Sermons

 

Sermons of the Month

This page has been developed to list out various sermons

over the last few months.

Rev Robert Ireton
Rector of the Parishes


20th May 2012
‘Protected’
John 17:6-19

Introduction
This week I came across a new twist in the whole area of ‘real estate’/owning property. According to a magazine advert you can now own a slice of Glencoe in Scotland from as little as £29.99! Yes, it’s amazing, but absolutely true. What’s more, if you take out this ownership you get a Scottish title thrown in ~ meaning you will be able to change your name by deed poll to Lord X or Lady Y. How’s about that for a bargain!

I’ve looked at the small print, and there don’t seem to be any catches. The land will be yours, and you can do whatever you like with it ~ including bequeathing the land to your children in your will.

Which brings us to our Bible reading.

Today we’re eavesdropping on the last will and testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He’s just finished the Last Supper and is on his way to the cross. But somehow, in the midst of all the gathering trauma and horror of what’s about to happen to him, Jesus finds the presence of mind to set down the terms and conditions of his disciples’ inheritance…which means yours and mine as well.
So what’s in this package for you and me?

Development

1. Protected by God’s name vs 11
We’re hearing a lot about European economic woes at the moment. All eyes are on Greece, and the jury is out on whether the Euro will survive the current turmoil. Some of us may be rather relieved that our own currency is more secure. The possible collapse of one of the most influential currencies in the world is a reminder that the name on that bank note in your wallet or purse, really does matter. It’s also a reminder that our fragile economies will stand or fall on the basis of the issue of confidence. Greece is struggling because people have lost confidence in their economy and are withdrawing investment. Bank withdrawals are gathering pace and they are looking over the edge of an economic precipice. Ironic that the country where democracy was born, and which in Jesus’ day supplied the primary language of the Mediterranean world is now facing such a catastrophe.
Those 8 little words on your bank note ~ ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand…’ really do matter a great deal!

So is there anything in our inheritance that can help us here?

Jesus bequeaths three shields around his disciples before he died, to hold and protect them in this world, come what may. The first shield in verse 11 was the shield of God’s name.

Whenever we come across the name of God, we’re not dealing with just a title, such as Lord, or Almighty, or Sovereign. The name of God is always an expression of His character too. In the Old Testament section of your Bible, you’ll find that the title LORD appears in capital letters frequently. It’s one of the most frequent names used in reference to God. That title is based on the name which was revealed to Moses in Exodus 3 when God met with him in the wilderness in a burning bush. It is the name Yahweh, or more accurately YHWH ~ which really cannot be spelt or pronounced. Jewish scribes copying the books of the Old Testament would wash their hands every time they copied that word in the text, and go through elaborate purification rituals because this name expressed the very being and character of God who is utterly Holy.

Jesus’ will for his followers was that they would be shielded and protected by that name of God. In other words, the follower of Jesus Christ is someone who has got YHWH/God literally on their side.

Which brings us to the next dimension of this inheritance:

2. Protected from evil (vs 15)
This week in Christian Basics/Confirmation prep we were looking at the question of whether God is faithful and can be trusted. One person asked, ‘what about Barford and the tragic drowning of a father and one of his daughters ? Or what about the father who lost six children recently in a fire?’ Can God still be trusted when bad things happen to us?
Let’s go back to Glencoe for a moment.
Let me read you a bit more of what’s in this particular real estate deal…

When you purchase this land you will benefit from the knowledge that you are making a genuinely positive contribution to the environment. By splitting the woodland into the ownership of hundreds of people…
(and this is the crunch!)
it ensures that no developer can ever acquire it and use it to the detriment of the area…..’

In other words taking up this inheritance of a bit of Scotland, protects and secures this area from anyone messing it up!

And that’s exactly what’s on offer in the protection from evil that Jesus includes in your inheritance and mine. Those who Jesus Christ has taken up ownership of, who belong to Him and confess Him as their only LORD… their inheritance is off limits to the evil one.

So why then do bad things still happen to you and me?

Firstly, because our inheritance is not ultimately on this earth. Hebrews 13:14 reminds us: ‘Here we have no continuing city’, and Jesus makes it clear in his ‘last will and testament’ that his followers are ‘not of this world’ (vs 16): they belong to a new world order and this is constantly at odds with the experience of everyday life! Every evil thing that life throws at us is constantly at odds with God’s perfect plan for our lives, which is exactly why it feels so terrible when a tragedy happens to us or those we know. We say to ourselves, ‘It’s not fair! It’s terrible what has happened.’ and the Bible entirely agrees with that sentiment. Evil isn’t fair. Evil isn’t just. Evil is no respecter of persons, of children, babies, fathers, mothers, orphans, and the vulnerable.

