Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The problem with miracles...

The Rich Man and Lazurus

Text: Luke 16.19-end

If you or I wanted to persuade the world that God is real, what is the most persuasive thing we could do?   Perhaps a great miracle will do it?  Like feeding five thousand families with a couple of small fish and a few loaves of bread?  Perhaps a dramatic healing or two…like giving sight to the blind, or healing a fatal skin disease?  Perhaps we could walk on the water, from Langstone to Hayling.  Or, with a word of command, still the next storm to rage over Havant.

Or how about raising someone from the dead?  Perhaps if we could achieve that, surely the whole world would realise that God is real?

Well, apparently not.  Jesus did all these things, according to the stories we have inherited about him through the lens of the Gospels.  And yet, they were not enough.  In fact, some of the stories in the Gospels go even further than raising only Jesus from the dead.  Matthew’s Gospel, for example, claims that upon the death of Jesus, the ‘tombs of the saints’ were opened, and the dead rose up and entered the City, appearing to many – a story which pre-figures the great Resurrection promised to all believers at the end of time.

But, how is it that despite so many miracles, and the demonstration of so much power, by the time that Jesus was crucified, his followers had shrunk in number down to single digits?  How is it that after great demonstrations of power, whether at Lourdes or during the healing crusades of so many Pentecostals, the world has not yet turned to God?

Scepticism, coupled with scientific rationalism both have a role to play.  Just as when we watch a great magician on stage, we instinctively suppose that even the great miracles of Jesus are a trick of some kind.  We reason to ourselves that perhaps he didn’t walk on water, but on a sand-bank just beneath the waves.  Perhaps the calming of the storm was a lucky co-incidence between Jesus waking up and the storm naturally blowing over.   Perhaps he wasn’t actually dead, after three hours on the cross, but just severely wounded.  And, we reason to ourselves, after three days he had recovered enough to step out of his tomb.  There are of course many ways to refute all these rationalist explanations – and theologians have been ably refuting them for two millennia.  But, still, the world is not convinced.  Miracles alone won’t persuade the people of the reality of God.

This fact is at the heart of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  From his place of torment, the Rich Man begs Abraham to send a miraculous sign to earth, to persuade the Rich Man’s brothers to repent and avoid the same fate.  But Abraham responds that the brothers will not be convinced ‘even if someone rises from the dead’.  This is a perceptive and accurate assessment of the value of miracles in the overall cause of the Kingdom.  Jesus knew that miracles would not persuade the people.  That didn’t stop him from performing miracles – they seemed to flow out of him, sometimes almost in spite of his personal preferences.  Miracles were, for Jesus, what happens when an Almighty God gets incarnated into the world of flesh and blood.  He just can’t help himself. Miraculous powers, defying the laws of physics, just flow from the God who set those laws in place, and who exists beyond and above any such limitations.

But we humans can’t accept them.  We are naturally suspicious – not least because miracles of any kind defy those physical laws which govern the rest of our lives.  Even when miracles happen to us, personally, we have a tendency to rationalise and explain them away.  We put them down to a fortuitous accident of co-incidence, or we wonder about the hidden healing powers of the brain, or we simply don’t trust our eyes, or the reports of others.

Jesus understood this fact at a profound level.  During his 40 days in the wilderness, according to Luke and Matthew, he was tempted by the Devil to base his entire ministry on the performing of miracles.  That’s what the Devil suggested when he took Jesus to the top of the temple, and challenged Jesus to throw himself off, certain that angels would appear and carry him safely to the ground.  But Jesus knew that putting God to the test, and requiring miraculous signs from him, would do nothing to advance the cause of the Kingdom. 

And he had good evidence for knowing this.  Miracles didn’t work for Moses, either.  Despite the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the ocean, manna in the desert, and the pouring of water from solid rock, the people still rebelled, and still refused to truly believe in the reality of God.

Miracles, then, are signs of God’s presence.  They are glimpses of the power of the God who created the Universe to act outside the Universal laws.  But they are not attempts to persuade people to worship and trust in God. 

