All posts by Christopher Miles

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

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 – 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 20

Servanthood – Rev’d Christopher Miles

 Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow – 17th October 2021

Isaiah 53 vv 4 – end    The suffering servant

Mark 10 vv 35 – 45    Challenge to Christlike service

  1. Introduction.         A senior government official was being driven home from an important visit to a foreign country.  Passing through an area of many square miles of desert, he was surprised to see a lone man by the side of the road.  He ordered his driver to stop.  He offered the man a lift, which the man readily accepted.   The man, named Philip, recognised the book that the Official was reading and asked him if he understood what he was reading.   The Official responded, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?”   The book was that of the prophet Isaiah.   The passage, our first reading this morning.   Philip explained that ‘The Servant’ is Jesus of Nazareth, who had recently been executed in Jerusalem, either shortly before or during the Official’s visit to Jerusalem, that this was all part of God’s plan of salvation. The Official gave orders for the chariot to stop at an oasis and Philip baptises him (Acts 8 vv 26 – 39).   The Book of Isaiah contains four servant passages or ‘songs’, perhaps more appropriately poetic verses, of which today’s reading is the major part of the fourth climactic servant passage.   Thus, we have the clear authority of the New Testament for seeing Jesus as the one who fulfilled the poetic prophesy of Isaiah.   Let’s then relate today’s Old Testament reading to our gospel reading today.

In Isaiah we see the contrast between ourselves, the straying sheep and Jesus as the suffering servant who achieves sublime salvation for the straying sheep.   The whole concept runs counter to that of other religions and philosophies.

  1. Straying Sheep.     Soon after my parents obtained the tenancy of a small farm in 1943, they bought a flock of about 50 sheep.   Petrol was rationed, it was difficult to get a transporter so we drove them the 3 miles, from the farm of purchase to our farm.  We had no sheepdog.  The sheep were exploring new territory.  Frequently one would try to get through a hedge into a field beside the road.  On my bicycle I, aged 8, acted as a sheepdog to keep a stray sheep on track along the road.   Sheep have been domesticated and farmed over several thousand years and are common to many countries of the world.   It is easier in the fenced fields of much of England to keep sheep from straying, albeit not so easy on the Yorkshire moors or the Lake District Fells.  It is not only sheep that stray but human beings who stray from God’s plan for humanity, as revealed fully in the Christian Scriptures and not so completely in other religions.   As Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each has turned to his own way” (53 v 6).   The theme of this phrase is taken up in the Book of Common Prayer, General Confession at Morning and Evening Prayer in the opening words, “Almighty and most merciful Father; we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.”   In our Gospel today, we find James and John seeking power and glory in the soon-to-be re-established Kingdom of God.  Probably James, the elder brother, wanted to be Deputy Prime Minister and John, Chancellor of the Exchequer.   One only has to read a national daily newspaper, watch a news programme on TV or listen on the radio to be aware of the straying of humanity, the sin in the world.  Any theology, ideology, system of government and criminal justice must reckon with sin, at least in its effect on other people.    How do we counter it?   By more laws, more police, more education or what?   Sin though is more than an offence against one’s neighbour.  It is an offence against God, breaking our fellowship with God.  Just as the poor and marginalised need help to achieve better standard of living so we all need the help of God, rather than judgement and condemnation, in the salvation of our souls.  How do we bring people into harmony with God’s plan?

The Suffering Servant.   The suffering servant is introduced initially outside the context of our sin.   He is described as having ‘no beauty or majesty to attract us to him’, ‘as being despised and rejected by others’, and ‘a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity’ (53 vv 2, 3).   Isaiah goes on to say, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed’ (53 v 5).   James and John, the sons of Zebedee, seem not to have taken in a few weeks before, Jesus talk to the twelve about the fact and the manner of his own death in Jerusalem, that he must undergo great suffering (Mk 8 vv 31 – 33).   Nor had they taken in, following their presence with Peter, at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Mk 9 vv 2 – 8), when he discussed with Moses and Elijah, the import of the manner of his departure from this life (Lk 9 v 31).

