Sermons Blog

Welcome to our "Sermon" blog


You need never miss another sermon again, as every week they will be uploaded on to this Blog page.


And even if you do not regularly attend either of our Churches; in St Peter's Rhoose, or St Curig's Porthkerry, on this page you will find out what we learn each week: About the meaning of our bible readings, how we can better understand them, and how we can live our lives closer to God.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 23 2018 10:15AM

Many of you will know that one of my favourite places in the whole world is Blackpool. It was where I spent many happy family holidays as a child and now my children have their own memories of October half terms being blown along the promenade. Even if you've never visited, you'll know that one of the biggest attractions in Blackpool is its Tower. Not only does it house the famous Ballroom and circus, but you can also go almost to the top and see panoramic views across the town, as far as the hills of the Lake District. On the highest level there is a glass panel built into the floor which you can walk over and see the cars and people below, looking like tiny toys. Of course not everyone wants to walk over it. I can remember a time we visited with my mum. Hannah was 3 and took great delight in running across. My mum and her stick walked across. A very large man also walked across, but there were 2 teenagers, standing by the side who refused to set foot on it. They were egging each other on, but neither would try. They were afraid that the glass wouldn't hold. It didn't matter that it had been a feature for decades and that thousands of people had walked across without incident. Neither did it matter that they had seen people with their own eyes safely walk over. The evidence meant nothing, their minds were made up.

Now, in the great scheme of things, it doesn't really matter whether those teenagers walked over the glass floor or not, it's just a bit of fun. But in our Bible reading today we'll see a situation when ignoring the evidence has life or death consequences.

Let's remember where we are up to in John's gospel. We have journeyed all the way from the poetic prologue and Jesus' arrival on the scene, heralded by John to Baptist, to the final few days of his earthly life. We have seen the 8 amazing signs that John has recorded for us, 8 out of many. He turned water in wine, cleansed the temple of the money changers and sellers, healed an official's son, made a paralysed man walk, fed over 5000 people with a packed lunch, stilled a storm with a word, opened the eyes of a man born blind, and finally brought Lazarus back from the dead. Each incident was witnessed by many people who saw Jesus doing things that no ordinary person could do. Who even today can stop a storm with a word, or feed thousands with a few fish sandwiches or bring back to life a man dead for 4 days? No one! Each sign was like a big newsflash announcing Jesus is the Messiah! Jesus is God! The evidence was right there before their eyes. And yet John says, v37 "Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe." People saw a dead man raised, they ate the loaves and fish and yet they still did not believe. Today, 2000 years later, with the eye witness record of scripture and the evidence of billions of changed lives down the centuries, still most people do not believe in Jesus. Why? John gives us two reasons: the will and the fear of others. Let's look at them:

The will. Look again at v37. It's not just that the people did not believe in Jesus. John tells us 'they would not believe in him.' It's a matter of the will. We all have a tendency towards rebellion. A friend said that the hardest part of bringing his children up wasn't their will power, but their 'won't power'. It's true, isn't it? Just come on a Monday morning and watch the mums trying to get their children back into their buggies to go home. They try the 'stiff as a board' move, or the snake body, anything to stop their mums strapping them in. We don't change as adults, we just find different ways of rebelling, because we are all sinners. The people in Jesus' day refused to believe because they were sinners, and that's where we all are, but for the grace of God. Isaiah saw it 800 years before Jesus, and he noted a startling phenomenon. It's in Isaiah 6:10, quoted here by John in v40 "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts, nor turn." The people wouldn't believe and so God ratified their choice and they couldn't believe. We see it in the Old Testament with Pharaoh. Each time Moses asked him to let the people go, he hardened his heart until he had hardened it so much that God sealed his choice. It raises the question 'can our hearts be hardened?' The answer is 'yes' but only after perpetual warnings. The Bible is full of hope and opportunity. God never hardens anyone until that person has rejected Jesus again and again. You see, persistent unbelief has a hardening effect. Every time I say no to God it makes it harder to say yes next time. Every time I shut out the call of the Holy Spirit it is harder to respond the next time. We can't say when the point of hardening by God has come. Look at the two thieves on the cross, both convicted criminals. One responded to Jesus right at the end of his life. He was saved so that no-one need despair. But the other man, as far as we know, was lost, and he was lost so that no-one may presume. The important question is - how do you respond to the evidence about Jesus? If the Holy Spirit is nudging you, your heart is not yet hard.