Instead, the path of Jesus was the path of the teacher.  He took the time to explain, in parables and sayings, what following the Way of God is really about.  It’s not about how many miracles can be performed, but about how many lives can be changed…. beginning with my life and yours.  A miracle may, perhaps, inspire us to love the Lord our God, with all our hearts; but the daily task of taking up our cross, denying ourselves and following our Master is what will lead us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and ultimately will lead to the healing and salvation of our souls.

Most of us, this week, will not be called upon to heal the sick, or raise the dead, or to walk upon the waters of Langstone harbour.  More likely, the week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of sugar to a neighbour, or make a telephone call to a lonely person, or send money to feed a starving child or help with the mission costs of this parish.   But in those small acts of love, in those outpourings of humanity, in the little, daily sacrifices – true miracles are found.  Amen.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Did God promise Israel to the Jews?

 Texts: Genesis 12.1-9 & Hebrews 11.  2nd Sunday of Lent (Second Service Readings)

Tonight, as the bombs continue to fall over the Gaza strip, we’ve heard one of those passages of the book of Genesis which has caused a lot of trouble in the world.  We heard God apparently tell Abraham that he and his descendents would be given the land of Canaan.  This is a promise, often repeated by those Zionist Jews who claim a divine right to the Land called Holy.  They have faith in this apparent promise.  They put their faith in it.  They believe that it gives them license and permission to claim all the land in that region as theirs.

The problem – for anyone who wants to treat such an ancient promise literally – is that the Arab nations also claim that Abraham is their ancestor, through Abraham’s son Ishmael. The Jews claim their heritage through Isaac, and the Arabs through Ishmael – who was Abraham’s first born son via Hagar, Sarah’s maid.  The Jewish claim is given added strength by the fact that Isaac was born of Sarah – so, in our modern understanding of marriage, he was Abraham’s legitimate heir.  But Ishmael was born of Hagar by Sarah’s own suggestion (believing herself to be barren) – and Ishmael was Abraham’s first born son, therefore.  As Sarah’s maid, Hagar was essentially a slave.  Her body belonged to Sarah (according to the ancient ways).  That is why Sarah felt that she could essentially use Hagar as a surrogate.

Do you see the complexity of the issue?  There is a legitimate argument, from both the Jews and the Arabs, that they are descendants of Abraham.  Indeed, we refer to the Jewish and Muslim faiths as ‘the Abrahamic religons’ – because they both count Abraham as their fore-father.  So which one has the most legitimate right to claim the promise of the Land of Canaan, that God made to their ancestor?

If an International Court was ever asked to decide this question, once and for all, they would have their work cut out for them.  First, they would need to rule on the issue of legitimacy at the time of Abraham – when concepts such as ‘wife’ or ‘concubine’ were rather fluid.  Secondly, they might be asked to rule on the textual origin of the story itself – and especially of God’s promise to Abraham.  If they were to call mainstream scholars to the stand, such scholars would tell them the facts.  Facts such as that since the 19th century (that is the 1800s) most scholars believe from close study of language, mythology, textual clues and the like, that Genesis was written about five or six hundred years before Christ – and not by Moses himself, half a millennia earlier, as tradition has claimed.  They would say that it is largely a mythological document – written at a time when many civilizations were creating myths and stories to explain their origins, and give weight to their claims of ownership of land, or to give authority to the priestly class.  The Greeks, for example, were revelling in the legends of Homer at around the same time.  The Egyptians had their own mythological stories and gods.

So, an international court, asked to adjudicate on the claim that God gave the land of Canaan to the Jews, would be forced to conclude that such a claim can only be substantiated through faith – and not from either the text, or the known history of that period.

And so, we come to the question of faith – meaning faith in the sense that the Jews mean it, when they claim the promise of God to Abraham.    And that is one kind of faith.  It is the kind of faith which gives intellectual assent to a set of ideas or theological statements.  It is the kind of faith which decides to accept that one unevidenced statement is true, while another is not.  It is by such faith that we might believe (or not) that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that the world was created in six days, or that Noah built an ark to carry all the animals of the world (but somehow forgot the dinosaurs!). 

