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The Gospel that we hear tomorrow will be (for many) the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Recent events have made it difficult to hear the question "Who is my neighbour?" but it's a question we must hear and answer.

10th July 2016 Seventh after Trinity
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:00AM.
Reading 1, Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 68 or 18
Reading 2, Colossians 1:15-20
Gospel, Luke 10:25-37

“…And who is my neighbour?

Last week, a march that was taking place in Toronto, Canada was halted for half an hour by activists staging a sit-in to publicise “Black Lives Matter”. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the US police shooting people of colour for little or no reason, and one reaction of the Black community has been “Black Lives Matter”.

Other communities have sometimes found it difficult to understand this saying. Well-meaning people say, “Well, Jesus tells us to love our neighbour, so All Lives Matter.

Yes, they do. All lives, in fact, all life matters. So why do people still feel obliged to chant “Black Lives Matter”?

A Facebook friend posted the following parable: “A large group of people was having dinner at a long table. One of them was named Bob. The waiters emerged with the starter and put a plate in front of every diner. Except for Bob. He got nothing.

“Then the main course came out, and again, the waiters put a plate of food in front of every diner. Except Bob.

“By this time Bob was very upset, as he was hungry. So suddenly Bob stood up and shouted ‘Bob needs food!’

“The rest of the diners looked up, taken aback, and shouted back at him ‘Everyone needs food!’ But Bob shouted all the louder, ‘Bob needs food!’ as the shouts of the rest of the group were doing nothing to actually get him any food.

“After a long struggle, Bob finally got his food.”

We have a parable in today’s Gospel that we are all familiar with. The person who was robbed obviously needed assistance. A priest who may have preached the duty of care for everyone in need walked by, but did nothing. He may have said to himself, “Everyone needs help” but done nothing for this man. If the priest had helped the victim, and the man died in the priest’s arms, the priest would not have been able to perform his duties as touching a dead body was forbidden to a priest.

Then a Levite came by. Levites were like deacons in the Catholic tradition. They swept up after the crowds had gone, performed various lesser religious duties in the Temple, and played music to accompany the Psalms.

This Levite didn’t help either, even though I’m sure he was familiar with the verses we heard from Deuteronomy about loving God and loving neighbour. But he passed by.

Then a Samaritan man discovered this crime victim. Samaritans were outcasts in Jesus’s time. They had separated from Judaism centuries before and worshiped at Mount Gerazim, rather than at Jerusalem. He knew who his neighbour was, and he knew that he had to help him. And so he did.

So who was his neighbour?

As Christians we know what the answer was, since Jesus told us. The challenge is how we put it into practice.

Who is our neighbour?

Our neighbour is every person we meet.

Do we say “Hello” to someone who greets us, or pass by as though we haven’t seen her? Noticing people is recognising them as our neighbours.

Do we help people that we don’t know, just because they ask for help or seem in trouble? Helping people is recognising them as our neighbours.

I was on a Bakerloo Line train once, and in the next carriage a couple of women were being menaced by lager louts. As it happens, the women moved into my carriage and then one got off at the same station as I did.

She came up to me and said, “Could you walk with me out of the station?” She was still very frightened and I walked and talked with her until we left the station and went our separate ways.

Did I mention that she was Iranian? She was also my neighbour.

Who is my neighbour?

We are under a baptismal obligation to not only see every person as our neighbour, but to pay special attention to those who are oppressed, marginalised, injured, or killed for irrational, racist, or religious reasons.

Why are they my neighbours?

They are formed in the image and likeness of God, that’s why. That is all we need to know.

Finally, are there special categories of neighbour?

All are neighbours, but some do not need our help in particular. I cannot believe that if I were to walk by Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch on the street I would be under any obligation to help them. They don’t need my help and, in a way, they are beyond any opportunity to receive my help.

People who are oppressed, marginalised, injured, killed need our help. They are our neighbours, but more than that, they can benefit from our help. Jesus tells us that we will enter the kingdom of heaven when we assist those most in need.

So that is why “Black Lives Matter”. Yes, every life matters. But until black lives matter as much as other lives matter, we all matter much less in the scheme of things in this life. For society is not “Them” and “Us”. It’s just “Us”.

And so, may we realise that all are our neighbours, especially those who need our help most, and may we be guided by the comfortable words of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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24th April 2016 Fifth Sunday of Easter
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:00AM.
Reading 1, Acts 14:21-27
Responsorial Psalm, Psalms 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Reading 2, Revelation 21:1-5
Gospel, John 13:31-33, 34-35
"…I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…"
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN

I was reading the Guardian a few days ago and saw, yet again, an item about choosing a national anthem for England. God Save the Queen is thought to be too dull and boring, and it represents the entire United Kingdom rather than this largest part of it.

As you have all guessed now, the piece of music chosen by the writer, hands down, was Jerusalem, by Blake, set to music by Parry.

We hear Jerusalem each year at the end of the BBC Proms. Sometimes at great civic events we are asked to sing it (although many, including me, get a bit fuzzy on the words of the second verse). And when we do, we must suspend our judgment.

Someone, I don't know who, said that the first verse asked four questions, the answers to which were "No, No, We hope so, and No." Blake meant it as a call to an English Revolution to complement that which had recently taken place in France.

But when we hear it, we think of the Woman's Institute, Chariots of Fire, the Last Night of the Proms, and possibly some vague scenes of England's green and pleasant land that we've seen from the railway carriage on our way to Brighton to take the salt air.

In the second reading this morning, we have heard the author of Revelation seeing a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. It is a gift from God, and will erase human sorrow and pain.

The word "Jerusalem" in Hebrew means "City of Peace". I'd like to reflect on those words as they apply to the city in which we live.

Last week a young man was stabbed to death just south of here. He was an up-and-coming musician and performer, and his friends, acquaintances, and even perfect strangers were shocked at the manner of his death and how easy it was to get a knife to use as a weapon.

Many other men and women, girls and boys, have been assaulted in a similar way, often with the same result, in the past. My friends from North London sometimes hesitate to cross the river in fear of a similar end. It is not a likely fate, but it terrifies nonetheless.

In the housing market, there is turmoil. A place where young families were able to live in relative peace with affordable rents, has been taken over by developers who spied it as an area with older buildings, close to the City and academic institutions, and ripe for replacement with high-rise buildings aimed at students, buy-to-let owners, and high-fliers from the City looking for a place to lay their heads during the week.

