Below are the most recent sermons preached at St Nicolas and South Witham.
Sermon for 8.00 am Holy Communion service
Lent 2, 8th March 2020
It’s morning now, but it was night-time when Nicodemus ventured out to visit Jesus. The streets of Jerusalem were almost deserted; just the Roman soldiers on patrol and some spies lurking in the shadows. He’d been thinking about it for quite a while, but waited for a dark moonless night. He wanted to know more, to understand for himself why so many people were attracted to Jesus, to understand why his colleagues in the Sanhedrin disliked Jesus, to reconcile this conflict in his own mind.
Nicodemus found it hard being a leader of the Jews at times. He was a learned man; he knew the Jewish scriptures well. They spoke of a loving God who forgave his people time and time again when they turned away. The God he saw in the scriptures showed flexibility, showed himself in many ways, and showed himself now in Jesus.
Nicodemus knew that Jesus was a teacher who had from God for how else could he do all the signs, for which he was becoming famous, apart from God’s presence.
But Nicodemus had not grasped that he was not just visiting a rabbi sent from God, but God himself, incarnate in Jesus. How must it have felt to be there, in secret, afraid of his fellow Pharisees? Was he hoping to be given clear answers? Did hope to have some special message to take back to the Sanhedrin, a message which would suddenly make everything all right?
Jesus did not make it that easy for Nicodemus. He challenged him, even teased him a little with teaching that seemed like riddles about being born again. A lot of the images Jesus used seemed familiar, but he was using them in startling ways. Poor Nicodemus, it had been a long day and now his head was reeling with this debate. It was a bit much for Jesus to question why he, as a teacher of Israel, could not understand what he was saying. Nicodemus had expected a bit more respect. He wanted to learn, and some verbal tussling was the Jewish way of doing so, but this was hard going. Had it been such a good idea to risk so much by slipping out at night to visit Jesus?
Jesus seemed to speak of himself as the Son of Man. What was that about? And about being ‘lifted up,’ just as Moses has lifted up the serpent in the wilderness? The brass serpent which Moses had lifted gave healing life. Jesus was saying that whoever believed in the Son of Man when he is lifted up would have eternal life. What was he trying to say?
Nicodemus was tired, he did not feel he had shown himself in his best light in his discussions with Jesus, and yet… And yet he went home strangely elated by Jesus’ words about love, eternal life and the world being saved.
All these thoughts stayed with Nicodemus. His admiration for Jesus grew, while at the same time other Pharisees became ever more angry with him. When the chief priests and the Pharisees sought to have Jesus arrested by the temple police, Nicodemus could keep quiet no longer. He spoke up, reminding his colleagues that the law required a person to be heard before being judged.
Finally, once Jesus had been crucified Nicodemus found the courage of his convictions. He had not been able to help Jesus in life, had not stopped his colleagues from their cruel actions, but now he did what he could to show Jesus the respect in death, which he had hidden in life. He brought a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes to help Joseph of Arimathea to embalm his body.
It was his act of love. Nicodemus had indeed been born again of the spirit.
The Bible does not tell us whether he met the risen Lord Jesus, but I hope so. Let us learn from timidity, to pray for courage in our faith, and to know that it is never too late to turn again to Jesus, and show kindness. Amen.
Sermon for Parish
Communion with Baptism, 16 February 2020, 2 before Lent (Sexagesima), Year A
Genesis 1.1-2.3; Romans 8.18-25; Matthew 6.25-34
May I speak in the name of the living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I wonder what was going through your mind as we listened to our first lesson this morning, the one in which God created the earth and everything that is in it. I expect some of us were thinking, well, it’s a nice story, but in the scientific age in which we live, it can’t have anything to teach us. After all, we all know that the world is a lot older than the Bible suggests, and it took a lot longer than six days for human beings to evolve.
