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, Sep 23 2019 07:24PM

Has anyone had some good news over the last few weeks? Who'd like to share? Good news is great for sharing, isn't it? When something good happens, we want to tell our friends and family, sometimes we just can't help ourselves. Of course, as Christians, we have the best news to share. We know that God is real, that he loves us even though we mess up time and time again, and that through Jesus we can be forgiven and have a brand new start. It's great news! And it's news to be shared.

Some things need to keep on being shared. While one teenager's exam results, or someone winning a couple of tickets in a draw aren't going to change the world, and going on about them too much would have a negative effect, other news needs to be told again and again so that future generations know about it. News which would stop them making silly mistakes, news which can shape the way they think about themselves and other people. It is so easy to forget. The debates around vaccinations are a classic example. I am just about old enough to remember when certain childhood illnesses like measles were feared. There was a child in our street who had lost most of their vision because of measles. Another little friend almost died because of chest complications. When the vaccine was invented and was widely available, there was a collective sigh of relief. Children wouldn't have to go through these things any more. Pregnant women wouldn't fear for the lives of their unborn children in a measles outbreak. But a generation on, we've forgotten. We've forgotten the horror of measles and we've forgotten the good news of the vaccination. So the number of unprotected children rises and the number of measles cases rises. Last year it more than tripled in the UK. Remembering good news is so important.

In our first reading this morning, from Deuteronomy 11, Moses was doing just that. He was reminding the people who had experienced the wonderful rescue of God, that they needed to pass on what had happened to them, otherwise it would be forgotten. v 2 "Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he did in the heart of Egypt . .it was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place." They needed to remember, and that remembrance needed to be passed down to their children, so that they could relate to God in the right way. There would be temptations all around them, persuasive voices and attractive pagan worship which could suck them in, if they had forgotten how God had cared for them in the past.

By New Testament times, of course, those memories had consolidated into Scripture, written down and passed on (in some eras more enthusiastically than others), and new memories were joining them: the accounts of Jesus, his teaching, his miracles, his death and resurrection. (And of course his ministry was largely one of proclamation). Paul's charge to his young protégée Timothy in our second reading was to remember and protect the good news 2 Timothy 1:13-14 "What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us." That record of good news, in the scriptures was so important that Paul describes it as a good deposit so vital that Timothy was to guard it. It wasn't Timothy's to change or re-write or add his own spin. It was a good deposit, entrusted to him, and then to be passed on. That same charge is ours today, as we take on the mantle of sharing the good news in our own generation. We are to pass on this good deposit.

Now, I expect we all know that already. We know we should be telling people about Jesus. Yet often we're afraid. We're afraid of rejection, and we're afraid that people might ask us questions that we don't know the answers to. In fact the questions others have might highlight the questions we ourselves have. Because it's likely that each thinking Christian has questions. A few years ago I put out a box at the back of church so people could put their questions in, and we looked at some of them as a sermon series. It was great fun. Yet as Anglicans we already have answers to many of the Big Questions in our foundational documents, but most people don't even know they are there. It's not just those who, like many of you, have come into Anglicanism from other churches, like Roman Catholic, or Methodist or Baptist, even cradle Anglicans often don't know they exist.

So, what are these foundational documents? We have the 3 creeds (apostles which we use at morning and evening prayer, the nicene which is used during communion - though we use a shorter one here - and the athanasian, which we surprised you with on Trinity Sunday). Then there are the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Ordering of Priests and Deacons. Those are the main ones, though there are a few other subsequent documents. I thought it would be a good thing for us to have a look at the 39 Articles because they cover so many of the questions people ask me. They are, in effect, what the Anglican church believes about a range of topics. I came to them afresh myself a few months ago and I found them so helpful that I wanted to pass them on.

