Commemoration Service for the life of HM Queen Elizabeth II

St Mary’s Hambleden
September 11, 2022

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
Psalm 121
1 Corinthians 4:16-5:4
John 6:35-40

We come together today to recognise that this is a time of great change and historical significance in our country and around the world. The news has constant commentary. Many people carry grief which events like this bring to the fore. There is fresh grief as we mourn the death of a beloved and faithful Queen. There is joy at the proclamation and accession of our new King.

Where do we go with this? It can be difficult to find time to reflect on all that has happened in only a few days. Not many people seem to know the rules of modern day mourning (if there are any); we are not sure about what is appropriate to do or not do.

A priest posted on a Facebook group to which we belong, about popping into the village bank on Friday afternoon. A man confronted him and shouted, ‘why aren’t you in the church?! The Queen has died!’ The priest engaged in a conversation with the man about the events of the past day. It turns out the man was also upset that the village hall had cancelled bingo that evening.

My prayer is that this morning we can come together to lament the sadness of her death and remember with gratitude all that she was to so many. Also start to get our balance back! The readings were suggested by the Church of England for today. Each of them have the common threads of: time, being lost, life changing and God’s faithfulness.

Time Moves On

It is still less than 72 hours since The Queen’s death was announced. Really it is. Thinking back to Thursday feels like years ago. Everything seems to be happening so fast; keeping in mind that we are mostly spectators to the events going on in Scotland and London. It is difficult to fathom what is happening in the eye of the storm and how those in the inner circle are actually feeling. Yet the plans for this time and event have been in the works for years, if not decades.

Time moves on and so do we. It feels like it is moving fast but there are no more minutes or hours in a day then there was on Wednesday. Lamentations, Psalm 121, and 2nd Corinthians each speak of time changing. God’s mercies are new every morning. God is watching over us day and night, Our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

When someone we love dies it is normal to want the world and everything to stop. To sit still for just a moment. I am not convinced that time heals all wounds. Healing often requires rest and sitting still. This is not what time does! Time waits for no man and no Queen. Even in the deepest grief, God is watching over us and we are changing. Go slowly if you need to but keep moving.

Even if we feel lost, God is not

Sometimes we do move in the wrong direction and can get lost; physically, spiritually, emotionally. Despite all the protocol, instructions and the immaculate planning of Operation London Bridge we still feel adrift in all of this. Again, very easy to do in the midst of grief and uncertainty. Many people have been surprised at the emotion that has surfaced in the last three days.

The pilgrim in Psalm 121 is having a hard time; he is far from home. Likely travelling to Jerusalem for a major feast. This should be a time of celebration with family and friends. Instead he has found himself in the physical and metaphorical wilderness. He has not given up though. He does some very sensible things: he stops, he looks up and rediscovers that his help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Chin up! It takes all of two verses for this realisation. The pilgrim then spends the next six verses reassuring his fellow pilgrims that God is with them too! He changes from my to your.

In 2000, The Queen decided to speak more about her personal faith in her Christmas Messages and she has ever since. That year she said, “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life”.

I am bold enough to say that this is the greatest gift that she left us. This is what likely underpinned her life and gave her the strength, grace and fortitude to do all that she did. So when the changes and chances of her life came, she was on solid ground.

Life changes but God’s love is steadfast

Change has come quickly in line with protocols and in some ways it feels cold-hearted. Not only here but in the colonies as well. My sister, a lawyer in Calgary, told me of her utter shock at turning up at the Court of King’s Bench on Friday morning! Wait – what?! Never have pronouns changed so rapidly. Do you remember the last time you sang God Save the Queen? I am glad that I did not know it would be the last time but I am now saddened that we won’t.

Her Majesty was our rock, she has been described by multitudes of people as a constant in their lives. Her consistency runs through the multitude of interviews like a golden thread. It is true that she was the only monarch that many people have ever known.