So the first reason for disbelief is the will. The second is the fear of others. v42 "Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear of being put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God." These people had seen the miracles and knew that Jesus was the Messiah and God's son, yet they weren't prepared to act on it because they were afraid of what people might think. There are many folk like this today. They may even kid themselves that they are just 'private Christians'. But Jesus said in v26 "Whoever serves me must follow me". You can't be a private Christian. To know what you ought to do and then not do it isn't faith, it's unbelief. And it is so short sighted. You gain the approval of people for a few years but the judgement of God for eternity. The praise of people who will die, rather than the living God.

Jesus knew how important this was, and so he cried out v44 "Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me." How we respond to Jesus is vital, because Jesus is God. If we want to see God, we look at Jesus. Believing in him is believing in God. We can't divide it up. He came to bring people out of darkness. But there is a choice to be made. Do we believe or not? It is the difference between salvation and judgement. Don't misunderstand v47. Jesus wasn't saying he won't ever judge. He was saying that at that time he was in the business of saving, but that there would come a day for judgement, and that judgement will be based on whether we accept Jesus' words or not. His words are the means of our salvation or our judgement. One or the other, because his words are the very words of God v49 "For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken." Those words will save us or condemn us, depending on how we respond to them.

So how will you respond? If you've never taken the step of truly trusting in Jesus and his word, now might be the time. Light, clarity, eternity, it's all there. Don't worry what others think. They are but a blink in eternity. If you have been living your life with Jesus, let his words encourage you that as you stand up and are counted, he is with you and will never leave you. His words are the very words of God. They can be trusted. They won't be superseded by the next good idea or chucked out because they're not relevant. They are always relevant because they contain God's message of salvation for you and for every man, woman and child in the world. v50 "I know that his command leads to eternal life."

By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 23 2018 10:14AM

We all have moments in life which shock and dismay us. Some of the most shattering are when we discover that someone isn't the person that we thought they were. During the huge amount of revelations about famous people which came following the Jimmy Saville enquiry, the ones which shocked me most were the allegations about Rolf Harris. I found myself thinking 'Not Rolf'. It was like my whole childhood had to be rewritten. Or a week or two ago, the news that Bill Cosby had been guilty of drugging and then sexually assaulting a woman. He had always seemed so nice and cuddly. I loved watching the Cosby Show when I was a teenager, he was like an ideal dad. Yet he wasn't. He is a very different sort of a man. The revelations have been shocking.

Today in our gospel reading, the disciples also have a shock about someone who appeared to be one type of person but ended up being somebody completely different. As we look at it together, we need to try and take ourselves back to where the disciples were, not to read the words as people who know the end of the story, but to enter it as if we were contemporaries. The disciples, of course, were Jesus' inner circle. He had personally called each of them to follow him, and they had all left everything behind them for Jesus. They'd spent nearly every day together, seeing his miracles, listening to his teaching and even going out evangelising by themselves in the villages. They'd been a part of healings and exorcisms and changed lives. As they became a more organised group, they needed to sort out some of the practicalities, like paying for their food and lodgings in various places, giving to the poor and arranging their observance of the religious festivals. In short, they needed a treasurer. We're not told how they decided who it would be, but you can imagine the sorts of discussions: 'Matthew, you should do it, you were a tax collector' 'No, I can't. I'm afraid the love of money might get to me again.' 'What about you Simon Peter?' 'Not me, you know I always put my foot in things. I'll mess it up.' 'What about the other Simon?' 'No, he's a zealot, he might use the money to attack the Romans.' 'Well, who then?' 'What about Judas? He's a reliable guy, quiet, unassuming, steady. Let's ask him.' You see, you don't choose someone dodgy to be your treasurer. It's a responsible job, so you choose someone trustworthy. Judas seemed to be that guy. Yet, unbeknownst to the other disciples, in his heart, Judas was changing. On the outside he looked like a model disciple, but inside he was turning away. We get a first hint of it in chapter 6:70 when Jesus declares "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve, yet one of you is a devil." We wouldn't know who he was talking about, if John had not added a little aside in his text. There's another hint in 12:4 when Mary anoints Jesus with the expensive perfume. Judas was cross about the waste, but again, we only know why when John tells us (with the benefit of hindsight) that Judas was stealing from the common purse, slicing off a portion for himself. The change was happening to Judas, but no-one at the time could see it. By today's reading, it looks like Jesus had made things clear, but the reaction of the other disciples shows how unbelievable it was that Judas could be a traitor. v21 "Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.' His disciples stared at each other, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciples and said 'Ask him which one he means?' [They don't know] Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him 'Lord, who is it?' Jesus answered, 'It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.' Crystal clear, you would think. But when Jesus dipped the bread and gave it to Judas, who took it, and said 'What you are about to do, do quickly', the disciples were confused. And when he went off to do the deed, they thought he was off on a typical errand to buy something or give to the poor. Judas was such a model disciple that they couldn't believe he would do such a thing. And there is our warning. If it happened to Judas, it could happen to any one of us.

