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Sermon – Remembrance Service 2021

  Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow –

Remembrance Service– 14th November 2021

Reading:  John 15: 9 – 17 Supreme love

Text:   Timothy 1 7  “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

  1. Introductory questions.

Q1. to Beavers, “Today is Remembrance Sunday.  What are we remembering?”

A:  Those who died in the fighting of two world wars.  Also, other wars

Q2. to Cub Scouts.  Can you tell me any other wars in the 20th century and this Century, in which British forces fought?

A:

  • The Boer War 1901
  • The Korean War 1950-53
  • The Falklands War 1980
  • The Kuwait War 1990
  • The Iraq War
  • Belize
  • Afghanistan

Q3. to Scouts What starts a war?

A3.  One country invading another country, e. g.   Germany invading Poland in 1939; North Korea invading South Korea; Russia about to invade Belarus

  • Introduction.         We have just had a reading from St John’s Gospel, often read on Remembrance Sunday.   The reading is about true love.   It contains these words of Jesus, familiar to many people, “Love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no-one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This morning I want to link those familiar words with some words of the Apostle Paul to his Assistant, Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1 v 7).
  • Fear.     Wars are times of uncertainty.  People are getting shot and wounded or maybe, killed.  Homes are getting bombed.  Food is short and rationed.   Food rationing in this country went on after the Second World War for a longer period that the War itself, for 9 years until 1954.   Uncertainty breeds fear.   We are going now through a time of uncertainty with the Covid pandemic, this can breed fear.   God though has shown us a better way.   As the Apostle Paul says to Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear.”   Paul could write that despite having gone through very difficult events, like being stoned almost to death, being shipwrecked more than once, being imprisoned.   It is natural to be apprehensive in the face of difficulty and challenging circumstances but there is a way to avoid that becoming an obsessive fear, which can be destructive to our whole approach to life, and even lead to mental illness.  
  • Power and love.   Jesus spoke about loving one another when he knew that shortly he would die but he also believed that he would rise from the dead.    As the Apostle John writes, “Perfect love casts out fear”.  God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love.   Power without love, without regard for another’s wellbeing is what leads to bullying, to aggression, to war.  Misuse of power in the family can lead to breakdown of family relations.   Misuse of power in industry, commerce or any work place in the long run can be counter-productive.   But power to overcome fear, trusting in our risen Lord Jesus Christ, giving us the true hope of resurrection can be liberating and energising.
  • Sound mind.    Paul’s third quality is a little more difficult to understand.  I read it as ‘a sound mind’.  It can equally well be translated as ‘self-discipline’.   If one thinks about it, these two are not far removed from one another.   There are natural urges in us which if we are wise, we will restrain.  To seek revenge on someone who has harmed one, can so easily lead to a vicious cycle of continuing revenge.  Jesus told us to love our enemies.   In its basic meaning this applies on a one-to-one basis of personal relationships.   But it also applies on the wider basis, of reconciliation with those who were our enemies in war.   Thank God that although British servicemen and women have been in action in many parts of the world since the end of the Second World War, we have enjoyed peace in this country, and in most of Europe.
  • Conclusion.  In conclusion let us on this Remembrance Sunday think of all from many countries around the world, both our allies and our enemies and also those caught up in other conflicts, who have died.  Let us particularly remember those from and associated with this village who went into action, often facing the very real possibility of death, to counter forces of aggression.    Let us build on the freedom they won for us, knowing that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Christopher Miles

                                                                  

Sermon – 2nd Sunday before Advent

Readings: Daniel 12: 1-3  Michael the Great Prince will arise at the end time. Mark 13: 1 – 8    Signs of the end of the age. 