This is also the kind of faith that has caused wars and conflict between people of different faith throughout the millennia.  It is by faith that Muslims believe Mohammed to be the last and greatest prophet.  It is by such faith that some Christians assert the divine right of the Bishop of Rome to govern the church.  It is by such faith that crusades were led to recapture Jerusalem. It is by such faith that Christians have burned one another at the stake over what seem to us to be very minor differences of theology.  Today, that kind of faith is tearing portions of the church apart over what each side believes that God does, or does not, approve about the state of marriage.

Such faith – the willingness to accept, or reject, various different religious ideas – is a dangerous thing, therefore.  There can be no objective proof for any statement of faith.  There is no way to know, objectively, whether or not to intellectually assent to any given religious proposition. And therefore, I would argue, no cause whatsoever for killing each other over such ideas.

But is there another kind of faith – one that we could wholeheartedly accept, without any reservations?  I want to argue that there is.  The kind of faith I’m talking about is the faith which trusts in a way of life, and which sets out to live, with integrity, according to that way of life.  Did you know that Jesus’ first followers were not called Christians?  In fact, they were called ‘followers of The Way’. 

So when I say that I have faith in Jesus, I don’t mean that I am willing to die for a belief in his virgin birth, or even his bodily resurrection.  What I mean by calling myself a Christian, is that I put my trust in the teachings, the life and The Way of Jesus, the Christ.  He showed us, by his generous, self-sacrificing, healing and reconciling life that generosity, sacrifice, healing and reconciling are the means by which human beings may yet be able to dig ourselves out of the mire.  If only we could truly grasp the immense power of lives poured out in sacrifice to one another, the awesome potential of the simple command to love our neighbour, the incredible possibility of human happiness if we could only learn to share! Then all the religious propositions which divide us into factions and creeds and denominations and religions could just fade away into the obscurity they deserve.

That’s a faith worth having.  That’s a faith worth living for.  That’s a faith worth even dying for.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Ash Wednesday

 Readings: Joel 2: 1- 2, 12-17 & John 8: 1 – 11.

Do you remember the dustmen's strike of the late 1970s? I do – because of one very memorable event, which happened soon after we had moved into a new house. My Dad decided to deal with the overflowing rubbish bin via a bonfire in the garden. However, he accidentally consigned an aerosol can to the flames. Sure enough, the can exploded – sending a missile over the fence at the bottom of our garden, to land in the open kitchen door of a new neighbour.

Our neighbour, who turned out to be the headmaster of our local school, came screaming out of the house. "What on earth to you think you are doing?!" My Dad was, of course, very apologetic – but thought that this rather bossy man was over-reacting a bit. It was only an accident after all. He was then rather puzzled by the neighbour's next question: "What would have happened if a net had been there?". "Well," replied my puzzled father, "I suppose a net would have caught it!". What Dad didn't realise, was that 'Annette' was the headmaster's daughter!

Ashes were part of all our lives, not so long ago.  I guess most of us have had the experience of raking ashes out of the grate, in the days before central heating.  Ashes are just rubbish, aren't they? The product of burning something away. Just carbon. Waste, after the heat and light are gone.

So why, tonight, are we going to put this rubbish, this ash, on our heads? I want to suggest three reasons why we maintain this tradition - though I am sure there are more.

First of all these ashes are a reminder of who we are. The Bible tells us that we came from the dust and to the dust we shall return. Are bodies are about 50% water, and 22% carbon – which is what ash also is.  The beautiful mythological imagery of Genesis tells us that the first human was formed out of the dust of the earth by God and then God breathed life into that dust. That is a powerful image. God is the source of our life – and the ashes we will use later on remind us of our utter dependence on him. Without the breath or Spirit of God moving in us, we are just ashes – dust: lifeless - worthless.

Secondly ashes are also a sign of repentance. As well as being a time of preparation for Good Friday and Easter, Lent is a time of mourning for our sins. It is a time when we are called to repent, turn away from our sin – which why, throughout Lent, we do not sing the Gloria, but focus instead on the Kyrie. "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy".  Traditional Christians also say that we have to give up using the word ‘Alleluia’ in Lent too – so that it has all the more power and meaning on Easter Sunday.  For many of Lent will involve giving up something which we enjoy, as a personal discipline, and as a sign of our repentance.