Her image has been on millions if not billions of coins, bank notes and stamps; her portraits hung in government buildings the world over. She had the wonderful gift of making people feel seen and heard. She was there when we needed her. At home with us on Christmas Day, at the races, on the balcony, on the telly during Covid when we needed her non-anxious presence and messages of peace. She loved us and we love her.

However, she was a rock that was temporary. As we all are. In the words of The Committal, ‘For he knows of what we are made; he remembers that we are but dust. Our days are like the grass; we flourish like the flowers of the field…’ We want people to last though; at least longer than us. Looking in the mirror every morning, this earthly tent, is not the material of eternity.

Paul is talking about our home in heaven that is permanent; not a flimsy, fleshy tent that we walk around in now. Do not lose heart, Paul says at the beginning of 2 Corinthians, even though it is all changing, we are being renewed day by day. Better things are ahead, eternity in heaven. This takes some imagination but much better than holding the notion that there is nothing beyond this life.

God is Faithful in all things

How do we know that there is more beyond this life? God is faithful in all things. Lamentation speaks of the steadfast love of the Lord never ceasing, his mercies are new every morning. There is a quality to this love, it is not fleeting or fickle. John’s Gospel speaks of the long-term will of God that all should be raised up on the last day. God is faithful. When we stand on and in the faithfulness of God, we can love fully and be fully loved.

We are overwhelmed with commentary from the news channels and social media. Many pundits are getting their day! I am not sure if that makes it better or worse? It is at least distracting. However much we watch it, it will not sustain us ultimately. Only Jesus can do that; I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Much of the commentary is about her virtue and seemingly endless capability in the role of monarch, the influence of her parents and sister, and her marriage to Prince Phillip. All very good and great things. Ultimately though it was her faith that sustained her. She was faithful to us because God was faithful to her and she was faithful to God.

I am going to end with some borrowed words from my friend and former tutor, the Revd Dr Michael LLoyd…

Her whole life was characterised by unfussy, unflashy, unfailing faithfulness. Her whole life pointed in the same direction, and therefore had integrity and impact. It also made her a reassuring symbol of reliability and dependability. Her Majesty prayed this prayer as she prepared for her Coronation:

Into thy hands, O Lord, we commend ourselves. Be with us in our going out and our coming in. Strengthen us for the work that thou has given us to do. Defend us with thy heavenly grace, that we may continue thine for ever and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until we come to thy everlasting Kingdom; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

She has now come to the Kingdom. We give thanks for her, we mourn with the Royal Family in their grief, and we pray for our new King, that he, too, may have God’s help in all that lies ahead.

God Saved the Queen.
God Save the King.
God Bless You.

Trinity 10: The Rules According to Jesus

Barbara Schwarz, OP. Dominican Sisters of Amityville

Trinity 10/Proper 16

Isaiah 58:9-14
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Why do you come to church?
What answer would you give to that question if asked by someone who is not a Christian?
Maybe this is a difficult question to answer.

I was asked this question many years ago by a friend and I struggled to come up with an answer. I was very involved in the church I was going to; I was feeling like a ‘good’ Christian. Yet I did not have a clear answer on why I went to church. It didn’t help that she prefaced her question with the wry observation that ‘I didn’t seem the church-going type.’ The answer to be revealed later!

This is something to give thought to in light of the Gospel reading this morning as it takes place in a synagogue on the Sabbath. The Christian equivalent of church on a Sunday morning! We have three main characters: Jesus, the synagogue leader and the crippled woman. All in church on a Sunday morning. This is also the third story in Luke’s Gospel featuring Jesus healing someone in a synagogue on the Sabbath and causing problems with the leaders.

Firstly we need to understand the rules. The preface in the weekly email yesterday asked if you were a rule breaker or a rule keeper. The Jewish faith had very strict rules about the Sabbath going all the way back to Genesis when ‘God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.’

Sabbath rest was a solemn obligation, to set aside the day for rest from work. Its importance is shown as this is one of the Ten Commandments, so serious that to break it was considered a capital offence. There is, however, very little explanation about what is meant by ‘no work’ on the Sabbath. The only specific things in the OT were that fires could not be lit, sticks for the fire could not be gathered and the Israelites could not collect any manna. Sabbath was meant to mark and celebrate the relationship with God but how this worked out in practice was fairly open.

