life.

The kingdom exists in and alongside the social systems and structures that the world lives by. It is something which happens when faithful people gather together and live for each other. When we meet together in the name and in the service of Jesus Christ, we become a part of the kingdom. We become

some of the yeast in the dough.

Finally, the kingdom is a gift, not an achievement. It is the work of the God who took human form and lived among us. The kingdom is the living embodiment of that continuing gift and blessing. So we don’t design a kingdom for God all by ourselves. We receive it as a gift of grace. We proclaim it, we live for it, we make it visible through the love that we show to each other and a needy, hurting world.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron


July 23, 2023: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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July 16, 2023: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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July 9, 2023: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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July 2, 2023: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints, July 2nd 2023, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)

As we were last week, so this week we are exploring a part of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is preparing his disciples to go on mission journeys. Chapter 10 is entirely devoted to mission, though the chapters which follow do not really tell us what happened after the disciples went on their way. Rather, the Gospel turns to various memorable sayings of Jesus and stories of healing.

The message seems to be that Matthew appended the sayings about preparing for mission to the story of Jesus choosing the twelve apostles. Then he folded in all the advice and promises that were intended, principally, for those who were spreading the good news of Jesus in the latter decades of the first century.

And last week, as you will remember, the news was discouraging, if not downright threatening. The sharing of Jesus’s message would bring conflict, even conflict among those who were most closely linked by family ties. 

This week, we hear the other side of the story. For those who are willing to listen, to receive, to embrace and to support the message of the Gospel, there will be a reward.

But Jesus – or Matthew – makes a deliberate connection with the experience of those who spoke for God in the time of ancient Israel. “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward”. 

When we link that saying to the story of Jeremiah that we have also heard over the last few weeks, that statement starts to sound alarmingly ambiguous. What was Jeremiah’s reward for being a prophet? In last week’s reading we heard that Jeremiah was put in the stocks for foretelling the triumph of Babylon over Judah. In this week’s reading, Jeremiah finds himself in a prophesying contest with a rival prophet called Hananiah. More on that in a minute.

Even outside the Bible, the idea that one might prophesy future events and be destined to be rejected, ignored, or disbelieved was a well-known myth. In the ancient Greek tragic drama Agamemnon, written by the Athenian poet Aeschylus, Cassandra, the daughter of the last king and queen of Troy, was loved by the god Apollo. Apollo promised her that she would become a prophetess if she would become his lover. Cassandra agreed to the deal, received the gift of prophecy but decided that she would reject the god’s advances. (Greek drama could be surprisingly feminist at times.) Apollo then, unable to withdraw the gift of prophecy, added the curse that Cassandra would always foretell the truth, but that no-one would ever believe her. She then wanders through the play, and accurately predicts the events of the Trojan War, and no-one believes her.

Prophecy, in both Greek and Hebrew traditions, can be a curse.

Let’s return to Jeremiah for the moment. Just before the passage that we heard read (which makes little sense, by the way, unless you know what comes before it) one of Jeremiah’s rivals, a prophet called Hananiah, has told the people:

‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’

In the reading that we just heard, Jeremiah is in effect responds to Hananiah by saying “I wish this were all true – but it isn’t”.

Jeremiah is put in the typically ungracious position of having to tell the people “this prophet just gave you good news – but he is wrong.” Jeremiah looked at the greatly increasing power of the empire of Babylon and said “we cannot resist this.”

People tend to receive the predictions that suit them better. 

Who are our unheeded prophets today? … Certainly, there are plenty of folk around, including many politicians, who openly reject the idea that our natural world will become dangerously degraded if we do not change our ways of living. There are many more who pay lip-service to the idea that we must change our ways, but are very reluctant to make real changes. 

Yet the prophecies of Hananiah and Jeremiah were based on supernatural visions. The foretellings of our unheeded prophets today are based on real evidence, real calculations, real scientific endeavour. Stubborn resistance to believe in visible, natural threats is if anything much worse than the refusal to believe in supernatural ones. Yet the same mentality applies: it isn’t convenient for us, so we prefer to believe something that is more convenient, that affirms what we want to believe and suits our life choices.

But there is another side to this series of texts.

Suppose that things happen the other way around? What is the reward for recognizing a prophet? What is the reward for supporting those who speak truth?

In the next chapter of Jeremiah (chapter 29 – which we shall not be reading next week!), the prophet says, in effect, yes, you are being carried off to Babylon, and you will remain there for seventy years. However, in a way, it will be okay. Go with it. You can marry and raise families, invest in the land, build communities just as you did back in Judah; and make the places where you live as your own, and pray for them

In a similar way, in Jesus’s preaching, those who hear the words of the apostles and respond to them with generosity and support, will be rewarded in the same way as those who took the risks of going out on mission.

Yes, there will be disagreement and conflict, but that is because some people will actually receive the Gospel. And those who receive the apostles will be regarded as those who have received Jesus. 

This is an extraordinarily generous promise, but it is also extraordinarily hopeful. It is saying, in effect, that the Gospel is massively contagious: that listening to those who speak the Word is rewarded far beyond the intrinsic worth of such an act.

So what is the reward for listening to a prophet in the right way?

The reward is a relationship with God and with God’s community: not just, or even particularly, a personal encounter with the loving principle at the heart of existence; but rather fellowship, mutual support, living together in the way that God intended people to live. 

As we saw last week, that means a community of welcome and affirmation – even when that calls us to cast aside the exclusiveness that makes us wish only to be with our own kind.

The message needs to be spread. Part of our life as a community must consist of looking always outwards, to see where we can be of help to the wider community, and how we can draw the wider community into our orbit, and vice versa.

That is why it is a wonderful thing that we are making our presence felt, in whatever way we can, through things like Tuesday’s bake sale and drinks tables for those participating in the July 4th events in Ivoryton. It is why we must lose no opportunity both to build up our own common life, and to make that life known to others around us. Not only should we explore whether we can make our outreach, through electronic and other media more effective, as a church; we should also explore how, individually, we can make the place that All Saints plays in our lives known to those around us. 

We are called to say what Jesus was saying. So much reward, so much fulfillment and support, is offered so readily, so willingly, for those who accept the invitation. The reward so far exceeds the gift of support, however modest it may be. That in turn, encourages us who have received the Gospel to go out and share it. 

