Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Sacrifice of Light

 John 1. 1-14: Sacrificial Light

 Everyone loves a story - which is precisely why Jesus used parables, and why we all love movies and books.  The Christmas Story is one of the greatest stories ever told.  Its many characters help us to see ourselves reflected back – in the trust of the Shepherds, the wisdom of the Wise Men, the generosity of the Innkeeper, the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph, the abuse of power of Herod – and even in the evangelism of the angels who share good news.

The Gospel writers give us different perspectives on the same story. Luke is fired by the way Jesus reached out to the poor and the oppressed.  So he gives us the story of shepherds, outsiders who are invited to be front and centre at the coming of the Messiah.  Matthew, on the other hand, is fired by Jesus’ message that God’s love is meant for all humanity – so he focuses on the coming of Wise Men from Eastern Lands.  These are non-Jews, outsiders, who are brought into the fold of God’s love.

The oldest of the Gospel writers, Mark, actually says nothing about the birth of Jesus.  And John, the most recent Gospel writer, is not interested in shepherds and wise men.  Scholars tell us that John wrote his Gospel in his old age – after a lifetime of spreading – and reflecting on - the message of Jesus.  John wants us to grasp the enormity of the Christmas event, the coming of Jesus, what scholars call the ‘Incarnation’ - that moment when God, who is Spirit, takes on human flesh.

There are two words which John especially plays with, in his poetic Gospel introduction.  The first is ‘Word’, and the second is ‘Light’.  Let’s break them down a little…

‘Word’ is the English translation of ‘Logos’ – a Greek word from where we get the word ‘logic’.  John is saying that the incomprehensible being we call God is many things – spirit, love, a creative force that binds the universe together.  But he is also mind.  He has thoughts.  He has desires and intentions for the world that he has created.  God’s thoughts, God’s logic, God’s wisdom – these are his ‘Logos’ – his ‘Word’.  “In the beginning was the Word” – the Logos – “and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.  It’s one of those great big thoughts that we human beings struggle to get our tiny brains around – that God can be thought of as having different aspects, but each of them is also fully God’.  And that’s ok.  We are limited, created beings.  We cannot ever really grasp the reality of God.

So John paints a different picture.  He uses a metaphor.  He has stated the truth as clearly as he can grasp it, by talking about the ‘Word’ dwelling among us.  But now he chooses a different tack, and begins to talk about ‘Light’.

Ah!  That’s better.  ‘Light’ we can understand.  We know about Light.  We see its effects.  We know that even a tiny spark of light cannot be extinguished by the darkness.  We know that if this church was completely darkened, save for one candle, all our attention would be focused on that single solitary light.

“In Jesus”, says John, “was life, and that life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.  And that, ultimately, is the message of Christmas.  Darkness is all around us.  The darkness of war, and famine, and poverty, and homelessness and selfishness and consumerism and loneliness, racism, homophobia, and fear of the stranger and all hatred and rebellion against the reason and logic of God.  “But the light shines in the darkness”.

In Jesus, through his teaching, his life, and yes even by his death, life is offered to the world.  That’s why we are going to mark Jesus’ death in a few minutes, even in the midst of the 12 days of Christmas!  Jesus’ whole life is offered to us, by John and the other Gospel writers, as The Way to life.  His way of living – generously, lovingly, wisely is offered to us as an example of what God’s logic and reason look like.  Jesus’ way of dying – sacrificially, trustingly are still more examples of the Logos – the wisdom - of God.  These are signposts for us.  Lights in the darkness.  Clues to how we too should live, if we truly want to find life.

The star of Bethlehem is of course another great symbol which the Christmas story offers us.  It too is a light in the darkness, which leads others to the true light of Christ.  And let’s not forget that the light of a star is ultimately a sacrificial light.  A star gives out light by burning itself up.  All that the star is gets consumed, given out completely in the task of burning bright.

And that ultimately, is the task that we are given, as a response to the sacrificial self-giving of Christ.  In a world only temporarily distracted by COVID, a world which will soon return to its selfish, greedy, destructive ways, we are called to be stars of Christ – sacrificially shining out into the darkness of the world.

So, here’s my invitation, at the turning of the year.  Let tonight be a turning point for you.  Let the light of Christ illuminate and inspire you.  Draw from the spiritual energy he offers around his table, even taken in virtual form via this livestream.  Follow and pursue the light of life every single day from this point on.  It’s what wise men did, 2,000 years ago.   And it’s what the wisest men and women today still do.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

A glimpse of the face of God

A sermon for the first Sunday of Christmas.

I had a strange experience a couple of years ago.  I was standing in my garden, in the early dawn, when suddenly I saw the face of Jesus looking back at me, from the grass.  Just his though someone had buried Jesus up to his neck on my lawn.  It was quite a shock, I can tell you - until I realised that what I was actually looking at was a football which our dog had chewed to pieces.  In the right light, it looked just like the face of a bearded man, looking right at me.

My first thought was 'E-bay'!  I could make a fortune.  The face of Jesus on a Vicar's football...that would be worth something!  But then, it set me wondering.  For a start, no-one actually knows what Jesus looked like.  There are no portraits of him by anyone who knew him.  We have a picture of him in our minds – white skin, long blond hair, beard, and so on.  Just like the Jesus in our stained glass window behind me.  But actually, the chances are that he would have had short hair, no beard (in the Roman fashion of the time) and a middle eastern face.  So on reflection, I decided that pedalling dubious images of Jesus wouldn't be very appropriate.  So I booted the ball back up the garden!

I wonder whether you have ever tried to imagine the face of God?  It's impossible of course.  But I think it is possible to imagine God's expression, at least.  I imagine God looking, frankly, disappointed.  I imagine him looking at the mess our world is in, and being rather perplexed, to say the least. 

He must be perplexed at watching the uber-wealthy businessmen getting richer, while the homeless, the poor, and the COVID-related jobless struggle.  I wonder how disappointed God’s face appears when he ponders the inequality between nations – when he sees that some nations, like ours, will all be vaccinated by the summer; but some nations will never be able to afford the vaccine.  I wonder what God’s face looks like when he sees the rise of popularism and fundamentalism across the planet. 

