Sermon for Lent 3A – 12.03.23

Exodus 17:1-7  •  Psalm 95  •  Romans 5:1-11  •  John 4:5-42

When it comes to affairs of the heart and adherence to ‘accepted moral codes’, it’s very easy to see that throughout history women have been judged far more harshly than men by those around them. Sometimes when a man has moved on from relationship to relationship he is considered a ‘jack-the-lad’ or a bit of a cheeky rogue, but if a woman acts in the same way – well – we can be all too ready to label her a harlot, a jezebel or even worse!

Thankfully, attitudes seem to be changing, but there are times when judgement and condemnation still rear their ugly heads.

Sometimes there are people who seem to relish in the gossip about the breakdown of someone’s relationship.

“Well, what can you expect?”

“You know she’s been married before!”

“She put herself about a bit before she was wed you know!”

You can just hear the voices, can’t you!

And don’t we especially love it when it’s involves someone rich and famous!

Joan Collins – married five times, Elizabeth Taylor – married eight times (though twice to the same man of course), Zsa Zsa Gabor – married nine times!

Shocking we say, but what can you expect of women with their track record! Oh how we love to be able to judge and condemn the lives of others.

In our gospel today Jesus meets another woman.

She has a history. Things done and left undone, some good some not so good. Guilt and regrets. Fears. Wounds and sorrows. Secrets too. She is a woman with a past.

If you study the history of this passage, if you read the commentaries and listen to the interpretations, you will learn that her past is generally seen as one of promiscuity. The evidence base for this being that we are told she had five husbands and is now living unmarried with a sixth man. What a scandalous woman!

But how easily we forget that women of her day had very little choice or control over their own lives. If she is divorced it is because the men divorced her. She had no right of divorce. That was exclusively the man’s right. Of course, maybe it wasn’t divorce. If she’s not divorced then she has suffered the death of five husbands. Five times she has been left alone, five times nameless, faceless and of no value –  five times having to start over again. Maybe some divorced her. Maybe some died. We don’t know. Either one, divorce or death, is a tragedy for her life.

So, let’s not be too quick to judge. We don’t know the details of her past. Maybe we don’t need to. Maybe it is enough that she mirrors for us our own lives. We too are people with a past, people with a history. We are all in some sense the Samaritan woman.

People like her, people like us, people with a past, often live in fear of being found out. It is not just the fear that another will know the truth, the facts about us but that they will do so without ever really seeing us and without ever really knowing us.

We all thirst to be seen and to be known at a deep intimate level. We all want to pour our lives out to one who knows us, to let them drink from the depths of our very being. That is exactly what Jesus is asking of this woman with a past when he says, “Give me a drink.” It is the invitation to let herself be known. To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.

To be found out, however, without being known leaves us dry and desolate. It leaves us to live a dehydrated life thirsting for something more, something different, but always returning to the same old wells.

We all go down to some well or another. For some, like the Samaritan woman, it is the well of marriage. For others it is the well of perfectionism. Some go to the well of hiding and isolation. Others will draw from the well of power and control. Too many will drink from the wells of addiction. Many live at the well of busyness and denial.

We could each name the wells from which we drink. Day after day, month after month, year after year we go to the same well to drink. We arrive hoping our thirst will be quenched. We leave as thirsty as when we arrived only to return the next day. For too long we have drunk from the well that never satisfies, the well that can never satisfy.

Husband after husband – this is the well to which the Samaritan woman has returned.

But of course, there is another well – the well of Jesus Christ. It is the well that washes us clean of our past. This is the well from which new life and new possibilities spring forth. It is the well that frees us from the patterns and habits that keep us living as thirsty people.

That is the well the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel has found. She intended to go to the same old well she had gone to for years, the well that her ancestors and their flocks drank from. Today is different. Jesus holds before her two realities of her life; the reality of what is and the reality of what might be. He brings her past to the light of the noon day. “You have had five husbands,” he says, “and the one you have now is not your husband.” It is not a statement of condemnation but simply a statement of what is. He tells her everything she has ever done. She has been found out.

But of course it doesn’t end there. Jesus is more interested in her future than her past. He wants to satisfy her thirst more than judge her history. Jesus knows her. He looks beyond her past and sees a woman dying of thirst; a woman thirsting to be loved, to be seen, to be accepted, to be included, to be forgiven, to be known. Her thirst will never be quenched by the external wells of life. Nor will ours. Jesus says so.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” This is the living water of new life, new possibilities, and freedom from the past. This living water is Jesus’ own life. It became in the Samaritan woman “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” She discovered within herself the interior well and left her water jar behind. She had now become the well in which Christ’s life flows.

It’s not enough, however, to hear her story or even believe her testimony.

Until we come to the well of Christ’s life within us we will continue returning to the dry wells of our life. We will continue to live forever thirsty. We will continue to live in fear of being found out.

So I wonder, from what wells do you drink? How much longer will you carry your water jars? There is another well, one that promises life, one by which we are known and loved. Come to a new well. Come to the well of Christ’s life, Christ’s love, Christ’s presence that is already in you. Come to the well that is Christ himself and then drink deeply. Drink deeply until you become the one you have drunk.


