The following sermons come from a year of linked sermons and house groups (Bible studies in homes) from Sept 2015 to July 2016. AMD (accompanied ministry development) has been a diocesan scheme to help grow the Church in Cornwall. The topics covered below are a mere passing on of material I received with other clergy at five midweek sessions, brilliantly led by diocesan staff and people from further afield. The notes below are shortened versions of sermons delivered, and I apologise to colleagues, who also delivered sermons from these passages, that I have mostly only included notes from my sermons. This is mainly for the sake of continuity of style. As you read below during this year, you will see new sermons appearing week by week.

Tim Hawkins

  • God’s call – Oct 4th 2015 Tim Hawkins

Genesis 12.1-4 (Abraham) and Luke 1.46-55 (Mary)

There are varieties of call in the Bible – individual (mainly) and corporate (disciples), by day (Moses)and by night (Samuel), directly (Paul) and through others (David). Here we have an old man and a young woman but their stories have much in common.

Three features of call

  • Both were receptive to God, they tuned in to his speaking to them and knew it was God. For this they probably had years of faith and obedience to God behind them. In prayer, we practice the presence of God and give him the chance to speak to us. The AMD ministry group have identified developing prayer as the top priority for our churches
  • Both had a ‘metanoia’ or change of heart, new eyes. We normally translate the word repentance but I think it carries a wider meaning, just as healing should describe an action, a process and a state. Abraham should have been grumpy or reluctant at 75 to leave his town and head off ‘goodness knows where’ and he takes a while to cotton on but does put God first, despite his mistakes and slowness to catch on. Mary was staring down the barrel of being an outcast and to have her engagement broken off, but she sings for joy to her cousin about her baby.
  • Both could have said no, but were obedient.

Mary’s song says little about Mary. She says much about God’s faithfulness in the past and about her plans of blessing for others (as Abraham’s call was not for his people but for the nations of the world). As we embark on this year of AMD, let us listen for Gods call to us, which may lead us into new things or to see familiar things with new eyes. Our future will be different to everyone else’s and we know, as with Abraham and Mary, that is the long-term which God is interested in, the long term benefit of those we live among.

 

  • God’s people (priests for all)              October 11th 2015        Tim Hawkins

Exodus 19.4-6   (and 1 Peter 2. 4-12)

The Israelites were a travelling people at that point

  • They belonged to a country they’d never seen yet or remembered, and they would have to take possession of it
  • They had been slaves, where they had no responsibilities
  • They were now in a dry and worse-looking place
  • They were short of food and water
  • God HAD looked after them but would he again ?
  • They were held together by the rescue at the Red Sea

Like the church today (including our own)

  • We try to convince ourselves and others about heaven

– we maybe remember a worse past but take refuge in it; few responsibilities – vicar did all

– we feel we are now in a dry place

– we feel we are short of resources

– but we know what binds us together (next generation didn’t remember it, of course so for them it became like a piece of doctrine or a tradition)

God’s answer via Moses, from the mountain –

God reminds them/us we a ‘kingdom of priests’ i.e. we belong to the King and are responsible to represent others to God and bring them to God. This was shocking (same verse in 1 Peter), because people were special who were priests then. You were born to it. We used to put priests and other professionals on pedestals. Now God calls us all to ‘every member ministry’ i.e. we all join in with the work of drawing our parishes to God and building up one another.

  • He tells them/ us to remember what he has done in the past
  • He tells them/us to remember it is HIS world
  • He says they/we should remember we are his CHOSEN people
  • He says they/we should obey him

 

  • God’s people – the key to unity – humility      October 25th 2015          Tim Hawkins

Philippians 2.1-11 (plus Mark 10.42-45)

I’ve been watching the Rugby World Cup – very exciting and great individual skills but most important aspect for winners is teamwork, flashes of mutual understanding etc.

Philippians is about unity and teamwork and our familiar bit about Jesus coming to earth (where we start reading at v5), which we read at Christmas is against the background of Paul’s plea for unity(the earlier verses). How can we be together ? Be ‘like-minded’, (v2), not in the sense of shared interests, as we use the phrase, but by all having a mind or outlook like Christ.

Humility usually makes us think of self-deprecation, grovelling or opting out. Humility here is active. Christ GAVE UP the life of heaven for a grotty human life.

Humility can be translated gentleness or tameness. It’s the word in Greek used of an animal in harness who does what it’s told. That’s our humility, our ‘availability’ and willingness to be led by Jesus.