By the time of Jesus, many centuries later, the Sabbath was still very important although many rules had been made up over time. Different groups had different rules about what could and could not be done. How far you could travel, soldiers could not carry weapons, food had to be prepared the day before, no water could be fetched, no sex. It had also become customary to meet in the synagogue for corporate prayer, reading of Scripture and instruction. Church!

Jesus abided by the rules of both the Sabbath and his culture. He attended synagogue services and was allowed to teach there. But Jesus did not always behave himself in church! I am not sure what your reaction is to the people you feel do not behave themselves in church! We like our rules, our particular seats, hymns, people – the list goes on.

What has Jesus done? In this case – Jesus heals the woman who is bent over double in the synagogue and on the Sabbath.

Let’s look at the reactions of the other 2 main characters:

Synagogue leader: upset! Jesus is not behaving. He is breaking the rules. The leader’s idea of the synagogue does not involve God or people. Just rules.

The Isaiah reading reminds us that the point of the Sabbath is to change your daily focus. Jane Williams writes ‘without a day on which you remember what you are for, and who your God is, you can just get into the habit of thinking only of yourself and your own needs. Isaiah sees the sabbath as a day that turns you back to God and so away from yourself and towards others.’

The leader’s argument is that Jesus has broken the Sabbath by healing the woman bent double. This was not an emergency or life-threatening. He is a leader unconcerned for the needs of his congregation. Come back at a more convenient time; there are six other days in the week for this sort of thing.

Why did the synagogue leader go to the synagogue? Duty? Tradition? Maintain the rules?

The Woman. Why did she go to the synagogue that day? Was she a regular? She would have been a social outcast, on the margins. Did she have a family? Her condition was likely seen by others as a result of her sin. We are given the specifics of her condition; bent over double. No NHS. Was it painful? Who helped her? Did she have friends? Always find these people fascinating when you stop to consider their circumstances.

The rabbi and leader would not have had much to do with her as they did not associate with women. Maybe she had some expectations when she went to the synagogue? Something would happen – would she be healed? Made better? Well that Sabbath she was. She walked into the synagogue, not seen by the leaders, bent over double like every day for 18 years. But she walked out straightened up.

Jesus saw her. Jesus took the initiative and with a word and a touch she was healed. This is amazing stuff!

And the synagogue leader is upset.

Jesus has a word for him too!

It was hypocritical for the leader to deny the woman what he would have done for a donkey. The rules that the synagogue leader lived by demanded that compassion be shown to animals in distress including on the Sabbath. Jesus highlights that his priorities were wrong.

This Gospel story reminds us that we can get it wrong. We can miss the point of coming to church. If we make it more about rules and regulations than about the wholeness and abundant life in and with Christ. We become like the synagogue leader; protecting our religious systems as we like them and want them. Yet we are also like the woman with the bent back. Weighed down by the worries of the world and our own situations.

We all need Christ to straighten us up! To release us, unburden us.

So – why do you come to church?

What is our expectation level of Jesus?
Do we expect him to show up?
Do we leave room in our religion to let him in?
When I was unable to answer that question, another, cleverer friend came to my rescue. She said that she went to church to be challenged in her relationship with God.

That was the answer I was looking for and have hung on to.

We would all be (I hope) greatly challenged if Jesus walked through the door and performed some healing this morning. Wouldn’t you?

I go to church to be challenged in my relationship with God.

We need to be regularly straightened up about a few things. We need a challenge and this should come through the musical worship, the words, the readings, the prayers, the preaching (I hope I am doing that for you!). We can, of course, be challenged through our relationships with other people.

Church does not exist apart from God and other people. Sometimes our interpretation of the rules needs to be challenged. Let us pray we do not lose sight of that.

