The Pilgrim Way is of my favourite places to walk. It follows one of the ancient footpaths from Winchester to Canterbury across the North Downs. Now there are many public footpaths in England but this one is unique. As the name suggests, for hundreds of years it has been used by pilgrims. For some it was a way to do penance and earn merit with God. For others it was a special time to deepen their spiritual walk. The trail ends at Canterbury Cathedral where pilgrims kneel at the spot where Thomas Becket was killed by the knights of Henry II. There is a simple memorial which marks the place of Becket’s martyrdom. For nearly a thousand years, Christians have knelt there to ask God that they, like Becket, might live courageously for him in spite of the powers of the world. When the position of Archbishop of Canterbury fell vacant, Henry appointed his friend Thomas Becket in the position thinking he would do his bidding. But something happened to Becket after he was appointed as spiritual leader of England. He stopped being complacent about his faith. He put politics and luxury behind him. He gave up his former wealth and life style. And he began to challenge the king over differences between the church and government. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. But Becket’s martyrdom did not earn him a place in heaven. And neither does a pilgrimage to Canterbury. There is only one way to find forgiveness for the past and peace of mind for the future.
What will bring on the feeling of nausea most quickly for you? Is it the debris left on pavements by people who have drunk excessive amounts of alcohol the night before? Or maybe it’s those little presents left for you to step in by anti-social dog walkers who don’t clean up afterwards? Displays of wobbling body tissue resulting from a diet rich in carbohydrates is high on my list. But what is most likely to cause you to faint? For me it is the sight of blood in the wrong place, especially my own. What is it about blood that makes us queasy, nauseous or likely to faint? Perhaps it is because deep down in our subconscious we equate blood with life. There are seven essential biological functions of blood that keep us alive.
- Red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to every cell in our body.
- White blood cells defend the body against invading microorganisms.
- Blood transports nutrients from the digestive system and when needed, from our storage reserves to every cell of the body. So fat is beautiful. Well some…
- Blood transports hormones from our endocrine glands to target tissues in need.
- Blood removes metabolic wastes from every cell to organs that excrete them.
- Blood helps maintain fluid balance in the whole body.
- Blood helps distribute metabolic heat within the body to maintain a healthy body temperature.
Our reading today is from 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love” chapter. This is probably the most widely read passage at weddings. True, it’s the most beautiful description there is in Scripture about love – yet the context of the passage is not about marriage. It is about giving for that is what marriage is really all about. I’d like us to consider this passage under three headings:
The motive for love in marriage is giving.
The quality of love in marriage is Divine.
The purpose of love in marriage is maturity
How do you get someone’s attention? In 1923, John Reith, the BBC’s first director-general launched a new initiative – broadcasting personal messages directly to individuals to let them know of next of kin who were “dangerously ill” They were very short and clinical messages, containing just a few simple facts like names, towns, car registrations or telephone numbers. “Will Mr and Mrs Smoth, last heard of eight months ago in the Birmingham area, go to Leeds General Infirmary where Mrs Smith’s mother is dangerously ill,” The first SOS message was broadcast in March 1923. It was a 30-second appeal to help find a missing six-year-old boy. Listeners got in touch, and the boy was found safe and well. This success encouraged the BBC to produce more, and an eclectic mixture of “emergencies” followed, including the escape of a Pelican from St James’ Park, and a request for a wet nurse for twins born at a hospital in Norfolk. Another message to a bird-lover urged him to contact a Birmingham pet shop after buying parrots there because the seller had died from Psittacosis or “parrot fever”.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.” (Daniel 1:1-4)
Daniel never expected to end up in Babylon any more than you did. Picture Daniel. One of the brightest and best of Israel. Daniel is from a family of high social status. He is physically flawless. He is a strikingly handsome man. If Joanna were giving this message, she might tell you to picture Daniel Craig. Apparently Daniel is actually much shorter than he appears on screen. So picture someone who looks like Daniel Craig only more handsome and less dumpy. Daniel is bright. He is quick to understand. He is qualified to serve in the king’s palace, which means he has a high level of what we would call ‘emotional intelligence’. He is also devoted to God and God’s people. And he has all the dreams that young men like that have. Back in Judah his future would have been predictable. The whole world is at his feet. He would go to a good university and then on to success in whatever field he chose. He would have a great marriage, live in an enviable home with the right postcode, raise a wonderful family, occupy a prominent place in the community. But life did not turn out the way he planned.
