Sermon for All Age Eucharist, Trinity Sunday 2014: Isaiah 40.27-end, Matthew 28.16-end

May I speak in the name of the one God: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the day in the church calendar when we celebrate the great mystery of God who is three in one and one in three. It’s easy to get bogged down in the complexities of how that works, how God can be one God, and yet be the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, all at the same time. But that’s not what Trinity Sunday should be about. It’s not primarily an invitation to a complex theological debate, but to a joyful celebration of the great mystery which is at the heart of who God is.

The key to entering in to the mystery of the Trinity – not understanding it, but entering in to it – is relationship. At the heart of who God is, is relationship, because God is Love, and Love doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Love must entail relationship. And so we see this relationship at the heart of God. Whether we talk about Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Source of all Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit. Whatever language we use is only an imperfect description of the loving relationship which exists in God, and in which God exists.

[Volunteers x3 to hold: plant, cross, flame.]

God is creator [plant]. God is redeemer [cross]. God is sustainer [flame]. God is all of these and God is each of these, in relationship with each other. [Place string around volunteers] But the relationship doesn’t stop there, this isn’t a closed circle. God creates us [plant]. God redeems us [cross]. God sustains us [flame]. And in so doing, God invites us into relationship with God, into the love at the heart of the Trinity. And so the circle expands to include all of us.

[Send children with string to encircle congregation, meeting by door.]

And that relationship, that love, doesn’t stop with us either. God invites us into relationship, and from the place of love sends us out to invite others into relationship too, with God and with us. We see it in today’s gospel: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” And so the circle doesn’t stop here at the door.

[Get children to roll balls of string out of door.]

The love which God extends to us, we must extend to others, beyond our doors, beyond our comfort zone. Imagine our balls of string stretching out across the churchyard, through the town, around the country, and right the way around the world. This is what God’s love is like: all-encompassing, never-ending, open to everyone. God is Love, and that’s why to really know God we have to accept his invitation to enter into the mystery of the infinitely loving relationship at the heart of the Trinity, into the heart of Godself.

And from that place of love we have to be ready to go out, as Jesus commands, and share that love with everyone, inviting them to share in the mystery of God who is both three and one. Isaiah asks “Have you not seen? Have you not heard?” And so many haven’t. So however imperfect our understanding of God, of the glorious mystery of the Trinity, we need to be ready to go out and share our faith, however inadequate it seems to us, in our schools and workplaces and public spaces. Because we have good news worth sharing: God is love; God loves you; there is no greater mystery than this.

Amen.

Sermon for All Age Eucharist on Low Sunday 2014: John 20.19-end

Poor Thomas. All the other disciples had seen Jesus, but he’d missed out. No wonder he wanted to see for himself. After all, it’s not easy to believe in something you haven’t seen for yourself. It’s not easy to know about something you can’t see.

I wonder what you can know about something you haven’t seen. Let’s try an experiment to find out.

[blindfold child and give them an object]

What can you tell us about it? What shape is it? What texture? Heavy or light? Hot or cold? There are some things you can know without seeing. But what colour is it? Is it plain or stripey? There are some things you can’t.

Other children [not blindfolded]: What colour is it? Plain or patterned? You know more about it when you can see it. But there are still some things you can’t know. How old is it? Who does it belong to? What will happen to it after the service today?

There are some things we can know about an object without seeing it, some we know when we see it, and some we still don’t know even when we have seen it. And it’s much the same with Jesus.

There are some things we can know about Jesus without encountering him ourselves. Other people can tell us about Jesus. We can read about him in the Bible. We can see pictures of him. And we can learn a lot from all those things. Thomas could know some things about the risen Jesus too before he saw for himself. He could know what his friends told him. But that wasn’t enough.

And it isn’t enough for us either. We need to move beyond what we are told about Jesus, to encounter him ourselves. We need to move, like Thomas, from the place of hearing others say “we have seen the Lord” to being able to say for ourselves “my Lord and my God”. There are some things we can’t know about Jesus from the words of others – we each need that real encounter with the living, risen Christ.

That personal encounter with Jesus is something that comes only by God’s grace, we can’t make it happen. But we can invite it. By prayer and, like Thomas, by asking. Thomas is often described as doubting, but I prefer to think of him as wondering. He had heard that Jesus was risen, but that wasn’t enough. He wanted to know more, wanted to experience for himself the presence of Jesus.

