Monday, 30 January 2017

Sermon for Candlemas, 29 Jan 2017




Can you guess who I’m talking about? ‘They are becoming a strain on public services’, ‘they are guilty of bed- blocking’. Oh and by the way, ‘the church is full of them’!

It is true that we are becoming a nation of older people!

There are more people aged over 60 now in the UK than there are under 18 years old. Over half a million are over 90! My mother is among them – she was 90 just over a week ago.

So have we outgrown our usefulness? Are we just a nuisance? I include myself - as I’m one of the post war baby boomers that our government is so afraid is going to push our country’s resources over the edge.

The old in the Christmas story

This is very different from Jesus’ day when the average life span was 34. So the fact that there are there are some very old people in the scripture we’ve had read to us is intersting. In fact the whole Advent and Christmas story is about old people whom God expected to prepare for, and be changed by, something very new.

At the beginning of the story in Luke are an elderly couple – Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are given the task of bearing a child to herald the coming of Messiah – John the Baptist.

Then the Shepherds - they were not children in teatowels, not if it meant being out in the fields overnight.

The Wise Men would have been old, otherwise in their culture they would not have been called wise.

According to legend, Joseph was old. He certainly seems to have departed this life by the time Jesus is 30.

And lastly, at the conclusion of this season of Epiphany, we have our 2 elderly characters for today – Simeon and Anna.

So it seems God has not finished with us oldies yet! In fact we are to be “the midwives of the new thing God is doing” 1 , getting alongside the younger generation and enabling the birthing of what God wants to do next.

Simeon and Anna by Jan Van't Hoff


Let’s see if we can discover how these two old folks did that. First Simeon:

He was “righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” What does that mean? Well I’m sure it didn’t mean (put hands together and look pious!) It did not mean he was so religious he was no earthly good.

It’s a bit like this:

Simeon, I think, was the sort of man you wanted to be with, to hear talk about the God he prayed to, because his faith was infectious; he made your heart sing. Know some older people like that?

And then v 27 Simeon was sensitive to the Spirit. “Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came in to the Temple”. He was so used to saying when he woke up in the morning, “will it be today Lord that I’ll see what you’ve promised?” that he not only went to the Temple that day at the right time, but amongst the crowds of people who would be there, he spotted the ones God had chosen. When the parents brought in the child Jesus Simeon recognised him and took him in his arms.

What do you think was in his heart as he looked at that Child? Joy, gratitude, “at last”! And humility – in the opening words of his prayer you sense him saying: how could I have been the one to see this promise of the ages fulfilled? I can die happy now!

Simeon was also open-hearted to everyone. He didn’t see God’s plan as only for his own nation, the Jews. He saw the responsibility of God’s people to welcome the Gentiles – everyone else in the world; he saw that God loves all nations, all peoples, equally and that his Messiah who we know as Jesus, would open the gates of heaven to all.

Lastly, Simeon saw that living generously, open-heartedly like that would bring opposition from those who wanted to keep God for themselves. Those who were the religious elite would not take kindly to having their intensions and pretensions, their petty-mindedness and mean-spiritedness revealed. They would eventually crucify the One who lived like this. And this would mean immense suffering for his mother. Simeon saw it all and did not flinch from saying it as it was.

Are we older people like Simeon?

- the sort of people others want to be with, to hear talk about the God we pray to?
- the sort of people who are sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit so we go where he wants, when he wants?
- the sort of people who welcome everyone
- the sort of people who do not flinch at the suffering that comes as a result of following our Crucified Lord?


And then there’s Anna. We may not know Simeon’s age but we do know Anna’s. She was exceptionally old for that time in history, 84!

She’d been waiting a long time for God’s promise to Israel to be fulfilled. She wasn’t looking backward, she was looking forward to his redemption (v 38). It’s not clear whether, when it says ‘she never left the Temple’, it meant she lived there. Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem was a vast complex – maybe she did have a room there. But she didn’t spend time feeling sorry for herself in her old age.

This was one extraordinary woman. She not only prayed, but she fasted. She took prayer very seriously – you have to if you are prepared to fast as well. It’s not easy fasting, especially when you are older, but there are different ways of doing it.

I was talking to someone from another church, not in Morecambe, the other day and they are fasting for several weeks so that they can pray in a more concentrated way for their community.

It doesn’t mean for them that they abstain from food altogether, but they are eating more simply, and that is helping them listen for what God has called them to do at this time.

Another thing about Anna is that she talked to everybody she met about: “this Child”. She had learned while she spent time in the presence of God praying, to articulate her faith.

Many of us find that difficult – but as we get older and don’t care quite so much what other people think, perhaps we can spend more time in praying and thinking and reading about what aspects of the message will make sense to the people we know so that we can share it more meaningfully.


