Sermons preached by the Rev Susan:

11 April 2021

In the next weeks of this Easter season, until Whit Sunday, I want us to explore the Psalms.
The Psalms are a wonderful treasury. They are, I think, a little like Shakespeare, always relevant, in any time, because they are written by human beings and speak to us in our humanity. They bring the deepest human longings, they express the core human tensions and struggles, all the human emotions  - sometimes embarrassingly so for us in our day, for the Psalms tend to say it like it is! They are absolutely honest and real from the place in which the writers found themselves. 
I am guessing they were written with no purpose other than the ultimate human need for expression. We are the creatures of language, and, crucially, creatures needing to reach up to a caring Creator, and so we communicate.

In the weeks leading from Easter to Pentecost, I want us to explore the Psalms, because they are such a resource. In this time we follow the disciples as they became the first Christian Church; it was a confusing time for them, quite unexpected, and the psalms would have been a rock to ground these men and women in a time of extraordinary upheaval. 
Because the Psalms are the story of the people of God, literally sometimes an account of a particular part of their history, and certainly the story of their changing fortunes. They are also an encounter with the loving presence of God, about how we as human beings are grounded in God, which is in Love. 
The Psalms are story and lyrical poetry, not logical treatises. And quite frankly, the last thing on the disciples' mind at this stage was logic. Their whole world, their grasp on the material and the spiritual had been thrown up in the air and they were not quite sure how it was going to land!
But the disciples needed love, they needed an understanding of the faithfulness of God, in changing times, 
And so, at the moment I believe, do we.

So a little bit of background: 
The Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, is divided into three sections: the Torah: the 5 Books of Moses, the Neviim; the 8 books of the prophets from Samuel to Malachi, (all minor prophets are one book), and The Ketuvim: eleven other books of which the Psalms is the first. 
The Psalms, or Tehillim, like all writing from our Old Testament, were composed by Jews for Jews from all sorts of different contexts, for all sorts of purposes and usages over a long period of time.
The Psalms are said to be written by King David. Actually they are attributed to King David, that is their spiritual authority. It doesn’t mean that they were all written by him. He is very likely to have composed songs and psalms, being well known as a musician and lyricist. In fact ,there is possibly only one psalm (18) that seems likely to be largely his, although his phrases might appear in others remembered  by later authors from an oral tradition, because the Ketuvim are all writings that were collected from a later period of Jewish history than King David, mostly after the building of the second temple after the exile from Babylon. The Jewish tradition  associated an important historical figure with the chief literary productions of the nation. So Moses the law giver is associated as author and editor of the Torah, Solomon the wise the writer of the wisdom books and David, the singer, with the psalms. 
What is agreed and is still in play, is the musical accompaniment to the Psalms. Some are definitely associated with worship, although probably more the synagogues than the temple, but the Pilgrim psalms , or songs of ascents were sung in procession to the Temple on festival days.
The Psalms for Jews today are a fascinating combination of the official theology of Judaism; political rhetoric from days gone by; songs of solace and inspiration for individuals and communities, and even the nation of Israel; songs of praise; and expressions of lament in difficult times. They are for all those reasons a basis for prayer and are still used throughout a Jewish persons daily life. They are recited preceding the morning service, the shabbat Friday night service, when taking the scroll of the day for public reading in the synagogue, and a weekly cycle of psalms is contained in the prayer book. They are recited on the occasion of festivals, they are also used when individuals are sick, and on specific occasions by individuals or groups to express praise, thanksgiving, regret or supplication. 

So what I want to do in these weeks before Pentecost is take a general look at the whole of the book of the psalms, to gain an overview; and each week we are going to dip our toe into just two. Do read them in advance.
As an immediate and simple outline the psalms are divided into five books, and we know this because each of these books ends with a similar doxology. So for instance book 1 contains  Psalms 3-41 of David, ending with 13 Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen!
Book 3: Psalms 73-89 of Asaph and Korah, ending: 52 Praise the Lord forever! Amen and amen!
Book 5: 107-150 with the songs of ascents ending: 6 Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!

All of these books and the individual Psalms  bring us firstly before God, and then in touch with ourselves and they were taken into the practice of the early church who continued with the habit of reciting the Psalms. The Desert Fathers took them into the desert and passed on the tradition to their disciples. The Monastic tradition incorporated the psalms into their daily seven times office of worship, pausing their activities in order to pray and recite and sing the psalms. The Christian Church liturgy has always included a cycle of psalms, as daily readings/songs and liturgical chants. The Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship includes the whole of the book of psalms, they are a bedrock of worship and encounter with the Living God.