And we should all want more. More of God, more knowledge, more closeness, more depth of encounter with the risen Jesus. We shouldn’t be content with what we are told. John tells us at the end of today’s gospel that what he writes about Jesus isn’t all there is to know. It’s a good starting point, but there is more to be had, if only we will ask, and pray, and wait in expectation.

And like Thomas, we should be ready to make up our own minds, and ready to have our minds changed. You are never too young to have our own opinions about God, to know how God is at work in your life. And you are never too old to learn something new and surprising about how God is working.

Beware of anyone who tells you they have all the answers. Beware of anyone who starts a sentence “the Bible clearly says…” Scripture is not a how-to book or a manual for life. It’s an invitation to go deeper with God, to learn more about what it means to walk with Jesus, to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us more and more into all truth.

May we, like Thomas, dare to ask more of God, dare to want to experience and know for ourselves the truth of Christ’s resurrection. May we dare to invite the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts. And may we not be surprised when our encounter with the living God changes everything forever.

Sermon for Mothering Sunday: Exodus 2.1-10, John 19.25-27

When I was a little girl, I remember being asked at school to draw my family tree. I sat and thought for a moment, then put up my hand and said “I think I need a bigger piece of paper!”

Families are complicated. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Not many of us measure up to the picture-book ideal of Mummy, Daddy, 2.4 children and a dog. Or the perfect family on a Mother’s Day card. And is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so. Better to be ourselves, our own imperfect families, in all our glorious mess, than to try to squeeze ourselves into a mould that doesn’t fit.

Yesterday with the introduction of equal marriage for same sex couples we moved a bit closer to acknowledging that God makes families in all sorts of ways. And we can never judge from the outside. What looks like the perfect family might be concealing all sorts of pain. What looks like a chaotic, broken family might be full of love and strength.

So families are not neat, not always easy. And the families in today’s bible stories certainly aren’t what we’d expect from a “conventional” family. Moses, abandoned by the river and brought up by his own mother as if she was a hired nursemaid. Jesus, as his own life ends, giving the people he most loves to each other, creating a new family.

A definition of family which I love, though I’ve long since forgotten where I came across it, is this: “family is the people God gives us to look after.” That’s what we see in today’s gospel. Jesus, in his final moments on the cross, gives these two people he loves, his mother and his dearest friend, to each other, to look after each other, console each other and nurture each other when he is no longer there to take care of them.

God gives us people to nurture too. Not always the people we were expecting. Not always in the ways we were expecting. But all of us need looking after, and all of us are called to take part in that looking after too.

Let’s look at some of the things we need in order to be nurtured, looked after.

First, food and drink. [volunteers to hold plate and cup] We need to eat and drink. Too many people in our town find they need help from organisations like the One Can Trust to be able to meet this basic need. When we drop off a tin or packet in the collection bin at the back of church, we are reaching out to those people, looking after them, saying “you’re part of our family, and we care.”

We pray in the Lord’s prayer “give us today our daily bread”, but we’re really asking for much more than just bread. We’re asking God to give us everything we need to live life in all its fullness. And he does. When he meets us in the bread and wine of communion, he feeds us in ways beyond what we could imagine.

Now, what else do we need to be nurtured? I know, a home. [volunteers to make roof shape with arms] Too many people in our town don’t have a safe place to live. When we volunteer for or donate to Wycombe Homeless Connection, when we sign petitions to demand better, fairer social housing, we say to those people “you matter, we care, you’re part of the human family.”

And God gives us a home too. Not a physical building to live in, but a home with him in his kingdom. And he promises that one day we will live with him forever, truly at home.

And there’s something else we need in order to feel cared for, something harder to see. [volunteers to hold up heart] It’s love. We all need to know that we’re loved. And to make that happen, we all need to show each other that we are loved. God’s love is so huge that we can’t properly understand it, although we can and do experience it. God’s love is for everyone, but how will people know that unless we show them? We need to nurture and care for and love the people God gives us.

And who does God give us to look after? Who is in our family? I’m not just talking about the people we’re related to, our mums and dads and brothers and sisters. Who are the people in our lives God wants us to nurture, look after, help to grow? Friends, acquaintances, strangers… How far does our family extend?

As far as you can imagine. Further. Because we are all part of God’s family. Brothers and sisters of Jesus. Children of a God who loves us and nurtures us and mothers us beyond what we could hope for. And so everyone is part of our family, because each person is a child of God, just like us.

