Sermons preached by the Rev Susan:
(Scroll down the page to read the relevant sermon)
But we must always give thanks to God
for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord,
because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification
by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose, he called you through our
proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord
Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters,
stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either
by word of mouth or by our letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself
and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and
good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
are the light of the world. A city built
on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after
lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it
gives light to all in the house. In the
same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good
works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to
abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth
pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law
until all is accomplished. Therefore,
whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do
the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them
and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of
‘You have heard that it was said,
“You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray
for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in
heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain
on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what
reward do you have? Do not even the
tax-collectors do the same? And if you
greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father
I heard an interview recently with a
woman whose story has been made into a film. Of the incident that inspired the film they
said, “Would you do it again . . . knowing what you know now?”
“Yes," she said, "yes, I
Because she knew that she had done
what was right.
A couple of weeks ago, Philip and I
went to see that Film. It is Official
Secrets, and it’s based on the true case of Katharine Gun, a translator
working for the British security services at the GCHQ surveillance unit in
In 2003, in the course of an ordinary
week at work, Katharine was astonished to receive an email making it plain she
was expected to find out incriminating personal details in the lives of UN
representatives from small countries so that they could be blackmailed into
voting for the war in Iraq.
Gun, in her work, was bound by the Official
Secrets Act, the breaking of which would be a prison sentence, a criminal
record and the unlikelihood of her ever having a satisfying job again.
However, the march against The Iraq
war had just taken place, the largest march of demonstration ever in Britain. And Gun is appalled at the Prime Minister’s determination
to take Britain into this war, despite so much public opinion against it, and
even more aghast that this is clearly being done in underhand ways.
She has a terrible choice. If she leaks this document, there is a chance
that war may be averted . . . Katharine is not a powerful person, she is an
ordinary citizen doing a job that she fell into. And now in that job she is being asked to do
something that she knows is wrong. If she does what is right, she will be
She takes all her courage into her
hands; she leaks the document.
I found this a really powerful film,
because it is true. Katharine has the
courage and the personal integrity to do what is right, just because it is right.
The apostle Paul asks us to work out
our own salvation. Our Epistle reading
So then, brothers
and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by
us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
We are to find the path that Jesus
calls us onto, and to follow that. To do
what is right. Integrity matters, and courage matters, especially for us
as Christian people.
I wonder, however, if these days
the shortest poem by W H Auden is more apt than ever? In October 1953, Auden wrote on a WW
Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier
To save your world
you asked this man to die;
Would this man,
could he see you now, ask why?
For courage seems to have slipped off
our radar these days, sliding on the mud of relativism.
Do we think of courage as something
that is reserved only for times of national crisis ?
It strikes me that each day we need
to be aware of moments in which we might show courage. It is at the heart of who we are as Christian
people. In particular, the courage to
have integrity, the courage to go the extra mile, the courage to do the right
thing, however small that might be, however difficult that might be, and even
if no-one is looking.
Like Katharine Gun doing what is
right at work.
For every time that happens, the
light of God is brighter in our world, and we have followed the most courageous
human being, Jesus Christ.
Now may our Lord
Jesus Christ himself comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and
you will not listen? Or cry to you
‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why
do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife
and contention arise. So the law
becomes slack and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous — therefore judgement comes forth
I will stand at my watch-post, and
station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me
and said: Write the vision; make it
plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a
vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will
surely come, it will not delay.
I am grateful to God — whom I
worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did — when I remember you
constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling
your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith
that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am
sure, lives in you. For this reason I
remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on
of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit
of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Do not be ashamed, then, of the
testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering
for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a
holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given to us in Christ
Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing
of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and
immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and
an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in
whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day
what I have entrusted to him. Hold to
the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and
love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the
good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Here is another story Jesus told: “The
Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy
came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain,
the weeds also grew.
The farmer’s workers went to him and
said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’
‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer
‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they
‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the
wheat if you do. Let both grow together
until the harvest. Then I will tell the
harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to
put the wheat in the barn.’
Jesus prays to God the Father. 0All
mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 1And now I am no longer in the
world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that
you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in
your name that you have given me. I
guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so
that the scripture might be fulfilled. 3But
now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may
have my joy made complete in themselves.
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they
do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the
world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.
In September, I was fortunate enough to
travel both to a place far south and a place far north in this our European
In fact, I went further north than I
have ever been, which was exciting. Joel
and I were in the Arctic Circle, and we hiked and kayaked surrounded by snow-capped
mountains, and fjords, seemingly endless peaks that the cloud on different days
gradually disclosed. It was absolutely
I fulfilled a wish to visit the
northernmost Botanic Garden,
in Tromsø in
northern Norway. And the garden was
stunning. Even out of season it was full
of tiny alpine plants: gentians in bloom, looking
like little furled blue and yellow striped umbrellas, of all different shades,
and miniature beech trees, presumably low-growing to bear an arctic wind. Bees were still active, particularly in the
various spires of aconitum, called monkshood for the shape of the flower with
its distinctive hooded top. And we
strolled through a birch wood with bright yellow leaves not long for their
My southern visit was to Lisbon, a city
on the water’s edge bathed in sunshine and noisy with construction projects. Philip and I caught a train a few stops up to
see the Atlantic surf rolling up the sands and crashing against the walls of
the promenade. On my birthday we sailed
on a locals’ yacht around the harbour, under the copy of the Golden Gate
bridge, listening to the splash of the calm water against the side and watching
for the last hour the sun sink to the horizon, changing the sky all shades of
blue and lemon and apricot.
