Category Archives: Exposition

Jesus Mean and Wild: Three Mission Priorities (Mark 1:29-39)

The last time I was in China, I visited the grave of one of my hero’s. Robert Morrison’s mortal remains lie in a small churchyard in Macau, just across the Pearl River from Hong Kong. Robert grew up in an austere Scottish Presbyterian home. When he told his parents he wanted to become a missionary, they were distraught. His mother insisted young Robert promise that he would not go abroad while she was still alive. Robert obeyed and waited till she had died before beginning theological studies at the Gosport Academy. The London Missionary Society accepted Robert in 1805. He then continued his studies in medicine, astronomy, and Chinese. When his father fell seriously ill, his brother and sisters pleaded with him to return. He loved his father, but wrote this letter,

“Honoured father, brother, and sisters… the account of my father’s leg growing worse and worse concerns me; but what can I do? I look to my God and my father’s God… You advise me to return home. I thank you for your good intentions; may the Lord bless you for them. But I have no inclination to do so; having set my hand to the plough, I would not look back. It hath pleased the Lord to prosper me so far, and grant me favour in the eyes of this people”. 

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Holy War in Palestine (Mark 1:21-28)

On June 6th, 1944, a huge amphibious and airborne force landed on the coast of Northern France intent on reversing the tide of the Second World War. The meticulously planned operation included waves of beach assaults, naval bombardments, air strikes and parachute drops – all on a scale never seen before. Code-named “D-Day,” the invasion saw the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Europe. D-Day has been re-enacted in at least five major films.  I am sure you will have seen at least one of them.

Where Eagles Dare focuses on a group of commandos sent high into the Alps on a daring mission to rescue a captured American officer before he divulges D-Day plans. The Big Red One is a more factual account. The film title refers to the US Army 1st Infantry Division, who wore the insignia of a red ‘one’ as they landed on Omaha Beach on June 6th. Director, Samuel Fuller actually served with the Big Red One in real life, earning the Silver Star on D-Day. Perhaps the definitive film about D-Day, shot in black & white, was appropriately entitled, The Longest Day. The film encompasses the American, British, French as well as the German perspective, as D-Day unfolds. The ten-part Band of Brothers is a more recent visually stunning and accurate portrayal of the 101st Airborne Division’s role in WW2. These US paratroopers were one of the first Allied units to go into battle on D-Day, and the series captures their war with gritty realism. But probably the most iconic portrayal of D-Day takes centre-stage in the gripping war film, Saving Private Ryan.  The film is considered one of the greatest as well as most controversial war films of all time. Its half hour depiction of the bloody fighting on Omaha Beach is both vivid and terrifying. Apparently psychiatrists treating veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Vietnam and Iraq wars, advised them not to watch the film.[1] If you have seen it you will understand why. It’s the kind of film you probably won’t want to watch twice.

However terrifying, the reality of D Day June 6th, 1944 was, by comparison with our subject today, only a minor skirmish in a global war against evil that has raged since before the creation of the world. 

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Discovering my Purpose in Life (John 1)

When you were a child, who or what did you want to be when you grew up? As a child, I dreaded the Christmas visits to aunts and uncles. Every year they would ask me the same question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I hadn’t a clue. In many societies, you are expected to join the family trade or you may become an apprentice to a master craftsman. That’s how my grandfather Lewis learnt his trade. My great-grandmother paid a local carpenter to take Lewis on as a young boy and teach him carpentry skills. I still have his articles of indenture. My grandfather became his pupil, a learner. Then when he too became a master craftsman, he took on my father who became his disciple. I broke the family tradition although I’m pretty good at putting Ikea furniture together.  The greatest tragedy in life is not death, but life without meaning, without purpose. Many people go through life without ever discovering God’s purpose for their lives. We are not an accident. We were created for a purpose. We were made to have meaning. 

In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance…” In our Gospel reading we learn about God’s purposes, not just the first disciples, but for us too.  The context for their meeting with Jesus begins in verse 35.

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The Good News of Jesus (Mark 1)

Have you ever wondered why the Christian year begins with Advent and the return of Jesus rather than with Christmas and the birth of Jesus? It sounds back to front. And yet from an eternal perspective, the most important event in the future will be the return of Jesus.

It is ironic that much of our time is given to looking back re-living the history of God’s redemptive plan from Genesis when actually the emphasis in the New Testament is upon the future and the necessity of being ready for Christ’s return. The return of Jesus is good news especially for all suffering injustice, persecution, marginalisation today. None more so for the people of Palestine and Gaza, in particular, who are facing genocide and ethnic cleansing this Christmas. While Western churches will celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Church in Palestine has cancelled their Christmas services and will instead be praying for his return to bring justice and peace. They long for the vision found in Revelation 21 of God coming to his people and wiping away every tear from their eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:4-5).

How ironic that Christ was born under brutal settler colonial military occupation, which ruthlessly crushed any dissent. So much so Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt as refugees to save his life. They very likely will have gone via Rafah in Gaza. The Christmas celebrations and messages this year will therefore expose how vast the chasm is between the authentic and counterfeit. It is timely then that we consider the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel today for the summarise who Jesus is and why he came. 

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Shock & Awe: A Homily for Gaza Based on Psalm 70

Like me you are probably experiencing very strong emotions – shock, grief, anger, numbness but mostly anger.