Sublime salvation.    Isaiah goes on to link his description of the Suffering Servant with our sin in the well-known verse, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (53 v 6).   Sublime salvation!   Let’s use a simple illustration.  Let this book represent my sin, my left hand, represent me, and my right hand, represent Jesus.  My sin is a barrier between me and God.   God has taken my sin and placed it on Jesus.  Now there is no barrier between me and God.   This of course is not the whole story, for if my sin has marred my relationship with my neighbour, with any person, there needs to be reconciliation there, in the form of an apology and as far as possible a full re-establishment of a good relationship.   Often public apologies take the form of, “If my words have caused any offence, then I apologise.”  Usually, the apology has been made because clearly what the person said did cause offence.  The inclusion of the word, ‘if’ is not only redundant but it tends to carry with it that the person’s statement was, in his or her eyes, right and true and therefore that the person offended is actually being oversensitive.   There are times when something needs to be said which will almost inevitably cause offence.  Jesus never said to the religious leaders of his day, anything like “If what I said caused you offence then I apologise.” 

Christian salvation is fundamentally different to that of other religions.  In other religions the path to Paradise, Nirvana or Heaven is achieved by a person’s own efforts.  Christian salvation is through acceptance of what Christ has done for us.  Our good works follow, out of love for Christ, our love for God, rather than love for ourselves in our own spiritual progress.

  1. Service.       Jesus makes clear not only to James and John but to the other 10 of his immediate disciples and more widely, all his followers, including ourselves, that the outcome of this sublime salvation.  The conclusion of James and John’s request is, in the words of Jesus, “Whoever wishes to be first among you, must be the slave of all.  For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10 v 45).   We call those who hold senior positions in government or those who exercise leadership in the Church, ‘ministers’, to convey the concept of service that should be embedded in such posts and positions.   The suffering servant offers to the straying sheep, sublime salvation.  This sermon explores but one main theme of the passion of Christ, theologically known as ‘substitutionary atonement’.  I conclude with the collect from Common Worship Morning Prayer for Friday as encompassing a wider view of Jesus’ passion.

Gracious Father, you gave up your Son,

out of love for the world:

lead us, so to ponder the mysteries of his passion,

that we may know eternal peace

through the shedding of the blood of our Saviour,

Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Sermon – Trinity 17

Co-operation – 26th September 2021 (Trinity 17)

Readings:  James 5 vv 13 – End   Prayer of faith Mark 9 vv 38 – End  Those not against us are for us.  Causing to sin