Remember my 8 year old self with the piece of paper too small for my rather complicated family tree? Imagine trying to fit this family onto a piece of paper, God’s family, our family. You couldn’t do it. Because we are part of a family too huge and complicated and beautiful to fit onto any piece of paper. But every name is written on God’s heart.

God loves and nurtures us in so many ways. And we are called to be the human face of that love to each other, as we nurture and care for each other. It’s not easy. It’s complicated. Sometimes it hurts. But we keep loving and caring because we are fed and nurtured and mothered by the deep well of love that is God.

All Age sermon for Proper 1 (Year A): Isaiah 58.6-10 Matthew 5.13-16

NB. the readings used are shorter than those given by the lectionary.

For this sermon you will need:

  • 2 packets of salt ‘n’ shake crisps
  • a torch
  • a large piece of white paper (or a screen, if you have one)

In today’s gospel Jesus gives us two quite different images: salt and light. And he tells us this is what we should be like: salt and light in the world. I wonder what he means by that?

Let’s think about salt first. I’ve brought some crisps. [get children to add both lots of salt to one packet and shake] What difference does the salt make? Let’s see. [ask children if crisps look the same or different, then let children taste and ask if they taste the same or different]

Salt makes a difference to the crisps. We can’t see the salt, unless we look very closely, but we can tell it’s there because of what the crisps are like. What difference do we make in the world as followers of Jesus? How can people tell that we’re here, that there are followers of Christ in this place?

Perhaps by the way we treat one another. Perhaps by the way we treat the least among us, the marginalised and unloved.

And now let’s think about light. When a light shines, we don’t just see the light itself, we see all sorts of other things by the light. [two children to hold up large piece of paper and one to hold torch, invite children to make shadow puppets]

Light changes how we see things. An ordinary hand becomes a crocodile or a dog or a butterfly. Dark places become light. Hidden things become clear. When Jesus says that we shouldn’t hide our light, he means that we should show people how God is at work in the world, by what we do and say and how we relate to the world around us.        

Salt and light. They make a difference to the world around them. And that’s what Jesus calls us to do too. To make a difference in the world. To be the difference in the world. To change what is around us, not by drawing attention to ourselves and what we are doing, but by bringing in God’s kingdom.

Part of that kingdom is justice. I read recently that the richest 85 people in the world own between them the same amount as the poorest 3.5 billion people in the world. The numbers are almost too big to grasp, but let’s look at how that would work with the crisps we were using just now. If I give this packet of crisps to Jackie and Hugh to share, and say that this other packet is for everyone else at church to share between us, is that ok?

No? What should Jackie and Hugh do with their crisps? [hopefully someone will suggest sharing] Yes, when we see that something is unjust we should do something about it. Something to bring God’s justice to whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Because whoever we are, and whatever we’re doing, it’s up to us to make a difference. To quote one of my favourite children’s books, The Lorax by Dr Seuss, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”. We are the instruments God uses to bring in the justice of his kingdom. We are the salt and light that makes the difference.

We make a difference when we treat people justly, when we value people as children of God, when we take whatever action we can to put right what is wrong in the world. It might be something as small as sharing our crisps, or putting a tin in the One Can Trust bin at the back of church. Challenging what is wrong in the world, reaching out to those in need – this is what Isaiah speaks of as being the offering God demands of us.           

Some situations seem too big for us to make a difference, too complicated, too hopeless. And yet we can always do something. Again our reading from Isaiah has the answer: we can pray and God will hear us. Perhaps that sounds a bit trite. But think how many millions of people prayed for justice in South Africa during apartheid, or for peace in Northern Ireland during the troubles. And many of you will remember how long those prayers went on – for years, for longer than some of you have been alive – in what seemed like a hopeless situation. But things changed. Because of people standing up for what is right. Because of people making whatever small difference they can. Because of people like you, praying and going on praying.

Perhaps you feel like you can’t make much of a difference in the world. Perhaps you think you are not old enough or not clever enough or not big enough. But think how tiny a grain of salt is, almost invisible, and yet it makes a difference to everything it comes in contact with.

We can be like that. If we live faithfully and follow Jesus and do whatever small things we can to God’s glory, we will be the salt of the earth. And slowly, one grain at a time, we will transform that earth into heaven.

And If we do nothing else, let us pray this daily: Lord, may your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.