Sermon for Lent 2A – 5th March 2023

Fritz von Uhde, Christus_und_Nikodemus via Wikimedia Commons

Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

I guess that we heard quite a lot about the immune system (the body’s defence mechanism against disease) over the last few years of Covid. When it starts in a developing baby, it’s more or less a blank sheet, with littlecapacity to defend the body. The new immune system you see hasn’t seen any of the diseases that we’ve all been exposed to in the past and it has to learn from scratch.  The result can be that babies and small children get every cough and snuffle that’s going while their immune system learns by being exposed to them – that’s certainly the case with our grandchildren.

John the Evangelist is a master of dramatic setting, of symbolism and of imagery. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and Jewish leader, arrives to see Jesus at night. Night, traditionally a time of ignorance, temptation, fear and unbelief. He comes in secret. Night’s also the time of day when faithful Jews studied and debated the Torah. 

Perhaps he comes to do precisely that and to learn more about this young radical who’s causing such a stir. He probably doesn’t want his colleagues to know about this curiosity. He calls Jesus Rabbi or teacher. Is he calling him that because he wants to become a disciple or is he saying it with heavy irony – a member of the Jewish elite addressing an uneducated Galilean peasant?

The discussion doesn’t go very well for Nicodemus. He gets off on the wrong foot because he talks about the outward and visible signs, the observable miracles that Jesus has performed. Jesus’ response perhaps seems to be a bit of a non sequitur:

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 

John 3:3

What a strange response. It’s difficult to understand Nicodemus’s reaction to this response without a brief examination of the word that is translated ‘from above’. The Greek word anothen can mean ‘from above’, but it can also mean ‘again or anew’. The NRSV translation that we heard this morning uses the former and puts the latter in a small footnote. Other translations do it the other way round, but in order to understand what’s going on, we really need to hear both.

So perhaps John’s playing on a deliberate pun in Greek to make a point. Nicodemus’s arrival at night is perhaps a hint not at unbelief, but at the wrong sort of belief, of a spiritual misunderstanding, which is played out in his misinterpretation of Jesus’s response to his mention of signs. He comes with a set of convictions about what is real and what is possible and they’re his stumbling block. 

John Calvin wrote that the mind of Nicodemus was

filled with many thorns, choked by many noxious herbs…

John Calvin “Commentary on the Gospel According to John”

How could he possibly see clearly through the thicket? Jesus is rebuking him for concentrating on the wrong thing, what he sees, not what’s in the heart. If you like, the inward and invisible grace, behind the signs.

Things don’t improve as the conversation goes on. What is it that Jesus is saying to Nicodemus in these exchanges and how does his understanding change from exchange to exchange?

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 

John 3:3

To see the Kingdom of God requires enlightenment, a changing of mind, not being impressed by mere signs and miracles, but seeing in a spiritual way.

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” 

John 3:5

To enter the Kingdom of God requires the world to be experienced in a new way, to encounter God through Jesus, a spiritual encounter.

Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

John 3:11

What he’s telling Nicodemus is that entering into the spiritual life requires a re-evaluation of everything he’s previously taken for granted.

Jesus is speaking about a spiritual rebirth, about dying to the old worldly self and entering into a spiritual life, about turning away from status in society, from possessions, from heritage and all those things that tie us to an constructed identity, based on what we have, what we do, what we know and what people say about us. It’s not about visible signs or miracles or any of the worldly stuff, but seeing things as they really are, no rose-tinted specs.

This is the Jesus who says

I have comes not to bring peace, but a sword”.

Matthew 10:34

At first it seems deeply shocking to hear Jesus, the Prince of Peace, appearing to promote violence and conflict. Yet when we read the Gospels, we have to admit that wherever he goes, he brings to the surface people’s deepest fears and insecurities. Jesus threatens cosy illusions and attachments. This spiritual rebirth is about taking a path which isn’t easy or comforting, the narrow way that’s discordant with what’s gone before. It involves death to the old self and the worldly life, quite literally a turning or renewing of ones mind, which is what repentance means. It involves spiritual renewal or rebirth.

During the conversation, Nicodemus moves from a total failure to understand what Jesus means, to the beginning of understanding but then finding the implications of spiritual rebirth rather uncomfortable to contemplate. Other Gospel figures hear similar messages about giving up status and certainty and trusting in a relationship with God. We see a variety of reactions. Take Zacchaeus the tax collector, he seems ready to give up his old life and follow the way that Jesus suggests. Or at the other extreme, the rich young man who is told to give everything to the poor and walks away disappointed, as he just can’t bring himself to do it. Nicodemus finds it difficult, but as we see from his later appearances in the Gospel narrative, he gets there in the end.

We’re now in the season of Lent, the period of the year when we focus on amendment of life, on spiritual rebirth, perhaps even on pressing the reset button on the value we place on status, possessions, how we see ourselves and what we think is important in our lives and relationships. It’s a time when we could take the opportunity to learn again from scratch, discarding old values and habits, and being born again with a new immune system like that of a baby: 

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3

The Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality that can be seen only when we let go of our certainties and open ourselves to something new. It can’t be detected with the naked eye, or experienced through abstract notions of heavenly bliss. The Kingdom of God is now, not confined to tomorrow or the world beyond. Being born again (or from above), means that inherited or acquired status or knowledge aren’t what’s important, in fact they can get in the way. Seeing God at work requires a spiritual awareness, spiritual imagination and a large dose of humility.