  1. Introduction.         “I tell you mate if you are not going to join our gang, you’ll be one of the enemy.  You’ll need to watch out.”    This is the sort of conversation you might expect amongst the young men involved in some of our urban gangs.  But it is not far removed from the disciples’ response to an exorcist casting out demons in Jesus’ name, as the Apostle John reported it in today’s gospel reading, when he says, “Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”   This leads on to Jesus’ teaching about co-operation with other disciples.  In our Epistle, James teaches us about co-operation with God.  Our co-operation with God and our co-operation with people and for that matter the whole of creation are linked.
  2. Co-operation with God.   Firstly, co-operation with God.   James has several things to say about prayer.   The foundation of prayer is our relationship with God.  As Paul said two or three weeks ago, intercessory prayer is not trying to twist the arm of a loving God, but rather aligning ourselves with God’s will.  As Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done”.    I suggest that this is one of the reasons why James says that the sick person should call for the elders to pray for him.  Two people can be better than one, in some circumstances, in discerning the will of God.   James also speaks of singing songs of praise.  The whole of our service this morning is in principle aligning ourselves with God.  Our Sunday worship together, should help us to pray and live more effectively during the week. 
  3. Co-operation with Creation.      Secondly, co-operation with creation.  James gives us the example of a man of faith who knew how to pray in line with God’s will.  He gives us quite an extreme example of Elijah praying for a drought, which lasted for 3½ years and then praying for rain for the crops to grow again.  His prayers were answered.  Can we pray for appropriate weather?   I recall an occasion when I was at theological college in Oxford and attached to three country parishes in my first year of training.   One Sunday afternoon before I conducted evensong in one of the parishes, the Vicar rang and asked me to include a prayer for the farms, as we had experienced a very wet April, with rain nearly every day and the farmers were anxious about their spring crops becoming waterlogged.  As a farmer’s son I sympathised with their predicament.  I duly included a prayer for a period of dry weather.  I recall coming out of Church and it was gently drizzling and I thought, “Oh dear, is our prayer going to result in fine weather or not!”  From the next day, there was no rain for 6 weeks and the waterlogged ground was able to recover.   More recently Julia and I were due to attend a service of thanksgiving at Trottiscliffe, one of my previous parishes, for a thanksgiving service of a well-known member of the Church and farming community.  Trottiscliffe Church has pews to seat 65 people, so it was planned to relay the service to the churchyard.  The forecast was for an overcast day with showers.  I thought it right when Julia and I had our breakfast prayer to pray for a dry period for the service. We were sitting outside in the churchyard ready for the service to start at 1.30 p. m. and it was very gently raining until exactly 1.30 p. m. when the rain completely stopped, until about 6 p.m.  We thanked God for the dry periods.  Addition – we prayed for a fine period for the post service coffee at Follyfoot on 3rd October.   There is a danger though that we regard rain as ‘bad weather’ and sunny, dry, weather as ‘good weather’.  We need a combination of rain and dry weather, sunshine and clouds, calm and wind.  All are good, all are part of God’s creation, in which he continues with an active role, not as a clockmaker, who has built the clock of the universe and set it running in a rigid regular way.  I am sure we all have examples both of prayer answered in the way we had hoped and prayer answered in other ways.  We don’t always by any means discern God’s will accurately.  Let us though continue to try to align ourselves with the will of God, saying, ‘Your will be done’.
  4. Co-operation with people.      We have thought about co-operation with God and co-operation with creation.  Now let’s think about co-operation with people.  This is where Jesus’ views and that of the 12 differed radically.   John reported to Jesus that they had seen a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name and they had told the man to stop because the man was not one of them. Jesus’ response was “Do not stop him”.  Despite this, if one looks at the history of the Church we see huge conflict between different sections of the Church, sometimes because the Church was too politically involved and identified with one political strand.  One thinks of Bishops Ridley and Latimer, protestant bishops of the Anglican Church, being burnt at the stake in the reign of the Catholic monarch, Queen Mary.  John Bunyan, the free church preacher and writer was imprisoned for many years in Bedford town jail.  Much of the emigration to America in the 17th and 18th Century arose from the Anglican Church in this country seeking to enforce its rigid worship on everyone and similar action on the European continent.   Thank God for the 1910 Edinburgh missionary conference which began to end conflict between denominations and ‘sheep stealing’ in the mission fields.  The modern ecumenical movement has done much to reduce conflict between Christian denominations and to encourage a real desire to recognise Christians in other denominations as our brothers and sisters in Christ.  I believe that it matters not too much that there is a variety of denominations.  To believe in the ‘catholic’ church, catholic meaning ‘universal’, is to recognise the essential unity we have in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

How far though can we go in co-operating with other religions?   Whist holding firm to the essentials of the Christian faith as expressed in the creeds, we can recognise the good aspects of other religions and on a personal level work with people of a variety of faiths and beliefs.   I read in the Church Times that the family of a dying, already unconscious, woman in St Thomas’ Hospital, was unable to get an Imam to come and pray with her and said, “Please would anyone pray with her.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was on duty there as a Chaplain, knelt by the bed and prayed for her.  He said, “There was such a beautiful sense of the presence of God, of the love of God, it was such a profound moment.”   In my role as a Regional Chaplain of the London and South East Region of the Air Training Corps, I agreed to take on a new commitment as the Corps’ multifaith coordinator. As such I was responsible for the appointment of a Hindu Chaplain as an adviser in our Region and as a Chaplain to Middlesex Wing, particularly to minister to the many Hindu cadets within the squadrons of that Wing.  At a Wing parade I would say a couple of prayers and invite him to say a Hindu prayer.  However, when it came to our annual service for London and South East region, held in the RAF Church, St. Clement Danes Church in London, that service was entirely Christian in a Christian Church.