Before we make a start, we do need to know a little bit about the history of the Anglican Church. People are often very flippant "It's just about Henry VIII wanting a divorce." That is not the full story by any means, and it is very lazy history. The formation of the Anglican church was part of a whole movement which was spreading across Europe in the 16th century. It started with Martin Luther's disquiet about corruption and false teaching in the church, not least the selling of indulgences which led him to nail his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral in 1517. Discussions about where Christian teaching should come from followed. He famously argued with Johann Eck that Scripture alone should be the basis of Christian faith and doctrine. He wrote about the priesthood of all believers, and when he was in prison for heresy he translated the New Testament into German, so that every German speaker could read it and make their own minds up. At the same time in England, William Tyndale was working on his English translation, which was published in 1526. John Calvin was hard at work too, writing his Institutes of the Christian Religion which were published in 1536. A new, reformed theology, was coming to the fore. Alongside this, Henry VIII was going through his particular troubles. He began on the side of the church, writing against Martin Luther and being rewarded by the Pope with the title 'Defender of the Faith' in 1521, but by 1533 he had had his marriage annulled in defiance of the church and by 1534 he was the head of the new Church of England. By 1549 during the reign of his son the church had its first official prayer book, with a reformed theology which was sharpened up in later editions. After a period of reversal during the reign of Mary, the reformation of the church of England continued and in 1563 the 39 Articles as we know them were published and in 1611 the King James Bible. The Anglican church as we would recognise it had arrived.

As we look over the history we can see that although Henry VIIIth had his own agenda for things, and although it was a very bloody and brutal time for everyone, God was able to take all of that and allow something good to come out of it. We have a church with a thought out theology, a theology which is firmly rooted in the scriptures, and that is something to be celebrated.

So, over this academic year we are going to look at the 39 Articles, not as a history lesson, but as a set of FAQs about Christianity, a series of Big Questions we might have about God, about salvation, and about what we are doing when we come to church. I hope it will help you answer some of your questions so that together we can continue to guard the good deposit passed down to us.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Jul 11 2019 10:32AM

I’m sure that, at some stage or other, we’ve all experienced a gradual realisation, a dawning of understanding something that has previously eluded us. If you’ve ever studied Psychology or Education Theory, you’ll know that this is Gestalt theory, developed in the 1930s. Gestalt is a German word that we can roughly translate as ‘pattern’ or ‘form’. The main thought behind Gestalt theory is that learning takes place as students are able to comprehend an idea in its entirety, rather than broken up into parts. The laws of Gestalt theory are based on how the human mind structures information. Individual’s experiences can impact on the way they learn. One law is the factor of closure, which is whenever the brain sees only part of a picture, it attempts to create a full picture. This also applies to thoughts, feelings and sounds. You can probably see how this leads to gaps in understanding and therefore errors of understanding. Another law is the factor of proximity, which is experienced when letters, words or other information make no sense in isolation, but when mapped together by the brain into sentences, stories and so on, make sense. The final law is the factor of similarity, which is when the brain links together similar ideas and contrasts them with other, differing ideas. This is how we develop critical thinking skills.

This passage from ch20 of John’s gospel reads a little like a Gestalt theory case study. Jesus’ disciples are not only grieving but also struggling to understand the events of recent days: Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution. Now they have another set of circumstances to make sense of – Jesus’ tomb is empty. As we work our way through ch20, we’ll explore the disciples’ Gestalt journey from incomprehension to faith in the risen Jesus. In today’s passage, we’ll see how Simon Peter, John and Mary Magdalene grew in understanding and faith on seeing the empty tomb and encountering the risen Jesus.

In the first scene that John records in this passage, Mary Magdalene has been to the empty tomb and found that the stone has been removed. It would seem that Mary’s first thought is that someone has removed Jesus’ body. She runs to Simon Peter and John and voices her concern to them in v2: ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.’ Mary has seen a partial picture – the stone removed from the tomb – filled in the gaps and concluded that Jesus’ body has been taken. We see the Gestalt factor of closure here. She doesn’t have a person in mind, only an anonymous ‘they’. Perhaps she imagines that Pilate changed his mind over allowing Jesus a decent burial, or that the Jewish religious leaders have disposed of his body and removed all traces of Jesus. On hearing Mary’s concerns, Peter and John make their way to the tomb to see for themselves.

When they arrive at the tomb, Peter and John go a step further than Mary; they go to the entrance, and eventually into the tomb. John records what they saw in vv6-7: ‘He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was lying in its place, separate from the linen.’ This is another partial picture. John doesn’t record Peter’s response but does record his own (remember John refers to himself as ‘the disciple Jesus loved’, rather than by name). In v8, he records: ‘Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.’ Precisely what he believed isn’t stated because John goes on in v9 to explain ‘They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.’ In seeing and believing, we see the Gestalt factor of similarity at work in John. He is linking this current experience to other Godly experiences. He has seen enough to know that God has been at work in the tomb and believe in that – even if he doesn’t know exactly how. He sees the grave clothes in place. Now if Jesus’ body had been stolen, it would have been taken in the grave clothes, still wrapped up. Equally, if Jesus had struggled to remove the grave clothes, they would have been tattered and torn, not lying in their place. Later in ch20 we’ll see how Jesus appeared to his disciples though the room was locked. If walls and doors pose no problems to the risen Jesus, then certainly grave clothes are no problem to him. The calm orderliness of the tomb scene is enough for John to recognise God at work. Crucially, we know because of v9 that John doesn’t yet have full understanding; he believes God has been at work in the empty tomb, but does not yet believe in the resurrection.

Our passage today ends with Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb. Remember from the earlier scene with Mary, she believed that someone had taken Jesus’ body away. Through these encounters, we’ll see the Gestalt factor of proximity at work in Mary’s experience as she pieces together the various ‘parts’ she is presented with to create a ‘whole’. Mary has spoken with angels, though she is grieving so deeply that she doesn’t even seem to recognise that they are angels – there is no mention of any of the usual fear described in Scripture of humans meeting with angels. Nevertheless, for John to record it, Mary must have realised later. The angels get little chance for conversation with Mary because in v14 Jesus himself appears. We’re told ‘she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.’ In fact, Mary doesn’t realise who she’s in the company of until he speaks her name. In v16 we’re told: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). This is the final piece of the puzzle for Mary. Now the picture is whole. No one has stolen Jesus’ body because he’s alive.

The risen Jesus has a message for Mary and the disciples. He says in v17: ‘Go to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ This is a significant message for the disciples as it indicates the time when they will have full understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection, as Jesus promised them. We heard this promise in ch15: 26 – ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.’ Then, they will understand that Jesus’ resurrection unifies them with the Father and with himself because the Holy Spirit present in them will complete that union. Jesus is the link between them and the Father. They can call God ‘Father’ because Jesus does. Jesus now calls them brothers, as in v17, not disciples or friends, a new relationship established through his death and resurrection. We can see the transformation in the disciples’ understanding in the Pentecost account in Acts 2, as Peter, with the wisdom of the Spirit, demonstrated to the crowds how Scripture had been fulfilled by Jesus.

So what can we take from this resurrection passage this morning? Firstly, I think we can be reassured if we feel we don’t understand everything that we read in Scripture, or that we learn from others. After all, the disciples had the benefit of Jesus himself teaching them, of seeing his miracles and of witnessing his death and resurrection, yet they didn’t fully understand what Jesus had done, or how he was the fulfilment of the prophecies in Scripture until they received the Holy Spirit, who gave them understanding. And there may be things that we continue not to understand. However, Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the Corinthians ch13 v12: ‘For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’ There are some things we will only know and understand when we can come face-to-face with God, in that time yet to come, when we will be with him forever.

Secondly, we need to remember to have patience when sharing our faith. We cannot expect understanding to come quickly to others. We can’t presume that their faith will grow at the same rate as ours. We have to allow people new in faith to discover the breadths of our Christian faith for themselves – in their own way and at their own pace. Remember how overwhelming Jesus’ teaching and the events of his death and resurrection were for the disciples. Each of them came to faith at a different time and in their own way. Let us take time to answer the questions our friends new to faith have, with patience and with clarity. Let us share our understanding of the Scriptures with them, and guide them to others when we reach the limit of our understanding. Above all, let us pray for the Holy Spirit to be always at work in them, and in us, as we seek to grow in our faith.