I especially wonder what God’s face looks like when he contemplates the sheer waste involved in the celebration of Jesus’ birthday.  According the waste-disposal company, PHS, something like 4.2 million Christmas dinners are wasted in the UK each year. That equates to approximately 263,000 turkeys, 7.5 million mince pies, 740,000 slices of Christmas pudding, 17.2 million Brussels sprouts, 11.9 million carrots and 11.3 million roast potatoes! 

Each year, the UK spends a combined total of around £700 million on unwanted presents!  227,000 miles of wrapping paper is thrown away each year.  1 billion Christmas cards are also put in the bin. 

As well as imagining God's expression, I wonder if we could try putting ourselves in God's shoes for a moment.  What would you do about all these problems?  If you were God?

Perhaps you would be tempted to jolly-well sort it all out.  Perhaps you would appear on a thunder cloud, and lay down the law with an iron fist, coupled with the threat of thunder bolts and lighting (very very frighteningly!  Galileo, Galileo...).  Perhaps you would use your almighty, omnipotent power to force people to be kind to one another.

But, if you did might find that you have a new problem.  Instead of a human race which chooses of its own free will to love you and worship you, you would have created a race of puppets.  You would have reduced the beautiful thing that a human being can be into something not much better than a toy.  Adam and Eve - reduced to Ken and Barbie.  And any love or worship they offered you or one another would be a poor thing indeed.  A mere shadow, a fabrication.

So, what do you do?  How do you persuade human-kind that there is another way?  How do you speak a Word to them that they will hear, and to which they can respond with all their hearts?  Here's what you do...

You send them your Son - a human being who is so filled with God that he can say with integrity "I and the Father are one".  You send them a Word clothed in flesh.  You show them what a human life can be like if it overflows with God. You send them a Word which reveals the full glory of God by living the kind of life that God calls all his creation to live.

You send them...a baby.  You send humanity the most fragile form of humanity that you can conceive.  You do it so that humankind sees that the glory of God is not shown in acquiring wealth, or looking after number one, or living in hate - but the glory of God is shown in the weakest kind of human being possible...a baby, in a stable; the son of a peasant woman in a backwater of the mighty Roman empire.

If you could stand in God's shoes today, perhaps you too would send humankind a Divine Word clothed in flesh.  For at Christmas, God comes to us as a human, to show us what it really means for us to be human.  By a life of selfless giving, total sacrifice, total love and compassion, Jesus shows us the heart, and the face, of God.  That’s what the shepherds saw, and it’s why they went away glorifying and praising God. 

 Perhaps we might do the same? Amen

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christ LIVED for you!

 The Corona virus has presented us with many challenges this year, hasn’t it?  This is by no means the first major Christian Festival which has had to be celebrated only through a camera lens.  It seems a long time ago, but I well remember having to celebrate Easter from my front room – at a time when even I wasn’t even permitted to be in the church building!

And now….Christmas.  Easter and Christmas – the two greatest Christian festivals which stand like bookends, or perhaps bastions, at different ends of the church’s year.  Both of them speak about the life of Christ.  His coming in human flesh in Bethlehem is the focus of Christmas.  Easter turns our eyes towards his risen and eternal life.

And yet, despite these great festivals of life, the church seems (to me at least) to be sometimes just a bit too focused on the death of Christ.  Our greatest and most ubiquitous symbol for Christ is not a manger, nor is it an empty tomb.  Instead, the Cross has become the primary Christian symbol. The cry of so many evangelists, throughout history, has been ‘Christ died for you!’. 

This of course is utterly true – and I don’t want to undervalue the rich layers of meaning which the death of Christ contains.  We explored many of them together on Good Friday – as we shall no doubt do again in 2021.  But, at this Christmas time, just as at Easter, I want to proclaim a different emphasis…a refreshed understanding of the Jesus story.  Not so much that ‘Christ died for you’, but rather, that startling truth that Christ lived for you!

Jesus’ death has much to teach us – it teaches us about the value of sacrifice, it warns us of the power of human governments to push God to the margins, and it provides theological, legal framework for the problem of sin (for those who find that helpful). It teaches us something about the love of a God who would send his own Son to give up his life for us.  But the life of Jesus has so much more to teach us.

It is by his birth at Bethlehem, in humble and lowly circumstances, that we catch a glimpse of God’s passion for the poor and the outcast of society.  It is through Jesus’ life among us, his teachings, his actions, his warnings, his encouragements, that we have the chance to really get under the skin of who Jesus was. 

Some of you have been following me as I’ve read a chapter of Luke’s Gospel each day during December (and well done if you’ve made it through all 24 days!).  I really hope that experience has helped you to get a broader, deeper and more profound understanding of the God who lived, and who continues to live in each of us.  And I hope you’ve noticed that the death of Jesus takes up just about half of one of those 24 chapters!

It is by Jesus’ life and teachings that we too may find life.  Jesus saves us by the Cross, yes, but also by the example of his life.  A life lived as Christ lived his life will be a life full of joy, of fellowship, of community, of giving and sharing, of healing, simplicity and of love.  These are not products of Jesus death – but of his life of earth.  And by his resurrection, we are promised that that life can go on for ever and ever.

So, this Christmas, let us hear again the news the Angels bring…good news for all humanity…the news, the real and present hope, that it is possible to live differently, to live lightly, to live generously, to live gloriously in the light of the example of Christ.  Christ has lived for us….alleluiah!


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas....Just stop it!

 A Sermon for Christmas Eve
Gospel Reading:  Luke 1.67–79

Then his [that is John the Baptiser’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
   in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
   and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
   to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
   before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

There are many for whom Christmas is a completely joyful time, filled with excitement, the tingle of anticipation, dreams of mangers and shepherds, parties and people. There are, I’m told, SOME people for whom the writing of Christmas cards is a joy, and for whom the wrapping of presents is an exciting activity.  There are SOME people, apparently, who take pleasure from battling through the supermarket with an overloaded trolley, heady with anticipation of munching their way through its contents.  There are those for whom the annual ritual of setting up a tree and decorating their home with shiny plastic baubles is joy-giving, and like-enhancing.

But, I suspect that for many people Christmas into actually fails to deliver the ‘peace on earth’ that the angels proclaimed.  For many, the pressure to conform to society’s idea of Christmas actually drives them into acute states of anxiety.  

