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Parish of Chester Parish of Chester

Sermons

Sermon given by the Rector on Easter Day, Sunday 20th April 2014

In the Name of the Risen Christ. Amen

Jesus Christ is risen today Alleluia
So once again….. Jesus Christ is risen today Alleluia….. do you believe it?….. and just what relevance does this sweeping statement have to us in St John’s 2000 years later.

Jesus Christ is risen today Alleluia So once again….. Jesus Christ is risen today Alleluia….. do you believe it?….. and just what relevance does this sweeping statement have to us in St John’s 2000 years later.

Last night at the Easter Vigil, just before we renewed before Canon Tony The Promises made at our Baptism, I said the Prayer:

God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have
broken the chains of death and hell: fill your
Church with faith and hope; for a new day has
dawned and the way to life stands open in our
Saviour Jesus Christ.

One of the things that so many of us forget is that Christmas is a prelude to
Easter, without Easter there is no point in Christmas

Well we all can picture our Lord as a baby in that manger , but how do each of you individually view our Lord…. Like Charlotte used to as a man in a dress with flip flops…. Or as something else… and if something else… what? We have over the last 2000 years formed a picture of Jesus as indeed a man in a dress and thong sandals, not unlike flip flops…. I bought a very nice pair in Jerusalem in 2000…. I’ve still got them…but as Loraine will tell you I NEVER THROW ANYTHING AWAY… but I should, I suppose, as Pip got them and they are now a bit chewed up!!

So here is Jesus in his dress with long hair and a beard….. do you really think he’s like that. If you do… do you think he has any relevance to us today. The answer is we just do not know what Jesus looked like, neither the New Testament, nor the writings of the earliest post-Biblical authors say anything at all about his appearance.

In the earliest wall painting of Jesus from Syria now in the Yale University Gallery of Fine Arts, the physical features are hard to make out… in various frescos in the Catacombs he’s shown as a good looking un-bearded young roman man. Then of course there is the Turin Shroud.

Our picture of Jesus has been conditioned by paintings and stained glass windows and of course there is another picture and that is to look at what first century Palestinian Jews look like and draw out our own picture… would we be right? Perhaps

But, we would have forgotten one important fact… and that is the Incarnation….although Jesus was in human form… in that he could bleed and die like any human being….and he did; that component that makes up every human being on this planet…. The DNA… could be and probably was, very different…. Jesus did not have a human father….In the words of the Angelic salutation….The Angel of the Lord spoke unto Mary and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus could look like anybody or nobody. In Egypt for example we see our Lord change colour, In Cairo he is that olive skinned dark haired bearded ‘Palestinian’ but the further south in Egypt one goes his colour changes so that by the time you get to the Sudanese border he is often portrayed as black, and that is how it should be.… Jesus is the man for all seasons….Yesterday… today and tomorrow and that’s how I want us here in this Church to think of him.

The Risen Christ is for everybody, even the clubbers in their high heels and skimpy pelmets who I saw on my way home last night at the conclusion of the Easter Vigil…. And what do they know of the risen Christ…. I don’t suppose they even give him or it a thought. In this hedonistic society of ours, the aim is for pleasure no matter what the cost… do the poor, the ravaged, the destitute or those caught up in war and conflict ever cross the minds of modern youth, clubbing the nights away….. I doubt it….. and yet are they any different from the crowds that hurled insults at Jesus on Good Friday.

And what of us… Think of the Hymn – “In Christ Alone”

In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all-in-all
Here in the love of Christ I stand
And then it reaches its loud and powerful crescendo in the last verse:

‘No guilt in life, no fear of death – this is the power of Christ in me: From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from His hand; Till he returns or calls me home- Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.’

And that today is the meaning of the resurrection…. Yes it’s an event in the history of the world…. The week leading up to Easter Day and Easter day itself… is the week that changed the world… the Crucifixion and the Resurrection have impacted on the world as no other event in history….

But we mustn’t get caught up in thinking… well it all happened a long time ago…. We are crucifying Christ on a daily basis throughout the world as we turn away from what is right and what is good, and not just by acts of war and terrorism, but by our own neglect and indifference to his call.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God saves from ourselves and we don’t often say thank you…. We do here every day and particularly on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s and on Friday’s at St Peter’s…. but is it enough?