As a lightning protection consultant, I work with people all over the world and generally do not know what their religion or lack of it is.  I am very happy to work with people who have a concern for practical application of the truth, as expressed in scientific principles. However, when one of our members died, I was happy to accept the invitation of our Italian Chairman, a Roman Catholic, to say a Christian prayer of remembrance of the member who had died.

What limits should we place in the ordinary things of everyday life?  Paul in his second letter to the Church at Corinth says that Christians should not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  This has been interpreted in the context of marriage and even, within a strand of the Brethren, of business partnership.  The context of Paul’s injunction is however primarily about the general social relationships in a city of much idolatry and sexual immorality.  The principle seems to me that one should avoid relationships which may undermine one’s faith and the purpose of one’s activities.  Generally, there is not the same stark contrast in modern society, albeit there may be in some places.   In marriage it is important to have a common philosophy with a good understanding between husband and wife about acquisition and use of money, of the desire or not to have children, a good understanding about roles. Sometimes cultural differences can create tensions.  For both parties to have a strong Christian faith can be a great basis for marriage.  I have though known good marriages where this is not so.  In W London, a parish clergyman, who was one of our ATC chaplains, was married to a Hindu wife. It probably helped him in his ministry in a strongly Hindu parish.    Thinking of other areas of life, one can be keen on action to minimise climate change, but not wish to associate with some forms of demonstration to bring about needful change.

  • Conclusion. In conclusion, may our lives be so rooted in Christ that we can be guided in prayer and discern how we can best reach out to and co-operate with other people of other denominations, other faiths and other races and cultures, according to God’s will.

Christopher Miles

Sermon – Trinity 13

Hand Washing – 29th August 2021

James 1: 17 – End   Listening and doing; Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14, 15, 21 – 23  True cleanliness

  1. Introduction.          How many times a day do you wash your hands?   For myself, I haven’t tried counting but it must be at least a dozen times and perhaps a lot more not to mention the use of sanitizing gel.  When I was at a boarding school, in the junior house we had to line up on the way to a meal and pass Matron, showing both sides of our hands to show that our hands were clean.   I guess I am one of only a few people here present who has done an NHS hand washing course with its practical test at the end.  As a hospital chaplain I had a personal clip-on sanitiser, so that after visiting patient, if we had shaken hands, I could readily disinfect my hands before going to another patient.  Perhaps we have some sympathy with the Pharisees’ remonstration with Jesus, that his disciples were not washing their hands before eating!   Sometimes I get a little annoyed with a person when I ask a question and the person’s answer is to a different question to the one I asked.  It may seem to you, that Jesus even deliberately ignores the Pharisees’ question, apart from a reference to cleanliness and in response asks them a question.   If either of these points resonates with you then this sermon is for you as we look more deeply at today’s Gospel and at the end briefly tie it in with to today’s Epistle.

2. Pharisees’ question.         As Jesus points out, the Pharisees’ question is not directly based on the Hebrew Scriptures, that is, for us, the Old Testament.  Rather it is based on the interpretation, known as the Talmud, originating from the time of the priest and prophet Ezra of the 6th Century BC and continuing perhaps 200 years or more into the present era, comprising both written interpretation, known as the Mishnah, and the oral tradition, known as the Midrash.  Mark as the gospel writer also expands on the Jewish practice at that time.  The practice of hand washing, washing of food bought in the market and washing of cooking and eating vessels was all good and accords with what is common practice today by many of us, especially in this Covid pandemic.

3. Old Testament.      Without even going into the interpretations in the Talmud, it is worthy of mention that there is much in the Old Testament about washing including especially washing of hands and feet. Many of the references are to the required practice of the priests that they should not enter into the Tabernacle or Temple without washing their hands and feet, in order to appear clean in the presence of God.   The general thrust of this is therefore ceremonial rather than that of hygienic practices by the general population.  Thus, as Mark states, the interpretation in the Talmud was seen in ceremonial terms.

