Author Archive

Transfiguration

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From where I am standing, I can just see the window in the Lady Chapel, some of you will see it better than that and some of you can’t see it at all. I know we are so very lucky to have so many beautiful windows, but I have to say that window is my favourite, to me it has a simple beauty which truly encapsulates The Transfiguration.

Throughout the Old Testament, whenever God wished to capture people’s attention he took them up a mountain. Look how he brought Moses and the people of Israel to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, how he made the people tremble with the power of his voice, so that they would never forget that message. Later he took his people to Mount Carmel and challenged the pagans to a contest, and using fire from heaven consumed Elijah’s sacrifice, again showing his almighty power to the Jewish people.

I always feel God’s power in mountains, their beauty and simplicity. When our son and his family lived in Hong Kong, we used to fly over north west China, and I was overwhelmed by the enormous expanse of mountains (in fact it was about the only thing which made the journey bearable). They seemed to go on for miles and at 40,000 feet there seemed to be nothing else, no buildings, people even trees, just that expense of nothing. Really bringing home to me the sheer beauty and size of God’s creation, from the small crowded areas we live in to the barrenness of the scenery in Asia. One planet but such diversity. Also, I think, reminding us that however crowded our island is, we can always find space if we but seek it.

In today’s reading God took his people to yet another mountain – Mount Tabor, but these were not just any people they were the Disciples, Peter, James and John. Not so they could talk about the view, But I believe so that they would have nothing to distract them from God’s message, so they could fully understand who was with them.

It’s often tempting, when thinking about the Transfiguration to talk about ‘mountain top’ experiences with God and hope that we will all get to experience God in a dramatic thunder and lightning way. I have heard some Christians spend their whole time wishing for a dramatic experience of God and then wonder why they’re disappointed.

I personally believe that The Gospels were written as much for us, as the 1st century people. I believe that on that day God was speaking as much to us now as he was then. That when Jesus lets Peter, James and John peer behind the curtain to see who He really is, that through that encounter he invites us to have a look behind the curtain ourselves, to stop and think, and to believe. The explanations are to the point, not complicated but God wants us also to listen.

But as we heard it was nearly beyond the disciples comprehension to take it in. They fall asleep and it takes a flashing light transfiguring Jesus’ clothes into a dazzling white, so white that nothing on earth could bleach them so white to waken them, they were aroused from their ignorance, their sleeping, to see the true light of Christ, they were shocked into understanding.

So, Peter, James and John are woken up from their sleep by this flashing light had come to understand that Jesus is speaking to the two great figures of Judaism – Moses and Elijah. Those two prophets who were long-dead, but still with God.

As we heard God had to plead with them to believe him and he still has to plead with us Is it that all that God teaches us, promises us, is too marvellous for us to believe.

When we think about the transfiguration, how Christ’s clothes became dazzling white, so white that nothing on earth could bleach them so white. Then a cloud came, and down and overshadowed them, and the Father’s voice this is my son.

God was challenging the disciples to acknowledge, that this is Jesus, this is the Messiah. That he and Jesus are one, that Jesus has all the authority needed to lead the people, that it is Jesus that they must love and follow. And God says, look he is here with Moses and Elijah – But Moses and Elijah are just prophets, He is my Son, this is him, believe me, believe my words. this is the one I have promised you since the beginning of time.

Sadly, God is still having to plead with the world, with his creation to know and believe in him. So, as we approach the contemplative and sometimes difficult season of Lent, we are given a glimpse of who Jesus really is, resurrected, ascended, glorified; we must keep this reality in our minds as we journey towards Easter. I believe that we have these stories so that we can learn from them, be strengthened by them.

And going up the mountains, can we learn from that also. The joy of mountains is that we can have peace, not be disturbed, and I believe in Lent we need to make that space for ourselves. We should all aim to make a place where we can listen to God, share our worries and seek his peace. May only be a few minutes a day, but that is better than nothing. Let’s all give it a try, let us pray that we can bring compassion into the world today.

And I think we have so much learning to do, I can’t believe that God isn’t shaking his head in disbelief about the mess we are all in. The world has made such marvellous scientific discoveries, we have doctors who have made brilliant discoveries, most of the world are better educated and yet I never remember this country being in such a mess and I am just old enough to remember WW2.

There seems to be so little compassion, understanding, as intelligence increases, and communication becomes so easy, so does cruelty and bullying. When people are depressed, perhaps made a mistake, unable to see the path ahead, there always seems to be, and it doesn’t matter who you are, for the famous, one newspaper, and for the unknown, a Facebook – so called friend – ready to really kick the person while they are down. They write columns on what a dreadful thing has been done.

None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, there are times when we all need help. Has the world reached a stage where we cannot get our lives, and the lives of others into perspective?

Jesus tells us to love one another , he doesn’t say we have to like someone. But people, whoever they are, don’t have to be cruel, show hatred. Too many people today seem to think they know more than anyone else, they have a right to out anyone else in their place, that it is their duty to do so.

I really hope and pray, that this Lent, as a world, we do all try and find our own space – we do need to try and find our own space, mountain top, a small room, park bench, where we can sit in silence with Jesus and listen to him… We only have to ask him to come with us and he will listen, he will understand our fears, show us not just his love for us, but also for those for whom we pray.

 
 
Matthew 17: 1-9

We Must Trust God Today

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I always think this is a strange weekend, it certainly isn’t yet Christmas, but somehow it doesn’t feel like Advent. We know what happened in Bethlehem, but at the time only Mary and Joseph knew what traumatic, dramatic event lay ahead, something that was going to affect the world for ever.

The passage from Isaiah tells of God speaking to King Ahaz wanting Ahaz to test him and Ahaz refusing, saying he will not put God to the test. Not very different from Jesus, the son, refusing to let the Pharisees have a sign when he was on earth. By reminding us how Satan was willing to tempt Christ, and God didn’t stop him, while he was in the wilderness and showing us the powerful inner strength of Christ.

And then we have Isaiah saying that God was giving the people a sign, for there among them is a young pregnant woman and God was telling how one day a young pregnant woman will have a son which will be a sign for them, and the son will be called Immanuel.

