Sermon – 2nd Sunday before Lent

Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow – 2nd Sunday before Lent by Rev Christopher Miles

God’ Creation – 20th February 2022

Readings:     Revelation 4 – The throne in heaven Luke 8 vv 22 – 25 – Jesus stills the storm

1.       Introduction.          I was pleased to read in our Gospel today that there is lightning in heave.  Perhaps there is even a place in heaven for a lightning protection consultant!  The readings set for today cover various aspects of creation.  The first reading from Genesis 2, which we did not have, as we have only two readings, and I considered was more familiar than Revelation 4, gives the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.   The second reading, Revelation chapter 4 gives us a visionary picture of the worship in heaven, populated by animal like beings as well as people, giving us an indication of many aspects of our earthly creation being represented in heaven.   Thirdly, our gospel today, from Luke chapter 8, shows Jesus in tune with and control of the natural order.   It is appropriate therefore to consider today something of our responsibility for the natural world.

2.       God’s creation.   The first thing I want to say, quite clearly, is that we live in God’s creation.   The natural world was designed and brought into being by God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.   Personally, I do not see any conflict between an evolutionary theory starting with a big bang or some other initial act of creation and a Biblical view of Creation.   There is a saying in Jesus’ teaching which I believe is strong indication that the days of creation in Genesis 1 should not be taken as literal periods of 24 hours.  In John’s gospel chapter 5, on one of the many occasions when Jesus is taken to task by the Pharisees for his actions, often of healing, on the Sabbath Day, he says, “My Father is at work to this very day and I too am working”.   The implication is that in the seventh day or period of creation, following six very active periods, God has been gently developing and keeping the created order going.   The seventh day, even looked at from a limited historical perspective, had to his hearers occupied thousands of years, and therefore there is no reason why in our more scientifically developed world we should not regard the seventh day and each of the other days of creation extending over millions or billions of years.

3.       Jesus.   I said a moment ago that the natural world was brought into being by all three persons of the Trinity.   Was Jesus really there at the time of the big bang?  Yes!

The opening chapter in John’s Gospel, in the passage sometimes known as the Christmas Gospel, John makes this quite clear when he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   Through him all things were made and without him was not anything made that was made.”   Thus, Jesus was able to be active in the stilling of the storm, as we heard in today’s gospel.

4.       Our situation.    We live in a world of many faiths and philosophies.  People always have done, but with modern forms of communications we are very aware of what people are thinking and doing around the world.   With significant immigration into the United Kingdom in the past 70 years or so we are very directly aware of Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as Jews who have been a part of our population for centuries.   We have also a significant proportion of people who have no religious faith but who have strong philosophical beliefs, whether of equality of races, the treatment of women or the need to reduce human impact on the environment of our planet earth.   These religions and philosophical beliefs nearly all have a concern for the natural order.   I just give two examples.

Firstly, from the 19th Century in the Testament of Chief Seathl, after whom the city of Seattle on the W coast of the USA is named.  He writes,

“One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover – our God is the same God.  You may think you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot.   He is the God of man, and his compassion is equal for red man and the white.   The earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.   The white too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.”

Secondly a brief look at the Koran:

There is a chapter headed, ‘The Creator’ and then in a subsequent chapter, headed ‘Adoration’ it is written,

“It was Allah who in six days created the heavens and the earth and all that lies between them and then ascended his throne.”   and

“He governs the creation from heaven to earth.  And in the end, it will ascend to him in one day, a day whose space is a thousand years by your reckoning.”

In a few minutes, after the end of this sermon, we will join together in the creed, beginning with the words, the words,

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,

 maker of heaven and earth and of all that is, seen and unseen.”

It is good that the Church, including individuals and small groups of Christians are making efforts to combat climate change.   The need to combat climate change, to care for the natural world in such a way that we reduce our impact on it and maintain the planet as a habitable place to live, for our children, grandchildren and succeeding generations, until the visible return of Jesus to wind up the present world order.

5.       Practical action.     Our responses as individuals and households will vary enormously, according to available finance and many other factors.  It might be such a simple thing as installing a water butt to collect rainwater to use in watering plants or washing the car.  If you own the house you live in, then it might be improving the standard of insulation of your house.   It might be that you could make a small change in your diet, by eating less meat and more vegetables bearing in mind the greater land usage required for rearing animals for meat, than that required for edible plants.  Re-cycling of plastics and other materials is important.   There are myriad ways in which we can reduce our waste and our impact on the planet.

          Anglican churches are being encouraged to aim for a zero-carbon state of their buildings.  I have little idea how this is to be achieved bearing in mind the large capital costs involved in changing forms of heating, the installation of photovoltaic arrays and the difficulty of improving the insulation of an ancient building.  I was visiting Lympne Church shortly before Christmas.  Having completed the work I went to do, I sat having my lunch on a cold misty December day, midweek, in the comparative warmth of the Church, heated by a ground-based heat pump system having two deep boreholes in the churchyard.