Sadly church history is littered with people who started off as followers and turned into traitors. You might have experienced it with a fellow church member or even a family member. It is shocking, horrifying. But turning away from Jesus rarely happens overnight. It starts with one little choice to ignore Jesus about something and then once that has become normal for us, we take a bigger step away. Little sins become bigger sins, which become bigger again until at last we are separated from God. It's a bit like the little boy who saved a baby leopard. As it was growing his parents told him to set it free into the wild, but he didn't listen. It was so cute and harmless. But he was warned "Little leopards become big leopards and big leopards kill." He didn't heed the warning and one day he became the victim of the leopard he had saved. For us, looking at a little bit of porn when no-one is around might seem just a little thing. We might tell ourselves that it's only tame stuff and it's not hurting anyone. But "Little leopards become big leopards and big leopards kill." Or the simmering resentment about someone that's there in the background and we can't help picking at like scab over a wound. We might tell ourselves that it's only thoughts and it doesn't matter. But "Little leopards become big leopards and big leopards kill." Or the flirtatious glance that you've been sharing with someone off limits. You might tell yourself it's just a look, a way to make work less tedious. But "Little leopards become big leopards and big leopards kill." It could be any of us. And be especially wary of complacency. If you're sitting there thinking 'That's not me, I don't do any of those things. I'm born again, I'm a faithful churchgoer' then watch out. The leopard you harbour can still get you. Judas is a warning. If it could happen to Judas, it could happen to anyone.

Serious stuff. But this passage isn't without encouragement. So let's turn our focus off Judas and onto Jesus. The first thing we spot is that while the disciples didn't know what Judas was like, Jesus did. He told them. He looked into Judas' heart and saw the darkness that was there. He can see into our hearts too. There are no locked cupboards or hidden spare rooms full of our mess and shame. Jesus can see it all. He saw into Judas . . . and yet he still loved him. He loves us too, in spite of the mess. Jesus knows and yet he still loves.

Some might say 'If he knew what Judas was going to do, why didn't he stop him?' The answer is there in v18 "But this is to fulfil this passage of scripture 'He who shared my bread has turned against me'". It's a quote from Psalm 41, written by David about an experience of his which foreshadowed what would happen to Jesus. God knew what Judas' choices would be even then, but he was free to make those choices.

But there is a second thing to note: in spite of everything Jesus knew, he still gave Judas a final last chance. v26 "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish'. Then dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas." This dipping of bread, in the customs of the day, was a mark of favour, a tender gesture, like a father might make to a son. It's like he was saying 'Even now Judas, you can change your mind'. Jesus gives us all chance after chance. He's not an angry God, waiting to find that tweet you posted when you were 15 to condemn you forever. He gives chance after chance. He still sent Judas out with the others when he knew he would betray him. Jesus gives you chance after chance too. He is not quick to condemn.

But here's the really amazing thing: Jesus didn't stop Judas because his love for us is so great. As we'll see next time, the cross would be the ultimate moment of glory as Jesus dealt with sin and death forever. He could have avoided it. He could have sent Judas away, destroyed the religious leaders who hated him, crushed the might of Rome and sat on an earthly throne. But he didn't. He went to the cross to pay for your sin and mine, and even Judas' if he would have accepted it. His love was too great to stop the chain of events from unfolding.