Humility for Jesus meant – (1) giving up heaven ? What might we be called to sacrifice ? (2) living among people. How well plumbed into our community are we? (3) not counting the cost – being prepared for the ultimate sacrifice. Are we in it for life ? (4) modelling a life devoted for God for us. How did Jesus live that does not match the way we live in our community, or even church ? See Mark 10.45 – greatness is service, not reward. Do our leaders model that ? do our church leaders ? How could we model that in our church, family, place of work, community ?

In what ways are we seen to be ‘together’ ? What do people see we have in common ? Christian unity has to be more than worshipping in the same building or singing the same songs, doesn’t it ? How does humility help us to handle differences or make difficult decisions where we have opposing views ?

  • God’s people – our relationship with God  November 1st (All Saints)           Tim Hawkins

Matthew 7.7-11 (and Isaiah 25.6-9)

The Matthew reading mirrors one in Luke about prayer. The two points made are obvious. (1) You must persist in prayer to get answers (2) God can be trusted to give us good things when we pray.

But in fact the passage is about our relationship with God, expressed through prayer; it’s not about our turning to God if we want something. So what does it say about that relationship ?

(1) God keeps his promises – ‘Ask and it shall be given’

(2) God gives us himself – the door is opened to us (cf Revelation 3.20) Jesus is not miles in the sky but as it were through a door (like Narnia’s wardrobe entrance). Prayer is not so much getting the ‘it’ we want as having Jesus walk into that situation or life.

It is important for us to realise at this All Saints tide that those who have gone before us into heaven are actually very close to us.

(3) God is always going to equip us for doing his work, rather than fro having a’nice’ life. Prayer is about our participation in the Kingdom of God project.

NB In the other place I mentioned in Luke, Jesus talks about our receiving the Holy Spirit when we ask him. Eternal life is not about length or a life that starts when we die, it is about a quality of life we have as soon as we’ve come to Jesus. Ask and you will receive. We enjoy that quality of life now, and that is vital for our witness to others,. If it was only about our life after we die, there would be no difference between ourselves and unbelievers in this life, except that we would have a hope.

  • God’s reconciliation        November 8th           Tim Hawkins

Luke 15.11-24 (and Romans 5.6-11)

The ‘Lost Son’ or ‘Prodigal Son’ story should be called the ‘Prodigal Father’, because his love exceeds the spending of the son. He is inactive in the story, part one, while the camera follows the wayward son, but he is the star and is the proper focus.

He gives the son the choice to go free, though he has the power to refuse the request for cash and freedom. Sometimes you have to let your own children make mistakes. Note that the son has no plan, not even to go back packing in Australia. The giving of freedom to the Son costs the Father – heartache and raising capital in a hurry from his business. Mm

He never stops loving the Son. I see him standing on the stand where the milk churns used to go at the farm gate, every day, looking, waiting, hoping, praying. He sees the Son come back when he has ‘come to himself’ as one translation puts it i.e. he realises his true identity as a Son that needs to be found. The friends that have egged him on in his moneyed days have deserted him and he is last seen doing a job he would be ashamed to put on his CV.

He hopes for salvage by getting a menial job on Dad;s farm but instead gets full reinstatement as Son.

SO the reconciliation comes from an ever-loving Father who welcomes a son who is powerless to earn forgiveness and who is of course undeserving of full forgiveness (see Romans passage). All he and we have to do is ‘come to ourselves’ and say thank you for the cross – the only way back’.

  • Our being reconciled to others          November 15th            Tim Hawkins

Luke 15. 11-25 (and James 5. 13-20)

The James passage reminds us that healing is not just about throwing away your crutches, it is about spiritual healing (confession), the church working together and restoring a person’s relationship with God through our relationship with the person. The importance of relationships.

Today we focus on the elder son. The camera does not follow him until right at the end, so we are left to guess at what he thought of the brother fro asking for the money and leaving. he may have secretly envied him or been glad to see the back of him. Maybe the brother was a pain and not interested in the farm.

We know he did not share the father’s love, because while the father saw the brother along way off (and had therefore been looking for him), the brother does not even know the brother has come back – he has not been looking out for him.

It is at the end that the elder brother suddenly comes into the limelight, and he does so with an outburst of resentment (a) against the brother, whop incidentally may or may not have been with prostitutes – we do like to blacken others’ characters or side with the media when they do  (2) against the father for his generosity to the brother (3) against the father for not making a fuss of him

The ending is left open – it is up the elder son to make it up. He is imply challenged to care and be glad that the son presumed dead is back, and also to realise that what the father has [provided fro him each day is enough of a reflection of his love.

The story of course is not really about family life, it is about eh Kingdom of God. The elder brother is #us# ie those who have been in church and not gone away, who frequently resent incomers, whether known local backsliders or incoming refugees. We can only be effective reconcilers and reconciled if we have known for ourselves the love of the Father. We must also be careful to presume too much that people are spiritually dead when they could be rescued and revived.