Repentance is of course a key biblical theme. Time and time again the Old Testament prophets called people to turn away from their way of doing things, and to turn towards God's way. Sometimes, as Isaiah said, that even meant repenting about the way that repenting was done! In Isaiah's day, fasting had become sort of fashionable, and as a result, hollow.  Isaiah, speaking for God, says "Is this the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes. Do you call this a fast - a day acceptable to God?"

Isaiah goes on to outline what true fasting, true repentance will look like. True repentance means becoming like the God whose heart is for the poor, and the hungry, and the homeless, and the weak, and the stranger. It means being practical, outward looking, loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. It means expressing God’s love for other people, through our actions, through our prayers, through our giving.  It means, as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, going from here and sinning no more.

Thirdly, and finally…people in the Bible put the ashes on top of their heads - so why do we put them in the sign of the cross on our foreheads?  We make the sign of the cross because it is a reminder of how we are marked for Christ.  It is in one sense a reminder of our baptism, when we were signed with the sign of the cross.  

And the cross of ashes also reminds of the mark of the Lamb as it is described in the Book of Revelation.  Revelation tells of an angel marking the faithful before the tribulation. These faithful would then be protected – kept safe from the terrible Day of the Lord that the prophet Joel warned us about – “the day is close at hand.  A day of darkness and gloom.  A day of clouds and blackness.”  A day when the forces of evil that stalk our world will gain the power to ruin lives, full the pockets of the rich, bring war and famine and pestilence.  A day, I think you’ll find, that is not unlike the awful things happening in our world right now! 

These ashes tonight remind us that whatever comes, we are belong to Christ; he has marked us with the ever-lasting sign of Love, the mark of the cross.  We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  We need have no fear.

These may be just a few ashes, but they mean a lot. Let me just summarise:

First, they are a symbol of our need for God, for His breath of life. We are nothing but dust and ashes apart from Him.

Secondly, they are also a symbol of our repentance and mourning. We've allowed ourselves to be seduced by the wealth and comfort of the world, while our neighbours are starving. The ashes are a sign of our deliberate repentance, our turning away - from our way of being, to God's.

Finally, in the midst of our repentance, these ashes are a sign that however often we have failed to live God’s way, and whatever evil befalls the world, we are marked as Christ's own, and we belong to him.  We are stamped and certified as children of God through the cross of ash.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Was Jesus a racist?

Text: Mark 7.24–30

From there he (that is, Jesus) set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’  But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’  Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’  So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.


I like a good insult. I confess it. Take, for example, the anecdotal tale about Sir Winston Churchill. Once, at a party, he is said to have been approached by one Elizabeth Braddock, who exclaimed "Mr Churchill, you are drunk!" Churchill is said to have replied, "Yes, Madam, and you are ugly. But in the morning, I will be sober." Priceless, isn't it?

We all know, though, don't we, that even playful insults can easily cross the line into hurt and offence.  Which is why it is quite surprising that in today's Gospel we should hear Jesus describing the non-Jewish races around him as 'dogs'. In the Middle East, calling someone a dog has always been a gross insult.  And yet, when a Syro-Phoenician woman comes to Jesus to ask for healing for her daughter, Jesus' response is 'it’s not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs'.  The clear implication of his words is that he considers his ministry to be first and foremost for Jewish people.

  The Jews are the children.  Other nations are ‘dogs’.  What a shock! What an insult! To the woman in question, it would have been like me saying that only white English people can be Christians. But when we read the Bible, we have to be very careful. Only a few pages earlier, especially in chapters 3 and 5, we find that Jesus quite happily and regularly preached his message to non-Jews, all around Tyre and Sidon, casting out demons into a herd of very non-Jewish pigs.

So - we've got ample scriptural evidence that Jesus was anything but a racist.  Then, we've also got scriptural and historical evidence that the people all around Jesus pretty much hated each other – Jews against Samaritans, Canaanites against Philistines.  And the Romans against everyone! So...with that evidence before us...what are we to make of Jesus statement about children and dogs?

Mark tells us that after some intense theological arguments with Jewish religious leaders, Jesus went off to the city of Tyre - some distance from Galilee.  And, according to Mark, he "did not want anyone to know it". Mark presents us with a Jesus in retreat...trying to get away from the pressures of his ministry for a while...I know how that feels.

