Tag Archives: Paul

Sermon (based on Luke 12, verses 49-56)

 

I would like to tell you this morning about a family.

The couple aren’t married, but have been together for about 10 years. He’s 40 next month & his partner is three years younger.

Both are very intelligent- in fact, he’s got three degrees – all from Glasgow University.

They have two beautiful daughters – one is 8 & the other is two.

They’re a lovely and loving family and are very happy with life.

The parents aren’t church members, nor have the girls been baptised.

Who are they?…………

One of my sons and family!

 

(It rather proves that I’m a lousy minister – when I failed to involve my off-spring in the kirk!)

 

Two surveys were published over the last two weeks.

The more recent of the two, from ComRes, found that only 6% of British adults are practicing Christians.

The other Survey suggests that 53% of people are explicitly non-religious.

Unfortunately for the church, the people who continue to claim that Britain is a Christian country, and claim to be Christian, are also those who show little compassion for people with disabilities, as the repeated failure of the Work Capability Assessments show.

 

However, the Rev Norman Smith, who is Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Mission and Discipleship council, has commented: “The Church of Scotland is well aware that formal church membership has declined, yet as our own research shows, the role of spirituality in people’s lives remains important. As a church we are not driven by numbers, although we are committed to sharing our faith through our words and our deeds.”

 

That’s an interesting word “spirituality”

It’s not religion – that, if anything else is spirituality in a formal & organised setting and context.

All of us have a spiritual dimension to us, whether we recognise or acknowledge it or not.

In general, it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all. People may describe it simply a deep sense of being in touch with the “inner me”

I believe my son and his family have that, without religious commitment- as is the case with many other people and families.

 

But….should there not be more? A farther step toward commitment?

 

I heard a deeply moving story last week.

It involves a retired servant of Queen Victoria. She had been a housemaid in the Royal Household for more than 40 years, but now was living in squalor and poverty in a insalubrious area in London….and she was dying from TB.

She was known as a woman of simple but deep faith.

John Wesley got to hear about her, and paid her a visit.

Talking to her, praying for her, comforting her, in her squalid slum, he noticed something pinned to one of the walls.

It was a banker’s draft (an old form of a cheque) – it was made out for hundreds of ££ – and was a personal payment from Queen Victoria herself!

The retired servant hadn’t realised what it was nor its worth, because she couldn’t read or write.

Here she was, living in abject poverty and squalor, when she could have been living in comfort during her final days.

So many people aren’t fulfilled, because of their religious and faith illiteracy.

 

In our New Testament reading today, Jesus tells his disciples – and remember they didn’t always fully understand what he was getting at – that true faith can be divisive…… that even amongst families (and we started hearing about mine, remember) there can be different outlooks and interpretations of life.

 

He’s effectively saying that some may stand apart from others because of their convictions and how their faith is articulated in how they treat others.

Jesus is telling us he demands a commitment that just might cut across families ties, that just might cut across at how others see us, a commitment that says as a Christian you are different in this world.

Jesus senses in his disciples as he is now headed for Jerusalem and the cross that altitude that they were not taking his claims seriously in their lives.

Jesus sensed an attitude of curiosity among his followers.

And that’s not nearly enough.

He wanted love, loyalty, obedience, a sense of commitment, but they were merely being curious, seeing what this poor country preacher was saying and doing.

So Jesus tells them about the obedience, the commitment, the loyalty, he demands from his followers. A commitment that could and does even cut across families lines.

 

Does he really want that kind of commitment from us?

Isn’t “spirituality” a good enough option?

Does it have to be so radical and decisive.??

 

Well, it certainly takes conviction.

Think, for example, of Paul:

In his letters, Paul uses the terms, “I know,… I am sure” many times. Paul had a conviction.

 

Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus by Peter Paul Rubens

 

We heard earlier the story of Daniel. He was forbidden to pray to Jehovah.

Violation would result in being thrown into the lion’s den.

It wasn’t a tough decision for Daniel to make for he had already made some strong convictions concerning his relationship to God.

He kept praying. He was thrown into that den.

 

 

Daniel in the Lions’ Den – Peter Paul Rubens

 

That takes courage – the inner strength that God provides – the fortitude that comes through trust in him.