Yes, God was giving them a sign, one of the many signs God gave them throughout the Old Testament, that one day The Messiah would come to save them, and this was one of the many signs the Jewish people refused to see. There must have been times when God wondered what more would he have to do, for as we know sending the Messiah to earth also failed with many people. But has life altered? People still refuse to listen to God, miss the signs, ignore the Messiah.

Today is the first day of winter, the shortest day light wise. The day that is preparing us to welcome again The Prince of Peace, the Light of Christ. Today the church may seem subdued but on Wednesday we will truly feel that the light of Christ is here.

I always feel that those of us who live in the northern hemisphere are lucky in that a few days after Christmas we become aware that ever so slowly the sun is changing, the light is lengthening, yes, very slowly at first, but in a few weeks we will see the difference. The angle of the sun will alter, the warmth will begin to return to our land. And the cycle begins once more.

Christmas Day is linked to the natural rhythms of earth and sky, in so many ways, it is a part of nature. We must never forget that nature and God are inseparable, they are one, and I believe we also are one with them.

We know God is the Almighty, and that Jesus was always with him, and surely God is only Almighty because there is nothing in heaven or on earth that God did not create. Everything we can see, hear, simply everything is God’s gift to us.

This is where I feel children of my generation were lucky – I know young people can’t probably understand that, probably are fed up of hearing me say it, that life was fun before iPads and all-day TV, all the modern gadgets we have. Through most of my early years there were still frequent power cuts, at times we had no lights never mind electrical gadgets to amuse us, but what we could do was spend time outdoors, watching nature, looking for insects, birds’ nests, rabbit warrens, and we found a joy, even an excitement in it. And I think it brought us closer to God, I really do believe that playing out doors, watching nature does that. I don’t think anyone can spend time with nature and not be overwhelmed by its beauty, its power, and when you see rabbits, birds, whatever, playing together the huge amount of love that nature generates is obvious.

I often feel God was very wise to bring the Messiah to earth before the era of cameras – if we had photos of a baby Jesus, or indeed an adult Jesus, would we always have judged him by his physical appearance, his lovely eyes, beautiful curls for that certainly wouldn’t have been what God wanted. For the description we have of Jesus was of his compassion and love not his appearance. And that is not how God wants us to judge people, and indeed how God judges us. We must never forget it is not what we look like, how clever we are, but what our inner being is, how we show love and compassion, proclaim the Gospel that is what God wants to see. God isn’t interested in money, how prominent a person is, how glamorous.

Jesus told us how we should be, we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts and our neighbours as yourself. Just a very short sentence but one of the hardest things we could be asked to achieve. But luckily for us the mercy of our loving God is never ending, this baby who we are preparing to welcome suffered death on the Cross so that we might have salvation.

In the Gospel we have just heard the angel comes to Joseph in a dream, his message was ‘do not be afraid’ for Mary’s child will be the salvation of the world.” Joseph heard the angel and trusted him, he remembered that this message was the message God gave to Isaiah that a baby would be born and he would be called Immanuel.

That message of trust is the message for us this day. A message which we must truly think about, for we are continuing that long line of people from the beginning of the Old Testament who did listen to God So many types of people, mainly what we would call ordinary people. Certainly I think many were humble people, who when they hear God’s call responded with love and compassion. We are now being called, to listen to God’s voice and continue with the job of proclaiming the Gospel, so that future generations will also be showing how God’s love changed the world.

When we trust in the Lord, life may be hard at times, but God will never leave us. Mary and Joseph both trusted in God they knew he always walked alongside them and he helped them conquer fear, he gave them the confidence to be the parents of the Messiah, the most demanding Job anyone could have, and through their trust in God we today are still able to pass on the Good News, to be Christ’s disciples here on earth now.

 
 
Isaiah 7:10
Matthew 1:18

Let Us Get Our Priorities Right

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And Jesus said to them ‘Therefore I tell You , do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body; what you will wear.’ What do you think Jesus’ message was when he said this – do you think he meant, do as you please – you can’t get something like that wrong, as long as you don’t starve – eat and drink what you please. Or did he?

No, Jesus was teaching the crowd that whether we have enough clothes to wear or food and drink isn’t the most important thing in our lives. Of course, Jesus never wants anyone to be starving or without clothing but he is trying to teach that the most important thing in our lives is to believe in God, listen to his voice and follow in his footsteps, working for the heavenly kingdom.

During our lives we must be preparing ourselves for the moment we meet Jesus when our earthly life is over. Provided we live the life God sets out for us we have nothing to worry about nothing to fear, for God will provide for us a place in his heavenly kingdom.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we can lie around all day doing nothing. Expect everything to just land at out feet. Look at the birds, we see them flying around, the have to seek out the food they want, God doesn’t provide the food and water they drink, he doesn’t go round putting food into each nest, no God expect the birds to go out and look among the hedgerows looking for the berries and seeds that they need. Even in the coldest weather, they have to search for the berries, find the unfrozen water. God has produced it for them but they have to find it. This applies to humans as well, seek and ye shall find look it shall come unto you.

Jesus told the crowd that non-believers may expect everything to be theirs without trying but Christians understand the word of the Lord. As Christians we need to show our love for God by helping people to understand their spirituality, their relationship with God, see their place in creation. We must teach the role each of us has in the world, how we are the custodians of the future of our world. By equating our faith with life situations, we can, and we must, encourage environmental debate. When you look at the number of Christian leaders there are throughout the world isn’t it amazing that it has taken a sixteen-year-old girl from Sweden to make the world listen. But, of course, we do say that God moves in mysterious ways.

Perhaps our faith in God’s promise that ‘this is a world without end, has made us complacent, but there was a world without human life for a long time.

What do we think of when we hear the word creation? Do we think of the book of Genesis, the moon and the stars, prehistoric times. Or do we look outside, look at ourselves and think this is creation? For I believe we are still living in creation, we are as much creation as Adam and Eve. Creation is ongoing it isn’t some haphazard event but an organised, coherent, identifiable, structure. It isn’t just animals and plants which become extinct and are replaced , it is galaxies, living organisms, and they are all created for a purpose and dependent on something else.

We cannot escape the fact that it is also us, you and I. Not only are we a part of creation we have a duty to protect it. We know where we are going wrong, what we should be doing as opposed what we are doing, or perhaps even more importantly what we want to do. Far too many people think they must be superior to their neighbour – it is obvious to anyone that they are more clever, good looking, and if that is the case, they must obviously deserve to be richer, it must be their right, they can be greedy. No one can tell them what they can or cannot do.