Then along comes this woman - a Gentile - who asks Jesus for another miracle`. Weighed down by the difficulties of his mission, worn-out, it seems to me that Jesus actually appears to snap.  We can imagine him, frustrated that he is not getting through to his own people, saying to himself "I  need to get the Jews to understand my message, before we can take it any farther". He gropes for a metaphor. Tired, he turns to the woman and sighs "First let the children eat all they want...".

Notice the use of the word "first". Jesus' reply doesn't exclude the Gentiles...he simply states that as a Jew, from a nation of Jews, through whom God has chosen to bring salvation to the world - Jesus feels the need, strategically, to focus on the Jews first.  But was he right?  Does it mean that if he came to Britain, Jesus would have joined ‘Britain First’?

 The next line is even more troubling, potentially: "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs". It's a metaphor. Jesus is trying to soften his automatic response.  In fact, although we translate the word here as 'dogs', scholars tell us that Jesus used a word which referred to household pets. It was a diminutive form of the word for dogs. A playful word. More like a puppy than a fully grown Rottweiler!

But the woman is more than a match for the tired, worn-out Jesus.  And she's desperate to get Jesus to change his mind.  She persists - she spars with him. "Yes Lord", she replies...accepting for a moment the idea of the Gentiles as being his second priority. "Yes Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs".

You can almost see Jesus laughing at this point. You can see him acknowledging that he was wrong to not give his help immediately...and smiling that the woman had so cleverly turned his own metaphor against him.  Mark tells us that then he told her "For such a reply, you may go: the demon has left your daughter".  Jesus praises the woman for her faith, and he rewards her persistence by healing her daughter.

So what do we learned from this story - and from this bit of bible-study we've been doing together?

First, we've seen something of Jesus' humanity. We sometimes forget that Jesus was human, as much as he was God. He felt cold, hunger and fatigue just like we do.   For those of us who are struggling with what feels like a never-ending cost of living crisis, we can be sure that Jesus feels our tiredness, and our frustration.

And, just like us, when he was tired and stressed, he was capable of getting things a little out of balance.  The same goes for us. It is not sinful in itself to hold a wrong opinion. But when strong science, or the Holy Spirit, reveal to us that an opinion we hold is simply wrong (a fake truth, perhaps!) we sin when we refuse to change our mind – to repent, to turn around, to face in the new direction of truth.

Secondly, I think this story reminds us to have some patience with each other when we sometimes get things wrong.  We know that Jesus could frequently get exhausted by his ministry.  He took frequent naps in boats just to keep going.  It’s good to recognise that we are all human… that we can all mis-speak from time to time.  We need to be always ready to forgive and move on in our relationships with one another. 

Thirdly, we need to recognise that it was the woman’s faith and persistence which ultimately gained her what she sought form Jesus.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that if I keep on pleading with Jesus to give me a Rolls Royce that my persistence will pay off.  Persistence and faith need to be aligned with God’s purposes for my life, and the life of my community.

And finally, we learn that we follow a Lord who know what it is like to be us – to be tired, fed-up, and in need of getting away from it all.  He stands with us, alongside us, sustaining us and encouraging us – knowing completely what we are going through.  He is with us today, just as he was with the Syro-Phoenician woman.  Amen.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Being Light in the Darkness

Text: John 1.1-14

According to Navy legend, once upon a time, in the early days of naval radar, a United States aircraft carrier called the USS Constitution was making its way into British waters. The Radar operator spotted a blip on his screen, directly in the path of the mighty carrier. So the Captain radioed ahead and said "Unknown Vessel, please change your course by 20 degrees to avoid a collision".

The radio crackled, and a reply came back. "Unable to comply. You change your course." The captain picked up the radio again. "Listen, this is a naval vessel - heading straight for your co-ordinates. Now change your course, or risk being sent to the bottom of the ocean".

The radio crackled again, and the reply came back, "We were here first. You change your course!" By now, the captain of the mighty war machine was incandescent with rage. "Listen, you little British pip-squeek. This is the USS Constitution - the largest air-craft carrier in the world. We won't even feel you when we run over you. Now move!"

