Sunday Before Lent: Transfiguration

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

We are about to enter the last week of the short season of Epiphany. This coming Wednesday we begin forty days of Lent. Over the past few weeks at various services I have talked about epiphany. As a reminder, the Greek word for “epiphany” means disclosure, manifestation, unveiling or appearance.
Matthew 17 for this week describes one of the greatest “epiphanies” ever; the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John. It is complete with blinding light, a heavenly voice, and visions of Moses and Elijah.
The event was so mind-boggling that the New Testament reading this week in 2 Peter 1 admits that some people dismissed the story as a “cleverly invented tale.” The Transfiguration account is in Matthew, Mark & Luke so we know it is an important event.

Close your eyes just for a moment.

I would like you to consider: what does Jesus look like to you?

What colour is his hair, his eyes, teeth – crooked or straight? Ears – big or small? Tall or short? Hands – rough or smooth?

Just create a picture of what you think He looks like.

By this point in Matthew’s Gospel we have seen a very human Jesus. He was born, had a childhood; Jesus eats, drinks, sleeps, goes to a wedding, goes sailing, meets up with friends. He travels, he cries, he gets angry, he wants to be alone. All very normal and human activities. But we also see Jesus healing people, exercising demons; doing more supernatural things. He is doing a lot of teaching and preaching and the crowds are growing and the Pharisees are starting to close ranks.

Then we have the Transfiguration! If there were hints that Jesus was something more than strictly human, here we have it! Jesus really is more than a mere man, more than human. The Transfiguration is the luminous story of a mystical encounter, not only between God and God’s Beloved but also between those at the centre of the story and those who watch. Those at the centre are Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Those who watch are Peter, James and John. And then, of course, there are all of us watching all of them.

I want to focus on the watching, the listening and the closeness to God that happens in this story.

Peter, James and John are invited to accompany Jesus up the mountain where he physically changes his appearance before them. The description is that of a heavenly being, dressed in white. These three probably had a better understanding of who Jesus was; beyond being only human. Just before the Transfiguration account, Jesus asks Peter ‘who do you say I am?’ and Peter replies ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. Jesus blesses Peter for this answer.

Once this acknowledgment takes place, Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, to suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and the elders, and on the third day rise again.

While it might not have made complete sense to Peter, James and John, they have already decided who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. They had stayed close to Jesus throughout his ministry being the first disciples called. They stayed with him through to the end – even Peter who denies Jesus three times never really leaves him.

If we want to see who Jesus is, if we want to listen to Him – we need to stay close to him.

Go back for another moment to your mental picture of Jesus. How far away is he from you? Three inches, three feet, across the room, a speck in the distance?

Where we place Jesus in our thinking and in our lives says something about how close we are to him. If we want to see his face then we need to stay close. Keep Your Eyes on Jesus. Also keep your ears on Jesus.

For the second time, the disciples hear a voice from the cloud saying ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. They first heard this at Jesus’ baptism; but this time there is an addendum, ‘listen to him’.

If we want to hear Him; then we need to stay close to Him. Jesus is always speaking but we are not always willing to listen to his voice. People sometimes tell me that they don’t think they have ever heard from God or had any encounter with him, what some might call a ‘mountain top’ experience – whatever that might mean for them.

I am always curious to know how people are positioning themselves to ‘hear from God’. Closeness to God is a thread that runs through both the Old & New Testaments.

There is an intimacy to a relationship with God; we see this as he takes aside certain people – Moses, Peter, James and John for particular purposes. Sometimes we have to be taken out of our circumstances and situations to meet with God. Moses is taken up and spends an extended amount of time in the presence of God: forty days and forty nights. Moses is given instructions for the building of the ark of the Covenant and other laws and commandments for the people of Israel whom he was leading.

Moses reappears in the Transfiguration story as representing the OT law that is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. Throughout the OT God is hidden because he is too glorious to be seen by his people. They could not survive in all that glory.
It is through Jesus that we can stand in the glory of God – the God that is hidden in the OT is the God revealed and exposed in the person of Jesus in the NT.

It is in the Transfiguration that we are reminded of greatness and otherness of Jesus and of God which is helpful as we head into Lent. We need reminding that Jesus is more than we are, he is more than enough.

I think that many Christians try to reduce him down, make him fit into our lives, constrain him to our view of the world. We easily dismiss Him when he doesn’t do or act how we want him to.