Jesus rose from the dead that we might have life….. not as we know it now on this earth, but a life for the soul beyond death, the soul the very essence of God that he freely gave us…. He will call home.

The message of this Easter Day in 2014 is that Jesus is indeed the man for all seasons and the man for all people…what does Peter say in our reading from Acts this morning: ‘‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’ Jesus is the man and the God who doesn’t care who we are or how we dress.. what kind of music we like or if we are fat, thin, black, white yellow green or blue.. whether we are straight or gay..whoever and whatever we are… this Saviour of our Souls reaches out his hands to us and bids us all come to him.

In the Easter Vigil, we are powerfully reminded of what it means to be a Christian as we move from the Creation of the world through the Old Testament readings to perhaps what many would class as the climax of the Service…. It’s not the lighting of the new fire… or that of lighting the Paschal Candle…. And I lighted ours at 8.30….. no… it’s the renewal of our Baptismal promises… when we speak for ourselves the promises made for us by our God-Parents…. Where we as individuals promise ourselves to this man who is God… this man who died on the Cross and whose Resurrection we commemorate today.

In our commemoration and when we go to the Altar rail…. Please don’t think of the man in a dress…2000 years ago, but think of the God who is our Father, brother and friend….the God who as I said is for all – Look into the eyes of Jesus in your minds….see a myriad of emotions… of pain and suffering…being gradually replaced by a gentle longing… .as he reaches out to you and says through his eyes… come to me…. You are mine… I was with you when you where born and I will be with you holding your hand when you die… and then comes the twinkle… the whimsical smile… as Jesus says to you, life is for living… enjoy your life… and give back to me all that I have given to you, by helping your fellow men and women.. and then the grin…. And Oh… by the way… don’t forget to pray.

Amen.

Sermon given by the Rector in Chester Cathedral on Sunday 19th January 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here in the Cathedral once again, and to give you, on behalf of the Parish of Chester, our fraternal greetings in Christ.

Those of you who are over twenty can have a little sleep!!

Now hands up any of you who know who these guys are? (Show poster of ONE DIRECTION)

Well they are the boy Band – One Direction – and before I tell you how they relate to today’s Sermon on Christian Unity, let me tell you a little story.

Just before Christmas I said to my daughter Charlotte – Charlotte, Daddy is going to pray for One Direction – Charlotte – Oh Daddy that is nice of you – Me Hmmm yes Charlotte I am going to pray that somebody teaches them to sing – ‘Oh daddy that is so mean!!! – Well actually they aren’t that bad!!

Obligatory joke out of the way – so just what have the pretty boy band One Direction got to do with Christian Unity – well it’s all in the title ‘ONE DIRECTION’

There is but one direction that we are all following and that is to Christ Jesus, as Paul says in the Epistle:

To all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

One Direction, but many routes – today we begin the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity, but might I suggest that we need to do a bit more.

In Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin we are seeing a different approach to the problems we face. The old autocracy of Pius XII and the firm government of Archbishop Fisher is now well and truly behind us and we can all talk – but is talking enough.

As we move into 2014 let us take stock of 2013 and pledge ourselves anew to the Christian faith that we hold so dear.

Christianity has been the bedrock of our National life in one form or another since the days of the early Church, but that bedrock is under threat from both secularism and the growth of Islam.

Unless Christianity stops being frightened of its own shadow and afraid to speak its mind, then we risk being pushed even further to the sidelines. The secular world ignores us and is indifferent, but the world of Islam poses a different problem.

Muslims whatever their sect, are more attuned to their faith than many ‘nominal Christians’ and for that they must be praised – we must learn from them – not of course taking on board all of Sharia which is their moral code and religious law, although there are many points on which we would agree, but their submission to God.

As a Nation we have stopped looking over our shoulder to see if God is watching.

So let us declare 2014 the year in which we will push forward the faith of Christ Crucified; the faith of redemption and hope.