A little meme was doing the rounds on Facebook yesterday, which a lot of people shared.  It went like this:

“My bedroom closet is full of Amazon boxes.  Zero presents are wrapped.  Laundry is everywhere.  Kids are screaming and fighting.  The house looks like a crime scene, and the only food in the pantry requires a recipe that I’m not sure I can pull off.
“Also, I’m 90% positive I’m forgetting something….or someone.
“This is fine.  I’m fine.”

Did you know that there is actually a diagnosable mental condition, called ‘Christmas Anxiety Disorder’?   And that applies to normal Christmases.   This Christmas has anxiety piled on top of anxiety, like snow falling snow on snow.  Many people will be jobless, or coping with only 80% of their wages on furlough.  Many are reliant on foodbanks, or the kindness of strangers.  Quite literally thousands of lorry drivers are waiting anxiously at Dover, for the chance to get home to their families for Christmas.  Others will be grieving the loss of loved ones, some just a day before Christmas, from COVID.  Medical staff, funeral homes, shop workers, teachers and council staff are on their knees.

Into this level of anxiety…how does a preacher preach?  What possible comfort and joy can I offer, to a world so anxious?  What can I say which would not feel like a little happy-face dinosaur plaster over a gaping wound?

The Father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, prophesied that the coming Messiah would lead us out of darkness and into light.  He would create the circumstances in which we could serve him without fear – without anxiety – in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.  God’s tender mercy would break over us like the dawn, and he would guide our feet into the way of peace.  

So what happened?  Where is this peace?  Where is the holiness and righteousness we were promised?  Where is the tender mercy of God?

Here is the problem:  human beings consistently, and persistently, have rejected God’s way to peace, holiness, righteousness and mercy.  God has done his part.  He sent his son to both live for us, and die for us, teaching us with his own mouth and body what God is like.  God has done what Zechariah prophesied.  

He has opened the way to life which goes on for ever.  It’s a way of selflessness.  A way of charity.  A way of generosity and sharing.  A way of prayer, and of study.  It’s a call to worship God with everything we have, and everything we are.  It’s a way of caring for creation, and for one another.  It’s a way of putting God first, in all things.     

But human beings, as a species, have chosen another way.  We’ve chosen the path of pleasure-seeking, the path of self-realisation and individualism, the path of wealth-accumulation, the path of consumerism, the path of excess in all things.  Rather than a simple, prayerful service of thanksgiving for the birth of our saviour, the Christ Mass has been turned into a hedonistic, resource-gobbling, greedy, pleasure-seeking excess of unrecyclable plastics and metals, rotten over-ordered food, frantic travel arrangements, and impossible expectations.  It’s no wonder that Christmas makes us anxious!

So what can I say as a preacher?  I can say only what I believe God to be saying…and it’s this:  Enough!   A silent night, in a sparsely-equipped stable, in the quiet arms of one’s closest family was enough for the Lord of Heaven.  Why isn’t it enough for you too?  What are you looking for?  What do you think you’re going to find among the glitter and the mountains of presents and the billions of cards?  Stop it!  It’s enough!

Search for the kind of wealth that does not rust, and which thieves cannot break in and steal.  Search for the light which shines in the darkness of all human life, not the plastic light of a Christmas decoration.  Search for the Narrow Way of living a life in community with others, in forgiveness and love.  Search for God, in a stable.

For where meek souls will receive him still, Zechariah’s prophesy still has power.  The dear Christ will enter in.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Subversive Christmas Tree

First...a story...

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of Christmas trees started?  Legends and folk-tales, my friends.  The greatest legend of them all tells of a man called ‘Beautiful Face’, or Boniface, to his friends.  A son of Devon, Boniface was a Christian missionary, a Bishop who travelled to the forests of Bavaria - spreading the good news of Jesus, the Light of all the world.

               In the darkness of the Forest, he came across a massive oak tree.  From its branches were hanging terrible things….bones, and skulls, including even the skulls of infants.    Boniface searched nearby, and came across a tribe of pagans, the People of the Tree.  They believed that something so mighty, the biggest thing in their entire world, must contain a great and mighty power.  They sacrificed themselves, and even their children to this tree-god, in the desperate hope of pleasing it...lest it should destroy them all.  Fear and superstition drove them to madness.

               Boniface begged the tribe to understand that the True God, would never ask of them such a thing.  In fact, he explained, the True God sent his own child to die for us!  He would never ask us to harm one of our children for him.  But the People of the Tree were not convinced.  Their fear was too great.

               So, that night, while the Tribe was asleep, Boniface took a mighty axe, and felled the great oak to the ground.  In the morning, the Tribe gathered around, terrified, waiting for the god of the tree to smite Boniface for his act.  But nothing happened...and gradually, the light of truth dawned in the minds of the Tribe.  They saw the truth of Boniface’s words, and began to worship Jesus Christ.

               But these were people of the Tree.  Without a tree towards which to focus their worship, they felt lost and bereft.  So, in a flash of insight, Boniface bade them to focus their worship on the ever-green trees of the forest.  They had no church, no building in which to gather - but instead, they could use ever-green trees as a symbol of the ever-green, never-ending love of God.  Lights in the branches would remind them of Christ, the Light of the World.  And so the legend of the Christmas Tree was born: a tree to remind us all, that God’s love for all humanity is new every morning, and never, ever ends.

What we have just heard is but one re-telling of the legend of the Christmas tree.  It comes from the 8th century (though I confess that most of the details were made up by me!).  Nevertheless, it is one of the earliest mentions of the idea of trees and Christmas.

Some scholars have suggested that there is a connection between Christmas trees and pagan religions.  The Old Norse festival of Yule is especially referenced – although any written evidence for the Yule-tree among old Viking records is pretty scant. 