Well might our collect remind us: Lord
whose glory is around and within us:
open our eyes to your wonders,
I want to let you know today, because I
have so recently seen it with my own eyes: from the far north to the far south
the glory of God is tangible and beautiful.
God is present.
Part of the joy of both locations was
having a balcony from which to enjoy the view. Admittedly there were 48 steps up to the
apartment in order to enjoy the tiny Lisbon balcony, but for me it was worth it
as I felt a real need to be able to look out across the landscape, both
literally and figuratively.
There are times when we need to go to
the balcony, to see the wood from the trees, to see the bigger picture, from
the far north to the far south, to understand properly, our place, our
Like our figure in our OT reading, that
wonderful little book of Habakkuk:
I will stand at my
and station myself
on the rampart;
I will keep watch
to see what he will say to me,
And one thing God “said”, was: isn’t
this beautiful? This is for you to enjoy.
From north to south to east and west,
the glory of God is tangible and beautiful, and as we hiked in Norway we saw
families and students, men and women, younger and older, making the most of a
weekend to enjoy the beauties of nature, out walking and running, mountain
biking and roller-skiing.
The glory of God is tangible around us
for us to enjoy, and in enjoying to know that God is present.
Today, as we consider our own place,
and the generosity of God in the beauty around us, we can be glad that we rely
on a God who is: Almighty, merciful, full of grace, and full of justice, whose
glory is tangible at all points of the compass.
In Lisbon and in Tromsø, we
had a chance to talk with local people, to walk around the city with them. To learn something of their own stories and
challenges. Our walking guide in Lisbon
was in fact Venezuelan, a Portuguese colonist. She was young, just in her twenties, yet she
said, as she told the story of Portugal, that she had scars on her body, from
her own protest against the regime in recent years in Venezuela before she
moved to be with her grandmother in Portugal .
She now tells the story of the
liberation of Portugal from the dictatorship under Antonio de Oliviere
Salazar.... little did we know that Harry Potter was partly researched whilst
JK Rowling was living in Portugal! ...That was the red carnation liberation, a
comparatively peaceful end to a time of control, suspicion, watching and
Northern Norway was less traumatised,
although telling the story of the history of the northernmost brewery, Macks,
Joel listened to the story of how the Norwegians under occupation, passed
valuable statistics to the British on the numbers of enemy troops, through the
amount of beer they ordered. Today,
Norway is concerned for the ecology of the earth: we had to work out 6
different coloured bags for recycling; we listened to the situation in a
tranquil and beautiful island neighbourhood, where 87 wind turbines are being
stationed, changing the look forever of a place where they enjoy the bounty of
fish-filled waters and fresh air. In Tromsø I
was interested to hear of the longevity of the struggle of artist Aase Texmon
Rygh to be recognised as an abstract artist in the 1940’s and 50’s when she was
both a woman and from the ‘looked down on’ north of the
country. Yet her story was nothing
compared to the previously misunderstood Sami people.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful a place
may be, if living conditions for the people are tainted with injustice and
suffering then it can be a vulnerable place to be. But vulnerability is
part of the Christian story: God is a generous God allowing wheat and weeds to
grow together in the field, allowing growth and development of opportunity and
character. And that will not be a walk
in the park.
The glory of God tangible around us,
reminds us of the presence of God through whose grace other resources are
available. So, Paul says to
Timothy and to us, ”rekindle the gift of God that is within you...; for God
did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love
and of self-discipline.
Sometimes a balcony view is essential,
to see what is what. We become
distracted with the process of growth and development, with the nuts and bolts
of living, that we don’t take a step up to the balcony, to consider what
treasure we are surrounded with,
Guard the good
treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
And that treasure is not just beauty
and natural resources, although increasingly they must be on our minds and
hearts and voices, but also the treasure we have been given.
Back to our epistle reading..
God did not give us
a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of
We have been given the means to make a
difference to our own character, and to the lives of those around us. That is the treasure to be most thankful for .
. . and to courageously apply ourselves
Guard the good
treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
The watchmen in Habbakuk’s day stood on
their balcony and were appalled at what they saw:
violence are before me;
So the law becomes
and justice never
God grants the wheat and weeds to grow
together, to be given the same choices, the same opportunities and resources for
good, and that means the wheat will grow up in the context of strife and
contention, destruction and violence.
And in that context, the wise, the
good, will choose the good, will receive the spirit of power, love and self-discipline.
And despite the violence, destruction,
strife and contention around us today, here in our own country and government
choices, we must fix our eyes, from the balcony, on the tangible glory of God,
we must know that God is present.
For Paul reminds us:
I know the one in whom I have put
my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I
have entrusted to him. Hold to the
standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love
that are in Christ Jesus.
Guard the good treasure
entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
We have the good treasure, the glory of
God from far south to far north, we have the character of God difficultly
produced in us by the help of the Holy Spirit.
And most importantly of all, finally,
As we guard the good treasure, so Christ guards us.
God the Almighty, the gracious, the
merciful, and the just is our Guard, our ultimate watch.
So Jesus prays:
protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as
we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you
have given me. I guarded them, and not
one of them was lost. . . I am not asking you to take them out of the world,
but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.
A prayer from the Philippines:
Lord, in these times when we fear we
are losing hope or feel our efforts are futile, let us see in our hearts and
minds the image of your resurrection.
And let that be the source of courage
and strength. With that, and in your
company, help us to face the challenges and struggles against all that is born