Introduction to ‘Encounters with Jesus’

Encounters-with-JesusThrough the summer months, we have been looking at several different encounters Jesus had with men, women and children recorded in the Gospels.

As we looked at each story we have seen the amazing way in which Jesus changed lives – the way he healed people, welcomed people, loved people, spoke truth to people and encouraged them to follow him.

So do read some – or all – of these, and perhaps ask the question: “how can Jesus affect and change our lives?”


Light and Life (Sermon from the Carol Service)

John 1: 1-14

So here we are…..Carols by Candlelight….. Christmas is almost here……

I wonder are you ready yet?

Have you sent all your cards?
Have you bought and wrapped all your presents?
Is your tree up and decorated?
Have you got your turkey, are your meals planned?
Have you made arrangements for visiting friends and family?

Cards, presents, trees, food….is this all that Christmas is about?

Tonight as we’ve sung our carols …..Several have talked about light coming into darkness.

I wonder – have you ever experienced complete darkness?

I don’t just mean the sort of darkness we have now,
no – I mean a situation where there is no light, where it’s absolutely pitch dark.

And of course darkness is not just the physical absence of light….. darkness often represents all sorts of other powerful concepts.

Film directors often cleverly use darkness to represent evil, terror, fear and danger.

Think of films like Harry Potter and the battle against Voldemort.
Or Star Wars … with the deadly dark side, Lord Sith and Darth Vader.

It reminds me of a scene from the first Lord of the Rings movie when they must travel under the mountains through the mines,

– Frodo and friends walk in expecting a royal welcome, but instead they find the mine overrun and the dwarfs dead

– and just as they turn to escape, the entrance in front of them caves in and everything goes completely and utterly dark.

There’s no way out, they’re trapped and they’re in complete darkness.

And the film seems to just stop there for a moment…. so we can absorb that blackness, the darkness….. the sheer terror of it grips us.

And as I talk about darkness the effect it has on us is powerful and evocative; it raises all sorts of deep feelings and emotions….

Often we talk of darkness when there’s an end of hope… – when there’s no way out and nothing to look forward to.

We talk of darkness when we’ve lost all sense of joy – when there’s no happiness, nothing to celebrate. Depression is often called ‘the dark night of the soul’.

We often use darkness to describe evil in the world…..war and fighting, genocide and murder, terrorism and abuse.

We may even at times see darkness in our own communities and that can scare us.

And whether we like to hear it or not, we realise that at times darkness penetrates each one of us too. We like to think we are above it, but the truth is we are not. We fall for the darkness as well.

But if darkness is all that, light stands out as the exact opposite.

Light undoes all those things associated with darkness:

light brings hope from despair;
light brings joy for depression;

light brings good in the face of evil; light brings growth and renewal;

light brings life and healing.

That’s why we look forward to the dawning of a new day; why the rising sun brings hope in our hearts and why shining a light brings great joy.

That’s why candle light is so comforting, so uplifting.

You see light drives away darkness. Light illuminates the darkness. The smallest of lights, changes everything.

The reading we’ve just heard from the start of John’s gospel is all about light coming into the darkness.

John’s gospel begins ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God… [and then a little later on]

‘The word became flesh and lived among us.’ John here is talking about Jesus.

He’s talking about that first Christmas when Jesus was born to Mary in a manger, at the back of an inn, in Bethlehem.

But John wants us to understand that Jesus is more than just a baby born in a feeding trough. John is making the most extraordinary, the most profound claim about Jesus.

This baby in the barn, was no less than God.
God who spoke in creation ‘let there be light’ was now present as a great light for all humanity.

John talks about the word becoming flesh…..Jesus became one of us, human; the creator became a real flesh and blood person, Jesus.

As Jesus lived and grew, becoming a man, he revealed all sorts of things about God – his power over creation and sickness and death.

But most importantly Jesus revealed God’s character – he’s full of compassion,

he’s kind, generous, wise, gracious, he’s slow to anger and swift to forgive;

as John said Jesus is ‘full of grace and truth’.

That’s why John calls him the light, because he’s glorious, dazzling,

distinctive, like light.
Jesus is nothing less than the light of God’s glory shining.

And so for us, if we want to know God, if we want to see him and understand him, we can read the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John

– and see in Jesus, God with us.

John goes on to say that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John here is reminding us that when the creator came and lived among us, he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

John puts it like this: ‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him’.

John is referring to Jesus’ death. Jesus came to the people he’d made, and chosen for himself. They belonged to him, but they rejected him, betrayed him, tried him and condemned him.

You see Jesus shone his light into their lives. It revealed areas of darkness, shadows, fears, wrong actions and hidden secrets.

Jesus showed life as it really was, there was nowhere to hide. The people around Jesus didn’t like this and so they decided to put the light out.

With help from the Romans they put him to death. And it looked for a while as though darkness had triumphed…. But three days later Jesus rose from the dead.

He didn’t stay dead, how could he – he is the light of the world, he breathed life into all creation, he couldn’t be snuffed out that easily.

But the most exciting thing about this passage is that we are in it too……

‘To all who receive Jesus, to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.’

You see God wants every person then and now, to be his child.

We don’t have to be born into a particular family;
we don’t need to have rank or status, wealth or intellect.

God dearly loves each of us and values us as we are,
irrespective of how others see us, or even how we see ourselves.

If we accept Jesus we can become part of God’s family and receive peace, love, forgiveness, and acceptance….

benefits which begin in the here and now, and last into eternity.

I began by asking, what is Christmas all about?

Christmas is all about God coming to humanity, as a child, Jesus Christ; a great and glorious light, a light which changes everything.

So tonight …..
if ever you felt like you’ve walked in darkness and despair,

if ever you felt like darkness surrounds you,
if ever you felt like darkness is winning,
if ever you felt like life is hopeless and joyless….

then the birth of Jesus Christ is for you.