But throughout the Bible Jesus reminds us that the first will be last and the last will be first. In God’s eyes no one is special, we must share resources, not waste water or food but help each other.

We Christians must remember we are his body here on earth now, we must let our faith govern our hearts and head, but also, we must help all people to take ownership of creation, encourage people to look at its beauty, discover the peace it offers.

In the Epistle Paul thinks of Timothy as his son. At the beginning of the letter, he addresses it to Timothy, my true child in the faith. The words he writes in this letter are very much as parents would use today to their teenage children. One of my favourite phrases used to be ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’. Today for so many young people Those little plastic cards seem to offer so much for nothing, but as Paul said ‘You brought nothing into this world, and you can’t take anything out.’ but however much society knows it, it is unwilling to accept it. Life may seem to have altered scientifically and technically but in so many ways it is the same, greed and envy still cause so many of the world’s problems today.

As some of you know Peter and I are recently back from a cruise along the Danube to the Black Sea. Such beautiful scenery reminding us of God’s creation, which in places looked like it probably did two thousand years ago. Or it did until we reached the point in the Delta where we left our ship and boarded a coach to cross the small piece of land separating us from the Black Sea. Then like so many river deltas, river banks we came face to face with societies disregard for creation, large and small plastic bags, rotting food, old clothes you name it, it was there. It really was so sad to see. For all we have learned rather than protecting the environment we are killing it.

On the sixth day God looked around at all that he had made, and he was pleased, it was very good, the world was ready, and Adam and Eve came and they disobeyed God We know that God loves all his creation not just us his children, he loves the jungle creatures, the whales and the tadpoles, the bees and the ants, trees and flowers, God loves all that he has created.

We are the Rainbow
Scored across the thundercloud
We are the tree of life
And the desert around.
We are the cause.
We are the seed and the sea
We are the future
We always have been. Say it out loud
This is our birth and our breaking
This is the choice we are making.

Listen to God

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If you are as old as me, the Sabbath was a day of rest. And if anyone tried to change it, the Lord’s day Observance Society would soon step in, as a child I felt the most important commandment must be – and on the seventh day God rested. And this for me was compounded by my Wee Free granny who firmly believed that if you didn’t keep it holy you were definitely on the road to Hell. Which was much the same as the synagogue leader. How society has changed – but perhaps we need to ask ourselves if it is all for the best.

The Gospel reading we have just heard centres on what we can or cannot do on the Sabbath. Remembering that, when God sent Moses the Ten Commandments, people did not have nine to five jobs, annual leave or even Bank Holidays. They were nomadic but that must have meant that for most people they worked all the time to get food, look after their animals, which would be an everyday duty. So being told that God rested must have meant they too could relax. They could, in fact must, rest – have the time to listen to God, for without that time how could they know God’s plans for them.

But relaxing doesn’t mean ignoring their animals, their families, it means slowing down, stopping and thinking and most importantly having time for God.

but we certainly know that our loving Father would never call upon anyone to stand and watch someone suffer, he would never stop us reaching out when someone was suffering. And Jesus was with God at the beginning of time so he fully knew what God meant.

In the passage, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when a local woman came in, not it would appear to see Jesus, but to join the worshippers – she had been suffering for eighteen years. The church leaders would obviously know her and know her plight. Jesus could immediately see that she was suffering, that she was in pain. Jesus didn’t ask her to sit down, start speaking more loudly so as to detract attention from the woman, no, he did what he knew he must do – so he stopped preaching, asked her to come to him, laid his hands on her and healed her.

Immediately the woman straightened her body and praised God for his goodness, Jesus knew that at all times his teaching must be in accordance with God’s will, but most of all he knew his father’s love for all his.

Children, he knew that God would never want him to ignore suffering. The leader of the synagogue knew the woman had suffered for years, he didn’t know whether she would ever meet Christ again, but he would rather see Jesus ignore the women than break off his teaching on the sabbath and heal her. Surely that is cruelty, denying God’s love for his children.

Whenever Jesus healed the Jewish leaders found fault – why – was it that they didn’t want the Son of God to be more powerful than they? Couldn’t they understand that Jesus’ main intention was to ease suffering, draw people into a closer relationship with God. No they didn’t want to understand, they didn’t want anything that took power away from them.

And surely God was right to have a day of rest in the commandments He knows we are all weak sinners. We all need time to take stock, to think, even to be bored, we need silence. Life today is always noisy, we seem to be surrounded by tension, and we certainly seem to be increasingly living in a violent society.

We all need to learn that we are not superhuman, we need to spend time alone with God, in silence, otherwise we do become tired and when we are tired it is far more likely that little things will irritate us, and people can easily fly off the handle for no reason at all. God was right we all need a day of rest, and if we don’t have it we are surely far more likely to break all the other commandments.

We must all take the time to listen to God, not just sit there with a long list of requests, but to sit still so we can truly feel God’s presence in our lives, so we can recharge our batteries. It will also give us more time to commune with nature, to watch the birds and insects, the wild flowers how they are flourishing. Perhaps if we had all done more of this in recent years we would have noticed what we are doing to the environment. We could have seen the damage we are doing, we could have noticed earlier that we were neglecting creation.

From the moment Jesus began his teaching the Jewish leaders couldn’t accept him. They had been waiting for the Messiah but when he was in their midst, they were more concerned about keeping their power and control, than remembering all the lessons the prophets had given them. They must have been able to see that Isaiah’s words were coming true, their leaders were intelligent people.

Jane Williams says that there is a need for a Sabbath – a day when we remember why we are here, who our God is. That without it we can get into the habit of only thinking about ourselves and our own needs. How Isaiah saw the Sabbath as a day when we can turn back to God, move away from ourselves and towards others. That it reminds us that we should take delight in the Lord.

Today do the world’s Christians all put serving God ahead of having power – sadly not. The church is still a safe home for far too many abusers – people who want to manipulate the young, the lonely – people who think they are all powerful and can do as they please. And in its less severe forms this often leads to quite markedly different interpretations of the bible.

