A sermon by Richard Bewes, Rector Emeritus, in our series on the privileges of Church Membership
Apart from treason, membership of this exclusive club has been handed down from father to son since the 14th Century. Membership of what is probably the second oldest club in Britain carries with it certain privileges. Besides a title, there is the right to be excused jury service, from serving as a witness, and – very usefully – freedom from arrest in civil cases. These are just some of the perks. A 24 hour members-only bar, a free parking place in central London and residence in one of the most sought after postcodes in Britain go with it as well. Since 1999, when the membership criteria were relaxed and it was possible for literally anyone to buy their way in, things seem to have gone downhill. And with a threatened Brexit rebellion this week, the future of a hereditary House of Lord’s is once again being threatened. Presently, all peers are appointed by political parties, apart from the 92 hereditary peers who survived the first phase of Lords reform, along with 24 Church of England Bishops and the Law Lords. Membership of the oldest club in Britain has never been something you could earn, or buy or indeed ever deserve for public service. That is because the word ‘membership’ is of Christian origins.
On a recent BA flight I read an article by Ben Hammersley about his new Tikker watch (see www.mytikker.com ) and now I want one for my birthday. The Tikker is no ordinary watch. It doesn’t just tell you the time – it tells you how long you have left to live. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ben writes,
“Do you have any idea how long you have left, well, actually? In total? To live? I do. It’s counting down on my wrist as I type this. I have, according to my watch, 44 years, ten months, five days, six hours, ten minutes to go. Even less by the time you read this, of course, and the information is coming to me every time I glance at my wrist. I’m wearing a Tikker watch, calibrated against my date of birth, nationality and other pertinent things, and displaying a forever depleting time left to my, actuarially predicted, statistically average, time of death. The brainchild of Tikker founder Fredrik Colting — a Swedish former gravedigger…”
Fredrik obviously had plenty of time on his hands. One of the things I love to do on a flight is watch the map of the world going by and the timer ticking down to the arrival time. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have one for our life journey too? Fredrik hits the nail in the coffin,
Let me ask you 10 questions.[i] In the last 4 weeks,
- How often did you feel tired out for no good reason?
- How often did you feel nervous?
- How often did you feel so nervous that nothing could calm you down?
- How often did you feel hopeless?
- How often did you feel restless or fidgety?
- How often did you feel so restless you could not sit still?
- How often did you feel depressed?
- How often did you feel that everything was an effort?
- How often did you feel so sad that nothing could cheer you up?
- How often did you feel worthless?
A church not far from here was blessed with a godly minister for over thirty-five years. He was loved by the church and the community. After he retired, he was succeeded by a younger pastor. It was his first pastorate and he wanted to do his very best. He had only been at the church a few weeks when he began to perceive that the people were upset with him about something. He was troubled. Eventually he spoke to one of the leaders, “I don’t know what I may have done wrong, but I have a feeling that the congregation are not happy with me.” The man said, “Well, I hate to say it, but it’s the way you do the Communion service.” “The way I do the Communion service? What do you mean?” “Well, it’s not so much what you do as what you leave out.” “I don’t think I leave out anything from the Communion service.” “Oh yes, you do. Just before our previous rector administered the chalice and wine to the people, he’d always go over and touch the radiator. And, then, he would–” “Touch the radiator? I never heard of that liturgical tradition.” So the younger man called the former pastor for advice. He said, “I haven’t even been here a month, and I’m in trouble.” “In trouble? Why?” “Well, it’s something to do with touching the radiator. Could that be possible? Did you do that?” “Oh yes, I did… Always before I administered the chalice to the people, I touched the radiator to discharge the static electricity from the carpet so I wouldn’t shock them.”
In the last year or so I’ve got to know several Jewish rabbi’s. Ironically it was a Muslim sheikh who introduced us. Last year he also defended a Christian pastor in court charged with incitement for statements he made about Islam. And earlier this year I supported him in a court hearing where he himself had been accused of harassment by a fellow Christian. By facing our differences honestly and constructively, a number of close friendships have been forged. The Lord is now using these friendships to strengthen the harmony between the faith communities in Ireland where relations are being threatened by Brexit and the rise of religious extremism. Peacemaker Mediators are needed more than ever.