Tonight stands an open invitation to accept Christ as a gift this Christmas;

His light and life can transform our lives,
Bringing peace to our souls and giving us a sure and certain hope.

This light, Jesus, changes everything, this light brings freedom.


If you’d like to know a bit more about Jesus, please do speak to myself or one of the clergy.

Waiting – a Sermon for Advent

Waiting with Intention and Purpose.

2 Peter 3: 8-15a

Advent is a time of longing, hope and expectation and waiting;

we wait with anticipation for the celebration of Christmas – the day when we celebrate Christ’s birth, that God in sending Jesus, is now one with humanity. 

And Advent is also a time when we can look ahead, we wait for, we long for the day when Jesus will return to earth, when judgment shall come, and all will be restored and renewed. 

Advent is a time of waiting….

I wonder how good are you at waiting?  I asked the question this month in the Parish Chronicle….    How good are you at waiting?

You see waiting is something we all must do…whether we like it or not!

We wait in our everyday living:

we wait for the kettle to boil, for a bus to arrive,

for our tea to cook in the oven, for a safe moment to cross the road,

we wait for the phone to ring or a friend to pop round….

And then we often have to wait over longer periods of time;

we wait with bated breath to receive news…good or bad,

we wait for exam results,

we wait to receive treatment when ill.

And then there are those occasions in life when we wait with great expectation and joy;

we look forward to holidays, to the birth of a new child,

to birthday and anniversaries.

But often waiting isn’t so easy….it can be frustrating, a time of anxiety and fear.

Waiting when we don’t know what is going to happen next,

when we have no idea what tomorrow may hold, can be scary and unnerving.

And I think waiting, patiently, is quite a skill. 

Perhaps especially so for the younger generations, who in this modern, technical, on-line era, expect instant information, instant access, instant knowledge, the latest gadget within a day, all at the click of a button. 

My children over the years have got used to waiting. 

I will regularly say to them, something like “hold your horses”, or “just a second”, or “wait a minute”….. 

And they have learnt and experience that when I say these phrases, I don’t mean a literal second, or minute…. rather I mean let’s just stop, let’s wait, lets pause, let’s think and then something will happen. 

When I say wait a minute…it often means waiting five minutes or so, and then I’ll be ready to move on, get out, or make a decision.      

And as we turn to our passage today from 2 Peter (verses 8-15a) we find some similarities….

Our passage is taken from the Apostle Peter’s second letter to a group of early Christians.  Now these Christians, the early church, were waiting.  Many thought that the return of Jesus Christ would be imminent, within a few years, or their lifetime, that Christ would return as Lord and king….. The day of the Lord. 

But nothing seemed to be happening, and confusion was beginning to set in, some started to doubt.  Others began to think that a cataclysmic last day judgment was more myth than reality. 

And so, Peter writes to them to try and explain – and correct their thinking. 

Peter makes two main points:

First, to talk about a delay in the day of judgment is to speak in human terms. God is not bound by created time; he is outside time. A day is like a thousand years….. and a thousand years like a day. 

Second, to speak of delay, as though God is indifferent, is to fail to see the great benefit of such a delay. God’s kindly patience gives additional opportunities for the salvation of the lost.  God’s desire is that no one should be destroyed, but everyone come to a place of repentance and trust.

And so, Peter explains and reminds them that the coming day is unexpected.  All such comings are unexpected, including the final coming of the Lord. 

It will come like a thief in the night – a picture used by Jesus, (cf. Matt.24:43, Lk.12:39) and by Paul, (1Thes.5:2)

Some manuscripts actually record it as “during the night”, but this is probably not original. The point is simple enough, the day will come upon us unexpectedly, so be alert, be awake, be ready.

Peter then also reminds them, in quite graphic language, that everything will be changed, that ultimately the earth will be laid bare.  Nothing evil in that day will remain hidden.

The idea being that on this last day, there will be a final and definite conclusion, an end in which Jesus’ victory over evil, begun on the cross and in his resurrection, will be complete and final over all evil and darkness.    

This day will come…but not when you expect it, say Peter. 

Not in your time frame… not in a way your finite minds can comprehend.

But till then, they do have to wait…. wait patiently….

But the type of waiting Peter describes is not a passive waiting, it’s not the sort of waiting which involves sitting back in your chair and waiting to see what might happen.  Rather it is an active waiting; it is intentional and focussed;  it involves striving, longing and hopeful expectation. 

Since this great day is coming, says Peter, here are some instructions, some suggestions as to how you should live in the here and now. 

Peter tells them to embody Godly and holy living, to be eager, to strive to live as those without spot or blemish before God, to live in peace and love, to live as Christ’s disciples.

Now these words from Peter,  I believe apply just as much to us today as Christians as we wait for the Day of The Lord, although now many hundreds of years later.

If Peter were to write to us today, he would encourage us to be active and intentional, full of purpose.  To live in such a way, that in our conduct, in our speech, in our priorities, in our actions, we live as those who are holy.   

Let me expand a little more: – 

In our reflective lives… our inner lives, our hearts and minds….

and in our active lives, our outward living, our interactions with others, our deeds, our relationships,

we should be those who focus on God, who are striving to draw nearer to Him,

we should be those who pray constantly, at all times and in all places, with thanksgiving, lifting everything to God in prayer. 

we should be those who are committed to worship – publicly…on Sundays but also in our daily lives. 

we should be those who read God’s Word, the bible, who seek to understand it…and apply it to our lives. 

we should be those who cast aside away the works of darkness and instead put on the armour of light…

we should be those who do all we can to care for those in need, to work for and with the marginalised and rejected, to welcome the stranger, to support the orphaned and widowed, to speak up for, and advocate the needs of the abused. 

we should be those who exhibit the fruit of the spirit: peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, goodness, faithfulness, joy and love.

Now I know achieving any of what I’ve just shared is a tall order.  It is not possible for anyone to be or do all these things in one’s own strength and effort.

I don’t know about you, but I make mistakes, I get things wrong….  I need help – God’s help.