Secondly, the lessons of the Bible and the record of human history should utterly convince us that there is a presence of evil in the world, personified in the person Jesus called ‘Satan’, who is utterly sold out on messing your life up and mine. The evil one has no other purpose on earth than to harm, destroy and wreck. BUT, and here’s the important point, the evil one may leave a trail of tragedy in his wake, but…he has absolutely no power to touch your inheritance from God.

Which brings us to the final dimension of the inheritance that Jesus wants us to have…

Conclusion Protection from despair (vs 17)

The other night I caught a few minutes of a programme about women who ‘rinse men’. I’d heard of ‘blue rinse’ brigade (something to do with certain Tory supporters I think!) but this was a new one on me.
It turns out that there is a new breed of predatory women who make it their sole purpose in life to relieve wealthy men from as much of their money as they can get out of them, without having sex. It was a truly bizarre and shocking programme. But what was most tragic about these women is the utter pointlessness and uselessness of their lives. They had only one objective: to acquire material possessions. They epitomised to the nth degree that famous definition of our materialist society ~ ‘I shop, therefore I am’. What a philosophy of despair!

But Jesus has something different to offer everyone than that. His request to his Father as he prepared to depart this world was that they would know the meaning of life and have utter confidence in living the Christian way. And that’s all about knowing and believing in the truth that Jesus taught us, and which the 66 books of the Bible elaborate on. It’s all there for us to pick up and read.
So, how’s your Bible reading going?
I am still amazed at the number of regular church members who read the paper, check their emails, follow Coronation Street or East Enders, but hardly ever pick up the Word of truth.
God’s written word, is the best defence against the diet of despair that the news, the internet and daily life has to offer you and me 24/7. It is Jesus’ personal inheritance to you and to me. If you’re not sure about it, it’s not too late to join the Christian Basics course to refresh your faith. Or how about joining our discipleship groups which have the Bible at the centre of what we do together? Or if you’re not up for any of that, how about using a Bible reading scheme or Bible notes? The Christian book shop has lots on offer, and if you want a free sample there are some I’ve left out in church today.

‘Sanctify them by your truth’ Jesus said.. ‘Your Word is truth’(John 17:17). Let’s make sure that the word of truth is getting daily into our blood stream so that we’re equipped for when life goes pear-shaped and we need the safety of knowing that God is on our case.
Not just today. Not just tomorrow…but as Jesus said on the day he ascended into heaven.. ‘I am with you ALWAYS..to the end of time’

Rev Robert Ireton

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29th April 2012 Civic Service/Joint service
‘The presence of God’
Luke 24:13-35

Introduction
The story behind the film that made Celine Dionne’s voice famous, and cemented Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet into a classic Romeo and Juliet contemporary love story tragedy, has now been given a new twist. If you’re in to this kind of emotional torture you can now see the last death throes of history’s most tragic maiden voyage, over and over again (courtesy of ITV) from a whole variety of different points of view!
The only problem is, that every time you get to the fatal ‘crunch’ in the story, the ship still goes down and you’re left thinking: ‘why didn’t they stop this tragedy from happening?’

Development

1. Points of view
For the first followers of Jesus Christ, it must have felt just like that on Good Friday and the first Easter weekend. The death of Jesus Christ took place from all sorts of points of view, which is why we have such a variety of accounts in the New Testament. There was Pilate and the Roman Empire ~ the elected government of the day; there was Caiaphas the High Priest and the church authorities of the day; there was Herod and his cronies, the puppet King and royal court of the day; there were the crowds of tourists on holiday in Jerusalem in those days; there was Jesus’ family, his brothers and most poignantly, his mother ~ an eye witness to all that happened to him; and finally there was the group of his closest friends, Peter, James, John, Nathaniel, Mary Magdalene, Martha, Salome, Cleopas (who appears ion our reading this morning) and all the other close disciples.

They were all there, and as the events unfolded they each had a different perspective on what had happened. But none of them were able to stop the tragic events of Good Friday from happening ~ not even Pilate, who publicly washed his hands of the whole affair in front of the crowd (Matthew 27:24).

As you and I listen to the accounts of that first Good Friday all over again, we find ourselves on an escalator of history that, like the sinking of the Titanic, we are powerless to do anything about.

2. A doctor’s diagnosis

Today’s reading is from the perspective of a doctor. St Luke, a doctor, is the only one of the gospel writers who records that as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane on the night before he died, he was in such distress that the sweat from his brow was ‘like drops of blood falling to the ground’ ~ a rare medical event (hematohidrosis) that can happen to someone under extreme conditions of distress. Luke wrote his gospel to help a man called Theophilus, and all those other people who would read his gospel like we have today, to understand the meaning of the tragedy and triumph of Holy Week and Easter Day.