So let’s believe God has not finished with us oldies yet! We are called with Simeon and Anna to be ready, waiting, available, open to being the midwives of the new thing God is doing, enabling the birthing of what God wants to do next.

- Sue Kiernan


1 John Bell

2 Illustration taken from Frederick Buechner

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 2 - becoming disciples

Sermon for Epiphany 2

January 15, 2017.

John 1:29-41

When an organisation has been in existence for a long time, it’s easy for it to lose sight of its priorities – what it was set up to achieve. It can get so consumed by its day to day activities that it loses sight of what it is there for – the vision that created it.

Last Saturday some members of our church council met to reflect upon the vision for our church. Vision can be a hard word to get your head round – it’s like a slippery bar of soap to get hold of. What does it really mean, and how do you get a vision?

A friend of mine has a great definition for vision for organisations and groups. He says vision is the ability to remember the purpose of the work. What are we really here for, and how do our plans and ideas line up with that?

It’s a wonderful coincidence, therefore, that today’s passage is all about the fundamental purpose of the Church. You may remember that in Matthew 28, at the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. It’s the great mission statement for the whole church. And here in this passage at the start of his ministry, we see the first people become disciples.

But what is a disciple? Aren’t they specially qualified expert? Well, no they’re not. The word disciple means learner. A disciple is not a finished product. They are people who have decided to follow Jesus, to learn from him, and to get to know him better and that is a lifetime’s process. You and I, if we call ourselves Christians, are all disciples. That’s not being presumptuous, it’s saying that we don’t know it all, but we have decided to follow Jesus, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives learning what that means.

Now our passage naturally splits into two halves – the first half is about the one we follow, and the second half is about following.

The passage is packed with titles for Jesus – Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, Teacher, Messiah, Christ. There’s a lovely 35-40 minute sermon we could have on that, but I’ll spare you this morning! John the Baptist uses two crucial titles here, which explain why Jesus is a compelling person to follow, and why his command through the ages to us to help others to become disciples is worth attending to.

At the end of this first section (verses 29-34) John says Jesus is the Son of God – in other words, Jesus is unique. He is God entering our world, immersing himself in our experiences. Have you ever heard someone complain about politicians or perhaps the boss of a company, saying they don’t know what life’s really like:

“They’ve never done a proper day’s work”.
“They don’t know what it feels like to live here.”

What they’re saying is that the person hasn’t stood in our place, felt our pain, experienced our hardships, walked in our footsteps. John here is making the amazing statement that God is indeed doing that – he is standing in our place, feeling our pain, walking in our footsteps, because he has come in Jesus. And he knows Jesus is the Son of God, because he has witnessed the Holy Spirit descend upon him.

But at the beginning of this passage in verse 29, John said something else which is also amazing. Here is the Lamb of God. Lambs were slaughtered in the Jewish religion. At Passover it would have been on an industrial scale. Sacrificed lambs were either burned as sacrifices, or at Passover eaten as part of the sacred meal Jews share in their homes for that important festival. Either way, it is a reference to sacrifice. He’s saying that God through Jesus will go to any lengths, even suffering and death, to open up his love for us, to reassure us to our value to him, and to make his love known. Any lengths for us to become his friends.

Now I think that is a very compelling opening for any group of Christians to start thinking about vision.

Then in part 2 (verses 35-41) people actually become disciples. Now when people like me start talking about faith-sharing, or to use that big scary word evangelism, my hunch is that many of us here might want to opt out in our heads in some way. “I’m not academic”, “I’m not clever”, “I’m not outgoing”, “I’m not good with words”.

I’m not a gambling man – I’ve never even bought a National Lottery ticket, but I would bet that everyone here has a friend. Yes? I bet that at some point you have introduced someone to a friend. Bert, I’d like you to meet my friend Sid. Beryl, come and meet my friend Cynthia. And you get chatting. How long have you been friends? Where did you meet? Were you at school together, etc.

Look at this passage – it’s not in a religious building, and it’s not at a religious service or ceremony. No Temple, no synagogue, no church, no cathedral. John says – look here is the Lamb of God, and the two follow Jesus. Well it’s all right for John, he’s a bit special. But look further down. All Jesus does is ask them to come along to where he is staying and spend time with him. And one of them was Andrew. Now we know Andrew is just a fisherman – no theology degree, no clever words. All he does is go to his brother (Simon, who is renamed Peter, by the way) and brings him and introduces him to Jesus.

If any of us can introduce someone to a friend of ours, then we’re already most of the way there. Sharing our faith is simply introducing someone to a friend of ours – Jesus.

When I was a teenager, I wasn’t a natural churchgoer. I wasn’t interested in going to church for its own sake – although I know some people are for the music, or the social life. However in the youth group I went to, people introduced me to Jesus as a friend – by talking about their experiences, their answers to prayer, by grappling with the Bible stories about him, by sharing their questions, their struggles and their joys. I met people whose lives were informed by, inspired by, and shaped by the life and teaching of Jesus and that – He - excited me. They showed me uncommon generosity and hospitality, which surprised me and made me wonder why that was. That’s when I started attending church regularly, because I wanted to share fellowship with others who followed him, and learn alongside them. It wasn’t always easy (still isn’t!), but I knew I needed to be there. Someone had introduced me to their friend.

So, today’s reading asks us all firstly whether we are disciples. In other words, are we people who have decided to follow Jesus and who are engaged in a lifelong journey of learning about him, getting to know him better, and living lives inspired, informed and shaped by him. That’s quite personally challenging. And if we are, then we are called to introduce others to this person who has become so important for us.

And the test of any vision we might have for our own church community is that it serves these aims – does it help us to be disciples, and does it help others to become disciples. And if it does, it will change us, our church, our community, and possibly even the wider world.

Mike Peatman

Sermon from Christmas Morning 2016

MORECAMBE PARISH CHURCH     Christmas Day 2016

LUKE 2: 1 – 14

It would be hard to escape the images of Aleppo in the media this Christmas – even if we wanted to. And I think this tragedy which has unfolded before our eyes in Syria has a lot of connections with the Christmas story we’ve had read to us this morning and during the week.

1          People on the move
Firstly people on the move. Tens of thousands of Syrian civilians - men, women and children - with all their belongings on their backs or on carts, waiting for evacuation from the war-zone that Eastern Aleppo had become. Sleeping in the open in freezing temperatures, hungry, anxious and fearful.

It would have been very similar 2000 yrs ago though the scene is not usually depicted like that on Christmas cards. Joseph and his pregnant fiancĂ©e Mary would have been on the move with thousands of others, carrying all they needed for the long journey, jostled by the crowd, sleeping out in the open in the cold. Anxious that she didn’t deliver her child till they reached safety.

2          Tyrannical leaders
The second thing these different times in history have in common is tyrannical leaders. The Caesar at the time of Jesus’ birth, Augustus, and his Governor of Syria (note that!) Quirinius have rather a lot in common with the current President of Syria, Asad and the president of Russia, Mr Putin – the desire to dominate and subjugate,  caring little for the consequences of a decimated landscape and ruined lives.

3          The lack of welcome
Thirdly, what is striking in the Christmas story is still found in our world today – the lack of welcome to those in dire need.

In Joseph’s case, he found no room at the Inn. Whether you imagine that to be in an outhouse of a local hotel, like Ebenezer’s Inn at our Crib Service last night or, as was more likely, in the space under the house of relatives where the animals were kept warm and safe - because their guest room was full;  this couple of dubious morals were not made to feel welcome when Mary was about to give birth to her firstborn.

It is incredible to me that we haven’t allowed that story of un-welcome to pierce our consciences more. Instead, this year the political shifts in this country and the USA have been marked by so much suspicion and vilification, of the immigrant and refugee – the innocent victims of war. Have we forgotten that Jesus was a refugee in Egypt when he was about 2 years old?

4          Those who recognise God among us
If all that sounds a bit depressing on Christmas morning, it is; I make no apologies. We can only really celebrate Christmas, God come among us, if we see what he needed then, and needs now, to come into our world for.

There is light in the darkness, hope in these familiar stories.
There are always some of God’s children who are willing and ready to recognise God’s visitation.

The Shepherds – those at the bottom of the social pile in Jesus’ day - were the least likely in anybody’s mind to be visited by an angel choir and a display of the glory of the Lord! The description has echoes of the glory of God filling Solomon’s Temple 2000 years previously. And it’s happening again but this time out in the fields to these unprepared humble shepherds.

But the Shepherd’s didn’t just sit there and revel in the privilege of such a revelation, they got up off the ground and acted, moved, ‘went with haste to see for themselves’ what it was all about.

And we have seen action in the most dreadful situations over the last weeks and months in Eastern Aleppo. The White Helmets risking their lives to dig people from the rubble after yet another bomb blast. Doctors continuing to tend the wounded with virtually no medical equipment after all their hospitals have been destroyed. People of good will campaigning, urging our politicians to do all they can to broker peace, and many all over Europe and the UK, including Lancaster taking refugee asylum seekers into their homes.

Light, hope, action, peace - demonstrated in the lives of the most ordinary, in the most unexpected quarters – showing that God has come to live with us, to be with us in our mess. 

Let us set a place at the table of our hearts for a refugee this Christmas – it may turn out to be Jesus.

- Sue Kiernan