Submitted by the Revd. Dr. Euan Cameron

June 25, 2023: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints, 25th June 2023, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)

I should like to begin by talking a little bit about Jeremiah, from whose prophecies our first reading today was chosen. In the readings for this Pentecost season, we are following the “track” of readings where there is some kind of relationship between the themes of the Old Testament reading (especially) and the Gospel.

The book of Jeremiah contains a rich, poetic, but also rather disorderly and confusing collection of religious poetry and prophecy inspired by the conflict in Judah in the early 6th century BCE. This conflict was generated by the competing influences of Egypt and Babylon over the kingdom of Judah, which eventually led to the conquest of Jerusalem and the deportation of many of its people to Babylon after 587. 

The figure we know as “Jeremiah” was constantly foretelling bad news; and this made some of his political and religious rivals extremely uncomfortable and upset.

Just before the passage that we heard read, the text reports that Pashhur son of Immer, who was chief officer in the Temple, hearing what Jeremiah prophesied, struck the prophet, and put him in the stocks in the upper Benjamin Gate of the Temple. (How very New England …)

This episode leads to the poem which forms the basis of the first reading. Jeremiah complains that he cannot restrain himself from uttering prophecies, but whatever he says always gets him into trouble. What on earth is he to do? Jeremiah is constantly put in the position of being the unwelcome messenger who is punished for his message.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is trying to equip his missionaries with the mental preparation required for their missions. He warns them of the challenges that they will face. They cannot expect to arouse any less hostility than Jesus himself has done. This advice in Matthew, of course, is directed not just at the disciples/apostles but those who come after. We might say it is directed at us.

Jesus tells his followers to be explicit about his teaching – proclaim it from the rooftops – but be ready for trouble as a consequence.

To illustrate the conflict which his teaching will arouse, Jesus quotes a passage from the prophecies of Micah, where Micah talks about family conflict and broken relationships among those who are the closest of kin. The prophet stresses that, in a time of crisis, one cannot rely on the solidity of human relationships, only on God. Matthew is, by the way, the only one to place this quotation in the mouth of Jesus.

Why is today’s message so threatening and so full of dire warnings? We are accustomed to think of Jesus’s message as one of love, peace, compassion, and forgiveness. What is there not to like, as one might put it?

Sadly, human nature in worldly societies does not always live readily and willingly by the principles of compassion for one another, and justice for the oppressed. If that were so, we might expect that there would not be oppressed and outcast people in the first place …

It is a regrettable fact that people fear each other. It is a deplorable fact that, in response to such fear, people seek to define themselves over and against other fellow human beings. It is a disgraceful fact that some people use that fear and that search for identity to build up political movements, which harness the fear and alienation that is around us to build up their own power, to exercise oppression and even lead to conflict.

Lest we think that these problems are something outside these walls, a problem for the wicked world, we must remember that we see this trend also within the Church itself.

Members of our own Anglican communion habitually stir up antagonism against other fellow-Christians, most commonly these days over issues of gender justice and sexuality. These are issues where Jesus had very little or nothing to say, and where the results of such hostile campaigning – exclusion and inequity – run directly contrary to Jesus’s life and example.

In the wider community, we see the Christian faith used, misused, exploited to stir up essentially cultural and political hatreds over partisan politics, extremist positions on reproductive rights and, again, sexuality and gender issues. 

There are people in the leadership of religious communities who will seek to maintain identity and keep control by stoking fear and hatred. Honestly, I do not know what is the mixture of sincere ideological commitment and a desire simply to maintain power and control that is at work in such people. Some, no doubt, sincerely but mistakenly, believe that their religious identity is bound up with excluding those who are “other”. Some will use it as a means to stay ahead.

The prophets, and especially Jesus himself, wanted to break this cycle of fear and oppression by calling on people to trust God, and in God to trust one another. 

But if people stop fearing and hating those who are in some way different from themselves, then the power of the leaders of hatred will be broken: so those who derive their passion, their self-belief, their sense of purpose from division and hatred will resent the call to step aside from fear and distrust.

The call to love, care for the oppressed, and do justice will make some people angry.

What on earth can we do about this?

Look at the disciples whom Jesus chose: ordinary fisher folk certainly, but also tax-collectors and zealots; and a significant number of women who, while not recorded among the apostles, were a vital part of Jesus’s support group and his teaching circle, even at the very beginning. He showed compassion to everyone, from Roman soldiers to Jewish religious leaders, who came to him in desperate concern for their loved ones. Human vulnerability drew forth a loving and caring response.

Jesus set an example of embracing difference and celebrating the breadth of human diversity.

We need, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry proposed some years back, to show that the way of love is simply a better way to live; that embracing the complicated, messy, and glorious diversity and difference between people is actually a more joyful, stronger, better way to live in God’s love than any of the alternatives.

We cannot keep saying this too often: it is more loving, and simply more fun, to be open to the breadth of human difference than to hide fearfully among those whom we think are most like ourselves. Let us open our arms in love. It will annoy the living daylights out of those who manipulate and exploit human fear. And God willing, who knows whether it might win some of such people over to a better way?

Submitted by the Revd. Dr. Euan Cameron



June 18, 2023: Third Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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June 11, 2023: Second Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints, 11th June 2023, Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5)

Welcome to the season after Pentecost. It goes by the somewhat unkind name of “ordinary time”: the time between the great seasons where we recall and, in a sense, re-enact the most important moments of the life of Jesus. Now we listen to the teachings of Jesus in Scripture, and to the passages of the Hebrew Bible which Jesus and the evangelists most quoted. We hear the interpretation of Jesus’s meaning in the writings of Paul and the other writers of letters to the churches. Ordinary time is actually very special and very precious.

For the three or four years of his public ministry, Jesus taught everyone who would listen, across Galilee and Judaea. He taught, as many of the Jewish rabbis before him and after him had done, by telling thought-provoking stories. He invited his hearers to think. He called on them to reappraise their traditions in the light of the stories that he told. And he taught about himself by his acts of healing.

The Gospels echoed the teaching style of Jesus by telling stories about Jesus – turning his life and ministry into a series of narratives which had multiple layers of meaning and which repay hearing again and again. 

As we know, the first three Gospels especially share much material. Sometimes they use the same precise words as each other; sometimes they re-worked the stories in their own way, to suit their particular emphases about Jesus.

In today’s Gospel by Matthew, we hear of the calling of the tax-farmer, called Matthew here and Levi in Mark and Luke. Jesus’s call to him provokes a dispute with the religiously earnest, because Jesus seeks out and enjoys the table-company of moral outcasts.

