Author Archive

Martha Mutikani (Guest Preacher)

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In 1983 my uncle married his 17th wife, the other wives had left and about 4 were at his homestead. My parents were shocked by the decision. Marrying another wife but struggling to feed his children who were now more than 15 was just too selfish. Polygamy is more common in Africa, for some it’s a traditional issue. If the first wife does not have children her family is required to provide another wife. The cycle could continue until there are children born to honour the husband. It was common to find a man in church with his two or more wives. To them it was about their family set up and most of them got along despite their situation. My Uncle is now over 80 years he was a polygamist by choice not because of traditional issues. He has more than 30 Children.His legacy is not a good one.

As background, you need to understand that, if a Jewish man died without children, Jewish law required the dead man’s brother to marry the dead man’s wife so he could give her a child to honor his dead brother’s memory.

I think 150 years ago those who built St Matthews knew the building would be a sanctuary of worship for many. I am sure if they were to see us all today they would be moved by the way the congregation has developed. I stand here today as a product of St Matthews, it makes me proud to come and say well done to you all for the legacy you are building. I am sure when you look in your life’s rear view mirror you will have something beautiful to smile about St Matthews church.

What personal legacy are you building?

Unlike the Sadducees in our text today, those who build St Matthews where not selfish. The Sadducees were Sad-you-see as their name. I was giggling all the way as l read the text for today, wondering whether my uncle ever thought of the resurrection. Was he a Sadducee by his way of life? Building an empire on earth thinking his life was ending here. I guess l will never have the courage to ask him. The questions by the Sadducees today reminded me that we can be selfish and forget those around us easily. My Uncle focused on many wives but forgot how the children could be supported. The Sadducees continue to pester Jesus with multiple questions because they wanted to discredit Jesus for their selfish needs.

Who is benefiting in your empire?

In the gospel reading, the Sadducees come with a theoretical question concerning resurrection, they don’t believe in. Jesus knows their unbelief. Perhaps he knows he also won’t convince them, even appealing to the Torah, as he does. But he still answers the question.

Jesus’ enemies were selfish. They wanted to embarrass Him. They wanted to humiliate Him publicly. They wanted to destroy Him. In fact, they were plotting to kill Him. But they didn’t want to create a martyr.

The question the Sadducees pose has a deeper element than that of the mere existence of a resurrection. Whether they see it or not, embedded in their words is a question also about the character of the resurrection and the location of hope. For their theoretical woman’s entire life, she has suffered being a burden on those who have dutifully provided for her, and in her barrenness, she has nothing to offer in return. If the life to come is only a parallel to or continuation of the life that is now, why would she want to be resurrected? Could more of this present life possibly be hope? 

It is that question that I see as the reason Jesus entertains their absurdities. She is a fiction they have created, but while her life doesn’t factually exist, it exists in truth in the lives of so many others. Human life isn’t immune to suffering and despair. The question he answers, is one that most who honestly wrestles with the gospel at some point encounter: How is this message hope? Jesus says in so many words that the resurrection isn’t just more of this life, but rather takes on the qualities implicit to shalom, for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

The Sadducees said a man’s brother married his dead brother’s wife, but still she had no children. Then her second husband died, so another brother married her. Again she had no children. There were seven brothers in all, and all seven married her in turn and died, leaving her, at the end, with no children.

Then the Sadducees popped their question:”In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” (20:33). How would you have answered that! Husband one? Husband two? Husband seven? Who would be her husband in eternity? But Jesus took their question and went in another direction. He told them that marriage is important in this world, but won’t be in the age to come. The reason is simple: in this world, people die. For the human race to survive, babies must be born. Marriage is needed to provide homes for those babies. But in the age to come nobody will die – so there won’t be a need for childbirth – so marriage will have outlived its usefulness.