We have become, you could argue, lazy and haphazard, in relation to the Psalms. We no longer say the daily office, we don’t come to church every day. You could say we have simply re-arranged our way of doing things and now we realise we can pray and read privately as individuals in our homes…. But, with the loss of daily worship we have lost a daily hold on the psalms as a community, although the lectionary does give us one. 

And when we have considered that the psalms can be a daily encounter with both God and ourselves, then are we missing something quite vital?

Psalms 1 and 2  are our Psalms for today, and they are a prologue to the rest.

Psalm 1 tells us about ourselves, and introduces the ‘law of the Lord’. We are encouraged to’ delight  in the law of the Lord,  and on his law meditate day and night.’  Psalm 1 places a high value on the “law” of God, not just the teachings of Moses, (for us as Christian believers the Ten Commandments) but all the stories of the doings of the first People of God called under Abraham, Moses and others. Then we are to delight, not pay lip service, but that this law is written in our hearts. Jesus, the second Moses, brings us the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence within our very being, who calls and guides and comforts and speaks to us.

Psalm 2 talks about the Lord’s anointed One, who is both King David, the original anointed of God; and Jesus the second David, the Messiah, the ultimate Anointed One.
This Psalm speaks in no uncertain terms, highlighting an aspect of Jesus that we rarely dwell on - his Sovereignty: 6 ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’ 7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you. 
In the presence of this Ruler, who has secured our salvation we might adopt an attitude of scorn, questioning Jesus relevance to us today…. But we would do so to our own destruction, for Jesus is actually THE Sovereign ruler, and: 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;…Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury…  Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,*
I can see King David, in his younger days as a shepherd boy sitting on one of the hills above the plain. As he keeps an eye on the flock he also looks out across an extraordinary vista. And perhaps he sees across the vast expanse of land, the dust of horses' hooves of a foreign army power approaching another of the kingdom boundaries. And he feels like God looking down on the peoples of the earth, and how their own lived-out narratives are simply play on the stage of the earth.

The first two Psalms introduce, as if from a hilltop, God, and us in relation to God. God, as it were above us,  is the ultimate ruler, the Sovereign. Those who look to God, below, find a refuge and strength, a constant resource, just as trees planted by water have a constant supply of nourishment. But, says Psalm 2, remember God is not a human being. God is utterly Other. 
What is ultimately important is not how we are to other players, but to the stage creator.

I am challenged by my lack of knowledge of the Psalms, I know some of them, I know the sort of content in them, I know many random phrases and some whole psalms… but they are not on the tip of my tongue as they would have been for Jesus.

However we should not belittle ourselves for our lack of knowledge, but rather evaluate our level of commitment, not in order to be meeting a certain standard, that is not what a good relationship is, but if we do really get hold of the resources that God has given us, the principles of the law and an appreciation of the stories of salvation from the Bible, then we can thrive.

I love the simplicity and the challenge of Psalm 1: 
Happy are those
   ‘who do not follow the advice of the wicked’,   - what advice do we follow for our lives?
‘or take the path that sinners tread’,  -  what paths do we walk in? Literally what pavements do we tread, what corridors, what journeys make up our lives?
   ‘or sit in the seat of scoffers’;  -  what seats do we sit on, which ‘chairs’ on which committees, which living rooms, which educational establishments, which charities?
 ‘but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night’. - in what do we delight and on what do we meditate? What books and films and pictures and poetry do we love and go back to? 
‘Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord . They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. ‘

If all of the advice that we take, and paths that we walk, and chairs and subjects of delight are rooted and grounded in the good things of God, then we will be rooted and grounded like a tree planted by water. 

15 November 2020

There are some of us who are glass half empty people, and some glass half full, personally i am in the idealist camp, I am absolutely sure everything good is achievable. Philip could be considered to be in the first category, but he much prefers to let me know that he is actually a realist…

One of the difficulties for me this year has been that I am not able to wake up each morning as an idealist. The reality of our current situation has been too prominent even for me to fill my glass any more full. Just this week as I was compiling the prayers for Compline and properly searching through the BBC News, which I hadn’t done lately, it just struck me that in every region of the world, and in every country of that region, people were wearing masks and there was a Coronavirus story in each place. I know in my head that we are in a world pandemic, but I think the pictures really brought that home. 

It was a reality check, in the way that our Psalm today isn't a reality check. The Psalmist, in this case Moses, has not got out of bed on his upbeat side… he sees the bigger picture of how it is with God and with humanity: “You sweep people away like dreams that disappear.

You spread out our sins before you—

our secret sins—and you see them all.

We live our lives beneath your wrath,

ending our years with a groan.

even the best years are filled with pain and trouble.."


Remember the context from which he writes: Moses had one difficult job. He was leading the thousands of people of God out of a place of plenty and security (albeit oppression and slavery) into the unknown, and he led them for decades. They did not let him off lightly, and when God came to rest among them it was as a roaring fire, as a thick dark cloud, as thunder and lightning on the mountain.

And it was important that Moses spoke honestly, out of how it was for him and for the people. 

God wants us to approach God as we are. Abraham was another  great example of someone whom God called and who followed God and got to know God. And God spoke to Abraham and Abraham spoke to God. Abraham was known as a friend of God, not a servant, a worker but a friend, and Abraham spoke to God as a friend speaks to another friend. Think about the last conversation you had not with a child or a colleague or a parent, but a friend… that is a different sort of conversation to a child or a colleague or an employee. It is a relationship that allows for honesty, isn’t it?

So in Genesis 15 we get this conversation:

Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.”

But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son?


We are asked to come to God honestly, telling God things as they are at that point.

And so we are having this Quiet November, in fact it is quieter even than we first thought because we are also in lockdown again. And we having a quiet November so we can have a chance to reflect, so our services have been simpler than they sometimes are.  And during the week there are prayers and poetry and readings that we can go into church to sit with and think about. 

Because we need to let this time sink in and in the first two weeks I have asked us to face what this year has been like in terms of how difficult it has been, what we have struggled with, what even, we’ve been angry about.

However, this extraordinary year has also been a time when we have experienced good things. The NHS clap, we have been genuinely grateful for all the NHS staff who have done their extremely difficult job of being there for the suffering and the dying. We have been grateful for volunteers, for people who wanted to use their time to help others. We have been grateful for the greater sense of community that both of those things have brought us. We have realised, what is valuable, that in fact it is certain relationships that are really really important to us, more so than a busy social life.

We have discovered what the biblical prophet Isaiah spoke of: we have discovered the treasures of darkness. God says to the Persian ruler Cyrus, who took power in Persia and treated the people of God well, allowing them to go back and live their lives and serve their God. And God says to this leader I’ll make your way easy, I will remove barriers to your taking power. I will give you secret riches… by which God is not meaning actual gold, Cyrus probably had plenty of that already. God was promising him instead real treasure, the riches of being loved, and of loving, of being able to sleep peacefully, of being able to see the wise course ahead…those sort of riches. Spiritual riches, the things that makes us good people, and actually contented people. 

Listen to what Jesus suggests is at the heart of the rule of God, that new order that he brought and is still bringing in:


 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


What treasurers of darkness, what secret riches have you realised during this year?

What good character is it building in you?

These strangely low-key values of humility and compassion and openness to others are very different from celebrity, acquisitiveness and self-fulfilment that is urged on us from all forms of advertising.

But humility and compassion and openness to others, are some of the secret riches of God to us, the treasures that will really benefit not just us but all those around us, the treasures that may have come out of this darkness this year. 