All that is true, of course, but that does not mean to say that the book of Genesis has nothing to say to us. First, perhaps, we need to step back from the notion that the writer of this book was writing a scientific explanation of how life came into being. He wasn’t – at least, not in the sense that he was a kind of Charles Darwin who happened to live two-and-a-half thousand or so years ago.
I find it helpful to think of Darwin and other scientists as people who explain what happened and how it happened, whereas the writer of Genesis was explaining why God created the earth. To think like this is to leave room for the possibility that there is no contradiction between science and religion concerning the creation; these writers were addressing different purposes.
I could talk for hours about what this story teaches us, but this morning I just want to focus on two or three points. Firstly, the passage tells us that God created the world in order to love and to be loved. How do I know this? Because at the end of each day of creation, he looked at all that he had created and saw that it was good. Secondly, in the whole of this creation, people are particularly special. We are made, says the writer, in the image of God. And thirdly, we are told that we humans are social creatures; God did not just make one single person, but he created us male and female.
Following on from that, we see that God invites us to share in the process of creation. He tells the man and the woman, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’. Now, that’s where baby Kai, who is here this morning to be baptised, comes in. He is quite literally a fruit of creation, a creation in which his mum and dad are sharing in the work which God himself began at the beginning of time. What’s more, he came into the world to love and to be loved; he was born because his parents love each other; and, like each of us, he is particularly special in the sight of God.
I wondered what his name, Kai, might mean, so I did a bit of research. It’s a name which means many different things in many languages, but what really struck me were the meanings which related to this morning’s reading. For example, in Urdu, Kai means ‘universe’; in Hawaiian, it means ‘ocean’; in some Germanic languages, it means ‘earth’. Universe, ocean and earth: all these were created by God when time began.
For us here this morning, then, it is wonderful to welcome Kai to our Christian family here at St Nicolas, with his parents and godparents, as he comes for baptism. Why should he take this first step in his Christian life? Our two other readings this morning give us several reasons.
St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, makes a clear reference to the Genesis creation story when he tells us that ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now’. He is talking about the fact that creation has been spoiled since those first days about which we heard this morning. The man and the woman disobeyed God; they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the very one which God had commanded them not to eat. As a result, they found themselves no longer able to live alongside God as they had before; they had to make their own way in life, with all the sorrows and joys that that entails.
St Paul’s point is that, even in this situation, God did not abandon Adam and Eve and their descendants. He sent Jesus to us to put us right with God or, as Paul puts it, to save us. He is confident that we shall ‘obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God’. Although we are still waiting, we do so in hope, he says: ‘For in hope we were saved’.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus himself brings us a message of hope. He tells us not to worry about things: ‘do not worry about life, what you will eat or what you will drink’. He compares us with the birds of the air and the plants in a field; they grow and live without worrying about it; it’s as if they trust that God will enable them to flourish. Jesus reminds his listeners that God values people even more highly than plants and birds – which was one of the messages we got earlier from Genesis.
It’s sometimes thought that a christening is when children officially receive their names. I’m not sure that this is strictly true, but what is certain is that we are reminded that God knows us by our names and values us all. It’s a vital message to remember when times are hard for us. God knows us personally, and loves us.
Jesus concludes his teaching on this with these words: ‘strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (by which he means clothes and food and material things) will be given to you as well’. Trust in God, says Jesus, and all will be well, even when we find ourselves in the dark places of our lives. ‘Do not worry about tomorrow,’ says Jesus, ‘for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’.
I don’t know about you, but I have come back to that last sentence many times in my life. In the old translation of the Bible it read, ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’. Jesus is giving us his assurance; trust in him, and we shall have the hope of a better tomorrow.
As we approach Kai’s baptism now, let us pray that he, along with his parents and godparents, will feel able to trust in Jesus, in good times and in bad. Let us recall that Kai, like all of us here, is made in the image of God; he is chosen and loved by God, and God gives us all the blessed assurance of hope for the future. Our final hymn reminds us of the hope which we can experience if we trust in God:
‘Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided,
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.