Trinity 9: Run the Race

Proper 15

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

I have said a few times in my last few sermons that we are in a season of teaching as we hear again the parables and stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.
This was all well and good with me until I read this week’s readings. All this talk of fire, hammers, torture, unfulfilled promises, division, superficiality, uncertainty! It’s August, it’s supposed to be summertime and living is easy!

Fortunately I came across a story about the great composer Beethoven and a trick he used to sometimes play on polite salon audiences that weren’t really interested in serious music. Beethoven would perform one of his pieces on the piano, usually a slow movement which would be so gentle and beautiful that everyone would be lulled into thinking that the world was a soft, cosy place, where the audience would relax into semi-slumber and think beautiful thoughts.

Then, just as the final notes were dying away, Beethoven would bring his whole forearm down with a crash across the keyboard and laugh at the shock he gave to the assembled company. I think that we have something of the shock of the crash in the readings this morning.

“Many great heroes of the faith,” writes the author of Hebrews, died gruesome deaths, but “did not receive what was promised.” “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I came to bring division!” Jesus cries as he makes his way towards Jerusalem and death.

Maybe we need a reminder in this summer season that a real Christian faith is not one that is soft or easy, without cost. Maybe a reminder that peace comes with a price and how easily we can misread the signs.

There are a few phrases that I want to highlight from the readings this week and what they might have to say to us:

Run with perseverance the race that is set before us

Hebrews chapter eleven is often called the “Faith Hall of Fame,” since it highlights the remarkable lives and achievements of those who lived “by faith” in the Old Testament. Indeed, the achievements of these faith-filled men and women are awe-inspiring.

During their lifetimes, they “administered justice,” “shut the mouths of lions,” “quenched raging fire,” “won strength out of weakness,” and “received their dead by resurrection.” How much more impressive can you get? Yet maybe they feel distant, the persecution they faced as unrealistic to us now and their actions are ancient history; not practical to today. The lions we face are likely to be metaphorical and the foreign armies are over there, somewhere.

There are other things on the list, administration of justice and obtaining promises. If you caught any news this week, maybe you saw 7 year old Tony Hudgell at Downing Street to receive his Shining Light award. Tony was abused by his birth parents, resulting in the amputation of both his legs as an infant. His adoptive parents have fought for Tony’s Law to increase the length of sentences on those who abuse children. They fought for justice and obtained promises with perseverance and love for Tony. Heroic.

What is the race set before us? Whatever it is – physical, social, psychological or spiritual, look to Jesus. The author and perfecter of our faith. We do not have to have a photo finish, Jesus will meet us where we are.

“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised.”

The “Hall of Fame” has a dark side to triumph and victory. Many of God’s faithful were tortured, flogged, mocked, and stoned to death. Many went about “destitute, persecuted, and tormented.”

Many spent their lives wandering in deserts and mountains, in caves and holes in the ground. And all of them — all of them – died without receiving what was promised to them.

What does this mean? Well, among other things, it means that God’s timing doesn’t always align with ours. It means that crises of absurdity, meaninglessness, pain, and horror are part and parcel of human existence, regardless of whether we profess faith in God or not.

It means that we Christians need to be clear and honest about the faith we profess. Yes, there is joy in the Christian life. Yes, there is beauty. Yes, there is the promise of love, wholeness, healing, and grace. But the life of faith is also hard and risky. The life of faith does not ever guarantee us health, wealth, prosperity, or safety. To suggest otherwise is to lie, and to make a mockery of the Gospel.

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? NO, I tell you, but rather division!’

The Gospel of Luke begins with the proclamation that Jesus will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” At Jesus’s birth, an angelic choir sings “Peace on earth!” On numerous occasions during his ministry, Jesus offers men and women words of peace: “Go in peace and sin no more.” “Peace I leave with you.” “My peace I give you.” “I have told you these things, so that in me you might have peace.”

Many of us, following Jesus’s example, “share the peace” with each other every Sunday morning: “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” “And also with you.” We assume — the vast majority of us, anyway — that ours is a religion of peace. Of peace-making, peace-loving, and peacekeeping.