In the wider world, peace is a commodity that rarely exists anywhere. The Middle East, which has been an area of contention for millenia, is contentious still. The United States suffers mass shootings and deaths on an almost daily basis, as it thinks about the next President, and whether walls will be built on its southern border to keep out those who only wish to breathe free and provide for their families. Famine is rife in Africa, and families struggle to feed themselves, much less sell some of the food they raise to those who do not farm.

So where is the City of Peace, the new Jerusalem? It's not to be found anywhere on this planet. It comes from God.

God lived and died among us, in the person of Jesus Christ. His life and death points toward that new Jerusalem that we all crave. Who among us does not want to live a life of peace, looking out on a green and pleasant land, and enjoying the tranquillity of living free from want and fear, free to speak whatever we feel we need to speak, and free to worship as our hearts and souls impel us so to do.

Our secular society will never provide such a world or such a city of peace. I have an iPhone-I'm sure that many of you do as well. I have a computer (you may have one too). I have a TV, radios, and newspapers. The world's woes impinge on my life as much as they do yours. And it's easy to forget the Divine in search of the Worldly.

Surveys have consistently shown that the extent of religious belief and the number of believers of any faith at all has grown smaller in England in the years since the Second World War. The number of people who attend a Church of England service weekly has dipped below one million. This is a tiny bit more than five percent of our population. While the number of people who have a belief in a Supreme Being is quite high, the number who do something about that belief is quite low.

"Behold, I make all things new!" says the one who sits on the throne. The answer to the creation of a new City of Peace is to start that renewal in our own hearts. We can't wait for it to be done by others. The strife around us will not cease all by itself.

My question to us all is this: "How can I begin to make all things new in my own life?" We will have to account to the one sitting on the throne for our answer to that question.

And so, may we start the creation of a City of Peace, the New Jerusalem, in our own hearts and minds, by the grace of the life and death of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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The text that I am preaching on tomorrow is the one set by the Roman Catholics rather than the one set for the Revised Common Lectionary. No matter. The story of the woman caught in adultery is one that all of us can imagine being part of.

13th March 2016 Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:00AM.
First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
2nd Reading: Philippians 3:8-14
Gospel: John 8:1-11
“…Has no one condemned you?…”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says,
If anyone thinks that Christians regard…sexual sin as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual. The pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me...they are the animal self and the diabolical self; and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course it is better to be neither!

The story we have just heard in the Gospel is probably, along with those of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, one of the best known and best loved of all the stories Jesus is said to have told.

Whose heart can remain stony hearing the tale of a woman, caught in adultery, being brought before Jesus to be condemned to death? Not mine.

We usually imagine ourselves in the persona of the woman, someone who has sinned, who knows she has sinned, and knows the penalty for her sin. We then live to enjoy the forgiveness of God and God’s grace in our lives, turning us from sin to eternal life.

This is a feel-good, warming place to be in, isn’t it? As the hymn says, “I come with joy, a child of God,/forgiven, loved, and free…”

I daresay that we never imagine ourselves in the places of those who brought the woman to Jesus. Oh no. We are definitely not part of that mob. We didn’t catch the woman in the act, we didn’t see her as the way we could entrap Jesus into condoning sin or condemning her to death, we weren’t filled with unholy glee at the thought of watching the woman be buried in the ground up to her neck and then killing her by throwing rocks at her.

No, that’s not us. Not at all.

Just wait a minute.

One of the attributes I’ve found almost universally in the places I’ve worked or in which I’ve lived is a gossipy, gleeful pleasure at the misfortune of others. We say to ourselves or to our neighbours, “He is getting what he deserves.” about someone else who is caught out in some transgression, or perhaps “She’s no better than she deserves” about an acquaintance who keeps bad company and reaps the consequences.

I accuse myself of these sins, and leave it to you to decide whether to accuse yourselves of them too.

In this story we are not the woman, about to die. We are not Jesus or the disciples, forgiving the woman and saying those immortal words, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”

No. We are the mob. Full stop.

We are the ones who snooped around the woman until we caught her with her lover.

We are the ones who dragged her away to Jesus.

We are the ones who filled our pockets and satchels with stones on the way.

We are the ones who massed before Jesus, demanding that Jesus agree to kill the woman.

Yes, we are.

Don’t try to deny it.

We don’t know what Jesus was writing on the ground when the question was put to him. Some speculate that he was writing the names of those he recognised in the crowd. Others think that he was writing the words from the Book of Daniel said to have appeared on the walls of King Belshazzar’s banquet hall: Mene, mene, tekel upharsin, or “You are weighed in the scales and found wanting.”

Jesus then looked up and addressed each one of the crowd: “Let you who is sinless cast the first stone.”

You’re a member of the mob, and Jesus tells you, personally, “If you are sinless, throw the first stone.” You are taken aback. You look around, waiting for a scribe or a priest to take a stone out of his pocket and throw it at the defenseless woman. Then you’ll be free to do likewise.

No one throws anything.

One by one, your fellow members of the crowd drop the stones they were planning to throw and silently return the way they came.

No one in the crowd can confess to being sinless, least of all you. You take the stones from your pocket, let them slip to the ground, and follow the crowd as it slinks back to town.

So you don’t hear what Jesus says to the woman when the crowd has disappeared, but we do.

“Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.” “Neither do I condemn you. Go away and don’t sin any more”

Can anyone, hearing that, doubt that their sins are forgiven? Can you?

Can you do what Jesus asks, and go and sin no more?

And so, may we forego all condemnation of others, and realise our own sinfulness, forgiven by our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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I sat next to the Vicar at Deanery Synod last week. As my own parish didn't have an Ash Wednesday service, I asked him when his was. "7:30. Do you want to preach?" Well, I wasn't expecting that, but I also recalled that my sermon number 1 was given at St. Matthew's on Ash Wednesday in 1995. So, I got the text, edited it a bit, and voila! I got quite a few compliments and I am hoping people will remember it.

10th February 2016 Ash Wednesday
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 7:30PM.
First Reading: Joel 2:12-18
2nd Reading: II Cor 5:20-6:2
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
“…your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN

When I was a young kid, I was always extremely upset at the prospect of Lent. My mother and the nuns in Sunday School would begin on me a few weeks before Lent began, on those Sundays with the exotic Latin names: Septuagesima, Quinquagesima, Quadragesima. “What are you giving up for Lent?” they’d ask, looking down at my ample stomach. I was ample-stomached even then, I’m afraid. The implication was clear: Kid, you’d better give up sweets.

My mother, I’m sure, wanted me to give them up for the best of motives, as she saw it. I could get holy during Lent by doing a penance, and lose a few pounds at the same time. I’d get two benefits for just one price: good value for penance, she would have said.

