Canon John Salter preached at Christ Church, Virginia Water on John 1:1-14 on Advent Sunday. He is President of the Garden Tomb Association and the former vicar of Emmanuel Church, Stoughton, Guildford.
Bertrand Russell once said, “Most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so.” A recent research study at the University of Iowa, Tippie business school, seems to confirm that. Researchers found that people are reluctant to change their minds and adapt their views, even when new information has been presented. This holds true even if they stand to lose money. The phenomenon is called “confirmation bias” and apparently operates at a subconscious level at all times. The new research confirms numerous previous studies undertaken over ten years which show people invariably stick to their original viewpoint even when new facts contradict those beliefs. Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for evidence that confirms our existing beliefs and practices, rather than considering alternative possibilities, despite having access to new data to influence them. When faced with facts that don’t fit, we tend to ignore or change them to fit our beliefs.
Read the sermon text here
A husband was distraught over his wife’s stubborn refusal to admit she had a hearing problem. He went to see their family doctor to ask for advice on how to convince his wife that she had a hearing problem. The doctor advised him to go home, open the front door and in a normal voice ask his wife what’s for dinner. The doctor said, if she doesn’t answer, move closer to the kitchen. Repeat the question again, and if she still doesn’t answer, stand behind her and whisper in her ear, “What’s for dinner, honey?” Then, the doctor assured him, she’ll have to admit she has the problem. So the man went home, opened the front door and asked “What’s for dinner, honey?” His wife made no reply, so he moved closer to the kitchen and asked again. “What’s for dinner, honey?” Again, nothing. So he tiptoed over to her and whispered in her ear, “What’s for dinner, honey?” She turned and looked at him straight in the eye: “For the 3rd time, I said, we’re having MEAT LOAF!”
Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9). Clearly those who cannot hear do not get it, and those who can hear, should. What did you hear when this well known parable of Jesus was read just now? I suggest the majority of us think we are like the good soil. We are sorry for others whose hearts are like the rocky, weedy or hard soil.
Lets be honest: Is that what you thought? That is because when the Scriptures are read, we invariably see ourselves in the best possible light, we tick the box and move on to the next passage. This is a very serious mistake. When Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9) he was giving a warning. That is the main point of the parable.
During my second year at university I made a decision that impacted the rest of my life. I decided not to return to the Civil Service after graduation. The call to full-time Christian ministry was clear. I was excited to be accepted for training for the Anglican ministry. But there was just one problem. I was terrified of being expected to take funerals. But the Lord was gracious.
He removed my fears while at theological college in Bristol. Three months after our first daughter was born, Joanna’s father died suddenly. Then, just a month later, my own father died suddenly. At the age of 29 I became the oldest man in either family. In one month I gained all the experience I needed to be able to empathise with others. And a verse from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians took on special significance.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
And that is the purpose of tonight’s service. And that is one of the reasons we are reading Psalm 90 together. This beautiful psalm speaks to us of the brevity of life in the light of eternity. It was the inspiration for one of the best known hymns by Isaac Watts,
“O God, our help in ages past”. Surprisingly, there is not a hint of despair or complaint, simply humble child-like submission and trust. There are three parts to this little psalm. Each tells us something about God as well as about ourselves.
God’s Eternity and our Frailty (Psalm 90:1-6)
God’s Anger and our Sinfulness (Psalm 90:7-11)
God’s Mercy and our Hope (Psalm 90:12-17)
Do you know this lady? What’s her name? Elizabeth. Her second name? Alexandra. Her third name? Mary. And her family name? Windsor. Hands up if you have ever seen Her on TV? I think that’s everyone! Hands up if you’ve written to her?
Hands up if you received a reply? Hands up if you have met Her Majesty in person? Hands up if you have ever spoken to her? Hands up if you have ever been invited to tea? Dinner? Breakfast? Hands up if you have ever been i
nvited to stay with her? Hands up if you have been on holiday with her? Hands up if you are related to her? No one? Who wants to be the Queen? [Queen]
How could you become a member of the Royal Family? By birth. By royal bloodline. [3 Helpers] How else? By marriage. If you married a member of the Royal Family [2 Helpers]. Any other way? By adoption – you could be chosen to become her sonor daughter. Anyone like to be adopted into the Royal Family? [Helper] These are the three ways you could be related to Her Majesty. Based on our survey today, we all seem to know about her Majesty, but very few, if anyone, can actually say, “I know her personally”. And as far as we know, no one here is related to her. She
is a very very important person, and very difficult to contact unless she takes the initiative. Do you have her mobile number or email address? We aren’t surprised if she doesn’t phone or invite us to tea, even though she only lives a few miles away in Windsor. We aren’t disappointed if she doesn’t invite us to join her family or share her inheritance. Do you know Queen Elizabeth’s full title?
For the first 18 years of my life, I think the highest I ever climbed was a bridge over the railway line in my village, Oulton Broad. I do remember getting a little scared on one occasion climbing to the top of Southwold lighthouse. From the cliffs at Lowestoft I could see Great Yarmouth up the coast which is ten miles away. That was my childhood horizon, as far as I could see.
Apparently at ground level the horizon is 2.9 miles. At a hundred feet the horizon is 12.2 miles away. My passion for travel grew and I was increasingly drawn to places with mountains like a magnet. I think part of the fascination had to do with the desire to see further into the distance – to literally broaden my horizon. So in June when I did a locum for a colleague at St Andrew’s Kyrenia on Cyprus, every day I climbed a mountain just to enjoy the stunning views 30, 40 or 50 miles across the island and out to sea. For most of our lives, we are content just to see as far as the end of the road, especially if we are driving. Our vision is largely bound by necessity. But its good once in a while to look for a higher place so that we can see further. Today is such a day, as we launch our new 2020 Vision and Five Year Plan. It sets out where we want to go. Where we believe God is calling us. It’s a journey and every six months or so we will update the booklet with new insights gained along the way.
A sermon preached on 1 Samuel 17 at Christ Church, Virginia Water, Sunday 12th October 2015 during a special Deanery service on the theme of Christian Vocation.
See more photos here
Tonight we are holding a very special service. At the request of Bishop Andrew we are hosting a vocation service. It will be the first of several that will be held across the Diocese. So we are piloting the initiative. Friends from the neighbouring churches will join us to learn about Christian vocations. Bishop Andrew will be preaching. William Challis, the Director of Ordinands – that is those in training to be ordained, will interview Jennifer the new curate at Egham, and also Peter and Will. They will share how they discerned God’s call to ministry. Please come, welcome our friends from other churches and the university. But be prepared as well. Be prepared for God to speak to you too about his call in your life.
I just feel a little guilty because there is one important thing we omitted from the publicity. There is no health warning. Seeking ordination could seriously shorten your life. It will likely bring heartache, misunderstanding, and disagreements. And that is just from friends and family before you have even begun training. You will join many others on Satan’s hit list. He will do everything he can to make you pay. He will most certainly hinder, harass and hound you. He will distract, divert and denigrate you. He will try and corrupt, compromise and maybe even kill you, if he can. That is why we are also delighted to be hosting a half-day regional conference for the Barnabas Fund on Saturday 14th November. The focus will be on the suffering church and how we can support them. Tell your friends.