18 October 2020

Matt 5:1-8

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God


Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
ABBA Lot went to see ABBA Joseph and said: "ABBA, as much as I am able I practise a small rule, a little fasting, some prayer and meditation, and remain quiet, and as much as possible I keep my thoughts clean.
What else should I do?"
The old man stood up and stretched out his hands toward Heaven, and his fingers became ten torches of flame.
And he said: "If you like, you can become all flame."
I love that story; it is utterly intriguing...
Up to now in the Beatitudes, we can see what Jesus is suggesting. We can understand the poor in spirit, those who are sorry for their wrongdoing, the meek, those passionate for rightness, those who show mercy..
But today we start to enter different territory.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
The Desert Dwellers lived purity of heart, and they became transcendent through the experience.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
David Adam, in his book Living in the Presence of God, tells of an encounter in the oldest folk-tale from Ireland: The Tain.
"What is your name?" Medb said to the girl.
"I am Fedelm , and I am a woman poet from Connacht."
Where have you come from?" Medb said.
From learning verse and vision in Alba,"the girl said.
"Have you the imbas forasnai, the Light of Foresight?" Medb said.
Yes I have, the girl said.
Then look for me and see what will become..
So the girl looked.
Poetry was seeing the world in a different way. It still is.
If we do not see deeply and clearly it is because we have allowed our sight to become dimmed. We have closed our eyes to the wonders that are always about us.
The Beatitudes tell us what it is to be a disciple, someone blessed by God. Someone pure in heart ...
Sam Wells in his book Walk Humbly says:
Be a disciple. be a person of wonder. Dwell with God. [become flame, we might say]
Walk with God. Immerse yourself in Gods story. Every day, discover more about Gods goodness, truth and beauty - in scripture, in history, in the world, in the universe, in happiness, in the face of tragedy, in abundant life, in the shadow of death...
Name the ways your life might have been much more troubled, the gifts youve been given outwardly and inwardly, the heritage of faith, the constancy of love and the hope of glory:
Abide in the stillness such reflections yield..
Enjoy creation, feel the sun on your forehead the wind on your cheeks, hurtling in from the ocean. Let the water of the river run through your toes or the pouring rain seep through your hair. Look deep into the wide blue yonder..
these are wonders to enjoy.”
.Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God
Sometimes it has been helpful to understand what this is not saying. Jesus does not say happy, content, blessed are the pure of body. Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talks a lot about moral cleanliness and how to keep our body, it is really important. But not here.
Jesus does not say blessed are the pure in mind,
Jesus says blessed are those who are pure in heart, pure in the centre and source of their whole inner life.
They are the ones who see God
A person who sees, who wonders, who allows God in.
Eugene Petersen, the author of The Message Bible, has written a series of poems on the Beatitudes. 
Blessed are the pure in heartis him looking onto an American alpine landscape:
Austere country, this, scrubbed
by springs ravaging avalanche.
Talus slope and Appekunny
Mudstone make a meadow where
high-country beargrass gathers light
from lichen, rock, and icy tarn,
Changing suns lethal rays
To food for grizzlies, drink for bees-
Heart-pure creatures living blessed
Under the shining of Gods face.
Yet like us the far-fallen,
Neither can they look in the face
And live. Every blossom's a breast
Holding eventual sight for all blind and
Groping newborn: we touch our way
Through these splendours to the glory.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God
In the Bible, Samuel searches for the new king... but does not search with his heart, but with his mind: man looks on the outward appearance, says God, but God looks on the heart.'

A person after my own heartwe say.. and David later says in Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, put a spirit of rightness in me”.

James 4:8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."

Blessed are those who are Christlike altogether, in every aspect of their lives.

Happy are those who are motivated single-mindedly to living in an attitude of humility, meekness, commitment, and compassion.

Some commentators have suggested that this is blessed are the single-minded.. but that seems to be a narrow focus, seeing with an agenda..

 I wonder if being pure in heart actually means living in a spirit of humility and openness such that we are non-agendered...

seeing things as they are, people as they are, not through the lens of our own filters/biases/prejudices/worldviews?

Does Blessed are the pure in heart mean blessed are the all inclusive? -those willing to see each as God sees them, a living soul, a child of God?

Blessed are these who are so focused…they shall see with 2020 vision as God does

Blessed are the pure in heart...

..the heart? ..not simply the centre of the emotions, or even the will, but the absolute personhood of that person,

Martin Lloyd Jones : - blessed are those who are pure not merely on the surface, but in the centre of their being and at the source of their every activity, it is as deep as that.

David Adams continues:

"Poetry is often used to link underlying relationships in a way that helps us to become aware of them. Words fail us when we are dealing with the deep mysteries of life”…when we are looking for God..

The Desert dwellers and the Celtic Saints seemed to have the ability to see beyond what is obvious and into a deeper and stranger world than most of us ever perceive.” and he tells a story of Cuthbert.

Cuthbert was the guest-master at the monastery at Ripon. One morning in December before the daylight arrived Cuthbert entered the guesthouse. A young man was already there, white and still, through the frost and snow clinging to his clothes. Cuthbert bent down and rubbed the man's feet to brings warmth and feeling into them. He asked the man to stay in the shelter of the guesthouse and he would return with food after the morning prayers  refresh yourself brotherhe said, and I will go and get you a warm loaf. When Cuthbert returned the young man had gone, yet there were no tracks in the snow...stranger still were three loaves, smelling fresh and fragrant and. Looking very pure and white. He had intended to feed his visitor but the visitor had left food for Cuthbert.”

 Its difficult for us in the twenty-first century not to dismiss these stories. In many ways we are far better informed as to the nature of our material world but we have become blind to the greater world , like the servant of Elisha who failed to see the angelic horseman surrounding the horsemen of the King of Syria.

We have become blind to the spiritual world around us.. David Adams says: we need to see again, not only with the eyes of science, but also with the eyes of our heart:

So Paul says in the first chapter to the Ephesian Christians:

"Have the eyes of your heart enlighten that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe..”