The nuns, too, in their way, thought that by giving up something which every young child loved, those children would somehow draw closer to the passion of Christ on the cross. Self-denial would be good for their souls, the nuns believed.

You know, I’m sure, how each Lent turned out. We Roman Catholic children would begin very well, and piously keep away from the sweet shop down by the railway station. The owner had sweets which cost one US penny, or even half a penny. For those who were really big spenders, there were chocolate bars for the princely sum of 5 cents. (they’ve now gone up by much more than the rate of inflation since the 1950’s). A real den of iniquity for holy kids trying to do their penances in Lent.

The lady who owned the shop disliked Lent—her business always suffered those first few weeks. She was a patient soul, however, and she just waited behind her counter. After the first few weeks kids began to slink back into the store by ones and twos to furtively buy their forbidden sweets. As we succumbed, one by one, to the temptations within this Paradise of Sweets, most of us forgot our vows to give up sweets for Lent. We could hardly look our mothers in the eye (not to mention the nuns).

After my college years, I worked for a while and then entered a Roman Catholic seminary. The moral theology professor was the closest thing to a nicotine fiend I had ever met (and I grew up in a household headed by two very avid smokers indeed). He smoked three or more packs of cigarettes a day.

In my first year, when Ash Wednesday rolled around, the professor gave up smoking for Lent. In my smug innocence I proclaimed this to be a good thing. But the students a year ahead of me said, “Just you wait until the Easter Vigil.” Sure enough, after the procession left the chapel on Easter morning, the professor stepped out to the cloister and lit up a cigarette gratefully. I was astonished that anyone who had given up such a nasty habit for 40 days and 40 (even more difficult) nights would voluntarily take it up again.

Oddly enough, the moral theology professor was much closer to the penitential spirit of Lent than the nuns, or my mother was.

Rumer Godden wrote a book called In This House of Brede about cloistered nuns. In it, the Abbess says to one of her nuns who asked permission to take even harsher penances than the Rule required, “Penance isn’t designed to gain a victory. It’s to force a surrender.”

If you’ve decided to give up smoking for Lent only because smoking is bad for your health and the comfort of those around you: keep smoking! If you need to lose a few pounds, and you’ve decided to keep away from sweets, or alcohol, or red meat during Lent: pig out! Eat those chocolates, and have a glass of red wine with your steak.

The plain truth is this: any penance which brings us even a tiny personal benefit isn’t what God wants! God doesn’t want you to celebrate a personal victory on Easter Day. If you successfully give up sweets for Lent, and lose a stone, that’s all well and good. But, what penance is that? You should be losing weight not for God, but for your own health and for proper stewardship of the body God’s given you.

If you successfully give up smoking for Lent, because you know it’s a nasty habit and one which might kill you, that’s not giving up smoking for God, it’s giving up smoking for you. I encourage you to give up now, but don’t consider that your Lenten penance.

God wants us to surrender to the divine will as our Lenten discipline. God’s will for all of us is that we should share the gifts given to us with out neighbours.

Doing something for other people is the best penance we can do, because it doesn’t gain us a victory—it forces us to surrender—surrender our wills to the will of God. You can’t beat sin out of yourself—goodness knows, enough people have tried that. You can’t starve sin out of yourself—that’s been tried too.

If you offer your sinfulness to God, and resolve to do better, as Jesus says in the Gospel: “Your Father, who sees what no man sees, will repay you.”

And so, may we keep a holy Lent, not fasting to benefit ourselves, but doing good works and praying with our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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I often write a sermon and say to myself, "It'll do, but it's not my best work." and after I've delivered it people tell me that they really thought it was good and they enjoyed it. Today's sermon was like that. I read the first part of a sermon that recounted the story of the eggless cake mix. I didn't read any further, but developed the idea my own way. It seems to have worked.

22nd March, 2015 The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:30AM.
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
2nd Reading: Hebrews 5:7-9
Gospel: John 12:20-33
”…it produces much fruit.”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

Decades ago a flour company in the United States produced a product they were sure would be a success.

They made a cake mix that only required the baker to add water. The mix produced a wonderfully moist cake that was as good as one baked from scratch.

When they made it available, after a few months they were surprised by the sales figures. Hardly anyone bought the mix. So they commissioned some marketing research and found out something quite startling.

The reason that people weren’t buying the mix was that the baker only needed to add water. The people who tried the mix thought that this was too easy, and that adding water wasn’t enough for them to feel that they’d created a wonderful cake.

So the company changed the mix slightly. Now the baker was to add water, and one egg. Sales rose. The bakers felt that they were contributing more to the success of the cake with that one egg.

The Gospel today is about death, and life. It was written decades after the life of Jesus ended. The Evangelist wrote that Jesus compared his own life and death to a grain of wheat. When a seed is sown in the earth, it loses its own separate existence and produces another blade of wheat, which in turn produces a sheaf of new wheat seeds.

We use those seeds to bake bread, or even cakes. But if all we added to that wheat was a little water, we would just be doing what was expected.

The Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to worship at Passover asked Philip “We would like to see Jesus.” At this point something odd happens, and you may have picked that up. The Greeks disappear from the Gospel entirely.

Were this to happen today—if a couple of fans were to ask to see a famous actor, say—the story would end with the fans posing for a selfie with the actor. That would be proof enough that they had met him.

In this story, there is no selfie. Instead, the Greeks disappear and Jesus compares his own life and death to that of the grain of wheat.

Jesus’s death would sprout Christianity.

Perhaps more precisely, were Jesus to have died and that were the end of him, no faith would have proceeded from his death. The little bit extra that Jesus added to produce faith was the Resurrection.

Now our religion is not something that happened once and for all two thousand years ago. When I was a child our prayer books reminded us that Masses were being offered every hour of every day, all over the world. Of course, this is as true now as it was then.

I think of the continuous offering of prayer and thanksgiving as seeds of faith being planted and nurtured worldwide. Were those seeds not being planted, Christianity would disappear for lack of care.

However, being a Christian requires us to do more than plant the seeds of faith with a bit of water and wait patiently for results. God requires more from us than just spiritual agriculture.

The egg we need for this mix is our own constant faith. If the farmer simply scattered seeds without believing that most would grow into wheat grass, the mere fact that he planted the seeds would not be enough to ensure that the crop would appear.

Last week saw the first day of what the weather forecasters call “astronomical Spring”. The night and day all over the world were the same length. Spring is a time for flowers and trees to bud and put forth fruit and seeds. The trees outside my study window have just this week begun to produce beautiful pink flowers, as if they knew by some dim arboreal awareness that spring had arrived and thus warmer weather was coming.

