Blessed are the WHO??? The way of Power and the way of Jesus

Sermon for Fourth Epiphany Year A

Micah 6:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed are the WHO?? (This sermon is given in a very different form to that written below)



“There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

I wonder if anyone can tell me who said that??

Well it comes from the lips of one of the characters of the more interesting philosophers of our age, JK Rowling . . . Lord Voldemort . . .

And I think it sums up in practice if not always in explicit theory the prevailing philosophy of our day, indeed of any age. Our hopes are either raised or dashed by the people, we the people put in power . . . Let’s be honest about this, we are not particularly interested in the moral character of our leaders, rather we just want them to ‘get the job done’ (as long of course it is the job WE want them to get done.) Given the choice over the effective brute and the ineffective Saint . . .

It’s interesting in this light to consider a couple of things – firstly why we make the choices we do for those who lead nations, where we have a choice – and democratic processes . . . well enough said about that. The Scriptures are really NOT big on Kings, Emperors, Leaders in general – indeed the idea of The Leader is in a very large part something which grew out of the movies 🙂 . . . but we still look for the person who is going ‘to get the job done’

So again locally what do we really want in a new bishop??? What are we interested in when in a few months time we come to elect Bishop Kelvin’s successor? It’s one of the ironies about human life that the more closely we know people, often the more clearly we see their faults and so are tempted to go for someone we only know vaguely, but then again, as the old saying goes ‘better the devil you know . . . than the devil you don’t’ yet be under no illusions as to where your choice lies 🙂 Perhaps out there there is some bishop with a proven track record in restoring crumbling dioceses, they have a really impressive CV – come over really well in presentations – and they want to be our bishop . . . They ‘get the job done’, then there is someone else, not at all much to look at. Known to be kind, humble, meek, pure in heart, with an at times sad disposition about the world . . . but will they ‘get things done’?? What do we look for in a bishop? With whom do we agree? Which way? The way of Jesus? Or the way of power?

We might of course readily say, well the Way of Jesus of course, but after a few hours wrangling over it that old temptation to ‘get things done’ can rise to the surface . . . after all Jesus’ track record doesn’t exactly speak volumes does it – Yes he was a Good man, but at the end all his followers have given up on him and he’s dead on a Roman Cross . . . oh yes there were rumours that that wasn’t the end, but . . .  we live in the Real World. The world of Realpolitik go ‘getting things done’

Of course that ‘realistic’ desire to ‘get things done can extend right to the heart of religion. If we just . . . pray hard enough, if we just worship in the right way, if we just get ourselves sorted out. The prophet Micah leads us off down this track pondering “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high??? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?’ Will that be enough to twist his arm?? How about something bigger??? ‘Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?’ Perhaps that doesn’t quite cut it – it’s really not all THAT sacrificial  – hang on a minute ‘Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”’ The Religious world is just as prone to Power – Power over God to ‘get things done’ Ramping it up. If we get a thousand people praying for this . . . if we give more . . . if we . . . if we get the right bishop, the right leader . . . if only . . .

And God is having none of it ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you?? but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? While the World calls for bigger and louder and more and more Impressive, more ‘powerful’ – the Human scaled response is all that God calls for – in our day to day lives, our daily bread existence, act justly with the people you meet, don’t seek to win out over them, be fair, Love Mercy – treat others as you yourself are, fragile and frail and like the grass of the fired that is here today and gone tomorrow, but a breath of wind . . . that’s all you are – so walk humbly with your God. Wake up to the scale of your existence  – lose your illusions . . . for in that small thing you may find you are much closer to Him than you might think

As St Paul says ‘Jews demand Signs’ Show us a sign that we might believe win you they said – do something spectacular Jesus! ‘Greeks demand Wisdom – well worked arguments – a decent apologetic – explain your faith!’ and all we have is ‘Christ crucified’ . . . humanly speaking no power at all . . . I think it is probably fair to say that if no one has ever laughed at you for your faith, you haven’t really explained it to them properly 🙂 And then says Paul – just look at yourselves – Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. . . humanly speaking the church was never meant to look like much – funny how we get anxious as in the eyes of the world we become ‘irrelevant’, small, nondescript.