 Teilhard de Chardin writes:
Purity does not lie in separation from, but in a deeper penetration into the Universe.
Or as Augustine says:
God of our blessedness,
The source, beginning and creator of joy
And of all that is joyful;
God of goodness and beauty
Who is in all that is good and beautiful;
God our discernible light,
Who can be discerned in all that shines with that light;
God whose kingdom is the whole universe
That our sense cannot perceive;
God whose kingdom lays down laws for the kingdoms of this world;
God from whom to stray is to fall,
And who to turn to is to rise up,
In who, to remain is to rest on firm foundation.
To leave you is to die
To return to you is to come back to life,
To dwell in you is to live.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
We could say the words of our Collect again:
Faithful Lord,
whose steadfast love never ceases
and whose mercies never come to an end:
grant us the grace to trust you
and to receive the gifts of your love,
new every morning,

1 March 2020



Genesis 3.1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.


Matthew 4.1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,

   but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you”,

   and “On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ 

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,

   and serve only him.” ’ 

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. 




Jesus was baptised, showing his solidarity as a human being with the rest of the people responding to John’s call to repentance, that word which conveys a turning round.

What was Jesus turning round from? A Christian, believing that Jesus is equally man and equally God, cannot entertain the thought that Jesus was turning from sin.

So I think in Jesus’ baptism action he was not needing to be turning from, but he was turning to God.


For 30 years he had lived a quiet but probably quite fulfilled life as a normal human being, part of a respected family, in a small village, with loving parents, brothers and sisters to play with, run with, learn with; and help; part of a wider family including some Holy people like his aunt and uncle Zechariah and Elizabeth who gave them all a significant link to central Temple worship. They were not well off but they had food and clothes and a place in the community, they had work, a livelihood, they were part of things. Synagogue was a source of inspiration and strength and friendship and teaching, a place of prayer and praise. Festivals were celebrated by a community pilgrimage to the city. It was all good.


And then suddenly, turning thirty it seems as if Jesus had one of those big birthdays, where you can’t help but take stock: What was he doing? What had he done? What else was there for him?


I wonder if you ask that, on a birthday, at New Year, when something changes in your life... or even use Lent to think through those questions?

What am I doing? 

What is important? 

What else is there for me?

And you can guarantee as a follower of Christ, there will always be something new for you, not matter your age or even limitations, for we are a body of people needing each other.


So, at the time when Jesus turned 30, perhaps even on this significant day, Jesus wandered out to be alone for an hour or two, as was his practice. Jesus heard the voice of God, the call of God through none other than his own cousin John the Baptist, the wilderness prophet of God. “Repent, and be baptised” was John’s call to everyone.

"Turn around," God said that day to Jesus," turn this way.” And suddenly Jesus knew that was God’s voice into his own life. Turn around, come away now from your domestic life, your home, your family, and turn to Me for direction and purpose. 


So, Jesus was baptised. And having been obedient to this first call, as he came out of the water, he saw heaven open, and there was the Spirit of God resting on him, like brightness and feathers. And he heard the voice: "this is my Son! whom I love"

And everything made sense. Or at least he knew he’d done the right thing. And then, as Jesus dried himself with a cloth, and watched others around him smiling and clapping each other on the back, and walking off in twos and threes . . .there was the strongest pull to carry on with that walk he’d started earlier that day, as if that bird of heaven flew just in front and headed further into the desert.


"This is my Son, whom I love."

Jesus could not get enough of those words, they filled his soul with warmth and laughter, with unspeakable joy.

And once he’d been there in the desert overnight, he knew this was for a while. And the initial rush of sheer joy, at piecing together something of who he was, the huge surge of contentment, as when  a brother or his mother looked at him in love, settled deep within him and he walked and walked, and walked, and sat, and turned over and over in his mind . . .  'so, what now?'


He would have been hugely aware of his physical needs, away from the comforts of home. How hungry did he get before it became clear that food was actually not the important thing just now? And thirst was quenched by just enough of a small hidden spring, or layer of dew. And a routine of savouring the beautiful cool of dawn and early morning, turning over questions and thoughts, and impressions, before the heat of the sun allowed him to sit and look and think and go over this last year…. and then pondering on this decade since the last big birthday . . . then the time since his bar mitzvah, . . . and then recalling those stories Mary had quietly told, of the strange events of his birth, and the visitors, a bright star, angelic dreams, his father’s sense of what needed to happen and getting on with it. 


Just occasionally a terrible day, where clouds hung over the cliffs where Jesus woke, and a dark, dark, almost physical force around and over him put strange hypnotic scenarios into his head, and he couldn’t shift them . . .