1.       Introduction.         On the second Sunday before Advent, we look forward in a personal sense to the coming of the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.   Our life here on earth should be seen as a preparation for the fullness of that Kingdom, whether we be here or on earth or in the glory of heaven.  We have lived through the greater part of two years now in the hope of COVID-19 being defeated in all its variants and of a return to a fuller life as we emerge from lockdown restrictions.  As Christians we know that our hope is in more than defeating a virus.  It is defeating the whole realm of evil that causes so much suffering in our world.     We are now more aware that suffering may be mental as well as physical, (albeit they can be linked).   Sometimes harm arises out of mental health problems.  Sometimes mental illness arises from physical constraints and accidents.   As Christians we look beyond the immediately visible horizons.  Some people have found in lockdown that it has been an opportunity of deepening of spiritual life, for example having more time for prayer and a renewal of hope through reading and studying the Bible.

2.       Daniel.  Let’s briefly consider our first reading.  Daniel had been forcibly deported in the early 6th Century BC, from Israel, to serve king Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.    He didn’t collapse in a heap of despair but put his mind to a 3-year learning course and eventually became a very high civil servant in his country of captivity.   Some many years later an angel comes with messages from God to reveal to Daniel, and so through his written account, to us, that a time of great suffering is going to happen but passing beyond that, there will be an end time of a wonderful reception by God of those who have looked to Him.

3.       Jesus.   Our Gospel reading today is the beginning Jesus’ great teaching about the events leading to the end time.  He starts from the immediate point of view of his disciples’ comment on the magnificence of the great stones of the temple.  Although the temple was destroyed in 70 A. D. at end of the 4 years of Roman siege, one can still see in the remains of the Western Wall some of the huge stones to which his disciples pointed to.   But although the siege of great city of Jerusalem and destruction of the Judean towns and cities was a time of suffering, both in seeing their beloved temple destroyed but also in destruction of their houses and death of many in their families, Jesus, like Daniel speaks of a more distant and greater suffering, of wars and reports of wars around the world.  Later in the chapter we have the record of his account at the end time, of his returning to earth, in the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God.

4.       Our situation.    Some of us here, lived through the Second World War.  A time of suffering, uncertainty and Yes!   Hope realised, of Victory.    We have been fortunate not to have lived since then with the fear and uncertainty of war directly involving our own country. We are though, well aware that in so many countries there is civil unrest and war.  In every country of the world, we have and to some extent, still are, living with uncertainty of the serious Covid 19 virus pandemic.  Let us though, like Daniel and all the prophets of old, like Jesus and his immediate disciples, see life here and now, with all its challenges, as a preparation for the life to come in the glory of the Kingdom of God.

Rev. Christopher Miles

Sermon – Trinity 5

Trinity 5 – A prophet without honour

Sunday 4 July 2021

Readings: Ezekiel 2:1-5, Mark 6:1-13

On Tuesday of last week the Church celebrated the two Saints Peter and Paul together.

Bearing in mind that most Saints, even ones you have never previously heard of, get a day all to themselves it may look a bit odd that these two pillars of the church, have to share.

It looks even more odd when you realise how different they were in so many ways.  Peter was a ‘salt of the earth’ fisherman from Galilee, not very learned, often a bit impetuous.  Paul was more of a scholar, advanced in his studies of Judaism and an early persecutor of the church.  Even as apostles they did not always agree with one another.

But, despite their obvious differences in character and temperament, they did have something significant in common.  They both responded to the call of Jesus on their lives to make a difference in the world.  Peter was called by Jesus in person to leave his nets and become a fisher of men. Later he was called to be the Rock on which the church would be built. Paul was called spiritually by Jesus whilst he was on the road to Damascus, to stop being a persecutor of the church and he became its greatest evangelist.  

What I love about these two saints being celebrated together is that we are reminded that the church is not built on those who are like us and who agree with us in all things.  The church was never intended to be a club for the like-minded but is the place where the whole world is redeemed, and the whole world includes people who are different from us in all sorts of ways.

So, the sharing of this day by two great saints says loud and clear that the church can live with difference and diversity and even disagreement.  We can choose our friends but we can’t choose our family and the Church is a new family.

This time of year, often called Petertide, is also about the calling to minister within and to the church.  Peter and Paul were both called and ‘ordained’ to their different ministries and most Dioceses in the Church of England ordain their deacons and priests at this time of year, and my Facebook and Twitter feed has been full of ordination photos and memories.  