If we get the idea that we are able to do anything worthy in the sight of God, anything in our own effort that secures God’s approval and blessing, then we are fools.

It is only as we trust in the indwelling Spirit of Christ to work his sanctifying renewing-work within our beings that we are changed into the image of Christ.

So, although we stride toward the coming day living “holy and godly lives”, we know that in the end being “found spotless, blameless and at peace with” God is a gift of grace appropriated through faith.

And so, in our waiting we also need to be open to God’s Holy Spirit, that each and every day, we ask the Spirit to help us and strengthen us, mould us and make us more like Jesus. 

As so this Advent we wait…..

but our waiting is not passive or dormant,

but rather an active waiting in which we strive –

we are intentional and purposeful in living a life that is devoted to God and we ask for God’s Spirit to enable and help us.


I’m going to pause here for a moment…. And allow us all to think and reflect…. And then I’ll lead us in prayer…..

Father God, we thank you that a day is coming, when all will be changed, renewed and restored.  A day when all evil, all wrong, all darkness, all pain, all confusion, all tears, all hurting will cease.  A day when all wars, all abuse, all fighting, all discrimination will end.   

And Father we cry to you for that day.  Our hearts long for the fulness and the glory of your kingdom here on earth…. And we cry out Maranatha, Come lord Jesus. 

But until that day, help us to wait patiently with intention and purpose….

Fill us afresh with your Spirit, that we might use the time we have for Godly, holy living.  That we might share with others, the good news of Jesus in our actions and deeds. 

So that when the Day of the Lord comes, we would not be caught napping, but actively following you, actively watching and actively waiting.

Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus.  Amen

Psalm 62 – A Prayer of Trust

Humans come into the world as vulnerable creatures completely dependent on their parents for their survival. For people to develop a healthy capacity to trust they need to experience an emotional attachment to a nurturing parent. If the relationship with the parent is disrupted, the attachment will be threatened and the capacity to trust will be damaged. Later in life it may be more difficult for them to trust God.

The good news is that God can heal our wounds. He can rebuild our capacity to trust.

The Lord is our rock. This is a recurring theme in the Psalm we have read today. In fact Psalm 62 states three times that the Lord is our rock; in verse 2 and 6 “He alone is my rock and my salvation- and verse 7 “My mighty rock my refuge is in God,

God alone is our rock.

In the Old Testament rocks were quite significant. In the wilderness during the sudden storms in the Middle East shepherds and sojourners would often shelter under a large rock. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness without water God told Moses to strike a large rock and water poured out; and sacrifices were often made to God using a large rock as the altar on which the sacrifice was burned.

And in Psalm 62 the Lord is described as our rock. The word rock could also be interpreted as a fortress. And we all need a rock , a fortress in our lives from time to time. Yet sometimes when we are going through a really difficult season in life we only look to ourselves to be our shelter from the storm to be our own rock.

Simon and Garfunkel sang about being your own rock in1966 in their song appropriately entitled I am a Rock

The problem is no matter how strong you are, eventually you will face something that is bigger than you. Eventually you will find that being you own rock or island doesn’t work. And then we become anxious, maybe even frightened about our ability to cope. Trying to be our own rock may work for awhile, but it cannot last .We may try but we cannot run away from our anxiety, from what is in our minds and hearts. It is then that we may look to family or friends to be that rock for us but that does not always work out either. We often come to realise that the people we are looking to for reassurance are dealing with their own pain and cannot support us in ours.

That is where Psalm 62 meets us and addresses our anxiety head on. One of the most helpful parts of the book of Psalms is that it does not gloss over the reality of fear and pain. And the reality is we cannot be our own rock and other people cannot be our rock  They may be able to listen and empathise but they are not able relieve our anxiety totally.

That is why the writer of Psalm 62 emphasizes again and again God alone is our rock and our salvation. God is my rock and my strong refuge.

And this brings us to the good news of the Gospel Jesus is the rock of our salvation. Jesus the Son of God was no stranger to anxiety. Throughout his earthly ministry he was hounded by critics, undermined by religious leaders, scorned by people in his hometown. In the garden of Gethsemane hours before his suffering and death Jesus’ anxiety literally reached a fever pitch as he sweated drops of blood. But Jesus never tried to be his own rock or island. He did not find shelter from anyone in his family or from his friends the disciples or from anyone else. Instead in his suffering and death Jesus became our rock and shelter from the storms of life.

In the same way as in the Old Testament the rock in the wilderness was broken to give water to the thirsty Israelites Jesus was broken on the cross to give us living water. The living water of eternal life. He died for those of us who have been faced with the realities of life, who have been levelled by the storms of life.

In recent weeks we have struggled with events in this country that just rendered people helpless and hopeless. People who, through no fault of their own, have lost all that was precious to them. We have witnessed the emergency services helping and supporting, bravely risking their own lives to rescue others. But after the initial emergency where can people turn to give them hope for the future. Where can those of us, not directly involved,  in these events lay our anxieties and fears.

In God, our rock and, our salvation.  God can heal and rebuild trust  where all seems lost.  God is the constant in a troubled and divided world. God sent us his Son to show us how to trust despite our vulnerability.   Jesus’ death on the cross is the final and ultimate expression of God’s indiscriminate compassion and love. God loves us unconditionally, as we are and not as we should be because nobody is as they should be. God is our rock and our salvation. In God alone can we trust

“Trust in Him at all times O people pour out your heart before Him God is a refuge for us” Amen

Psalm 66 – A Prayer of Joy


If I were to invite you all, on a count of three, to make a joyful noise, what, I wonder, would be the noise that you would make? Well, let’s do it! Forget for the moment that you are polite well behaved Anglicans, and allow yourselves to make whatever noise the word joy provokes in you. With actions if you wish!

One, two, three…….!!!