“You are really, really hungry,” said a penetrating voice on the first time it happened, “you are dangerously short of nourishment, you are the Son of God, you don’t want to pack that all up and make yourself sick. Quick, this is really important, you have the power of the  all-powerful One, turn these stones into bread, eat, eat and be satisfied and strong and powerful  again . . .”

And just at the point of wanting to shout to drown out the voice, a small well of silence rose inside him and Jesus understood. He was living through the wilderness, like Moses had.  That desert place was the schooling for Moses and the people, a schooling, a difficult discipline of waiting on God, and listening . . .

This was not the time for eating, but for focusing on much, much more important things, the very words of God, his Father, to him: 


"Man shall not live by bread alone…."


And as Jesus drew back from that very tempting thought of finding bread before him, and schooled his body and its needs back under the rationale for doing this, for coming closer to his Father God, he perhaps walked on. And as he walked Jesus was starting to understand that the way ahead of him would not be a settled traditional Rabbi role, with all the comforts of the locality around him, and a domestic base. He would need to follow where this bird of the Spirit flew, he would be, like Abraham and like Moses before him, someone who walked the region, not waiting for people to come to him, but he would go to them to bring them the bread of life. 


The second time Jesus found himself under this oppressive cloud, one day when the sun had disappeared under a cloud itself and a wind whipped up in the wilderness and threw sand at his feet and in his eyes. And as he sheltered in the lee of a rocky outcrop and rubbed his eyes he saw through the dust. The distant city of Jerusalem, and could just make out the pinnacle of the Temple. And in his mind’s eye came the notion of himself, standing on it, lifting his hands to God before all the people below him, making their way to evening sacrifice.


“He will command his angels concerning you”,

and “On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” 


"If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down;"


Jesus’ mind reels, he feels dizzy and disorientated, he is the Son of God. There are legions of angels at his beck and call, . . . the people of Moses were always demanding a sign . . . what greater sign to begin his ministry than to show the people the hold God has on him? He leans back on the rock behind him, and smiles, 

And with a howl of the wind a bird is blown in to rest itself on the rock, Jesus rubs his eyes, the dust swirls and obscures the city, he looks at his own dirty feet and the bird on the rock  and recalls the psalm that has blown in to his mind..


1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,

   who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, 

2 will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;

   my God, in whom I trust.’ 

3 For he will deliver you

5 You will not fear the terror of the night,

. . .

   or the destruction that wastes at noonday. 

9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,

   the Most High your dwelling-place, 

10 no evil shall befall you,

11 For he will command his angels concerning you

   to guard you in all your ways. 

14 Those who love me, I will deliver;

   I will be with them in trouble,


And Jesus knows he must rest, in this noonday heat and storm. Rest physically and rest on God, his refuge, the Son of God still needs the refuge of God the Father, his rock. 

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” - he shouts to the wind and the eerie light, and he sits down, his head against the rock behind. God will guard him through the slow and difficult ways ahead, God will guard him through all his ways. Jesus sleeps.

As he wakes, the increasing knowledge of the path ahead for him, of not taking advantage of the power of God for him, becomes clearer. He is a human being, and he must walk as people do, and be accompanied by God through it all, dark and light.


Towards the end of this six-week time in the wilderness, Jesus has become used to the privations of not eating, it isn’t mostly an issue, and there is so much in the quiet and the solitude, so much to see and hear and recall. Working his way through the Psalms in his mind, reciting them one by one, Jesus has gradually been climbing. He has come to one of 'the mountains of God’  and he’s been reminded again of Moses and his forebears. Jesus climbs this mountain. Slowly and steadily over days, he works his way up: was this the actual path that Moses took? Until, rounding a corner, at dusk, below him are the foothills and suddenly, the whole plain spread out. Jesus stops, and sits down. Wow! He could imagine the whole People of God camped below and Moses, like himself, nearing the top of the mountain, and that cloud that hid the splendour of God. Though now, there are not tents spread across the plain, there are visible towns and villages, occasional puffs of dust where someone leads a flock of sheep, the sun sending its last soft rays onto polished stone. 

How beautiful! How many people there are down there, just going about their evening business. All these people to go and tell of the love of the Father.


A sudden sharp pain across his head . . . and ringing in his ears! - that voice again, that strong and compelling voice.


“All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”


Jesus is exhausted now, - what a time he has had, starting to understand the way forward, getting hold of this way of unremitting discipline, hearing the truth of the slow and steady journeying ahead, a turning from Nazareth and even Galilee. 