Although this ordination season is a source of joy and excitement, and it is always a privilege to respond to God’s call on your life, and to see others do so, we are also reminded that ministry can be a costly business, even for Jesus.

Last week we heard that Jesus healed a woman merely by her touching his cloak and that he brought a 12 year old girl back from death. It is clear to all those around him that Jesus is a powerful miracle worker, a prophet of God and perhaps even more than that.

And then Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth – the place where he had grown up with his family, had been surrounded by friends and neighbours – in short the place where he had been known since being a young child.

When Jesus started preaching in the synagogue things seemed to be going well at first. We are told that the people who heard him were ‘astounded’ at both his words of wisdom and the deeds of power that he had been doing. And they wondered “Where did this man get all this?” The obvious implication being that such power and wisdom must come from a place above and beyond his humanity – that it comes from God.

But in the blink of an eye the astonishment of the people in the synagogue turned to doubt and to cynicism:

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary – are not his brothers and sisters here with us?

The crowd allowed their knowledge of Jesus as a person – a person with a family and a history – someone they may well have seen scampering around the streets of Nazareth as a child – to destroy any possibility that there was something else, something divine, going on here. And we are told that they ‘took offence at him’.

I am reminded here of not one but two Monty Python sketches.   In the first John Cleese enters a room dressed smartly in a suit and his elderly mother and one of her elderly friends are there. He says “Good evening Mother” and the two old ladies are amazed that he can walk and talk until, eventually, he says: “Mother, I am the Secretary of State for Trade.” and that sets them off again.

And the other is, of course, from the Life of Brian when Brian’s mother says to the gathered crowd, “He is not the Messiah, he is a very naughty boy.”

And we can probably understand the human nature of what is going on. Here in Hadlow, where no one knew me as an 8 year old, I am the Vicar and many people like to imagine that Vicars drop from the sky fully formed. But when I visit friends and family I am not the Vicar, I am simply Paul and rather than getting to preach I usually struggle to get a word in edgeways.

But of course, the whole point of the incarnation is that Jesus was fully human, a person with a family and a history of growing up in Nazareth who was also fully divine. God works through real, living, breathing human beings not only in the person of Jesus but also in his church – sometimes that makes it hard to discern the divine through the human but it is a useful reminder that we need to open our eyes to the divine presence in the familiar and the material – ordinary bread and wine are transformed to divine service but so too are ordinary men and women – even those we may have seen growing up and even those we know to be fallible human beings.

So, the encounter in the synagogue that started well with the crowd being astounded with Jesus ends with him being amazed at their unbelief. 

In many ways this passage should be a comfort to those of us in ministry who may have unrealistic expectations about people liking us because we are seeking to do good or being won over by our preaching. And, indeed, when Jesus sent out the apostles he made it very clear that just as his ministry was not welcome in Nazareth so there will be times and places when the apostles are not welcome either.   It is the apostle’s responsibility to go in the name of Christ and do what they are commanded to do but if the people won’t respond then that is the people’s responsibility.   Likewise it is the prophet Ezekiel’s responsibility to go to the people, but it is up to them how they respond.

With the exception of Jesus himself, who still had to suffer the disbelief of his home crowd, all those called and ordained into the service of God including Peter and Paul and this Paul are fully human beings with pasts and with faults.  Do we choose to take offence at the humanity of the preacher or do we choose to listen to the divinity of the message?

What is that message?  God loves you and he calls you to love him and love each other, even those who are unlike you in every way.

How will you respond to that message this week?

Amen.

New Anna Chaplain for St Mary’s

On Tuesday .. June Jenny Hopkins was commissioned by Bishop James as the Anna Chaplain for St Mary’s.  The purpose of Anna Chaplaincy is to be a Christian presence with and friend to the older people in our community, both in church and in the wider village.  

Jenny has already been exercising an informal ministry in this area for a number of years but she felt particularly called to develop this further as a result of a dementia-friendly nativity service which was held in December 2019.  Although dementia care and older persons care are not the same thing they do overlap at times and we hope that St Mary’s is going to be part of the ‘dementia-friendly’ village initiative which is underway and that Jenny will be part of this too.  