Psalm 66 is described on, our pew leaflet as a Prayer of Joy – and that is made clear by the opening words. But those opening words are easy to misunderstand. We read: ‘O be joyful!’ and we tend to assume that this must have something to do with feelings. But in the original Hebrew, the meaning is not ‘feel joyful’, still less ‘feel happy’. The meaning is: ‘Make a joyful noise! And that is good, because joy is a physical thing that  comes from deep down within us. The writer Thomas Wolfe says of joy: ‘It is first of all a physical quality; then it is a quality of spirit.’

This ties in well with what we experienced a few minutes ago – joy is not simply or even mainly a question of feeling something. The Anglican writer Harry Williams,  popular in the second half of the 20th century, claims in his book ‘The Joy of God‘ that joy goes deeper than feelings, even though feelings spring from it. He suggests it is a way of knowing or seeing. 

Now if I were asked: knowing or seeing what? I would answer:

‘Knowing or seeing that life has meaning & value & beauty’; and I would suggest that to know that is also to know God. And furthermore, it is to know that joy is God’s gift, not our achievement.

There are many sources of joy, and they are by no means only found in religious contexts. Harry Williams suggests that, sometimes at least, we can and should find joy in our work; in nature; in art and music; and especially in relationships and within our own self. He describes it as: ‘a way of seeing and knowing that opens up the world to us’. And it often comes when we least expect it; many of us will have read C S Lewis’s great spiritual autobiography, ‘Surprised by Joy’. But wherever and whenever it comes to us, there can be no odubtign its importance. Another writer, Rollo May, claims that:  ‘Joy, rather than happiness, is the goal of life, for joy is the emotion which accompanies and fulfills our nature as human beings.’

Let’s go back to psalm 66. It falls into three sections:

(1) Thankfulness for deliverance in the Exodus from Egypt.

(2) Thankfulness for more recent deliverance from foreign conquest.

(3) Personal thanks of an individual who brings sacrifices to the temple, in thanks that a time of suffering has passed.

There are two important points here:

First, the writer’s thought moves from the corporate to the individual – which reminds us of the importance of shared joy. I suspect that some of our modern worship songs may be too individualistic in their expression of joy: too much ‘I’, not enough ‘We’. That burst of joy we shared a few minutes ago was very much a corporate experience.

Then, secondly, the psalmist, whoever he was, knows that the reality of pain and suffering is not denied by joy. Joy comes on the far side of distress. Archbishop William Temple wrote: ‘The Christian joy and hope do not arise from an ignoring of evil in the world, but from facing it at its worst.’ Lament and joy do not deny one another. Indeed it may even be that we only really know the meaning of joy when we have been through the mill of pain and suffering. Psalm 51, which is regularly said or sung on Ash Wednesday, is definitely a psalm of lament; but it also contains this verse: ‘You shall make me hear of joy and gladness……that the bones which you have broken may rejoice.’ Those extraordinary words do not flinch from acknowledging the reality of suffering – and of God’s part in it – but they see light in and beyond the darkness. Hospices can be the most joyful of places.

The Psalms, as we know but may sometimes be tempted to forget,  come from Jewish Scripture; and I sometimes think that  Jews have a deeper understanding of joy than Christians.  If you’ve ever been to a Jewish wedding you’ll know what I mean. The recent recent production of ‘Fiddler on Roof’ at Chichester Festival theatre, which I know some of you have seen, brings this out beautifully. Jesus – a Jew –  found joy in the depths of his own being and wanted to extend it to his disciples: ‘I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy complete.’ And in the prayer book of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in north London, which some of us from this congregation have had the privilege of visiting, we find these words: ‘On the Day of Judgment, we shall have to account for any good thing we might have enjoyed but did not.’ Now there’s a challenge if you like: to imagine a God who asks us, at our own judgment, not: ‘Why were you not holy enough, virtuous enough, or successful enough?’, but….. ‘Why did you not enjoy your life enough?’ 

May God grant to  us all the precious gift of joy.  Amen.

Psalm 130 – A Prayer of Hope

Last week Emma spoke to us about Psalm 44 –

A prayer when God is silent – the outpouring of the heart to God at a time of national need when He seemed not to answer.

Today we look at Psalm 130, set in a more personal context – A Prayer of Hope

Last week the Psalmist cried to God in despair:

Why do you sleep, O Lord? 

Wake up, do not reject us for ever.

But he ended with a note of expectation:

Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

Today, like a rising graph, Psalm 130 begins:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

And it ends:

He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

(I.e. The Lord will redeem his people from all their sins.)

It’s is a personal prayer, an honest prayer and, above all, is a prayer of hope. 

In the classic film Clockwise John Cleese as a school headmaster is on a nightmare journey to get to an important conference where he is to speak.  But everything is going wrong and it will get worse. 

He says, It’s not the despair.  I can take the despair.  It’s the hope I can’t stand!  He couldn’t bear the hope of succeeding being dashed.  When our hopes are high and are dashed, it’s a long way to fall.  So we long to know God is ready and able to help when call out to him.

Psalm 130 has 8 verses. 

first 4 set the scene.

next 2 are the response of the writer. 

last 2 are encouragement to us.

Scene – response – encouragement of others.

1 The Scene set – vv1-4

v1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice!

You’d be amazed at how my prayer life picks up when I’ve got a problem!  True for many of us, I expect.  When life is going well for us, it’s easy for our prayer to be superficial.  When there’s a problem, when I’m under pressure, it gets a whole lot more intense!

The good thing about such times is that God has our attention – the attention He deserves all the time.

In Psalm 130 God has the psalmist’s attention.  This is honest, heartfelt prayer – the sort God loves.  It’s not going through the motions, not to impress us or others, but opening the heart and mind to Him.  It’s prayer we’re all capable of; not rehearsed and polished, but spontaneous, undefensive and real.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

If you are ‘down’ today as we come to this psalm, pray it each day of the coming week and let it lift you up.