In a couple of weeks at the most, these flowers will wither and drop off the branches. My back garden will be covered in a mass of pink and white petals. The flowers will die, but the seeds of new trees will be produced from their deaths.

And thus life produces death, and yet death produces life. The life of Jesus culminated in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. His death and resurrection then produced our faith, and the assurance of eternal life.

It’s no coincidence that the egg needed to produce a successful cake is also the symbol of the season of Resurrection we are about to encounter.

And so, let us in the coming weeks recall with awe and love the season of the passion and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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I seem to always draw the Baptism of the Lord as a preaching Sunday. It is getting more and more difficult to find a new angle, but I did some digging into the Isaiah passage and found one that was new to me. And, oddly enough, I got my inspiration on Friday rather than on Saturday, when I normally write my sermon! So my Saturday was taken up with travelling to Shoreditch to pick up rye and black bread at the Beigel Shop. Hurrah!

Sadly there was no baptism this morning at St. John's.

11th January, 2015 The Baptism of the Lord
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:30AM.
First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-11
2nd Reading: I John 5:1-9
Gospel: Mark 1:7-11
”Pay attention, come to me…”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

I was a bit too young to remember what my own baptism was like, but since then I’ve seen lots of babies being baptised. At St Matthew’s I’m responsible for setting up the sanctuary before Sunday Eucharist, and when there is a baptism I put out a small pitcher of water. I take it from the tap.

The water’s relatively cool, and when it is poured over the baby’s head, there’s often a pretty violent reaction: crying, squirming, flailing about.

In this case, baptism is a surprise to the child, and the baby acts as if it were an involuntary participant in the charity craze “The Ice Bucket Challenge”.

In Isaiah, we hear of the surprise of the Jewish community in Babylon when they learn that they are free to return to Jerusalem. The Jews have been in Babylon for two generations, and for many of them this is home. They own property, they have married Babylonian partners, they have children. Most important: they have never been to Jerusalem, and they don’t want to go there now.

The entire portion of Isaiah which ends with the passage we’ve heard this morning could be seen as the first recruiting advertisement. Isaiah on the poster, pointing at each Jewish viewer, saying, “Jerusalem needs you!” That city lay in ruins, and those who returned had much work to do to make it a great city again.

He promises rich food and good things to eat, not only for their bodies, but for their souls as well.

Isaiah also says that the time for finding God in the Jewish homeland was short. God is near now, and God won’t necessarily linger. So God’s presence is a surprise, and like the water of baptism, that surprise won’t last forever.

The Jews were feeling very upbeat at this time. Anything was possible. The line of King David could be restored to Judea. The Temple at Jerusalem, destroyed by the Babylonians, could be rebuilt. God’s word to the Jews will return to him having made Jerusalem into a great city and the capital of a great nation.

In the case of the Jews, their hopes and visions were dashed in the course of events. The Davidic Kingdom was never restored. The weather turned unfavourable, and a drought wasted the crops. They never completed rebuilding the temple because of fighting within the Jewish nation. But, when Isaiah wrote, anything was possible, and most of what was possible was good.

Baptism is a ceremony which carries great potential for everyone who undergoes it. Nearly every Christian soul starts their journey of faith in the arms of a priest who surprises them with a little shower of water.

The life of every baptised child will vary from every other’s life. Some will grow up strong in the faith—others will fall away. Some will neglect their faith for decades, and discover it later on in life. And some will attend church each week until Confirmation, and then suddenly discover that they actually aren’t as faithful as they thought they were.

Just as the Jewish people had potential for great things when they were returning from Babylon, so Jesus began his public life by showing what his potential was. He had no need of baptism, and in any case the nature of John’s baptism was very different from that which Christians recognise as the Sacrament.

And yet he submitted to John in the Jordan River, and was baptised. What are we to think of that?

It is interesting that in Mark only Jesus sees the Spirit descending on him, and only Jesus hears the voice from heaven. It is a personal appearance. Something just for Jesus to see, hear, and ponder.

Just as Isaiah wrote a recruiting poem to entice the Jews to return to Jerusalem, so this is God’s personal recruiting message to Jesus. Up until then it is quite possible that Jesus may have doubted his sense of what his mission and message was. In some portrayals of Jesus in literature and film, this is explicit. Until his baptism, Jesus is a carefree carpenter. Afterwards, with the favour and calling of God, Jesus begins the journey that culminates on Calvary.

Baptism is our moment to shine in the glory of God. I’ve never heard of a modern baptism where the roof of the church opens to admit a dove to settle on the child who has just been baptised. I’ve never heard a voice from heaven saying that its favour rests on the person who’s just been admitted into the company of Christians.

But, believe it, without us knowing it, these things happen. Ask yourselves the questions: Did the Spirit of God become present in me when I was baptised? Is the spirit still present to me now? And, did God’s favour rest on you then and what have you done with His favour since?

And so, we live our our lives baptised in the Spirit just as did Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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(This did not start out as a sermon—honest.)

Many of my English friends who know that tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States ask me, "Don't you feel a bit homesick?" or "Do you make yourself a turkey dinner with all that stuff Americans eat?" The answer's "No" to both, I fear. I can be thankful without setting aside one day for it. I know now that I am English. I am thankful for being allowed to move to London, become naturalised, and be a citizen of the United Kingdom. I am thankful for my husband, who puts up with my increasing dotage with patience and love. I am thankful for the National Health Service, which began and continues as one of the most unselfish government acts in history. I am thankful for the Church of England, which, with all its faults, is my spiritual home. I try to be thankful for all these things and more each and every day.

I trust that all my American friends will be thankful for everything they have. I hope they will also recall the Native Americans, who have no reason to be thankful for the events commemorated tomorrow. I trust that they will remember all the men and women, young and old, who have been injured or killed by guns, who can no longer be thankful for anything. I am certain that they will be thankful for the food they place on their tables, remembering the birds and animals who gave their lives for this dinner and also those who brought the food to market and those who prepared it.

And finally, can we not only be thankful for whatever we have, but also be mindful that many have little or nothing at all this day? May our thankfulness for what we have stir up righteous indignation in our hearts and minds, so that we join the fight against injustice, want, violence, and inequality. We will then be able to be truly thankful for all that we will have and that all will be fed, clothed, and housed.