The synagogue leader probably felt threatened that he might lose control of his congregation and that they would turn from his teaching and follow Jesus. Even then the number of people in the seats might be more important to him than the truth of the teaching. He wanted a full synagogue even if it meant banning God from his temple.

Thee will always be people with power, but it is how they use the power which is important. Jesus showed his power by healing the crippled woman but that was not a ruling kind pf power but a power of compassion and love.

There is a kind of power which can get people to listen, not a bullying power, but a kind of power which can encourage people to listen, help them to see the glory of God. It can be a silent power, it can the light of Christ shining in the dark, it is the word of God being taught in such a way that, it truly draws people towards God. We are all called to draw people into God’s family – by teaching his love.

God is truth, God’s power is love not bullying. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that God is right, we all need a day when we rest. When we take a step back from the pressures of the world and really make room in our lives for God, so that he can love us, guide us, show us the way forward and give us his peace, this peace we and the world needs.

 
 
Luke 13: 10-17
Hebrews 12

Love Your Neighbour

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One of the problems with the passage we have just heard from Luke is that we know it so well it can be hard to truly listen to it; truly think how we would have responded or more correctly how we do respond when faced with similar situations. It is one of those passages I have preached on many times, and it is an uncomfortable passage for not only does it apply to us as individuals but to all who call themselves the body of Christ – by which I mean the worldwide church.

If we look back through history there are so many people who stand out for their heroic acts, people who bravely go forward without any thought of the danger they are putting themselves in. But sadly, there are times when we are well aware that the worldwide Christian church lets people down. No difference really from the priest, the Levite, someone with a belief and trust in God, who crossed the road – what was he avoiding? Did he think he would get his clothes dirty, did he think another passer-by might think he knew the wrong type of people? – what was the reason? Did he think there might be a good reason in God’s eyes for not stopping?

It took the Samaritan – someone despised by the Jewish people, to walk up to the injured man, tend his wounds and then make sure he was cared for. Surely it all rings a bell for many of us, it is all too easy to be just too busy to stop, just too busy to get involved.

As with so many of Christ’s parables there is more to it than immediately meets the eye. The Jewish lawyer got up and asked Jesus the question ‘what shall I do to inherit eternal life’ and Jesus’ answer was ‘love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself’. To which the lawyer asked ‘who is my neighbour’?

In all Jesus’ parables there was always a way in which Christ could set a catch for the Jewish leaders listening, for how could a Samaritan ever be their friend, I mean, for goodness sake that answer was an affront to them – how could Jesus speak to them like that -it must prove he is not the Messiah for he would know better than to speak like that. He would know the Samaritans were sinners.

The relations between the Samaritans and Jews had been bad for centuries, and was perhaps even worse in Christ’s time. Tragically a forerunner to the present-day conflict between Jew and Palestinian both sides claiming to be the true inheritors of the promises made by Moses and Abraham.

But Jesus knew what he was saying – he knew he was stirring it up, but he wanted to make the point about true love, just what God means when he says we must love our neighbour. For our neighbour is not just those we know, but it is the stranger, even our enemy, the person we feel uncomfortable with – for whoever they are they are a child of God. I believe that in God’s eyes we are all equal.

So, are we, is the worldwide church walking by on the other side? When we read about China separating young Muslim children from their parents, do we stop and wonder what the world can do, or do we somehow think they must deserve it after all they are not Christian. There are about 13 million Muslims in south west China and whilst not all are being separated from their children, who are being sent away to special schools, what right have they to do it to any child. We are taking an interest in Hong Kong but surely, we should feel concern for all God’s children, and as soon as countries begin persecuting them, should we not be making sure the whole world knows about it. In fact, what about America, is what America is doing on the Mexican border just? Is that what God thinks a Christian country should behave? And what about us? Many things happen in our own country which we cannot be proud about. We express disgust that the Levite crossed the road rather than help but isn’t that just what the world is doing today, including the western world.

We need to remember that last week the TV news was recalling the eightieth anniversary of the ‘kinder children’ mainly Jewish, arriving in the UK from Europe. Some who are still alive were on the news, many had lived lives which had contributed much to this country. If they hadn’t been evacuated, they would most probably, like Anna Frank died in the gas chambers.

We say we are a democracy with a free press, and of course we have, but if our free press only bothers to report news about politicians arguing, sensational stories about politicians – yes perhaps we should know about it, but we should surely know about thousands of children being forcibly separated from their parents worldwide, by yet another dictator.

In so many countries children are dying, living lives of misery and the world does very little about it. In 1948 the world set up the United Nations so that the horrors of WW2 would not be repeated. I know the charities set up by the UN do great work, but do the politicians sent by our country, other countries make sure they are upholding human rights at all times. And do we make sure they do, or do we sit back think well we pay our taxes, and then just let them get on with it.

And as keen as I am on human rights, I have to confess I don’t know what issues have been discussed recently in the UN – whether they do truly tackle all the world’s major issues. Why don’t I know – I am too busy, just like those people invited to the feast – I can’t say I have just got married, or bought oxen, but of course I have grass to cut, a carpet to hoover – but then I don’t need to do the crossword puzzle each day. If it was my child, grandchild, being taken away I would so want the world to take notice, do something to help them.

However this isn’t new , In Colossians Paul speaks positively of the Christians’ faith, love, and hope and acknowledges that the Good News is bearing fruit and growing in them, However he is aware of serious problems with false teachings, and he is writing this letter to set them firmly in the basics of faith that Christ is one true centre of that faith. The hope is that this will enable them to better understand the nature and mission of Christ—who Christ was and is, and what Christ has come to do for them. This understanding will give them a firm faith to deal with the problems that have been occurring.

Paul knew that it was Christ’s words, and Christ’s words alone, that they must be following, that they must be nurtured in the faith, like grass is watered it make it grow, so must new believers be nurtured, not expected to find the message easy at first but be guided and helped on their journey just as Christ guided the disciples. Christ is the light of the world, if we will only look, we will see him shining in the dark, for his light is always there it never wavers.

Paul had to learn the hard way, let us reach out in faith, teach people the true Gospel Jesus wanted us to understand, and help those around us to know the Gospel, see that true light shining in the dark.