Further, v3 reminds us that this is the prayer of a fallible person, like you and me:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities (take into account my sin, my short-comings), who could stand (in front of you)?    No-one.

It’s a matter of logic.  Paul said in Romans 3,

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Our perfect, glorious creator-God is himself the benchmark.  The glory of God, perfect love and holiness, are the yardstick. Why not? They must be.

But, v4 continues, there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

Here’s the first tangible sign of hope.  Possibility of forgiveness however we may need it – so God may be revered.  So that He may be loved and respected for his grace to us.

He is the one truly worthy of the title Reverend which we apply to clergy; let alone the old Irish usage of Your Reverence.  I think I prefer what I was once called – Your Vicarage – but that may have been tongue in cheek!

God is the benchmark of our lives, the gold standard for our living, a merciful, forgiving Father, calling out our love, gratitude, humility

and respect.

This is why there is hope is at the heart of Psalm 130. It is a prayer of hope, ready to use out of the box, for each of us personally.  It isn’t talking about hoping for the best. It speaks of expecting the best from God whose past actions in Jesus calling us to be his friends assure us of his future trustworthiness.

Paul again in Romans 8 reasons it like this:

If God is for us, who is against us (that matters)?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not with him also give us everything else (we need)? . . . Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness,

or peril, or sword (knife or gun)? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. . .  Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sure hope is a logical outcome of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  As a consequence we may live – ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven – every day into eternity. It is indestructible hope from God, having nothing to do with optimism, health, wealth or the weather.

C.f. Book of Common Prayer ‘General Thanksgiving’:

We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

2 The Psalmist’s response vv-5-6

His response to God’s steadfast love in expectation of his saving help, was to say:

v5  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.

He cried to God from the depths, but he also had a secure hope.  He wasn’t clutching at straws, nor chasing shadows, nor heading for any port in a storm, nor saying ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’. But he committed himself to the God he knew who had been faithful, loving and patient his people:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.

In 1000 BC the writer didn’t have the rich treasury of the whole Bible that we have. Just the first 5 books, and likely a few others.  He fed his heart and mind through these and their stories of God’s known character and blessing.

His repeated phrases in Psalm 130 emphasise his decided course of action. And he compared himself to a night watchman – city, army, factory, ship – waiting for daylight when his shift would safely finish.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord

more than watchmen wait for the morning,

more than watchmen wait for the morning.

The psalmist, looking to God, didn’t expect to be disappointed:

I’m waiting, my soul is waiting, I’m watching;

I’m fully expecting God to resolve all that troubles me and my people, even to resolve the needs and contradictions of my own life.


3 The Psalmist’s encouragement vv7-8

. . . of his people, friends, family and neighbours.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For 2 good reasons!

For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

And with him is great power to redeem.

It is he who will redeem his people from all their sins.

He uses his love and power to build us up, not break us down.  To save us for himself.

Paul again, in 2 Corinthians 1:20

All God’s promises find their ‘yes’ in Jesus.

In other words, whatever God has done and has promised to do for us is worked out through the amazing death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It has been said, No-one saves us but ourselves.  No-one can and no-one may.  But I believe that is false, and hope-less. We cannot pull ourselves by our own boot laces.  Just try and you’ll see why!  Neither can we atone for our own sins.

But in Christ God comes to us, forgives us, makes us his friends and gives us his Spirit.  There is no better hope for today and tomorrow.

Pray this week for those leading and those participating in our children’s summer Bible week, DABS, that they too may experience new hope in Christ on whom all hope ultimately rests.

Psalm 44  A Prayer When God is Silent

The Psalms, as we have already seen in recent weeks, cover all of life’s experiences. 

The Psalms are beautiful, powerful prayers…. they address God with a deep honesty, frankness and urgency…. They give voice to our inner thoughts and inner turmoil…

As we consider Psalm 44 today – this is especially true.

Psalm 44 addresses God with a heartfelt honesty and transparency.

Now I just want us to imagine this situation….

Imagine you have a very good friend,  someone who knows you well, someone who has known you for a long time, someone who has helped you out with all sorts of things in the past.

A month ago, you rang them, but they weren’t in. You were upset and sad, but you left them a message asking for help. Now in the weeks that have gone by you have heard nothing…

What does it feel like to have no response?  Maybe you’ve started to wonder what is wrong?  Maybe you’re questioning why they’ve not responded, after all they would normally get back to you? 

Maybe you started thinking you’ve perhaps done something to offend them? Maybe you think they’re being rude or forgetful? 

You probably feel hurt, confused and sad. Why is your friend silent? Maybe you’re thinking what’s the point?

And that brings me to Psalm 44.

Israel sang this Psalm regularly in the Temple to voice a faith that was hanging by a thread. It begins well by noting how God had brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt into the Promised Land, driving out the Hittites, Hivites, and Jebusites in the process.

Verse 1 says: O God, our ancestors have told us what deeds you performed…in the days of old: you…drove out the nations, but them you planted…not by their own sword did they win the land…but [by] your right hand…

As Psalm 44 opens, it reads like a Psalm of praise for a God who saved his people from slavery.  Things started well for Israel; and in the following centuries, though Israel didn’t always stick with God, God stuck with Israel. 

Psalm 44 expresses gratitude for God’s faithfulness.

A Temple worship leader voices it in these words: You are my King and my God; you command victories for Jacob…not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But you have saved us from our foes…In God we have boasted…we will give thanks to your name forever.

Trusting a faithful God, Israel had learnt to rely, not on its own resources, but on God.

So far, so good!

But at v.9, there’s a dramatic change in the Psalm, which you may have noticed. It turns abruptly from praise to complaint:

“God, we’re your people. But ‘you have rejected us…abased us, and have not gone out with our armies…You have made us like sheep for the slaughter…sold [us out] for a trifle …made us a laughingstock…Because of you we are being killed’” [vs. 9,11, 14, 22].