4. Jesus’ response.  Now let’s consider Jesus’ response.  First let us remember that Jesus was an itinerant preacher, saying on another occasion, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8 v 20).  We are very accustomed to our houses and flats, all with running water.  However, in my younger years, I lived in two villages with no running water.  In one, in Rutland, we lived in a cottage, dependent on a hand operated pump outside the house.  There was no bath or hand wash basin, just a sink where we washed up and washed ourselves.  In another village, in East Sussex, we had a piped water system in the bungalow, dependent on the rainwater collected from the roof into an underground tank and then pumped by a hand-operated semi-rotary pump, into the roof tank.  I am sure that as a boy I did not wash my hands 12 times a day!  Jesus and his disciples had even less provision, perhaps eating a meal outside, a mile from a well.   I can well understand that Jesus and his disciples didn’t always wash their hands before eating

Secondly, remember that Jesus said in his ‘Sermon on the Mount’, “I have not come to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfil them”.  Jesus had been brought up in a good Jewish family, obedient to the requirements of the law, as seen in the early chapters of Luke’s gospel.  He was often challenged about healing people on the Sabbath.  He went deeper than the written law, to the principles underlying the law.  He knew that in particular, the Pharisees, the strictest law-abiding Jews, were often out to trap him.

On this occasion Jesus holds on to the principle of ceremonial cleanness, that is, what is pleasing to God, and challenges the Pharisees on the grounds of fundamental unholiness, of the breaking of the commandments.  He is not denying that hand washing is a good thing but that it is not the basis of establishing a right relationship with God and in that respect, it is quite trivial in comparison to the major moral aspects of the law, in particular the ten commandments, which we have writ large on the E wall of the chancel.

If you wish understand the full thrust of Jesus’ teaching, then sometime this week read the whole gospel passage from Mark 7 v 1 through to v 23.  As you can see in the Sunday newssheet, today’s reading, is as one commentator has put it, ‘rather like a shrink-wrapped supermarket fish’, with its simplified selection of verses.

5. Application.           How do we apply today Jesus’ teaching in his response to the Pharisees’ challenge?   We should not neglect good hygiene, using sanitisers, washing our hands, having Covid vaccinations.  We should do these things so that as far as possible we remain in good health and therefore are not a burden on other people and also, out of concern for one another that we are not passing on infection to others.   What we are doing is living out the second commandment of Jesus summary of the law, ‘loving our neighbours as ourselves’.  We need to see that all people are made in the image of God, whatever the colour, race or religion of the other person.  Our relationship with God should motivate our relationship with one another, and I believe to a large extent it does.  But as we look out at the worldwide scene, we see in so many countries that this is not so.  There are personal and corporate struggles for power, there is little concern for those who ‘get in the way’, in that struggle.  We are particularly concerned at present about the desperate situation in Afghanistan, where those who sought a new freedom and way of life, now live in fear of their lives.  

Let us not be quick to condemn the legalism of the Pharisees or even the Orthodox code of living of Jews today.  We live in this country, as in most countries, circumscribed by a mass of law, regulation, codes of practice and formal guidance.  We live in a complex technological age with huge populations.  As someone involved in writing of international standards, in my case, relating to lightning protection, I am conscious that I am contributing to that mass of requirements.  I try to do it bearing in mind a concern for the safety and wellbeing of people, both directly from the effect of lightning strikes and indirectly in care of the buildings in which people live and work or are served by, with a particular responsibility for churches.

I said at the beginning of this sermon, that I would refer briefly to today’s epistle, from the epistle of James, whom I said in my sermon in July, was almost certainly not the James the son of Zebedee, but possibly James, son of Alphaeus, another apostle of the 12.  One can sum it up by saying that we should be good listeners and good doers.   In other words, we should not be in a rush to speak but rather be willing to listen.  Sometimes in parish ministry, someone has said to me something like, “Christopher, thank you so much for visiting me two months ago when I was going through a difficult time, you were so helpful to me then.” I think back to the occasion and realise that I hardly said anything. By articulating a problem, the person has seen the solution.   Secondly it is not enough to leave Church today saying, ‘That was an interesting sermon.  We need to ask ourselves, ‘What am I going to do differently as result of that sermon.’

Jesus was a man of prayer, thought and action, listening to God the Father, guided and empowered by God the Holy Spirit.  Let us like him see the underlying principles of our religion and act on them.

Christopher Miles