His gospel answers the question: ‘What was it that caused a rag-tag bunch of largely uneducated men and women to forge together into a following that has crossed over into every continent of the world over the last 20 centuries. What happened that caused people to die in Roman amphitheatres, to be burnt at the stake, thrown to lions, or to be crucified upside down as Peter may have been, according to some traditions? What has made the Christian faith and the church endure the exterminations of the death camps in Soviet Russia, Communist China, and regimes today where it is illegal to be a Christian?

3. A divine encounter

Luke’s account of the resurrection from the perspective of the road to Emmaus, tells us two things:
Firstly: Jesus was alive from the dead on the first Sunday after Good Friday. He drew near to two of his disciples as they walked the dusty 7 mile down hill journey west of Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. He talked with them about all that had happened in Jerusalem on Good Friday and then gave them a history lesson from the Bible which they would never forget. He joined them for supper at the village where they were heading. And when he sat down to eat with them, took bread, broke it and gave to them (as we will be doing in a few minutes time)…just as he had done on the night before he died in the upper room, SUDDENLY they saw, they heard and they touched him as he gave them broken bread to eat.

What a moment!

Luke tells us that Jesus was physically alive from the dead. People saw, touched, heard and met with him. This was not an illusion or hallucination; it was a medically proven fact which Dr Luke wanted to make sure was passed on to others..as it has been today.

Secondly: Something happened inside these two disciples which was much more than just a passing encounter. As Jesus drew near and went with them, they felt His presence deep in their souls: ‘Did not our hearts burn with us while He talked with us along the road’. This isn’t just about a fact of history; it’s about an experience of truth. The ‘crunch’ issue of the terrible tragic death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ is this: for the faith of the church to mean anything to us today, Jesus has to be alive not only in our heads but in our hearts too.
Conclusion

I have the privilege and the awesome responsibility of preparing people for their death It’s one of my job descriptions ~ ‘A priest is called…to baptize,..preside at the celebration of Holy Communion..lead his people in prayer & worship, to intercede for them, to bless them in the name of the Lord,..to teach and encourage..to minister to the sick, and to prepare the dying for their death.’ So if you need any help with any of that stuff, look up your local Vicar! (and if you’re in one of my parishes my numbers on the noticesheet today)
And the only thing that keeps me going as I listen to some terrible stories and witness some tragic events that play out on the stage of real people’s lives, like the Titanic disaster of a century ago, is the certain knowledge: that death is not the end; that it is possible to meet Jesus Christ in your life today ~ not just in your head, but in your heart!

Do you know that reality in your life today? You may not have seen Jesus walking about the place, but you know he is risen from the dead… You may not have sat and eaten bread and fish with him as the first disciples did after the resurrection, but you have felt his presence as clearly as if someone had put a hand upon your heart.
Do you know this for yourself? Because this is the faith and meaning of the Church of Jesus Christ across the world, in the Revel Group, and here in this beautiful ancient church of St Editha.

St Paul wrote, ‘If for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable! But now is Christ arisen, arisen, arisen, ari……..isen!!’.
Let’s ask God to make Jesus known to us this morning, just as he was made known at Emmaus in the breaking of the bread.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed: Alleluia!

Rev Robert Ireton

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11th March 2012
‘What’s in a name?’
When God desires change…..
Sermon series on people of vision (4)

Introduction
I was born a few miles away from Dunfermline Abbey where Robert the Bruce was buried. Bruce was a fascinating figure in Scottish history; crowned King of Scotland in 1306 in one of the many attempts of the Scots to escape English rule, the winter of 1306/7 found him on the run in exile after Edward 1 had dispatched an army to remove him. It was whilst he was on an island in the Hebrides that the story emerged about the famous spider!

Many people have an innate fear of these 8-legged creatures. So legend has it, Bruce was hiding from the English army in a cave when he spotted a spider trying to weave a web across the entrance. The web it was weaving kept breaking, but the spider just kept at it, trying to make the web work. Hiding in that cave, Robert the Bruce - the King of Scotland now deposed by the English - looked out on a hopeless situation. Edward I had died and now Edward II was after him. Bruce had lost many of his forces in the fighting and become separated from his wife and family. Change looked utterly impossible.

Turning events over in his mind, Robert the Bruce watched the spider weaving its web. And in a moment of inspiration he was inspired to pick himself up, gather his troops together again and fight back for what became a great victory and the restoration of his rule (at least for a while!).