Then Matthew folds in to the same event two related miracles of healing: the raising of the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, and the curing of the women who had suffered from continuous bloody discharge for twelve years. 

In Mark’s and Luke’s accounts, these two stories are told in quite separate parts of the Gospels. The calling of Levi appears in Mark 2 and Luke 5; the healing of the young girl and the afflicted woman appears in Mark 5 and Luke 8. Yet Matthew runs them together as a single event. Why?

Most unusually, Matthew tells the story in a rather compressed way, without the psychological details which make the stories in Mark and Luke so memorable. What is going on here, and what message is Matthew trying to share by the particular way that he presents these remembered incidents? One possible explanation takes us into some sensitive issues about how Matthew tells the Jesus story.

The running theme through Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus taught the correct way to understand the faith of the Hebrew Scriptures. Matthew belongs to an age when there was a controversy, not between some people called “Christians” and some people called “Jews”, but between two understandings of the historic Jewish faith. There were those who expected the Messiah, and believed that they should prepare for the Messiah’s coming by ever more strict observance of the law of Israel. Then there were those who believed that the Messiah had already come, in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus had fulfilled and completed the Law, and the best way to follow the Law was to trust in the teachings and ministry of Jesus.

In the story of Jesus at table with the tax-collectors, Matthew adds to Jesus’s saying about calling sinners rather than the righteous, a quotation from Hosea 6:6, which Matthew renders in the Greek translation of the text, as “I want mercy and not sacrifice”. The correct understanding of the Law and the Prophets, says Matthew, is to call those who have gone astray back into the way of God. Purity is not achieved by excluding the impure, but by showing love to them.

Then a “ruler”, whom Mark called explicitly a “ruler of the synagogue” comes to Jesus to ask mercy for his daughter, who is “on the point of death” in Mark, but actually deceased in Matthew. The religious leader of the community shows faith in the power of Jesus to heal, in the most apparently hopeless case. 

And then, folded into the story of the mortally sick daughter, is the tale of the woman suffering from a continuous discharge of blood. According to Leviticus 15:19, “When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening.”

Those who took every detail of the ceremonial law seriously – as some devout Jews did at the time – regarded the uncleanness associated with blood as so serious that even accidental contact caused ritual impurity in the one who touched a woman in this perfectly normal condition. The woman touched Jesus in secret, because she was continuously unclean and could not even think of touching a religious figure. 

Jesus responds by not worrying about the law. He praises the woman’s faith, and reassures her that she is healed. Jesus is as incapable of contracting ritual impurity from the woman as he is incapable of being morally corrupted by bad company. He places mercy and compassion above all else.

Trust in the loving power of Jesus takes priority over the details of the Law, and those who are true to the faith of Israel will get that point. That, I suggest, is what Matthew is saying.

Matthew’s message poses some problems. As the Christian faith became more and more cultivated by Greek and Roman peoples who knew less and less about Jesus’s Jewish belief, the Gospels were read in the light of the increasingly bitter disparagement and hostility which the ascendant Christian movement showed towards the continuing Jewish community that did not accept Jesus as Messiah. The horrors generated by that hostility haunt us still.

So how are we to prepare ourselves to listen to Matthew, through the remainder of the liturgical year through to the last Sunday before Advent?

There is a positive way to read Matthew. First, Matthew teaches that there is no hierarchy or order of seniority in those who love and trust the God revealed in Jesus. Tax-gatherers, who profited by exploiting the licences that Rome gave them to raise money, were morally shut out from the community as collaborators and abusers. Here they receive the same mercy as the leader of the synagogue, because they are both open to Jesus’s offer to help. The woman with the continuous discharge of blood suffers from the double disability of living with gender injustice, the disdain shown to women’s natural physiology, and the particular oppression of her condition. Yet she is healed before the religious leader’s daughter – though both are healed. 

These people place absolute trust in Jesus to do what seems, by all ordinary standards, impossible. They do not brag about their conformity to the law, or show entitlement. Some do not have that choice. 

Trusting in the loving power of God does not come naturally to us. In everyday life, we believe that we can protect ourselves by being organized, prudent, responsible. We live as though our security depends on our own efforts. We should probably regard just living by trust as rather feckless – and it might indeed be so, if we applied nothing but trust to paying the bills, the mortgage or the rent.

However, we are called to live by a faith that is, essentially, trust in that which we cannot see and cannot control. We live in hope that our world may be redeemed and rescued from its many layers of injustice: the exploitation of the poor, racial prejudice, the gross economic injustices that divide one part of the world from another, the seemingly incurable abuse of natural resources which is already disrupting our climate, our oceans, and the most vulnerable communities of the world. In these areas we can certainly do small practical things to help. But we also have to trust, and believe, that the world can do better than it is right now. 

Mercy – care and concern shown to those who have few resources, or none – is, as Hosea said, a responsibility that comes to us from the very nature of God, and is explicitly proclaimed in the life and ministry of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. By living mercifully, we are also showing, in a practical way, that we believe and trust that God’s plan for the world is more powerful than those things that cause hurt and injury to others.

Submitted by the Revd. Dr. Euan Cameron

June 4, 2023: Trinity Sunday Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints, 4th June 2023, Trinity Sunday


We have reached Trinity Sunday, the Sunday which usually marks the end of the movable season that begins with Ash Wednesday and takes us through the re-telling of Jesus’s temptations, ministry, confrontation with Jerusalem, his Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. 

“The Trinity”, as a doctrine of faith, has been something with which the Church has tormented itself down the centuries (along with the doctrine of the natures of Christ, with which the Trinity is always connected). It is also something which incumbents have traditionally assigned to their curates or even lay readers …

The Creed of the Council of Nicea, which we shall soon recite to each other, was, in its first form, written to confirm the (temporary) victory of one theological faction in the Church over another, in debates over their understandings of the Trinity. Down the centuries, people have been exiled, imprisoned, and worst of all, even put to death because of disagreements over the Trinity. The reformed churches of New England divided themselves only some two hundred years ago into those which held Trinitarian or Unitarian ideas of God.

Yet we should never imagine that the Trinity was something “invented” just to cause trouble in the Church. Christians only began even to talk about “the Trinity” some 150 years after the ministry of Jesus. It was, initially, not a “thing”, let alone a “dogma”, so much as just a way of speaking about the fundamental elements of the faith. 