And so to the One who taught us to be thankful and told us that whatever kindness we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to Him, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now, and evermore. AMEN.
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Most preachers either preach on this feast without reference to the readings, or preach on the Gospel, talking about various ovine characters. I have preached on the Gospel several times, and I'm tired of it. So I decided to preach on the Epistle. I don't care much for Paul's letters, but there's a lot of interesting meat to pick out of this one.

23rd November, 2014 Feast of Christ the King
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:30AM.
First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17
2nd Reading: I Corinthians 15:20-26,28
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep.”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

There’s an old epitaph, seen on a tombstone from the 19th Century:

Remember, friend, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you will be,
Prepare for death, and follow me.

Some wit wrote underneath:

To follow you I’m not content,
Until I know which way you went.

It’s appropriate at the end of the Church’s year to talk about death and the end of time. We’ve just come away from the Feast of All Souls, and now encounter the end of the year, and in a week the beginning of the next as Advent begins.

After Passover in the Jewish calendar comes a festival of the harvest, in which the High Priest would invite all the nation to come to the Temple with some of their harvested grain. At the appointed time, the High Priest would wave a sheaf of grain before the Holy of Holies, and the entire nation would do likewise. These were the first-fruits of their labours over the past year, and each Israelite farmer offered them to the Almighty.

We hear of Christ being raised from the dead as the first-fruits of the entirety of humanity that has gone before him. It seems to me that Paul is creating a vision of humanity as the seeds which create the harvest of souls for heaven, the first-fruits of that harvest being Christ.

We see salvation history as a kind of horticulture or agriculture, clearing the way for the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

If we are part of a harvest of souls begin by Christ, what does that mean for us?

First, it means that death is not the end of life, but a part of the process of living, both now and in eternity. In secular culture and thought, death is The End. Before birth there was no life, and after death there is no life either.

As Christians we believe that death is merely the hinge between earthly and everlasting life. We live with Christ, who blazed a trail out of death into eternal life with God.

Second, it means that death is not necessarily something to be feared. Years ago, before people went to hospitals to die, death took place at home. People would visit the dying to say “Goodbye, farewell!” in the certain hope of not only resurrection, but of meeting them again after their own deaths.

I do make a distinction between fearing the accoutrements of death: pain, suffering, loss of autonomy, and fearing the fact of death itself. People can rightly fear being tied to machinery at the end of life, and the pain that might entail. Our Christian faith makes it difficult to fear death itself.

Death was a constant in life up until recently. My great grandfather Child had three siblings. All of them died before their sixth birthday. Every family had a history of welcoming a new life into the world and, very soon, bidding it farewell as it left the world again.

In these days of pre- and ante-natal care, even babies that were born extremely prematurely can be saved and cared for until they can thrive on their own. There are, of course, still babies who do not survive to adulthood—but it is much less common than it was.

Third, we have lost the knack of dying. There is a skill to it. In days past we learned it at the deathbeds of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. Children were brought to their older relatives’ deathbeds to bid them farewell, Godspeed, into the brightness of eternal life.

In these times, it is relatively rare that an attended death happens in the home. The sick person is brought to the hospital and connected to tubes and wires. Oxygen is provided with a mask or a nasal tube. When children are brought to see Grandpa in the hospital, he looks nothing like the grandpa who used to give them horseback rides or who barbecued in the back garden for the entire family.

We need to make the connections between life, death, and eternal life. Our ancestors made them very easily. We should perhaps try to remake those connections, not only for our own sakes, but for the sakes of our children.

The suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ will be essential tools in remaking those connections. The questions we could ask ourselves today are:

How am I preparing myself for death and eternal life?

Do I believe that I will be brought to life in Christ once death comes to me?

In death, will I be one of those who belongs to Christ, or have I abandoned that position to cling to life here and now?

Therefore to the One who is the King who destroys death, Jesus Christ, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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I looked at the reading sheet for this feast, and was amused to see that there were no chapter and verse references, only the name of the book. So my heading simply quotes the beginning and end of the first two readings and the name of the parable for the Gospel. I am too lazy to look up the chapter and verses now; I will do so later.

We are in the midst of uproar here—our kitchen has been replaced and we had to buy a range, since the old one is leaking. It is difficult to compose oneself and write a sermon when one has not been able to cook for a week and is living on sandwiches. I hope that I've been able to do that.

5th November, 2014 Solemnity of All Souls (translated)
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 7:30PM.

First Reading: Lamentations (The Lord’s true love is surely not spent...punish any mortal man); Ps 23;
2nd Reading: Revelations (Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth...and he a son to me)
Gospel: Matthew (Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids)
“Stay awake, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

Genealogy has lately become one of my interests. Some of the branches of my family tree are shorter than others, but I can get to great-great grandparents on both sides of my family, at least. One branch can be followed back to the 1630’s in colonial New England, and that is the branch from which dangles the leaf that I’d like to tell you about today.

The Child family in New England has a few illustrious members. Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, is my 7th cousin twice removed, for example. Horace Mann, the famous educational theorist, was married to a cousin of mine.

There are less illustrious members of my family as well. My great-uncle, Hervey Child, was one. He was born in 1899, served in both World Wars, and died in 1967.

However, he was the black sheep of the Child family. In the early 1900’s he served time in jail for robbing the poor box of the local church. I have a letter he wrote to his parents from jail, talking about how he would be turning his life around once he was released.

He married and had three children. But at the beginning of the Second World War, he was stationed in Birmingham, and met a woman who was to become his second wife. He divorced his wife, abandoned his family, and was married again here. He brought her back to the United States, and years after his death she returned to Selly Oak and died there in 1996.

The interesting thing about Hervey’s first family is shown in their obituaries, a few of which I have. When his first wife, Irene, died in the mid 1950’s, her obituary lists her as a widow, even though her ex-husband was stilll living. And when his eldest son, Arthur, died in 2010 his obituary listed his mother, but not his father.

The reason for the solemnity of All Souls is to have some form of remembrance for those of our family and friends who have died.

The New Testament speaks in many places of the assurance of eternal life with Christ after our own deaths. We do not know what form eternal life will take for us. It will not be the cartoon depiction of heaven: St Peter at the gates, men and women in flowing white robes carrying harps and sitting on clouds. There is no basis for this depiction in Scripture.

What we do know is that since we do not know when we will die, we must be ready at all times for our own deaths, and those of our loved ones.

So this solemnity is a way of not only reminding us of those who have gone before us, it is also a way of reminding us that, someday, we will be counted in the number of those who are remembered today.

My great-uncle was not remembered by those he had left behind, at least not in a good way. Even in their obituaries, they wiped him out of their personal histories. As far as they were concerned, he no longer existed, and had not existed.