The Christmas Tree has a long history, therefore – and mainly a Christian one.  In the story we heard just now, I suggested that lights in the branches of the tree were reminders of Christ the Light of the world. But there are many other Christian references to be explored…

For example - baubles are references to the fruit of the garden of Eden – the ‘apple’ which Eve ate, and by which disobedience towards God came into the world.  But these ‘apples’ are balanced by many other symbols of light and hope.  The star on the top of the tree points to the Star of Bethlehem.  Or if you put a ‘fairy’ on your tree – you are actually referencing the angels who announced the birth of Christ.  Presents, tied to the tree, are reminders of God’s great gift to the world – in the form of his son.  The very shape of the tree is a symbol…viewed in two dimensions, the tree forms a triangle, and is a reminder of the Trinity.  The fact that Christmas trees are ever-green is a reminder of the never-ending love of God (as good old St Boniface suggested in my story).  The fact that the tree is a tree at all is a reminder that Jesus Christ was hung on a cross of wood, or a ‘tree’ as it is sometimes described.

In many ways, therefore, the Christmas tree is a subversive thing.  It encompasses the whole story of God’s rescue of humanity.  From the Fall, in the garden of Eden, to the gift of Christ and his death on the tree, to the hope that the teachings of Jesus will be light to a dying world, each tree represents God’s story.  And many people don’t know it!  In most homes, and in most public squares around the world, trees are brought in.  A blessing from God is carried into our lives, without us even being aware that God is at work.

And isn’t that just like God?   As the carol says, ‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given’.  It is precisely in quietness and peace, in silent but never-ending love, that God comes to us. 

We find him, surprisingly, in a stable in Bethlehem.  But we also find him, surprisingly in the gift of a home to a homeless family, or in the gift of welcome and sustenance to a refugee.  We find him in the quiet march of scientific discovery, and in the gift of caring medicine which we’ve seen so much this year.  We find him in the phone-call to the lonely person, isolated by COVID or their own frailty.  We find him in the work of thousands of charities and volunteers who place the needs of others above their own.  We find him in the gift of time and learning which teachers give to their students.

Just as the Christmas tree has crept into our homes, we find that God too has crept into our lives.  And “where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in”.



A Strange Visitor

A re-imagining of the Annunciation to Mary...

Mary plonked herself down onto her bed, exhausted.  It had been a long day of household chores - but now, Mary had one more important job do.  She reached down, under her bed, and pulled out an old basket.  Inside it was her nearly-finished wedding robe...

You see, Mary was engaged to Joseph, the village carpenter.  Mary's mind started to wander as she stitched along the hem.  “I wonder what it’s going to be like - being married,” she thought. 

At that moment, unbeknown to Mary, something began to happen in the corner of her room - just over her shoulder.  A twinkle in the air.  Now a soft glow. Then, suddenly, a tall figure with wings on his back appeared in the corner.

"Greetings!" said the figure.

Mary jumped out of her skin!  "Where did you come from?", she demanded.  "You shouldn't creep up on people like that!" 

The tall figure with the wings, looked a little surprised at her reaction.  People usually quaked in fear when he appeared.  He wasn't used to being told off.  "Sorry", he mumbled.  "Didn't mean to startle you.  Can I go on now?"

"Alright" said Mary, thinking that this tall fellow looked a little bit like one of Mrs Cohen's sons, from down the road.  "What's this all about....and why have you got those, those feathers clipped onto your coat?  Are you going to a fancy dress party?"

"They're not clipped onto my coat." said the tall man.  "They're sticking out of my coat...they're my wings!"

"Oh," said Mary who was beginning to realise that this wasn't Mrs. Cohen's boy after all.  "Who are you?"

"I'm an Angel", said the Angel.

"Get away!" said Mary.  "You're pulling my leg.  What's this...some kind of prank?"

"No, really", said the Angel.  "I'm an actual, real, Angel.  Sent by God. The name’s Gabriel.   I've got a very important message for you. You are really very favoured you know.  Not everyone gets a real Angel sent with a message from God."

Mary was distinctly puzzled by now.  An Angel?  Sent to her?  Here in little Nazareth?  What ever can it mean?  Mary started to shake.  "I'm sorry, Angel," she said, "I didn't mean any dis-respect.  I thought you were Nathaniel from down the road...dressed up.  Oh crickey!  What have I done?"

The Angel looked kindly at Mary.  "Don't worry about it, Mary.  Don't be afraid.  It was an easy mistake to make.  Now listen...I've got really good news for you.  You are to be given the greatest gift that any woman has ever been given."

"Oh, my!" said Mary, agog.

"Yes," the Angel went on, "You are going to have a baby, sent from God.  You are to name him Yeshua"

"What, like Yeshua who led the People of Israel into the Promised Land?"  Mary enquired...trying to take in what the Angel was saying.

"Yes," said the Angel, "Just like that...although years from now people will change the way they pronounce it, and will call him Jesus."  The Angel drew himself up to his full height, and started to proclaim, slightly pompously, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever."  (The Angel was really working himself up to a climax now...the big finish.)  "His kingdom will never end...and..."

"Erm...", said Mary, holding up a finger.

"What now?!" said the Angel - a little bit annoyed that he had been stopped in mid-flow.

"Tiny problem." said Mary.

"What?!" said the Angel

"Well, you see, I don't think I can have a baby.  I'm not married yet.  Haven't even kissed Joseph yet.  Do you know whether beards tickle, by the way?"  The Angel took a deep breath.  A little pomposity crept into his voice again.

"Nothing is impossible for God.  The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy baby that will be born will be the Son of God.”

"Well," said Mary.  "It all sounds very unlikely, I must say.  I mean, why on earth would God choose a peasant like me to bear his son?  The son of God will be born in the palace, surely? Are you sure those wings are real?"

"I'm completely sure. " said the Angel, " You see, God doesn't approve of the kind of people who lord it over others in palaces.  His real passion is for those who are poor and humble"

"Well,” replied Mary, “they don't come much poorer than me.  I’ve even got to make my own wedding dress!" she said, holding up her sewing for the Angel to see.

"It's always been God's way.  Right back to the dawn of time.”

"Hmm," said Mary, still not quite convinced.  "Let me get this straight.  I'm going to have a baby, right?"

"Yep" said the Angel

"Even though I haven’t even kissed Joseph yet?"

"Even then"

"And my baby is going to be the Son of God...even though he will be born in this little hut?"

"Well," said the Angel cautiously, "He won't actually be born here..."

