The gospel reading we have just heard is extremely haunting. It is also highly relevant in the context of our times, despite being possibly an ‘end times’ narrative.

It is relevant because 2016 has been a shocking year. It has in many ways been an awful year. Just think of Syria, and way people are suffering there. Just think of Mosul. Just think of the vitriol in the U.K. referendum and U.S. election campaigns and, you will see that hatred is alive and present in our public debates. Such hatred and vitriol has divided families and friendship groups; that is what hatred and violence does. Division is hatred’s aspiration.

Of course wars and insurrections were characteristic of much of twentieth century history, and it is absolutely right that we will be remembering those who gave their lives for the causes of freedom and, justice at the War Memorial later this morning.

 

So when the world seems so fractious and violent what should our Christian response be? I think that this is one of the questions that today’s Gospel reading is asking of us. Put another way, what is our Christian language, for I would like to suggest that Christianity has its own distinctive language.  The reading with its insistence that the Holy Spirit will give us both ‘words,’ and ‘wisdom,’ hints at this.

When the world seems, and is, hostile I would like to suggest that the only authentic Christian response is to speak of love, justice, mercy, reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, hospitality, charity and good neighbourliness. This is our language, these are our words. Those who claim to be religious but do not use these words are in fact religiously illiterate.

But, here is the sting in the tail. These are not just technical words. You can’t learn and use these words as though you were studying a foreign language. These are not words that make the journey from the head to the lips; they are words that must make the journey from the heart to the lips. These are words that require commitment, they are words that need to be lived. They are words that need to be formed inside us by our faith in the person of Jesus Christ and by our willingness to let the Holy Spirit do his work in our hearts. And, when we use these words from the heart we become the sort of people who bring something of the Kingdom of God into the here and now. We become not only speakers but doers of the word. So how do we truly learn these words?

 

I would like to suggest that there are only three ways: prayer, bible study and, the sacraments of the Church. This morning how about asking God to transform our hearts and give us new words to speak through the simple act of sharing together in the Eucharist? And, can I offer you two key passages from Scripture to study slowly over the coming weeks; passages to take into your hearts. The first is Micah chapter 6 verse 8 where the prophet says: What does the LORD require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? The second is the parable of the Good Samaritan.

These two Scriptures I believe contain all that is necessary for Christian Religious literacy. Can I encourage you to make these Scriptures yours, lodging them securely in your hearts. In a world characterised by war, hatred, vitriol, division, vain and naked ambition, and indescribable cruelty, we need to both learn and become the living embodiment of the Christian virtues; the world is depending on people like you and me becoming both speakers, but far more importantly doers of the Word, Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Have you ever been asked a question where you are aware that someone is trying to catch you out?  I suspect most of us have.

Another question: have you ever been in a situation where an individual, or group, have behaved in a very aggressive fashion when you suspect, or know, that they have no real stake in the issue?

This is what is happening in the Gospel account we have just heard. The Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, as we have heard didn’t believe in eternal life. Yet, for some reason they try to catch Jesus out on the subject of eternal life. It’s a bit odd. It’s a bit like the New Age Atheists arguing with massive evangelical zeal against religion in general and, Christianity specifically. Why spend so much energy arguing against something you don’t believe in; what’s the point? It is at one level a little bit illogical. For me it leads to another question: What’s really going on?

 

I have a suspicion that when folk like the Sadducees and the New Atheists ask straw man type questions they in some way reveal tensions they have not really resolved within themselves.

The Sadducees seek to create a patently ridiculous notion of the after-life, one which will continue to be governed by human laws and institutions, the New Age Atheists create a notion of God I too don’t believe in and, engage with Scripture using a method shared with the worst of religious fundamentalists.

But, groups like the Sadducees and the New Age Atheists do in some ways provide a real gift to the Church and, believers. They invite us to respond and, clarify what we really believe. Its a bit like when teachers say ‘don’t be afraid to ask any question, however silly.’  The sub text to this, of course, is ‘if you keep your mouth shut folk might think you don’t really get it, or you could open your mouth and remove all doubt.’

 

So, what do I believe about death? And, this is a pertinent question to ask at this time in the Church’s year.

Well as I say at most funerals I do believe that the immortal soul lives on, and that it lives on in two ways:

First, in the memory. We all leave an indelible footprint. This is good news for in itself it affirms that our lives have real meaning. Most of us leave a predominately positive footprint, sadly a few don’t. One of the things we can do is decide what sort of footprint we would like to create and live our lives accordingly. The best footprint to leave is of course a Christ like one.