So, as ever in Scripture, we have a challenge and an encouragement. If Judas could turn away from Jesus than any of us can, but if Jesus could love even Judas, his betrayer, then surely he can love each one of us too. The cross tells us that he does. So don't be complacent. Heed the warning. But don't despair either, Jesus loves you even more than his own life.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 23 2018 10:14AM

(after David Jackman)

There has been such a lot going on in the world these past months. We have seen earthquakes, flooding, volcanoes as well as war and conflict. Can we still really say that God reigns? Is God really in control?

HG Wells is a famous atheist. He wrote that mankind was so highly evolved that there would be no more wars. All the problems of mankind would be solved around the conference table. That was in 1912. We don’t need reminding what happened in 1914. He wrote a book at the end of his life called ‘The mind at the end of its tether’. In the book he described our world as being like a convoy of ships on an unknown rocky coast. He said that in the chartroom of the ships there are quarrelling captains who cannot decide what to do and climbing up the side of the ships there are pirates, armed to the teeth ready to plunder as the wind may take them. And there are 2 diametrically opposed views of the world. One is that the world is all at sea, lost, heading into the unknown; the other is a world where God is actually in control, a world in which he holds our lives in his keeping. Now there is a sense in which both are true. There are violent forces, but over that there is the hand of God. And if we think about these things on the macro scale, don’t we also ask them about ourselves, when trouble strikes, or illness, or sudden bereavement or the plans that seemed so secure are smashed to smithereens, when we face redundancy or trouble in the family, don’t we ask ‘Is God still in control?’ And if he is, why doesn’t he answer me when I cry out to him? Why does he let me stew so long? Why does evil seem to triumph if there is a God in control? All those questions come to the fore when we face man’s greatest enemy, death. And that is the enemy Jesus, Martha and Mary are facing in today’s gospel. So let’s see what the Bible has to say in this event.

Look at verses 1-3 and notice the need that led to prayer. Mary and Martha are facing trouble in the household and Jesus is not there. So the sisters do what every Christian should do in trouble, they send a message to Jesus, or as we would say today, they prayed about it. The need led them to prayer. So see right at the beginning that any need that leads us to prayer is a potential blessing. If we can think about our needs in that way it will transform our perspective and outlook on life. Prayer is opening the door of our need to Jesus. It is saying to Jesus ‘this is my situation, help me’.

V3 has a profound lesson for us. Look at their message ‘Lord the one you love is ill’. So many of us don’t pray when we’re in need. So many of us run to other people or we run into ourselves, but we do not run to God. And the reason we often give is ‘we don’t know what to ask for’ and so we don’t come with our needs. But that’s not what prayer is anyway. Prayer is not telling the Lord what to do. Prayer is not giving the Lord information he wouldn’t otherwise have. Our God is omniscient – he knows everything. Our God is all wise, all powerful and every resource is at his disposal so that coming to God in prayer is not a case of analysing the situation correctly and then coming to God, and it certainly isn’t demanding from God certain actions which he must perform. Prayer is saying ‘Lord, the one you love is ill’. That is the prayer of faith because it really believes God is in control and puts the situation into his hands. I sometimes wonder if the sort of prayers which demand without reference to the sovereign will of God are not the fruit of doubt – saying God doesn’t know best and I’ve got to persuade him to exercise his power in the way I think is best. That isn’t faith. Real faith lays out our need to Jesus on the ground of his love.

So in v1-3 we have the need that led to prayer. Now in v4-16 we have the wisdom that led to delay.

In v4 we get an insight into the will of the Lord. “This illness will not end in death, no it is for God’s glory” he says. Now he doesn’t say ‘Lazarus won’t die’. The reality is, he is probably already dead because when he arrives after a delay of 2 days, Lazarus has been in the tomb for 4 days. He’s already dead and that’s why Jesus makes no haste to get to Bethany. And we have to understand the delay in the light of v4 too – this is all happening for God’s glory. Jesus means death won’t have the last word. Death isn’t the end. The end will be the glory of God. There is purpose in the delay. There is something even better than Jesus being in Bethany with Lazarus before he died. God is in control of life and death and Jesus is going to prove it in the most irrefutable way.