6.       The glory of heaven.        It is good that we have had the reading from Revelation Chapter 4.  It would be easy otherwise to be depressed by the possible effects of climate change.   Revelation as a whole, lifts our eyes from the pain and suffering of life here on earth to the glory of heaven.   Probably many of you have had the experience of a flight in which you took off on a rainy day with a completely overcast sky, all is dull and wet on the ground and in the early part of the flight, until as you climb away from the airfield or airport, suddenly the aircraft breaks through the uppermost layer of cloud into dazzling bright sunlight.   That experience is akin to the book of Revelation in which we, with the Apostle John, are lifted up into the glory of heaven.   In the case of the aircraft, you may see small circular rainbows in the cloud below you as the rays of the sun are refracted in the raindrops at the top of the cloud.  The rainbow is a reminder of the Great Flood at the time of Noah when God in the Ark saved both, people and other living beings and afterwards, with the rainbow, gave the rainbow as a sign that He wishes, as the Psalmist says, “To save both man and beast” (Ps 36 v 6).   So, in heaven we have in John’s vision, a rainbow encircling the throne of God.   A reminder of God’s plan of salvation of the whole created order.

7.       Conclusion. In conclusion, let us do what we can to reduce our impact on our planet, so as to minimise climate change, working in harmony with God, living in the sure hope of the glory to be.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it has been since the beginning, is now and will be for ever,     Amen

Sermon – Epiphany 3

Sermon for Epiphany 3 – 23rd January 2022 by Christopher Miles

The Spirit’ Equipment for service

I Corinthians 12 vv 12 -31A   The Spirit-inspired body of Christ Luke 4 vv 14 – 21  – Jesus is fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah 61

Theme:  The Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in Society

Introduction.         We are living in a comma, no not a coma [I hope] but in a comma! Jesus in reading from Isaiah 61 verses 1 and 2, does not complete the sentence, when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” comma.  The rest of the sentence in Isaiah 61 goes on, “The day of the vengeance of our God”.   That is yet to come.   We are, thankfully, living in the year of the Lord’s favour. Are we, like Jesus, being inspired, equipped and emboldened by the Spirit of the Lord?   Our epistle reading from I Corinthians gives us an insight into how the Spirit should be working in the life of the church, in a church which was misusing the gifts of the Spirit.  Let us learn something from these two readings about how the Spirit should be working in the life of the church today and in the life of individual Christians in their involvement in society.

The problem.   The city of Corinth in the 1st century A.D. was a sexually licentious society and this was the environment from which many of the church members were drawn.   Some were on an ego trip, and this influenced their new gift of the Spirit, especially in the matter of the of the gift of tongues.  Earlier in the epistle, the apostle Paul has to rebuke them on matters of immorality and their inconsiderate conduct in their worship, especially their overuse of the gift of tongues.

The solution.  Paul uses the illustration of a body, with its senses, its limbs and its internal organs, all coordinated by the brain, working as an integrated whole, in harmony.   He tells them that there are many more important ways and roles in the life of the church than speaking in tongues.  He lists, firstly, in order, apostles, prophets, teachers and then, not explicitly in order, workers of miracles, gifts of healing, helpers, gifts of administration and deliberately last, speaking in different kinds of tongues.  Perhaps today we would interpret the list as bishops, archdeacons, area deans, ordinary clergy, lay ministers, teachers, administrators, helpers.  The church is the body of Christ, says Paul. When I read the Church Times, I’m thankful that we are part of a harmonious diocese, we are each part of a loving and faithful church here in Hadlow, with good relations with other churches in our Deanery, and locally, in other denominations, especially Tonbridge Methodist and Roman Catholic churches. We were yesterday with about 40 church members present, under the leadership of our Area Dean, Andrew Axon considering the parish profile.   AA had come to our aid.   What sort of church are we?  What sort of leadership are we looking for? What can we celebrate?  What are the challenges?   One these that came out clearly, is the need to reach out more fully to younger adults and to children.  A helpful start to an important process.  It would be out of place for me to comment in any more detail on that.

Society.   Let us consider something of the work of the Spirit in our witness in society.  Jesus was concerned with society as a whole, including the Gentiles, as well as the Jews. In his reading from Isaiah, he refers to release of prisoners, good news for the poor in society, and healing of the sick.  I can understand why John the Baptist questioned whether Jesus really was the Messiah. Why did he not get John out of prison?  A question to be considered at some other time.  What about our witness, maybe in daily work, and family, in social groups and generally in the people we meet?  We need, I suggest:

Sensitivity and Boldness,

Alertness to opportunity,

Yet knowing when to remain silent.

These features can be enhanced through prayer and the work of the Spirit in our lives.    

Paul in writing to the Corinthian Church, includes administrators in his list of gifted people. I believe good administration is rooted in love of our neighbours, trying to see the situation of the other person. When I write a report on the lightning protection of a church, I have to include a fair amount of technical detail. but I ask myself, ‘How will the recipient understand this?’  Can I make it easier to understand, without compromising the requirements? 