We see that in our scriptural passages for today. When Paul concluded his second letter to the Corinthians, he ended this rather angry and reproachful letter with a beautiful blessing, which we know as “the Grace” and still use regularly today. It was natural for Paul to wish that the grace that came through Christ, the love that God shows us constantly, and the companionship which we have in the Spirit, should in all their fullness be with the congregation whom he scolded, but deeply loved. 

When Matthew quoted Jesus reminding his followers to baptize in “the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, Matthew did not think that he was writing a “Trinitarian formula”: no such idea existed at that time. Matthew was remembering that when Jesus himself was baptized, in the third chapter of his Gospel, the Son was baptized, the Father spoke, and the Spirit descended upon the Son. This three-fold form of words expressed the key elements in the story of the baptism.

Speaking of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit arose because it was the natural, maybe inevitable way to try to express the activity and the presence of God. It was something to which the whole story of the Gospels led up. The story of Jesus could not be told, as John’s Gospel expressed with special clarity, without speaking of the relationship between the Father and the Son. The life of the Church could not be described apart from the presence and action of the divine Spirit. 

When Trinity Sunday comes around, we recapitulate the whole story of God’s loving purposes for us, and express in this idea – the name of which we barely understand – fundamental insights about how the world is, what our life means, and how we are bound together in community.

None of these insights are self-evident; all of them in some measure or other challenge, even contradict, the evidence of how the world seems at face value to be. That is why they are so precious.

We understand God as creator. No greater disservice is done to faith when people turn the beautiful belief in creation into so-called “creationism”, a variety of cobbled-together theories which claim to challenge what science tells us about the cosmic order and how it came to be. When we thank God as creator, we express the belief that the apparently random bringing-together of atoms and molecules that built our universe was made, at a whole other level, to nurture us, to inspire us with awe, to delight us with its sublime beauty, and to call us to love and cherish it. That divine beauty and love at work in the worlds around us should move us to treat our share of God’s creation with care and respect, to understand it, help it to sustain itself, and not exploit it to destruction.

And we understand God as uniquely revealed in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, to try to define exactly how the divine nature was and is present in Jesus has, like the Trinity itself, been a source of debate and conflict in the churches for centuries. In the beleaguered churches of the East, there are still unreconciled differences between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox (yes, those are two different things) over how to define Jesus’s nature. 

Yet what matters is where Jesus’s teaching leads us, and what his ministry of reconciliation means. Let us celebrate that, and remember what an astonishing idea the incarnation really is. In ages past, philosophers imagined for themselves divine natures which were abstract, remote, idealized, inaccessible to humanity. Only by a spiritual life of merciless self-discipline, rising above one’s human nature, could one even get vaguely close to such a principle. This was the god of the philosophers.

And in Jesus of Nazareth, we have one who has come among us as a friend, a table-companion, and as he himself stressed, as one who serves. The divine comes among us, in familiar friendship and in sacrificial self-giving. We are not called to rise above our humanity, because God has embraced that humanity and taken it into the divine nature. That in turn means that in every human being – those who are different, those who are flawed in many ways, those who are imperfect – we are called to see the image of the God who took our flesh, and made it sacred and holy.

And at one and the same time, Jesus is both unique, and also, he spreads and shares among us the unique closeness that exists between himself and the creating and sustaining God. To express that spreading and sharing, we use the language of the Holy Spirit, as the Gospels and epistles did from the beginning. 

Some Christian writers and thinkers in the past have, as imperfect and contentious minds tend to do, debated over the Holy Spirit and its relationship to the Trinity. To this day, the churches of the West disagree with the Orthodox of the East as to whether the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father only or both the Father and the Son. That dispute is embodied, alas, in the fact that in the West we read a slightly different Nicene Creed from our Orthodox siblings.

And yet again, the mistake lies surely in asking what the thing “is”, rather than what it means for us, what it does for us. In one of his more inspired moments, Augustine theorized that the Spirit was the name for the love that bound the Father and the Son together. But it is surely more than that. In our traditional understanding, the Spirit is with us in all the good things that we do together. 

At special times – such as ordinations – we in our communities pray with particular earnestness for God’s spirit to come among us. But it is surely there with us before we know to pray for it. When we gather in fellowship, especially but not only when we gather for the Eucharist, the communion which is both expressed as the Spirit and is the Spirit’s gift, is with us.

So if anyone who asks questions of the faith proposes the Trinity to you as a uniquely difficult or perplexing idea in Christianity, do not be apologetic. We worship God as Trinity, because that is the only way that makes sense. It is the only way to express the creating, sustaining, reconciling and inspiring work of God, which we feel every time we gather together as the people of God. 

But please, don’t try to explain what the Trinity “is”. Say only that it speaks of all the ways that God is at work in our world, in our communities and in our hearts. 

Submitted by the Revd. Doctor Euan Cameron

May 28, 2023: Day of Pentecost Readings

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May 21, 2023: Easter 7

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7 Easter, May 21, 2023 

“Messiah” is a Hebrew word meaning “Anointed One”. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Messiah is God’s anointed one whose coming will bring about God’s Rule of justice and compassion, an end to the suffering of the righteous, and abundant peace. So, when a revered Rabbi announced to his congregation one Sabbath, that Messiah had come, the community was shocked and began to question the Rabbi’s sanity. They protested that war and violence abounded, injustice, suffering and oppression were everywhere. “How can Messiah be present?” they asked. “Yes, yes”, responded the Rabbi; “we still need to work out some of the details.” 

As Christians we proclaim that Jesus is the Christ – the Greek word for Messiah. Granted that Jesus is more than the Messiah expected, but the Messiah who came. But like the members of that Jewish community who heard their Rabbi’s announcement, we also have serious questions. Didn’t God send Jesus to establish the Kingdom, the Rule of God - justice and compassion and peace. Today we are reminded that our ancestors in the faith learned and taught us that we too are called to work out the details. 

Our first reading prepares us for next week – Pentecost. And this Thursday celebrated the Ascension. Liturgically, Jesus has already taken his leave, and the apostles have returned to the upper room. They have already replaced Judas so that the number of apostles is, again, 12. The names are mentioned but we really know little of most of them. It is the number that is important. Just as Israel is founded on the 12 Patriarchs, so the Christian community began to see itself as a New People of God, the Body of Christ, the Church founded on the 12 Apostles. We find them, today, awaiting the Holy Spirit, who will teach, empower and encourage them as they “work out the details”.  