Eternal Life is an inheritance of God reserved for those who love him. But we cannot say we love him if we refuse to show mercy to people. For it is our love for one another which truly reveals our love for God. To show mercy and be a neighbour to all who are needy is the act of that love.

We must be a neighbour to anyone in need. Our neighbours are all God’s children, no matter what faith, creed or colour, regardless of what we feel, because whether we like it or not, what we feel means nothing for we are all, every one of us made in the image of Almighty God, the Father or us all, Creator of the world and all that is in it.

 
 
Luke 10: 25-37

Follow Jesus

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When I hear this Gospel reading I always think it is a passage which shows we humans are often not as clever as we think we are. I say that because how often do we hear people call sheep, if not actually stupid, not the brightest of animals, the reason given being that they need to follow the shepherd, learn to hear his voice, learn they can’t do it on their own. Sheep know they have to have a leader and that they have to follow this leader.

Are we any different – don’t we need a leader someone we can trust, someone who cares for us and guides us at all times? Don’t we need to learn to hear his voice and do as he says? And I am not talking about politicians, world leaders, or even football managers after all the excitement of last week! I am talking about the fact that we need someone to guide us, someone who truly knows us. I speak as a parent and grandparent and however loving we are we have our own prejudices (even if we do not like to admit it)!

When driving down a country lane at this time of year I love watching sheep with their lambs in the fields and the other week I spent some time watching a mother sheep struggling to follow her lamb who was insistent on getting as close to the wire netting as possible, the sheep was bigger and found it harder but she never stopped following her child. And she seemed to have an unending amount of patience. Throughout the Bible God has used sheep as an example of how we should respond, to show us how much patience we need.

God, our creator, who loves us with a love beyond earthly understanding, sent Jesus to be our shepherd, he knew that since the beginning of time, no matter how many prophets he sent to guide us, his children, we could not tell the difference between God’s message for us and the message Satan wanted us to hear. He thought that if he sent his son we would listen and take notice of his word.

But today. As then, so often people begin to follow Jesus and after a time it doesn’t seem so necessary, so interesting anymore., Life seems difficult and there are so many other people telling us what we should do, so many other things we could be doing. Just look at what else happens now on a Sunday morning, and I really do know what a hard-balancing act it can be between playing sport for a school team and coming to church. It used to be so much easier. But for each of us to be able to move forward we have to learn to distinguish God’s voice from all the other voices we hear in our daily lives; voices which offer us false hope, false promises of happiness, wealth, success, all the things we wrongly believe lead to true joy.

God is such a loving God that he gave us freedom of choice, it is our decision if we stay with him; or wander away and follow the false promises Satan can offer. But if we choose to follow Satan, we will lose the security of the eternal kingdom.

The Jews asked Jesus if He was the Messiah because they didn’t think he was who they expected, they did not think he was not the same as the Messiah promised by the Old Testament, they had created in their minds a Messiah who would grant all their wishes, who would save them and them alone. They were looking for a Messiah who would use military power to free them from Roman rule. They couldn’t understand that God would love anyone who was not an Israeli.

Jesus, however, wasn’t going to arrive wearing a coat of armour surrounded by warriors, Jesus was the spiritual Messiah or shepherd promised by the Scriptures. His words and deeds were a powerful, a consistent witness to God’s love for his chosen people. And, he sincerely wanted Israel to submit, listen to his words and learn to love one another.

I don’t think that the people of Israel, the ordinary people, ever meant to stray away from the word of God, and I think we have to preach love and peace, not in the way some world leaders who say they are Christian and then call for other of God’s children to be made to suffer, to be banned, practically be made to starve to death, because they don’t like them. Remember Jesus said it is easy to love those whom we love, but we must always do the other thing as well and that is love those who are our enemies. For whoever someone is they are a child of God, he created the and loves them.

Part of the problem is that we often hear what we want to hear, in other words, we have a case of ‘selective hearing’. Far too much of our own listening is centred on the world and not on Jesus. Far too often we allow the media to guide our thoughts not God.

Christ came to those of us who were lost sheep. He has spoken to us through the power of His words and deeds. His miracles point out his divine nature and we find it hard to fully understand that since the beginning of time only God speaks the truth, only God can save us from ourselves. Only God knows all that has happened, how so many good intentions seem to get swept aside totally unintentionally. Whenever we marvel at new scientific discoveries in the realm of space let us never forget that God has always known about it, he created it.

In the passage from Acts we learn about Tabitha’s ministry, her ministry in Lydda was renowned for her mercy and kindness to all. It showed true compassion – a compassion which is desperately needed in our world today. The people were devastated when she became ill and died, they washed her and laid her in an upper room. But the people loved Tabitha and they had great faith so on hearing that Peter was in nearby Joppa they sent messengers pleading with him to come quickly. He went to the upper room and knelt down and prayed just as Jesus would have done, Tabitha arose and the people rejoiced. Tabitha was a woman of great faith and her faith healed her.

I did collective worship last Thursday with year 2 and after they had shown the school what compassion is. I said to them.; I thought compassion, was going to be difficult but you have shown it may be a long word but showing what true compassion is, is easy. It is being kind, caring, loving – being all the things you would like people to be to you.

We can all be like Tabitha, and we don’t have to be an adult, have a degree, all we need is to be caring, to listen to all that Jesus taught us and become one of his disciples. Yes, we can all minister to each other you don’t need to attend some course, of course if you wish to that is great, but we can all reach out in love show God’s love.

Each one of us can find our way of doing good and helping the poor. Sometimes just a smile will help someone, we can stop and talk for a minute, we can volunteer and most of all we can pray. And you can ask the church to pray for someone at morning prayer, just add the name on the board outside the Lady Chapel. Never forget, this is God’s house, this is a house of prayer.

He has opened our eyes and ears just like he opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. Our status as God’s sheep comes from outside ourselves, not from within. It comes from our faith in Christ.

Christ has bought salvation for us through his death on the Cross and his glorious resurrection. The only person who can take that away from us is ourselves, we can lose it through denial but no one can take it from us. People may be able to take earthly life from someone but there is no one who can take away the promise of eternal life. God is the Almighty there is no earthly power stronger than him all who turn to him, love him with all their hearts will have eternal life.