Then Jesus gave an example from Jewish history to prove that there is a resurrection. Jesus reminded them that, at the burning bush, God told Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). When Jesus speaks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as being a God of the living, he signals that God is alive, that Yahwah IS, not WAS, that the great “I Am” is not, and never will be “I Was”. ‘I am the God of them when they were here, and I Am the God of you today, and I will be the God of your children tomorrow.’

ETERNAL LIFE WITH GOD This scripture raises some issues, doesn’t it! Some of you will say, “I really like being married, so heaven without marriage doesn’t seem very wonderful.” But the transition from this world to the next has lots in common with the transition from the womb to the nursery. If you could tell a baby in the womb what life would be like after being born, it wouldn’t sound all that great to the baby. The baby in the womb wouldn’t want to hear that it would grow up and leave its mother, would it! But things begin to look differently after we are born and start to grow up. My point is that, just as the baby in the womb can’t really understand life outside the womb, neither can we fully understand life after death. Heaven will be very different from anything we know – so different that we can’t really comprehend it. If you were to ask me what heaven would be like, I would just say, “Nice! Heaven will be really, really nice!” That’s all I know for sure.

But in our Gospel lesson today, Jesus wasn’t trying to describe heaven. Jesus was simply reassuring us that there is a resurrection – and that God has made provision for us to live with him eternally. Jesus gave us a peek – a little tiny peek – into heaven. He said that there won’t be any marriage there. That might not sound wonderful to you now, but just wait till you see it. You’ll like heaven! I promise! You’ll like it a lot.

Let’s create legacies that will be remembered when we are gone. Because we go to a beautiful place. Let’s try to make it beautiful for those who are our neighbors today. Jesus our resurrection, who is alive today, enables us to see beauty despite daily challenges.

In Li-Young Lee’s poem “From Blossoms”, these words snag me in similar ways to how those of Jesus do:

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background, from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Isn’t that the Eucharist, taking what we love inside, and carrying within us the orchard? 
Isn’t the resurrection that sweet impossible blossom we live toward?

Luke 20:27-38

Finding Love in a Foreign Land

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Thank you Father Andrew for giving me this opportunity to preach a farewell message.

I found love here at St Matthews, not only me but my family and perhaps most of you. As a foreigner in the UK it’s a struggle to settle in work, college, school and even church. I am glad the elections are over; it was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I chose you” we are expected to behave as chosen people to love and serve with passion.

I was deeply encouraged by the love and passion of political leaders for their constituencies. Every election year it’s the same scenario, it’s like seeing a toddler learning to walk they fall and rise. I was struck by their love for their parties to succeed, perseverance and honesty. On Friday by lunch time we had three resignations from those who did not achieve what they expected, Nigel Farage of UKIP, Nick Clegg of the liberal democrats and Ed Milliband of Labour. Over the years I have watched politicians pursue their political dreams. Even after losing they pursue other areas but working with people, nurturing them. I can name a few, Michael Portillo who lost his seat in 1997 and Gordon Brown our former Prime Minister both have had successful careers after having lost initially.

When you love what you do and have an anchor like Jesus Christ you cannot give up. Loving someone involves sharing burdens and caring for the other’s welfare. I believe I am a branch of St Matthews, I will always be your baby. Many of you have watched me learn to walk, fall and rise. You never let me go; you persevered, nurtured and even completed the evaluation forms faithfully.

“Love each other as I have loved you” – We are challenged to extend our arms with a Christ centred love. Look at Christ on the Cross wide stretched arms welcoming every person who is willing to go to the cross.

It is weird to be commanded to love. But that’s the reality of our journey as Christians. It’s not a choice as some would say politicians choose. You cannot resign when you fail to love as Christians. You couldn’t resign from nurturing me!

Ask yourself how many people have crossed your path and found love?

I am not sure if you know what it is like to be in need of love in a foreign land?

A foreign land can be the dark moments of your life, or like me when I first came to the UK.

Jesus chose us so “that we might go and bear fruit” I believe I am a fruit of St Matthews.

Rose was an Anglican who immigrated to UK from Jamaica many years ago. Like any other faithful Anglican she had grown to understand that the Anglican Church was a place of welcome, she attended an Anglican church in Brixton. As she walked out after the church service the minister said to her “Thank you for coming but there is a black people’s church in the town centre you will find it more comfortable there”. That was the last time she attended her birth church. Rose’s story is not the only one but many immigrants who have left the CofE have never returned despite the changes over the years. Once relationships are damaged they are difficult to reverse hence the need to try and get it right in the first place.

When I came to the UK in 2000 we went to various churches until we attended St Matthews church Redhill- in December 2000. It was the first church where the vicar asked for our phone numbers and within a few days she had visited our home. The welcome, attention and love made us return. Worship was different! There was no dancing, no ululating – we adapted and you never complained when I ululated. No one ever said Shut up (Ululate).

The years that followed were characterised by affection from other members, visits to our home and being invited to join PCC, and participating in giving communion – in all significant areas of church life this helped me to continue exploring my call. Over the years other new members have found home here, there is a need for persistent affirmation, accommodating the new people’s views. In nurturing disciples you cannot afford to lose the passion even when they leave and never come back you keep on supporting- following the command of Christ.

“I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Jesus in our reading presents Himself as the example of full obedience to the Father. To love someone is to accept them unconditionally, want to understand them and ultimately to sacrifice the little you have to make sure they feel loved.

Jesus wants us to bear fruit that might last. St Matthews is a town centre church, the diversity is amazing. The opportunity for growth in ethnic minorities is enormous but needs commitment and the type of love that says I am yours and you are mine. As a family we felt at home, I offered myself for service initially as a SPA in 2003. As I heard more nudging from God I did not know where it would lead, but I was given the opportunity to discern, grow and fellowship – it has been exciting and difficult at times. The Holy Spirit is at work – to strengthen us.

Hearing and acting on Paul’s encouragement on reconciliation to build long lasting relationships “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Here in Redhill St Matthews be the stabilisers and source of spiritual enrichment, especially where some people feel ignored. There are many passing by St Matthews – some creep into church and creep out before being noticed, avoiding being ignored. You are all here bubbling with love. You have given us that love; you can reach out to those here who have never understood what it is like to be loved. If you can’t reach out pray for those who can!

We depend on the Holy Spirit to create a strong will, to listen to conscience and the call of Christ to love one another, especially when making decisions, because wrong judgement can cause pain and feeling of animosity. Bonhoeffer a famous German theologian could not live with his conscience. He believed every Christian could not have any peace while the Nazi regime was in existence, the same hearing of God’s inner voice exist within all of us, let’s help in building an inclusive church. And on this VE day to remember all who gave their lives to help build an inclusive lets be attentive to God’s voice.

My command: Love each other. The cost of following Christ means loving even those we do not understand – those at the periphery. As the lovers of Christ we have the responsibility for who we are and what we do to enable the church to build lasting relationships. We can only draw each other together if we abide in the unity of the Holy Spirit being obedient to the call for total surrender to Christ. The Holy Spirit did not choose one nationality but everyone.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other” You welcomed me and made me your friend, within that love I found my calling. Now I need to go and continue to bear fruit. On 27 June I will see some of you at Southwark Cathedral witnessing what you started in me, sending me off to bear fruit, loving those who cross my path irrespective of who they are.

Are you being called to serve in a different way? Let the Holy Spirit guide you, May Christ give you a purpose to help others find love whether you find yourself close to home or in a foreign land.

I am glad I found love and now the foreign land has become my home. Thank you St Matthews – let it not end with me, continue to reach out!

Going the Extra Mile for the Redeemer King in 2015

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It’s not often that I find myself glued on TV watching football. Like some of you I have a favourite football team- Arsenal. Recently as I watched I saw Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger pushing Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho. Onlookers had to intervene to stop them from having a full physical fight. I found myself reflecting on the journey of these two football club managers – to me their journey seemed to resonate with our reading for the celebration of Epiphany today.

As I reflected I realised that these managers had become wrapped in their ego, the fortunes of their teams and players. The minute they became managers of their teams nothing else mattered except to lead their teams to WINNING the premier league -to be number one. They were prepared to go the extra mile to make it happen.

They have a covenant of loyalty (faithfulness). The players, the fans and the owners of the clubs trust them but the same people including the media put them under pressure to win. Nothing can get in the way of being number one. Jose Morinho has called himself the special one, and Arsene Wenger and his team Arsenal have been a threat to his status as the King of football, just like Herod saw the news of the new born King as a threat to his reign.

Matthew presents the revelation of the birth of Jesus as King of the Jews in a dramatic way. I was challenged by the trust bestowed on these Wiseman by God. Their faithfulness and willingness to go the extra mile to find and worship baby Jesus. The Wiseman unlike Herod were content to let Jesus be their number one. Their journey was full of adventure it required people full of courage to face the unexpected- no obstacle was going to stop them.

Imagine being King Herod and people knock on your door step and ask, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? I imagined the lead Wiseman being Jose Morinho of Chelsea and King Herod being the Arsene Wenger of Arsenal. The question sounds like one football manager telling the other they have lost, before the game is over. Why would the Wiseman arrive at King Herod’s place and ask about the birth of a new king for the Jews. The thought of being the reigning King and hearing about a possible successor must have been heartbreaking.

Herod was a murderer especially towards anyone threatening his sovereignty- he had killed 3 of his sons for treason. Herod – we read in v16 that he committed genocide; he killed all boy infants below 2 years soon after his encounter with the Wiseman.

The Wiseman could not understand why the news was bringing so much hurt. We fall for the same trap – we can hurt others without knowing? Even so we cannot give up because of challenges or problems along the way. Arsene Wenger and Jose Morinho risked their profession by almost having a physical fight, but that did not stop them from going the extra mile for their teams.

The Wiseman had a purpose of finding the new born King; even Herod’s ignorance was not going to stop them. All they wanted was to see and worship their new born King. They had confidence that the star would lead them.

I wondered who these people who trusted a star were! Some writers have referred to them as astrologers, poets, magicians and some literature portrays them as powerless people even calling them fools. I would agree with the notion that the original readers of Matthew would have viewed them as fools. They were not Jewish- but gentiles like most of us. Surprising the revelation was not to Jews, Herod, Scribes or chief priest but to the least expected gentile fools.

I can only imagine the Wiseman, having a deep trust in the God of their time. Only people who read and understood the word of God would have such perseverance to follow a star. These people were highly favoured by God, not because they were better than anyone else, but because they chose to trust God and God trusted them. It must have been overwhelming just setting off – following a star without knowing where they would end up. Our journeys are unique, The Holy Spirit goes before and leads us, and we are called to be obedient, trusting and willing to worship God.

Before I came to the UK I used to think- in the UK my life would be like living in some kind of paradise. I thought everyone had big houses and butlers to answer the door bells and people to clean. I did not know nurses worked long hours 12 – 13 hour shifts in contrast to 8 hour days that I was working in South Africa before coming to the UK. When I came here all I wanted was to raise some money quickly and go back. I agreed to work about 60- 65 hours per week. My journey had taken an unexpected turn. After a week of working at St George’s hospital, I broke down, my feet were painful and it was unbearable. I couldn’t stop though; I had left a family in South Africa. I had promised to work hard and return with money. The rest is a long story, I am still here. I learnt very quickly how to make it work. I couldn’t give up; I had to go that extra mile for my family even though it was painful and difficult. I trusted God would help me, I believe God granted me favour – within a few months I was coping and enjoying the money.

God favoured the Wiseman- according to Jewish laws gentiles- were outcast. Here they became equal heirs with Jews- they were recognised by God, through revelation of the mystery birth of a new King of the Jews. The Wiseman were not really wise – until they found baby Jesus. They trusted their God to take them through their journey. It doesn’t matter the circumstances you may be facing- God leads you till the end.

You may feel like you are the last person that God can ever love. Paul states in our reading in Ephesians 3v8 “although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ”. God’s love for all is revealed – to all – the poor, rich, any race and even those seen as undeserving.

The God of equal opportunities – only wants you to be trusting, obeying God’s word, worshiping and giving what you can, be willing to go the extra mile. No one is the special one for we are all special in our own ways. Arsene Wenger and Jose Morinho no matter they win or lose they keep on going for their teams.

The Wiseman patiently followed the star! To follow the redeemer King we need extra patience. Their confidence demonstrates that they loved their King and had faith in their God to lead them to the birth place. In confidence they followed the star- God must have enabled them. You can keep going too! Have no fear only trust God.

This week we heard of the immigrants, who were rescued in Italy. Their ship was found abandoned in the sea. Many of them were aware it’s dangerous to sail to Europe but they boarded the ship, because they were going the extra mile for their families. Most of them would have possibly spent all their savings, in the hope for a better life in Europe. Nothing is ever easy in Life. The Wiseman did not expect an easy journey but out of love and in faith they had brought their willing hearts and gifts. God is asking you the same!

The King who should have encouraged and helped the people to find the messiah was busy planning how to kill baby Jesus. Sometimes life can seem like we are going round and round. We can lose our direction and face our Herods but we are called to remain in love with our redeemer King. Going the extra mile in faith- God sees and holds us through.

The Wiseman’s love and dedication to God led them through- they had prepared themselves to give gifts and to worship. When the star stopped moving – they were joyful. They had not seen baby Jesus but they were excited already. Amazing faith- I am not sure how they kept the momentum going. I was deeply moved by their trust and understanding of God’s ability.

The Wiseman on entering the birth place they worshipped and gave gifts. They gave the best of what they could afford. There is significance in giving these expensive gifts even though very strange to give to a baby king – gold is a gift for Kings, frankincense is used in temple for worship and myrrh is used as anointing oil. Only someone who reads the scriptures can give to that extend. This fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah. We give gifts of what we can afford, money, our time, praying at our homes for others and serving those in our community in need of help. We need to continue giving the best of what we can.

We need to read the bible and research – to understand God. For Christ to be the guiding star of our lives we need to understand God’s character- the lover of all – rich or poor.

The Wiseman did not go back to Herod when they were returning – they were warned about Herod’s intentions. God’s plans cannot be stopped by anyone – only trust, have faith and be prepared to surrender all in worship – God will do the rest. Where Herod lost hope and was frightened the Wiseman gained confidence, to them there was a divine purpose in their journey.

“Herod ended up full of fear…the wise men ended up full of joy…because they went the extra mile…Herod was not going to go the extra mile for anyone”. Allow Christ to lead you as you go that extra mile in 2015.

Jesus the Chosen One Who Transforms Our Unbelief and Doubt

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If anyone had asked me which football team, I believed was most successful a year ago, I would have said Manchester United. As an arsenal supporter I should not be heard saying that! In the past years when Manchester United were playing, nothing else was expected except a win. No one ever thought the day will come, when Manchester United would be number 7, taking places of teams like Everton on the premier league table.

For Manchester united fans their normal has been winning games and being at the top of the league. Until this last weekend Manchester United initially had believed the chosen one their new manager ‘David Moyes’ will keep them at the top of the league. He was supposed to be the chosen one for Manchester United the one to maintain their success. Sadly after several losses his fans, team and colleagues began to doubt he was the chosen one, he was sacked.  How could this happen to Manchester United?

Unlike the David Moyes of Manchester United – The resurrected Lord Jesus is truly the chosen one. Jesus meets us at our point of need, even when drowning in unbelief and doubt. He takes hold of our low opinions of ourselves and transforms them. Jesus meets us at the point like the disciples in our reading, when all hope is gone and fear grips us. When feeling isolated and locked in our world of despair. Jesus says peace be with you as he experiences our suffering. He holds our hands asking us to believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to take us through the low points in our life time.

Jesus is available to all for free – you can only deny him, you cannot sack him!  The Disciples were full of fear and unbelief and Thomas in doubt.  What had changed – can unbelief and doubt happen to us as people of faith?

The crucifixion was overwhelming for the disciples! They had believed in their chosen one but he was dead. It is no surprise we find them locked up. They were used to being winners; their Messiah was the well known healer. He had cared for the poorest. He had even fed 5000 – how could they fill this void.

When we face doubt and unbelief where do we go?

The disciples remind me of a dark winter morning on 16 December 2011, I had woken up feeling doubtful. It was 9 days, since I had returned from the conference, which gives the final recommendations to the Bishop, on whether an individual should or should not train as a Priest. The Bishop had promised to email the outcome on the 16th, I had been waiting for the outcome anxiously.

During the waiting period, I had wondered whether my perception that God was calling me was of God or a day dream. Sometimes I would say to myself “Martha you are not good enough?”- Why would God choose you? I was full of unbelief and doubt, like Thomas.

When I received the email from the Bishop, confirming they were sending me to train as a priest. I shouted my God and my Lord thank you! I had tears of joy. It was like a big cloud had been lifted. The journey to becoming a Priest, that I had doubted would ever happen was set to begin. Despite all that positive news and starting my training, I have had moments when I have been in despair and doubt about the future. Sometimes our situations can leave us feeling despondent. Yet our chosen one is alive, Jesus visits us in our situations. Jesus reassures us of his presence even when despondent.

In our reading we have the disciples locked up in a room in despair, in fear of the Jews struggling with unbelief. Earlier in the same chapter in verse 18 of our reading, Mary Magdalene had informed the disciples that she had seen Jesus. The disciples had not believed her they wanted their own proof, and we do too.

Especially in our world situation, when facing injustice, political disputes and disasters- such as those in Syria and Ukraine. Sometimes there is nothing we can do about our situations except wait in hope just as the disciples waited in their fear in hope of help.

When in despair it is hard to find any positive views. The disciples could not relax, or even go to the local co-op! They probably debated amongst themselves, I imagined them saying:

“Who will go to buy food today” — “Not me” said James “I don’t wish to be killed”.

“Oh come on” said Andrew “we will starve here in our hiding place!”

“Then you go Andrew” said Peter, “we cannot be seen outside we will be arrested.” Thomas you go – and off he went shopping.

They were focussing on their loss and distress. Like the disciples our world can change any time. If only we could have courage to draw on the strength of Jesus Christ. During communion – the priest says – “lift up your hearts” and we respond “we lift them to the Lord”. Lift your despair, unbelief, pain whatever it is and wait on the lord as he helps you through.

The disciples could not pray to draw on the strength of Jesus who was the bread of life. They had forgotten that Jesus had believed in them and had called them despite their in adequacies.

The journey of a disciple is never easy as we have gathered, despite all they knew about Jesus they remained scared. No one is ever a finished product. In faith we are transformed daily, as we read our bible learn from it and pray for guidance.

In their unbelief, Jesus had appeared and said “peace be with you”. I wonder whether they were shocked. John’s gospel does not say how many disciples were present, but we know that Thomas was not present. I think he had gone to the local co- op! Jesus had known where they were and how they felt. He had known the value of saying peace be with you to the disciples. They believed him and accepted his peace. They became joyful again. Jesus realised their weakness without him.

It may not be as simple as that in some of our situations.

When Thomas finally came back from the shops he missed Jesus. He did not believe his fellow disciples, when they told him Jesus had visited them. He wanted to see his wounds before he could believe he had risen. I think Jesus valued Thomas as his disciple. Jesus without being told he knew that Thomas would only believe when he sees his wounds. Jesus returned on a day when Thomas was present. He invited Thomas to feel his wounds, but Thomas responded to seeing Jesus by saying “my Lord and my God”. We don’t know if he ever felt the wounds. But notice that Thomas used a personal confession, he did not say The Lord but he used “my” that is a significant personal confession. Thomas recognised his Lord as also his God, and immediately his unbelief was gone.

No fear or unbelief can keep Jesus away only accept him and believe that his presence and confidence can help you through your worries. There are times when it will take days, months and years of suffering/struggling but that does not mean God has left us. It took me years to tell anyone that God was calling me to be a priest. For some of us it can take us years just to confide our hurts/doubts/unbelief to someone. Jesus says Peace be with you, lean on his word and let his peace be your shield.

As we exclaim – “The Lord is here” – let’s do so knowing we have the Holy Spirit. It strengthens our faith so we can believe in things unseen – let’s continue to call on God’s help in prayer. Like Thomas all we need to do is to recognise “The Lord” as ours – my Lord my God – he is here with us.

Called to Offer Unconditional Love

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All Saints Day was special to me because after church we always shared a meal; we all dressed up and ate good food. I did not understand the fuss about the famous saints, but only as the years have passed, have I begun to understand what being a saint is all about. Most of us are used to bible saints like St Matthew, St John and St Joseph the list is long. If you were to look back at the people you have met, I wonder who you may describe as a saint. I have discovered that saints are closer home than we may think. My saint might sound unusual to some people but he was the local ice cream man.

So let me tell you about my saint. As a child I used to listen for the ice cream bell, as soon as I heard the bell, it was as if some miracle had happened. I would jump and run to my mother and ask for money. Sometimes I just took my mother’s purse and ran to the ice cream man, with my mum following. The ice cream man knew his customers well. On one particular hot day, my mother did not have money, to buy me ice cream, her purse was empty but I followed the ice cream man anyway.

My friends bought their favourite choices and they were all happy. I was looking at him with tears in my eyes. The ice cream man on this day gave me an ice cream. He was a poor man. His job was selling ice cream, using a push trolley with a mobile cooler box. He walked miles and miles selling ice cream. Giving away one ice cream was actually too costly to him. He saw my tears and was moved. He gave me what he had, even though it was not profitable, so that I could dry my tears. My saint the ice cream man was generous; he gave me his love on this hot day without asking.

As a child a saint to me was a giver – to me love was about what I received. Although people around us and those in Redhill might wish to receive such love and generosity, they do not expect it because times have changed. As a church of saints here at St Matthew we ought to challenge that perception.

Most people measure our Christian behaviour, by what they see us doing for them. Luke expresses the message of Jesus, as a message of active Christians, with love at the centre of all we do. Jesus commands us to love one another. I think Jesus knew how hard it is to love; especially loving those who do not love you back.

Jesus as expressed in Luke was aware of the nature of our personalities; he recruited sceptics like Nathanael, who thought nothing good would come from Nazareth. Jesus had been told off by Pharisees for healing a man who had a withered hand. Jesus had enough of criticism, gossip, and hatred; we ought to learn from his example of perseverance. He continued to give love and remained patient with those who were opposing him.

Our readings both in Luke and Ephesians are describing, the qualities expected of those following Christ. If you remember Father Andrew earlier this year preached about Jesus setting the bar high. We are to rejoice in our calling to be aspiring saints, but it is not always easy because he sets the bar high. If we try on our own we will never reach it, but the power of the Holy Spirit and obedience to such reminders, as we read today in the bible, guides us as we journey on.

Some scholars believe that Paul was writing to the Ephesians, while he was in prison, others state that Paul dictated the letters and someone else completed the letters for him. It is almost unbelievable, that he still had energy to share such profound thoughts, while in Prison. He was giving love, even when he was in despair. Paul was encouraging us to love one another as members of the body of Christ. Jesus was speaking to his disciples and encouraged the same love. We have sung in the past ‘One more step along the world I go’ one of the verses says ‘Give me courage when the world is rough, keep me loving though the world is tough; leap and sing in all I do, keep me travelling along with you’.

