Saturday, 20 February 2016


I’d like to concentrate on today’s passage from Psalm 27: what a wonderful passage for a baptism! The Lord is my light and my salvation, the passage begins. This is a passage about the love and support of God even when things look bleak: The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? He will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble. Well, we are here today to claim those promises for Charlotte, Lilly-Mae, Kirsty and Chloe as they are baptised in front of family and friends and this community of faith.

So are any of you having a celebration after the baptism? Well, you can’t have a celebration without a party bag! This party bag will help us to understand what’s going on in this service. So, let’s have a look. What’s in the bag?

1)  Water and soap. What do we use water for? Drinking, cooking and cleaning: are we going to use water this morning? How? So, is it cooking? Drinking? No, it’s a symbol - a sign if you like - of cleansing. The water of baptism is a symbol of a fresh start, of washing away the past and all that goes with it. A spring-clean of the soul if you like so although we aren’t really going to scrub down Chloe, Libby-Mae, Kirsty and Charlotte with soap, that also stands for our fresh start as we come symbolically clean from our baptisms.

2) A bus. What’s that for? Well this is another symbol: a symbol of setting out on a journey. What journey? Well, today marks the start of a journey for Kirsty, Chloe, Lilly Mae and Charlotte, a journey of faith; the start of a journey in the Christian life. And I chose a bus because it’s not a journey we undertake on our own. We start this journey today with one another, with family, Godparent, friends and this community to support us. So how do we know where we are going?

3)  A Sat-Nav. What’s this for? It guides us in the right direction. Now any drivers here this morning will know that we can set off on a journey confident that we know the way – and then we get lost. My trusty sat-nav makes sure I get to my destination safely by the best route. It also makes sure I stay out of trouble and don’t drive faster than I should. In life’s journey we can go with or without a sat nav but Christians believe that through baptism we have the extra resource of God’s Holy Spirit to show us the way, to guide us, to lead us and to help us to stay out of trouble. Of course we can still decide we want to follow our own route, but without relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance we run the risk of going in the wrong direction and making mistakes.

4)  A bottle of perfumed oil. Where have we already used oil this morning? What did we do with it? It’s called anointing and it’s quite an ancient tradition: kings and queens are anointed at their coronation so it’s something we do for special people on a special occasion. Jesus was called “The Anointed One” and we use anointing to show that someone has been consecrated. That’s a fancy word and it simply means that the person who has been anointed has been given to God. Today we anointed Charlotte, Chloe, Libby Mae and Kirsty with the sign of the cross, the symbol of Jesus.

5)  A heart. Well, last Sunday was Valentine’s Day, so what does the heart stand for? It’s a symbol of love, but not just our love for one another: it’s also a sign of God’s love for us. We believe that God loves each of us dearly and although He has that love for us all the time we can be sure that that love is very real today as we come for baptism. Today we join God in celebrating and rejoicing.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Prayers for the Broken Hearted on Valentine's Day

Prayers for the Broken-Hearted on Valentine’s Day

Heavenly Father we come before you now on this celebration of love and give thanks for those who experience the unique and exclusive love of another; those who have known that love for many years and those on its threshold; those whose love has grown and matured and those whose love still holds that future promise, and we celebrate such love. We give thanks, too, for those whose love has flourished despite difficulties or disapproval and has been strengthened by it.

Lord in your mercy …..

But we think too of those who have never known that love; those who have been disappointed; those whose hopes have been dashed by bereavement or abandonment; those who have suffered abuse; those whose love has been condemned by others and could not survive. We pray for those who, on this day, as on every other, are broken-hearted.

Lord in your mercy ……

We pray for those who are broken-hearted today because they have been torn from loved ones because of social pressure, war, political upheaval or injustice and who live with fear and uncertainty, not knowing the fate of those they love and who have loved them.

Lord in your mercy ……

We pray for the broken-hearted who have been disappointed in life through physical or mental illness; those who regret opportunities not taken or bad choices made; those who hurt because of the treatment of others; those who are desperate to go back to the way things once were; those who have been denied happiness and those who live in desolation and feel crushed and empty because their broken-heartedness has overwhelmed them; those whose love of life has grown weary.

Lord in your mercy ……

We pray for your forgiveness, Lord, for any part, active or passive, we have played in the broken-heartedness of others.

Lord in your mercy ……

The Psalms tell us, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. ”The book of Revelation tells us that you “will wipe away every tear from their eyes and that there will be no more mourning or crying or pain.” We pray that you will renew them and give them strength in their suffering and confusion and ask that through your love and forgiveness, they will receive restoration and a new dawn for their hearts and lives. Help them not to give up on themselves. Bring beauty from brokenness and give them your peace.

Merciful Father ……

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Sunday Sermon: The Transfiguration. Luke 9.28-36

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

In my teens I once climbed a mountain in Switzerland – courtesy of a cable car, and sat with my friend Bob in a suitably enclosed cafĂ©. He was delighted by the experience and commented how much more easily he could appreciate the creative nature of God as he surveyed the view. As I was unable to raise my eyes further than my glass of gluhwein, this was not an experience I felt able to enter in to. I’m not a great fan of mountains: they’re usually beautiful I admit – from a distance, but as someone who doesn’t enjoy heights, being up a mountain again would definitely not be top of my list of 100 things to do before you die. In fact, following my Swiss experience, I’ve a strong sense of self-preservation which suggests the very fact of being up a mountain would in itself contribute to my death! Even watching a film about mountaineering gives me palpitations.