By porthkerryandrhoose, May 9 2019 04:07PM

Our Lent course this year followed the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake as a means of examining social injustice and oppression. In particular, we were asked to look at how the film characters responded to the various forms of injustice they encountered and to consider how we might respond in similar circumstances. In the film, Daniel and Katie (the main characters) are frequently frustrated by the situations they find themselves in. They try on occasion to challenge the situation with the authorities, or to fight back. At one period in the film, Daniel seems to give up entirely.

Our passage this morning, which details the arrest of Jesus is the beginning of what we commonly call ‘The Passion Narrative’. This is the gospel account of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and burial. Whilst John shows us throughout his account that this sequence of events was God’s ultimate plan to redeem and rescue his people, to our human minds, Jesus suffered a great injustice at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, the occupying Romans, and indeed his own disciples. As we look at the account of Jesus’ arrest this morning, we’ll see varied responses to this injustice. We’ll see how Judas collaborated with it; how Peter fought back against it; and how the rest of the disciples looked to their own safety. Finally, we’ll look at Jesus’ own response to the injustice against him.

Firstly, we see Judas’ collaboration with the authorities. Luke records Judas’ decision to betray Jesus in ch22 vv1-6. In vv3-4 we’re told: ‘Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.’ Now, as Jesus and his disciples are in the garden, Judas carries out the plan he agreed with the temple officials. He knew where Jesus would be, as v2 tells us that ‘Jesus had often met there with his disciples.’ John makes mention of the garden setting several times in the Passion narrative: here, and also as the location of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This has led some to make a connection with the garden of Eden, where sin entered into the world, and the gardens in the Passion narrative, where sins were redeemed. John reports Judas’ arrival in v3: ‘So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.’ The soldiers were Roman, the officials were court servants acting as some kind of police force. After the enthusiastic welcome Jesus had received when he entered Jerusalem, the authorities, with their poor understanding of Jesus, had reason to expect trouble. In recording the presence of both Jews and Romans at Jesus’ arrest, John indicates, as he will again in this narrative, that Jesus will die for the life of the whole world. The sin of both Jew and Gentile will be redeemed by Jesus.

But back to Judas. Remember, until now, the disciples had been unaware which of them would betray Jesus, as he’d predicted at their Passover meal. We now have an indication of the shock the disciples in discovering that Judas is the one. In v5, as Jesus speaks with the officials there to arrest him, we see a comment in brackets: ‘And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.’ Seeing Judas there, alongside soldiers and temple officials must have come as a shock to John and was branded into his memory. It’s such an emotion-filled statement in comparison with the factual, evidence-based narrative of the rest of the account. We’ll never know why Judas decided to betray Jesus, though some have speculated that Judas was a Zealot, someone who wanted a revolution to overthrow the Roman authorities. However, as one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas was aware of previous attempts to arrest or kill Jesus and decided to collude with the temple officials to help them achieve their aim. People collaborate for many reasons: the hope of reward or out of fear for their safety. However, as we see here in John’s gospel, and throughout history, collaboration is never the right option. It leads to division, punishment for the perpetrators, or later feelings of guilt and remorse.

Next we see Peter’s response of fighting back against the injustice he saw. There are many accounts in the gospels that show Peter as an emotional and impulsive man: jumping out of the boat to walk on water; wanting to build shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus on the mountain; or telling Jesus that his crucifixion will never happen. In this passage, we see more impulsive behaviour from Peter. John records it in v10: ‘Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)’ Peter doesn’t attack a soldier or a temple official; he attacks a servant. This fact, together with the fact that he only succeeds in cutting off an ear (which Jesus heals, as Luke records in ch22 v51), probably saves Peter from being arrested alongside Jesus, or killed on the spot. Maybe his high emotion gave him poor aim, maybe the servant moved when he saw Peter lash out with his sword. Whatever the circumstances, Peter’s impulsive actions could have had far greater consequences than the temporary loss of an ear. Jesus’ healing action and his words to Peter diffuse the situation but also show Peter that he is, once again, out of step with Jesus. We see in v11: ‘Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’’