Sermon for Lent 1 – 26.02.23

One day when Jesus was relaxing in Heaven, He happened to notice a familiar-looking old man. Wondering if the old man was His earthly father Joseph, Jesus asked him, “Did you, by any chance, ever have a son?”

“Yes,” said the old man, “but he wasn’t my biological son. He was born by a miracle, through the intervention of a magical being from the heavens.”

“Very interesting,” said Jesus. “Did this boy ever have to fight temptation?”

“Oh, yes, many times,” answered the old man. “But he eventually won. Sadly, he died heroically at one point, but he came back to life shortly afterwards.”

Jesus couldn’t believe it. Could this actually be HIS father? “One last question,” He said. “Were you a carpenter?”

“Why yes,” replied the old man. “Yes I was!”

Jesus rubbed His eyes and said, “Dad?”

The old man rubbed tears from his eyes and said, “Pinocchio?”

I do apologise for making such a jokey start to our sermon this week, but I just could not resist the temptation!

It’s not very often that our lectionary provides us with such richness in scripture on the same day. Two of the most powerful and evocative stories in the Bible all about temptation.

And when it comes to stories about temptation, the readings we’ve heard cover just about everything.

Firstly, we have the wonderful account of Adam and Eve and their problems in the garden. There they are, in paradise; everything’s going just great, and along comes this snake with a smooth tongue and some new ideas. The next thing you know, temptation triumphs, paradise is history, all is lost and the man and the woman are left with shame, regret and a couple of fig leaves!

Then, in a powerful contrast, our gospel reading describes Jesus being driven from his baptism into the wilderness – which is just about as far from paradise as you can get. There, unlike Adam and Eve who were surrounded by ease and plenty, Jesus becomes exhausted – starving and alone as he struggles with his time of temptation and challenge.

The two stories form such an obvious contrast that it’s impossible not to compare them and to look for what emerges when they are taken together.

On one level, it looks simple enough – Jesus is the winner and Adam and Eve are the losers; they are weak and he is strong. So, we learn that it’s better to be like Jesus than like Adam and Eve.

What’s more, since today is the First Sunday in Lent, there is the added point that Lent is supposed to make us stronger so that we will be more like Jesus than like Adam and Eve, at least as far as such things as temptations are concerned.

And all of this is almost right.

Now some of you might remember the Green Goddess or perhaps Mr Motivator – two television fitness fanatics that tried to encourage us up from our armchairs and help us get in shape.

Well, as well as being physically in shape, there really is such a thing as being more or less ‘in shape’ spiritually – as being more or less prepared to handle the demands of a serious Christian life.

This has to do with our Christian character and with the development of particular virtues or habits. Getting into shape spiritually has some clear parallels with getting into shape physically or intellectually. There is no doubt that the disciplined rigour of a holy Lent can take us several important steps in the right direction, and the spiritual muscles or habits we develop with disciplines like a Lenten rule are exactly the same ones we use in real life – when the decisions we make can have vastly more important and immediate consequences.

Over the years many learned scholars and worthy theologians have debated whether or not the story of Adam and Eve in the garden is true. But what makes the story of Adam and Eve a true story for me is not that it describes accurately something that happened somewhere else a long time ago, but that it describes exactly what life is like here and now – it tells the truth, not just about them, but about us.

Over and over again, we find ourselves just like them – forced to decide what to do with something which, on the one hand, looks really good, seems useful and popular, and that just might teach us a thing or two – but which, on the other hand, we strongly suspect is not what God thinks best for us.

And we have to choose. When that happens, it’s better to be stronger and to have developed some of our spiritual habits. So, there is a real value to the notion that we need to ‘buff up a bit’, and that Lent is a good opportunity to do a bit more of this – or at least to begin doing it.

But how exactly do we go about getting in shape? Well let’s just take a closer look at what was happening with Jesus in the wilderness.

He has fasted and prayed for a long time – for as long as it takes – that’s what “40 days” means – and he’s famished. He’s absolutely exhausted and just think of the loneliness and the effort it takes to sustain something like this. He’s not at his best. He’s not bursting with physical or spiritual or any other sort of strength. He’s used all that up in just making it to where he is – in just being faithful to the fast.

This is when the temptations hit Jesus.

Now, I suspect that if the tempter had caught him on a good day, Jesus would have had all sorts of answers of his own to the questions – to the temptations – he was given. He might have told wonderful parables or asked clever and insightful questions right back at him and put the devil on the spot.

But strength and energy and cleverness were all gone – there wasn’t anything left. And we know about this, too – this is a different sort of temptation from the one Adam and Eve faced.

This is when we face strong, or compelling, or addicting, or beautiful, or just plain hard temptations and we have run out of resources. No matter how strong we were to start with, we simply can’t any longer move in the direction we have chosen to move, and we are pulled instead along lines that are against our will but defined by our appetites and our ego.

Sometimes it’s not a matter of not being strong enough, it’s a matter of being empty. That’s where Jesus was – he was out of energy, out of fuel and he was tempted, really tempted.

But just look at what happens. Jesus does not say one word of his own. Instead, he quotes scripture in a simple and straightforward way that is unlike how he uses scripture virtually anywhere else in the Gospels. Jesus has no words, no resistance, no strength of his own – he’s simply holding on to the Father, and letting the Father’s words and the Father’s mind come through him. Jesus’ response to the tempter is not a victory of personal, spiritual strength in some sort of holy temptation-lifting Olympics. Instead, his victory is the gift that comes from surrender.