In the short term Jenny will be opening the church on two Friday mornings a month (the first and third Friday, staring on 2 July) and would be delighted to see anyone who wishes to pop in for a chat.  As covid restrictions lift the plan is that we would be able to re-start some coffee mornings for older people, a bereavement support group and a number of dementia-friendly services each year.  

Please do pray for Jenny in this new ministry and if you would like to work with her in any way as this work develops please do not hesitate to speak either to her or to me.

If you would like to see more about Anna Chaplaincy there is a page on the Rochester website which is a good starting point – here. 

Jenny, following her commissioning, with Bishop James and Julia Burton-Jones, Diocesan Co-ordinator of Anna Chaplaincy.

Sermon – Trinity 4

Trinity 4 – The Church as place of healing27th June 2021

Rev’d Christopher Miles

Readings: Lamentations 3 vv 22 – 33    God’s faithful love

Mark 5 vv 21-E     Healing of the sick woman and raising of Jairus’ daughter

  1. Introduction.         As we progress hopefully towards the end of Covid restrictions it is good to have the two positive readings today to encourage us.  The reading from Lamentations, speaking of God’s love for us and the reading from Mark’s Gospel with such positive accounts of Jesus’ ministry to those in distress.   It is good that, with these accounts in mind, we should consider both the spiritual input to the healing process and the Jesus’ ministry in relation to the specific ministry of the Church as an institution.  There are also difficult questions that I cannot even touch on, such as “Why does God inflict plagues on this worldwide level?”  Firstly a few words about the readings. 
  2. Lamentations.       The book of Lamentations follows the book of the prophet Jeremiah.  In the older, Hebrew, Jewish Bible it is simply labelled ‘Lamentations’ but usually attributed to Jeremiah, because in the 2nd Century Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, it is entitled ‘The lamentations of Jeremiah’ and opens with the introductory words, ‘And it came to pass, after Israel was taken captive and Jerusalem was made desolate, that Jeremias sat weeping with this lamentation over Jerusalem and said’.   Much of the book is the author questioning why God seems to have deserted his people and brought this terrible desolation on Israel and especially on the capital city, Jerusalem.  So, its theme is appropriate to our current national and global situation.  It is good that within that context Jeremiah can come in with such a strong positive note as we had in our first reading this morning, beginning, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end (3 v 22).”   There is one verse that seems a bit difficult and calls for comment.  V 27 reads, “It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth”, in otherwards to experience some hardship when young.  When I was young, I experienced all the usual childhood diseases, namely mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, measles and German measles.  Perhaps that has given me some immunity later in life.  In a wider sense I think that this is what Jeremiah is saying.
  3. Mark’s Gospel.     Now let us turn to Mark’s Gospel.  What a wretched time the sick woman had had.  She had suffered a great deal under many doctors.  Medicine has developed a long way in the last 2000 years, but still does not have all the answers.   It is perhaps difficult for us to appreciate the woman’s dilemma.  She was aware of Jesus’ healing ministry, yet for a woman in public to approach a man, other than of her own family, was a ‘No, no!’ and certainly not to touch him in any way, yet she had both a strong belief that Jesus could heal her, that he had healing power, and that healing power needed to be transmitted physically.  Her scheme was a cunning compromise, that in the crowd, she could come up, perhaps from behind and just touch his robes.  How terrified she naturally was, when Jesus called out, ‘Who touched me’.  She was in danger.  Because of her bleeding she would have been regarded as ‘unclean’ and to deliberately touch a rabbi was a serious sin.  No wonder Mark records that reluctantly and trembling with fear the woman admits to what she had done.  Far from condemning her, he responds, “Daughter your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your sufferings.”  An attitude towards women that we are only now 2000 years later, catching up with!