"Why not?" asked Mary, suspiciously

"It'll be a bit more rustic than this"

"A bit more rustic?  How much more rustic do you want it?" said Mary, pointing at her surroundings.

"Umm" said the Angel, with a worried look in his eye, "Think donkeys.  And cows"

"What!" exclaimed Mary.  "My baby is going to be born in a field?!"

"Oh no!", said the Angel.  "Nothing as bad as that.  More like a stable"

"A stable!" said Mary.

"Mary..." said the Angel, a little sternly.  "You've got to trust me.  You've got to trust God.  Jesus has to be born somewhere that no-one would expect a king to be born.  He's got to be born in utter that God's love for the poor can be made clear.”

Mary slid forward off her bed, until she was kneeling on the floor in front of the Angel.  She could no longer deny what was happening to her.  "I am the Lord's servant", she said.  "May it be to me as you have said."

The Angel smiled.  Mary had accepted what he had told her.  She had tasted something of her future, and the future that would be shaped by her Son.  Satisfied that his task was complete, the Angel slowly faded from Mary's view.  

In the corner of the room, the smile of an Angel hung in the air for a few seconds.  And then was gone.

And about 2020 years later, in a little church in a little town called Havant, an image of the Angel Gabriel re-appeared.  It was frozen in stained glass, and it peered out from behind some scaffolding which the people of that church had erected to repair another window.  But the Angel wondered… 

Would the people of this building, raised in the name of Yeshua, truly and deeply understand the power of the story of the coming of the Lord?  Would they, like Yeshua, prioritise the needs of the poor, and the outcast, and of people from strange lands?  Would they let the greatest story ever told become their story too?  The Angel waited, and watched, his likeness frozen in glass. 

 And he hoped. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Taking the Bible seriously - not literally

Genesis 49.2, 8–10 and Matthew 1.1–17

It has long been a practice of mine to preach, consistently, from the lectionary.  Other ministers, quite justifiably, tend to choose readings which they believe are most relevant to the needs of the congregation they serve, at that moment in time.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the result can be a fairly limited diet of Scripture. 

The lectionary, on the other hand, is deliberately created to give us a broad overview of the principle Scriptures – making sure that we’ve heard, over two and three-year cycles (weekdays or Sundays), all the main stories, and the main theological principles.

But I have to confess that when I first opened the lectionary to today’s reading, my heart sank!  What on earth can one say about a long list of names of the ancestors of Jesus.  And how on earth can I read them out, without tripping over my tongue?!  But, as you’ve just heard, I decided to stay true to my self-discipline of just preaching from the lectionary! 

If you have a really good memory, and if you’ve been listening to my daily readings from Luke’s Gospel, then you may have noticed something quite intriguing about the genealogy I’ve just read from Matthew.  It’s this – Matthew and Luke’s genealogies are quite, quite different.  Right from the question of the name of Joseph’s father.  It was either Jacob (according to Matthew), or Heli, according to Luke.  And from there, traced back through time, both genealogies are remarkably dis-similar.

This is a conundrum which has puzzled many bible scholars over the centuries – especially those who start from the premise of believing that the bible is the ‘inerrant’ or ‘infallible’ word of God’.  It’s a bit of a problem for those who claim that the Bible is a reliable historical (and indeed scientific) document.  Various theories have been advanced over the years, including the idea that Luke’s genealogy is actually Mary’s (despite the fact that it plainly starts with Joseph and his father).  Another idea is that Matthew’s gives us a list of royal ancestors (to prove Jesus’ descent from King David), whereas Luke gives us an actual list of biological ancestors.  But none of these explanations really cut the mustard – and there is no reliable evidence for any of these theories.

So for me, these lists of names, right there near the beginning of two of the Gospels point me to a bigger truth.  And it’s this:  never make the mistake of thinking of the Bible as infallible, or inerrant.  It simply isn’t – there are far too many internal inconsistencies, contradictory statements, and varying accounts of the same events.    If this were a Bible Study, instead of a sermon, we could have great fun now going through the Bible and examining some of those inconsistencies for ourselves.  Have you ever noticed, for example, that the second chapter of Genesis lists the order in which God created things…and that it’s a completely different order to the first chapter of Genesis?  But, tempted as I am to prove my point….this is not the place, and we don’t have the time.

Instead, let me quote from one of my favourite theological thinkers, John Dominic Crossan, who said this:  “My point….is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally”.  Crossan is referring to ancient texts as symbolic.  He understands, and teaches us, that ancient people were far less concerned than modern people with actual history.  They told stories – sometimes based on real events, and sometimes just pure fiction - in order to inspire, to teach, to warn and to encourage.  Another modern theologian, Rob Bell, teaches that it is not important whether something happened.  What’s important is that it HAPPENS – today, to us, to me.  The stories of Scripture help us to examine and understand OUR lives.  These stories transform US.

So, if you are one of the many people who struggle with the question of whether the Bible is true in any meaningful, historical respect, let me encourage you.  If you are someone who wonders whether the Virgin Birth really matters, or what the precise meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross really was, or whether Jesus really is ‘coming again’ despite 2000 years of apparent unwillingness…let me stand with you.  Let me invite you to move, with me, BEYOND the questions of historical accuracy, and into the much deeper questions of what these stories have to teach us, about how to live today in the light of the Gospel.  Let me encourage you to take the bible seriously not literally.

As we move inexorably towards Christmas, once more, ask yourself what your life would look life if truly lived in the light of the Gospel stories.  What might a life look like if it was framed entirely in notions of living simply, generously, outwardly, selflessly?  What kind of difference in the world could such a life make?  What would life be like if the whole of our society recognised the poverty of the stable, the desperation of the flight into Egypt, the abuse of power of Herod, the generosity of strangers, and the proclamation of peace by the Angels.  I actually don’t care very much which aspects of this story are literally true.  I only care that these stories, if we will let them sink deep into our hearts, have the power to reshape a dying world.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Divine vengeance...

 Isaiah 61.1–4,8–11 and John 1.6–8,19–28

John the Baptiser has had quite a bit of attention over the last week.  In last Sunday’s sermon, I explored how he had a subtly different understanding of who the Messiah was meant to be, and how he should act.  Then on Thursday, I explored the sceptical side of his nature, and I suggested that scepticism is a generally healthy thing for all thinking people – and especially religious thinking people.   Just now, we lit our third Advent candle, and reminded ourselves of John’s pivotal role as a witness to the truth – as a burning and shining light for Christ.