Blessed says Jesus, blessed are the nobodies . . . In Lent we’ll be looking at some of the ways our faith doesn’t make sense in The Modern world . . . not with any view to change it, mind you . . . there’s enough folk trying to do that, not enjoying the way in which the world ignores all this sin and salvation stuff, this message of the cross . . . but lets be honest, look at those Jesus says are blessed – no wonder we don’t get a ready hearing – Blessed are the WHO . . . Really?? The Meek shall inherit the Earth?? These words of Jesus are SO hard to hear in our culture of Power of ‘getting things done’, of the irrelevance of Good or Evil, just Get Results – as I have mentioned before these words of Jesus so stick in the throat of some Modern Christians that they try and avoid them – to paraphrase one popular writer, ‘God’s Kingdom is so wonderful that even the losers get in!!!’ But in so doing rejects not only Jesus’ words, but Jesus himself – the poor, mourning, meek one, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker finally persecuted and killed for righteousness sake.

When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God he uses metaphors about things small and hidden – not obvious, not demanding our attention. In amongst all the people putting their money in the treasury, he picks out the widow putting in her mite, the woman who brushes her hand against the hem of his robe, the child in their midst. the lost coin, or the one sheep in a hundred or the mustard seed . . . ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. Jesus was low and despised, he was mocked, laughed at, spat upon and finally crucified – and we expect that our faith will seem respectable?? Wise? Significant??
It is hardly surprising that when St Paul goes to Corinth taking only this message of Christ and him crucified he goes ‘in weakness and in fear and in much trembling’. Trusting God to work through his Holy Spirit to bring people to faith – because sure as eggs is eggs, only God can bring us to faith in the One revealed to us in Jesus on the Cross, for He in no way tallies with the way we are taught to understand the world – Blessed are the WHO???

Finally we have a stark choice – the one the world holds before us, and of which Voldemort’s words are the unveiled truth, “There is no good and evil, there is only power . . .”, or the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus sounds to us so other worldly – after all how is THIS the way to get things done?? Pray by all means, but come on ‘we need to get things done!’ But if the words of Jesus sound otherworldly, perhaps it is because the world in which we live is so distorted??

For in the same way that God chose the weak and poor and the foolish – those ignored in the world, – those are the same people who receive his message so readily. The poor in Spirit, the mourners and the meek. Those with no power of themselves to save themselves find themselves to be the recipients of God’s salvation.

Occasionally people rise to power who effectively throw off the mask – who agree with Voldemort not only in deed but in word, but the way of the World is in practical agreement with him even if it has not the self understanding to admit it  “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” As someone commented about Donald Trump this weak – ‘well at least you can’t accuse HIM of being a hypocrite’ WYSIWYG . . .

there are only two ways, the way of power and the small hidden weak poor foolish merciful and humble way of Jesus. Each of us Is small, our days are few and race by like the wind – let us not waste them – let us follow Jesus in his humiliation, for finally the way of Power will be revealed to be a Lie. This we believe – let us so live

The Baptism of Jesus – Year A 2017

The Baptism of Jesus – Year A, 2017

Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

“All the prophets testify about him, that everyone who believe in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” Acts 10:43

The Baptism of Jesus is a bit of a puzzle for us. The custom in many church’s on this Sunday – one which we have observed here in the past, is to use it to remind ourselves of our own baptism. Now that is a good thing to do, and of course in Catholic churches a small stoop of water is provided at the entrance to the church that you might take a little to remind yourself of Baptism before coming to participate in the Eucharist. But it we are not careful we do what we always have a tendency to do, to make this all about us. So we say the point of the Baptism is Jesus identifying with us – but that’s not strictly correct.

Jesus’ baptism is the Baptism of John and has a very clear meaning. It is the baptism of repentance of God’s people who are called to turn back to God in preparation for the coming of the Servant of the Lord as prophesied by Isaiah. It is very much a Jewish rite – indeed it had a special meaning in that it was the rite of purification for those wanting to become Jews – for proselytise – that is those seeking to convert The Odd thing about the Baptism of John was that it was Jewish people who were coming to be baptised. As John told the Pharisees ‘Do not presume to say to yourselves, “we have Abraham as our Ancestor”’ Put another way, “don’t go relying on your Jewish heritage” God is looking for a response, that of Repentance for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.