The inner strength is available for every one who is willing to call upon the resources of God to give them the courage to stand by his or her convictions.

This is the kind of life Jesus is calling us to live: to react in the way that puts God first.

It is a life that even sometimes calls us to stand apart, to stand alone maybe even in a family.

Jesus calls us to live for Him. He calls us to a life of loyalty, a life of commitment.

That’s the major difference between the fashionable concept of spirituality and true faith

For we know that Jesus is truly the way, the truth and the life for us…..all of us….now and forever.

 

AMEN

 

 

 

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Pollution

Jesus and Saint Paul are sitting in Heaven,  talking about the pollution on Earth and wondering what can be done about mankind’s filthy ways. 

Jesus says he’s going to pop down to Skegness to see the situation for himself, and Paul agrees to join him.  When they get there, Jesus asks what the huge metal pipe is for.

 Paul tells him it’s used to take human waste out to sea where the muck kills the sea-life,

So Jesus decides to take action and strides across the waves.  Walking alongside, Paul is soon knee-deep in filthy water, while Jesus scoots along on top of the   sea. 

Ever hopeful of some help he slogs on, and Jesus keeps walking on water… but soon the water is up to Paul’s chin.

“Master,” he calls, “I will follow you anywhere, but I’m up to my neck in filthy polluted water and I think I’m  going to drown.”

 At this Jesus stops walking and looks at Paul. 

“Well,” he says, “why don’t you just walk on the pipe like me, you stupid man?”

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New Wine

What do the following have in common?  Zacchaeus, St. Paul, St Augustine, Francis of Assisi, John Newton the hymnwriter, Francis Thomson the poet?

All had a firm conviction in the power of Christ to change people’s lives.

Zacchaeus – from quisling to follower of Christ

Saul – from persecutor to Paul the apostle

Augustine – from wastrel to holy man

Francis – from self-centred indolence to friar and saint

Newton – from slaver to hymnist

Thomson – from hopeless drunk to Christian apologist

All changed , all made new –  like countless others before and since and yet to come – through the transforming power of Jesus Christ who makes all things new.

If you’ve looked at the Gospel according to St John even superficially, you will have noticed that it’s considerably different from the others.

It’s as if the author is seeing things from a different perspective.  He seems to get behind the facts, giving them a meaning and significance that are eternal.

He sees in the actions of Jesus something that is forever true; something that is still happening – happening even now.

The first miracle to be recorded by John is the story of turning water into wine.  Some versions of the Bible refer to this as the first of the ‘signs’ that Jesus did.

And John, who had had many years to contemplate on what Christ did – sees in it something of profound significance.

Dull ordinary water, common H2O can become rich rich wine, full of bouquet and sparklinmg with promise.

And if water can become wine, the ordinary man or woman can become something exciting and rich and effervescent.

John is trying to convey to us that whenever Christ comes into our lives, there enters into them a new quality which is like turning water into wine – new exhilaration.

But where’s the key to this?  How does life become new?

I once heard this story – a man was preaching at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park.  There was only a handful of disinterested listeners there.  But he preached on telling them about how marvellous Christ is.

A heckler interrupted him – ‘Here!’ he shouted ‘All this Jesus this and Jesus that…he’s been around for two thousand years and he’s done nothing for me!’

The preacher stopped and said ‘Friend, water has been around for several million years but by the look of your dirty face, it hasn’t done you much good either!’

Do you see it?  You need CONTACT if all is to change in your life.  You need contact if things are to become new.

And this contact?  Look again at the story of the wedding at Cana.  This is how Jesus revealed his glory says John, AND HIS DISCIPLES BELIEVED IN HIM.

Belief is the point of contact.

‘Behold, I make all things new’ says the risen and glorified Christ.  Do you believe it?  Can you dare believe it to be true?

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Diversity Saves

  • Anglican Ink

Diversity, not Jesus, saves says Presiding Bishop

 
 
ARTICLE | MAY 20, 2013 – 2:52PM | BY GEORGE CONGER

 

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has denounced the Apostle Paul as mean-spirited and bigoted for having released a slave girl from demonic bondage as reported in Acts 16:16-34 .