Within this New Year’s message is a warning and a salutary one at that, unless we as Christians start working even more closely and bringing more people through our doors then in 50 years time, it is indeed possible that the predominant religion in this country and parts of Western Europe will be Islam.

And who will be to blame:

Not the Muslims, but ourselves.

We have not stood up for ourselves and have allowed ourselves to be sidelined and this has to stop.

Christian Unity has never been more important than it is today – a unity, not a uniformity, of purpose.

When the secular world sees us arguing amongst ourselves then they take the view that we are not serious about our faith because we cannot agree about it.

When that happens, the question of Women at the Altar, Gay Priests and Gay marriage assume a role that the secular world finds bizarre – when you have one section of the Christian Church saying – women priests, women bishops – no problem – and other part saying – hey this is wrong – it is against our Lord’s view of the sexes!!

Another branch of the Church saying – Gay Marriage fine what’s wrong with it and then the reverse side of the coin.

So the secular world out there scratches its head and says or thinks – for goodness sake they can’t even agree on their own theology.

Don’t get me wrong views on both sides of any argument are sincerely held, but when one part of the Church of Christ can’t or won’t agree with another then the problems start. This has to be clearly understood – no use sweeping it under the carpet

So instead let’s go back to the very basics of our faith and these are enshrined in the Catholic Creeds. On these we are agreed.

Elizabeth I said there is but one Lord Christ, the rest is a disputation over trifles, whilst simplistic carries a real sting.

And that sting is do not get so embroiled in the minutiae of this and that so you lose sight of the goal.

Jesus says in Matthew 11:30 – my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And why did he say that – because he had swept away all that minutiae of archaic Judaism and replaced with something so simple yet so powerful that it should resonate through every Christian gathering and the passage I am using is from Mark 22 : 29 – 31 – and begins with the Shema that powerful expression of Jewish belief: The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There are no other commandments greater than these on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets

We sadly have spent the last two thousand years adding layer upon layer to the minutiae – when what we should be saying to any problem – what would our Lord do.

Well for a start he would talk and he would listen – he did not judge

Indeed although this is a week for declaring Christian Unity it is also a time when we need also to look at talking to working with other faiths yes – like Islam and Judaism as never before to halt the insidious spread of ill informed secularism, that is tearing at the very heart of a well ordered society and placing personal preference and greed above working together as human beings and respecting one another.

So back to ONE DIRECTION to finish and whilst I am still rooted in the Beatles and the Beach Boys there is one song that has a resonance for us all – now don’t expect me to sing it – really – hey if I could sing – I would be applying for the post of Canon Precentor – and yes at times the words are pretty anodyne, but listen –

The Song is One way or another –

One way or another I’m gonna find you I’m gonna get you, get you, get you, get you One way or another I’m gonna win you I’m gonna get you, get you, get you, get you

One way or another I’m gonna see you I’m gonna meet you, meet you, meet you, meet you One day, maybe next week I’m gonna meet you, I’m gonna meet you, I’ll meet you

So whatever our route in the One direction to the Eternal God in Jesus Christ – we are going to find him, we are going to get him around us and through him we will win.

We are going to see God and meet him, face to face.

And I leave you with the opening lyrics of their hits – the Story of my life:

Written in these walls are the stories that I can’t explain I leave my heart open but it stays right here empty for days

Well written in the walls of this great Cathedral and St John’s are indeed stories we cannot explain because they are stories of faith – and we should leave our hearts open to Christ, but unlike the song they wont stay empty for days

So let us be bold and take that one direction together all of us of every shape and shade of Christianity. And declare –

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified

This is our faith let us proclaim it with pride. Amen Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified

This is our faith let us proclaim it with pride. Amen

Sermon for Christmas Midnight Mass of the Nativity 2013

To us a child is born, to us a son is given: and his name will be called the Prince of Peace. In the Name of Him who is the Prince of Peace in the Holy Trinity One God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

At this Midnight Mass of the Nativity…The First Mass of Christ…Christ…mass, we read the profound words from St. John’s Gospel John opens a window into the very mind and being of God:

AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

These are very powerful words, some might even say, and I am one of them, that this opening of John’s Gospel is the most powerful passage in the whole of the New Testament.   On Christmas day itself we will read a portion of St Luke’s Gospel and we will hear about the Shepherds coming to the manger.