According to the Police Log of Sarasota, Florida, the elderly lady was doing her shopping when, upon returning to her car, she found four males in the act of stealing her vehicle. Uncharacteristically, she dropped her shopping bags and, standing in front of the vehicle to block their escape, drew her handgun, pointed it at the front windscreen and screamed at the top of her lungs, “I have a gun. I know how to use it. Get out of the car!” The four men didn’t wait to find out. They jumped out and ran like crazy in all directions. The lady, somewhat shaken, put the gun back in her bag, loaded her shopping bags into the back of the car and got into the driver’s seat. She was shaking so much that she could not get her key into the ignition. She tried and tried, and then she realized why. It was for the same reason she wondered why there was a football, a Frisbee and two 6 packs of beer in the boot. A few minutes later, she found her own car parked four or five spaces farther away. She loaded her bags into her own car and drove to the police station to report her mistake. The sergeant to whom she told the story smiled and pointed to the other end of the counter. There stood four rather agitated men who were reporting a car-jacking by a crazy, elderly lady described as white, less than five feet tall, with glasses, curly white hair, and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed apparently. A case of mistaken identity.
If Jesus walked into Christ Church tonight would we recognise him? What would he be wearing? A 1st Century Roman toga? I think not. Would we recognise him? Tonight we begin a new series of sermons in the Book of Hebrews. We have entitled this “The Jesus I never knew”.
Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, issued a warning recently that climate change poses a huge risk to global stability. At a gathering of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London, Mr Carney pointed out that the rapid increase in weather-related catastrophes was causing a spike in financial costs. But he also warned that the challenges currently posed by climate change “pale in significance compared with what might come”. He said our generation has little incentive to avert future problems. Ironically, insurers are among those with the biggest interest in climate change as the syndicates operating at Lloyd’s, the world’s oldest insurance market, are the most exposed to disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Mr Carney said the after-effects of such disasters were likely to grow worse: “The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come. “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.” Who is responsible? We can blame politicians for failing to act sooner. We can criticize multinational corporations for exacerbating climate change through the exploitation of oil, gas and other natural resources. Or we can acknowledge that the Christian Church, which is the largest religious movement in the world, has largely failed to fulfil its responsibility to care for creation. Church leaders have not, until relatively recently, acknowledged that creation care is integral to the gospel.
There are many different kinds of Church. You can be a member of an Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Charismatic, Coptic, Episcopal, Methodist, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Roman Catholic or one of hundreds of other denominations including the Strict and Particular.
Some prefer a High Church, a Low Church, a Broad Church, Mega Church or a House Church. In remote places you may have to attend a Virtual Church. In some countries people belong to the Underground Church because they are a Persecuted Church. Many long to have a Junior Church, and aspire to be a Messy Church. But no one wants to belong to a Dead Church. We need to belong to a Bible Church, a Local Church, a Community Church, an International Church, a Gospel Church and a welcoming, friendly, caring, Christ–centred, Holy Spirit filled Church.
And some are realising that God also wants us to be an Eco Church as well. What is an Eco Church? An Eco Church demonstrates by their actions that they care for God’s earth. That is why on Harvest Sunday at Christ Church we are committing ourselves to become an Eco Church.
Increasing numbers of Christians are realising that caring for God’s creation is central to the Christian faith. We may have neglected creation care in the past but we are rediscovering that creation care is one of our God given responsibilities. A’Roche together with Tearfund and the Church of England are teaming up to help us become an Eco Church. This is a talk I gave at the September Family Service.
Water is pretty amazing stuff isn’t it? In its natural state we take it for granted. But when its cooled to 0 degrees centigrade it can bring an entire country to a stand still. When heated to boiling point water changes from a liquid to a gas. That is when water takes on a whole new dimension and becomes very, very powerful. Thomas Savery, the British military engineer, was the first to patent a steam engine in 1679. James Watt refined the engine and gave his name to the unit of power generated by the steam engine. A watt is apparently 1/746th of a horse power. For much of the 20th century, our entire rail transportation system was powered by steam. As a young boy I used to collect the names of the different steam trains that ran between Lowestoft and Liverpool Street, delivering fresh fish to Billingsgate Market and bringing Londoners to the sandy beaches of the Suffolk coast. Steam is still used to catapult jet aircraft from aircraft carriers. The steam catapult with pistons the length of a football pitch, can hurl a 45,000-pound plane from 0 to 165 miles per hour in two seconds.
Great power is realized when water is heated to high temperatures. But even greater power is released when Christians are on fire for Jesus. In our concluding study of the seven letters to the Churches of Revelation, the church in Laodicea has the unenviable distinction of being the only one about of which Jesus had nothing good to say. This is the sternest of the seven letters. Unlike the other churches, there is much censure and no praise.