Travelling Heavy/Travelling Light

Friday was a travelling day. I had been waiting for this day for a while. I needed to travel ‘home’ to apply for new UK visa so that I can travel ‘home’ again. I hadn’t been able to travel until that day – at least to leave the country as my passport has been with the Home Office since the end of March albeit for one day this summer. This is unsettling! Anyone who has lived in a different country knows this feeling. A passport is the one document – the only document that can get you ‘home’. I always know exactly where it is, it is the one thing I would grab if my house were on fire. There is a degree of certainty, security in that little navy-blue book.

It was brought to me airside at Gatwick by a very nice lady from the Home Office. She sat with me for a bit as she handed it back.

The return has not made me feel better. I don’t have any more certainty or settled-ness. It wasn’t the magic moment I was hoping it would be. I am travelling heavy.

This thought burns up almost immediately. Am I really? I ask myself. My visa issues are of my own making. I didn’t read the instructions properly, I overlooked some key information. Innocent – okay. Costly – hugely. I am not ready to begin to count the cost of this innocent, yet dumb and preventable mistake.

I travel on.

I travel lightly.

I travel lightly because I am not travelling in mud and shit and horror of the Rohingya Muslims amassing along the Myanmar/Bangladesh border. I travelled lightly in the moderate comfort of West Jet flight 23 to Vancouver and then on to Calgary. I am not in a boat or being trafficked. I did wish the girl in front of me would have put her seat up a bit. Jesu Mercy. I did not get shot on the tarmac in Vancouver. My family was not going to be driven from their homes for associating with me.

I travel lightly because my biggest agro on Friday was deciding which shoes to bring, which warm coat would be best. I am not walking for days on end, I am not going to give birth in a puddle on the side of the road, I am not starving.

I forgot my earphones at home. A house that will be there when I get back. I went to Curry’s and bought a new pair with my credit card. Without blinking.  Apparently, I need small pieces of plastic jammed into my ears to block out the noise of the other people around me. Block out the noise in my head. Distract myself with inane ‘entertainment’.  Christe Mercy.

I travel lightly because I travel in peace. My dear Peggy gave me a pin this on Thursday…

It is a dove of peace according to her. She has had it for a long time but thought I could use it right now. I am to wear it while in Canada.

I travel peacefully if not lightly.

Philippians Message to Today’s Church

I decided to go off-Gospel today. St John the Baptist is a small church in North Slough with a wonderfully diverse congregation, 2 decrepit buildings, a Vicar off on long-term sick leave and a massive building project coming up that doesn’t have quite the money that it needs. I wanted to use Philippians to remind and encourage this congregation of God’s promise to complete the good works He starts and stand firm in their faith. It starts with a history lesson on the beginnings of the Philippians church in Acts 16 before moving into the actual letter.

St John the Baptist – 10:00 


Isaiah 5:1-7

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

I have decided to go in a slightly different direction this morning. You may have noticed over the last few weeks that the NT readings have all been from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We haven’t given them much attention other than in their reading. I thought it might be a good idea to have a closer look at the Letter to the Philippians and what it might be saying to St John the Baptist and its fine people this morning.

Philippi was a city in North Eastern Greece – (it was then part of  Macedonia and now a ruin) that was a Roman colony and a leading city because it was rich in gold and silver mines and had good soil. It was named after the father of Alexander the Great – Philip II of Macedon around 356 BC.

Paul along with Silas founded the church in Philippi around 52 AD and it was the very first European church plant. Paul felt called there after he dreamed of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to come and help them. The story of Paul’s first journey to Philippi is in Acts 16.

Philippi had a small Jewish population – we know it was small because there wasn’t a synagogue – but Paul found women praying by the river. One of the woman that he met was Lydia – the dealer in purple cloth who listened to what Paul had to say and believed. She had her entire family baptism and Paul stayed with them.