It won’t be easy. In the second reading Peter speaks of the “fiery ordeal” involved in this. But Peter also talks about the Spirit that supports and strengthens them, and us, in the work. One difficulty is found in the Scriptures themselves. In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus refusing to pray for the world, even asking that his disciples be protected from the world. But earlier, in the same Gospel we heard Jesus say: “God so loved the world that God sent the Son so that all might have life through him.” In the letters attributed to John, written after the Gospel, the “world” is described as knowing neither God nor Jesus. But in Paul’s letters the created world is described as being renewed through the saving acts of Christ. And if we look back, we remember the story in Genesis where the world created by the great act of God is described as “very good”. So, there is a world to avoid and a world we are to serve in the Name of Christ. We need to know the difference. 

The Church has too often served the world it should oppose. The temptation to possess power and prestige, to live in the comfort of wealth, is strong. To align with the powers that oppress is easier than to embrace the oppressed and stand with the poor. We know this. Two issues that hold a significant place in the news we hear today are homelessness and refugees. Issues that create political and social, even religious conflict. What response might the Spirit be calling from the Church?   

Our Gospel reading today comes toward the end of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse which we have been reading these past weeks. The setting is the Last Supper, and today we hear Jesus praying for his followers who will be facing the challenges of the following days, as well as the time after Jesus takes his leave and returns to the Father. Then, begins the task of working out the details. But Jesus is also praying for us who continue this work. 

We hear Jesus pray for our protection; that we may be one as the Father and he are one. He knows this will not be easy but possible because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which will be the focus of next week. As Peter reminds us, the Spirit of Christ will restore, support, strengthen and establish us. But we might wonder where the restoration requires the support, the strength? 

While we wait to celebrate Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is already among us. Yet, the details are so challenging, the gifts we experience seem so small. Where is the power?  

Years ago, a parishioner gave me a book titled “The Impossible will take a little while, it is a book telling stories of people of our era who confronted the challenges of injustice, oppression, racism. Nelson Mandella, Maya Angelou, Vaclav Havel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Tony Kushner, Marian Wright Edelman, Desmond Tutu. 

People who risked their lives in situations that looked impossible. People we admire. It seems to me that it is more and more evident that the future of human life and happiness requires care and concern for each other and our earth. We need an end to violence, and we need social and racial and economic justice. These are not just nice romantic ideas but qualities essential to human life and welfare. We really are in this all together.  

I invite you to take the insert in your bulletin home and read Jesus’ prayer. It is a prayer for you. Check your Bible for the whole prayer. Know that each one of us is called to work out the details establishing a more just and compassionate world. Know that the impossible will take a while. And join in our prayer: “Come Holy Spirit, Come!” 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick


May 7, 2023: Easter 5

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5 Easter, May 7, 2023

As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel reading, I remembered a story

told, years ago, on Public Radio, by an Irish writer. He found himself in

that difficult situation of placing his mother in a home, since she could

no longer care for herself. A few belongings and clothing and

mementos had been moved into her room and it was time for him to

leave. He sat with his mother on a bench outside her new room. What

could he say? At that moment he remembered a scene from many

years before, when he clutched his mother’s hand as she walked him

into a building on his first day of school. As the time for her to leave

arrived, she bent down and kissed him and said, “Goodbye love, no one

is leaving”.

Now, 50 years later, he leaned over, kissed his mother and said,

“Goodbye love, no one is leaving”, and left. Today, I hear Jesus say to

his apostles, “Goodbye loves, no one is leaving”.

He is speaking at the Last Supper and is aware of what is coming in the

next days. In John’s Gospel, at the Last Supper, Jesus gives a long

speech, what scholars call the farewell discourse, which is 3 chapters,

longer than any speech of Jesus in any Gospel account. In this

discourse Jesus tells the apostles he is leaving, as we just read, but that

they know where he is going because, Jesus declares, he is the way they

must follow.

This discourse ends with a long prayer in which Jesus prays for the

protection and endurance of the apostles. Our first reading today,

written before John’s Gospel, shows they will need protection. Stephen

is the first martyr. And Peter’s letter tells us God is making us a

community in unity with one another and with Jesus. All of this is

possible because Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to protect and lead.

“Goodbye loves, no one is leaving.”

If these verses we read today sound familiar, it is because this Passage

is often read at funerals. They offer hope that Jesus has prepared a

place for the loved one who has died. “Place” sounds like we have been

downgraded from the mansion of older translations. But room is closer

to the meaning.

At funerals I am often aware that the one who is physically absent is

most present in the minds and hearts of the attendees. We have all

lived long enough to know that loved ones who die are absent, but also

present with us. They are not here but they are still present.

That is a mystery. Not something we must solve but must live into. As I

have grown older, I find there are more questions than answers in the

mystery of life. At the same time, I am less comfortable with those who

think they have the answers. The mystery endures.

Today we hear Jesus say, “believe in God, believe also in me”. Another

translation uses “Trust in God, trust also in me”. One theologian

describes the essence of Jesus’ ministry is to restore us to a trusting

relationship with God and each other. Nevertheless, we are often told

that we live in an age where trust is in short supply. Trust in

institutions, in leaders, in others, in ourselves, is lacking.

We have the same questions Thomas and Philip ask in our Gospel: “we

do not know where we are going. How can we know the way?” “Lord,

show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

We have these questions because we face the same mystery in life.

Granted, not persecution and death. These questions are well

expressed in the prayer written by Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk

who supported so many searching the way to the Father. He prayed:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going, I do not see the road

ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really

know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not

mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please

you does in fact please you. And I hope I will never do anything apart

from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the

right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust

you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I

will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to

face my perils alone.”

“I will trust you always and will not fear.”

That is the heart of our prayer!

This Sunday and in the weeks to follow, our readings take us to the

feast of Pentecost, the Church’s celebration of Jesus’ promised gift of

the Holy Spirit – the Advocate, Encourager, Teacher. The promise we

will never have to face our perils alone. Goodbye love, no one is

leaving.