Despite all this focus on John, we must never forget that his primary role was to be the announcer of Christ.  As he himself said (in John 3.30) “I must decrease, so that he may increase”.  John recognised in today’s Gospel that he himself was not even worthy to untie the sandals of the Messiah.  As John the Gospel-writer stressed, John the Baptiser was not, himself, the Light…but rather, he came to testify to the Light. 

It was Jesus – the Light of the World - that John pointed us to.  And it was Jesus who, a short while after his baptism by John, who would claim for himself the opening lines of Isaiah 61, when he stood up to read in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-30).  Here, again, are the words he both quoted, and then made his own:

 “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…”

Having read those words, according to Luke’s account, Jesus put down the scroll and said to the congregation ‘Today, these words have been fulfilled in your midst’.  Jesus deliberately, and purposefully, declared his mission to be one of bringing good news, binding up, healing, and proclaiming liberty.  He proclaimed that this was the year of the Lord’s favour.

Which is all very beautiful.  But I’m interested in what Jesus doesn’t say.  I find it fascinating that Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at just that point.  He didn’t read the next line, which says ‘…and the day of vengeance of the Lord’.  Jesus stops at the news that this is the year of God’s favour.  

There is a stream of consciousness which flows through the Bible, and especially through the Old Testament.  It’s a theme of judgement and divine vengeance, constantly invoked by prophets and seers throughout the ages, no doubt in an attempt to scare humanity into behaving itself.  The very oldest stories of the Bible paint a picture of a kind of Divine ‘bogey-man’ who needs to enact some kind of punishment on humanity…  

For the sins of Adam and Eve, they are cast out of the Garden.  For the sins of all humanity, God apparently sends a flood to wipe out the earth.  Pharaoh and his riders are cast into the sea for having stood in the way of the Divine will.  Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, because the people failed to offer hospitality to God’s angels.  Time and time again, the Bible’s writers reach for stories of divine vengeance.  

But Jesus refuses to align himself with that kind of thinking, and with those kinds of stories.  He doesn’t, for a moment, deny the power of human sin, or its ability to destroy.  But neither does he retreat into metaphors of divine vengeance as the solution.  Instead, Jesus talks of God’s love for the world.  Just two chapters later than this morning’s Gospel, Jesus says those words which we repeat at every Thursday Eucharist: “God so loved the world, that he sent his only son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.  The God whom Jesus unfolds for us is that God who does not seek the destruction of his children.  This is not the angry, vengeful God of former understanding.  This is the God of love, of healing, of binding up, and of setting free.  This is God the parent….God the loving Father.

And that, ultimately, is the good news that we are called to announce, this coming Christmas and then every day of the year.  When we announce ‘peace on Earth, and God’s goodwill to all people on whom his favour rests’, we speak of a transforming, overwhelming Love, a love which proclaims good news to the poor, which binds up the broken, and releases the captives.

I’m frankly tired of the religious voices who claim that every disaster which befalls us is some kind of divine punishment.  AIDS was never a punishment from God, and nor is COVID 19.  They were both self-inflicted wounds by an unwise humanity, who released otherwise harmless animal viruses into the human population.  The devastation of earthquakes and even tsunamis are not divine vengeance – but the self-inflicted wounds of an unwise humanity, who build cheap houses and beach resorts in known earthquake zones.  God does not wage war, and he never requires suicide bombers.  God does not desire vengeance or retribution…these things are not the will of God.  

God, rather, offers wisdom and love.  Through Jesus, he offers us life – abundant life, filled with wisdom, healing, sharing, and liberty.  It’s Life which goes on for ever.  All we have to do is look to the Light, and live in the Light, of the wisdom and truth of Jesus Christ.  

Just as John the Baptiser discovered that he must also do.  Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

John the Baptiser - Prophet and Sceptic

This is certainly the week for thinking about John the Baptiser – he’s the focus of readings all through this week.  Today, I’d like to home in on one particular facet of John’s character – a facet which speaks directly to us today…and it’s this:  John was a sceptic.  After being thrown into prison, by King Herod, John sent a message to Jesus asking ‘Are you the Messiah?  Or are we to expect another?’.  This is the same John who didn’t become one of Jesus’ own disciples.  He carried on ploughing his own furrow…doing things his own way: angrily calling people to repentance with dire warnings, while Jesus tried the tack of Love.  So, John was sceptical about Jesus.  

Scepticism is all around us, isn’t it?  We are – perhaps justifiably - sceptical about the Government’s promises that Britain will boom after Brexit.  Many have become extremely sceptical about politics at all, not least since politicians seem to be willing to deal with ‘alternative truth’ (as Donald Trump’s press secretary once memorably suggested).  We are sceptical even about the great national organs of balance and truth that we’ve trusted for generations, like the BBC or the great newspapers of our nation.  

It’s perhaps even more disconcerting that, in our time, we’ve become sceptical of the claims of science.  ‘Anti-vaxxers’ have been a growing voice in national discourse for a while – ever since some rather spurious claims (in my view) were made, linking the MMR vaccine to cases of childhood autism.

Scepticism doesn’t just pervade our national life though.  It also pervades our thinking about God.  Just like John the Baptiser, we wonder whether Jesus’ claims to be God’s Son, indeed God himself, can really be true.  And, if we are not careful, our scepticism can drive us to throw aside everything we believe, and on which we have based our lives.

But scepticism is not, in itself, a bad thing.  Scepticism is part of a process of growth.  It’s part of ‘putting away childish things’ (as St Paul so memorably said – see 1 Cor.13).  For a sceptical mind is ultimately a questioning mind.  It’s the kind of mind which asks ‘where does this information come from?  Is it trustworthy?’  Philosophers and theologians have a long name for this kind of enquiring thought – they call it ‘epistemology’ – which essentially asks the question ‘how do we know what we think we know?’.

Sceptical thought should lead us to deeper thought, and to greater understanding.  When John asked, via messengers, whether Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus said this to the messengers:  "Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached". (Lk 7.22).  