Paul then gets into trouble when he cast out the demon from the slave-girl that was following him and Silas around. They wind up getting severely flogged and sent to prison. Then the great story of them singing and praying when an earthquake struck which opened the prison doors and their shackles fell off. I wonder how many prisoners know this story and have tried to escape from jail using this tactic?!

The poor prison guard is about to kill himself as he thought all his charges had escaped. But they hadn’t! Paul tells the man not to hurt himself. The man asks what he needs to do to be saved – so Paul shares the Good News with him and he is saved and his family is baptized without delay we are told.

This in a nutshell is the beginnings of the church of Philippi. We see a diverse church!

St John the Baptist – you are in a strategic location in Manor Park, you have a vision for your new building and you have people. Like Philippi – you have resources. It may not feel like you have much but you do. The building project ahead of you may seem daunting – but there is help around you!

There are people out there who need you – maybe some Lydia’s that need something more in their lives beyond the material. Maybe some like the slave-girl that are possessed by the wrong things and needs to be set free. Maybe some like the prison guard who are overwhelmed by their jobs with families to support. People who need a church family that you are in the right location to provide.

Paul writes the letter to the Philippians about 10-11 years after his first visit. He likely made 2 or 3 more visits to Philippi during his travels. But now Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison – probably in Rome as he writes that his death may be imminent. Think about that for a moment – he could be writing some of the last words his church would ever receive from him.

I’m not sure if you have ever received a last word or letter from someone who is dying. My Dad wrote to my Mom and sisters and I before his death. We have hung on to those words and those pages! They are so precious.

These words would have been so precious to the Philippians. Paul clearly loves them – no other church gave Paul as much joy as Philippi did; he held them in a special place. This is a letter of thanksgiving and confident love. No other letter of Paul’s reads like this one does.

This is the letter that gave us:

‘I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’ (1:6)

‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (1:21)

‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility values others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:4)

‘Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purposes.’ (2:12-13)

‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him’. (3:7-8)

‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (3:12)

‘I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus’. (3:14)

**Read 4:4-9

These are some last words! But they are words to live and die by as Paul shows. Paul wants them to live a life worth living – a life that reflects the Gospel of Jesus.

The church at Philippi were facing three issues at the time Paul wrote to them.

Attacks on the Church – it appears that there was some pressure from the outside – maybe persecution or harassment from the neighbours. The Philippians will have to suffer for the Gospel Paul tells them. He also encourages them to stand firm and not be afraid of those who oppose them.

St John the Baptist – stand firm! Your pressure may come from planning permission, the neighbours who don’t want the construction noise/hassle, things running behind, money. But stand firm! God is with you in this!

Secondly – Paul was aware of tensions within the church. At the beginning of Ch 4 he names two women (Euodia & Syntyche) directly and pleads with them to get along. Something has happened between these two.

Paul does not take sides – which suggests it was not a theological dispute – rather he urges them both to take the initiative to reach an agreement and encourages those around them to help as well. He does not criticize but concentrates on their good points – they had helped him and their names were written in the Book of Life. Personality clashes happen – but they can cause damage and we need to be careful. I don’t know you well enough to know the different personalities here – so this is not directed at anyone. Just a friendly reminder!

Thirdly – Paul warns them about rival versions of the Gospel – ch 3. These ‘dog and evil workers’ are thought to be Jewish Christians who believed in Jesus as Messiah but insisted that proper Christians were circumcised and followed Jewish law.

This is what Paul had to loss to follow Jesus. All the old stuff that he had prided himself on doing and being was now the rubbish. Paul’s very self – he was the most Jewish of Jews! He had to lose it all to find Christ and gain the prize.

Keep your eyes on Jesus! He is the author and perfecter of our faith. The good work will be completed in you and in this church.

Stand firm on the word of God. Stand firm next to one another – bearing with each other, forgiving, loving each other. Stand firm in the knowledge and love of God. Finish the race well.




The Irreverent Reverend

I am not sure if I am ‘irreverent’ or not. I did not come up with this title for myself – as appropriate as it may seem at times. I am not sure if I am a ‘blogger’ or not either. I feel late to the game on that front. I don’t read other people’s blogs as a general rule. If I do it is because someone I respect or trust has suggested it via a social media platform – usually Facebook or Twitter (am a bit old school).