Mark then goes on to narrate the account of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.  These two accounts occur in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.  One may consider the event an equivalent of the raising of Lazarus in John’s gospel.  Jesus’ strict instruction to Jairus, his wife and the three disciples, who had accompanied him, not to tell anyone about the event may seem surprising.  You may feel that he had tried to provide a cover for the situation by saying “The girl is not dead but sleeping”.  Matthew tells us, “News of this spread through all that region.” (9 v 26).   Jesus knew though that such a dramatic miracle would arouse the concern and even wrath of national leaders.  His instruction is in contrast to that in the previous chapter where he tells the healed demoniac, Legion, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” (5 v 19).  On that occasion He was in the tetrarchy of Philip on the East side of the Sea of Galilee, well away from national leaders, whereas in today’s events he has returned to Galilee on the W side of the lake.  Albeit not in Judah, he was nearer to Jerusalem and in an area of Palestine of greater concern to the national leaders. 

  • Implication of Jesus’ healing miracles.            It seems to me that there are three possible responses to today’s Gospel and Jesus’ healing miracles generally:
  • Firstly, some Christians might regard the healing miracles as unique to Jesus, as evidence that he was God’s chosen Messiah, or Christ, to use the Greek term.
  • Secondly some Christians might regard prayer and healing as a phenomenon of the early Church, a ministry of the chosen apostles to give the Church a kick start but not applicable today.
  • Thirdly others might say that with the development of modern medicine, spiritual healing has no place these days.

To the first group, regarding non-medical healing as solely proof of Jesus Messiahship, I would say that Jesus sent out the 12 disciples and then 72 disciples telling them to preach this message, “The kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Mtt. 10 vv 7, 8). Then, when he sends out 72 disciples, he tells them, “To heal the sick and tell them that the kingdom of God is near you” (Mtt. 10 v 9).

To the second group I would point to Paul’s epistle to the Church of Corinth, where he writes of gifts of healing as one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12 v 28).

To the third group I would point to the Epistle of James, where in his final chapter (5 v 14, 15) he writes, “Is anyone of you sick?  He should call the elders of the Church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  Oil, probably olive oil, was used because of its healing properties. Here the physical and spiritual go hand in hand.

Healing today.       Where does this lead us as Christians today?  It seems to me that scripture and experience strongly point to a place for healing ministry in the Church today.  This ministry may be exercised in direct co-operation with established medical treatment through chaplaincy in hospitals etc.  For 5 years, early on in my retirement, I served as a part-time chaplain in the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Health Trust, mainly at the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells but also in Pembury Hospital and occasionally in Maidstone Hospital.   I had conversations with a great variety of patients as I went round the wards and generally, I offered to pray for the person I was visiting.  This was nearly always accepted, even in the case of a Muslim.   We had a sizeable chaplaincy team with a full-time ordained chaplain and many lay volunteers, one of whom was a doctor.  We always had at least one chaplain available, day and night.   There was one amusing incident where the doctor had been seeing a patient.  She then said to the doctor, “Now I would like to see the Chaplain”.  “Yes, I am right here” the doctor responded.   The patient had great difficulty in understanding that a doctor could also be a chaplain.    There is of course a place for healing ministry in the local church.  Clergy and lay ministers have the opportunity in visiting people at home to offer to pray with and for people.  There is of course no reason why any of us should not pray with and for friends and acquaintances.  Each Sunday we pray for the sick.  It is not appropriate, nor is there time to speak of the particular needs of individuals.  Let us though consciously pray for these people believing that God will work in their lives.  Perhaps you could remember one name and pray at home during the week for that person.   Whilst touch and physical presence can be valuable, the work of the Spirit is not confined.   Jesus healed by a remote word.  Some churches have an opportunity for specific individual prayer, perhaps in a side chapel so that people returning from receiving communion can receive prayer.  Not every local church has members with gifts of healing.  My gift is more aligned to healing of church lightning protection systems!  That must very definitely be aligned with science, and engineering!   But as shown in my stole I recognise that I exercise that gift under the hand of God.  In conclusion let us develop our belief that our risen Lord Jesus is at work through his Church to redeem, heal and renew us as we seek to serve him. 

I finish with 3 verses from Psalm 103, verses which we said at Morning Prayer on Tuesday, the day on which Jenny Hopkins was licensed as a lay minister.

“Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all his benefits;

Who forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities.”