But the baptism of Jesus was a bit of a puzzle for John also. He protests to Jesus “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” John who declares Jesus to be “The Lamb of God – who takes away the Sin of the world” doesn’t understand why Jesus has come for baptism. Clearly what is happening here is something to which we Gentiles are outsiders (a theme which Matthew comes back to later on in his gospel.)

Yet there is an identification going on here and a very significant one. Jesus replies to John’s amazement with the words “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness” Such powerful words which we can discern even more clearly breaking it down phrase by phrase “Let it be .  .” Like the words of Mary – there is here a submission to GOd’s good purposes – Let it be to me according to your word.
“Let it be so now!” In other words in the Baptism of Jesus we are witnessing a special Time – that which Jesus announces as ‘The Day of Salvation’ In this moment of human History, something Special is happening – “Let it be so now” – “for, it is proper for us” Note how Jesus draws John in into this moment. Remember a few weeks ago how we heard in Advent that passage from Matthew – and Jesus asks the crowds ‘What did you go out in the wilderness to look at?’ The one about whom it is written, ‘Behold! I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way before you’.

“Let it be so now! For, it is proper for us” Jesus is saying to his cousin, This is Our moment. From this point on John the forerunner withdraws, becoming less as Jesus comes to fill our vision – but now – it is proper for us  in this way (that is through John Baptising Jesus). You John are going to play your Key part Today by baptising me – “to fulfil all righteousness.”

To fulfil – You don’t have to spend long in Matthew’s gospel before you hear what is a several times repeated word – ‘fulfilment’. We have already encountered it once, in our reading just before Christmas – where in Joseph’s dream – he is told by the angel ‘you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” which means, God is with us’

All this was to fulfil . . . we’ll come back to this in a moment. Then Joseph takes the infant Jesus and Mary to Egypt – ’to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet – “Out of Egypt I have called my son” and then twice more – ‘to fulfil, to fulfil – before now – ‘this is proper to fulfil all righteousness’. Put another way, the other fulfilment seem to be coming to this point – “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”

Jesus doesn’t merely do things to fulfil God’s plans and purposes, He IS the fulfilment of those purposes. And this is revealed in this moment. The purposes of God for his people which he has been patiently working out through the history of Israel. As Jesus comes up out of the waters of the Jordan – ‘suddenly the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending upon him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”

Throughout the Old Testament story of God’s people – over and over again through the prophets God refers to Israel as ‘My Son’ So the ‘the people of Judea and all Jerusalem and all the region along the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptised by John in the Jordan.’ and finally – the fulfilment – The Son of God. The fulfilment of God’s purposes for His people – baptised and  affirmed as God’s beloved Son . . . and the question is – ‘What happened next?’

If we are to fully understand the baptism of Jesus, we need to see it in its context and that it is ‘Jesus, who will save his people from their sins’ The context is of God’s people preparing themselves for His coming – They are with John, in the wilderness – they are on the far side of the Jordan – they are outside of the place of promise – and we do not know but we may assume that after their baptism they go home . . . except one . . . Jesus comes from Galilee – like all the rest he has to cross the Jordan to meet John – he has to leave the land of promise but he doesn’t re-enter . . .What happened next? He is sent out back into the wilderness. to save his people from their sins.

All three gospels which specifically mention the baptism of Jesus, next have Jesus’ being led, or as St Mark has it – driven out into the wilderness . . . what is going on here? If we see the baptism as it were a renewal of the story of going into the promised land, Jesus would go back across the Jordan, but no – he is led by the Spirit out into the wilderness . . .

As I said last week as we considered the name of Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us, to save his people from their sins. The Name of Jesus, the one who Is the fulfilment of God’s desire to save his people from their sins, the name Jesus – Joshua – ‘The Lord Saves’. John Baptises Jesus to fulfil all righteousness and then he is led back away from the Land and back into the Wilderness. All the others crossed the Jordan, were baptised and went back in – Jesus ‘to fulfil all righteousness goes into the wilderness’

At the heart of God’s work to save his people from their sins was under the Old Covenant through The Day of Atonement – And on this most Holy Day in the Calendar of God’s people two goats were selected . . . one was offered as a sacrifice and its blood was spread on the atonement seat, the cover of the ark of the covenant. The other? The Priest laid hands on the Goat and placed the sin of the people on the goat and it was driven out into the wilderness. After the waters have washed away the sins of all the people from Jerusalem and Judea and along the Jordan – Jesus finally, the sinless one steps into those same waters – and the sins of all the people are laid on him by John  who is of the priestly line of Abijah (‘My father is The LORD) — and he is driven out into the wilderness.

Now there is much more to all of this story – but remember ‘it is to fulfil ALL Righteousness’ In the Old Covenant – this was tied explicitly to the Day of Atonement. So Jesus is sent out as the Scapegoat – bearing the sins. It is interesting to note that at times of course the goat didn’t particularly want to disappear into the wilderness, and so to stop as it were a reinfection, it was thrown off a cliff . . . have you ever wonder why St Luke – after the baptism and the time in the wilderness notes that on his return to Nazareth – when he has declared the salvation of God in the synagogue – records ‘They got up drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the hill . . .so that they might throw him off the cliff . . .’

Well as we know – this isn’t the whole story – for there is a second goat – the one whose blood is scattered on the mercy seat – the atonement cover of the Ark of the Covenant – for Jesus is the One who will fulfil ALL Righteousness – the entirety of the work of atonement foreshadowed in the Old Covenant – is to be found in Jesus, the one who will save his people from their sins.

But this now does become about us – for in our baptism we are included in Jesus Baptism – so that all that was effected through him – the removal of Sin and its final destruction upon the cross – we are included in

St Paul sums this up wonderfully in his second letter to the Corinthians – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Every part of the Life of Jesus reveals who Jesus is – the one who will save us from our sins. He who IS the righteousness of God – who does what he is ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ – bears the Sin of the World, that we might become the righteousness of God. He is baptised and carries away our Sin so that when we are baptised we might know how righteousness. And so . . . when we are baptised we join with the crowds from all across Judea, and now indeed all across the world, an untold multitude – that we might go, not back to the wilderness, but forward into he land of God’s promise in and through Jesus. For ever praised.


(I am very grateful for an article by Alistair Roberts
which helped tremendously with this reading of Jesus baptism)

The naming and circumcision of Jesus

The feast of the naming and the circumcision of Jesus – 2017


‘And you shall name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’

Why are we given the names we are? Usually nowadays for no better reason than these are names our parents like. But that is no bad reason – for our name always reminds us of our parentage – those through whom we have come into the world. The desire to change one’s name – to name oneself is not something we should encourage. For how would we name ourselves aright?


I know that for many years I struggled with my own name – I was named after an uncle who died in infancy and it seemed to me that everyone called ‘Eric’ was OLD. It was only in my later years when the French footballer Eric Cantona strode the stage of my beloved Leeds United that I began to think differently about my name. Latterly I have come to understand it as the most significant link to my parents, of blessed memory – they named me.


But in earlier days I began to wear it with a little more pride as I learnt it was an ancient Norse name given to Kings – most significantly Eric the Red, or Eric Bloodaxe 🙂 All of a sudden I had left the arena of old men in flat caps and had entered the stage of Norse Saga and myth 🙂 Of course, having the name Eric neither made me an axe wielding Viking, nor a great footballer . . . and one feels for those children named in a prophetic sense – Grace, Charity, or as many of the boys at the Catholic high school where I taught were named, Christian. It seemed to have the opposite effect!


Today in our gospel we hear how ‘After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.’ Jesus is given his name in the prophetic sense – in response to the words of the angel to Mary and Joseph he is named Jesus.


The name Jesus was not all that unusual amongst Jewish boys of the time. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus, it would have been Jeshua – another form of the name Joshua, which literally means ‘The Lord Saves’. A name which linked Jesus to God’s actions in bringing his people into the promised land – a name with close associations with the prophetic tradition. Jesus is of course proceeded by John the Baptist, who is ‘the elijah who is to come’ Elijah – My God is The LORD! Elijah’s successor is Elisha – Literally ‘My God Saves!’ or God is Salvation! In other words Jesus as he is named is part of the long story of God’s people – and is circumcised on the eighth day as required by the Law of Moses.


