Sermon – Easter Sunday, 17th April

– Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15: 19 – 26     ‘If only for this life we have hope’

Luke 24: 1 – 12        The resurrection of Jesus

  1. Introduction.         Can someone under 12, someone still at Primary School, tell me what type of bird, what species this bird is? 

   A Dodo.  Yes.

   What can anyone still at school tell me about the bird?

   It is extinct.  Yes, that means there are no known living Dodo birds left in the world.  They lived on an island, called Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.  The last believable report of a living bird was by a sailor in 1752.  There is a common expression associated with the Dodo.   Can someone tell me? Perhaps a teenager or if not an adult.    ‘Dead as a Dodo’.  

          In 1972, I was due to go with other members of the Royal Air Force Ornithological Society to the large island of Madagascar, off the E coast of Africa. In my preparation, I read that occasionally, remains of Dodo eggs were found on the island.  The bird was about twice the size of my drawing, about 1 m high, that is just over 3 ft or if you prefer, two cubits, high.  The eggs were probably about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.   Sadly, though no living birds are there either.  Also, I never went on the trip, because a political problem in the island resulted in the cancellation of our trip.       The Dodo is dead.

          Ah! But! It was announced quite recently that a group of scientists had succeeded in collecting sufficient DNA, possibly to bring to life a new Dodo, using the same cloning technique as used to breed Dolly the sheep.  If scientists can seriously think of resurrecting a Dodo, let it not seem strange that we as Christians believe that God raised his Son Jesus from the dead.  The Dodo is dead but may be brought to life.    Jesus has died.    Jesus is alive!   Alleluia!

Jesus’ resurrection.         But let’s consider the reaction of those most intimately involved on that first Easter Day.  In our gospel reading we are told that a group of women went to Jesus’ tomb very early in the morning.  The first- named is Mary Magdalene.  She is recorded in all four gospels and certainly seems to have been the prominent person at the tomb, seeing the empty tomb, the folded grave clothes and then at a later point meeting the risen Christ himself.  We rightly remember her in the Church calendar on the 22nd July.  The collect for that day, reads, “Almighty God, whose son restored Mary Magdalene to health of mind and body and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:”.    We know more about her than the others who get a mention.  In Luke’s Gospel, he records Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others with them.  The only other person to get a mention by name is Salome, recorded by Mark in his gospel.  Presumably it would have been safer for women to go to the tomb with spices to embalm Jesus’ body, rather than any of the apostles, all men, who might have been accused of attempting to steal and then conceal Jesus’ body to ‘prove’ that Jesus had risen.

          In fact, when the women came to the apostles, they were met with incredulity.  The women’s account of the empty tomb and the angel who had met them and told them that Jesus had risen, seemed like ‘an idle tale’ (NRSV), like ‘nonsense’ (NIV).  The men were understandably fearful.  The Apostle John records that later in the day they were together behind locked doors, for fear of the Jews.   Their leader had been arrested. Would they be next?   Their situation was not very different from Ukrainians sheltering in basements with Russian soldiers advancing on their city.

          There was however, one of their number, namely the Apostle Peter, as recorded by Luke, who together with the Apostle John, as recorded by him in his Gospel, had the courage to go out and follow up the women’s story to see the empty tomb for themselves.  At the tomb John, is the one who comes to believe, before Peter, that the women’s account was true and that Jesus had risen.

          It was not easy for any of these people, followers of Jesus, to accept that, following his crucifixion, Jesus had risen from the dead. Today in our gospel reading, we focus on the evidence of the empty tomb and the angelic messenger.  This of course is followed up by various appearances of the risen Jesus to disciples, as the gospels record and as the Apostle Paul records in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, in the earlier part of Chapter 15, from which our first reading came.  Later on, we realise what a tremendous difference this all made to the apostles and other disciples, when, believing and filled with the Spirit, they boldly proclaimed right in Jerusalem, even with the temple precincts, that Jesus had risen.