Development
1. What’s in a name?

Our Bible reading this morning brings us face to face with Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, at a similarly impossible time in his life. Having been in exile from his brother Esau for 20+ years, he was now in exile from his Uncle Laban, who had tried to trick him out of everything he possessed. Jacob hadn’t been much better than his uncle in this regard, and certainly his brother Esau had a legitimate grievance against him, even after 20 years, because he had tricked him out of what was rightfully his.

Things had come to a head with his uncle and so Jacob decided to take his life in his hands and go back home to face the music…and Esau. And as he travelled, his brother Esau came out to meet him ..with an army of 400 freedom fighters in tow! Not exactly the ideal homecoming for a man with 2 wives, 12 children, lots of servants and a large fortune in sheep. Things couldn’t have been worse, and as he reached the river Jabbok, a border line which he had to cross to go home, Jacob did the only thing left to him to do: he fell down on his face before God and he prayed like he’d never prayed before.

The saying goes, ‘there are no atheists in foxholes (or air raid shelters for that matter!). Jacob was no atheist, but his life had been a pattern of character defects. Some of us have bad temper to deal with, or a spiteful tongue, or a judgmental attitude, or problems in our private lives, or we eat too much speak too much or work too much! Jacob’s problem was his name.

Shakespeare said, through Romeo to Juliet ~ ‘What’s in a name’ when Juliet was bothered about taking his name if they married. ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’…But actually our name matters. It is given to us by our parents who usually take a lot of time choosing it. We spent hours going through the names book, when trying to fix on a name for our four children. What is true of people today was true in Bible times also. Names in the Bible meant something. The names of God are a Bible study in themselves: God revealed himself as ‘El Shaddai’ (Gen 17) ~ ‘the Lord who gives strength’ when Abraham was up against it; he revealed himself as ‘Jehovah-jireh’ when Isaac was spared from death (Gen 22). When Moses met God at the burning bush, he revealed himself as Yahweh ~ the God who is the great ‘I am’.

What’s in a name?...a great deal of meaning. ‘Adam’ = Man; ‘Eve’ = mother of living; ‘Noah’ = ‘relief’!; Abraham = ‘father of many nations; Isaac = ‘laughter’. And Jacob’s name said it all ~ ‘supplanter’…trickster…the person who had literally pushes his brother out of his place as the eldest. The whole of his life to this point was a mixed bag of Godliness, overlaid with scheming and waywardness which had made him enemies on both sides of the river Jabbok.

No wonder on the night we catch up with him in Genesis 32, he was afraid.

2. A battle that Jacob could not win
When Robert the Bruce lost the battle against Edward I, he sent his loved ones into hiding where they would be safe, and he and the remains of his army fled. Bruce took refuge in the Hebrides. He ran off because he knew that this was a battle that he couldn’t win, and there needed to be a re-think of the strategy. A wise leader knows when to do this. Many of us have situations in life, whether at work, with our families, or with our neighbours… where we have to choose the battles we can win and not keep bashing our head against a brick wall. Some battles we can get sucked into are a lost cause from the outset. My parents moved us around the country over and over again, entirely due to my father’s job in the navy and MOD. And every time the idea of a move came up again, my mother would row with my father interminably. We all hated the upheaval; but the grief really wasn’t worth it. Dad had to move, and that meant we all had to go too.

Are there things you are struggling with that are a ‘lost cause’? Then why are you still struggling!? Learn the lesson from Jacob, who, not content with trying to manipulate his brother Esau, his father Isaac, and his uncle Laban, that night by the ford of the river Jabbok, Jacob wrestled with God!

The scripture says that a man met with him (which was probably an angel), but scholars speculate this could have actually been the pre-existent Lord Jesus Christ! Angels are pretty scary beings. Everyone in the Bible who tried to cross an angel or get the better of them, lived ..or sometimes didn’t live to regret it. Genesis 3 ~ the angelic guard on the tree of life, guarding the way with a sword which no one can survive a fight against; the angels in Genesis 18 who visited Lot in the city of Sodom and the inhabitants tried to rape ~ a very scary story indeed!; the pagan prophet Balaam, who met an angel whilst riding on a donkey and narrowly escaped with his life (Numbers 22); Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, who was struck dumb by the Angel Gabriel because he didn’t believe what the angel told him! (Luke 1)

Well, if angels are scary beings that you wouldn’t want to cross, we can only begin to imagine how scary a person the pre-existent Lord Jesus Christ would have been. Not that we should be afraid of him in the sense of ‘cowering’ or ‘nasty’. This is the ‘holy awe’ that the Bible speaks of when Moses was in the wilderness and God said to him out of the burning bush, ‘Don’t come any closer; take the shoes off your feet, for the ground on which you are standing is holy’. Sometimes a bit of healthy awe would do us all a lot of good when it comes to the way we treat our relationship with God. Jesus is our Saviour; but someone with the power to summon twelve legions (60,000!) of angels, isn’t someone you’d want to mess with.
Wrestling with God and trying to make God do what he wanted, was a lost cause. And Jacob kept at it all night long.