When we see injustice being done, it makes us angry. Anger, coupled with an impulsive nature can lead to rash action in fighting back against that injustice, such as Peter has demonstrated. However, as we see in this account of Jesus’ arrest, fighting back does not prevent injustice from occurring, and may even make a situation even worse. That isn’t to say that we should not fight injustice, rather that any response we make against it should be calm, measured and considered. Isaiah and Amos in the Old Testament spoke up on behalf of poor and marginalised people in society, who had no voice of their own, or were excluded. The Torah, the Jewish law books in Scripture, commands that justice should be unconditional and that there should not be different laws for different groups of people. There are many examples too, of commands to look after those who have no means to look after themselves: sick people, widows and orphans, prisoners, poor people. What we see in these examples is a mixture of a means of preventing injustice, through inclusion and correct application of the law, and correcting injustice through care and compassion for those who have been shown none.

We come now to the other disciples. There is not much specific mention of them in this passage. We know that they arrived with Jesus, having walked with him to the garden. The next mention of them is in v8. Jesus, in his response to the officials, says ‘If you are looking for me, then let these men go.’ Perhaps the disciples left the garden at this point, as Jesus predicted they would in ch16 v32: ‘A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone.’ Indeed, other gospel accounts specifically mention this. Mark 14: 50 records: ‘Then everyone deserted him and fled.’ Matthew 26: 56 also reports the disciples leaving Jesus. The word ‘fled’ suggests fear, a natural reaction to an armed mob. The disciples probably feared for their own safety, perhaps expecting to also be arrested. This seems increasingly likely when we remember that many of them remained indoors with the door locked until after Jesus rose from the dead. Having seen Jesus arrested, the disciples must have expected the authorities to return for them.

Fear is a common reaction to injustice, particularly violent injustice. When we read stories from Open Doors of our brothers and sisters facing persecution, we see the reality of the fear of being discovered by the authorities. It is understandable that many churches meet only in secret and that Bibles are smuggled in covertly. Yet, despite the secrecy, many Christians facing persecution stand boldly because of their hope in the Lord Jesus. They may suffer and die, but through his death and resurrection, they are assured freedom and a joyous welcome in heaven. When we’re faced with seemingly impossible circumstances, we too can remember that injustice is temporary but God’s love and our salvation through Jesus is eternal.

Finally, let’s look at Jesus’ own response to the injustice against him. Each thing he did points to two things: that as God the Son, he was fully in control of his destiny and that as the human Jesus, he remained fully obedient to his Father’s will. Firstly, we see an example of his control over the situation. In v5, he identified himself to the officials. They told him they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth and he responded ‘I am he.’ We’re told further in v6 that ‘they drew back and fell to the ground.’ This was not an act of worship, but a reaction to Jesus’ majesty as he uses the name of God (I AM) to identify himself. When Jesus spoke again, as we’ve already heard, telling the soldiers to allow the disciples to leave, this too, shows the control he has over the situation. He commands the people arresting him. However, this action of Jesus also has another purpose, which is the fulfilment of prophecies. John, in his gospel, is meticulous in pointing these out and does so again in v9: ‘This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”’ These words Jesus spoke in John 6:39. We also see Jesus’ obedience to the Father in action in his words to Peter in v11: ‘Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ Having struggled to accept this cup as he prayed in the previous chapter, Jesus is now firm in his resolve that God’s will be done.

This is not passivity on the part of Jesus. He isn’t giving in to the authorities. He isn’t fearful of them. Jesus is determined to see the fulfilment of the Father’s plan to redeem humanity through his death and resurrection. Earlier, his humanity and divinity were seemingly in conflict as he struggled to reconcile the suffering he knew he would endure with the necessity of his obedience for the plan to succeed. Now though he has summoned the strength he needs to endure what is to come and to die as he lived, in loving obedience to the Father, and with love and compassion for others, as we will see as the Passion narrative unfolds.

A final word about injustice: I have used the word throughout to describe Jesus’ arrest and subsequent suffering. However, there is no indication that Jesus considered it as such himself. Indeed, whenever Jesus speaks of his suffering, he says it will be for the glory of God and the means by which he returns to the Father having accomplished the saving work the Father has given him. Let us remember then to give God the glory for sending Jesus to us and for his saving work.