It’s not Jesus’s desire or purpose to set fathers against sons or mothers against daughters. It’s certainly not his will that we stir up conflict for conflict’s sake or use his words to justify violence or war. Yet his words are a necessary reminder that the peace Jesus offers us is not the fake peace of denial, dishonesty, and harmful accommodation.

His is a kind of deep, life-changing peace that doesn’t hesitate to break in order to mend and cut in order to heal. Jesus will name realities we don’t want named.
He will expose the lies we tell ourselves out of cowardice, laziness, or stubbornness. He will disrupt all dynamics in our relationships with ourselves and with each other that keep us from wholeness and holiness.
This is not because Jesus wants us to suffer. It’s because he knows that real peace is worth fighting for.

In the gospel Jesus forced choices from just about everyone he met during his years of ministry. No one met him without feeling compelled to change. He consistently brought people to the point of crisis, tension, movement, or transformation. He consistently led people to decisions their families and communities didn’t understand. And he still does. When Jesus speaks of divisions in households, he is talking about the division that his message will bring. Families will split up over it, the OT prophets spoke about this happening too.

Jesus did come to bring peace and wants everyone to put their faith in him. The reminder is that this is not easy or to be undertaken lightly. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on so we can run with perseverance. We have been set examples in the heroes of the faith and our modern heroes like the Hudgell family.

Like Beethoven’s arm coming down on the keyboard and shocking his polite audience, let’s let the words of the readings this morning grab our attention again.

Trinity 6: Ask, Seek, Knock


Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

School is finally out for summer! Yeah for the teachers, parents and children! However, in church this is very much a teaching season as we look once again at the familiar gospel readings and parables of Jesus.

The set readings have had us spend the last three weeks in Luke 10; it started with Jesus sending out the 70 ahead of him to find labourers for the harvest. Next, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan and challenges us on who is actually our neighbour and how loving we truly are. Luke 10 ends with the story of Martha and Mary, the great lesson in the balancing of work and activity with the need to sit and listen at Jesus’ feet. These stories give examples of the activity and associated instructions needed to spread the kingdom and show the love of God.

The start of Luke 11 takes us deeper into spending time with God; as it starts with Jesus at prayer. There is obviously a quality about this prayer that attracts the disciples and makes them want to learn. They would have seen Jesus pray many times before. One of the disciples is brave enough to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.

Jesus’ gracious response is to teach them a prayer which we should recognize as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches the disciples to talk to God and to bring the whole mess and muddle of our lives, the mundane, the exciting, the big and small, to God.

That is what prayer, at its heart, is: talking to God. Talking. Not begging, pleading, negotiating, bargaining, hiding, pretending all is well when it is not. We have been shown work and activity, sitting and listening, and now we have a guide for talking to God.

Who taught or told you to pray? I remember as little girls, my sister and I being taught to pray by our Nana and our parents. The first prayer that we learned was the classic 18th century children’s prayer – ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’.

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
If in the morning light I wake
Lay down my feet
That I my take the path of love
for thy dear sake

God Bless Mommy, Daddy, Susie, Jenny, etc.
And it always ended with ‘God bless all the little children in the world. Amen.’

I realise that this is a combination of the many versions (thanks to Google) but this is the one that I know. Recently my younger sister admitted that this is still her ‘default prayer’. She taught it to her three children and she still prays it on a regular basis before she goes to bed. She also prays it before she walks into the courtroom in her job as a lawyer.

For many of us, the Lord’s Prayer might be our default prayer. Much like ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’, the wording can be different and we can use it at different times. My version of the Lord’s Prayer is said with ‘thy’ and ‘thine’ and ‘trespasses’ not sins. Again, family influence comes into play: my Mom’s upbringing on the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer and my Dad’s love of the King James’ Bible.

However, it is really not about the words we use. The language of the Lord’s Prayer is simple and intimate; it affirms the fatherhood of God; we are cared for as his children; we are reminded that God is holy and we must reflect this in our words and worship; and it ends with addressing our physical, spiritual and safety needs. The simplicity of the wording makes it easy to slide in our own needs and requests as there is a space for every plea, cry and desire; without need of particularly eloquent language.