Shock at the scenes from Gaza that are truly apocalyptic. Shock at the mounting evidence of genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. Shock that the world appears unable, or unwilling, to stop it.

Grief at the unimaginable suffering of the beautiful people of Gaza. Grief at the countless lives lost, families wiped out, those who will never be found, the trauma, the injured and of course, the children.

And anger, anger at the callous barbarity of Israel’s incessant bombing of Gaza. Anger at the complicity of Western leaders still defending Israel, still providing weapons for Israel, sending naval vessels to defend Israel, or vetoing UN resolutions critical of Israel. Anger at our religious leaders, especially in the Church of England, who refuse to condemn Israel’s genocidal ethnic cleansing or call for an immediate ceasefire, as the Roman Catholic Church has done, presumably for fear of upsetting their cosy relationship with the Zionist Lobby.

What can I say today that will make a difference to the shock, grief and anger you may feel too? Let us consider our Psalm for today – Psalm 70. I’ve broken the Psalm into four:

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The Hallmarks of Authentic Christian Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:9-13)

Have you noticed that when a new hotel or commercial building is being constructed, the architects will invariably install large mirrors in the lobby? Ever wondered why? Apparently, we complain less when we’re looking at ourselves. We all get distracted by our reflection at times, don’t we?  We all want to be seen, to be recognized, to be accepted, affirmed, encouraged, appreciated, valued. And that’s OK. It is instinctive to want to be loved. As long as we are not obsessed with ourselves and with what others can or should do for us.  But like the mirrors you sometimes find at amusement parks, our self-perception can so easily become warped or distorted when we view ourselves through the eyes of other people rather than God.  It is bad enough when this is tolerated in a community and remains unchecked. But it is much worse when religious leaders exploit their followers. Then it becomes abusive and manipulative.  

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Philippians 2: A Conversation with Father Dave Smith

Each month I join Father Dave Smith for his Sunday Eucharist and provide a brief homily on the Epistle reading of the week. This week, Dave and wife Joy visited Southampton and so we recorded our discussion on Philippians 2 in the Titanic pub close to the port where the Titanic sailed on its ill-fated maiden voyage. The landlord even kindly turned the music down for us (a little).

Surrender or Else (Philippians 2)

Surrender is not a popular word, is it?  Almost disliked as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. In today’s competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in. So, we don’t hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, to surrender is unthinkable. We would rather dwell on winning, succeeding, overcoming and conquering not yielding, submitting, obeying, or surrendering. It is ironic then that surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith.
 
On Palm Sunday Jesus rode on a donkey not a horse.  Jesus came in peace not war, to surrender not conquer. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom sacrifice, to be the Passover lamb, to make atonement with God. And when some in the crowd laid their coats on the ground, it was a sign of their surrender to him. Because surrender is the natural response to God’s grace and mercy. Our surrender is called many things in scripture: consecration, taking up your cross, dying to self, yielding to the Spirit, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. What matters is that we do it, not what we call it. 

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Praise My Soul the King of Heaven (Psalm 103)

The “Pillars of Hercules,” which flank the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar between Africa and Europe were from Roman times associated with the Latin phrase ne plus ultra, meaning “No More Beyond.” Certainly no one dared question the prevailing belief that there was nothing beyond the horizon. That was until 1492 when Christopher Columbus boldly sailed westward and discovered the New World. On his return, Spain celebrated with a new national logo. Coins were struck with two words: plus ultra meaning “More Beyond”. If you have experienced bereavement recently you know that ‘out of sight’ does not mean ‘out of mind’. But is there more beyond? More than simply the act of remembering the past? The Christian hope is that there is a new world beyond our horizon. Our Psalm this evening teaches us to look beyond our limited horizon, beyond what we can see, feel or touch. Psalm 103 inspires us to feel the heart beat of God’s love and realise there is indeed yet ‘more beyond’ our horizon to discover. More of God’s character to understand. More of his purposes to discover.

More of his love to experience. More of his commission to fulfil. More of his justice to proclaim. More of his love to share. More of his glory to praise.  Psalm 103 inspired Henry Francis Lyte to write one of the most opopular hymns in the English language “Praise my soul the King of heaven”. No wonder. We have here in Psalm 103 the authentic utterance of a redeemed child of God, who piles up words to express his gratitude to the God of grace.  There are three sections to the Psalm.  

God’s personal blessings (Psalm 103:1-5)
God’s Covenant Mercy (Psalm 103:8-18)
God’s Universal Dominion (Psalm 103:19-22)

Let us consider them in turn and discern whether there is indeed “more beyond”

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You Were Made for a Mission (Matthew 18:1-20)

What is your purpose in life?  Do you know? The Bible says, your mission is to prepare for eternity.  Because life is a preparation for eternity.  You’re going to be doing four things in heaven forever and ever and ever.  And God wants you to practice those here on earth.  What are they?  First is worship, you were planned for God’s pleasure – to know and love God.  The second is fellowship, you were formed for God’s family – to learn to love each other.  The third is discipleship, you were created to become like Christ.  And the fourth is ministry, you were shaped for serving God. Now, once we have got those four down, we come to the fifth purpose, which is the only purpose you can only do on earth.  You were made for a mission.   In John 17, verse 18, Jesus said this – “In the same way that you gave Me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.”   In John 20:21, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  To do what? Please turn with me to Matthew 18 because we are going to answer three questions. What is our mission?  How do we fulfil our mission? And when will we complete our mission?

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