AMEN

Submitted by The Reverend Brendan McCormick



April 16, 2023: Easter 2

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Easter 2: April 16, 2023    

Acts 2:14, 22-32 Psalm 16   1 Peter 1: 3-9    John 20: 19-31 

Often, the words of poets better express a process in which we find ourselves. The readings for today always take me to words of William Butler Yates: “Sometimes there is a torch in my head, and I see all things clearly. But then the torch goes out and I am left with images, analogies.” When the torch dims, I find myself wondering. Wondering about things that seemed clear at other times. Are we allowed to “wonder”? What does one do until the torch is lit again? 

We read from John’s Gospel most Sundays of Lent. One of my teachers summed up John with three words: Life, Light, Love. In John’s Gospel Jesus offers us abundant, everlasting Life here and now. It comes to us through faith in Jesus and this life becomes Light shining for others – a torch that casts out darkness. The Light shines through acts of love for one another. As we heard Jesus say on Maundy Thursday:” I give you a new commandment: Love one another. By this all will know you are my disciples 

Life, light, love. Simply stated, but not simple at all. Faith is a challenge. But we do not face the challenge alone. In today’s Gospel we see people in a community wondering and coming to a decision; the decision to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. 

 Our Gospel story takes place on Easter Evening. What a day it has been. Early in the morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. She ran and told Peter and the apostles. Peter and another disciple ran to the tomb and found it so. 

Later, Mary Magdalen encountered Jesus but did not recognize him until he called her by name. Now it is nightfall that same day. The apostles, but one, are in the upper room where they have been hiding for 4 days. Jesus comes and stands in their midst. “Peace “is his wish to the group who, a few days before, ran to hide, or stayed and denied him. “Shalom” is the word Jesus uses to greet them. That word carries a deep meaning that conveys Peace, harmony, wholeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. No tough love here. Words affirming abundant love. Jesus then gives them their mission. 

We then learn that Thomas is absent. When he returns, he is told the marvelous news. But he wonders. He seeks more assurance. Maybe he said, if what you believe is true then why are you all still here, locked up in this room? But because of his wondering, history has branded poor Thomas with the title “Doubting”.  

A week goes by, and Jesus returns and seeks out Thomas and offers the proof he asked for. However, Thomas doesn’t need it and makes the profession of faith: “My Lord and my God”. The torch has been lit. Thomas believes. 

But then something extraordinary happens. You might have missed it. Scholars have pointed it out to me. Some think the last words we read today mark the original end of John’s Gospel. What is extraordinary is a shift in the drama we have been observing. As one scholar describes this moment: it is as though we have been the audience of this Gospel drama, sitting in a darkened theater watching the story unfold on a stage. But now, in these verses, the lights go one and we become visible. Jesus steps forward and looks to us, the audience, and says “blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe”.  

Blessed are you who, like the apostles have often been confused, have wondered, who bear the blessings and burdens of life, blessed are you who chose to believe. 

And, as I said, some believe here is the original ending of the Gospel. We are blessed by Jesus and also commissioned to be the channels through which the Gospel is handed on to others.  

Perhaps the early Church thought that too large a burden to leave with us and the Gospel was extended to contain other memories of Jesus. But Jesus’ final blessing and concerned expressed in the Gospel is for you and this community that is gathered together by faith in him. Let us accept the blessing of abundant life and unlimited love so that we might be a light to one another, and all others amid the darkness all around.  

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick 

 



April 9, 2023: Easter

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EASTER: April 9, 2023   

Acts of Apostles 10: 34-43   Psalm 118: 1-2,14-24    Colossians 3: 1-4   Matthew  28:1-10 

The Easter Story is familiar to us, and it is central to our faith. However, each of the four Gospel accounts differ in some details of the events that took place that Sunday morning 2023 years ago. That should not be strange to us who live in a time when people disagree about many events, even events they have watched and experienced together. 

In today’s story, we find two women coming to the tomb they saw the body of Jesus placed two days earlier. The one they thought to be God’s messiah was crucified as a criminal and quickly placed in this tomb, before they could perform the Jewish burial rites. They were coming to do these rites for their friend.  In another Gospel account, along the way the women were worried about the large stone they saw placed at the entrance of the tomb. Who would roll away this stone? But in our story, as they were arriving an earthquake struck and an angel came from heaven and rolled away the stone.  

Problem solved? No, that revealed an even bigger problem - the tomb was empty. The soldiers who had been guarding the tomb were on the ground seemingly in a trance. The angel spoke and announced to the women: “Do not be afraid, Jesus has risen, and gone to Galilee. Go and tell the others.” 

 “Don’t be afraid?” Who wouldn’t be afraid and confused and wonder at what they saw and heard. In another Gospel version of this story, we are told that some thought this news too good to be true. But the women ran back to tell others, but on the way they met Jesus, who also tells them to not be afraid, go and tell others he will meet them in Galilee. 

The women told the story, and it has been repeated down through the ages. And we are here this morning and millions around the world are gathered to celebrate this mystery. For more than 2000 years people have proclaimed “He is risen!” What do we believe?  

Last Tuesday was the 55th year since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A few years ago, on another anniversary of his death, a preacher spoke about Dr. King, saying somewhere along the way we managed to resurrect the messenger and leave the message buried.  We celebrate the man but seem to have forgotten what he called us to do. Have we done the same with Jesus: proclaim “Jesus is risen”, but left his message locked in the tomb behind that large stone? 

People proclaim Jesus as Lord and personal Savior, but are slow to love neighbor, or seek and serve Christ in all persons. Peter proclaims today that God shows no partiality, but we do not respect the dignity of all people. We neglect to feed the hungry, house the homeless, treat the least as if they are Jesus. 

 Paul tells us today to seek the things that are above. Paul is not saying that Easter is about heaven. Easter is about life Here and now. The abundant life we now share is empowered with the very life of God. We have the power to live with the values that endure – compassion and justice, hope, forgiveness and love. We can have an active concern for the well-being of others. What holds us back? 

Jesus tells the women “Don’t be afraid”. This is a message that rings out on Easter morn, but we have heard it from beginning to end in the Gospel. To Joseph and Mary and the shepherds: Do not be afraid. To the apostles on the journey: Do not be afraid. To the women at the end. In fact, some count 365 times in Scripture we are told: Don’t be afraid”. 

Now a certain fear is important because it alerts us to danger, calls us to action. But there is a fear that paralyzes us and prevents action. There is a fear that destroys hope, gives birth to anger, separates us from one another. Causes us to distrust one another and distrust Iife itself. 

We are well aware that there are many dangers in our world. We are not called to deny what is going on. But fear is to alert us, not dictate how we act or make us not able to act. 