If you have ever bought a hi-fi or digital TV, the chances are you bought it from Richer Sounds, the UK’s biggest hi-fi retailer. Ever wonder how the company achieved the No.1 slot?
“High fidelity: Julian Richer rewards staff loyalty with holiday homes and trips on the company jet. Next? He’s planning their inheritance…” That was the eye catching headline in the Independent recently. The article went on to ask, “Why can’t all bosses be like Julian Richer? I’m not going to beat about the bush here: I think Julian is great. If I had to hold up someone as a role model for other wannabe tycoons to follow, the founder of the Richer Sounds hi-fi chain would be that person… So what earns him this accolade? The way he treats his staff, the fact that in surveys 95 per cent of them say they love working for him. And then the way his approach translates into tangible results: 52 stores that produced profits of £6.9m from sales of £144.3m last year in an austerity-hit economy, and helped him to build a personal fortune estimated at £115m. Based in what property agents refer to as the “secondary” shopping streets – the tattier end – his shops, full of in-your-face Day-Glo posters, have won awards galore for their levels of service, and achieved sales unheard-of in the electronics industry. For years, his first store, opened at the age of 18, near London Bridge could claim to have the highest sales density per square foot of any store, anywhere in the world.
George Orwell’s book, 1984, a dark vision about a Britain taken over by a totalitarian regime that uses “doublethink” and “Newspeak” to mislead and control its citizens, was published in 1949, but has apparently returned to the best-seller list. And you probably know why.
In the 1990’s as the new Millennium approached, there was a similar spike in interest among Christians in Bible prophecy. Some commentators called it ‘PMT’ or ‘pre-millennial tension’. Revelation 13 is one of those passages of scripture that continues to arouse considerable speculation and a disproportionate amount of ink if not blood spilt. How are we to make sense of this passage and its enigmatic signs and symbols? How are we to decode them? Do they refer to history? To the present? Or to the future? We are not going to answer these questions today. And I am not going to give you a verse by verse analysis. Not because of a lack of time or because they passage is too difficult. The fact is godly men and women who hold a high view of scripture, disagree on the meaning and application of the passage before us today.
“Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” [i]
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saint’s Church, Wittenberg, 500 years ago in 1517, he sparked the Protestant Reformation right across Europe. Ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a statement.
“The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe. In this Reformation Anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed. Amongst much else these would include clear proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible to all in their own language and the recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God in the world and in the church. Many will also remember the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love.”
Do you remember your very first Bible? Mine was a gift from my grandfather. I must have been six or seven years old. It was a hard back. It had a red cover. It was small. It had thin pages and tiny script. But that didn’t matter because it was unreadable anyway. On the occasions, I tried, I had absolutely no idea what I was reading. It was a closed book. King James could keep his Bible. Without the Holy Spirit illuminating the text, it was like reading a sundial by moonlight. It was dull and gave the wrong time. At senior school, I encountered the Revised Standard Version (RSV) in RE lessons. This was marginally better but I was more interested in the line drawings and maps than the text itself.
At University, when I became a Christian, the Bible came to life. And I wanted a copy just like the guy who led me to Christ. It didn’t do much for my spelling because it was the New American Standard Bible (NASB) but at least it had a readable font, the sentences went right across the page like a real book and it had cross references that kept me occupied for hours. The fashion was to cut off the hard cover of your Bible and glue on a piece of off-cut leather, or denim from a pair of old jeans. With long hair we walked around campus, bear foot, carrying the kind of Bible John the Baptist must have had. I thought it would be cool to underline passages that spoke to me and so I used a highlight pen. The only problem was it bled through to the other side and pretty soon I was underlining most of the text. Then I discovered my pastor had a wide margin, loose leaf Bible, so he could add his notes and make it look like he was preaching straight from the Bible. So I wanted one like him too. I bought a loose-leaf Bible and began adding his sermon notes in the margins and on extra pages. But I gave up because my writing wasn’t that good and there wasn’t enough room in some passages anyway. Eventually I upgraded to a black leather New International Version Study Bible (NIV) and I decided not to write anything in it. And that’s been my companion through three editions for the last 25 years. Continue reading