It is talking to God and bringing our concerns, which I may remind you, He already fully knows about. You are not fooling Him by withholding! I often think that God uses our prayers to bring needs and issues to our attention.

The second point I would like to briefly make is around persistence in prayer. I have always found the ‘Parable of the Friend at Night’ in verses 5-8 a bit annoying. Just get up and give him a loaf of bread. Jesus uses this story of the irritating friend to get the disciples to see prayer as something basic, day-to-day. Prayer does not need to be carefully sanitised. Nor do we have to worry about bringing to God only what we think he will accept. Back to: God already knows.

Prayer can come with a great sense of frustration. Has this been true in my own prayer life and in the situations that have required persistence? There is always ‘work in the wait’ and a sweetness to both the prayers that have been answered through persistence and those that still await an answer. As uncomfortable as it may be – we are to persist.

Jesus is encouraging the disciples to bombard God with requests, tell him everything, talk constantly to him, involve him in every part of life. We are not to limit God and prayer to Sunday mornings in a particular pew with particular words. The more we bother God, the more we learn about him and the more we learn about ourselves in relation to God.

Why do we need to bother God?

In verse 9, ‘so I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’

These verses are not about the prayers we pray for the stuff, the answers, the problems that we want God to respond to. Many people feel misled by God when they read these verses and then ask God to heal their loved one dying of _____ (and nothing short of that), or for a million dollars or a million other things.

When these prayers are not answered in the way that is expected, it is all God’s fault. They then give up on God or turn away from faith as they have created a vision of God as a genie in the sky waiting to grant wishes. Their view of God is fundamentally flawed.

The asking, seeking, knocking that Jesus is talking about is in relation to pursuing God, talking to God, learning more about God and who we are in relation to Him. It is about seeking God’s will and not solely our convenience.

Ask for God to come into your life and He will be given to you.
Search for God and you will find Him.
Knock on the door of heaven and it will be opened for you.

Paul, in Colossians, is imploring that young community to live their lives in Christ. Stay rooted and grounded to be built up and get established. We all have needs, wants, struggles and desires, both secretly and publicly, in all areas of our lives that we (I hope) would want God to be our ever present help in trouble.

Paul goes on to warn them of all the empty deceit happening around them. That hasn’t changed! There is so much deceit and empty philosophy in the world today and it is so attractive. Ultimately it will fail. Jesus is the only one who will ever fill us. We can be alive together with him.

Finally, Luke reminds us that our Father in heaven will give us good gifts, more than we can ask or imagine. It is all for the asking.

How is your prayer life at the moment? Do you?
How is it going? Need a change or boost?

If not – why not?

Do you want to do anything about it?
Maybe you need to want to want to do something about it!

Talk to God. It is not eloquent or fancy, not just an activity for Sunday.

I am going to leave some space for a few minutes to do just that. You are not bound to your seats – get up. For some people sitting on a hard pew is not conducive to prayers. Light a candle at the back. Kneel if you’ve got the knees for it.

Trinity 2: The Fruitful Battle

Trinity 2/Proper 8

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

I have repeated myself over the last few weeks that we are now in a season of teaching. We celebrated Pentecost (the sending of the Holy Spirit) along with the Queen’s Jubilee at the beginning of June. This morning, in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians we see what it is to be led and to live in the Spirit.

The first thing to say is that it is really difficult! We are constantly in a battle between good and evil, right and wrong, moving forward and looking back.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians (in modern day Turkey) he is addressing many of the questions of the early church and like many of his other letters, he includes lists of things to be avoided. He is telling the Galatians basically to work against their natural desires, to not gratify themselves with the fleshy things of this world. The list in Galatians 5 is rather extensive: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness and carousing.

Without making too much eye contact, it can be assumed that many of us here today have done some/many of the things on this list. Some of these things are against our own physical body and some are against the bodies and wills of other other people. None of these are ideals that we should be striving for. Paul is calling the Galatians and us to a different standard of living.