  • Agents of reconciliation               November 22nd 2015              Tim Hawkins

Matthew 5.21-26 (with 2 Cor 5.11-21)

The passage describes various ways to bring relationship problems so that we can be aware of them

  • Being angry with someone or even making fun of them or discounting them means that they are dead to us. We no longer give to them or feel we have nay responsibility fro them. It is as if we’ve murdered them
  • we make sure we can say The Peace with conviction in church and sort out problems before we get to the communion rail. It says ‘if your brother has anything against you’ i.e. it doesn’t focus on who started what. It says that the restoration of the relationship is ore important than questions of justice.
  • make sure we don’t become a public scandal. Court cases and suing are not new today. You should settle with your opponent – if you don’t, you only lose financially anyway !! e often get talked about or get in the papers in ways that brings no glory to the good name of the church.

BUT we struggle with these areas because we are human. the importance of the Corinthians passage lies in the words ‘the love of Christ controls or compels us’ i.e. it works on us and in us despite ourselves. Where we fail humanly speaking, spiritually we pass on the love of God which we have received from Christ, not as an idea but as an inwardly energising force. We can only forgive and make peace with the peace that Christ gives us.

  • God’s Good News (1)   Humanity and the Image of God    January 31st 2016       Tim Hawkins

Genesis 1.25-31  and Colossians 1.9-16-20

When we use the word ‘human’, we generally use it positively – it has overtones of ‘kind’ (cf humane) and ‘reassuringly fallible’. A ‘humanist’ funeral may lack religious content (not always !) but celebrates a life and gives dignity to man.

Genesis records Man’s appearance as a high point and last word in creation. Only Man is made in ‘the image of God’. But what might this mean ? Does the image refer to creativity, our care-taking of the environment (as God cares for us), having thoughts and feelings, having a moral sense ? Why not all of these ? We also find ‘Let US make Man in OUR image’, reminding us that God is plural and corporate in himself (excuse the language). Perhaps we therefore reflect God’s image by our relationships and co-operation. Perhaps the Church does; it certainly should. When we pool our gifts and strengths, we more accurately reflect God’s image than separately. And finally we are reminded that Man is male and female – both together. The marriage and sex connotation are clear but this verse goes beyond that to all our relationships and co-operation between the sexes. BUT this is Genesis 1 and things go wrong by chapter 3 – The Fall and the marring of the image of God.

Colossians 1 seems to contain a two verse hymn about Jesus. The first verse says that He is Lord of creation and the second that he is Lord of the Church. The Image of God in original humanity is therefore fully realised and restored in Christ. But the image is not a flat reflection, however bright. The fullness of God dwells in Christ – like the sand in an hourglass in the top (God) being poured entirely into the bottom (Jesus).

When we come to Christ we become fully human, image restored. The only hope for humanity is to come to Christ.

  • God’s Good News (2)  New Creation    February 7th 2016     Tim Hawkins

1 Corinthians 15.35-40, 45-52 and Matthew 22.23-30

After laying out the evidences that Christ came back to life after Easter, Paul says that we can be sure of life after death also. Now he moves to the subject of what that new life will be like.

He uses a picture from farming. A small brown shriveled hard-cased seed falls to the ground in the autumn. Winter seems to confirm that it is dead, but in the springtime up comes a long green stem, changing and developing and in turn producing new life. Such will be the contrast between our life now and the life we will have. We now have a physical body, we then have a spiritual body, where the latter will be as different from the former as a fish’s body is different from an animal’s.

He raises an additional point that our new life will be ‘put on over us’ i.e. like anew garment. our humanity will not be shed but scooped up into our new identity. The risen Jesus still had the scars in his hands, even though he could go through locked doors. He was also still recognisable. A vicar’s cassock and surplice make a useful visual aid. The black stands for our sinful human nature but Christ is put on over us. Nothing is wasted, simply transformed. our transformation will be a gift to which we cannot contribute and will be instant – we need no purgatory for prayer or refinement; nor will we be reincarnated because our identity as an individual is of eternity rather than temporary.

The Matthew passage features the Sadducees, a Jewish religious group, who did not believe in afterlife, making fun of it by way of the example of the lady who marries seven brothers in turn as each one dies. Whose wife will she be in heaven ? Jesus answer warns us of making heaven into the image of earth. There will be no resumption of an earthly kind of life and relating in every way. Instead there will be complete intimacy and perfect relating, no exclusiveness and no depending on individuals for happiness.