There is no doubt that his time in the wilderness gave Jesus a stronger and more disciplined relationship with the Father; and as a fully-human being, he had to pay attention to such matters, just like we do. But it also gave him something else, something more, something we see in his story of temptations. His time in the wilderness gave Jesus the insight and the courage to surrender, and so to depend, not on his own best efforts, but on an emptiness that can only be filled by the Father, and that can only be filled by a gift of grace.

Several months after this all happened, Jesus said to his disciples: when you are handed over to your enemies, “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.” Imagine that Jesus could taste the dust of the desert and hear again the voice of the tempter and remember that hunger that reached out even to the stones around him. He knew what he was talking about. At the end of the day, the spiritual life is never about us, about what we can and cannot do. At the end of the day, it is always about God and about God’s gifts – gifts of grace, gifts that do not fail.

Fr Simon

Reflection for Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of reflection and penitence. It’s not an easy season. It asks us to confront our sinful nature and see how far we have wandered away from God. It’s an uncomfortable, challenging experience, and it’s supposed to be.

But why should we be so discomfited? After all, in the secular world, “sin” is all around us. Rugby players are sent to the “sin bin”. Perfumes are marketed with names like “Red Sin”. There are cocktails themed on the Seven Deadly Sins. A well-known diet even divides the world into “free” food and “sin” food. Sin is no longer something serious. It just means something a wee bit naughty. It has little real meaning for most people. When most secular people do think of sin in a Christian context, they associate it with guilt, shame, and oppression.

And that is because often, under the banner of Christianity, the word “sin” has been weaponised. It turns into a malicious word designed to cause hurt and pain, dressed up in concern for the state of one’s soul. “Sin” in this context is a way of telling someone “I dislike what you do/who you are, and therefore so does God.” And because those who use the word “sin” to wound others do so loudly and repeatedly, that is the version of “sin” that secular society often associates with Christians. 

Ash Wednesday is noted for the custom of imposition of ashes, whereby the sign of the cross is marked on the foreheads of the faithful during the course of the liturgy. The symbolism is perhaps somewhat confused in our lections for today. The theme of preparation for God’s judgement is overshadowed not so much by Joel’s “Rend your hearts and not your garments”, as by the dominical sayings in Matthew 6, which condemn making an exhibition of piety.

In Joel the traditional mourning rite of tearing garments has been deployed as a sign of repentance, of turning to God, and the prophet is concerned that this be turned inwards, and not merely expressed visibly. The Gospel reading on the other hand makes no explicit reference to repentance at all, but to acts of righteousness, and to fasting. The point being that in the Judaism of Jesus’ day public displays of righteousness and fasting were deployed to emphasise the idea of confessing and seeking to atone for the sins of others. 

The idea that the goodness of the righteous, and their suffering, can in some way ameliorate God’s judgement and work in the cause of the salvation of Israel is deeply rooted in the prophetic tradition, such as in the servant songs of second Isaiah, and developed further in the Jewish martyr theology then applied to Jesus.

But misusing “sin” to cast judgement on others is nothing new, and in Matthew’s Gospel there are people who probably sound very much like people you know. Those who love to show off their displays of charity with a trumpet call. Those who pray loudly so that others can hear them being holy. Those who want you to know how much they’re suffering with their fasting. Jesus dismisses them all with a simple “They already have their reward.” In other words, these not-so-pious people are seen by others as pious and gain recognition for it. They’ve got what they wanted – the attention and adulation of others, but God isn’t so easily fooled.

Jesus instead urges us to be secretive. An odd choice of words perhaps, given that we usually associate secretive behaviour with sinful behaviour. But here secretive lacks malicious connotations. It just means doing something quietly and without fuss. So what does this have to do with Lent, and what we do with the word “sin”?

Jesus, in advising secrecy, is advising us to stop measuring sinfulness by external measures determined by our peers. Instead, sin is about looking in on ourselves. It’s about asking where we have gone wrong, and how we can move into a better relationship with God. And because no person is perfect, and none of us has a perfect relationship with God, we can’t judge others or be judged by others. We can only be judged by God. And so, we don’t need to prove to anybody that we are praying. We just pray. We don’t need to grimace and gurn when we fast. We just fast. It’s enough that God knows we are moving towards him. That’s the treasure in heaven we build up. 

Because ultimately, if all we find are our faults and failings, we’re stuck as sinners. We’re hopeless and helpless. But when we find our faults and failings, and then offer them to God, we move from sinner to saved. So maybe Lent, in all it’s challenge and discomfort, is joyous in itself. We’re sinners. We turn to God. We are saved. 

We could do a lot worse than let the words of the prophet Joel guide our spiritual journeys during Lent:

Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning for your sins. Rend your hearts, and not your garments, says the Lord God Almighty.” (Joel 2. 12:2) 

Joel 2. 12:2


Sermon for Transfiguration – 19th February 2023

The Transfiguration” by Raphael  (1483–1520) in the Pinacoteca Vaticana

Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

When you’re in the depths of grief, you’re always asking the same question and that question is why. It’s not a philosophical why, it’s a cry that comes from the very middle of you, the cry of a wounded animal and in the silence we get in return, people do all sorts of things.