He is vulnerable and bewildered, how would it ever be possible to reach each one of these people? And what of the towns and cities he cannot see? What of all those beyond the waters of the distant sea?


But neither has he come this far not to realise he is the Son, just one of Three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and three together are one in strength, and in love. This journey ahead of him has no short-cuts to love, and nothing in it must speak of domination. Jesus discovers again, that still small voice... and with an energy, built suddenly of anger, Jesus stands and shouts to all the plains:


"Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

'Worship the Lord your God,

   and serve only him.’ "  


'Get you behind me Satan!’- the Kingdom of the love of God is come, and it doesn’t work in any of those ways. 



February 2020




Genesis 1

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

 And God said, Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.

So God created humankind in his image,

   in the image of God he created them;

   male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.God said, See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.


Romans 8.18-25

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.


Matthew 6.25-end

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Todays trouble is enough for today.




What an amazing set of readings today that lead us through what we call The Grand Narrative of the Bible. Please dont ever think that because we split the Bible into what we call the Old Testament and the New Testament that it is only the New that is relevant, that would be to miss all the great riches of the Old Testament and be like starting a novel half-way through.

Today we are focusing on the natural world, or in Christian terms, the created world, for it is the Christian understanding that the source of all of the natural world is God. God is creator, the Bible makes it very clear, both in Genesis 1 which we heard today and elsewhere.


Isa 40:28 Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.

There are various ways of approaching creation as a Christian believer. We can take Genesis 1 as the literal account of how it happened. And if God is God there is no reason why it cannot have happened like this.

But science, which is not God but is an important source of information, has come to the conclusion that matter evolved over aeons of time.

This does not prevent us from believing, as Christians, that God is the Creator. So, another approach is to understand God as the energy behind matter and the organising principle forming matter. And this, of course, could be over many, many aeons.

From what we know about Gods dealings through the Bible, we see that God is not time-oriented, on the whole, time is the one factor that is not Gods motivation. Instead slow, gradual working is often Gods way, because then depth and complexity are honoured.

So why does the Bible give us the creation story as it is?

We need to look at each book of the Bible in terms of its genre. What sort of literature is it? So, I Kings is narrative, it tells a story, Psalms are worship material, prayers and songs, Isaiah is prophecy, telling the  purposes and the heart of God for humanity; Revelation is apocalyptic literature, looking at the end times and what is to come using imagery and symbols.

Genesis is also narrative. It tells the story of the very early patriarchs of faith. It tells how way, way, way back in the day, literally in the mists of time, God acted and God spoke. It wasnt written at that time, but much, much later. Perhaps in the time of Moses. And like all the Bible,  Christians believe, as 2 Tim 3:16 suggests:  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true.

God inspired the various writers who have contributed to the Bible.

So, the beginnings of the world in Genesis are an origin story, a story given to the writer of the beginning of Genesis by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. And unsurprisingly, because this writer was a person of their time, it bears some likenesses to other early origin stories of the day, as well as clearly providing within the detail, some strong principles that are different.

Before we dive into Genesis 1, our first question must be:

What sort of God is our God? And our Psalm of the day give us the answer many times over:  Psalm 136 - his mercy endures for ever;

God is always full of mercy, gracious, wise and powerful. That is, the kind of place God is coming from as Creator. God is fundamentally benevolent.

Our second question:

What is the relationship of God to created matter?

Gen 1:2 And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters

God is present; we could say God is fundamentally interested, hovering over the potential.

Gen 1:3 Then God said, Let there be light; and there was light.

God said, ...and there was...God is able to command and it is done.

Later with Col 1:15 & 16 we are given a clue that this is a Trinitarian venture, God the source speaks and God the Son creates: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we cant see—

God the Father spoke, God the Son created with God the Holy Spirit who hovers over matter to bring it into being.

Gen 1:4  And God saw that the light was good. Gods relationship to matter is one of delight. God loves matter. Lets hear that, deep inside ourselves. Matter is good, matter is where God is at, let us not think that the holy and the spiritual are somehow more important than matter.

Then God was thoughtful, logical...what needs to come first... ? 3 Let there be Light, - light is visible seeing, and light is enlightenment... the first thing we always need is perspective, and vision. God has the ultimate perspective.

3  and organising... separating. Chaos, is unhelpful, and dark, we know that too, I think. Let there be light in this situation, perspective, and vision.

Weve got to v3 and we see that Gods relationship to created matter is interested, able, thoughtful, delighting, with perspective, and ... 5 God creates rhythm   and there was evening and there was morning… Different conditions for different things, the pause and drawing in of the night, after the brightness of the day. And a little later in the account, the years, and the seasons and the stars to mark them.