Secondly, I do believe in the ongoing life of the immortal soul. I can’t explain in terms of the natural sciences how, but I can say that Scripture and, the person of Jesus Christ point towards life beyond death. I don’t believe that life beyond death is just a mere wish, or psychological crutch. I have faith, and hope, that God’s purposes are eternal and we are all part of that eternal plan. And, that’s enough for me. I don’t feel the need to know more.

I supposed if really pushed I would give the answer that C.S. Lewis gave to the question of immortality. He suggested that there are only really two types of Spirit: those who ultimately gaze God lovingly in the eye and say with utter conviction ‘thy will be done,’ and those who God looks in the eye and says, again with utter conviction,’ ‘thy will be done.’  

 

To live in heaven with God is to rest in His eternal purposes.  Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

 

Thank you Derry and John for the sketch showing in an amusing fashion the rationale for the Parish Share Scheme. Today I want to briefly, very briefly, talk about financial giving. I do so in the certain knowledge that financial giving is the topic most sane preachers least like talking about!

So before I crack on let’s just relax, take a deep breath and let go of any unfounded fears. My fear that you might all hound me out of the door and, yours that you are going to get scolded, or told off.

 

You may have noticed that the readings chosen for today are the epistle and gospel for our patron saint; St. Laurence. Laurence was, of course a martyr. In fact he was martyred because he took his ministry as a deacon, the ministry of serving the local community, incredibly seriously, regarding the poor as the treasure of the Church. So, in talking about, and asking each and everyone of us to consider contributing just a little, and I mean little, more, the aspiration is that we may be able to capture and, put into practice spirituality we have inherited from our patron; St. Laurence. The hope is that we will be able to do so, with ‘good cheer,’ for then we can be sure of God’s loving guidance in our mission and ministry.

I would like to put the plea, or proposed financial strategy, in concrete terms. At present our average receipt from monthly giving is £3,300. Our parish share is £42,000 per annum; which is on all measures a fair allocation. At present we rely on fund raising to meet our parish share. We would like to be in a position where our parish share can be fully paid out of monthly giving. This means we need generate around £700 extra, or 18%, per month more from regular giving, bringing our monthly giving up to around £4,000 per month.

I need to be up front and honest for a second; I hope I am always up front and honest! Payment of parish share is for me of absolute importance because it is through the parish share scheme that the costs of my ministry are covered and that we make a real contribution to the work of the wider church. Payment of parish share, therefore, speaking personally validates the phrase that we repeat each and every week in this church: ‘I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.’ The parish share pays for both ordained ministry and the world wide work, of the One, church. It is for this reason that I insisted last year that payment of parish share must be our number one priority.

But, we also wish to be a church that meets real local needs in many and diverse ways. We are a church lodged in a specific community; we exist to be a blessing to the community or, ‘Saints in Community.’ So, we need to be able to resource local mission initiatives. We need to be able to both expand our mission through the initiatives we offer and, be fully equipped to respond, in loving service, in times of crisis. We also need to invest in this most beautiful of buildings. Our hope is that all of our fund raising can be used for local mission and ministry initiatives so that God’s love and grace can be brought into people’s lives in real, material, ways; for this is the very essence of mission.

Let me finish by saying that this is already a church full of ‘cheerful givers.’ A huge number of people give generously to this church in many different ways; the church and its surround always looks stunning; thank you cleaners, flower arrangers, sacristans and, gardeners. The church sounds stunning, so thank you choristers, Owen and bell ringers. I have no idea how many cups of tea and coffee are served each year, so thank you to the hospitality team. We have a web site, pew sheet, parish news letter and Facebook page; so thank you to all involved with these aspects of our mission and ministry. At funerals and weddings we have vergers, who help make stressful days that little bit easier. So again thank you. And countless numbers are involved in what we might simply think of as good neighbourliness. The message is, and it is one that I tell to anyone in the diocese with ears to listen, that St. Laurence Winslow is a vibrant church.

With your financial help we can make it even more vibrant and dynamic serving both the wider church and the people of Winslow in Godly love and service; just as St. Laurence did. Like Laurence our call is to be saintly in community and, one of the ways we can do this is through our financial generosity. Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown