Category Archives: Sermons

Great Expectations: Jesus on High Demand Religion (Mark 8)

When our son Michael was 11, we had a difficult decision to make. Which secondary school would we choose? We didn’t have a lot of choice. There was Magna Carta in Egham or… Magna Carta.  And at the time it didn’t have the excellent reputation it has now. Our daughter Louise was leaving Charters school in Sunningdale that Summer so we could not benefit from the sibling rule. We decided to apply for Magna Carta, Charters and Ranelagh in Bracknell. Not surprisingly we were turned down for Charters and Ranelagh as we lived outside their normal catchment area. Moving house was not an option. So we appealed – we had nothing to loose.

We went to the appeals hearing at Ranelagh and discovered there were about 20-25 other families present also appealing. Having never done it before I didn’t know what to expect. Quite soon after the hearing began, the lady chairman asked the appeals panel, made up of several clergy, to retire to another room. I tried not to look at the other parents. I felt bad that we were competing with other families for a handful of places that might be granted on appeal. All would have good reasons for wanting to send their child to the school. After what seemed an age, the panel returned. The chairman made an announcement. The appeals had been upheld – all of them. The chairman closed the meeting. We were stunned. What had happened?

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How to Become a Contagious Christian (1 Peter 3)

I got a surprise call from the BBC recently. “Did I have a spirit of adventure? Could I think on my feet and cope without home comforts? Did I like a challenge? Was I willing to appear on their programme ‘Bare Necessities’? Two teams compete against each other to see who can survive in a remote location somewhere in the world for a week with only the bare essentials provided. Was I willing to join a team of three vicars competing against three bookmakers? Naturally. With God on our side it would be no contest. Could I participate at short notice? Did I have a passport? Could I go anywhere in the world? For an audience of 2 million, when do we start? Did I have any phobias? Real men don’t have phobias – at least we don’t admit them to strangers. Would I be prepared to eat anything? Yes with my eyes closed. Could I work in a team made up of strangers? Try me. The last question – Did I have one wish? ‘To see heaven on earth’ I heard myself say. The interview lasted half an hour. It felt a cert. I was in. They loved me. The delightful programme co-ordinator assured me she would come back to me in a few days. I put the phone down and began to prepare myself. 

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The Real Jesus I Never Knew

Before I was appointed vicar of Virginia Water, I attended an Alpha taster evening incognito. I sat next to a lady and we got talking. Then she asked me “What do you do for a living?” I replied “Guess”. Without batting an eyelid she said, “Well, you are either an estate agent, a vicar or an undertaker.” I replied, “How did you guess?”, She replied “Because I am married to one”. She was in fact a local vicar’s wife. J. John the evangelist has a better answer.

“I like to be a bit creative in telling people what I do. I sat next to this lady on an airplane at Heathrow airport and I said, ‘Hello’, and she said, ‘Hello’. Then I said to her, ‘Where are you going?’ and she said, ‘I’m going to Singapore’. And she said to me, ‘Where are you going?’ and I said, ‘I’m going to Australia’.  I said, ‘What do you do?’ and she told me; then she said to me, ‘What do you do?’ and I said, ‘Well….’ ‘… I work for a global enterprise.’ She said, ‘Do you?’ I said, ‘Yes I do.’ I said, ‘We’ve got outlets in nearly every country of the world.’ She said, ‘Have you?’ I said, ‘Yes we have.’ I said, ‘We’ve got hospitals and hospices and homeless shelters,’ I said, ‘We do marriage work, we’ve got orphanages, we’ve got feeding programmes, educational programmes.’ I said, ‘We do all sorts of justice and reconciliation things’. I said, ‘Basically, we look after people from birth to death, and we deal in the area of behavioural alteration.’ She went, ‘Wow!’ And it was so loud, loads of people turned round and looked at us. She said, ‘What’s it called?’ I said, ‘It’s called the church … have you not heard of it?’

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The Radical Call of Jesus (Mark 1:16-20)

Imagine. Imagine a church that is a welcoming and safe place where everyone feels loved, accepted and cared for. Imagine a church where doubters, seekers and believers feel welcome. Imagine a church of every age, race and colour, becoming one in Christ. Imagine a church of fully devoted, spiritual, Christ followers, passionate for an ever-deeper relationship with God. Imagine a church where the praise, worship and teaching are truly pleasing to God. Imagine uplifting services where the Bible teaching builds up the church family and equips members to live for Christ. Imagine a church impacting the lives of children, youth and students from all areas of the local community to become fully devoted followers of Christ. Imagine a church where everyone is fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit, exercising their God-given gifts in joyful and fulfilling service. Imagine a church family informed, inspired and eager to meet the needs of local, national and international mission. Imagine a church in which members are regularly being called into ministry, locally, nationally and internationally. Imagine being part of such a church. Imagine helping to build, to create such a church. Imagine. 

In my former parish of Virginia Water, our Vision was built on three words that summed up our purpose – Win – Build – Send. Evangelism, Discipleship and Mission. In our Bible reading from Mark 1, at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus said, “Come, follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Mark 1:17). Here the order is Build – Send – Win. That is because this is a cyclical mission strategy and so it doesn’t matter where we begin. And similarly where you are on your spiritual journey, there is a message here for you. Today we will discover the origins of the Christian ministry strategy. Evaluate your church or mission agency against that of Jesus.

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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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All Creatures of our God and King: Psalm 148

The Psalms have a unique place in scripture. They have been likened to a hymn book. But not just any old hymnbook. Whether we feel like worship or not, as we begin to recite the verses of the psalms, something begins to happen in our hearts. It is as if the saying of the words draws us in to praise. John Piper says, “Thanksgiving with the mouth stirs up thankfulness in the heart.”[1]

I don’t know about you, but I cannot read more than a few verses of Psalm 148 without wanting to sing the beautiful hymn “All Creatures of our God and King”. It was written by William Henry Draper, based on a poem by Francis of Assisi, and set to a tune composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  But as we sing, or say, the words of this psalm, I also confess that I smile at the absurd idea that somehow we human beings can instruct the angels, the sun and moon, the weather, the mountains, the seas, reptiles, birds and animals, to praise God. Why? Because the scriptures tell us this is something which they already do, naturally and instinctively, all the time. [2]  

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Jesus: The Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World (John 1)

“Since then your 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, in 1517, he sparked the Protestant Reformation right across Europe. On the 500th anniversary of that momentous event, in 2017, 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.”

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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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This Present Darkness is Never Darkness in Your Sight: Psalm 90

Fifty years ago this month, I began to have a sense of God’s call on my life. A few years later, I was humbled to be accepted for training for the Anglican ministry. But there was just one problem. I was terrified at the thought of having 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, my wife 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 personal 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)

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The Parable of the Good Samaritan Explained

The meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan explained. A short clip from the film With God on our Side produced by Porter Speakman and shared by permission. This is my shortest and most popular sermon.

I unpack the parable in more detail here On Being a Good Neighbour (Luke 10:25-37)

You may view the entire film on Youtube here.

With God On Our Side takes a look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that because the Jews are God’s chosen people, they have a divine right to the land of Israel. Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians, leading to great suffering among Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatening Israel’s security as a whole. Is there a Biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel? A way that doesn’t favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians?

Director: Porter Speakman Jr.