For some reason when I switched the TV on last week they were talking about Judy Garland, someone held up as an icon of success, but whose life sadly ended in tragedy. One of a number of lives where talent, wealth, fame only brought pain and suffering. I think ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ is a lovely song, but the only way we can reach the rainbow is by taking hold of God’s hand and loving him, letting him guide us.

 
 
John 10: 22-30
Acts 9: 16 – end

The Path from Bethany

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One of the joys about visiting the Holy Land is that the memories stay with you, I can remember standing at the end of the footpath in Bethany and wondering how it would feel for me, walking this very path that our Lord trod.

Contrary to the expectations of the Pharisees and teachers, Jesus, The Messiah, hadn’t come to earth to sit on a throne. He hadn’t been born to show power and old-fashioned authority, he had come to show compassion to show us what God’s love is like, to show us the meaning of the scriptures. And now he was about to walk into Jerusalem to suffer and die so that we might have salvation.

Looking back perhaps we think it should have been a joyless procession but the people around Jesus didn’t know what lay ahead. And they were on their way to celebrate the Passover, that greatest of Jewish festivals. Recalling leaving Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the commandments, the wandering in the wilderness, and the eventual journey into Canaan. God had done all this for them and they were going to the Temple to celebrate. And they did know what the prophets had said, for they were religious Jews. The Scriptures said that when the Messiah arrived, he would come riding on a donkey.

So, from the moment two people were sent to find the colt and tell the owners ‘The Lord needs it’ then all who heard it (except the Pharisees) knew this must be the Messiah. Yes, they had always believed it, and now here he was fulfilling the scriptures. And were they excited for surely, he was coming to lead an uprising. he would ride right up to Herod’s palace and sit on his throne, and order the Romans out. They were about to be liberated and were they ecstatic!

The Jews may not have recognised Jesus at first, but they did know the scriptures, and yes it was all coming true. So, the people welcomed Jesus with joy, they threw their cloaks on the ground, and praised God singing Hosanna.

The Pharisees were furious and tried to stop the crowd, for this was not what they were expecting or what they wanted and when that didn’t succeed, they asked Jesus to stop them, but he told them it would be useless to try. If the people will not shout: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” then God will give the stones voices and they will shout. It didn’t matter how it happened but Almighty God would ensure that Christ will be proclaimed as King on that day.

The tragedy was that the Pharisees were so sure they were right, that Jesus would have come to earth in glory, not born in a stable, that they still couldn’t believe him.

The passage from Isaiah seems to be a prophesy of what was to come but the Pharisees still they could not believe, perhaps it was because it was not what they wanted to hear. For this servant was saying that he had no reason to be humiliated, mocked, for he is certain that he is doing God’s will.

The servant in the passage challenges by asking who are those who hate him, who declare him guilty, he taunts those who are against him by asking them to confront him. The servant’s confidence comes from what had gone before, the fact he is God, and God is now helping him to confront his enemies. A fact he shows when he says ‘as it is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

But sadly, for the people of Israel their teachers didn’t listen to the word of God, they only listened to what they wanted to hear. Something which we today must be careful not to do.

But Jesus, who is God, knew what the Father wanted, knew that God loved him, and went forward along that path from Bethany in the knowledge that he was right and the Pharisees were wrong.

Today there was many people who love Christmas, a little baby being born, but Lent and Easter is a struggle, That Jesus being made to suffer isn’t right?

People may say, but look what was to happen three days later Jesus was dead, he had been abused, insulted, attacked and then nailed to a cross to die in agony, talking about the ride on the donkey as if it was a celebration is stupid. After all anyone can sit on a donkey and attract attention Perhaps they think that Jesus was making a fool of himself walking as if in celebration.

But it was celebration. We should celebrate that the earthly Christ, a human like us, was brave enough to do it knowing what lay ahead. He did it because he knew he must follow that footpath so that he could save us, buy salvation for us. And we must celebrate it.

We must give thanks that Jesus walked along that path with those going to celebrate the Passover, that Christ was obedient unto death, even death on a cross with two criminals, Jesus did this for us and we must never forget it.

 
 
Luke 19: 28-40

Listen to God

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In the reading from Corinthians Paul is not dwelling on Moses as a person, but rather on the fact that he had to be veiled when in the company of people, he could only be truly visible to God.

Paul interpreted this as meaning that to be able to truly understand the old covenant, the ‘Good News’ the veil had to be removed, until the veil is removed, we cannot fully accept it. We have to let the Holy Spirit into our lives to set us free, for only the Holy Spirit can remove the veil, all that hides us from God’s glory.

In the Gospel reading the disciples are still having difficulty in understanding Christ’s power – the passage follows on from them having to wake Jesus because their boat was sinking.

Peter, James and John knew the scriptures, they knew how God had taken Moses and the people of Israel to Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments, and here they were with Jesus going up Mount Tabor, up that winding road, they must have been wondering why was he doing this.

Mountains to me are a symbol of the glorious majesty of God’s creation. And you don’t need to be on a very high mountain to feel liberated from the pressures of life, to see the world in context.

The recent weeks had been hard for the disciples, Jesus was pushing them, getting them to do things alone. So, what was this leading to? They were human, they didn’t have the energy Jesus had, perhaps all they really wanted was some sleep.

Yet again God was bringing his people to another mountain and the intention was to make sure that the disciples truly understood who they were with. While Jesus prayed his face shone and his clothes became while and he was joined by Moses and Elijah, Peter was so overwhelmed by it all that he wanted to make a tent, to make something which would serve as a reminder of the wonder they had just seen. Then the clouds came down and just as when Jesus was baptised by John a voice came out of the clouds saying ‘this is my son, the chosen one, listen to him’ and then they were alone again. Moses and Elijah had disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.

Today God is still calling us to climb the mountain, to see through the clouds which dim our sight, not physical clouds but that spiritual cloud which prevents us from truly trusting God, truly seeing him as he is, truly accepting Jesus as our Saviour. Every time I hear this passage, I seem to hear a new message, to think anew on it.

It was only Jesus who became radiant not the disciples, surely a reminder to us all that we can’t outshine God, when we stand at the altar it is the altar that draws people to God not humans, which is one of the main reasons I am so pleased the here at St Matthews our robes replicate the altar colours. We are here to serve not take over. In Corinthians Paul talked about Moses having to be veiled when in the company of others, we are not veiled but hopefully we blend in rather than stand out.