3. The breakthrough
The breakthrough came when God changed Jacob’s name. As dawn was breaking, Jacob was still struggling with God and all that he was up against, and finally, finally, there is a breakthrough. But it isn’t on God’s side: He is eternal, unchanging and omnipotent. The change came when God asked Jacob this question ~ ‘What is your name?’ that is to say, ‘What sort of a person are you?’. And Jacob did the only thing he could do: he told God who he was, and what he was like: ‘I’m Jacob…the trickster; the supplanter; the man who always gets his own way…’
And God did something wonderful for Jacob that night: he changed him.

Have you known that experience?

Jesus changed the water into wine because he didn’t want to leave the wedding guests in their predicament; he had the power and divine right to change things…and He did! (John 2)

Jesus cleared the temple of traders and tricksters, because it offended him to leave people with no sanctuary to meet with God: he had the divine right to change things…and he did. (John 2)
Jesus met Nicodemus, a person who had been religious all his life but really didn’t know God, and he said to him ‘You must be born again’….you have to let God change you Nicodemus….(John 3).
Change is possible, but we have to be prepared to let God come into our lives and do it.

Conclusion
All this week Bishop Christopher is with us in the Deanery and will be inviting people he meets to look at where they are in their relationship with God and challenge them to change!
God told Jacob ‘You shall no more be called Jacob, but you will get a new name’ …
no more bad temper..
no more waywardness…
no more greed or lust…
no more spite…arguing…gossiping…trickery...indulging temptations
….no more.
Let’s ask God the Holy Spirit to be at work across the Deanery in changing people in this way: we need transformation as a county and a country….
and that has to begin with you and me.

Rev Robert Ireton


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12th Feb 2012 Revel Churches
“Pre-eminent!”
Colossians 1:15-20

Introduction

On 6th Feb 1952, George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham, after a long illness. His eldest daughter Elizabeth, away in Kenya at the time, became Queen at the age of just 25. What a responsibility for a young adult to take on.
All this year we’re going to be thinking about the Queen’s diamond jubilee ~ 60 years of rule as our Queen. In Revel Primary School they have been focusing on this all term with music each week from the six decades of the Queen’s rule…50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and this week it was the 90’s…boy bands ‘Take that’, Robbie Williams, Eminem, Madonna…actually some pretty unusual human beings in the world of music!
Our reading this morning from Colossians reminds us of another reign: ‘He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent..’ (vs 18)

Development

1. So how do you become ‘pre-eminent’?!
As we recall the Queen’s jubilee this year, we recall the symbols of her pre-eminence in this country. She occupies the highest place of legal authority in the land, and there are a number of symbols from her coronoation which reflect that.

i) Her throne ~ the place where she sits. It is a place of rest in terms of authority: that is to say, as she sits on it, she is taking up a position which belongs to her and no other. It wasn’t in doubt at the coronation who should be on that seat.

ii) Her sceptre which she held in her hand as a statement of control and dominance over others. The one who wields this symbol is someone who has the right to make decisions!

iii) The Orb ~ a symbol of the world with the Cross on top of it, placed in the Queen’s left hand at her coronation and reminding the monarch who’s really in charge of the world (we’ll come back to this)

iv) The crown ~ the image of honour being bestowed upon the sovereign

v) The anointing oil ~ symbolic of God’s blessing poured out upon the Queen

vi) The Bible ~ given to her as a reminder of the basis of all true authority coming down from God

But what actually made Elizabeth Windsor pre-eminent? Was it a service at Westminster Abbey, or an Act of Parliament? Surely it’s more to do with the way you and I treat her.

Let’s imagine after this service you go for a coffee at the Farm Shop in Stretton. As you get settled and lift your cup to take a drink, Queen Elizabeth sits down at your table. What would you do next?! Wouldn’t you at the very least, STAND UP!...and if you’d remembered your manners, you would bow or courtesy in recognition.

Pre-eminence is fundamentally to do with the way we treat someone. Which is why the mis-use of God’s name and that of Jesus Christ should be such an issue for us all.