Relying on God, Israel expected victory; instead, the nation has been crushed and shamed. We don’t know the particular battle to which the Psalm refers. What we do know is things started well for Israel, but ended in a debacle; prisoners had been taken, the army decimated, the nation now a joke.

It was incomprehensible. According to the Psalm, Israel had been faithful to God. If the nation had defied its covenant God; or if Israel had started to worship idols, punishment may have been appropriate.

But Israel wasn’t guilty: v.17: ‘this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant.  Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way’.  And so, a perplexed Psalmist demands an explanation.

We live at a great distance from Israel’s pain described in Psalm 44; but if your faith is at all serious, it too will be shaken to the core at some time. You may have already been confronted by an incomprehensible God who doesn’t always supply answers.

Two/three generations ago, after 2 world wars in which much devastation and evil was seen, many gave up on God…. For those living in the post war years, their experience was a disaster that reduced faith to rubble. 

Maybe you listen to the news reports – disaster after disaster, war after war, tragedy after tragedy, famine after famine….and wonder what is going on?

For others, the decline in influence of the Church of England in national affairs raises questions, after all we are currently closing churches month after month as elderly saints die.  And though many continue to worship, some feel like the battle has been lost, and that there’s no point trying to pass on the faith to our children and neighbours. We can wonder, where is God – what is happening to our nation? Is God silent?

Perhaps the pain in your life has been much more personal. You started out well, maybe even as a happy Christian. But then came one heartache after another- a betrayal, a health crisis, a death. Though you fought bravely for a while, you now feel like giving up, convinced that God has passed you by. Where is God?  What is happening?  Is God silent?

How do we respond to what feels like defeat?

In defeat, Israel refusing to stifle its disillusionment by singing happy psalms. Israel fought back, using an angry psalm like Psalm 44 as a weapon in the fight. Though it begins as a psalm of praise, it becomes a damning indictment of God.

It accuses God relentlessly: you rejected us…You…made us…sheep for slaughter… You have sold your people…You have made us the taunt of our neighbours…You’re to blame for our defeat, and we want an explanation. God, if you’re asleep, rouse yourself; wake up, and tell us, why”.

Have you noticed that when their faith hung by a thread, biblical people as often as not, fought with God? In the UK, on the whole, we’re too polite to pray like that. When our faith hangs by a thread, we’re more likely to sulk and then slink away.

Israel fought back in Psalm 44, and even preserved this angry Psalm for later use!

The Psalm, notes Old Testament scholar John Goldingay, places all the blame on God, and exempts others.

Scapegoats could presumably have been found: – a failure on the part of the generals, or insufficient weaponry. But Psalm 44 ignores all human factors, convinced that with God in charge, nothing happens without his knowledge.

If we believe that God is ultimately sovereign over all things, then, no matter what pain we face, we’re likely to end up blaming God, as did Israel.

Psalm 44 is bold in its rage at God for what’s been lost. Is that how you and I pray? We’re reluctant to voice our anger at God, afraid to use words that might shock God.

Biblical prayer isn’t as reticent; it begs, roars, It complains, demands, and tells God: “we don’t deserve what’s happening to us. Do something!”

Psalm 44 is like the Book of Job. In his pain and loss, Job demanded of God, “Explain yourself!”

But the truth is that in the Book of Job, as here in Psalm 44, God doesn’t explain himself; as you may have discovered, our pain is sometimes met by divine silence. That’s why Psalm 44 is almost never read in church, and why it doesn’t show up very often in our hymn books, and why preachers tend to avoid it.  It appears to offer no good news when things go badly.

So is that it when faith hangs by a thread?  When God is silent… How about this: a disaster or failure at least forces us to reassess our faith?

We want faith to reward us; “God, I believe in you”, we say, “but I want you to look after me, such that if trouble comes, it will be minimal”. A conditional faith like that explains why, when trouble comes, some people give up on God and walk away from the church.

But faith in Psalm 44 isn’t conditional; it’s unconditional. That is: it’s a faith that’s ready to fight, that hangs on at any cost, and that endures agony in the absence of a miracle or any sign of God’s presence.

You hear this faith that hangs by a thread in Jesus’ final, chilling cry from the cross, when all seemed to be lost: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

At the lowest moment in his life, Jesus experienced God’s absence. And yet in that hellish moment he still cries out to God, unwilling to let go. 

There’s maybe one more sliver of hope in Psalm 44. Its last verse addresses God like this: Rise up…Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love’The Psalm ends by appealing to what Israel had been taught about what lay at the core of God’s character, steadfast, abounding, love.

Every visible proof of God’s power and protection had disappeared. “But Lord”, cries the Psalmist, “if your love has gone, there’s nothing left. If you are still steadfast love, redeem us”. And that’s the Psalm’s final word.

But it’s not the Bible’s final word.

Israel’s painful cry for redemption was heard; the biblical narrative moves on from the darkness of Psalm 44 to the coming of Christ, and from the devastation of Israel’s defeat to a Saviour’s empty grave.

Though Psalm 44 reflects the fact that faith may hang by a thread, learn to hold on and wait for Jesus, who died in agony, but rose in victory. It’s by looking steadily to him that some of the mystery that surrounds God will be unveiled.


Time to reflect….

Father God,

At times life is really difficult,

and we feel like all hope is gone and you are silent. 

For those of us who face such times now,

help us to hang on through the silence and the darkness,

knowing that ultimately Jesus has won the victory

and that one day this will be unveiled for all to see,

and all of creation will be restored and renewed.

Helps us to look steadily to Him and trust in your steadfast love. 


Psalm 102 – A prayer of grief?…

How well do we know our bible?

Psalm 102 is a psalm which you may not have come across before our reading this morning; even if you are following the vicar’s instruction to read through all of the psalms at home this summer, two every day, you won’t reach Psalm 102 until a week tomorrow.