Ash Sarkar in “The Moral Maze” 15th February 2023

The problem of evil, suffering, tragedy and where God fits in to such things has long been debated, and events such as the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria are bound to prompt us to ask the question all over again. When we ask the question, it’s in the silence we get in return that we might find the answer that we’re seeking.

There is, I think, a huge divide in their understanding of the idea of ‘God’ between people of faith and people without and this was glaringly evident in this week’s ‘Moral Maze’ which asked the question. 

Why does God allow suffering and tragedy to happen”.

Question posed in “The Moral Maze” 15th February 2023

The atheist contributors clearly have an image of an all powerful God who’s in control of all that happens. But is that the sort of God that we believe and trust in? If suffering and tragedy are part of God’s master plan then I don’t want anything to do with God. No, we believe in a God that was born as a helpless baby and died a horrendous death as a result of human cruelty, a God who suffers.

The priest Giles Fraser put it so well when he said:

What is it about a man hanging on a cross or for that matter a baby in a manger that speaks to you of omnipotence?” “It doesn’t seem to me that the central images of Christianity speak of omnipotence. The central images are images of powerlessness not powerfulness” 

Giles Fraser in “The Moral Maze” 15th February 2023

I might add that those images are images of sacrificial love in the face of suffering

The Islamic scholar Mona Siddiqui went on to say:

When I was watching the images, I heard people crying ‘God is great’ when they discovered life in the ruins, the ultimate expression of abiding help and gratitude

Mona Siddiqui in “The Moral Maze” 15th February 2023

To which the atheist philosopher Louise Antony replied: 

I think that hope and gratitude is massively irrational” 

Louise Antony in “The Moral Maze” 15th February 2023

in response to which Mona asked: 

People are free to express gratitude in the midst of tragedy and in spite of the suffering people continue to believe, why is that irrational?

Mona Siddiqui in “The Moral Maze” 15th February 2023

Yesterday morning, I took Moss, our collie, for his morning walk up the road. It was all rather different to usual. The Dornoch Firth was enveloped in cloud and instead of being able to see for miles, we could only see things as they appeared out of the fog, familiar trees, bushes, tracks and gates all made strange. And the sounds were strange too, kind of echoey and amplified. Our usual route was transformed, we experienced it in a different way. 

In Matthew’s Gospel this morning, Jesus, Peter, John and James climbed a hill as did Moses and Joshua in Exodus. Did you spot any similarities between the passage from Exodus and that in Matthew’s Gospel? In both there’s climbing of a mountain to an encounter with God and if we’d had a slightly longer section from Exodus we’d see that they both have faces shining like the sun, they both have bright clouds, with voices coming out of them and in both there’s fear in the on-lookers.

None of this is coincidental. Matthew writes the whole of his account of the life of Jesus with the idea in mind that Jesus is a New Moses and that’s reflected in the way he describes events and in how his explanations are shaped.

This event is referred to as the Transfiguration and Peter, who generally seems to get things wrong, sees the transfiguration as what things have been leading up to – the end point for Jesus’ ministry. This is heaven and we’ve arrived and so we better sort things out by building shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. But of course that’s not what it is about.

It would be better understood as the turning point in Jesus’ life. The point at which in His disciples eyes, He starts to be transformed from simply an amazing miracle worker into a suffering servant, who’ll sacrifice His life for the sin of the world. They move from being people who, like the atheists on the moral maze, don’t understand what God’s about, to people of faith who can see the reality of a suffering God.

Whilst much of what we heard in the Gospel this morning describes an external transformation:

he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Matthew 17:2

But in fact here’s a more subtle transfiguration, or metamorphosis at work here. The reality that was inside Jesus was revealed on the outside so that the disciples could see the reality of God through him.

If we wind forward to the end of Lent, to the crucifixion, we see the transfiguration and the crucifixion in both similarity and stark contrast, which underlines this metamorphosis.

The transfiguration takes place in private, Jesus is exalted, his garments glisten, he is high on a mountain flanked by two of the religious giants of the past, all is light. 

The crucifixion takes the form of a public humiliation, Jesus is stripped of his garments, raised high on a cross flanked by two rogues and all is darkness.

So what is all this to us? How does it affect us?

Well none of us can leave here exactly as we were when we arrived.. We’ll face trials and tribulations. There’ll be pain. There’ll be joy. There’ll be anguish. There’ll be delight. There’ll be suffering. But in all those things, we’ll encounter the powerless and loving God and we’ll understand the world differently because of our encounter here today. 


Sermon for Epiphany 6A – February 12th 2023


Alfred Hitchcock, 1954 – Dial M for Murder!

I wonder if you remember that classic thriller starring Grace Kelly as the leading lady?

It’s a story of lust, adultery and murder!

Kelly’s character is married to an English tennis player, but falls for another man and begins an amorous affair with him. The tennis player finds out and in a fit of jealous anger, engages the services of a small time villain to murder his wife. However, things don’t quite go as planned – but I’m not going to spoil it for you – you’ll have to watch the film to find out just how!

A story of lust! A story of adultery! Dial M for Murder!

Or should it be Dial M for Matthew?

And specifically Matthew, chapter 5 v 21-37. Because it’s here, in our gospel for today, that we find Jesus speaking about lust, adultery and murder (amongst other things) and presenting us with some harsh realities about the damage that we can cause to others as a result of our anger and the abuse of special relationships that we have with them.

Harsh realities about the harm that we can cause to ourselves and others when we crave for things we can’t have or when we compromise the trust people have placed in us.