2. So how has Jesus Christ been made pre-eminent?

On 2nd June 1953 Elizabeth was crowned Queen by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher. This formal ceremony confirmed her place in the nation and in history.

When it comes to the supremacy of Jesus Christ, St Paul reminds us that Jesus’ rule is not about what we do to make Him king, as they did to the Queen in 1953; Christ’s rule is something which God has already done to Him, and something that only God can do.

This is very important to get our heads around.

Think back to 1936. Edward VIII became king by accession on 20th Jan that year…but he never ascended the throne. What happened? He abdicated before the coronation could take place, in favour of marrying Mrs Simpson, a divorcee.

Edward VIII never entered into his rule as a result.

But when it comes to Jesus Christ, Paul says ‘He is already above all things..He is before all things…all things hold together in Him. And the apostle John in his gospel spells this out when he writes, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God..He was in the beginning with God and without Him was nothing made that has been made.’ (John 1).
Jesus Christ reigns on the throne of human history, and indeed over all eternity, NOT by human permission or decision: He is King by divine appointment and investment.

Conclusion So why does all this matter?

The most common mistake people make about the Queen is to refer to her as ‘head of the church of England’. That’s NOT what it says in the accession service! She is designated supreme Governor of the C of E. Only one person is head of the church, and that is Jesus Christ.

The world has no choice in this matter. It is not a matter of belief or opinion. The Bible tells us, St Paul and St John remind us, Jesus Christ runs the universe! The challenge then for you and me, and for all people everywhere. Is to acknowledge His kingship in our lives.

What God wants must come first, second and last.

And that matters immeasurably, when things in life don’t work out as we hope they might.

Rev Robert Ireton


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22nd January 2012 Revel Churches
“Do whatever He tells you”
John 2:1-11

Introduction

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever done or been told to do?
Barbara once was told by a friend to walk through the Cafeteria at College dressed in a Gorilla suit! It was Rag week, but nevertheless caused quite a stir as the Principle and senior faculty were eating lunch in there at the time!

I’ve done quite a few odd things in my time, but probably the oddest thing I’ve ever been told to do is to ski backwards...and I mean, down hill! It was a few years back when I was in Norway skiing and trying to improve my skills. The instructor we had, got us all part way down the first slope, and then casually announced we were going to be asked to do something that would sound ridiculous. And it did!! The experience brought a whole new meaning to that phrase: Since then ‘I’ve never looked back’, re my skiing progress!

How about you?.....

Our Bible reading today takes us into the realms of serious ‘strangeness’ and it especially strange, because Jesus is at the centre of all of it. Let’s see if we can learn what was going on in this episode form the life of Jesus, and ask ourselves what we can learn about following Christ in this New Year.

Development

1. The Place/context….

John tells us that a wedding was going on at Cana, a small village just north of Nazareth, and that while the feast was going on, both Jesus and his disciples were called to come and join in the celebrations. It sounds like this was an unexpected addition to the guest list. But that’s not so unusual for the time, as weddings in Jesus’ day went on for about a week! We know that from other stories in the Bible, such as the wedding of Jacob to Rachel when Laban managed to trick his future son in law into sleeping with the wrong bride (Leah) so he could make sure both his daughters were married off at the same time. (see Genesis 29) Weddings formed a hugely important part in Israel’s culture, forging links between families, and strengthening community cohesion. Jesus’ mother clearly knew the family at Cana very well, as she was already there when Jesus came to join them; and it is likely that Jesus also knew the couple well as he grew up in Nazareth in a small town where unlike today, everyone would have known everyone else.

2. The challenge

However what was particularly unusual about the event is that the wine ran out. Elaborate plans are made now, as then, for weddings. Wine in Jesus’ day was a symbol of joy so for the wine to run out would not only have caused considerable embarrassment to the host and the family, but would also have been seen as a very bad omen regarding the likely happiness and success of the couple’s marriage. Families and hosts would want to do everything possible to prevent this sort of situation arising.

We’re not told the reason for the wine running out, although some commentators suggest that the problem may have been precipitated or certainly exacerbated by the sudden arrival of 7 ‘extra’ guests (Jesus with 6 of his disciples are mentioned at the end of John 1). The cause is not really that important to the story, which is presumably why John leaves this out. What is clear from the passage is the effect of this crisis on some of the key players.

Mary’s response to the crisis was immediately to turn the matter over to Jesus. Joseph is missing from the story and it is safe to assume he had died by this time. Therefore it was a natural reaction for a mother in this situation to turn to her oldest son for help. Widows in those days had no state welfare safety net to fall back on when their husbands died, so Mary would have already been used to depending on Jesus when a problem arose. When she learnt of the crisis, she therefore did what she usually did in these circumstances, she told her son.