Paul is also clear that it is an ongoing battle for which we need help. There is a better way and that is the way of the Spirit. This is not about following more rules or just behaving ourselves. Jesus came to bring freedom and not slavery.

To have freedom in Christ, means that we are not bound to old ways, however comfortable they might be. Paul’s list is negative and depressing; none of those things bring life and love. The fix is always temporary. A life lived in the Spirit is enriching, nourishing. It does not have time for the petty and temporary gratification that the world offers. Part of our problem is that we try to balance the Spirit and the flesh; we try to make them work together. It is impossible because they are opposites.

To live by the flesh it to satisfy the self first, be inward looking. Living by Spirit means that we look outward first, to the needs of those around us. It is a continual battle to put the needs of another first, especially if they are not in our family or tribe.

It is slow work. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is the supernatural outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit and the living proof that the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is one fruit with nine different qualities. Think for a moment about your favourite kinds of fruit.

Imagine one, incredibly perfect fruit that combines all the best characteristics of your favourite kinds of fruit. Maybe a seedless fruit like a banana, nice and crisp like an apple, bursting with the flavours of strawberry and nectarine, the tang of pineapple and raspberry. You get the idea. God is developing a fruit in all his children. The fruit that has characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

Who does not need any more of these in their lives right now?! Could you be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, faithful. These are lifelong work friends. The more we grow and develop, the freer we become. Freedom always comes with a cost though. It means we cannot go backwards.

The reading from Luke’s Gospel is harsh and uncomfortable; it sets out the call to look ahead. This is not a friendly version of Jesus. He is hard, unyielding, his face is set to go to Jerusalem, to his death. He is impatient, inconvenient, intense, confusing.

First, Jesus is offering rejection and forbearance. The Samaritan villagers did not receive Jesus, he was ready to heal, teach, spend time with them but they refused. This rejection angered John and James and their reaction was to burn the place to the ground! Jesus took his would-be fire-starters to task over their offer. The lesson here is: how in danger are we of leading with anger rather than love the people we disagree with?

A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook that said: Survival Tip: If you get lost in the woods, start talking about politics and someone will show up to argue with you. Arguing our opinions is a way of life. Everyone is sharing opinions. Why do we get worked up over perfect strangers and their opinions?! Does it matter? Really??

People get so worked up over the opinions of others over things that don’t really matter! Let’s get worked up over things that matter. Humans that are dying in the world! Injustice and hate and racism! Famine in Africa. War in Ukraine. Cost of living. Strikes. It happened then and it happens now.
Are we letting resentment over-take kindness when our feelings get hurt or egos bruised? The call here is to bring life and not death even to those who reject and insult us.

Second, Jesus is selling inconvenience and hardship. I don’t think that person who offered to follow Jesus wherever he was going really had any idea what was meant! Jesus’ reply about foxes having holes and birds having nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. What is he saying?

One reading is that Jesus was homeless. Inconvenient. He travelled around, no mention of a home address. This is more an advertisement for inconvenience, there is no promise of the fat bank account, easy life, nice things. Jesus instead offered a reprioritization of possessions, finance and geography, a dependence on the kindness and generosity of others.

In the final encounter, Jesus again seems rather harsh towards a chap who wants to say goodbye to his family. As someone who has to say goodbye to her family frequently – I don’t like this! This, I think, is about hesitation. We can always find an excuse not to do something.

There is an urgency to the Gospel message that we sometimes forget. I think that we like to think we have more time and control than we actually do! The time is now, not later.

Where does this leave us this morning?! This is a hard Gospel reading that doesn’t leave us much room for compromise. Jesus is asking us to give up everything for him, even those things that we hold most dear. To follow him despite the inconvenience that it brings and those things we will have to miss out on.

Jesus is hard on us because he knows that our hearts cry out for transformation. For renewal. For resurrection. Nothing else we buy will suffice. Nothing else the world sells can compare. So Jesus bids us to come and die so that his fruit of love, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control can take root and then and only then will we truly live in freedom.