Harsh realities about the commitments we make and then break in our daily lives.

Jesus’ teaching challenged the Rabbis and the people of Israel about their rigid and narrow interpretations of the ancient Jewish law passed down through Moses. They are stuck in the past. And Jesus, teaching challenges us too, because sometimes, so are we.

St Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians, challenges his listeners in much the same way. He tells the Corinthians that they are stuck in the past. Their behaviour determined by their unforgiving and uncharitable ways, ‘Behaving according to human inclinations.’ They have failed to realise how the message of the Cross has brought in a new way of defining and pursuing a forgiving and loving life in Christ and so Paul urges the Corinthians to change their thinking and their actions.

I read a story recently about Alexander III, Tsar of Russia from 1881-1894. He was known as a harsh individual who would abuse others with his thinking and actions. His rule was marked by autocratic leadership and repression, and in particular, by his persecution of the Jews. However, his wife, Maria, provided a stark contrast, being known especially for her generosity to those in need.

On one occasion, it is said, her husband had signed an order consigning a prisoner to life in exile. The order simply read, Pardon impossible, ‘prisoner x’ to be condemned and sent to Siberia. Maria changed that prisoner’s life by simply moving a comma. She altered the order and changed the meaning to Pardon, impossible ‘prisoner x’ to be condemned and sent to Siberia. A small action that had a huge impact for one human being.

In Matthew 5 Jesus teaches the meaning of his beatitudes which is the beginning of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. A proclamation of God’s loving kingdom and the moral compass for Christian discipleship.

In Christ, God has changed and moved the comma that stood against us to the good news of salvation. Christ’s sacrificial saving act for humanity; One action with a huge impact for us all.

Pardon, (insert your name here) impossible to condemn.

New thinking, new disciples, a new focus from Jesus, a new covenant.

Jesus in his teaching calls us to a new life in God and gifts us freedom to choose a new broader way of thinking about the Jewish laws of Moses. He uses examples in every-day life as a grounding to build his case to move thinking and actions towards righteousness. He intensifies and radicalises those familiar laws from the Old Testament for those who listen and extends their purpose into every facet of their lives.

In the very first line of our reading Jesus takes his readers far beyond traditional teachings of the Torah: He says, ‘You have heard it said, ‘But I say to you, Murder is a failure to control anger or hatred and a failure to value life. A murderous heart, he tells them, carries the same motive as the act of killing itself.

Not all anger is bad though. Jesus gets angry, you do and so do I. In chapter 21 Jesus is angry with the money changers in the Temple and drives out all those who are buying and selling animals and goods. Sometimes anger has very real and positive purposes. But Jesus is not referring to anger like this. He is referring to anger that is driven by self-interest. The kind of anger that creates real suffering for others.

And it’s the same with adultery – ‘You have heard it said, but I say to you.’ Jesus again deepens the interpretation. Adultery is first committed in the heart, through a gaze, in the mind. The woman, the man, already violated. A partnership, a marriage threatened, sinned against before the act.

Divorce – the same – pain and betrayal for someone.

Your very words, your very thoughts, Jesus says, should be full of truthfulness and integrity. Constantly striving for godliness in all things.

Now let’s be clear, Jesus is not issuing a new law. He is sharing interpretations of that law with the authority of God. He deepens the meaning and broadens it. He opens the door to new understanding. He looks behind the acts to the roots of what causes the action. And, each action in turn is condemned as is the betrayal that lies deep inside a person.

Jesus is saying ‘sort it out before it goes too far’.

Make peace with one another and forgive.

In Christ, God changed the comma that stood against us. To the good news of salvation, Christ’s sacrificial saving act for humanity; Pardon, impossible to condemn.

One action, with a huge impact for us all.

Jesus calls us to a new life in God and gifts us the freedom to choose a new broader way of thinking about the laws of Moses.

And at the heart of his teaching in Matthew 5 is the concern about the damage we cause through our anger, our abuse of others and the harm we cause when we stand on the moral high ground of what we consider to be right and wrong.

And today?

We can of course pat ourselves on the back for not committing adultery, but consider this – might you be creating a principle relationship with our work, a sport or the internet, instead of with your partner or spouse. We may not commit murder or stab someone literally in the back, but we might ruin someone’s efforts or reputation through our words. We might not abuse someone openly, but we might damage someone with a suggestion that they are not up to a job, when we know really that it’s more to do with our own inner struggle than the other person’s very real God given gifts, skills and abilities.

We can be like Alexander III or the Rabbis and people of Israel and remain stuck in the past with unforgiving and uncharitable thinking within our hearts. Or we can choose to be more like Maria, who’s forgiving and charitable thinking and actions changed a prisoner’s life by simply moving a comma. We can choose to accept Jesus new covenant, accept that saving act of salvation in Christ and move away from the human inclination to unforgiving and uncharitable ways.

Jesus tells us to sort it out before it goes too far. Make peace with one another.

Are you truly hearing and understanding the message of Jesus and the need for a right relationship with God? Or are you still stuck in the past? Are you moving that comma and ushering in Christ’s new deeper way of thinking, opening the door from the Old to the New and striving for forgiveness and reconciliation as part of your everyday life.

Where do you place your comma both for others and yourself?

Pardon impossible, to be condemned.


Pardon, impossible to be condemned.