Don’t be afraid. Fear is that stone that seals up the tomb of resurrection, locks up the message and the power and makes it impossible to live the power of the resurrection. Fear makes it impossible to receive the gifts of Easter that empower us to believe he is risen and goes before us.  

When you entered you were given a stone. I invite you to take it with you as a reminder not to be afraid. Easter tells us the stone has been rolled away. Easter calls us to abundant life. Hope and justice and compassion are powers shared with us. 

Jesus is risen. He goes before us. He is with us to the end. 

Don’t be afraid! 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

 


March 26, 2023: Fifth Week of Lent

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5 Lent: March 26, 2023 

“Them Bones, them bones, them dry bones. Hear the word of the Lord.” A Spiritual we have all heard, written almost 100 years ago. However, what inspired it is from more than 2500 years ago when Ezekiel stood in a valley of dry bones. Brought there by God from his home among the exiles in Babylon. Ezekiel looks on this valley filled with decomposed human remains. He is asked if he thought these bones could ever live again. Ezekiel had a long enough relationship with God to know it was better to let God answer questions God asked. And God had a rather dramatic answer as our reading described breath coming into these bones and they became alive and stood on their feet. The Spiritual has an even more dramatic way of describing this scene – “toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone” …. all the way up to the “head bone”. 

This experience describes for Ezikiel his mission to his fellow exiles. Through his prophesying the people will receive a new spirit that will enliven them to rise from their lost hope and grow to a new life in the land of Israel. Those dead bones did live again. 

Death has been very present to us these many months. Pandemic, a horrible earthquake, war, floods, fire, gun violence. Not to mention friends and family who used to sit among us. Death has been present. St, Paul writes to the Church at Corinth:” Death, where is your victory; death, where is your sting?” We have known the sting of death. 

Today, we are reminded we are not alone. In addition to Ezekiel, we hear the Psalmist cry “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord.” And we hear Paul remind the Church at Rome that they were once dead, weighed down by greed and selfishness, enslaved by desires and behavior that diminished life in self and others.  And in our Gospel, we meet Martha and Mary stung by the death of their brother Lazarus. 

 

During Lent we have met people struggling with faith. We began with Nicodemus, the Jewish official who struggles with the idea that only certain people are God’s favorites. We then meet the Samaritan woman at the well who learns that religious practice and items of belief are neither guarantees or obstacles to a relationship with God. The man born blind is able to see who Jesus is while many with good vision fail to see. All through John’s Gospel Jesus has been saying “I am”.  “I am the Good shepherd; I am the bread of life; I am he.”  The phrase does not have the impact on us that Jesus intended. “I am” is the sacred name for God in Jewish faith. “Yahweh”. Jesus is claiming to be the Divine in human flesh. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”, Jesus is the Word made flesh. This is the fullness of faith Jesus is calling us to. 

In the long Gospel story we read, the focus is Death and Life. We see the life-giving power of Jesus as we enter into Jesus’ “hour”. Beginning with the miracle at Cana, Jesus has often referred to the fact that his hour has not come. Well, it has. We enter Jesus’ hour next Sunday, the hour in which the mysteries at the heart of Jesus’ life and at the heart of our faith are celebrated in our liturgy. In the ancient Easter sequence hymn these events are described as a powerful duel between death and life. 

We already know that they are the events most challenging to us. So, we join Martha in the midst of her grief. We see her conversation with Jesus in which she finally makes the most profound proclamation of faith in the Gospel. Jesus proclaims “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  

Martha responds: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Martha has come to full faith in Jesus. But that question is addressed to us, here and now. 

What follows is Jesus calling Lazarus to “come out”. And he does, but he is still bound by the wrappings used in Jewish burial.” I think many of us are more like Lazarus than Martha. Bound by many things that burden belief. Our fears, grudges, attitudes. Whatever. But Jesus says to us “Unbind and let her/him go” is the gift given to us today. 

Lazarus means “God who helps”. And, as a community God asks us to help one another. Calls us to nurture faith in one another. 

As we enter the mysteries of our faith that proclaim Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. The giver of unending life and unlimited love, let us work to unbind one another so that we might come to see what Jesus has done and believe in him.  

Submitted by Reverend Brendan McCormick 



March 12, 2023: Third Week of Lent

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3 Lent: March 12, 2023

Throughout history and in every culture I know the role of women has certainly not been one of equality. However, it has changed at different times. When tribes, societies or nations feel fear, or stress or threats, the rights of people tend to be limited; minorities become suspects, authority more centralized. In such circumstances, women lose the few rights they have.  So, while women are in a lesser role, when societies feel threatened, these are diminished, and societies tend to become even more controlling and oppressive.  

At the time of Jesus, women were more controlled by social norms and rules than at other times in Israel’s history. 600 years earlier, before the destruction of Jerusalem and Babylonian exile, women played a more active public role in society than in the period after Israel was freed and returned to rebuild its land and life. Israel’s very existence was still threatened, and leadership reverted to a more legalistic version of laws and customs, many served to exert more control over certain people, including women. 

A similar atmosphere dominated society at the time of Jesus. Israel was occupied by the Roman Army, and Rome ruled with an iron fist. To survive, Jewish laws and customs became stricter, and the role of women was diminished. We see in the Gospel that Jesus disdained the exaggerated focus on laws and customs and religious ceremonies, seeing them as ways to distract from acts of justice and mercy demanded by the Prophets. Jesus also exhibited a respect for and esteem of the gifts women brought to his ministry. In the Gospel Mary, the mother of Jesus is not presented as the virgin, meek and mild but as the model disciple, a role that required courage and action. Mary Magdalene is not a reformed prostitute but the first to announce the Resurrection. Women are at the foot of the cross while the men are hiding.  And today we meet another strong woman at a well. 

The story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well in Jericho is one of the longest scenes in the Gospel. She is a Samaritan and a woman, two things that would make her less a person in society at the time. Samaritans were the descendants of the Jews left in Israel when the leaders and craftsmen were taken into exile in 587 BCE. In that 80 years until the exiles returned, they intermarried with other tribes and the religion developed differently than that of the exiles. Also, as we learn in the story, this woman has lived in a way many would condemn. None of this bothers Jesus.  