And in church, we usually only read Psalm 102 at evening prayer on Ash Wednesday and at morning prayer on the Wednesday of Holy Week, so its full text is likely to be unfamiliar to many; though most of its themes are also to be found in other psalms and in the prophetic books of the bible. We do not know the identity of the author of Psalm 102, nor the background to its writing, except that we could hazard a guess, based on its content, that it might date from the time when the Jews were in exile in Babylon, or from the time shortly after their return to Jerusalem.

Unusually, Psalm 102 has a heading: “A prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the Lord,” but what might be the context of this envisaged affliction, faintness and pleading? In our current series of sermons on the psalms, each psalm has been given the title, ‘A prayer of … … … ’ (dependence, trust, gratitude, etc), and this week’s title is, ‘A prayer of grief’; but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Certainly, the psalmist is distressed, but it’s not exactly clear what it is that is upsetting him; there’s no direct mention of bereavement or loss.

Traditionally, Psalm 102 has been regarded by the Church as a penitential psalm; but neither does that obviously reflect what we read. There’s no direct mention of sin, penitence or contrition; though there is reference in verse 9 to ashes and tears, which often signify grief or penitence and this might explain the use of the psalm on Ash Wednesday. Each of the psalm’s 28 verses is rich with hidden meaning, frequently described in colourful language, including many creative metaphors, conjuring up delightful images designed to articulate the psalmist’s feelings.

So, let us examine more closely the content of this prayerful psalm; and please do follow the words of the psalm as I speak, if you wish, and enjoy its beautiful poetry.

Like the formula of many psalms, this one begins with a lament; a plea to God, that he will turn towards the pleader and listen to his complaints about his misfortunes. The opening lines, “O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you,” are familiar to many Christians today as a liturgical response during intercessory prayer. The last line of the second verse too is familiar, “when I call, answer me;” taken with the opening line it forms one of today’s best known Taizé chants. These are powerful words which have stood the test of time.

We then hear the list of distressing circumstances which apparently have befallen the psalmist: his life seems to have no substance, he has a fever, his heart is crushed, he has no appetite, he groans with pain and has lost weight, he is isolated, he cannot sleep, he is lonely and melancholic; rejected, his enemies taunt him, assuming that he has brought this on himself; even at mealtimes, normally regarded as a joyful, communal event, he sits alone and weeps, amongst ashes, a symbol of grief, in despair, rather than be in the company of others; it seems that even God is angry with him and has cast him aside; he feels that he is in the twilight of his life and is withering away. … … I hope that you don’t find this all too depressing; please bear with me, there is better news to come.

Verse 12 heralds a change of direction, tone and style. “But you, O Lord are enthroned for ever.” If this is meant to be a response to the psalmist’s predicament then, at first glance, it seems cold comfort: ‘I am dying God, but I’m relieved to know that you’re going to live for ever.’ But these words are not said with any sense of irony, nor does the psalmist with any bitterness express resentment that his everlasting creator God apparently begrudges him a few more days of life; indeed, the next ten verses are very positive, perhaps surprisingly so for one in such desperate circumstances. God is going to do great things, declares the psalmist, with absolute certainty, ‘the appointed time has come.’

This may sound like a daring challenge to God; remember Jesus in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil, quoting from the Jewish law, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test?’ Well, that’s not what is happening here. This is the psalmist using a common figure of speech for the time, known as prolepsis. The psalmist speaks of things yet to pass as though they had already happened and it’s simply a literary device for expressing confident expectation; such a profound conviction in the course of future events that there’s no room for any doubt that they will occur.

So, the middle section of Psalm 102 has the psalmist, in contrast to the previous morbid gloom surrounding his individual suffering, now passionately and joyfully predicting God’s compassion and saving grace for his whole people, his answering of their prayers and his restoration of their holy city of Jerusalem to glory, such that this will go down in the records of history and will inspire not only the praise of God’s own people for generations to come but also the worship of the gentiles.

Then we’re back to the psalmist’s own situation in verses 23 and 24; his brief uplifting outburst of trust and firm belief in God’s will to care for his people seems to have sharpened his personal anguish. He wants his own prayer answering now, but it seems as though God’s answer is for a future generation and that his life is to be cut off in its prime.

But the darkness of these two verses provides a contrast against which to see the brilliance of the final four verses. The psalmist declares that God, who has created all things, is wholly committed to an eternal relationship with future generations of his people, though everything else in creation may be destined to wear out and to pass away. The role of servants is to wait on their master, doing the master’s will, enjoying the privilege of his protection and abiding in his gracious providence. The future of humanity as his servants has been secured by God and the psalmist delights in this revelation in spite of his own suffering and his failing life.

Finally, we cannot take a look at Psalm 102 without mentioning its connection with the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verses 10-12, which are an almost direct quote from verses 25-27 of the psalm. However, the letter’s author applies these words not to the psalmist speaking to God but to God speaking to Jesus, in praise of Christ. In the early church, Psalm 102 was understood to be Messianic, foreshadowing Jesus’ pain and isolation, Jesus’ crying to God in anguish that he might be spared the suffering and the Father’s promise that he would survive and the future of his servants’ children would be secured. A miracle which we commemorate each week in our Holy Communion service.

Most of us will suffer and grieve at some time and all of us will die; our lives are short, even if we live to be over 100, that is nothing compared to the span of God’s existence. But God is loving and generous and, through his saving grace and the redeeming self-sacrifice of his Son, God promises the hope of eternal life with him, in his Kingdom, for all who turn to him.

And God listens to prayer; there is no human condition which is beyond God’s experience. He understands our needs, feels our grief and our pains and wants to share our burdens. And he responds with compassion, whether that is to the private prayer of the individual or to the public prayer of the community; both are very powerful. Because he sees all things, all time and all space, God’s wisdom and judgement are far greater than ours and we must trust in his capacity to act in the right way at the right time, even though this may at times confound us and test our faith. In the end, we must simply lay our concerns before him and not hold back; what really makes a difference is not our faithfulness, but God’s.

God is eternal and merciful and is in control.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Psalm 65 – A Prayer of Gratitude

This talk was delivered in two parts.