  • God’s Good News (3)  Jesus’ message           February 14th 2016     Tim Hawkins

Luke 18.18-23  (and Acts 26.19-29 – Paul’s message – not covered)

I have been trying to learn Polish. It started with some easy phrases such as ‘the man is eating an apple’, which is probably only useful if you are peeping through the keyhole of a canteen and relaying information to a third party. But now it’s become much much harder and of course it’s tempting to give up, but I won’t.

We live in a world of short cuts, of instant answers via the internet and quick fixes. That was in some way the outlook of the rich young man who came to Jesus. he was saying in effect – ‘Never mind doctrine, never mind the Church, never mind all that stuff about God – the bottom line is -What do I have to do to get to heaven ?’

Jesus typically answers with a question – about goodness. Getting into heaven won’t be about that.

He has been brought up on the Ten Commandments, which in most people’s minds are about what you don’t do. It leads to complacency – if I haven’t done anyone any harm, I must have done all right’.

Jesus does not overwhelm him or tease him when he gently underlines the ONE thing he should do. in facet it turns out to be a very big thing. It doesn’t mean money or use of money will be the big stumbling block for us all but we should think about our stewardship of resources and our shopping, voting etc that can influence how other people use their resources.

We must ask ourselves what thing is getting in the way of following Jesus and living for God for us ?

We don’t know the end of the man’s story but for now he cannot do what Jesus asks. he is going to miss out, although he thinks he is clinging on to things of value. Jesus called him to positive action rather than avoidance, and we too must think of how positively we can move closer to Christ and his purposes for our lives.

  • God’s Good News (4)  Conversion and beyond            February 21st 2016      Tim Hawkins

John 1.35-51 (and Philippians 3.10-14)

Whichever side you are on in the EU debate and referendum, we all want the right answer, what is best for everyone, and sadly neither we nor the politicians will probably ever know the full picture to enable us to see how to vote most clearly. We want answers. We always want THE answer.

John told Andrew and the unnamed disciple that the answer was standing right next to them – the person of Jesus.

‘Lamb of God’ mean the animal’s blood that rescued the Israelites for death at the Passover, it meant the sacrifice that regularly helped bring forgiveness to worshippers for their sins, it meant he blood of the new relationship with God, promise in eg Jeremiah 31.31. The Rescuer had come, the answer to all the world’s problems.

The first step to conversion is recognising who Jesus is and knowing He is the answer to our needs and the world needs.

Andrew and friend then TURN – the second step. It is a change of direction. Adult baptism candidates in the Early Church used to stand facing a different direction during the service to show they had turned from their old life towards Christ. It is a bit like the way we turn to face the font when we have a baptism.

Andrew and friend then ‘followed’. They were committed to him from then on and would continue to be so. We never ‘arrive’ this side of heaven. We are lifelong disciples.

At the end of the passage there is a cynic, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth ?’ You can almost hear him saying :’Been there, seen it all before’. It is interesting how Jesus deals with him. He does not focus on facts or evidence, he simply lets him know that he knows him. We forget that Jesus knows and believes in people, even before they come to know and believe in him.

Jesus’ answer, as Andrew’s words to his brother represent our fourth step, ‘Come and see’. We can ask questions, we can learn, we can study, but in the end we have to take the plunge and enter the Kingdom of God Department Store. There is lifetime of exploration which cannot be done outside waiting. We too hold the door, like Andrew, for our friends and others. Perhaps coming to a special service might be a way in for our friends and others, or even a less threatening social event – ‘Come and see’. We might not know how to answer others questions, but we can invite them.

  • God’s Good News (5) Sharing the Good News    February 28th 2016    Tim Hawkins & Ian Lowell

2 Timothy 1.1-12 and Luke 24.13-34

v1 sums up Paul’s life aim – ‘to tell others about the life God has promised through faith in Jesus Christ’.

His advice to Timothy amounts to an ABC of faith-sharing –

(1) Paul refers back to the gift he had received when he was commissioned. In other words, use what you’ve got

(2) Paul refers to the foundation laid by the faith of his mother and grandmother. our story should begin with how we came to faith.

(3) He says to Timothy not to be shy, and says that can look as if we’re ashamed about Jesus (v6-8)

(4) Paul’s other words refer to the content of the Christian faith , which has to go hand in hand with our experiences and our delivery:

  • God chose us and saved us (v9)
  • Jesus gas conquered death and opened the gate to life (v10)
  • Now we have a purpose – to serve him (v11)
  • We’re not there yet, we;re all still travelling, but He will help us (v12)

Rev Ian Lowell’s sermon at Madron focused on the gospel reading. here Jesus shows –

(a) that he is alongside us even when we’ve walked away from God

(b) that he gradually reveals himself to us even when we cannot see

(c) that he reveals himself to us in the everyday – Jesus became known by the disciples when they were breaking bread together. Meals may be sacred moments for us.

  •  God’s Good News (6) Welcome – where the Church is Good News    Tim Hawkins
Luke 18.9-17
Who is Jesus addressing in these parables?  In modern parlance: who is his target audience?  It is not so simple an answer to such an obvious question.  For example, it could be easily said that my target audience for this sermon is you, the congregation who have gathered together for this morning’s service here at Gulval Church.  However, I have sent a copy of this sermon to  Tim, because the Gospel Reading which is its basis was chosen to fit in with the Lent Study Course.  So the target audience is wider than this sermon’s immediate listeners.
In Jesus’ day, people had no internet, email, FaceBook, Twitter, 24-hour TV news, podcasts or radio.  So anything striking or challenging comment by a person like Jesus would be spread by word of mouth.  Catchy phrases, significant situations, comic occurrences would be remembered.  And, rather like the poignant and short stories in a music video or commercial, it could be repeated whole.
So Jesus knew, when he was relating a parable to a particle group people, it would be remembered and passed on.  Someone once said in admiration to Oscar Wilde a compliment about one of his witticisms: “I wish I had said that.”  To which Wilde replied: “You will, you will.”
So we have a parable followed by a situation in today’s Gospel Reading from Luke.  Let us ignore Luke’s introduction and go straight to the words of the story.  It is about the contrasting of two men at prayer: the first is named as a Pharisee, a member of the P’rushim, the Jewish sect that focused on the Torah.  Our translation is wrong: Luke has Jesus state that ‘he prays to himself’.  And his prayer is one of self-congratulation that he is who he is.  And he concludes that he is so totally different from the Tax-Profiteer who he has also spotted praying — a man he likens to the rest of humanity: a bunch of robbers, adulterers and evil doers.
The Tax-Profiteer does not look up to heaven, like the Parush or Pharisee, and he does not mince words, but states simply: “God be merciful to me.  I’m such a sinner.”  Then Jesus concludes it is this second man who went home who was pleasing to God.
Note, neither man has had his opinion of himself changed.  The Pharisee is still convinced of his being blessed extraordinarily by God, while the Tax-Profiteer still feels he needs God’s mercy.  We are given ‘a God’s eye’ viewpoint by Jesus.
In the minds and hearts of Jesus’ initial listeners, it would have been challenging to hear this verdict: the Pharisees or P’rushim were noted for their piety, devotion, learning and good works.  Tax-Profiteers were beneficiaries of Roman tax-farming franchises and became rich at the expense of other people’s economic hardships.  The one was the epitome of Jewish righteousness, the other the example of the unrighteousness Gentile.
To understand the challenge that Jesus offers — a parable is said to be something easily swallowed but which then sticks in your throat — is difficult to convey.  We have to find modern equivalents, but they do not always relate.
But perhaps something like this might come close.  Two men went to claim benefit, the first was British born and bred, the second a refugee from Syria.  The first proclaimed, “I am proud to be British, I have paid my taxes, I have never pulled a sickie, I have worked all my life until now.  I am unlike other claimants, the dregs of society, spongers, idlers, benefit cheats, like this Syrian economic migrant.”  The Syrian refugee said: “Have mercy.  I have nothing, I am poor and a beggar.”
Jesus is not talking about prayer and praying, as such, and my example is not about benefits and who should receive them: both stories are about attitudes that people have about themselves — and the difference between pride and humility: and the teaching of Jesus is that God always favours the humble.
Our passage concludes with a very different scenario, but with a similar perspective.  Jesus’ disciples are refusing to let people bring their children to Jesus.  In Jesus’ day and still in many cultures today, children have no worth until adulthood.  They may be loved but they have no status or respect in themselves.  Jesus rebukes his disciples, and welcomes the children.  He states: “God’s Realm belongs to young children like these.”  That is to the unvalued, those on the edge of society, the people without worth, without a say.
So what was Jesus’ target audience?  Who was he saying these things to and for?  Ultimately for everyone, but specifically for those who would be willing to listen and be challenged and changed by his words.  In other words: those who would become his disciples — people who would refer to themselves as Christians or the Church.  Ourselves included.
But what are we like?  Are we the proud or the humble?  Are we those who reject the worthless or embrace them?  That is our continual challenge to be changed by Jesus, to be the people he wants to challenge and change the world.
* Living for God (1) Work          May 8th         Tim Hawkins
Ecclesiastes 2.18-26 and Luke 10.38-42
We start with a book that has to be understood as making one point throughout, namely that everything in human life is puzzling or pointless unless you see it from the perspective of faith in God. And so here, the world of work comes under the spotlight. It is pointless in three respects. (1) Others get to enjoy what you’ve worked for (2) Skill and time just go to waste (3) Stress. The second half of the passage corrects this. Work is something which gives pleasure. Yes, work is an investment for those who follow us and , yes, we co-work with God whatever we do (however mindless and humanly unrewarding – one might add).