But isn’t the message that we must not allow our souls and hearts to be veiled from the message. That we must clear from our eyes all that hides the true message, all that makes us see and hear what we want to hear, not what God wants us to hear, not what God is telling us.

When children are young you often hear parents say they only hear what they want to hear, but doesn’t our Father, God say that about us now. If it wasn’t true the Church would always talk with one voice, live out the Gospel, truly be Christ’s body here on earth now. So why isn’t it like that?

I started by saying that I always feel liberated when up a mountain, free from the pressures of life, to me it is harder to be distracted. God knows us better than we know ourselves, which is probably why he has taken people to a mountain when he has a message he wants to proclaim. He fully knows how easy it is for us to be distracted to lose the plot. How we often only hear what we want to hear.

I think I can truly say I can never remember a time when this country has been in such turmoil. Everyone with an opinion shouting loudly, insults flying everywhere, very few people talking about reconciliation, let alone loving our neighbour. So, what is God doing you might say.

The fact is God is doing what he has always been doing that is supporting us, guiding us, loving us, God doesn’t change, however fed up he gets with us he still gives us freedom of choice.

Tragically it is obvious that some people within the church are truly letting God down, Jesus didn’t suffer on the cross so that we could lead our lives just as we feel fit. But the rest of us what are we doing. I suspect that one of the main problems which God has to face is that we, not just listen only when we want to, but more importantly hear what we want to hear or indeed see what we want to see. We feel we know what the world needs, what other people need, we don’t need to seek God’s advice. We know.

But of course, sadly we don’t, we think we know, and I think there are times when there can be nothing more dangerous than that.

The passage from Luke was all about a journey, a journey Peter, James and John made up Mount Tabor with Jesus when the whole glory of God was revealed to them. Our journey through life will have moments when we see and feel that glory and we must hold on to them, not let the difficult times overwhelm us.

But I believe we must make time, time to listen to God, to spend time in silence with him. And time can be our greatest problem, but we must make time, we must make the time, without time it is even harder to listen to God, to hear his voice.

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when we make time to think about Jesus’ life, recall how he gave his life for us on the Cross. Let us pray that this Lent we will truly listen to his voice, listen to all the words he speaks, not just the ones we like, the ones we find easy, the one we want to hear.

Heavenly Father, save me from the confidence that makes me want to follow the way that immediately seems right and teach me to wait until you show me the right path.

 
 
Luke 9: 28-36
2 Corinthians

The Baptism of Christ

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I think one of the surprising things about Jesus’ baptism is that there is only a very short account in Luke’s Gospel.

Apart from hearing that John knew who Jesus was and really couldn’t therefore imagine that he was the person who could baptise him, that is nearly the whole story.

We do all know the story of John walking around calling people loudly, more like yelling at them really, to repent calling them to be baptised in the River Jordan. Assuring the people he wasn’t the Messiah and someone greater than him was coming. When one day Jesus walked by and basically joined in. It wasn’t a special service just for him, we heard that Jesus joined the people and as he was baptised, he was also praying. Then the heaven opened, the Holy Spirit came down on him as a dove and there was this voice from heaven saying ‘this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’. When we think how the Jews thought the Messiah would come in power, this must have been a huge challenge to them, for John was known by his what you might call scruffy attire, today he would probably be called a rough sleeper A reminder to us all that we shouldn’t judge people’s worthiness by the way they dress.

Not just was Christ setting the example of how God wanted people to turn to him, but he was showing the crowd the Trinity for the first time. The son being baptised, the holy Trinity coming down as a dove and the father’s voice telling the people that this was the Messiah.

John had baptised others but it was only this Baptism of Christ which was about to transform the world. It was this baptism that has given us our basic understanding of Baptism,. When we think about it Jesus didn’t need to be baptised for he is God, and when he was baptised, no one had to tell him what to do, he basically knew what to do, he knew how he was going to baptise from that day on.

We also need to remember that this was Jesus setting out on his earthly ministry, we know very little about his early years, God obviously wanted him to be accustomed to being with different people, to have an understanding of earthly life before calling him to reach out, tell the world about his father We need to always remember that whilst Jesus Is God he was also truly human, he thought like we do, he suffered like we do.

Was Jesus’ baptism only for himself? Was his baptism simply an important event, in his personal story, was Jesus saying perhaps that on this day each year everyone should be baptised?

We know the Light of Christ enlightens every human being, shines upon everyone, so surely Jesus is here for the whole world not just for Christians. Whether people wish to accept that fact is their decision, however much they dislike being told it, God sent his son to earth to show all mankind his love.

The nature he assumed was not simply for the benefit of those on earth then, but for the benefit of all future generations also. This baptism gave God the opportunity to declare that ‘This is his beloved son’.

That everything Jesus did in his earthly life was for the good of all people, that God had sent him to show the father’s love for all people that in three years time Christ’s death was an atonement not just for the chosen few but for the sins of the whole world. The risen body of Easter was not simply in order to raise up a few, but to raise up the great harvest of the dead, of whom Christ is the first-fruits.

Luke seems to suggest that Jesus’ baptism was John’s final baptism. It is as if Jesus not only completes the preparatory work of John, but transforms it, this is a new baptism, a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, a baptism that can only be done in the name of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The passage from Acts brings a different dimension for we learn that the people of Samaria had been baptised only in the name of Jesus. We hear that there was nothing to suggest that the Baptism was not in order, nor that it was apparent that they had not received the Holy Spirit. But we learn that Peter and John were sent to Samaria to lay hands on them so that they also received the Holy Spirit. I personally don’t think God is criticising Philips ministry but he is stressing that it is important that all Christians are baptised in the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit and surely particularly if, like the Samaritans, the people had been regarded as outsiders. That it is important all Christians are acknowledged as equals for in God we are all one.

Jesus’ baptism embraces all Christ’s work, all his life from the River Jordan to Calvary, so surely, we must also understand that our baptism embraces all of our lives, it is what set us out on the road to discipleship.

When our parents and godparents, or we ourselves if we were adult, committed us to service Jesus it shouldn’t just be a glib response but a true commitment to service God, one we must never forget. Jesus gave his life for our salvation, the least we can do is serve him.