And the name, given by the angels to Mary and Joseph means – ‘The LORD Saves’ for as the angel said to Joseph – ‘you shall name him Jesus, for he shall save His people from their sins’


Matthew links this announcement to the word spoken through Isaiah – ‘and they shall name him Emmanuel – which means God is with us’ The name Jesus is given for he shall be with his people, to save them from their sins. He comes to be with His people, to save them from their sins.


When we ponder, or utter the name of Jesus, we are reminding ourselves of our need to be saved from our sins. Why does God send Jesus to identify with his people? That he might take their sin upon him and save them from it.


And it must be said, that this is an element of the Christmas story which in the carols excepted seems to be lost from the telling. Jesus comes to be with his people, yes,

To save them from their sins? . . . this element gets lost in the telling or has been of late.


A few months ago I was with someone who asked as it were to the wind, ‘what has happened to Sin and Salvation in this Church’ We had been sat through hours and hours of this and that or the other seemingly pressing matters at General Synod, but not one word about the heart of our Faith, or better the Reason for the coming of Jesus amongst us, to save his people from their sins. And the question was a good one. Why in this age has the centre of the Gospel of Jesus  – the one who shall save his people from their sins – disappeared pretty much from view?


Well the reasons behind this are multifaceted – yet a not unimportant part of the reason is the collapse of Community in this day and age. When you are living in such proximity to others that you are aware that your life depends on them, and theirs on you, not just in extreme situations, but for day to day living – the breaking of relationship which is the fruit of sin is of utmost importance – Life or Death in some circumstances.


Yet, ‘Relationship’ has become such a light word in our culture – meaning less and less. Yesterday I was speaking with a young man, what we are calling a ‘millenial’ – he spoke of how ‘Trust’ was not part of the meaning of modern friendship. ‘Nowadays one knows that people are only friends until something more interesting comes along’ – a dynamic I have seen worked out countless times in the life of those children I know well. We have fewer and fewer strong connections – and thus less to break – or to use the language of our tradition, less obvious Sin.


My grandparents grew up in tightly knit societies where one knew ones place – and more, ones obligations to others, not least the poor. Held in place in this way, Sin was often a public matter. Now we live lives with no local consequences – our purchasing decisions don’t seem to affect anyone in our immediate circle. Our lives are lives of disengagement – lived out virtually – disconnected. Sin is alien to our consciousness . . .


And in this arena of nothing really mattering, not only Sin seems to disappear, but also Jesus himself. We have less time for him as Saviour, rather he becomes a wise teacher, in a Private spirituality – our faith no longer specifically about Him. For it is not only Sin and Salvation which has disappeared from the life of the Church, but ‘Jesus’ is now reduced to a rhetorical tool to justify this or that or the other agenda of our own. His words ‘no one comes to the Father except they come through me’ seems a strange throwback to that age in which Sin and Salvation were what it was all about.


Witness for example the very strange language of our confession from the 1928 prayer book (a watered down version of the 1662 whose name it bears) If we compare it with confessions from ‘A New Zealand Prayer Book’ the language of Sin and Salvation are much more to the front. They are a cry for HELP! We are in big trouble – Sin threatens to overwhelm us! Save us! Jesus, Save us!!


And of course – this is the Prayer he LONGS to answer – for He Is the One Named Jesus – so named for he shall save his people from their sins.  This is why He Came – that we might be reconciled to God in and through Him. It is of course the meaning of Confessing our Sins – it is the meaning of Our Baptism, It is the meaning of the Eucharist. All of which focus on Jesus – and Who he is – the one who shall save his people from their sins.


We are still in the season of Christmas – a season of 12 days in which amidst the feasting we meditate upon the Gift of Jesus to us. Let us take time to mediate upon the Name of Jesus – so named because he shall save his people from their sins.


You and I know each other by our names – let us in the same way Know Jesus.