In these two widely different Gospel portions the real sense of who Jesus is comes into very sharp focus.

In John we have a powerful explanation of Jesus as God…God incarnate, existing before the world began indeed we might even say before time as we know it existed; and in Luke we have the host of heaven calling from their flocks the most ordinary of mortals…humble and poor shepherds.

So on the one hand in John we have the absolute majesty of the infinite and in Luke the mundane.

John takes us back to creation and leads us profoundly to an absolute statement of might, majesty and power that overcame rejection. Who is The Word?…It is God himself.

In Psalm 139 the Psalmist says to God: Where can I go from your Spirit, Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in a grave, you are there also.

For God is everywhere and he says throughout our lives…I am here for you seek me out…God doesn’t exist in time and space… he is time and space…to followers of Dr. Who…  God is the ultimate time lord…because he is the Lord of Time…he’s just there and always has been…When Moses asked God his name, God said…I AM; its as simple as that!

I am here, I am there, I am everywhere; I exist, I have always existed…I will always exist….because I am existence itself… and then that leads us on to –

“The Word became Flesh”.  Put simply God, said I will go and live amongst my creation, but I will not go with power and might, I will put aside the infinite and I will go through the agency of a human woman to grow and live among my people

And the heavenly Host will not appear to the rich and the powerful, but to ordinary people.

Tonight, I’m not going to talk about the image of a nice and holy little child in the manger or about shepherds watching their flocks, nor am I going to dwell on Christmas being cosy and wonderful; nor the theology of either John or Luke, but I am going to talk about a gift, the greatest Christmas gift of all……..Jesus Christ.

Yes Christmas is rightly a happy time, and at this time of year we can be joyful, we can embrace each other in the spirit of love; but the world needs to remind itself why! For it is in Christ that we are taught to love, it is in Christ that we are taught to embrace all.

It isn’t wrong to make the most of this special time; we don’t have to go around with miserable faces like Scrooge, we can laugh and smile, but in the Christmas Carol by Dickens there is a poignant and very Christian message that we are all living in the world and must inter-relate with each other. The problem today is that so many of us don’t.

The secular Christmas now plays the biggest part in people’s lives.

Don’t you think that sometimes Christmas seems almost obscene; the Television adverts extol us to buy bigger and more expensive presents and for many this means getting into absolutely horrendous debt…….that’s not happy or jolly, because the price is too high, the debt has to be paid.

A lady called Rachel Simhon in the Daily Telegraph put it succinctly a few years ago,  and I quote:

“ Have you ever wondered about that traditional song ‘the twelve days of Christmas’ When were the twelve days and where would they fit into the modern version ‘the 17 weeks of Christmas.

For no sooner do the adverts for ‘Back to School’ leave shop windows than we see the first Christmas Trees go up.

In religious terms Christmas begins on December 25th and lasts for 12 days until Epiphany. Nowadays we have lost any sense of that.  There is an enormous build up beforehand, ending, not beginning on Christmas Day.

This I suspect, is what accounts for the terrible sense of anti-climax that often accompanies Christmas Day. It is never as good as you hope it’s going to be, and then it’s all over “.

What a perceptive comment. Perhaps if more people actually thought about God over Christmas, then they would not be so miserable afterwards.

Sometimes I suppose a part of me wants to say to the manipulators, go and find your own feast, and we’ll have Christmas back please!

you’ve contaminated it……but whatever you do don’t call your tawdry thing ‘Christmas’, because Christmas is a religious festival……it is the Mass of Christ…….

And isn’t it annoying when we see in our newspapers or on television that this council or that has decided that Christmas Carols or Nativity plays are off the agenda in case in might offend this faction or that faction. I honestly think, No I know,  that Jews, Moslems, Sikhs and Hindus think we are quite mad when they see such nonsense coming out of the mouths of the politically correct. St John’s is on Facebook and so am I, and I have had messages from Jewish, Muslim and Hindu Friends wishing us all a Happy Christmas

One must accept that in say a school composed totally of Muslims or Hindus or whatever, it would be a little silly and to make such children take part in Nativity Plays and sing Carols; yet they need to be made aware of what the Christmas is all about. For Muslims particularly because Jesus is very special to them.