Fr Simon

Sermon for Epiphany 5A – 5th February 2023

Isaiah 58:1-12; Ps 112:1-10; 1 Cor 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

Discipleship is as visible as light in the night, as a mountain in the flatlands. To flee into invisibility is to deny the call. A community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

Words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book “Discipleship”. He points out that any who want to be disciples, have the responsibility to witness to the world, for he says, as disciples:

now they have to be what they are, or they’re not following Jesus. The followers are the visible community of faith; their discipleship is a visible act which separates them from the world – or it’s not discipleship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

For Bonhoeffer, the church must be visible, not for the sake of being the centre of attention, but for the sake of standing out. Christian communities must live by the standards to which Jesus is calling them, which are contrary to the norms of society, and in doing so they’ll stand out. For example, if they choose to forgive and don’t become violent, their actions will be noticed and perhaps not liked. 

By contrast,

a community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

As a result of their public actions, Jesus says that his disciples may be hated and thrown out, just as he was, but public action’s essential to live the life of a Disciple. When Jesus tells his disciples that they’re “the light of the world”, it’s not a statement about what the Church should be, but what it must be. The Church, Jesus tells us, is like a “city built on a hill”, drawing all people to its light. 

But individual disciples are also to be like “portable lamps” (the Greek word Lychnos), carried around by their owner, shining wherever they go. As Jesus tells his disciples

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

His followers are to be a community of faithful witnesses, with a righteousness that

exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees”.

Matthew 5:20

But beware there’s a spiritual danger here. As St Teresa of Ávila warns, it’s easy to become focused on doing things because we want our goodness to be noticed, and not because we’re driven to reveal God’s Kingdom. We should do good for the other not for ourselves.

From the outside, it can be hard to distinguish between someone whose good deeds are done because of a love of praise for themselves, and someone whose unselfconscious goodness is offered solely to glorify the Father, no matter the cost. From the inside, however, the two are quite different: if we’re truly acting in ways that transmit the light of the Father, it’ll be a matter of indifference whether our part in it is evident to others, it’s the deed that matters and not the one doing it.

The “bushel” Jesus mentions isn’t a unit of measurement, Jesus is referring to a basket big enough to cover up the lamp and by so doing rendering it ineffective.

In Churches the world over there are at perhaps 3 bushels. The first might be an inferiority complex. Maybe a lack of confidence by comparing ourselves and what we do to what other churches might be doing or to the good old days when this church fuller on a Sunday with lots of children and younger folk. The inferiority bushel can block out God’s light.

The second bushel may be looking inwards concentrating only on internal matters. While necessary, if they become the main focus and an excuse for not getting on with God’s real work, then they’re a bushel that can prevent our light from shining.

The third bushel may be the “if only” church in our heads. This sort of bushel is seductive because it seems so positive and feels so good. Holy longing for an imagined future can provide inspiration, however, to become a reality it needs to be realistic and requires concrete congregational action in the present to become a reality and without that it’s just a another bushel.

Can you hear the incredulous tone in Jesus voice, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel”. Ridiculous! Jesus is clear: we’re not doomed to being distracted and drained by the bushels of inferiority or self-absorption or fantasy. Bushels can only block out the light if we put them there.

Our focus should always be on reflecting Jesus’ light in the world the

light of all people. The light that shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t overcome”.

John 1:4-5

We need to

let our light shine before others

Matthew 5:16

and then as Isaiah says:

Your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations.

Isaiah 58:8-12

So how do we focus on looking outwards and letting our light shine when there are many things in our world to lament at the moment: the climate crisis, the wars in Ukraine and elsewhere, the energy and cost of living rises proving so hard for many, inequality among people, poverty, racism and much suffering?

A couple of years ago our Lent Study explored Lament in the Psalms and considered its importance. We know that at times Jesus wept and expressed sorrow, and as we focus on his time in the wilderness, up to his persecution and death, lament seems appropriate: lament as complaint, as resistance, for justice and innovation and as newness and hope. Lament can allow us to express the love of God in so many ways and keep us hopeful and outward looking; helping to let our light shine forth. 


Meditation on the Feast of the Presentation 2023

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Before you continue, why not get yourself a candle.

So as you think about Jesus the Light of the world, recognised by Anna and Simeon, and all the Christians in our community, reflect on all that He gives you, His Light in your life.

God is present everywhere. As the Psalmist says:

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12

We’re never beyond God’s reach, and that should always be a comfort.  We should also recognise Jesus’ presence in all those we meet. Christ the living Word, loves all people and indeed all of Creation. As with Anna and Simeon it’s our response that makes the difference – as the Holy Spirit enables us to recognise Jesus, and ignites that fire within us, so are we embraced by his Love.

Jesus calls us to shine as a lights in the world.  To allow His Light to shine within us. Sometimes keeping that light burning can be hard; there’s plenty to dim that flame in a world that doesn’t recognise or welcome His marvellous Light. And so we need to keep returning to Him to reacquaint ourselves with the warmth of His love.  Just as a flame needs oxygen so that it can burn brightly, to take time and make space to nourish our relationship with Him.

So light your candle and focus on its flame. Of course it’s just a candle flame, but today, it represents Christ’s living flame. The flame that burns continually and for everyone. Christ is Light for us as a Christian Community, and Light for each of us individually. Ultimately it’s our response to His Light that’ll make the difference. In the lighting of our candles we acknowledge where our true Light comes from, and we open ourselves up to His healing Light for ourselves and for the whole world and the many divisions in our society.