Look at v5 ‘Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was 2 more days." Why include that? It’s to show us that when God in his wisdom chooses to delay in answering our prayers it is not because he doesn’t love us. Delay doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me, he doesn’t care, he’s not interested. Delay means he has something even better for me because he loves me with an everlasting love. That’s what faith is all about and that’s why scripture is here, to show us things from God’s perspective so we can have that sort of faith growing in us when our prayers are not immediately answered. Remember he still loves you.

But why didn’t Jesus hurry? Well, he wanted the death and burial to be so beyond any shadow of doubt so that the power of the resurrection would be equally beyond doubt and so the certainty of Jesus’ deity and glory would equally be beyond question. He delayed so that the miracle might be the stronger, their love for him might be the greater, their faith might be the stronger, their love for him the richer. It was love that delayed. Haven’t you learned that in your prayer life yet? If he gave us straight away everything we wanted wouldn’t we be very spoiled children? Wouldn’t we think we had the power to put in the prayer, pull the slot machine handle and get the answer? Of course we would, we’re sinners. Don’t give up and doubt when delays come.

In v7 Jesus plans to head back and look at the reaction of his disciples in v8 ‘But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’ They need to learn that God is in control too. The delay is also for the disciples’ benefit. Delay is always for the purpose of good. Have you thought of that when you pray and the heavens seem to have locked doors and it’s hard to believe Jesus is in control, have you considered that your prayers may not be answered immediately because God has plans to bring others closer to him, to deepen their faith as a result of the circumstances he is allowing to continue. That’s what’s happening here. We can see from the dialogue that the disciples needed help. Time and time again they showed their confusion, confusion which would only increase as Jesus neared the cross. Jesus' delay in answering Mary and Martha's prayer helped the disciples and countless others. Seeing the big picture is hard when we are the ones hurting and wondering, but we know the one who sees the big picture and that can give us hope as we struggle.

So, the need that led to prayer and the wisdom that led to delay. May our needs always lead us to the Father who loves us and when he chooses to delay in his answer, let us trust that he is always good even when we don't fully understand.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 23 2018 10:13AM

Brian Chapman was a verger at St Peter and St Paul church in Kettering. On Tuesday of this week he took an early bus ride and by 7.30am he was dead, the bus he was travelling on embedded in the side of a lorry. Also this week 2 of our Meet on Mondays mums sat by their dad's bedside and watched his life slip away. You may have your own tragic story to tell. Death is horrible, shocking. It cuts people down unexpectedly, it creeps after the ones we love. It leaves us devastated, bereft. I hear people cry out in their anguish "Where is God?". That's where Mary and Martha are in our gospel reading. In v 21 and 32 they both cry out to Jesus "If you had been here my brother would not have died." Have you cried out like this over the loss of a child, or a parent or a dear friend? Surely if Jesus were here this horrible thing wouldn't have happened.

Jesus has an answer to that cry, and it's in the section of the account we had last week. v25 "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." But is it just words? We say all kinds of things to people at their time of tragedy. 'They're in a better place.', 'They're at peace', or even as was said to some friends of mine this last week 'They're stardust now'. We say words because we want to bring comfort, we want to help. But our words have no power. They are just words. They can't change anything, they can't take away the pain. They show we care, which is great, but they can do little else. Jesus' words are not like that.

In v34 he asks to be shown the grave of his friend. Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus. But while Jesus was on the other side of the Jordan he had taken ill. Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus, asking him to come home quickly, but Jesus waited for 2 days before making the 2 day trip to Bethany. When he arrived, Lazarus was dead. In fact he had been in his tomb for 4 days. There was no doubting it. Lazarus was definitely dead. As he makes his way to the tomb, even Jesus is overwhelmed by the sorrow of the tragedy. v35 "Jesus wept". The one who was there at the beginning of the universe, the one able to still storms with a word broke down and wept at the death of his friend. Doesn't this show us the depth of his love? Such a deep human emotion. Don't ever think that Jesus just floated around being serene. He was human like us in every way. He felt the things we feel. He knows, he understands. When our loved ones die, he doesn't expect us to just get over it or to 'man up'. Having faith doesn't mean we don't feel any more. Death is terrible. It separates us from the ones we love. It cuts our hopes and our plans down in one swoop. Jesus wept. And as his humanity wept, so did his deity. Jesus shows us how God feels about death. Death which has intruded into his perfect world, the horrible consequence of humanity's rejection of the love and rule of God.

Jesus doesn't stay in the sorrow. God has got more to say to us than 'I am with you in your pain.' v39 "Take away the stone." It's time to act. But though Jesus knows what he's about to do, Mary and Martha don't. To them opening up the tomb is a shocking thing to do. Lazarus has been dead for 4 days in a hot climate. His body will be literally stinking. No one in their right mind would want to witness that. But Jesus knows what he is doing v40 "Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" The stone is taken away and Jesus prays "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." And then he calls out in a loud voice "Lazarus, come out!". Before everyone's eyes, Lazarus, still covered in the graveclothes, walks out of the tomb alive. It's a wonderful miracle, a miracle which no one at the time doubted. Not even Jesus' enemies. We'll see next time that they plotted to kill him, but they couldn't discredit the miracle. Lazarus who was very much dead, had been called back out of the tomb and was alive. Jesus had power even over death. His words weren't bland words of comfort said to a grieving woman. They were backed up by all the power of God.

But there is a deeper truth here. If Jesus' power was just that he brought a man back to life 2000 years ago, it would be interesting, but nothing more. Let me take you back to Jesus' words in v25 "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." This is talking about more than just one man. It's talking about anyone who believes. And the life Jesus promises isn't just more of this one, with its pain and sorrow. It's one which doesn't end in death at all. It's eternal life. You see Lazarus was raised to life only to die again. His family had to hold two funerals for him. Death still came. Death will come for us too. The raising of Lazarus was a picture, a preview if you like, of a greater resurrection. In just a few short weeks Jesus would also be dead, killed by the state in the most brutal way, his death witnessed and verified by the hardened Roman soldiers. Like Lazarus, he would also be called out of the tomb by God, but not to live a few more years and then die again, but to live for ever. By his death, we can know that we can be raised too. Not back to this life with its pain and struggle, but to eternal life. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it in 9:27 "7 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him."

So, where is God? He is with you as you rail against death. He has been down to the grave himself. He knows the pain. He knows your pain as he stood in your place. He will be with you for eternity, raising you up with him. It is such a precious blessing that you might imagine it to be saved for just the most holy or godly people. But it's not. It's for everyone who believes in him. " The one who believes in me will live even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." The only qualification is that you believe in Jesus. If you're not sure, let me ask you: who else can offer you such hope in the face of death? Who else has proved that he can make good on his promises to raise the dead? Friends, these are not just comforting words to make you feel better for a time or to help you move on from bereavement. They are word of life and death for you. So let me finish with the same quotation we finished with last week, and the same question : " I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 23 2018 10:13AM

Now Prince Philip has retired, I think the world is just a little less colourful. Who can forget some of his famous gaffes? Like the one to a meeting of the Scottish WI "Of course British women can't cook!", or to the Scottish driving instructor "How do you keep the locals off the booze long enough to pass the test?" or the one I feel I could echo at some weddings I've been to "Bugger the table plan, give me my dinner!" We enjoy laughing at gaffes made by famous characters like Prince Philip or Boris Johnson, but we're less keen when they are nearer home. Hosting a dinner party is one of those times when we hope nothing will go wrong and everyone will get on famously. I expect you've got your own stories of things that went wrong at family dinners or work meals out. I have a few of my own, so I really felt for the lady hosting the lobster dinner where the guest list included Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame) and his writer wife, the late Nora Ephron. The meal was going well until it came out accidentally that Bernstein was having a dalliance with another woman. In the middle of a conversation, Nora stood up, asked for a bottle of red wine (the group were drinking white) and poured it over Carl’s head.” Awkward!

Today's reading from John also includes what we might call a dinner party gaffe. As we look at it together, we'll see the gaffe followed by a predictable reaction and an unexpected response. Those are our 3 points for today: a dinner party gaffe, a predictable reaction and an unexpected response. Let's start with a dinner party gaffe.