  • Application.          What of us?  Do you truly believe in the resurrection.  I believe that the evidence is very good.  The implications very significant.  If we truly believe then,
    • We need not fear death,
    • We have a freedom to serve,
    • We have joy in serving,
    • We have hope for the future.

These four characteristics of the Christian are interlinked.

  • I expect many of the older members of the congregation have at some time in their lives faced death or at least its possibility in some form.  I have.  In one case, when I was 21 years old, in a serious car accident, which, as a passenger, I anticipated a few seconds before it happened, I remember thinking. ‘This could be the end’.   Actually, the outcome for me was physically quite minor, more serious for the driver, but I was certainly quite shaken up.  I never thought then or later that I would still be alive and well at 86.   I thank God for health and strength.  I don’t look forward to the process of dying.  I would like it to like that of the great 19th Century missionary to South Africa, Robert Moffat, father-in-law to David Livingstone, who went to live in Leigh for the last four years of his life, having served in Kuruman in S Africa for 50 years.  He said one day to his wife, “My dear I feel rather tired.  I am just going upstairs to lie down”, and thus he died.
  • I said that believing in the resurrection of Jesus, gives us freedom to serve.  If we know that we are doing God’s work, whatever that may be, we can trust in Jesus to guide us, to be with us in our service and not to fear the challenges on the way.
  • More than that, serving Jesus is not a matter of grim determination, it is a matter of joy, even if at times there are difficulties, challenges or even hardships.
  • Fourthly, as we journey with Jesus, we have a great hope for the future.  Death is not the end, it is not the worst thing that can happen, as some advertisements say.   Rather it is the transition to a glorious future to the joy and perfection of heaven, where there is no more suffering or mourning or death.
  • Conclusion.    Lewis Carroll in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ almost brought the Dodo back to life.  The Dodo appears briefly at the end of Chapter 2, ‘The Pool of Tears’ and then with an intelligent and active role in Chapter 3 ‘A Caucus-Race’.  I have a delightfully illustrated version of the book, from Julia’s childhood.  She found in on our shelves after I had done my drawing.  I am glad to say the two are similar.  Whatever the future of the Dodo may be, let us on this Easter day, renew our faith that Jesus has risen.

Word count: 1327 words                                                                                                                    Christopher Miles

Sermon – 3rd Sunday of Lent

20th March 2022 – Suffering

Isaiah 55 vv 1 – 9   Come to the Lord and quench your thirst

Luke 13 vv 1 – 9  Repent or perish.  Parable of the fig tree

  1. Introduction.    I consider that I have been more patient than either the owner of the vineyard or even his worker who cared for the vineyard with its fig tree.  When we moved here, we came with a sapling Brown Turkey fig tree in a small pot and planted it in a much bigger pot to confine its roots.  This required digging a hole some 20 inches deep, involving cutting through a steel reinforcing bar of the concrete floor of the former car workshop on the site of our newly built house.  After a few years our fig tree started fruiting.  Year by year it produced an abundance of promising young green figs, perhaps as many as 200, but in 15 years, only about 3 or 4 ever grew to full size and ripened.   About two years ago, I cut it down and dug out its roots.   After a chapter in Luke 12 of challenging teaching of Jesus, we come today in Luke 13, to two very challenging scenarios which Jesus presents to his sceptical and unperceptive hearers, followed by his parable of the unproductive fig tree.  After looking at each of these three aspects of today’s gospel reading, I plan to cap my sermon with reference to Isaiah’s wonderful invitation, which formed our first reading.

2. Pilate and the Galileans.      The first scenario is an awful incident in which the Roman Governor, Pilate, had for some reason we do not know, killed a number of Galilean people who had travelled to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple.  It seems that in the very act of making their offerings, Pilate had put these people to death, so that their blood became mixed with the sacrificial offerings.  A totally abominable and outrageous event.   Many people would have taken the view that these people must have been particularly sinful, for God to allow this to happen to them.  This would have been a common view of the time.   In a perfect world, in which those in authority acted justly, such a view would be correct.   We are however very aware at the here, moment that rulers do not always act justly.   Innocent people suffer.