The servants’ response to the crisis was also significant. They were asked to do a ridiculous thing: to fill 6 huge water pots capable of holding a combined total of at least 120 gallons! That’s an awful lot of water. To give you some idea, an average bath tub filled to the brim holds about 50 gallons. We’re talking about mega bucks worth of alcohol, enough to have several baths in! Actually the ridiculous part of the story wasn’t the pots being filled with water; what was clearly unheard of would have been for a servant to offer water to the host/Master of ceremonies for a toast. It is likely that a servant doing this sort of thing would be likely to become toast! Offering water instead of wine in a toast would underline the bad start that this couple appeared to be making in their married life, and this would impact on both the families concerned. Which brings us to the miracle.

3. The miracle

The Oxford dictionary defines a miracle as ‘an extraordinary event attributed to some supernatural agency’. Google Wikipedia defines it as ‘an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature.’
Scientists and theologians throughout history have been divided about the whole idea of miracles. Most scientists find the notion of a miracle as contrary to their understanding of the laws of nature; most theologians don’t agree about the subject at all!

St John isn’t interested in the science or theology of miracles in this story. That’s not his concern. He simply tells us what happened as an eye witness to the event. He was actually there and saw it for himself. And what he saw and experienced that day changed his view of Jesus for good. It was a turning point in his journey of faith and he places this miracle ‘up-front’ in his gospel as one of the key things about the life of Jesus which helped John to become a believer. Later at the end of his gospel John tells the reader ‘And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that ye might believe…
(John 20:30,31)
Which brings us to you and me.

Conclusion The choice : Do you believe?

On 15th Sept 1860, Charles Blondin performed one of the most amazing stunts the world has ever seen. In front of a huge crowd, he walked a tightrope 160’ up above the Niagra falls from USA to Canada ~ a distance of around 1100 feet. Amazingly, he didn’t fall in!
After he had walked one way, he asked the crowd on the other side of the falls if they believed he could make it back to the other side again. ‘Yes!’ they shouted; ‘We believe!’
He held up his hand for silence. Then he asked them if they believed he could carry someone on his back and still make it safely across?! By now the crowd was going wild with excitement. ‘Yes!’ they all shouted, ‘WE BELIEVE, WE BELIEVE, WE BELIEVE!’.
Once more Blondin raised his hand for silence and then asked the question:
‘Who’s coming with me?’…….
There was absolute silence.
No one spoke.
Until eventually Henry Concord, Blondin’s agent raised a hand and volunteered to go with him.
Amazingly, they both made it safely back to the US side of the falls.

When it came to the crunch, Mary had a choice in a crisis: would she believe in her Son?
When it came to the moment of crisis at the lip of the stone water jars, each of the servants had a choice: they’d put the water in the stone jars; they knew where it had come from. Would they believe in her Son?

And as we go into 2012 we are faced with the same question: when it comes to a moment of crisis, do you believe in the Son? And more’s to the point, do you believe enough in Him to ‘Do whatever He tells you?

That question is important, because John’s story suggests that your answer to that question is going to have a bearing on how many miracles you’re likely to see in the weeks and months ahead.
And with all that wine around, that’s quite a ‘sobering’ thought!

Rev Robert Ireton


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8th January 2012 Revel Churches
“Where is your joy?”
Matthew 2:1-12

Introduction

I’m trying to get into some serious star gazing. I’ve looked at buying a telescope; I’ve got a new star map; I’ve had some books about star gazing over Christmas. Now all I need to do is brave the elements and do some ‘gazing’.

The main problem I’ve discovered with looking at stars is finding your compass point. Unlike the landscape, there are no fixed points to get your bearings from. The Moon is simple enough to find, but before you look around it’s moved. And the movement is complicated by the fact that the earth is moving too! This becomes frustrating when you’re trying to find a particular star in the sky. There is the famous North star, which mariners have used for centuries to navigate at sea and is the one reliable fixed star overhead. But you need to know where that is to use it as a starting point in the first place! So you need a star map, a reliable starting point, like the plough or if you can find it the North Star, and then preferably someone by your side who knows the difference between Jupiter and M20! (and I’m not talking about the motorway!)

I think it is therefore entirely appropriate that Matthew writes, “When they saw the star, the Wise men were filled with joy”. They found their compass point and it gave them direction for their mission. More importantly, it filled them with joy. So as you and I start this New Year together, let me ask you:

Where is your joy? Let’s look at where the joy came from for these wise tourists, and see if this can help us get a handle on our joy too in 2012.