Part One introduced the idea of Gratitude.

Part Two explored Psalm 65 by using five pictures which we considered one by one. 

Part One

Later on, we’re going to read Psalm 65, and this Psalm is a Psalm of Gratitude….

But what does gratitude mean?  Any ideas….

Well it’s a quality of being thankful, saying thanks, showing our appreciation,

And thinking about being thankful made me remember a song, which I sang as a child…..

I wonder perhaps if you know or recognise it…

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done!

Count your blessings,

name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

This song reminds us that we do have lots to be thankful for each and every day…..

So, in groups of 3 -4, turn to the people around you, I want you to share some of the things that you have or enjoy and are grateful for….


We do have lots to be thankful for….

Homes, families, friends, relationships, food, technology, clothing, toys, freedom, travel, education, freedom of speech,  all sorts of amazing things….

All sorts of material things which more than half the world’s population does not have….

And so we’re going to pause here for a moment….. and we’re going to thank God for all the amazing things we have…..


Part Two

Now our Psalm today, Psalm 65, belongs with 3 others – 66, 67 and 68, written almost certainly by David.  It would have been used by God’s people gathered together in the temple to say and sing their thanks to God after their Harvest was complete. 

This Psalm is a prayer of gratitude… is a song, a prayer which acknowledges and recognises all that God is and all that God has done and is doing.   

It is a prayer which looks beyond the immediate here and now, beyond the material,

and sees the bigger picture, sees God for who he is,

and responds with alleluia.

Picture 1 – (big letters – GOD)

This psalm begins quite simply by recognising that God is God and is worthy of our praise.    

Not just because of the things He’s done.

But simply because of whom he is, God Almighty.

A faithful God, a loving God, a merciful God,

A God who does not change

A God who created the world, who said “Let there be light”, and there was light,

A God who abounds in steadfast love

A God who loves each and every one of us. 

And so we can be thankful that God is God.

Picture 2 – (praying hands and listening ear)

This psalm reminds us that God is a God who is with us in the midst of life. 

God isn’t far removed and distant, rather he walks with us. 

Verse 2 says that God hears and answers our prayers.   

You see, none of us are alone.  God listens to us.  Anytime, anywhere.

We have a privilege that Old Testament believers didn’t have.

We don’t have to go to a priest with burnt offerings and sacrifices. 

We can go directly to God, anytime, anywhere and He listens and answers; he hears our cries and petitions.    

Hebrews puts it this way – ‘so let us come boldly to the throne of our Gracious God, there we will receive mercy, and find grace to help us in time of need.’

And so we can be thankful that God hears us and answers our prayers.

Picture 3 – (the word power with a lightning flash)

Several times this psalm refers to God’s power and strength.

God is Omnipotent – all powerful…. 

Verses 6 and 7 remind us that the God who set the mountains in place

can also silence and bring peace to the roaring seas.   

And this God can do amazing, miraculous deeds, bringing deliverance and healing.   

For the psalmist, God had delivered Israel from oppression, fear and slavery. 

And for us, we too can be thankful, for God has rescued us from oppression, fear and slavery through the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Because Jesus who was without sin, died for each of us, we can know his righteousness covering us….

And God continues to work in power in our lives today,

bringing peace and calm,

stilling the storms which rage in and around our lives.   

And so we can be thankful to God for his power and strength.    

Picture 4 – (a loving heart and cross)

Verse 5 reminds us that God is a good and compassionate God –

the God of salvation, the one who forgives.   

In fact, all through history, all through the Bible, God is revealed as a God who loves humanity, who longs to be in relationship with people,

who time and time again reaches out to men and women,

old and young and invites them to draw close,

to walk with Him, to place their trust in Him. 

You see God is our only salvation, our only hope,

as this psalmist says, the hope of all of creation. 

And this hope is ultimately revealed in Jesus, Peter tells us that Jesus is our living hope,

who in his life, death and resurrection makes possible for each of us to come to God Almighty,

to find reconciliation and love, healing and freedom, life in all its fullness.   

You see God is a forgiving God who forgives our mistakes,

the times when we mess up,

the times when we get things wrong. 

And so we can be thankful that God loves us and forgives us. 

Picture 5 – (image of the world)

And finally, in verses 9-13 this Psalm reminds us that God lovingly created the world

and continues to sustain and care for it. 

God provides for creation, sending rain and blessing growth. 

1 Chronicles says ‘yours O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory and the majesty.  Everything in the heavens and on the earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom….we adore you as the one who is over all things.’

With our modern supermarkets, and most things available at the click of a button, we can become removed from creation –  this Psalm reminds us that god is our Provider, not of riches or luxuries, but of necessary and appropriate blessings….For a farming community like Israel, that meant a good harvest. 

And so we can be thankful for creation, for God’s love and his care for it. 

Psalm 65 is a prayer of gratitude….

it reminds us of all that God is,

it reminds us of all that God has done and continues to do in our lives. 

It gives us a different perspective….

allowing us to say alleluia,

to give thanks,

to develop an attitude of gratitude.

What I’ve shared now is in many ways a quick snapshot of this prayer of gratitude…

Perhaps you may want to think about ways in which you might develop a deeper, greater sense of gratitude in your own life,

it might be as simple as counting your blessings each day,

it might mean showing appreciation to others, a compliment, some flowers, a card of thanks,

it might be thanking God more often for all we have. 

it might mean choosing to say alleluia, instead of moaning or groaning. 

I’m going to end now by sharing some words, based on Psalm 65, which affirm our faith and give thanks to God. 

Thank You God for being God.  Alleluia.

Thank You God for hearing and answering our prayers. Alleluia.

Thank You God for forgiving our sins and giving us hope. Alleluia.

Thank You God for your power, strength and awesome deeds. Alleluia.

Thank You God for creating the earth and sustaining it. Alleluia.

Thank you God. Alleluia. Amen.