In fact, the creation story is less about the days, specifically, and more about order. Seven is of course a complete number, used in Jewish writing, to indicate perfection.

God orders matter, God creates the environment, the structure of earth: the sky, the sea, the land. And then God fills it, with all the variety and diversity of plants, fish, birds, animals, insects.

Then, finally, and we have to be very careful how we describe this.... Gen 1:26.  Then God said, Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.

God has created a myriad of living things, a fantastic array, a beautiful variety . . . but something is lacking, that godlike capacity that is really indescribable, except to see it in the difference between a human being and a giraffe, lets say. A giraffe has a body, senses, instincts for food, water, shelter, company . . . there seems to be evidence that animals enjoy and play, even that they take decisions and act accordingly. Some of you will have heard us bemoan the intelligence of ‘Whisky’, our dog, who can work out far too much... and dogs and other animals can seem to have a degree of empathy, a huge amount of what we call loyalty . . . all those sort of things, but human beings still have more. They are more developed, highly capable, highly rational, highly emotional, and with a very strong sense of justice, of what is right and wrong, and the ability to feel guilt when injustice prevails. They are conscionable.

And because of that, God gives particular responsibility . . .

28-29 God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

And unfortunately, that one word dominion has completely soured our relationship with the rest of creation. It has been read as domination, and has built us up to be fighting, competitive people, using all natural resources for our own benefit.

Humankind is often seen as the pinnacle of creation, because we came last and are made in the image of Godbut it is absolutely clear that we are not the only important part of matter,

And then God rests, and once again we have a vision of Gods rhythm: action, creation, delight, provision and rest. And perhaps our lack of rest is key . . . because when we rest, and enjoy, and become just one part of this glorious wonder that is nature, then we regain perspective.

The natural world is really important. It is the environment in which we are provided for and where we can thrive. But God delights in the sky and the land and the sea and trees and grass and plants and animals of all kinds. These are really important in their own right.

In most of the prophetic books of the Bible, God speaks through the prophets to the people of God, but in Ezekiel ch 36 the prophet speaks to the mountains, the hills, the watercourses, the valleys and the areas laid desolate. And promises them restoration and new life. Because, as the epistle reading today from Pauls letter to the Romans, tells us:

the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; the creation waits with eager longing; the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

From the beginning, all matter is in relationship with fellow matter, and with God. We are all created from the dust of the ground, the same molecules that make up the rest of matter. In Gods purposes and vision, our soul and body will be reunited in our resurrection body and we are promised a new heaven and a new earth. Free from decay. Interestingly, our relationship with the natural world that we are in, doesnt stop, it continues.

And isnt it interesting what Jesus says, in the light of the other two passages of scripture?

Matthew 6: 25 do not worry about your life,

How much of our treatment of the earth is related to fear? ... that we wont have enough, that we wont be the best, the most beautiful, with the ultimate comforts . . . because we should be at the top of the chain....

No, Jesus says:  Matt 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; Consider the lilies of the field..

Be humble, learn from the rest of creation, take your hob-nailed boots off and the attitude that goes with them . . . and walk barefoot . . .

if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry,..... your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, his fairness..

and all these things will be given to you as well.

So perhaps we should be marking the Anglican fifth mark of mission.

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Were not all skilled in horticulture, we dont all have the environment as our greatest interest, we all have different callings, and we respect our differences, but now, in the current world climate, we must all understand and have good and helpful attitudes to our relationship with the rest of creation, and support those who are particularly skilled.

Perhaps we should all be eco-churches with green wildlife friendly churchyards?

Perhaps we should all be supporting A Rocha a Christian ‘Green’ charity working across the world, who assist churches to become green churches.

Definitely we must take in that we are in relationship with the rest of the created natural world. And start to mull on how we might help that relationship to blossom?

But above all: be humble about creation.

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.


November 2019




2 Thessalonians

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.



‘You 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 heaven.

‘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 is perfect.




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 would."

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 Cheltenham.

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 seriously penalised. 


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 reminds us:


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 tombstone:


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 and word.

October 2019





The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 

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 perverted. 

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.


2 Timothy

 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 exclaimed.

‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

‘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 region. 

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 beautiful.

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 branches.

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 of creation,

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 situation.


Like our figure in our OT reading, that wonderful little book of Habakkuk: 

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 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 interrogation.

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 self-discipline. 

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 to.

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:

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack

and justice never prevails.


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: 

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. . . 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 of injustice.