In her sermon delivered at All Saints Church in Curaçao in the diocese of Venezuela, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori condemned those who did not share her views as enemies of the Holy Spirit.

The presiding bishop opened her remarks with an observation on the Dutch slave past. “The history of this place tells some tragic stories about the inability of some to see the beauty in other skin colors or the treasure of cultures they didn’t value or understand,” she said.

She continued stating: “Human beings have a long history of discounting and devaluing difference, finding it offensive or even evil.  That kind of blindness is what leads to oppression, slavery, and often, war.  Yet there remains a holier impulse in human life toward freedom, dignity, and the full flourishing of those who have been kept apart or on the margins of human communities.”

Just as the forces of historical inevitability led to the ending of industrial slavery, so too would the march of progress lead to a change in attitude towards homosexuality, she argued.

“We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end.  We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong.  For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.”

To illustrate her point presiding bishop turned to the book of Acts, noting “There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said, referencing the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.

“But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!,” the presiding bishop said.

The New Testament passage goes on to say that Paul and Silas were imprisoned for freeing the girl of her demonic possession. Presiding Bishop noted “an earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God.  The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand.”

However, Paul now repents of his mistake in casting out the spirit of divination, she argues.  “This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor.  This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household.  It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.”

In support her argument for radical inclusion and diversity over doctrine Bishop Jefferts Schori adds that the day’s reading “from Revelation pushes us in the same direction, outward and away from our own self-righteousness, inviting us to look harder for God’s gift and presence all around us.  Jesus says he’s looking for everybody, anyone who’s looking for good news, anybody who is thirsty.  There are no obstacles or barriers – just come.  God is at work everywhere, even if we can’t or won’t see it immediately.”

She concluded her sermon by stating that we are not justified by our faith but by our respect for diversity.

“Looking for the reflection of God’s glory all around us means changing our lenses, or letting the scales on our eyes fall away.  That kind of change isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s the only road to the kingdom of God.”

Salvation comes not from being cleansed of our sins by the atoning sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, but through the divinization of humanity through the work of the human will. “We are here, among all the other creatures of God’s creation, to be transformed into the glory intended from the beginning.  The next time we feel the pain of that change, perhaps instead of annoyance or angry resentment we might pray for a new pair of glasses.  When resentment about difference or change builds up within us, it’s really an invitation to look inward for the wound that cries out for a healing dose of glory.  We will find it in the strangeness of our neighbor.  Celebrate that difference – for it’s necessary for the healing of this world – and know that the wholeness we so crave lies in recognizing the glory of God’s creative invitation.  God among us in human form is the most glorious act we know.”

Responses posted on the Episcopal Church’s website to the Presiding Bishop’s sermon have been uniformly harsh, noting her interpretation was at odds with traditional Christian teaching, grammar, and logic. “This is quite possibly some if the most delusional exegesis I’ve ever read in my life,” one critic charged. “I’m sorry, but this sermon is not a Christian sermon.”

The reception by bloggers has been equally unkind. The Rev Timothy Fountain observed the presiding bishop had up ended the plain meaning of the text. “Instead of liberation” in freeing the slave girl from exploitation, presiding bishop finds “confinement.  Instead of Christ’s glory, there’s just squalor.”

The Rev. Bryan Owen argued “What’s happening here is the exploitation of a biblical text in service to a theopolitical agenda.  Given what she says in the first paragraph I’ve quoted from her sermon, the Presiding Bishop suggests that anyone who doesn’t buy into that agenda – anyone who holds to the traditional, orthodox understanding of such matters – is likewise afflicted with the same narrow-minded bigotry as Paul, and thus in need of enlightenment.” 

 

About the Author

George Conger

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Cinderella

One of the few original story plots of the world is said by experts to be that of Cinderella.

It reappears among all peoples and in many forms.

It is essentially the story of the rejected stone which by a strange romance becomes the very head of the corner – the most important of all.

It’s the story of the ugly duckling which grew into a  beautiful swan, of the girl in the cinders who became the princess, of the frog which became a prince.