One sometimes hears Muslims say:

“Muslims honour Jesus more than so called nominal Christians do!

Islam has a fairly well-defined doctrine of Christ. Who is given is Aramaic name of Isa approximating to the Hebrew Yeshua.   The Qur’an has more to say about Isa than you might think.  Isa son of Mary is frequently called “Al-Masih” (Messiah) and is also referred to as “the Word of God”, “the Word of Truth”, “a Spirit from Him”, “the Messenger of God”, “the Prophet of God”, and “the Servant of God”.

The Qur’an tells the story of the angel’s annunciation to Mary that she would have a son and the story of His virgin birth, and attributes to Jesus miracles

It becomes offensive therefore when a politically motivated Council denies that Christmas exists, and it is just a holiday

or

Is it because we ourselves have made it what it has become, that ‘Christian Britain’ has lost its sense of wonder and thanks for the gift of Jesus and I back this up by quoting from a magazine called ‘Chat’ that my wife brought to my attention;

The article is called “ Jesus had a girlfriend like Barbie” and comprises the answers given by young children at a school in Wales to the question ‘what these youngsters of mainly 5 years old, thought Jesus was like as a boy…..the article says they had some surprising ideas’ ………indeed they did,

and whilst some were extremely funny; I really do wonder what children are being taught both in the home and at school…….these are some of the quotes:

First from Sam: “ Jesus lived with his mum and Dad in the North Pole, next door to Father Christmas. He helped Father Christmas deliver presents down chimneys”! Here Jesus is denied the central role and becomes a bit player.

It gets worse, or better depending on your viewpoint:

Joe said “ Jesus lived in a stable – but it was cold, so God put a radiator up. His favourite group is Busted, but God says ‘Turn the music down’ at least our young Joe got something right….he obviously knew about the stable and he had some idea of God…….but who are Busted!!!!

Oh, and then it does get worse:

Joanne comes up with the fantastic notion

“ I think Jesus had blue hair. He had a girlfriend who looked like Barbie. They’d eat Candyfloss until they were sick. He never married her.”  I ask you !!!!

And then it gets terrible with this is from Toby:

When Jesus’ teachers told him off, he’d make himself disappear. If he were alive today, I think he’d get a gun and shoot all the teachers

I really do think that comment alone is a real indictment not of Toby, but of our society, for giving such an impressionable mind, such shocking imagery.

But is all redeemed by Jack who tells us:

“ Jesus was good at telling stories and Jokes. Stuff like ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’ He could have had his own show on the telly.”

I think not!!!!!!

So after those rather depressing thoughts, let’s go back to the beginning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. And God’s Hosts appeared to humble shepherds in the fields; for the shepherds are us.

We are looking at something so momentous and awe inspiring that it really defies any other words than those used so powerfully by John and more simply by Luke

The angels of heaven sang for joy to the shepherds and this is the real meaning of Christmas, that love came down and lives among us, but love as the ultimate perfection, a love without pre-conditions, a love that is not wishy-washy and cloying but a love that is demonstrated by Jesus Christ taking to himself the sins of us all.

Here is no ritual sacrifice on a temple altar, but the bloody sacrifice of God on the altar of the world; the sacrifice is reversed. God is sacrificing himself ……. O saving Victim opening wide, the gate of heaven to man below.

I said earlier that Christmas is or should be a happy time, and it is not usual to talk about sacrifice at Christmas, but the Incarnation, is itself a sacrifice, because in the birth of the child in the Bethlehem stable, God commences the inevitable progression to the Cross.

That in choosing a young Jewish Virgin to bear a part of the Godhead, to be the Mother of God, God, rewrote the whole religious experience of humanity.

God sacrificed a part of his very being for us and for our salvation, and that we should never forget, but thank him with joyful praise.

Amen.