How sad is this? I do not say that those who have committed great injuries in this life ought to be remembered with joy and happiness. But what the Church says to us today is that, for good or ill, every soul must be remembered.

We do not know who is saved, and who is not. Theology varies: for Calvinists, only a select few are saved. For some others, everyone is saved.

Indeed, the question of who will be saved and who will not is not one for any of us to answer. And anyone who believes that they know who is saved and who is not is very likely wrong.

So on this day we remember everyone who has died throughout the ages. We remember our mums and dads, our grandmas and grandpas, uncles, aunts, cousins, and those who have no one left to remember them.

We remember their struggles through life, the good things they did, the cuddles they gave you when you were sad, and the things they may have done that were not as good—falling in love while they were already married, robbing a poor box, or some other injustice they may have committed.

For we are all complex people, made up of great goods and also great shortcomings. We remember all those who have lived and died over the centuries. They have trod the paths that we ourselves now tread, and shown the way to live, and the way to die. We honour them, and we remember them; like them we know neither the day nor the hour.

Therefore to the One in whose gift all our days and hours rest, Jesus Christ, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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12 October, 2014 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
17th after Trinity
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 22 (23rd)
Epistle: Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
“Many are called but few are chosen”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

A family with five children moved into a town in the American South. The children enrolled in school and the teacher saw that they were neatly dressed but their clothing was a bit shabby. She was a Baptist, so she talked to her church group and they collected nice new clothing for the whole family. The teacher visited them, gave them the clothes, and invited them to church on Sunday. They eagerly accepted the clothes and said that they’d be there.

On Sunday the teacher watched out for the family, but they didn’t attend. After church she visited them again and said, “We were expecting you at church this morning.” The father replied, “We were going to go to the Baptist church today. But when we dressed in the new clothes you gave us, we looked so fine that we went to the Episcopal Church instead.”

I have always found this Gospel story to be a problem for me. In the rest of this Gospel, and indeed in the rest of the New Testament, Jesus preaches a good news including everyone. He eats meals with the lowest of the low in his society: prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners generally. His apostles were chosen from all ranks of society—indeed, Matthew himself was a tax collector.

So why, in this story, does the king require wedding garments to be worn by those whom his servants have chosen to attend the wedding banquet? Jesus in other Gospel passages ignores or disobeys Jewish dietary laws. Had synthetic fabrics been invented at that time, would have happily worn a polyester blend robe. He said that the Sabbath was invented for people, and not people for the Sabbath.

The only possible answer is that the “wedding garments” are something other than clothing.

The beginning of this story recounts the king who was about to throw a wedding feast for his son. Those that the king invited refused to come, and mistreated or killed the messengers that the king sent with invitations.

Classically this has been read as a repudiation of the Jews of the 1st Century, who did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah. I reject that interpretation as narrow and bigoted. Instead, all of us should consider ourselves invited to Jesus’s wedding banquet. He has laid on a celebration with fine wine, great food, and “fine strained wines”, as the passage from Isaiah says.

Wine in Biblical times was quite different from the wine we drink today. It was more like low-quality port: very sweet, and with a lot of sediment. If a host was lazy, he would serve the wine as it was, without straining the sediment out. A good host, solicitous of his guests, would have the wine strained during pouring, so that the sediment didn’t get into the cups of the guests.

At St Matthew’s we have a silver flagon that was used to pour out the wine used at the old Holy Trinity Church near the Borough. This flagon has a strainer built into the lip to strain out the sediment in the sacramental port that was used in earlier times at the earthly banquet that is the Eucharist.

So we are all invited to this banquet, and Jesus offers us the best food and drink. But there is a price exacted for the banquet.

The host of a Jewish wedding banquet in Jesus’s time would have given each guest outer clothing to wear so that they would look spiffy participating in the festivities, which could last up to a week. The guest who wasn’t wearing them in the Gospel story wasn’t being thrown out because he didn’t have wedding garments. He was thrown out because he refused to wear what the host had provided for him.

God has given us many gifts—our lives, our food, clothing, shelter, families and friends. There are intangible gifts that we get from God as well—we call them “grace”. The grace of faith; the grace of happiness; the grace of charity and hope; and finally, the grace of a happy death. I like to think of the wedding garments in the story as these intangible gifts that God gives us. We can accept them, refuse them, or even misuse them.

The Gospel tells us that refusing the gifts we are given from God means that he can exclude us from that heavenly banquet he puts on for everyone who accepts and employs his gifts for good things. God doesn’t wish to exclude us; he invited us in the first place. It is our free choice as to whether we will accept his invitation and his gifts, or refuse them.

Have we accepted God’s invitation to the banquet of life, but refused or misused the gifts he’s given us? Would it be better if we took the grace God offers us and put it on over the grubby attitudes that life in our world today offers us?

Therefore to the One whose wedding banquet gives us the opportunity of wearing the garments of grace, Jesus Christ, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life". Frank Sinatra sang that he did it "My Way". Which is best?

May 18, 2014 5th Sunday of Easter
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 32
Epistle: I Peter 2:4-9
Gospel: John 14:1-12

“I did it my way.”

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

If you’ve ever gone to a Karaoke bar, you’ll almost certainly have heard someone sing that old Frank Sinatra song, “My Way”. Along with “New York, New York” it’s a staple of barfly singing everywhere. I have even heard of it sung or played as the recessional at funerals, with the soulful crooning of Ol’ Blue Eyes accompanying the dear departed out the door or behind the crematorium drapes.

The rest of the sermon is behind the cut )
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As Easter Vigils are usually long and conducted at night I keep my sermon relatively short. It is more difficult to write a short and to-the-point sermon than it is to bloviate for 20 minutes.

April 19, 2014 Easter Vigil
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 7PM.
Epistle: Romans 6:3-11
Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

I recently bought an e-book titled Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. In it, the author follows the fate of dead human bodies, from those that are donated to science, to those used as crash test "dummies", to those that have died but provide donated organs so that others can live. I would not recommend reading this book during a meal, but I do recommend it for other reading times.

The rest behind a cut )
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This sermon is special for me. It's my one-hundredth sermon. Most have been preached at St. John the Evangelist, Larcom Street. Some were preached at St. Matthew's, my own parish church. I believe that the first few were preached at St. Luke-in-the-Fields at Integrity/New York Eucharists, back in the bad old days of the late 1980's and early 1990's. So I've been preaching for a quarter of a century, on and off.