The Luke passage is commonly misunderstood. On the face of it, Mary is given a pat on the back because she listens to Jesus and spends time with him whereas Martha is busy with household chores. A parable about priorities, you might say. But it cannot be that Jesus is saying that physical work generally is not as important. After all, how would Jesus be fed ? Might it be that Martha was fussing too much over details, making a meal out of making  a meal ? No, surely it is the attitude of Martha which is the problem. She even gets Jesus to ask her to help her rather than ask her directly. It is this critical spirit which Jesus is highlighting. How often what we do is spoiled by out attitude to our co-workers and what they do or don’t do. That is true even in church life.
We return to Ecclesiastes. Our work is between ourselves and God, although we are called to work with others.We do not interfere with other people or pressure them with our sense of what and how things ought to be done. We do it for the love of it, and for the love of God.
* Living for God (2) – Working for God       May 22nd      Tim Hawkins
Exodus 35.30 – 36.1 and Matthew 20.1-16
The Exodus passage is set against the background of people being asked to contribute to the decorating of the tabernacle or mobile church, which was to travel around with the people of Israel and which housed the ark of the covenant (containing the Ten Commandments). It talks of sewing and metal working and other practical skills , given the status of spiritual gifts, reminding us that working fro God is not about professionals up at the front but about all our God-given talents which we should use in the service of God. It makes me wonder about all the people we exclude because we haven’t the will or the imagination to harness their particular gift.
When we come to Matthew, we find  a typical parable of Jesus, drawn from the hearers’ everyday world, with one message and a side-swipe at some of his audience, plus something shocking thrown in.
A vineyard owner recruits workers for the harvest at 6am and continues to fetch more workers at three hour intervals, until, strangely, we suddenly shift to one hour to go, when the rest might have been packing up for the day – a strange time to hire people.
It is of course shocking that all the workers are paid the same, until we realise that all have received a day’s pay. You can’t have half a denarius (a day’s wage coin) or a third. The story becomes one of the vineyard owner’s generosity. Add to that the hiring of so many – when surely at 6am he would have known, as an earthly farmer, how many workers were needed. The vineyard owner is therefore not task- or profit-centred but wants to employ as many as possible. As a parable about the Kingdom of God, the message is of grace – the generosity of the vineyard owner who invites people to enter the kingdom at every stage and offers us all the same reward – heaven. As a story about work, it is similar to the Mary and Martha passage last time – a reminder that our contract is with God and we have no right to criticise or look around at others.
It’s also about relationships rather than task. The farmer calls, the foremen pays and we work equally with the same Spirit. The Trinity is a relationship within God, one of equals. We join that relationship and reflect that all of our relationships are but a reflection of God himself.
* Living for God (3) –  Rest                May 29th 2016           Tim Hawkins
Deuteronomy 5.12-15     Mark 2.23-28
It’s the longest of the Ten Commandments (just), so it’s got to be important, even though Sunday rest is relatively unimportant in our culture today. The injunction not to work spreads to all areas, including rest for animals and guest workers. In other words our rest is not an excuse to put others to work. But why ? A similar passage in Exodus said we are to do it because the Lord rested on the Sabbath after creating the world. (NB Technically Sabbath means Friday evening to Saturday evening, but we take it as Sunday). What is good enough for God is good enough for us, or is it that our rest is to remind others of God in creation ? The reason given in our passage is that on the Sabbath we can remember when we were slaves in Egypt, the Lord rescued us. In other words, we remember what God has done for us, and we remember who we are now compared with who we are. Both of those are very important reasons fro our society to keep Sunday special or create some space for ourselves. We need to remember what it is to be a Christian witness in our country and to be fuelled by a continual realisation of what God has done for us (the cross and resurrection take the place of the Exodus for us).
The Mark passage is a reminder of how we can easily use rules or conventions to hit other people over the head. To suggest that the disciples were harvesting because they were casually picking grains as they passed through a field is ridiculous. Jesus reminds his audience that their great hero David did something far more sensitive when he ate ‘communion bread in church’ with his friends, when they were on the run from Saul. How we use Sunday is between ourselves and God, it’s not about social conformity. Sunday is, as Jesus puts it, our gift. Let us therefore embrace the gift of rest, not just because it is good fro us, but because it is good for society when we remind of what God has done and when we remember who we are called to be.
Living for God (4) – Failure    5th June 2016      Rev Ian Lowell
Jeremiah 15.15-20  and  John 21.15-19

In the Introduction to his translation of the Book of Jeremiah, Nicholas King opens with the following words.

“How do you cope with disasters? That is the question that hangs over this extraordinary book that we call ‘Jeremiah’. The disaster in question has its origins in the late 7th century BC …, with the decline of Assyria and the rise of Babylon, culminating in the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC), when Babylon defeated Egypt and its Assyrian allies. Among the governing classes of Judah there was a sizeable faction that still supported Egypt; and in 597 they rebel led against Babylon, and King Jehoiachin was taken off in captivity to Babylon. Jehoiachin was replaced by Zedekiah, who was meant to rule Judea on behalf of Nebuchadnezzar. He was unwise enough to rebel against the Babylonians and the city, the Temple and the social structure of Jerusalem were in consequence utterly destroyed after a long siege (597–596). Zedekiah’s sons were put to death before his very eyes; he was then blinded and taken off to Babylon, and replaced by Gedaliah. Finally a third invasion was prompted when Gedaliah was assassinated by a nationalist conspiracy, and the destruction of the Holy City was completed in 582, when all the prominent inhabitants were taken off into Exile (apart from those who fled to Egypt).” Jeremiah begins his ministry, however, in a time of hope: with the new king Josiah rebuilding the Temple and reordering both the Temple cult and the laws of of the faith. In many ways Josiah is radical, but in others he is very conservative. But this hope was not to last, and Jeremiah could see the fault lines. When Josiah was killed, and his army slaughtered by the Pharaoh Necho II, on his way to the Battle of Carchemish, the wheel of good fortune was turning away from Judah and Jerusalem and their inhabitants. Egypt’s control over the Levant was quickly overthrown by the advancing forces of Babylon.

But people still believed in Egypt, and that rescue and salvation lay there — but Jeremiah stood against this, and as the inevitable destruction grew nearer, he said that it was in Exile in Babylon there was hope. He was ridiculed, stoned, imprisoned in a well, and made into a figure of treachery and faithlessness. There is a hint in our reading today, that maybe he in the end doubted his words, which saw as coming from God. Either way, he failed to convince the people as a whole, and, in the end, was taken away not to exile in Babylon but as a captive of those escaping to Egypt.

The story of Jeremiah is not one of success, but rather of failure. He failed to save the city, he failed to save the Temple, he failed to save the people, and he failed to save the royal Davidic line. In our reading, the failure of Jeremiah is seen as indicative of the failure of Judah, the failure of Jerusalem, and the failure of the people of God to listen to God and to change their ways. But it ends on a hope of restoration after a time of testing and trial.

The well-known story of Peter’s denial of ever knowing Jesus, complements the story of Jeremiah, though it is different from it. As Nicholas King comments, whereas Jesus is calm and collected before Pilate in the Fourth Gospel — “Framing this picture of assurance is a most unassuaged performance from Simon Peter, who is brave enough to follow, right into the lion’s den, but not brave enough to admit to a slave girl that he is a disciple of Jesus. Twice more, as he warms himself (his cold is that of incipient treachery), he denies the plain truth, even to a witness who has cause to remember him in the garden. John concludes the story, ‘and immediately a cock crew’. There is no need to say anything more.” But more is tacitly said, and Peter comes up short against the the actions of the mysterious ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’. It is that disciple, in the Fourth Gospel, who is beside Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross, it is that disciple who reaches the tomb first, after Mary Magdalene tells of her encounter with the risen Christ — though that unnamed disciple allows Peter to enter the empty tomb first. It is of course, even that disciple, according to this Gospel who got Peter and himself into that very courtyard. Peter, though not as much a traitor as Judas, has seemingly been sidelined in the presentation of the story, compared unfavourably with the disciple whom Jesus loves, and who is not afraid.

It would seem the fourth evangelist could not leave Peter ‘dangling’ in self-doubt and despair, and he added the chapter whence comes our Gospel for today. As Peter denied Jesus three times, he is asked on this walk after the ‘barbecue on the beach, three times by the risen Jesus if he, Peter, loves him. Whereas Jeremiah (and Judah) is to be re-established by God with the words: “Against this people I will make you / As a fortified wall of bronze” and “I will save you from the hands of the wicked / And rescue you from the clutches of the violent”, Peter is commanded to act as the Good Shepherd to the faithful, but also to be prepared not to be fortified but rather indeed to be taken away by the enemies of faith and to be killed.

What do these two passages say to us today? Failure in human terms is not necessarily a fault as seen by God. It is often said that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Perhaps we also learn more about God’s love and God’s purposes when we fail too. Success can shut us off from humility, and other achievements, such as wealth, prestige, honour and being fêted can also remove us from God’s challenges in life. We can become padded like a ‘Michelin man’.

To be knocked and scarred, to be hurt and damaged is rather more Christ like than to be ever in our Sunday best. And ever to show off our achievements, even in good causes or spiritual growth. There is a story about a person who went around a number of churches before settling on one as her ‘Jerusalem centre’, so to speak. When she was asked why she had stopped looking and settled in that final church community, she said: “All the other churches I went came across as successful or as very spiritual or as very well-organised, but this last church said to me, we’re not very successful, we’re not very spiritual, we’re not very ordered, but we’re are trying to get there.” “I’m trying to get, too,” she added, and I want to be with other people who I can travel along with, not those already thinking or believing their there.”

  • Worship (1) Freed to worship           Tim Hawkins        12th June 2016

         (Acts 19.1-10)     Luke 11.5-13

The Luke passage is about opening doors. The story occupying the early verses focuses humorously on a friend who, desperate to borrow some bread, hammers on his friend’s door at midnight. the householder is not at all pleased to be disturbed, opens an imaginary sash window and tells him to clear off. The bread-seeker is not put off however and keeps knocking. Maybe he thinks that if the house owner knows it’s him, he will willingly give him what he wants, or, as the text says, the owner will give him his bread so that he will go away and leave him in peace.

When applied to prayer, it an odd story. God will answer if we badger him seems to be the message. No, it is about the fact that God is our friend, that we can be bold to call at any time and go on praying, counting on him to answer because he is our friend.

After this story the them of prayer revisits the open door picture. ‘Knock and the door will be opened to you’, says a modern translation. The final verses, using wordplay in the original language, remind us that we can trust God to give us good things when we pray. ‘If we ask for a steak, God won’t give us a snake’, captures the humorous spirit of the original). The best translations refer to verbs only ‘seeking leads to finding’. The problem arises when we find the translation ‘Ask and IT shall be given to you’. This makes us focus on what we might get when we pray, rather than on the confidence we have when we pray. So if we are not focusing on ‘it’, whatever that may be, what do we read in this passage about what we get when we pray ?

God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him, we are told in the final verse. In other words, God will give us his presence in the situation and/or in us.It’s rather like that passage in Philippians 4 where we are told not to worry but to pray and that we may receive God’s peace.

So we are freed to worship because when we pray, it is not an arm wrestling contest with God or the need to find teh right words, it is simply freeing God’s power to walk into our lives as we pray. It is as simple as that.

  •  Worship (2) – Worshipping together      26th June 2016          Tim Hawkins

Psalm 96 and Luke 24.50-53

The Psalms is a worship book. It covers a variety of situations and moods and emotions, reminding us that everything should be given to God, even the bad days. Where each verse has a kind of repetition or answering phrase in similar words, as many psalms do, that is  sign of a psalm being used fro worship together. It’s a bit like the verses and responses worship of Morning or Evening Prayer. The words are designed to be said across the aisle to one another, as an encouragement to worship. Hymns like ‘O worship the King’ and ‘Stand up, stand up fro Jesus’ are not addressed to God, they are addressed to one another.

Worshipping together is an assumption of true worship in Psalm 96. Worship is to be done by all the world, every day, in honour of a God who acts, unlike our idols (What have pop stars done for you ? ha ha). A new song suggests worship must be constantly fresh. Worship we offered when we were last in church years ago has gone off !

The Luke passage consists of the last words of Luke’s gospel, and I’m interested really in the last verse. Here we derive four things about worship:

(1) all who worshipped were witnesses of the risen Jesus. He had appeared to them in ones, twos and more (1 Cor 15 – over 500 at once). Some had sen him, some were happy withe news about the empty tomb; some perhaps followed because they saw a change in the disciples; some responded to Peter’s preaching. We all as worshippers come to Jesus in different ways, but we are all his witnesses.

(2) They met in the Temple – true worship is public adn together. Hebrews warns us ‘Do not give up the habit of meeting together’.

(3) They did so every day i.e. regularly. Do you worship regularly ? Do you have time with God every day ? Do you say ‘I love you’ every day to your wife or husband ?

(4) No one made them do this. There was no agreed 11am Sunday slot – they came together spontaneously. true worship comes from the inside, and is therefore not dependent on old music or new music, organ or guitar, a new building or an old building etc. It says a lot about our inner state when we skip a Sunday because we don’t like a particular preacher or type of service.

It ties in with last week’s message. When we are truly open to God in prayer, He comes to us. He helps us to worship. He draws us together.