Notice how Jesus doesn’t get angry at John for his sceptical, doubting question.  Instead, he answers the question with a powerful illustration.  And invites John to arrive at a new understanding.  

Sadly we don’t know what the results of Jesus’ answer to John’s question were….not least because the poor fellow literally lost his head a short time later.  But we can see that expressions of doubt, and scepticism, were not rejected by Jesus.  Instead, he confronted the sceptic head-on, and gave him new facts to consider.  And this is how the healthy work of scepticism should work for all religious people.  We should never be afraid of doubt, because doubt is part of the process of digging for truth.  Scepticism, used wisely, is the shovel we use to unearth the gold nuggets of real truth.  

Of course, like any human characteristic, it’s possible to take scepticism too far.  At the far end of religious scepticism, for example, we find the ultra-atheists, like every preacher’s ‘boogie-man’, Richard Dawkins.  I genuinely feel sorry for Dawkins.  He is someone who has become SO sceptical of religions, and of religious thought, that he is no longer able to be objective in his sceptical enquiry.  For him, scepticism is no longer a shovel with which to dig for truth, but a bulldozer to cover over any view which is not his own.

When I was a child, I thought like a child.  But now I am a man, I have put away childish things.  But even now, I still can only see through a glass darkly…and therefore I need to embrace the grown-up, adult-brained task of being sceptical about my faith, and about my own political and world views.  That’s the adult thing to do.

As the Christmas story unfolds around us again, perhaps you might find yourself sceptical about any number of things.  Does it matter whether Jesus was born of a virgin?  What is an angel, anyway?  Why on earth would the civil authorities tell people to go back to the town of their birth to be counted in a census?  These (and many more) are all good questions to ask.  

And if you honestly seek answers to honest sceptical questions, I promise you that those answers will lead you into a much more profound, much more meaningful understanding of the truth.  You too can unearth – with your sceptical shovel - new understandings of the depth of the story about when God came to town.  A little town. Called Bethlehem.  Amen.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Just not getting it...John the Baptiser

A sermon for Advent 2

Readings: Isaiah 40.1-11 and Mark 1.1-8

Today – and indeed next week too, the Lectionary invites us to consider the place and role of John the Baptiser.  We call him that, these days, because the word ‘Baptist’ has become linked to a particular theological viewpoint.  Today’s ‘Baptists’ believe that adult baptism is the only legitimate baptism and that just about every other mainstream church is wrong in baptising children who can’t confess their own faith.  That is a fascinating argument…of course.  But there isn’t time to go into it now.

So let’s focus down on John the Baptiser – the man.  Mark launches straight into his story by reminding us of Isaiah’s prophecy (which we’ve also heard, this morning).  It’s a prophecy of a messenger who will be sent ahead of the Messiah.  Mark is absolutely convinced that John is that messenger – so he goes on: “John the Baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. He follows the tradition of living apart from civilisation, and of calling people to repent of their evil ways.  Picture the scene:  Imagine a rather dirty fellow, with mad scruffy hair, dressed in camel-skins, and covered in bee-stings (from raiding wild bee hives).  He’s probably got blobs of honey stuck to his shirt, and he’s munching on a locust...and declaring at the top of his voice “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near”.

I wonder what our reaction would be if we met someone like that in the streets of Havant – or even here inside the church. I think we’d try to get him some serious mental health support!  

But there was something about John that attracted people to him. There was something about his message which, according to both Mark and Matthew’s Gospels, attracted people out into the desert from “Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all of the region along the River Jordan” (Mt 3:5)

According to Matthew’s rather expanded account of Mark’s passage, John was not a man to mince his words either. He taunted the religious leaders of the day with phrases like “You viper’s brood” (Mt 3:7).  He warned them against the complacency of their religion: saying “Just because you are Abraham’s children, don’t go thinking that gives you an automatic right to heaven” (Mt 7:8 - paraphrased)

There are, in fact, a number of puzzling questions about John. First there is the fact that he didn’t join up with Jesus. Why didn’t he set aside his baptising, and become a follower of the Lord? And then there’s the fact that when he was in prison he sent word to Jesus to ask him if he really was the Messiah.

I think that John had a different vision of what the Messiah would be like.  John’s Messiah would be full of swift judgment against the evil people of the day.  See what he says about Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 3:  “...he will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”. (Mt 3: 12).  

John’s expectations of the Messiah are rooted in the language and concepts of the Old Testament.  But, uncomfortably, Jesus simply doesn’t match up to John’s expectations of what the Messiah would be like... should be like.  And he was Jesus’ cousin!  

I wonder how many of us sometimes do that?  How often do we simply assume that God will be as we expect him to be…rather than how God actually is?  How often do we assume that God must surely agree with our beliefs?  How many Conservative-voters assume God is a Tory?  How many socialists are just certain that God would surely have voted for Jeremy Corbyn?   How many racists or homophobes automatically assume that God agrees with them? How many religious extremists – on every side, assume that God condones their violent actions?  We all have a tendency to make God in our own image – rather than seeking the truth of God in whose image we are made.

John’s language is the language of criticism and warning.  “You’d better do what I say, or God Almighty is going to smite you!”   John’s kind of repentance is a rather mechanistic, transactional thing.  “Repent, and be baptised, and you will be forgiven of your sins – you’ll be saved from the wrath that is to come”.  John is offering a rather simple passport to heaven – rather like the indulgences that Martin Luther rightly condemned 1500 years later. 

Jesus’ language, on the other hand, is of forgiveness, acceptance, and love.  He speaks of journeys and the Way of faith.  John is the apocalyptic doom-sayer.  Jesus offers life, hope and an exciting journey.

Mind you, Jesus is not immune from the apocalyptic tradition.  Certainly he gives plenty of warnings, and he even appropriates John’s use of the phrase ‘viper’s brood’ – to describe the religious leaders of the day. (Mt 12.34).  But on balance, Jesus’ tone is rather different to John’s.  Instead of calling us to a desert of repentance, he invites us to commune with each other and with him around a meal.  He even includes Samaritans, Zealots, tax collectors and even his future betrayer into that community.  He even includes women – which in his time was an incredible thing to do.  