The radio crackled for a third time. "This is the Eddystone Lighthouse. Your move."


Here, on the second Sunday before Lent, almost at the centre point of Winter, among the darkest days of the year, the Lectionary invites us once again to contemplate Light.  Just as it did last week at Candlemas.

But this time, by pointing us to St John’s Prologue, the Lectionary lays it on with a trowel.  Not content, as St Luke was last week, to merely describe Jesus as Light to the Gentiles, St John adds contrast to the picture.  He places Jesus, the wisdom and voice of God, the Word Incarnate, in direct contrast and opposition to THE DARKNESS. The Light (of Christ) shines in the darkness, he says, and the darkness did not overcome it.

These were words of hope and encouragement to the first people who received John’s Gospel.  They would have been a frightened, anxious community of early believers, hiding from Roman and Jewish authorities in private houses with the windows tightly shut, or digging out the catacombs under the streets of Rome.  They would have been whispering the hope of Jesus to one another, and recognising each other with furtive drawings of a fish in the sand of the market place. (That’s where the Christian fish-sign originated – a secret symbol between early Christians, scratched in the sand).  

The first Christians to have heard John’s Gospel, perhaps 60 or 70 years after the death of Jesus, would have known what it meant to live in darkness.  They would know what it meant to be a minority who longed for the light of God’s wisdom to shine into their society.

That was their context – and it echoes with ours, does it not?  The Christian Church of today also stands in opposition to the darkness – the darkness which gathers around us today.  In recent weeks, we’ve become aware that churches all over the world are facing real financial difficulties (and dwindling followers) accelerated by the cost of living crisis.  We’ve had to confront the uncomfortable fact that Christianity is presently dying in the West.  It’s wonderful to gather together, as we do, in what feels like a large number – but never forget we are a TINY minority of the roughly 10,000 people who live in this parish.

And this should not surprise us.  The church in the West stands in complete opposition to so much that the West holds dear.  We stand against greed, and the amassing of wealth by tiny elites.  We stand against hedonism and pleasure-seeking for its own sake.  We stand against the prevailing drug culture and intemperance of excess alcohol.  We stand against consumerism, and the exploitation of workers in slavery conditions, making cheap goods and clothes for us to hoard.

These are dark times indeed.  But they are no less dark than for the church of the first century which stood against the military dictatorship of Rome, and its hedonistic system of market-led consumerism, also under-pinned by slavery.  Sometimes, the darkness feels overwhelming for us too.  It feels too high a mountain to climb.  Too deep a darkness to overcome.

Yet “the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.  The message of Jesus Christ is that however desperate things feel, however deep the darkness surrounds us, it will not overwhelm us.  The Light of Christ will continue to shine.

The question then for us, we tiny few, we remnant of humanity who cling to the Light, is not so much what we stand against – for we know how dark the darkness is.  The question is, as people of Light, what we stand FOR.

We stand, in the name of Jesus Christ, for a Kingdom of LOVE.  That love, focused first on God, and then on loving our neighbours, shines out from this building and every church community like a beacon from a lighthouse.  It probes and prods at the darkness, which will never overcome it.  It offers us a completely NEW way of living.

Starting from the day when each of us knows, truly knows, that our past trespasses are forgotten and forgiven by God, we, the people of the Light, learn how to stand up for love.

·       Love which shares its wealth; it does not hoard it.

·       Love which reaches out to those in need, and offers the hand of help.

·       Love which delights in communities coming together – whether in person or online.

·       Love which frees the slaves of Eastern sweat-shops, by refusing to collude with consumerism  and by offering aid and micro-loans instead.

·       Love which offers an alternative to drug addiction and drunkenness – life in all its fullness.

·       Love which brings healing to the sinner, and balm to the sick.

·       Love which picks up the phone and bears the anguish of its neighbour.

·       Love which even has the power to overcome death – though that is a topic for Easter

So, my dear friends, when you hear that the church is in financial and numerical crisis, do not be afraid.  We’ve been in crisis before, many times…and we will be once again.  The darkness always tries to overwhelm the light of the church….but darkness, and the very gates of hell, shall not prevail against it (Mt 16.18).

For the true church is the church of Christ the Light-bringer.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it!  Amen.