And its place in the world’s story-book rests ultimately on its sure place in human experience.

Now here at the end of the parable that Jesus tells about the killing the heir of the vineyard owner, he quotes from the Psalms:

‘The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all’

It’s an old theme, but a relevant one for it interprets for us the place of Christ in history.

And it will occur again and again in the Early Church – it seems to have been one of their favourite proof texts.

In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Peter addressing the high priests says

‘This is the stone which was rejected by you builders but which has become the head of the corner’

Further, in the first letter of Peter the same theme will be used as well:

‘Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ.  For it stands in scripture: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.

To you, therefore, who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe  the very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner’

What a perfect allegory this is.

Think for a moment of a building site.  You can visualise men working on it.  There are bricks and stones and slabs of concrete lying about.  Planks of wood stained with dried-up concrete and mud are leaning against half completed walls.

The site is a sea of mud at present, and you have difficulty picturing the fine avenue of houses promised in the brochure.

We’ve all seen building sites; we all know what they’re like.

This one is no jerry-built row of houses being erected, but a dignified, solid, even artistic stone edifice.

And this calls for a qualified stonemason who knows his job.

So you see him on the scaffolding testing every stone before it is grouted into the building.

He feels its weight, observes its shape, taps it to hear its ring (and therefore its soundness) for the wall that he is constructing.

At one point, there comes into his hands a stone which looks attractive but fails his tests – so he rejects it.

The last you see of that stone is as a reject, tossed onto the scaffold-board where it bumps off onto the ground below – ending on the rubbish heap.

But, wait, this isn’t the end of this miserable stone.  A while later, a more expert craftsman happens to pass that way, and seeing the stone, examines it.

A smile of satisfaction passes over his face. What a stone!  What a find!

And, far from ending its life as mere hardcore for some motorway, that stone gets incorporated by the master builder into the chief corner position of a new building on which he is engaged.

So the Cinderella once despised and rejected becomes the princess, exalted and revered and honoured.

All through his life on earth, the worth was not apparent.  From the beginning there was no room for him in Bethlehem’s inn.  At the apparent end, his own disciples deserted him.

His own people received him not.

He was despised, rejected, crucified.

And…then… the transformation.  Resurrection, new life, new power, new potential.  For him….for his followers.

And because of the risen and glorified Christ, we too can look forward in hope.

Jesus Christ is not at the periphery of life – but right up there  stage centre, the focal point, the keystone that holds the whole structure together

What society needs is a strong foundation and a chief corner stone.  Christ was rejected, yes, but on the third day he rose again.  The thought of this triumph and what it means for us and can do for us is what we should carry into the grey days of the coming week

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2 Corinthians 6:10

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Ephesus

The Meenister’s Log

In 1998 I visited Turkey and spent a wonderful time touring the amazing site of excavated Ephesus (one of the top ten places that you have to visit, before you die)

The tour-guide was excellent, but his pitch was aimed at the lowest common denominator – the gum-chewing fat American from the Mid-West (sorry, any mid-west relatives).

For example, at the entrance to the site are three pillars… “can anyone tell me what these are?”

Silence.

Me: “Corinthian, Doric and Ionic”

Later, a sign or symbol to  Nike – “anyone know who Nike was?”

“God (sic) of sneakers?”

Me: “Goddess of Speed”

The sign of the fish – “Anyone?” 

Me: “ICHTHUS    etc”

By this time my better half was prodding me in the ribs and telling me to stop being such a show-off.

The Guide, now curious, asked if I’d been on this tour before – which I hadn’t

“So what do you do work at?”

“Clergyman”

“OK – we’re just about to reach the Amphitheatre where St. Paul preached – would you like to talk to the group about it?”

And I did – and it was was one of the most moving experiences ever: to sit where the apostle sat and to relate his story.  It was wonderful!

 


In the 1st century AD, the Apostle Paul spent over three years in Ephesus preaching the Gospel. According to tradition, he delivered a sermon condemning pagan worship in this theatre

According to the Acts of the Apostles (19:23-41), the theatre was the site of the “riot of the silversmiths” in which those who made silver figures of Artemis rioted because Paul’s preaching was bad for business

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