Jesus speaks the language of radical inclusion, whereas John speaks of unquenchable fire and winnowing forks.  Jesus invites all of us on a journey of faith, self-discovery, community-life and growth.  He calls it the Way, and the Kingdom.  

Jesus call us to turn away from making up our own ideas about how things should be.  He calls us instead to tune-in to God’s loving, merciful, ultimately positive view of the universe.  The baptism of Jesus marks the very start of an entire journey of faith.

That’s why, incidentally, I do believe in infant baptism.  For I think that it is never too early, in God’s inclusive Kingdom, to invite another person to journey with God.  Amen.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The wise man and the foolish man

Reading: Matthew 7.21, 24–27

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’


Today’s Gospel reading is one of those which always takes me back to Sunday School.  Do you remember the song?

“The wise man built his house upon the rock (repeated three times)

And the rain came tumbling down.

The rain came down and the floods came up (repeated three times)

And the house on the rock stood firm.”

Then the whole thing got repeated for the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, till ‘the house on the sand fell FLAT’ (at which point we would clap and laugh hysterically!)

The surface meaning of this parable is, of course, completely obvious.  Those who build their lives on the teachings of Jesus will have strong and stable lives.  But those who build on other foundations are doomed to live on shifting sands.

This principle has always been true for Christians.  Millions upon millions of us can attest that a life built on the teachings of Jesus is a life filled with purpose and meaning.  It’s a life of hope and love.  A life of service and fulfilment.  But what are the alternatives?

Doubtless, there have been many sermons over the centuries which have offered alternatives to the teachings of Jesus.  Perhaps the teachings other religious leaders have been held up as shifting sands – especially at times when the apparent advance of competing ideas was seen as a threat.  Perhaps lives of drunkenness and debauchery have been suggested, at times when abstinence was seen as a top priority for the Band of Truth or the Salvation Army.  Or perhaps it was lives lived in pursuit of wealth, the empty promise of gold or over-stuffed barns (as Jesus suggested)?

But I think that recent events in our World have offered us a whole new desert of shifting sand to contemplate.  As a society, we have built our entire house on some very perilous shifting sands.  In the last hundred years, this foundation of sand has become so ubiquitous, that we hardly give it a second thought.  It is so ingrained in our society, so much a normal part of our lives, that we almost never stop to examine it or question it.  What am I referring to?  

I’m talking about the sand of consumerism.  And I think the consequences of that sandy foundation are now becoming all too plain to see.  Our house is sinking fast.  The floods are rising….quite literally in the case of climate change caused by rampant consumerism.  It is consumerism which fed the mass transit systems of our lives, which in turn led to the rapid advance of a little local virus into a world-wide pandemic.  It is consumerism which pumps smoke into the air, and plastics into the water.  It is consumerism which causes armies to fight over literal deserts, in the hope of possessing the lakes of oil underneath them.  It is consumerism which feeds individualism, which in turn leads to Nationalism, and paranoid fears about outsiders.  And it is consumerism which provokes the backlash of angry extremism, and the ideologies which seek to return us to the stone age.  And it is the collapse of consumerism, under the weight of the pandemic it caused, which is putting so many people out of work right now.

Have you ever noticed that every world economy is measured not on levels of happiness, or by the way it takes care of its most fragile members, or the benefit it offers to the climate, or the benefit it offers to the intellectual and spiritual health of humankind?  Instead, the single most important factor in determining the health of an economy is said to be growth.  Which is frankly, nuts.  If the economy of every country grew by just 2.5% per year on average, then in 10 years time, the world would need to produce 25% more stuff than it does now.  25% more smoke in the air.  25% more plastic in the sea.   In 20 years time – the world would have to give up 50% more than it already does to feed and please the consumerist armies of humans swarming across its face.  It’s nuts.  It’s crazy.  It’s the self-defeating, civilisation-ending strategy of the mythical lemming.  Something has to change.  Something has to shift.  Or we’re quite simply not going to make it.  The house on the sand will fall FLAT!

Against this terrifying vision, Jesus offers us a solid, rocky, alternative.  His teachings are granite-hard foundations on which we could choose to build.  Jesus wasn’t an economist.  But the principles he espoused can be converted into economic theory, without very much effort at all.   Principles like – prioritising care for the poor and the sick.  Principles like sharing, giving, and spreading, instead of hoarding, taking and keeping.  Principles like ‘rendering unto Caesar’ could transform an economy in which the wealthiest people currently pay the very least tax for the common good.  Principles like teaching the priority of community, over individualism.  Principles like valuing rest and retreat, instead of 24-hour shopping and frantic holidays.  Imagine how different things would be right now, if we valued healthcare, education, medicine, scientific enquiry, spiritual growth and community service as much as we value restaurants, pubs, cappuccinos and department-store shopping.

CONsumerism – the clue is in the name.  It’s a CON.  It’s a con, perpetrated on the whole of our society by the con-men who currently pull the levers of power.  How can we change this?  How can any of us hope to turn around the Titanic of consumerism which is about to crash into the ice-berg of destiny, taking us all to the bottom with it?

The answer of course, lies with Jesus.  We do it one person at a time, just as he did.  One soul at a time.  We spread his word, person by person and we live his life.  And we encourage others to do the same.  Perhaps, if you agree with my hypothesis, you could share the video of this sermon, on Facebook?  Or pass on the copy in the Corona Chronicle to a neighbour?  (Or share this blog with a friend?)

Consumerism only took root in our society because one by one, we allowed it to.  The opposite is also true, and also a possibility.  Frankly, it’s the only hope we have.

So, if you agree with my hypothesis…what will YOU do about it.  What changes will you make today, to fashion some life-boats for the Titanic.  Will you, once more, fall prey to the marketing gurus who will have you buy billions of plastic toys for children this year?  Will you fall prey to the titans of industry who want you to decorate your home with their laser lights, and their plastic tree?  Will you succumb to the message that comfort and joy can only be found through an over-stocked larder, a Christmas edition of ‘Strictly…’ and a mountain of chocolate.  Will you build on sand again, this year?  

Or will you stand up for Jesus – and for his way of life?  The way of charity, simplicity, and love? Will you take time to draw apart from the madness, find some simplicity and some peace?  

Will you prioritise charity over chewing, giving over getting, and loving over living-it-up?