Mountains, of course, are very symbolic in the Bible: they are the places where key people encounter God, as my friend Bob did. We have Moses in Exodus climbing Mount Sinai and receiving the Ten Commandments and in Luke’s Gospel we have Jesus climbing another, unnamed mountain, and encountering his Father.

I know that “mountain” is a bit of a stretch when used to describe the geography of the Holy Land but when I read these passages again and try to imagine myself into the scenario, I can’t find any resentment that Jesus should only take a select group of his followers with him. In fact had I been invited to be in that select group I would probably have declined.

“Me? No you’re fine thanks. You go ahead. I’ll stay here.”

There are a couple of nice comparisons in these readings about the effect of encountering God on the mountain: Moses, we read, did not know that his face shone because he had been talking with God and the Israelites noticed this. Jesus is revealed in his glory, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became a dazzling white. Why? Because they had a religious experience.

I remember many years ago coming out of my youth group’s Bible Study to be greeted by the vicar’s wife who noted, “I can see you’ve been with God. Your faces are shining.” I thought that was rather odd because I didn’t then understand the reference: an encounter with God transforms us.

This gospel passage is about transformation but is more widely known as The Transfiguration. The supernatural and glorified change in the appearance of Jesus is itself a witness to who Jesus was and is - even if the disciples didn’t quite join the dots at the time. The Transfiguration is a pivotal moment, and the incident on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth. The Transfiguration not only supports the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, but the statement "This is my Son, my Chosen [One]; listen to him!" identifies him as the messenger and mouth-piece of God, just as it did at his baptism.

Today this is enhanced by the presence of Moses and Elijah, (Moses representing The Law and Elijah, The Prophets) because it shows Peter, John and James then, and us now, that Jesus is the voice of God above all others. Jesus surpasses and supersedes all the key religious leaders who have gone before and their teaching!

I wonder if anyone here has tried to re-invent themselves. It’s more easily done during some big life change that has an element of geographic movement: leaving home to go to college, changing jobs, moving house, starting at a new school, changing churches and so on. Sometimes that physical movement of place is the impetus for change. Occasionally as a teacher I saw youngsters who were desperate for change but who had backed themselves into a corner. Without the geographic change they were locked into a cycle of self-defeating behaviour because of the expectations of those around them – others wouldn’t let them change. If you have the reputation of being the class clown, or the year group’s gobby girl it’s really hard to transform and in all areas of life the more close-knit the community, the more difficult transformation is.

And yet transformation is a part of the Christian life: through the power of the Holy Spirit we are being transformed from what we once were into what we shall one day be. It is a work in progress. We are all works in progress. As 2 Corinthians tells us, If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. And this happens – is happening – because of our encounter with God regardless of whether we were up a mountain when that encounter took place.

The problem here is that we can’t see the wood for the trees: it’s like being a parent or grandparent who sees the children daily and because of that doesn’t notice the subtle changes that take place. It takes the visit of a family friend or other relative who hasn’t seen them for a while to say, “Aren’t they growing up?”

I remember as a teenager hearing the testimonies of other Christians who told dramatic tales of transformation when they made a Christian commitment. It both excited and disappointed me that these testimonies told of change from a really lurid past: excited because of the possibility that God can change anyone, however dodgy their previous lives, and disappointed that my life was so dull and ordinary in contrast. I’m not doubting the truth of those testimonies but they were so far removed from my own uneventful upbringing that they were hard to identify with and yet the Holy Spirit was still at work in my life. I was just too close to the wood to see the trees. So, slowly but surely, attitudes and behaviours changed.

I know I’ll never know the answer to this but I sometimes wonder how very different from the current me the old me would have been at this stage in my life had I not made a Christian commitment. I suspect not very. As I try to analyse my own life, and as I look at the lives of other Christians I have known for a long time I am increasingly convinced that there aren’t that many of us who need a radical transformation of the Holy Spirit, although that's not to say that we don't need any transformation. What the Holy Spirit does, though, is to take the essential us, the essential you and me and works with that God-given material and life's experiences to challenge and effect incremental transformations that we may not even notice. The fact that we don’t notice that transformation mustn’t be taken as a sign that it isn’t happening.

Perhaps every once in a while we should surprise our friends here, maybe during the Peace, by affirming what we admire and value about their spirituality and Christian witness. We are a work in progress. We are being transformed by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit but it’s not going to be accomplished this side of the grave so let’s not look for or expect perfection.

Just one minor point to finish on: Jesus chose to take friends with him. They were there to witness the event and talk of it to others later. Let’s not be afraid to do the same. Lets talk to others of the Transfiguration of Jesus  – Jesus as the link between the human and the divine certainly, but let’s not forget to talk about what God is doing in our own lives: our own little transformations by the Holy Spirit, particularly at this time when we are looking at church growth: and if we can’t recognise it in ourselves let’s make more of a point in affirming it in each other. Sometimes it’s the personal rather than the profoundly theological that pulls others in.