Jesus asks her for a drink of water. Her response is both surprise and refusal. Jews don’t talk to, let alone ask favors of Samaritans. Jesus is not put off but says it is he who can give her something – living water. She misunderstands and asks him if he thinks he is greater than the Patriarch, Jacob, who dug the well. Ironically, Jesus is, but rather than arguing, he goes on describing the water he speaks of. Water that leads to eternal life. Confused but a practical woman, she thinks this would be wonderful gift. Again, Jesus changes the subject and refers to the woman’s private life. However, Jesus is not bothered by the fact that he is dealing with a person who is less than perfect. And the woman is not put off, but sees Jesus in a different light – a prophet and perhaps even more.  

Jesus then expands the idea of faith as something beyond the issues of dispute between Samaritans and Jews. Faith is more that adhering to a concise set of doctrines. Sacred rites and teaching will be replaced by worshipping in “spirit and truth”. The woman, joining in the theological discussion, brings up a future when Messiah comes. Jesus confronts her with the challenge “I am he”. In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses this phrase to express his identity as the Divine in human flesh. Jesus proclaims “Messiah is here”. This is the faith demanded of a disciple.  

Finally, the woman comes to a faith and goes off to share the gift with the people of the town. Later, as their faith grows, it is a support for the woman’s faith. She represents those who come to faith confronting the many obstacles that stand in the way. She also shows that faith can extend beyond the narrower bonds of religious belief and practices. 

The Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel has said, true religion begins with the awareness that something is asked of us. Paul, whose letter to the community in Rome we read today, is a good example of someone aware that something is asked of him. He has learned that there is a “wideness in God’s mercy” that invites gentiles into relationship with Christ through faith, not religious law and practices. Just as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman. This created conflict with other Christians a conflict that asked much of Paul.  

It is also true that Paul’s communities had women in leadership positions. Paul is often criticized as diminishing women’s’ roles in the Church. The Letter to the Ephesians has that notorious verse: “wives, submit to your husband’s”. Scholars, today actually dispute whether Paul wrote that Letter. In ancient time, disciples sometimes wrote in the name of their mentor. However, it is true that the Church, from earliest times had difficulty living the openness and inclusion that Jesus had. It is a difficulty that continues to our day. Even worse, the exclusion of women in leadership is claimed, by some, to be following Christ. This endures even though no church would exist without the contributions of woman. 

Something is asked of US, today. Not only in the case of women, but Christian nationalism, racial religion and other denials that there is a wideness in God’s mercy. The Samaritan woman bids us to pause on our Lenten journey. Invites us to “Come and see a man who told her everything she ever did. Can he be the Messiah, the Christ, who lives and reigns, One God, forever and ever. Amen. 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

 



March 5, 2023: Second Week of Lent

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2 Lent  March 5, 2023

For the first 300 years of its existence, Christianity was an outlawed religion in the entire Roman Empire. Many authorities thought its teachings were a threat to Roman order if not Roman power. Members of the Christian community faced persecution, even death. It was risky to include new members. They might be spies or informers who could betray members to the authorities. Also, new members would be facing the threat of persecution, so they had to be strong in their faith. In response to these challenges the Church developed a rigorous program for the admission of new members that could weed out informers and strengthen the faith of the sincere. 

Those seeking membership to a Christian Community had to be sponsored by a member of the community and entered a program that could be three years of learning and scrutiny. At the end of this preparation there was an intense 40-day period of prayer and fasting, leading to Baptism, which was originally celebrated at Easter. This final period was in imitation of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, the Gospel story read last Sunday. This became a model for our Lenten Season. 

In our day, entrance into the Christian community as well as Lenten observance are kinder and gentler than what our Christian ancestors endured. We are not worried about persecution or death because of our belief; we are not concerned about spies. One thing that remains from ancient times are the Lenten Readings from Scripture are chosen to instruct us about the meaning and responsibilities of the faith we accept at Baptism. Today and over the next 3 Sundays of Lent, we will meet 4 giants of faith in Israel’s history and 4 people in John’s Gospel, struggling at different levels of faith. For me, faith comes to mind in the words from the Irish playwright, William Butler Yeats: 

“Sometimes there is a torch in my head, and I see all things clearly; but then the light goes out and I am left with images, analogies. 

We have lived long enough to know that faith is a verb; sometimes it grows bright as if a light is shining; sometimes it wanes as if light, clarity dims. But at all times, it is a gift that is both comfort and challenge. 

In today’s Gospel we meet Nicodemus, an important Jewish religious leader, who has come to visit Jesus. He comes at night to conceal the fact that he is seeking to find out who this Jesus is at a time many of his colleagues think Jesus a fraud and threat. In this meeting, Nicodemus, well versed in the religious thinking of the day, is confused by Jesus. Jesus tells him that what makes one a child of God is not being born chosen, but by faith in the “One come down from heaven”. One must be born “of water and the Spirit”. Those early Christians would see this as the baptism they were preparing to celebrate. If our reading was longer, we would see Nicodemus unable to see the wideness of God’s mercy, the depth of God‘s love for the whole human family. Nicodemus leaves and returns “to the darkness”. John’s way of saying he still lacks the faith that leads to “eternal life”. But later in the Gospel, Nicodemus returns and helps bury Jesus. Evidently, he has come to the faith that leads to “eternal life”. 

 In John’s Gospel, eternal life is not what comes after death, but after being “born in the Spirit”, which refers to baptism. So, as baptized, we now share “eternal life”, life that endures.  So how are we to live this life? Certainly, in baptism the vows we make give us direction. But we can also learn from Abram, that person of faith we meet in today’s first reading. 

 Abram, who will soon be given the name Abraham, is the first historical person in the Hebrew Scriptures. We are told where he lived, where he traveled. He lived about 1800 years before Christ and is told by God to leave his home and ancestors and follow on a journey. He is also told “he will be the father to many people”. And so, he is. Jews, Christians and Muslims trace the origins of the God they proclaim to Abraham. However, he was also told, “you will be a blessing to others…and by you all families of the earth shall bless themselves.”. Unfortunately, we children of Abraham have too often not been a blessing to one another, let alone all the families of earth.  

And so, we have Lent. We have time again to reflect on how we can be a blessing to others. In our opening prayer we address: God, whose “Glory it is to always have mercy”, The word used for “mercy” includes a sense of tenderness, compassion and the ability to see others as bound to us. We, who have received God’s mercy, are bound to share God’s mercy. We share this when we are a blessing to others. So, I invite you in this Lent to be a blessing to others.  

Submitted by the Rev. Brendan McCormick