Development

1. The rising star
Matthew describes one important reference point in heaven that inspired the Magi/Wise men. He tells us the star was ‘in the East’: literally it ‘rose in the East’. These men made it their life’s work to make sense of the world by understanding the stars.
There’s nothing especially new about this. Abraham looked out into the night sky one evening and God gave him a whole new perspective on his life’s work; Jacob fell asleep under the stars one night and God gave him an inspiring vision of his place in eternity; the psalmist looked out on the milky way and wrote ‘When I look at the heavens and the work of your fingers: the stars and your handiwork…what is Man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him…..’; on Christmas Eve 1968, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman made history as they looked out of Apollo 8 on the first human view of an earth rise from Lunar orbit and recited the first few verses of Genesis ~

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
There’s something about outer space which helps us to make sense of inner space. And these Wise men standing outside Jerusalem looking up, caught something of the wonder in the rising star that filled them to overflowing with joy.

Barbara and I witnessed something of this on TV this week when we eventually caught up with the finals of Masterchef. 12 candidates became 6, became 4, became 3 and finally became one winner of the highest award Michelle Roux Jnr could bestow. The thing I most enjoyed about the programme, apart from the absence of bad language!, was the look of sheer joy on the candidates faces as each of the successful contestant got through to the next round. They are the best up to date visual aid I can think of to illustrate what joy looks like when it hits you FULL ON!

2. Why did the Wise men follow the star in the first place?
It was pretty obvious the motivation for Ash, Claire and Steve, the 3 finalists on Masterchef. They were looking for the reward of outstanding excellence: to be the very best in their field of work. They followed the Michelin stars(!) and the prestige associated with them.
The motivation for the Wise men was different. They followed the star which rose in the east and travelled west, because in this compass point they saw the possibility of change: a new child in the world; a new ruler to come who would offer hope for the future; this was much more than just political change. The gifts which they brought the new boy represented his majesty (gold ~ symbolic of power and dominion), his divinity (frankincense ~ pointing to his unique connection to God) and his humanity (myrrh~ ointment for healing and used in burial).

Any one of these gifts had a huge helping of hope invested in it: ~

The gold ~ when it comes to ruling, someone once said, ‘He who has the gold makes the rules’ (think about it!). You don’t have to look very far to see evidence of this everywhere today as our world is controlled by the Ftse, the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ. The gift of gold was an investment in Jesus Christ as someone who was going to be a ruler. The wise men got this one absolutely spot on. Jesus may have been born in a stable, but his rule now extends over all eternity.
The frankincense ~ used by worshippers the world over to offer up prayer to a deity with power to change things. The wise men got this absolutely right also as Jesus is the name which gives all believers access into the very presence of Almighty God. Every time that name is used as a swear word or ‘taken in vain’ it robs our world of the hope that was invested in this baby boy when Joseph took him to the temple and gave him the name ‘Jesus’ ~ saviour. Let’s all do our bit to treasure this name in the way the wise men did at Christmas and confront those who think nothing of dragging the name of Jesus or God into the gutter.
The myrrh ~ used by doctors in the ancient world to heal people from sickness, and ultimately used as a symbolic preservative for people who had lost the battle against sickness and were buried wrapped in this expensive balm.

3 very different ‘Michelin stars’ than the ones that Ash, Claire and Steve battled over!

Conclusion ~ So what’s in ‘Epiphany’ for you and me?

The story of the first Epiphany is centred around two conflicting compass points. On the one hand there was the rising star which the wise men chased across the night sky and finally arrived in time to see the one person in human history who has the power to change things for good. On the other hand there was the declining tyrant in Jerusalem whose desperation to hold onto power drove him to extraordinary levels of spite and wickedness.
One compass points leads us to the place of hopes and dreams; the other leads us to disappointment and despair.

Which is it to be for you this new year?
This is one of the hardest choices for each of us as we start a new year. Looking back over recent new years, maybe you are one of the many people who find it hard to find any joy about the change of calendar. I know people who hate new year and find it morbid as they look back at broken promises and shattered dreams: the new year reminds them of past hopes dashed, previous new years that soon became just ‘more of the same’. And very soon they end up at the court of Herod where hope soon evaporates.

The more difficult choice is to journey on from there as the wise men did until you find the place where the Saviour lies! This doesn’t guarantee you or me a new year full of champagne and roses… but as week by week we enter ‘his house’ and ‘worship at his feet’, we will find the grace to leave the past behind us and discover the truth which the psalmist celebrates when he writes ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy: at your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.’ In the light of that hope I wish you ~ Happy new year!

Rev Robert Ireton

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