I find that at times I need to be bold.  Following the Grenfell tower block fire, I saw a danger that the focus would be so much on the types of metal cladding required, without regard to its integration into the lightning protection.  I accordingly to the Chairman of the Grenfell Tower Advisory Panel, at the Department for Communities and Local Government.   Some months later I had a phone call from a member of the Commission.  In effect he said, “We had not thought about lightning being a source of fire!

As a Church we do well in our involvement in taking on responsibility in local councils – County, Borough and Parish.  I gather though that there are several vacancies in our Parish Council. You may not feel that you could take on the role of a Parish Councillor yourself, but could you prayerfully think about someone to whom you could say, “How about volunteering to fill one of these vacancies?”  Or it might be serving on the committee of a village society.  Sensitivity and boldness are required.

Conclusion.     In conclusion, let us be prayerfully open to the Spirit in our lives, to guide and strengthen us in our witness and service to those in need. to the betterment of society, to the work of the kingdom of God, whilst we continue to live within the comma of God’s grace and before the sentence is completed in “The day of the vengeance of our God”.  Let us pray that God will guide our Church Council, Area Dean and Archdeacon to the person of his choosing to come here as our next incumbent.

Sermon – Epiphany 1

The Baptism of ChristSunday 9 January 2022

by Reverend Sheila Perkins

Readings: Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22;  Acts 8: 14-17

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.   Acts 8: 14-17.

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.    Luke 3: 15-17.

When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Luke 3: 21-22.

(Takes Beach Ball and pump)

I’ve borrowed a beach ball from my friend – game of catch anyone?

Fun? Something missing? (puts a bit of air in) Any better?

Needs to be full of air! (puts a bit more air in) Better? Much! But if it went back in the cupboard like this, what’ll happen? Yes, we think there’ll still be some air in it when we get it out – but it will need to be pumped up again … and again.

John said of Jesus: ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’

It’s easy enough to relate the breath or air we have put into the ball with the Holy Spirit – a wind as the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 disciples at Pentecost – before that Jesus breathed on his disciples John 20: 20.

Even before that Jesus had equipped his disciples with his Holy Spirit as he sent them out in pairs to heal the sick, cast out demons and share the good news – He’d given them power and authority – power of the Holy Spirit – his power (Luke 9 & 10)

The Bible tells us clearly that the disciples were given the power of the Holy Spirit at least four times in two years. Paul was also filled with the Holy Spirit multiple times – with the vision outside Damascus, at his Baptism, every time he had hands laid on him to be equipped as he was sent out on the missionary journeys.

These people didn’t ever see being filled with the Holy Spirit as a one-off.

Philip had been preaching, healing and casting out demons in Samaria – the people were amazed and listened to his teaching – they came forward for baptism and were baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.

John and Peter came to welcome the new believers — but were clearly surprised to find they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit – I wonder how they knew? Well, if you turn to the end of chapter 10 – at Cornelius’ house the Holy Spirit came on the new Roman believers without Baptism and they were speaking in tongues and praising God… and so they were baptised.

Those aren’t the only signs – not everyone will speak in tongues – no-one will receive all the gifts, but a church will receive all the gifts if all the believers ask to be filled. If everyone is FULL of the Holy Spirit there will be disciples to fill all the roles needed and everyone will be serving God in the way in which he has equipped them.

Looking at Jesus’ baptism – the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove – visually. The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples as tongues of fire, for others it was one or two disciples laying hands on other disciples, just as the Bishop laid hands on you if you’ve been confirmed.

But are you sure you are full of the Holy Spirit now? Not for me to work out, but for you to talk to God about. To ask yourselves: do we at St Mary’s have all the gifts we need? It’s the start of a new year – a great time to be filled with the power and gifts you need to serve God in the year ahead.

  1. In every church there are those who are relying on the promises parents made for them at baptism but haven’t actually made the commitment to follow Christ for themselves
  2. In every church there are those who have made that decision – once – possibly at confirmation and were equipped by the Spirit for what they were doing then
  3. In every church there are some who went to a conference once and were prayed for …
  4. And there are those serving who are fully equipped with all the Spirit has to offer.

I can tell you of times when I have carried on without being fully equipped by the Holy spirit

  • Preaching – once
  • Praying for people
  • A funeral that wasn’t my best

I now know I need to be prayed for and filled with the Holy Spirit again and again – and I’m grateful to people who pray for me.

Let’s turn to prayer now ….

Silence while each of us asks God what he is asking us to do for him in the year ahead.

And then we pray for:

Hadlow village; School; for people to return to church after Christmas services; for families, children and youth work to grow again;

For a new incumbent – for the vision of St Mary’s in creating its parish profile, for those on the selection panel, and for the Holy Spirit to enable St Mary’s to find the right match

For the sick and bereaved; for those who use and serve in the food bank

Amen

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