Bible sunday

United 4 Benefice Service 11am St Peters, Flyford Flavell. HC.
Col 3.12-17, Matt 24.30-35.

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Today in the churches calendar we mark Bible Sunday. On this last Sunday in October, this date also coincides with reformation Sunday observed in the Lutheran tradition. When I visited Germany last year as part of the diocese curate exchange program, the Lutheran churches were busy preparing to celebrate the 500-year anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 these on the door of the Castle church. The day for celebration will be this Tuesday the 31st in Wittenburg, eastern Germany and they are expecting thousands, if not millions of visitors.

Luther’s most important theological contribution was the idea of the priesthood of all believers. He firmly believed that ordinary people should have the chance to read often and well in order to understand the faith. Luther broke away from the tradition of writing in Latin and instead used the language of the common tongue much to the distaste of the Papacy. Thanks to Luther’s translation of the Bible, it became possible for German-speaking people to stop relying on church authorities and instead read the Bible for themselves. Luther argued that ordinary people were not only capable of interpreting the scriptures for themselves, but that in doing so they stood the best chance of hearing God’s word. He wrote, “Let the man who would hear God speak read Holy Scripture.”

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Pay your taxes!

22nd October 2017 St Edmund, Stoulton. 10am HC CW. 19th after Trinity. Isaiah 45.1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1.1-10, Matthew 22.15-22

I am very pleased to be here and lead a service for you. I’m very much looking forward to getting to know you all and of course, you getting to know me. Some of you have already chatted with me and like many others have asked Have you settled in yet? My answer is yes! Very well thank you and so has my dog, Bertie. And yet in light of today’s readings, I began to reflect upon how this could be seen as a trick question. Perhaps not meant in a nasty way but in a way that I feel can only be answered positively. To do otherwise would be to give cause for concern. I mean, who would want a Vicar that doesn’t feel at home here?! And I do, I genuinely feel very at home here and have enjoyed meeting everyone and walking across the fields with my dog.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear of a trick question asked out of spite and fear. The Pharisees feel threatened by Jesus and his new teachings. So they try to ask questions that they think will trick Jesus up, exposing him as a false prophet. The Pharisees do this because they do not want their positions of power to be undermined or their relationship with the occupying roman army to be damaged.

Their question to Jesus has a double edge. Paying taxes to the Roman emperor was one of the hottest topics in the Middle east in Jesus’ day. Just take a moment to think about this for a moment. Imagine waking up one day to find that people from the other end of the world had marched in to your country and demanded that you pay them tax as the reward for having your land stolen?! You can imagine how this would cause the people to riot and revolt. That sort of thing is still happening in the world today.
Not paying taxes under the Roman empire rule was punished by death and any revolts were crushed mercilessly. In the wake of the mighty armies were countryside’s littered with crosses with dead and dying revolutionaries on them as a warning to those who were thinking of rising up. Just remember the scene in the film Spartacus staring Kirk Douglas and you get the idea.

Paying taxes was compulsory, not optional, so any prophet leading a kingdom of God movement like Jesus would be expected to oppose such laws. Like many Jews, the Pharisees thought that the point of becoming King would be to overthrow Caesar. If Jesus wasn’t intending to get rid of the tax and the occupying forces then why had they all shouted Hosanna a few days earlier? So, their question was not only to trick Jesus up but to give him a hard time too. To make him look weak and false.

When Jesus does answer them, he doesn’t rush into his answer but instead asks for a coin, a denar. This is in fact part of his answer but also reveals something about the Pharisees themselves as when they produce a coin they are in fact showing that despite opposing the Roman rule they are handling the hated currency.

Why was the currency hated? Well Jews at the time were not allowed to put images of people, human faces, on their coins. Caesar of course had his image stamped on the coins with words proclaiming that he was the Son of God and High priest. Words that would send a shudder through any loyal or devout Jew as for them, there was only one Son of God, the Messiah, and this pagan man wasn’t it. So how could the Pharisees even touch something so abhorrent unless they secretly colluded with the Romans for their own gain.

You can imagine Jesus looking at the coin with utter distaste as he asks Whose is this … image? Jesus has not said anything that would get him into trouble but instead has turned the question back at them. Of course they have to reply Caesar. Well, then says Jesus You’d better pay Caesar back his own coin, hadn’t you? How astonishing! Jesus is advocating paying taxes! But then here comes the kicker. Jesus then says and give to God the things that are God’s!

You see Jesus wasn’t trying to give an answer on the relationship between God and political authority but was pointing out to whose allegiance the Pharisees should have been giving themselves truly to. Jesus was rebuking them by challenging their playing games of keeping Caesar happy while speaking of God. He showed that the Pharisees were only paying lip service to God and were not being whole hearted in their faith. They had gotten it wrong about what the coming of the Messiah would mean. Jesus’ revolution was not about leading a military revolt, or defeating the Kingdom or Caesar by conventional means. No, Jesus would bring and continues to do so, through the victory of God’s love and power, victory over even death itself.

So what does this reading have to say to us today? Well the same challenge Jesus gave to the Pharisees can still be given. And this is no trick question. From time to time, we too need to remind ourselves about who we are truly serving. Have we truly given ourselves whole heartedly to serving God? Or are there other God we serve, like money, possessions and activities in our lives that we put first, before God? Its easily done. Yet God is always there, loving us and ready to forgive our mistakes as we return again in prayer to Him.

Hate or Love?

Romans 6:12 – end. Matthew 10:40 – end
Your reward will be in heaven!  The wages of sin is death!
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These are the phrases often used on placards by people shouting the gospel on street corners.  They shout all sorts things like Repent, Jesus loves you etc, words that the average Joe on the street would have no clue, no understanding about.  When I see them, I wonder… what sort of message are they really giving?  What are people really hearing?  It’s certainly not the unconditional love of God.  What their hearing and so believing, wrongly, is that Christians are programmed to be intolerant, programmed to attack others who are different to them, who don’t follow Christ and therefore are in sin.  Is this what we are called to do? Do we find ourselves programmed, conditioned to attack sin and let people know they are sinful and going to hell?  Is this our mandate?

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Following Jesus brings conflict!

25th June 2017 2nd Sunday after Trinity.   Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

During this past week, someone checked with me that the gospel reading they had for today was the correct one.  On my reply that it was, their response was, I think, with a bit of a sigh and an ugh! I don’t like that one, it’s not nice having to say setting a man against his Father or daughter against her mother!

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Pentecost: Flame of the Spirit.

Acts 2:1-21, John 14:15-end.

Pentecost! One of my favourite days of the church’s calendar! A day that celebrates the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. We are reminded of God’s mysterious, regenerative power. The arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples came at a time when they still lived in fear. They had remained locked up in their room, too scared to go out. And when the Spirit descended on them, the bible describes that tongues of flame appeared upon their heads.

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Encouraging one another.

28th May 2017 Ephesians 1.15-23.

Sorry, no audio again!

This past week, and this month, has been a pitted with terrible and frightening events. Humanity has displayed both despicable and commendable behaviour, not just by the average Joe on the street but also by leaders of the world.  More

Ascension 2017

Ascension 25th May 2017.  Acts 1.1-11, Luke 24.44-53.

This past week has seen yet another tragedy. It would be an amiss of me not to mention the terrorist bombing in Manchester last Monday and the lives lost in such a senseless act of violence. What are we to make of these horrific events? How are we to respond? On this day that marks the ascension of Christ, I think we can at least begin to understand our place and purpose here, right now. More

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