3. Collapsed tower.          The second scenario that Jesus presents to his hearers, was that of the collapse of a tower resulting in 18 deaths.  Because there was no direct human cause of the collapse and no Health and Safety Executive to investigate the collapse, it would all the more be seen as an act of God, with perhaps blame attaching to the builder, only if it had been built recently.   His hearers would be all the more likely to infer that God had punished these 18 people because of their serious sin.   Today, we would have an investigation, as for example in the case of the serious Scottish train accident in 2019, during a time of very heavy rainfall.   The inquiry didn’t immediately place all the blame on the train driver or line controller but found that there had been a construction failure some time back, an inspection failure, a lack of good maintenance.   I had some experience in my RAF days, of conducting inquiries in more minor incidents.   One sees the superficial, mistaken attitude very clearly in the incident of the man born blind when the disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” (Jn 9 v 2).   Jesus counters this attitude in his answer, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (Jn 9 v 3).

4. Suffering today.         How do we view the relationship of suffering and sin today?   I believe, in line with Jesus’ teaching, that the answer is complex.   We live in a world of suffering.  We are only too aware of it at the moment, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  But such actions are going on all the time somewhere in the world, either of invasion by one country into another, or civil war and conflict within a country.   Examples are to be found in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere.   Refugees are fleeing all over the world.  This is not new, of course.  Jesus with his parents had to flee to Egypt, because Herod the Great saw Jesus as threat to his throne and so ruthlessly killed all the young children in Bethlehem.   In all these conflicts innocent people are hurt and killed, either directly, or through subsequent famine, starvation and lack of work, with consequent mental and physical illness.   Sometimes though, suffering arises through a person’s life style choices. The UK Health Secretary stated recently that about 40% of the NHS expenditure arises from conditions brought on by a person’s life style (DT 9th March p 2).  We need to take greater responsibility for our own life styles.  The answer to suffering is indeed complex.

If the answer were simple, as seen by many of Jesus’ hearers during his time here on earth, if there were a direct correlation between sin and suffering, we would become a people lacking in compassion.   We would say of another’s problems, “Oh God is punishing him or her for some sinful deed in the past and therefore far be it from us to interfere in the process of God’s punishment”.   By contrast, in the present situation in the Ukraine, we have great compassion for what we see as the outrageous, illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine.

5. Repentance.     Jesus doesn’t say that the Galileans killed by Pilate or the 18 people who died in the collapse of the tower were sinless.  Rather, he says of the Galileans, in a question to hearers, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?” Jesus follows up both incidents with a clear “No!”.  Jesus tells his hearers after the account of each incident, “But, unless you repent, you too will perish.” The Greek word for repentance, is ‘metanoia’, literally meaning, ‘a change of mind’.   If one reads the previous chapter in Luke, I think that it would be fair to say, that Jesus is both calling them to change their minds about himself, to recognise that he is God’s Messiah and also to change their minds about the future kingdom of God.   In general, they failed on both counts, resulting in the Roman siege and downfall of Jerusalem in the period 66 – 70 A. D.

6. Invitation.        Let’s finish on a positive note by referring to our first reading, from Isaiah 55, with the wonderful invitation, beginning, “Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Through the prophecy of Isaiah, God invites people to turn to the Himself, to seek him and the spiritual nourishment that he can provide.  Our life styles need to be based on physical, mental and spiritual inputs as an integrated whole.   I like to get up before breakfast and start the day in prayer and reading the Scriptures, using Common Worship Morning Prayer, I get my mental challenge in writing sermons, in the lightning protection work that I do and, with Julia, doing the crosswords in our daily paper.   I get my physical input by cycling and gardening.  We must each work out our own pattern within in our capabilities.  Let us though particularly in this season of Lent seek the Lord and strengthen the spiritual aspect of general, our lives.   Our relationship with Jesus should be the foundation of our lives, in a joyful and fulfilling relationship with God, enabling us all the better to face the challenges and suffering of this life. “Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”   Let us together be a fruitful fig tree in the Kingdom of God.