No matter how long I have been preaching, it astounds me that a sermon that I think is ordinary, or even less than ordinary, is appreciated and remembered by the congregation. This week's sermon was like that.

I often get some ideas for starters from a weekly mailing I get from, a commercial outfit that sends out teasers of sermons to preachers, hoping that they will pay exhorbitant sums to get the entire sermon to plagiarise er, use as inspiration. The beginning of this sermon was one of those teasers. There was no theology in this teaser, just the story. And I thought, "You know, I haven't used a joke to begin a sermon for years. Maybe it's time." So that's what I did. But, I wasn't overly thrilled with it.

But, you know, sometimes it's in the delivery. I wasn't planning to do this, but when I got to the punchphrase at the end of the joke, I shot out my hand and pointed at the churchwarden in the back and shouted it. People took notice. Some even laughed. And afterwards, at coffee, around 5 people said to me, "Great sermon." I'm not ordained, but sometimes they call me "Father". Oddly enough, even though I am of the largest order in the Church, the laity, I take a bit of satisfaction out of that.

Now that I have 100 sermons on my hard drive, I'm thinking that I might put them together for my own reference. I haven't published them all here. But do I have the courage to self-publish?

April 6, 2014 Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:12-14
Epistle: Romans 8:8-11
Gospel: John 11:3-7,17,20-27,33-45

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: "What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?"

The first of the friends said: I would like them to say, He was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community.

The second said: I want them to say: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow.

The third friend said, I would like them to say, "Look, he's moving!!"

The rest of the sermon is behind the cut )
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John's Gospel tends to be rather more theologically sophisticated than the other three Gospels. It is the last of the four Gospels to be written, and the Christian community was already well organised. So the Gospel story of Jesus's encounter with the Samaritan woman has echoes of baptism (in the water Jesus wants and the water of life he offers her), and of evangelism (in the part where the Samaritan woman tells her entire community of her meeting Jesus, and that he "told me everything I had ever done".)

I chose to forego speaking about baptism and concentrate on evangelism. I got the initial story from a sermon email I receive, but took nothing other than the story.

March 22, 2014 Third Sunday of Lent
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Exodus 17:3-7
Epistle: Romans 5:1-2,5-8;
Gospel: John 4:5-15,19-26,39-42

“Many…had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony…”

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

One day a lady criticized American preacher D. L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody's reply to her was "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?" The lady replied, "I don't do it." Moody retorted, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."

Remainder of sermon cut for those who are not interested. )
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Lots of gay men (and others) watch Davey Wavey on YouTube. He normally posts shirtless videos talking about various items of interest to gay men in particular. His first video talked about his neighbour, who he observed pleasuring himself at his window. He's gone upward, outward, and sometimes downward since then.

His latest video has to do with his experience of attending a Metropolitan Community Church service in Toronto. He is not religious, for the very good reasons that many of our gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer share of rejection, condemnation, and disdain. Let him explain what it did to him.

I have always felt myself to be religious in spite of all the dreck that organised religion throws at me and people like me. But to hear Davey's testimony of ending up as a "hot mess" at the end of the service tells me one thing: those of us who are the People of God need to stop condemning and judging our brothers and sisters, and just love them. Unconditional love works wonders. Being wanted, and loved for who we are is what religious community is all about. Who knows how it will affect Davey over the years. I have discovered that, for some reason, YouTube served up a two-year old video, but I'm sure that the message is still as fresh as it was then.

Here is the service he attended.


I am constantly surprised by the reaction to my sermons at St. John's Larcom St. I am not a Lay Reader; this surprised the Archdeacon, who had assumed that I was. I never went for training because I would had had to be trained under the aegis of my Rector, for whom I have a limited amount of respect. However, I have had a theological education around 2/3rds of the way toward the Roman Catholic priesthood before I thought better of that. So I am confident in the pulpit now.

I try to approach each homily in a prayerful way. I look at the readings appointed and say a silent prayer that I can draw out at least one thought and present it to the congregation to think about. On Saturday morning, as HWMBO goes to table tennis practice, I sit at the computer, set up the template, and type. I try to start with a story or joke that will ultimately support the idea I want to present. I type up to five pages, which will take around 8 or 10 minutes to deliver.

Some preachers go on the "Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them, then tell them what you told them." idea. This is a tried and true method, but I dislike it. It can get long winded and repetitive.

Others go on the "Three points" principle. After the introduction, tell the congregation that you have three points to speak about, then enumerate them: "First", "Second", "Third". Sum up, and you're done. However, this becomes a parody the tenth, twentieth, and fiftieth time that the preacher does it. A clergyperson of my acquaintance does it so often that he himself makes fun of it. This stands in the way of actually delivering a message that people will want to take away with them.

When I'm delivering a sermon, I don't gesticulate. Before the service, I spread the five pages across the lectern in the pulpit and as I come to the end of each page, I simply grasp the page and drop it unobtrusively to the floor of the pulpit. Otherwise, I lean on the sides and make sure that I make eye contact with everyone. I am a fairly good speaker, and enunciate clearly. I write as if I were speaking directly to people, not as if I were writing a report.

Now comes the kicker. Most gatherings of people sitting listening to someone talk are restless. People shift from cheek to cheek, rustle papers, whisper to their neighbours, and generally only pay half attention to what the preacher is saying. When you've hit that sweet spot where people actually are listening raptly and a silence descends on the church, THAT is what the preacher is looking for. It really grips the preacher and the congregation. It is what makes it all worthwhile.

I got that today. I don't get it every time I preach. But when I do I am humbled that my words are getting through.

Today I preached my 98th sermon. Yes, I'm that obsessive. I am thinking that when I get to 100 sermons I may actually go back, look at them, and put them all online. Not that I am any Phillips Brooks, or Billy Graham. But, I want to leave something that people might find valuable. Watch this space.


Last Thursday I announced to Deanery Synod that I would not stand again for the post of Lay Chair. I have been Lay Chair of Southwark and Newington Deanery for ten years. That is quite long enough. I wanted to leave when people said, "I'm so sorry you're leaving!" rather than "What took you so long?" I am proud of having kept the laity together during the last ten years, and helping the Diocese to celebrate the ministry of Lay Chairs both publicly, in the Cathedral, and privately, by ensuring that the Lay Chairs of Deaneries are involved in managing the affairs of the Diocese. I pushed until the Archdeacons commissioned us yearly in our ministries. I have done enough and it's time to let someone else do more than I have been able to do.