It's 6 days before the Passover and Mary and Martha are holding a dinner party in Jesus' honour. They've got good reason to - not only is Jesus, well, Jesus, but he's just brought their brother Lazarus back to life again after 4 days in the tomb. Can you imagine how grateful you'd be to Jesus if Lazarus was your loved one? All hope has gone and then Jesus reunites you with the person you never thought you'd see again. It's a time to party, to celebrate! And of course, Lazarus is there with them. Martha is busy serving, as we know from Luke's gospel she's someone who likes to make sure everything is just right for Jesus. She's no doubt wanting to ensure that nothing goes wrong, the food is cooked to perfection, the seating plan is balanced and conversation is flowing. So what happens next is completely unexpected v3 "Then Mary took about half a litre of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair." Mary, rather than helping her sister with the meal, causes a dramatic and embarrassing scene. She takes this hugely expensive perfume, worth half a year's wages, and pours it onto Jesus. Then she unties her hair and wipes his feet with it. It's not even a subtle act, that people's attention could be drawn away from by a witty anecdote from the other end of the table. We're told that the whole house is filled with the fragrance of the perfume. The delicious meal forgotten, all eyes are on Mary, including those of Jesus' disciples. To this dinner party gaffe there is a predictable reaction.

v4 "One of [Jesus] disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 'Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?'" You might have some sympathy with Judas. After all, a year's wages is a lot of money. The UK equivalent today would be around £27,000. Think how many lepers could be housed or widows fed with that. It's a reaction we might hear today too when a church launches a building project or brings in a new prayer book or evangelistic course. 'Why is the church spending its money on that when they should be helping the poor?'. Of course helping the poor is a central part of living out our faith. Jesus uses the good we do for others as a marker of the sheep in the sheep and goats parable in Matthew 25 " Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” A little further on in John's gospel, in 13:29 it's clear that giving to the poor is something integral to the life of Jesus and his disciples, as when Jesus sends Judas off at the last supper, the others think he's gone to buy something for the Passover or to give something to the poor. As the early church developed, giving was at the heart of everything they did. When Paul was commissioned to go to the Gentiles, he recounts (Galatians 2:10) " They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along." Giving to help the poor is something expected of every believer, in every age. If that's not part of your pattern of expenditure, it's worth thinking again, and seeing if something could be foregone to free up some money to give, or if you could buy extra groceries in your shop for the foodbank. Helping the poor is integral to the life of a Christian. We need to know that. But something else is going on here. Following the predictable reaction we have an unexpected response. That's our third point.

The alarm bells should be beginning to ring in v6 with John's little editorial note " [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." So, though Judas' comment may sound reasonable, there's more going on than meets the eye. His concern is more about the money going into the bag so that there is more he can syphon off. Judas' question might sound reasonable, but it hides a far less godly concern. That can often be the case with some of the very reasonable questions people might raise today. The challenge "Why are you spending money on the church when you should be giving to the poor?" might hide an opinion that church is irrelevant anyway, or the concern about the money spent on new evangelistic material might hide a view that knowing Jesus isn't very important. Or it might just be deflecting attention from their lack of giving. People's questions are not always what they seem.

But there's something even more important going on here. Jesus pitches in to the situation with something very unexpected v 7 " ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’ Jesus brings the discussion back to the most important thing: his upcoming crucifixion. Mary's act isn't a waste of money, it's an act of love vested with huge significance. Jesus is going to the cross. Though his disciples have been warned, no one really understands what's about to happen. But Jesus does. He knows the Jewish leaders are plotting to kill him. He knows that at this Passover he will be the lamb who is killed. He knows, and Mary's act of love gives him another opportunity to prepare people, as well as drawing strength from it himself. Giving to the poor is hugely important, but at that moment Jesus and his death are even more important. Jesus' death and resurrection will change everything. Through his sacrifice Jesus will offer to everyone an opportunity, not just to live with a fuller belly here, but to have eternal life and a place at the wedding banquet in heaven. That's what's going on. That's where the whole of John's gospel is pointing us to. Without the cross there is no relationship with God on offer, without the cross there's no Holy Spirit to help us in our struggles, there's no forgiveness nor peace; there's just a religion which hopes to please God by the few good deeds we can rustle up the motivation to do. Jesus is the most important person. As we love him, the other things follow. When Jesus says 'you will always have the poor with you', it's not a callous disregard for them, it's a reminder to his followers of the command in Deuteronomy 15:11 "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed." Generosity is essential in the life of a Christian, but the good deeds Jesus commands us to do must never eclipse our precious saviour and the eternal life he offers.

So, a dinner party gaffe, a predictable reaction and an unexpected response from Jesus. May he help us to see his priorities for the way in which we spend our money and live our lives, but most importantly may he always enable us to see him.

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