Irreverent means to have or show a lack of respect or seriousness for someone or something that is usually shown respect. I do not think that I show a lack of respect (at least I hope that I don’t!) very often to people or things or myself – so disagree with the title on that front.

Seriousness is another matter – I know that I am not always as serious as I could, should or need to be. Both outwardly and inwardly. I hold a lot of things loosely. This is not the same as to hold something or someone casually, carelessly or lightly. By loosely I mean to give space to, room to grow, change, morph. I appreciate a loose grip because I know that I am held tightly to God. Not a breath, cell or hair is unnoticed! I think I hold things loosely because I have been disappointed in people and things – some of these disappointments have cut deeply and left wounds (things left open) and scars (things that are now closed).

A loose hold allows these things to be taken away if needed. They may be returned or they might not be. A loose hold allows God to work. My tight holding has often suffocated and crushed that which I wanted (or thought I wanted). I also tend to take the wrong things far too seriously. Much to my shame and embarrassment a lot of the time.

Maybe I am irreverent then. But respectfully so. Less seriously but not unserious.

Seven Times Seventy

St John the Baptist Manor Park – 10:00

Genesis 50:15-21
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

I feel like I am going out on a limb this morning – preaching to a congregation I only met last week about the big F! That being forgiveness – of course.

I trust that this won’t be the first or last sermon you hear preached on forgiveness. I also hope that I have something new to offer. It is a tough subject. I am sure we all have stories – that we could share about times when we have needed to forgive or be forgiven. I would also venture to guess that we have stories that we don’t share about times and situations of forgiveness and unforgiveness.

It seems that the untold stories are that ones that often go unresolved. These are the stories that often come out around the deathbed and by then – let’s be honest – it is often too late to do anything about it.

Why do we let it get like that? Pride, needing to be right, needing to get one up on another? Not wanting to let whatever happened go – keeping the offending party on our hook for a little longer? Sadly – none of these apparent rewards live up to what we want them to be. They don’t satisfy!

Firstly, we need to think about what we think forgiveness is and is not. How do we define it? Secondly, what will be extending forgiveness to another – or – accepting forgiveness look like for us? What will change? What will life be like?

Forgiveness is an act of the will – that acknowledges that something negative, awful, traumatic and damaging happened but that it will not rule our lives. We take the power out of the event.

It is not in any way saying that what happened was okay or acceptable. Forgiveness does not mean that we have to continue a relationship with the person/people who caused the event. We don’t have to trust them again.

In the Genesis and Matthew readings this morning we see something of the power of forgiveness and unforgiveness. I am starting this morning with Joseph’s story which begins in Genesis 37 when his family settles in the land of Canaan.

The story of Joseph is a remarkable one. Joseph was the first-born son of Jacob and Rachel but was not the first born of all Jacob’s sons. Joseph was however, the favourite son of Jacob – he was 17 years old and rather arrogant.

Joseph was a tattle-tale and generally disliked by his brothers. That is a lot of dislike as there were 11 of them! Jacob gave Joseph a special robe which indicated his special place.

Joseph had arrogant dreams – he told his brothers his dream about them all being sheaves of wheat – his sheaf rose above all the others while the other sheaves (representing the brothers) bowed down to his sheaf. Wheat becomes important in the story of Joseph and his brothers later on of course.

Anyway – the brothers decide that they want to kill Joseph but they end up selling him to some traders instead. They told their father that Joseph has been killed by wild animals. Joseph was sold on and ended up in the household of Potiphar – one of Pharaoh’s officials.

Joseph becomes a successful man – the Lord was with him. He rose through the ranks of Pharaoh’s household – runs into some trouble with the bosses’ wife, goes to jail but then gets released when Pharaoh needs his troubling dreams interpreted. This leads to him getting a big promotion – all buy the age of 30!