By porthkerryandrhoose, May 2 2019 04:56PM

I’m going to tell you an amazing story. It sounds unbelievable but it is true!

Violet Jessop was a stewardess on ocean liners. She started with the White Star Line when she went aboard the HMS Olympic in 1910. A year later, while Jessop was still working aboard the ship, it collided with the British warship the HMS Hawke while the two were passing through a narrow strait. Though both vessels were damaged by the encounter, it did not completely destroy either ship and there were no fatalities.

While the Olympic was being repaired, Violet was employed aboard another White Star Line ship, the RMS Titanic. Jessop was onboard when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, but was able to find a lifeboat, and survived.

Despite these two sea accidents she had been a part of, during World War I, she served as a Red Cross stewardess aboard the HMHS Britannic. It had been converted into a hospital ship and was transporting injured soldiers to the United Kingdom, when they hit a German mine in the Aegean Sea and sank.

While escaping the sinking ship on a lifeboat, Jessop and many other passengers were almost sucked into the ship’s propeller blades, but narrowly escaped, cementing her reputation as “Miss Unsinkable”.

Some true stories are difficult to believe aren’t they? It’s remarkable for someone to have survived one shipwreck, let alone three. In our Bible passage this morning, we see that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb, and later the disciples, were faced with unbelievable circumstances. As we look at Luke’s account of that first Easter morning, we’ll see how the women weren’t expecting any change from the grave they’d left on the Friday evening. We’ll look at how the situation was explained to them by their heavenly visitors. We’ll also see that even by the end of this passage, belief that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead was by no means certain.

Firstly, we see that the women visiting Jesus’ tomb weren’t expecting any change from the grave they’d left on the Friday evening. V1 tells us that ‘the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb’. Jesus’ death had occurred late on the Friday afternoon, with the Sabbath due to begin at sunset. So his body would have been placed quickly in the tomb as there would have been no time to prepare the body for burial before the Sabbath rest began. This visit then, ‘first thing in the morning’ was the earliest opportunity after Jesus’ death and the Sabbath that followed it for his body to be properly anointed for burial with spices. When they arrived however, things were not as they expected, as we see in v2-3: ‘They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.’ We aren’t told of their reaction to this discovery, except for a very brief statement in v4 that they ‘were wondering about this’. However, it isn’t difficult to imagine how they might have reacted: panic, horror, confusion or anger are probably just some of the emotions they may have felt. They certainly don’t seem to have any thoughts of resurrection on their minds, despite the fact that they had heard Jesus refer to his death and resurrection on several occasions. Then, as if they haven’t already received enough of a surprise, they are joined at the tomb by some unusual visitors. V4 continues: ‘suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them’.

These men are surely angels – God’s messengers – and they are going to explain the situation the women have found at the tomb, which has left them wondering. They begin with a question, maybe a mild angelic telling-off for the women as they haven’t remembered what Jesus had told them. They ask ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ To the angels, it is folly to be at Jesus’ tomb, a place for the dead. In vv6-7 they continue: ‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ Jesus had said this to the disciples in ch9 v22 when he asked them who people said he was, and who they believed he was. He told them again in ch18 vv 32-33 before they headed to Jerusalem with him that final time. As they heard the angels speaking, something must have stirred in the memories of the women, as we hear in v8 ‘Then they remembered his words.’

The women believed and were excited to tell the disciples what they had heard and seen, yet the disciples still did not believe that Jesus was risen. We’re told in v11, ‘But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.’ The disciples were sceptical, not convinced at all by the women’s account of their experience at the tomb. All except Peter. Peter wanted to see for himself. We read in v12 that he ‘got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.’ There’s no indication that Peter came to believe at this point that Jesus had risen, but something must have prompted him to visit the tomb, when the others disbelieved so completely. Perhaps Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial of him was fresh in his mind and perhaps this led him to start to trust what Jesus had said about himself too. If we read on into ch24, we see that many of the disciples do not believe that Jesus is risen until he appears among them.