Sermon – Sunday before Lent

Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow

8 a. m.–    Sunday next before Lent – 27th February 2022 Transfiguration

Exodus 34 vv 29 – End    Moses’ transfiguration; Luke 9 vv 28 – 36    Jesus’ transfiguration

1.       Introduction.          About a week ago I came across the term ‘metaverse’, but had no idea what a metaverse is.  Last week the BBC News enlightened me to the meaning of this other digital universe, because children are able with a specially programmed headset to see content of the behaviour of puppet-like people in, as-it-were, a parallel universe of a digital world, with some of the content quite inappropriate for their age and personally I would not wish myself nor consider it appropriate for any adult to view.   I am grateful to The Reverend Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James Church, Piccadilly, writing in a diary article in the Church Times, relating a discussion she had with a young adult entrepreneur whose company is in “deep tech” developing AI, Artificial Intelligence, and other aspects of aspect of meta technology.   She rightly says that the Church should have something to say about meta technology, especially the moral issues involved.   Both our readings today introduce us a very different metaverse with its touching points between the natural and the spiritual, between the earthly and the heavenly.

2.       Moses.   Prior to our first reading today, Moses had met with God on Mount Sinai and for the second time received from God two stone tablets, on which were written the Ten Commandments.  He had been entirely on his own and was quite unaware that his face was radiant until he came back down the mountain, to Aaron and all the Israelites.   The radiance was so strong that he had to put a veil on his face.   This radiance was evidence of his meeting with God and therefore that the Ten Commandments were not just his idea, but God’s idea of good moral behaviour, of how to live in relationship with God and with people.   His meeting with God confirmed his leadership, which was to continue for the rest of the 40 years that the Israelites were to spend in the wilderness before crossing the River Jordan and entering the Promised Land.

3.       Jesus.   When John the Baptist baptised Jesus, God the Father had confirmed and encouraged Jesus in the presence of the crowd of people at the River Jordan, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to him” (Matt 3 v 17).  Now at his Transfiguration, similar confirming and encouraging words come from God the Father, “This is my Son whom I have chosen; listen to him.”   No crowd this time, just the inner group of three disciples, Peter, James and John, with, in the background, Moses and Elijah.   What is it that these two discussed with Jesus?  ‘His departure’ (Luke 9 v 31).  The English translation loses some of the significance.  The Greek word, translated ‘departure’, is ‘exodov’.   God’s great saving act of the old covenant, established through Moses, was the exodus from Egypt.   Jesus was about to inaugurate the New Covenant, something the prophets had looked forward to and predicted, in the final day of his earthly life, in Jerusalem.   The presence of Moses and Elijah shows us the continuity between old and new covenants.   As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “I have not come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfil them” (Matt 5 v 17).

4.       Our situation.    Both Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai and Jesus’ Transfiguration were touching points between earth and heaven, true Christian Metaverse occasions.   A few days before Jesus’ Transfiguration, he had spoken to the twelve, about his forthcoming suffering and death and Peter had rebuked him.   The Transfiguration assured this inner group of disciples that Jesus had spoken correctly and helped them not only to accept what was about to happen but prepare them for leadership in the early Church.   There must be Christians in many places but especially in the Ukraine who feel like Peter, they want to rebuke God for allowing Russia to invade their country.   How could God allow such an awful tragedy?

There is no easy answer either to that or to those people who ruin people’s lives especially children’s lives with their squalid metaverses.   We must point people to a truer Metaverse, a Christian Metaverse, based on morality, and inviting people into a living experience of the divine presence.  Meanwhile we pray for an end to the conflict in the Ukraine.

                                                                                                                                                    Christopher Miles