Time goes on – a famine comes to Canaan but Egypt has grain to sell. Jacob sends Joseph’s brothers to buy grain. They run into Joseph but don’t recognise him. But Joseph knows them! He doesn’t tell them at first but makes them wait! But Joseph finally introduces himself to them and reassures the brothers that he will look after them. He gives them food and livestock so that none of them will starve. Joseph gets to see his father Jacob again – big reunion.

We pick up the final story of Joseph in the last chapter of Genesis. Jacob has died and the brothers are nervous about what might happen next. They are not sure what Joseph will do to them. All through the story of Joseph is the tension between him and his brothers. The fighting, jealousy, the arrogance and finally the brothers do something that frankly seems unforgiveable.

There is still tension because the brothers had not yet asked for forgiveness from Joseph; they are anxious. The brothers admit they have wronged Joseph and go to him.

Joseph’s response is amazing – Do not be afraid! Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it for good. I will provide for you and your little ones. He spoke kindly to them, he reassured them.

Can you picture how those brothers must have felt at those words? Oh the relief that comes when we are let off the hook! It is physical sometimes!

Now I know – and you probably do to – that this seemingly ideal model of asking for and receiving forgiveness might not happen in real life! But we will still have to do it. We have to ask for forgiveness if/when we have wronged someone else. We also have to extended forgiveness to those who need it from us. This can be a slow process! We may have to remind ourselves over and over again.

This is what Peter wants clarified in the Matthew reading. Jesus has taught the disciples about forgiveness when he taught them how to pray.

What Peter wants to know is how this works out practically – what is the limit? The Jewish rabbis were teaching that forgiving someone 3 times for the same sin was good enough. Peter thinks that by offering 7 he is doing better. 7 being the number of fulfilment or perfection.

Jesus’ reply is much greater than that – Jesus tells Peter and us that there is no limit to forgiveness. It is something that we are always going to have to do! As long as human beings exist together in community, in families – forgiveness is a cornerstone to good relationships.

The parable that Jesus goes on to tell about the king and his servants is to underline what Jesus has just said about unrestricted, unlimited forgiveness.

The first servant who sees the king has massive debt – in today’s money it would be billions of pounds. It is also totally beyond what he could ever pay back. The king was within his rights to order the man, his family and possessions to be sold to pay it off – even though it wouldn’t cover it.
The man falls on his face – asks for mercy even though he knows he can never pay it off.

The king is moved by this – and decides to forgive him the debt. The king was moved with compassion – the only other times this word is used in Matthew is in relation to Jesus. This king showed the compassion of Jesus. This is a show of the unlimited grace of God.

Unfortunately for the newly forgiven servant the story doesn’t end here! He very quickly forgets what he has been released from as he encounters his fellow slave who owes him much less. About 600,000 times less!

The fellow servant pleads in the very same way that the servant had pled with the king but for a much smaller debt. But the responses were entirely different. This gets back to the king and he reverses his decision and the servant is thrown into prison. He will be there forever.

God’s forgiveness is of a person must be reflected in that person’s forgiveness of others. As we will pray in the Lord’s Prayer shortly – forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Disciples are to act in mercy, forgiveness and love – act towards others as God has acted towards them.

There are consequences if we don’t – our forgiveness can be revoked! This is scary stuff. We will be treated as we treat others. This is why we have to love our neighbours, forgive our neighbours as ourselves. I need God’s forgiveness – a lot. I need to forgive and be forgiven.

This is not easy – I am not trying to make light of that or suggest that it can happen in the blink of an eye. It can take a long time – but if we can hold to and remember the unlimited grace of God – we can do it.

Let him help you! The prison of unforgiveness is not a place you want to be in. Joseph freed his brothers from the prison of their anxiety and worry. Not only that – he looked after them, cared for them and their families. The king and the servants shows us what happens if we don’t free others.

Jesus has all the love, grace and mercy we will ever need – we can use his when we don’t have enough of our own. Forgiveness comes at a high price – but ultimately a price paid for by Jesus.