This might seem an odd message for Easter Sunday. It is after all, a day of celebration because we believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And yet, the reality we face today in the UK is that many people do not believe that Jesus died and rose again. More worryingly, according to a survey commissioned by the BBC in 2017, a quarter of people who identify as Christian do not believe in the resurrection and more still – nearly 40% - do not believe that it happened literally as the Bible tells it. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as such a surprise. If the people who lived alongside Jesus and listened to his teaching needed convincing (and by his appearance among them no less) that he had risen from the dead, how much more do the general public in the 21st century need convincing that this 2000 year old story is absolute truth?

What do you believe about the resurrection? Do you believe the accounts given to us in the New Testament? What would you say to someone who asked you about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Perhaps you want to look at it afresh for yourself. Start with the gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all give an account of Jesus’ resurrection. They differ in detail – as all accounts do when told from different perspectives – but all begin with the empty tomb and contain the witness of people who encountered the risen Jesus. Many people look for evidence of the resurrection. There are some great resources that provide just that. Christianity Explored, a course that teaches the foundations of the Christian faith, dedicates a whole session to the resurrection and Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel has written a book examining the evidence for the resurrection called The Case for Christ. Don’t underestimate though, the human power of storytelling. We share knowledge through storytelling. We pass on our history, our culture, our learning, through storytelling. Storytelling plays a huge part in passing on faith too. Not just scriptural accounts but personal experiences. We all have our own faith story to tell – how we came to believe and how God is at work in our lives. Maybe hearing your faith story and the difference God makes to you and your life will help bring someone to faith.

This morning, let’s all pray for the courage to share our faith stories when asked. Let us pray for the strength of conviction to declare that we believe in Jesus – the Saviour who died and rose again. And let’s start now: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

By porthkerryandrhoose, Apr 4 2019 03:18PM

How do you thank someone? What things do you say or do? Perhaps a quick text is enough sometimes, while other times you might send an email or letter. Maybe the personal touch is preferable – phoning or meeting up with the person you want to thank. Sometimes though, particularly when someone has been really helpful or incredibly kind, we want to demonstrate our thanks. In these circumstances, we might buy a gift to say thank you, or offer to treat the person who’s helped us.

This morning’s passage from the 1st book of Samuel tells us the story of Hannah, whom God blesses with the gift of a son after many years of childlessness. If we look back to earlier in the chapter, in vv10 and 11, we see Hannah’s deep distress at having no children, ‘In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” In praying in this way, Hannah entered into a covenant with God and her plea was accepted, as Eli the priest told her in v17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” As we think about this covenant agreement, we’ll see the extent of Hannah’s thankfulness to God for prayer answered; we’ll see how she waited until the time was right to fulfil her part of the covenant; and remind ourselves of the truth that gifts offered to God are giving back what he has first given to us.

Firstly, let’s look at the extent of Hannah’s thankfulness to God for prayer answered. We see in v20 part of her gratitude: ‘She named him Samuel, saying “Because I asked the Lord for him.” The name Samuel sounds like the Hebrew phrase meaning ‘heard by God’ or ‘asked of God’. So in naming her son Samuel, Hannah has given herself a reminder for the rest of her life that God heard her prayer asking for the gift of a son and graciously answered it. Every time Hannah says or hears Samuel’s name she would have remembered how her son was a gift from God and given God the glory anew for his generosity. Hannah’s thankfulness went beyond her choosing of Samuel’s name too. We see in v24 how, in time, Hannah fulfilled her covenant with God and took Samuel to the Lord’s house to give him to the Lord to serve him there. She offered sacrifices to the Lord, according to the Hebrew laws and customs. She then acknowledged God’s goodness to her in her words to Eli, the man who had encouraged her to hope. We see her words in vv26-28: ‘Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he shall be given over to the LORD.’ With her words and actions, nobody could have doubted Hannah’s thankfulness for God’s answer to prayer.