In a moment of quiet and stillness, focus on your lit candle, use it to draw your mind to Christ the Light of the world, the Light your soul long for, the light that lights your way; the light for our whole community and for the whole world.

As we light our individual candles, they represent Christ’s Light burning within each of us. A Light to dispel darkness and fear from our lives, a light to enlighten our minds, a light to brighten dull days and show each of us the path we must travel.

Christ’s Light is freely given, yet so precious. We’re indeed blessed by this Light, and as a result should bless others in return, and

 “let our lights so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Our lights unite us, coming from a single source symbolizing the one true Light of Christ. In this light we’re one with each other and one with Christ. Together we burn brightly to the glory of God.

As you hold your lit candle you may like to think of all those who’ve worshipped in our churches and community throughout their history and no doubt held their candles, as we do, for services in Advent, Christmas, Easter or Candlemas. Faithful souls who’re now with the Lord. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Let us all as one shine as a single light in the world to the glory of God our Saviour.  


Sermon for Epiphany 4A – 29th January 2023

Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12 

For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.
’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1 Corinthians 1:19-20

So what is the wisdom of the world that Paul is speaking of to the Corinthians? Perhaps something along the lines of:

Happy are the proud and self-sufficient who think the world revolves around them and haven’t ever felt the need to rely on anything or anyone beyond themselves, for nothing will hold them back, the world’s their oyster.

Happy are the content, who fail to notice the suffering of others and who haven’t had to come face-to-face with themselves through the loss of someone dear to them, for they’ll never know their ignorance.

Happy are the confident, proud or arrogant, for they’ll control the happiness or otherwise of those around them and not need to rely on being shown charity or love by others.

Happy are those who get everything they need for fulfilment through earthly pleasures and never feel that there’s anything missing in their lives, for they’ll be filled with feelings of superiority.

Happy are the bullies and the unforgiving, who regarding being merciful and compassionate as weaknesses, haven’t had to rely on the mercy or compassion of others, for they’re the strong ones who’re in control.

Happy are the selfish and those whose use of those around them has shielded them from the complications of seeing others as equals made in the image of God, for they’ll never have to succumb to the heartache of love and compassion or the crutch of religion.

Happy are those prepared to compete and fight for what they want rather than cooperate, for they’ll never need to discover who they really are or engage with the trail of destruction and pain they leave behind.

Happy are those who do wrong and don’t play by the rules and fail to get caught, for they’ll be considered heroes while those who do play by the rules will be seen as losers.

Happy are those who lie, gossip and make fun of others causing them harm or embarrassment and who don’t feel the need to speak out when they see injustice, for they’ll not need to face up to the fact that those they’ve put down, ostracised or persecuted have spoken a truth that’s too close for comfort.

Perhaps reflecting on these characteristics and those elements of them which make each of us squirm just a little, might be instructive in guiding us towards a life more in tune with God’s wisdom than hitherto. 

For Paul the wisdom of the world seems to arise out of Man’s rebellion against God, his refusal to bow the knee and his determination to shape God in his own image. There were many powerful orators in Corinth, not unlike politicians today, with catch-phrases such as: “the wise man is king” and “to the wise man all things belong”, but this was wisdom of the sort to which I have already alluded. Michael Caine could obviously see that there was something lacking in the wisdom of the world when he said:

For all my education, accomplishments, and so called ‘wisdom’… I can’t fathom my own heart.

Michael Caine playing Elliot in the 1986 Woody Allen film “Hannah and her Sisters”

And that’s what its about. Not to be confused with the wave of world leaders who are dismissive about experts, especially when they speak truth to power and when commentators suggest that we’re living in a post-truth world and do you remember a mainstream politician saying with a straight face:

Day after day, we’re fed scare stories about how eating too much will make you fat, and how smoking causes lung cancer. It’s pure scaremongering, and I think this type of negativity is turning patients off.

Michael Gove “Guide to Britain’s Greatest Enemy – the Experts” 2016

Though I do think that the Pandemic did stem the flow of that sort of thing for a while.

No God’s wisdom, the wisdom of the God’s Kingdom, is of a completely different sort:

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

1 Corinthians 1:27-29

And that’s what lies behind Jesus’ description of a true disciple. The description that he lays out in the Sermon on the Mount, of which the Beatitudes that we heard in our Gospel this morning is but the first part. He lays out the qualities that He looks for in those who aspire to become members of the Kingdom of God. They may seem paradoxical, they may seem to be as much signs of weakness as of strength, but that is to judge them by the wisdom of the world. 

These characteristics of a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven are far removed from the world’s wisdom in such matters, and consequently immensely profound. The citizens of God’s Kingdom are described as putting God first in their motives and actions, in their business and their language, in the way that they treat others and in their thoughts and priorities. The Beatitudes are a bit of a shock for anyone who might think that being a Christian is simply a crutch for the weak, the inadequate, the unsuccessful, the sick and the old. The characteristics described require strength, courage and fortitude.

When it comes to reflecting on the contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God, you can always rely on T. S. Eliot to get to the heart of the matter, so lets end with a few stanzas from “Choruses from The Rock”:

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust. 

T S Eliot “Choruses from the Rock”