We are called to proclaim the glory of Christ in all his fullness and invite men, women and children to come to him in faith. The love of Christ compels us. Jesus’ baptism and life was for every one of us regardless of our faith, we must teach we are all God’s children and he loves each one of us, the Holy Spirit is here for us all, to strengthen and support.

The concept of the Holy Spirit is, I think, difficult for some people. When I was priested at the Cathedral one of my daughters and her family were sitting just at the side of the altar, very close, and after a minute or two her three year old piped up ‘I am watching and I haven’t seen that person come down once yet!’

We live in such a visual world, there are so many buttons we can press and pictures appear from round the world. Jesus came to earth so that people could see him, his appearance could be handed down o future generations, but he could only help those he met.

When The Holy Spirit is called upon in our baptism to come down we may not see him but he can always see us, he can touch our hearts and strengthen our faith, for he is here. It is God’s life-giving grace coming down to us individually, God is always with us. Many people get comfort from visual things but they cannot really respond to us. The Holy Spirit is not visible but it is God’s presence in or lives, God will never leave us, he loves us and will always reach out to us, just as Christ reached out to all he met in his earthly life, Jesus never walked by on the other side, neither does the Holy Spirit.

 
 
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Acts 8

Christ Is King

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Today is the last Sunday in the church’s year, next Sunday is Advent when we prepare ourselves to welcome the infant Jesus, but today we look back on all we have learned during the last year and proclaim the fact that we truly know That Jesus Christ is King. A face which the Jewish people had not been able to accept, and indeed still have not. And that, of course, is just what Jesus couldn’t overlook – God’s chosen race was not living the Scriptures as God intended.

The passage we have just heard from John’s Gospel is a conversation between and Jesus and Pilate, which took place in Pilates Headquarters. And Pilate had the same problem as the Jews in understanding just who Jesus was. The Roman Empire was an empire based on power and Pilate could understand that, but when Jesus said his Kingdom was based on Truth he couldn’t understand.

Pilate was bound by office to protect the interests of the Roman Empire – but the Jews didn’t want Christ crucified because they thought he might be an enemy to Caesar, they wanted him crucified because he criticised them. He hadn’t done what the Jews wanted he hadn’t set up a kingdom in Israel to overthrow the Roman Empire – he had even dared to say give to Caesar what is Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God.

The dialogue ended with Pilate asking ‘So you are a king’ and Jesus replying ‘You say that I am a king’, and the conversation drawing to a close with Pilate asking ‘What is truth’?

Jesus was teaching that he had come to earth to teach the truth and help us see the light and follow the true path. He is the King, he is God, it is he who will judge all humanity, it is Christ who knows how the world should be governed, it is Christ who is our protector and guide, but we have to listen to him.

But he does not control us against our will, he may call us to obey him but the choice is ours. He doesn’t tempt us with false promises, he asks us to follow his example.

Jesus must have known that his dialogue with Pilate was all important, that his very life depended on it, but look at his calmness, no screaming, waving his arms in the air, no insulting Pilate’s supporters in language most disgusting. To me it seems so sad that leaders who call themselves Christian totally ignore Jesus’ message, which is always the Truth. Learn nothing from the way he reacted in different situations. And there are powerful people in all walks of life who behave aggressively. Non-Christians must wonder what we mean when we say such and such a world leader is a Christian, when every time they are on the News they seem to shout loudly, be downright rude to people, and then laugh because they think it is funny, and then still insist they are True Christians. I may be wrong, but I cannot see how anyone who persecutes someone because of who they are, where they were born can be a true follower of Christ.

We preach often on how the Jewish leaders knew the scriptures, knew God would send the Messiah to save them and yet could not recognise Jesus when they met him face to face. The Jews thought God would send an all-powerful king who would come to save them, protect them from their enemies protect Israel for them. They got it wrong because they could only see power in an earthly sense, no one could be more powerful than Jesus, but he wouldn’t come with a large army to kill their oppressors.

Jesus came to save them, us, from ourselves, to guide us, teach us the right path to follow so that when our earthly life is over there is the promise of salvation. Jesus does fight our battles for us, but not with bombs and bullets, Jesus calls us to listen to him, follow in his footsteps and remember at all times that we must love God with all our hearts and our neighbours as ourselves. We must never forget that if God is all powerful, the Almighty God he must have created the world and created all of us, and more than that love us.

The world has to learn that we are one – that Jesus Christ came not to conquer with guns but through love. He was born to suffer not to resist. As Christians we must pray for all who are persecuted, and we must make our views on justice known. We must pray that the world will learn to conquer aggression and bigotry through love and understanding.

I am so pleased, although I say it with sadness, that at long last Amnesty has stripped Aung San Sui Kyi of her humanitarian reward. She may have bravely stood up for human rights when her own people were being persecuted but she turned a blind eye when her people began murdering and torturing the Rohingya people. Love, justice, human rights must be for all people not just for our own country, our own race. Sadly, she has become as guilty as the people who persecuted the people of Myanmar.

One of the joys of our role here is that we join the children at St Matthew’s school in their weekly collective worship, and last week their subject was heroes. The children remembered how Jesus was born into an ordinary family not one which was powerful or wealthy, talked about the attributes their heroes should have and them said who their hero was. The great thing was that one or two chose a sports hero but the overwhelming majority chose a family member because they loved them and helped them. Surely that is what makes society work, enables people to live and work together rather than think that to be a hero you have to be powerful, rich, world famous.

The Choice is ours, we have to choose which kingdom we will serve, but for all who choose God’s kingdom there is the promise of salvation.

Our service today is a joyful celebration, because we know that Jesus is not like an earthly leader, for however good they maybe they cannot know all their citizens. Jesus is close to us, he walks by our sides, reaches out to us when we need help, and most of all gave his life for our salvation. When we allow him to rule our hearts then it is easier to walk in his footsteps.

As we give thanks for those who were confirmed into God’s family last week, let us all concentrate on what it means to serve The King, the one true king. To give thanks for the knowledge that he will journey with us through our earthly life, pray that we will all teach that just as he was victorious over death, he will be victorious on earth when he returns to make his kingdom here on earth also. Which is the true promise of salvation.

Lord as we come to your table to receive your broken body and blood let us truly give thanks for your sacrifice and love for us.

 
 
John 18: 33-37