Let’s think about our own prayer habits for a few moments. We bring our concerns and fears to him regularly. We are happy to ask him to act. We can pray eloquently and at great length when we’re asking God for something. But what about when our prayers are answered? Do you, do I, return to God in prayer as regularly to say thank you for answered prayer? Are you, am I, as happy to say thank you as we are to ask in the first place? Are you, am I, as eloquent and detailed in our thanks as we are in our requests? When God answers our prayers, we need to consider our response to him. Is a quick ‘thank you’ prayer enough of a response for what God has done for us? There may be times when that’s all we can offer. However, there will also be times when a bigger response from us is more appropriate. Perhaps you’ll feel led to offer a gift to God as a sign of your thankfulness. Maybe you’ll choose to celebrate in fellowship with your church family with an act of prayer or a service of thanksgiving. Think about how you want to say thank you to God for the things he’s done for you.

We’ve seen that Hannah did indeed fulfil her part of her covenant with God, but let’s now see how she waited until the time was right to do so. We see in vv21-22 how Hannah chose to wait before presenting Samuel to the Lord: ‘When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfil his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, ‘After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.’ Now Hannah may have had personal reasons for wanting to stay home from the temple with Samuel. Perhaps the thought of taking him on this occasion and bringing him back was too much for her, knowing that on a future occasion she would be leaving him there. However, Hannah also knew that there was an apposite time for her to offer her son to God, which, as we see in v22 is when he was weaned. A child being nursed by its mother wouldn’t be able to live in God’s house independently and so presenting Samuel after he was weaned would have been the right time.

In the same way, there was a right time for animal sacrifices to be presented to God, which Leviticus 22:27 says was, at the earliest, eight days after their birth. For the first seven days the animals were to remain with their mothers. And when making firstfruit offerings to the Lord, these would be made from ripe grains which would be baked into bread, as in Leviticus 23:17. When making offerings to God, he accepted only the best: unblemished animal sacrifices; the ripest fruit; a weaned child. If we want to offer a gift to God, we have to be sure that it is our best gift.

Finally, we can use this passage to remind ourselves of the truth that gifts offered to God are giving back what he has first given to us. Again, we see this in Hannah’s choice of name for Samuel and her words to Eli: ‘The Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So I now give him to the Lord.’ It’s said that the words that Hannah uses for ‘asked of’ and ‘give to’ are the same. And so Samuel’s name comes also to mean ‘given to God’. Hannah was giving to God what she had first asked and received from him. Likewise for us, all our gifts to God were first his gifts to us. If you’re familiar with the 1984 Eucharist service you’ll remember the words of the offering: “All things come of thee, and of thine own do we give thee.” These words come from 1 Chronicles 29: 14, as the people of Israel offered precious metals and stones to the building of the temple. David supervised these offerings and prayed: ‘Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.’

In reminding ourselves in this way of God’s generous nature, let us also remember that he responds to our gifts to him with even more generosity. Let’s look forward to 1 Samuel ch2. We see that Hannah and Elkanah returned to the temple every year to make the annual sacrifices and to see their son Samuel. And Eli would pray for God’s blessing upon them. In v21 we see God’s generosity once again: ‘And the LORD was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters.’ This is a consequence of Hannah and Elkanah’s generosity to God. They offered him their firstborn son – their ‘best’, their long-awaited child – and were rewarded by God with more children. I know God’s generosity in this way myself: when faced with reduced wages, I chose not to decrease my monthly gifts to God. By his generosity, the financial difference has not been punitive. We see too in our parish life, our generosity as a parish in charitable giving is rewarded by God with generous donations for things the parish needs. It’s a cycle of generosity that begins with God but that we can keep going when we are generous in our response of thanks to him.

We’ve seen today in Hannah an example of right living with God. Hannah knew she could go to God in her distress and ask for her heart’s desire. In asking for such a great gift, she entered into a covenant with God, promising to give the son God blessed her with back to him. We’ve seen Hannah’s great thankfulness in her choice of name for her son as a constant reminder of God’s graciousness to her and in her public acknowledgement to Eli. We’ve seen how Hannah waited until the time was right to offer Samuel back to the Lord, so that she was giving her best. We’ve also seen how Hannah’s response to God’s generosity was rewarded with even more generosity. Let us too, remember to be thankful when God answers our prayers. Let us consider our response of thanks, ensuring that we give God our best and let’s also keep the cycle of God’s generosity turning by playing our part in it.

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