In the next three years, if I am spared, I intend to stand down from Bishop's Council and Diocesan Synod.
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I take a lot of my strength from my husband, HWMBO, who is Singaporean. Travelling to Singapore and having many Singaporean friends and acquaintances, both online and in meatspace, enriches my life immensely. Last night, looking at the Gospel for tomorrow, taking in the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon, I had a brainwave.

February 2, 2014 The Presentation of the Lord
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4;
Epistle: Hebrews 2:14-18; Gospel: Luke 2:22-40
“…he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ…”

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

One of the great advantages of being in a multi-racial home is that each partner gets to experience two or more cultures within the four walls of their house.

I have been partners with Tan, whom some of you know, for 16 years now, and have been to Singapore, his original home, many times. I have many Singaporean friends, not only those whom I have met in person, but a goodly number whom I only know online but who are my friends nonetheless.

The rest of the sermon for those who want to read it is behind the cut )
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One of the great humbling glories of preaching is that the things that happen to you and the things that you do in response can often be used to illustrate your words to other people.

January 5, 2014 The Feast of the Epiphany
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6;
Epistle: Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2:1-2

“Go and find out all about the child.”

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

Right now I’m searching for bargains in Tesco’s at the Elephant. There are specials on Christmas biscuits, 1 pound slabs of Stilton cheese, brandy sauce, and potential Christmas gifts that might be worth salting away for Christmas 2014.

The rest is behind the cut… )
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The Lectionary readings at the end of the church's year are all about the end times. I liked writing and delivering this one since I could use an incident that happened to me very recently. It's always more interesting when you can write about something that's just happened.

My favourite paragraph: "Calamities test our reaction to the Gospel. They will happen whether we will them or no. And recovery will happen whether we help or not. And Jesus will come again, whether we are ready or not."

November 17, 2013 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Malachi 3:19-20;
Epistle: II Thessalonians 3:7-12; Gospel: Luke 21:5-19

"…the end is not so soon.”

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

The sermon's behind the cut )

Therefore to the One who is to come, Jesus Christ, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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I have recently read the book Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan. I am still plowing through the notes, which are inconveniently not crossreferenced with footnotes from the text. Nothing in it is new to me, although the synthesis is new. He references approvingly two of my professors from Columbia and Dunwoodie Seminary: Morton Smith and Fr. John Meier. I refer to the book in the sermon, and I would urge anyone who is interested in the question of the "historical" Jesus to read the book. Fox News recently interviewed Aslan, and the interviewer was skeptical that a Muslim could write a book about Jesus. Aslan is a scholar of religion, and is as entitled to write a book on Scripture as anyone else is.

In any case, here is my sermon for tomorrow, behind a cut in case you aren't interested.

August 11, 2013 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Wisdom 18:6-9
Epistle: Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19; Gospel: Luke 12:32-48
“…he went forth not knowing where he was going…”

Sermon text behind the cut )
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July 28, 2013 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32
Epistle: Colossians 2:12-14; Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

" much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

Before I arrived in London, nearly 20 years ago, I lived in San Francisco. When I arrived there in January 1993, I went church-shopping. At Grace Cathedral no one spoke to me except the lady at coffee hour, who asked whether I wanted one or two sugars in my drink. At All Saints Haight-Ashbury, I sat right next to the thurifer-station in the centre aisle, and came down with bronchitis as a result. At St. Aidan’s, I arrived on their annual meeting Sunday. Their meeting was conducted between the Gospel and the Creed, and I was bored witless through listening to reports about events and people I knew nothing about. At Trinity, I was greeted, accompanied at coffee hour by a church member who introduced me to various people, and the Rector called me on Monday evening and invited me to a parish dinner at his residence. No prize for guessing which church I attended that year.

The Rector was a priest named Robert Warren Cromey, who was, and is, a powerful preacher and teacher in the Episcopal Church. He marched with civil-rights leaders in Alabama during the early 1960’s. He helped organise the first demonstrations for civil rights for lesbian and gay people in San Francisco. He was a perennial irritant to Bishops of California, who by turns ignored his letters to the editor in the local newspaper and tried to move him along to retirement.

Robert’s sermons were memorable, but for me, none were more memorable than the one he preached on this very passage. The theme was: “Prayer doesn’t work on God, it works on us.”

This was not original with Robert, and I’m unable to trace the source, but it’s worth examining in the light of this Gospel passage.

When I was a child, I thought of prayer as something like a private phoneline to God. I would pray for something like good grades on a test, or help with losing weight, or some other favour. God would listen to me at the other end of the celestial phoneline and either grant my prayer, or not. When it wasn’t granted, I thought it was because I wasn’t good enough to have my prayer granted, or perhaps God had been distracted by some other more pressing prayer, or perhaps there was static on the line.

I think that lots of people began their prayer lives in this way. And, even as adults, we continue to believe that, somehow, we can get through on that heavenly phoneline. Nowadays, it would be a mobile phone, of course, and God would be on Whatsapp, SMS text message, Facebook, and Twitter. So we would have multiple ways of getting through.

But, sometimes we don’t get through. A loved one, for whom we prayed, dies. A favour we need in order to be happy, doesn’t come about. It might be that, like Sam, the man who prayed for a Lotto win which he never got, we get angry at God for not granting our dearest prayer.

God then said to Sam: “You know why I haven’t granted your request, Sam? Do me a favour. Buy a Lotto ticket.”

God is not a heavenly jobcentre. God does not sit around waiting for us to ask for something. God doesn’t arbitrarily grant or deny our prayer petitions.

God listens to us. We are assured of that: in the Gospel Jesus says, “ much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Have any of you just sat or knelt and prayed at a time when life was giving you some hard knocks? I have. At those times when you’re feeling down, and put upon, and fearful, do you pray? I do. Some people try counting sheep when they can’t fall asleep. I pray, silently.

None of these prayers work on God. They work on us. Does prayer at a turbulent time in your life help you deal with events by calling God’s presence into your day? It does for me. If you pray when you fear for the future, does the presence of God help you face the future with courage and strength? It does for me. When you’re reminded through prayer of God’s presence when you sleep at night does that help you shrug off the cares of the day? It does for me.

Prayers of thankfulness for favours received often don’t get prayed. When some folks have passed through a terrible time, and come out on the other side, do they thank God for presence and understanding during those turbulent days? I try to, but often forget. When something good happens in our world, the uneventful birth of a child perhaps, do we thank God for it? I hope we do. And when we receive the Holy Spirit through our own prayers and the corporate prayer of the Eucharist, do we thank God for that? Let’s start, today.

Therefore may we always remember to give thanks in prayer to our listening God, and to Jesus Christ, who makes intercession for us all, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.

August 2017

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