In our reading Jesus says blessed are the poor, he is not talking about being poor in money or saying having money is bad. But we need to be questioning ourselves, ‘what are the riches that prevent us from loving like saints’? Nicodemus, the Roman centurion of Luke 7, Joseph of Arimathea, and Philemon were all wealthy and faithful Christians, who used part of their wealth in the ministry of Jesus. The Greek word for poor referred to someone who ‘crouched in a corner begging’. Jesus is not referring to that kind of poverty, when we read in Matthew he clarifies. Jesus means poor in spirit which is the same as being spiritually dependent on God.

Total dependence on God helps us to seek to please God in all we do. At the core of our faith is unconditional loving. Only through prayer can we get the energy to be active Christians, loving those who hate us. Throughout Jesus ministry there is emphasis of love. This love is not lip service but deep rooted love, the ultimate sacrifice seen when Jesus died on the cross. We have read in the gospels, that Jesus willingly and in agony walked to the place of crucifixion. Such love is what people are looking for! When people come to us they are not looking for ‘just’ friends, but for true friends who can draw them closer to God by their actions.

The food bank is a testimony of love in action, from faithful saints here at St Matthew’s church. It reminds me of the poor ice cream man who gave me ice cream, when he knew he was losing part of his profit. Some of you give food and your time when you do not have much yourself. That’s love in action. The recent harvest was a simple action of reaching out to the Redhill community. I met one of the staff members from one of the charities we support here in Redhill, and she said “oh! You are from St Matthew’s church, every year they give us food which we distribute to our clients. It’s just really helpful to our charity. We are so grateful”. Let’s continue, as these acts of generosity, may help to change the perception of those we live with and serve in Redhill.

The bible is full of stories about saints who were simple people like us. Zacchaeus a tax collector, who was a crook, had become rich by defrauding people. Jesus reached out to him irrespective of how bad he was, Jesus offered him love, he went to his house and ate in his house. The love Zacchaeus was offered led to his repentance. Zacchaeus pledged to give back to the poor half of his wealth and refund those he had defrauded. He met Jesus and his life was changed, we notice he became an active Christian. We have met Jesus; we have been empowered to reach out to those around us. It does not matter who we are, Jesus loves us and we can help those we meet without being selective. Our famous saints made it happen and the Holy Spirit empowers us to make it happen. Love in action is the mark of the good news of Jesus Christ.

We need to continue even when the love we offer is thrown back to us. I have just spent a week at Gatwick airport on Chaplaincy placement. I witnessed love being shared and given without any expectation of reciprocation. The Chaplain ministered to people by his presence at the airport, walking around and talking to staff and people he met during his walks, it was amazing. Nearly all the staff who works at the airport knows the Anglican Chaplain, they go to him with almost any prayer request. He told me an amazing story of a young person whom he had helped. The person was stranded at the airport. The Chaplain took him to the office to give him some money for transport. He saw the Chaplain taking money from the drawer in the office. A few days later, this young person, came back and broke into the Chaplain’s office, broke the drawer and took all the money. He was caught on CCTV and was arrested. The Chaplain visited him in prison, despite throwing back the love he had been given, the Chaplain still reached out to him.

The challenges we face today are enormous. We have those who are inflicting pain on us, people facing war every day. The young people cry with us, some cannot find jobs after years of study; some are facing bullies at school and work. It feels awful to tell someone in that situation to love their enemies. We are reminded to love unconditionally, no matter what we are facing or have experienced; Jesus promises to be with us all the way.

We can continue to sing together “O when the saints, go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number”. Marching saints have surprising faces and you are among them. Our saints have marched on we can march with them one day if we remain prayerful, listening to the word of God and practising what it encourages us to do, reaching out to all irrespective of who they are, continuing even when the love we offer is thrown back to us. Those saints who have gone before us lived their lives worthy of their calling in total dependence on God. They knew what it meant to treat others as you would like to be treated, we can learn from their examples. Our journey needs to be enhanced by action – unconditional love for all. My song which I grew up singing tells it all “Love is not love until you give it away, then you know that’s love”.