With Transfiguration Sunday, we come to the end of another liturgical season. We have spent time with the people who experienced Epiphany (the wise men, Mary & Joseph, Simeon & Anna). We now prepare for the long darkness of Lent. We can’t know ahead of time what mountains and valleys lie ahead. We can’t predict how God will speak, and in what guise Jesus might appear.
But we can trust in this: whether on the brightest mountain, or in the darkest valley, Jesus is with us. Even as he blazes with holy light, his hand remains warm and solid on our shoulders. Even when we’re on our knees in the wilderness, he whispers, “Do not be afraid.”

So listen to the ordinary. Scan the horizon. Keep listening. Keep looking. It is good for us to be here.

Advent 4: Joseph

Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’) 1849-50 Sir John Everett Millais

Advent 4 – Year A
Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

I can’t believe that it is the Fourth Sunday of Advent! It has gone by way too quickly! I am reassured that there is still another week to go.

The Gospel readings for Fourth Sunday always revolve around Mary as she completes the picture of our Advent journey. It seems that at this time of the year, we Protestants are okay to talk about Mary and even have a statue of her in church without great resistance!

I was looking back over the lectionary to see which stories of Mary are used on this particular Sunday. Year B has set Luke 1 which is the Annunciation; when Mary was visited by Gabriel who brings her the good news that she will bear a son. Year C has also set Luke 1; the Magnificat in which Mary proclaims the greatness of the Lord who has looked with favour on her lowly self.

But every third year, the Gospel reading switches primary focus from Mary to Joseph with Matthew’s account and tells of the birth of Jesus. Matthew seems to focus his attention on Joseph much more than on Mary. You might not have noticed but Joseph never speaks.

We never hear his voice in any of the accounts. Mary speaks and there is great focus and attention on her. In comparison, we know very little about Joseph and there can be a temptation to push him to the side-lines. I want to take the opportunity to look a little closer at Joseph. Without him the whole Christmas story would have faltered.

Recently in the Tuesday afternoon Bible Study, we watched a version of the nativity story over 3 weeks. While it took some liberties with the dialogue as having been written by a writer from EastEnders, it was thoroughly enjoyed. Joseph was portrayed as a responsible but passionate younger man who was deeply in love with Mary. When Mary returns from visiting her cousin Elizabeth with a very obvious baby bump, Joseph is devastated, angry, grief-stricken, embarrassed. As viewers, we were confronted with a range of emotions and conversations between Mary and Joseph that were likely experienced but are not mentioned in the biblical story.

In Matthew’s account, Joseph is told about Mary’s baby and in a breath decides to quietly divorce her and save her from public disgrace. Here we see the loyalty and dignity, faithfulness of Joseph.

It is not until the angel appears to Joseph in a dream to explain the whole situation that he believes Mary’s story when he wakes up.

We would make a mistake to sanitise Joseph’s consent as being an easy decision to come to. We diminish his humanity by overlooking his humiliation and doubt. In a culture and religion that was bound by rules, Joseph would have been in a lot of pain. We so often want to separate ourselves from the pain of other people, we can feel so helpless in the face of it. In Joseph, we see that God’s favour is not always a shiny, happy thing.

Whatever thoughts Joseph had about his family’s future were upended. His ideas of fairness, justice, goodness and purity are shattered. Being chosen by God is not always so attractive.

Joseph’s story is one that can give us hope. Many of us will know what it is to struggle to do what has been asked of us, sometimes the decisions are difficult and the choices are limited. Joseph struggled. He was prepared to do the honourable, arguably easier thing but that was not what was asked.

So he struggled more and came to the decision that was far harder but the right one. He woke up and did what the angel commanded him.

Little wonder that the angel’s opening line was do not be afraid. Joseph was needed as it is through him that Jesus’ connection to the House of David is made. If you read through the opening verses of Matthew chapter one, it is a cabaret of characters who did some interesting things.

Debie Thomas wrote, ‘Interestingly, in the verses that immediately precede our Gospel reading, Matthew gives us a genealogy of Jesus’s ancestors. He mentions Abraham — the patriarch who abandoned his son, Ishmael, and twice endangered his wife’s safety in order to save his own skin. He mentions Jacob, the trickster usurper who humiliated his older brother. He mentions David, who slept with another man’s wife and then ordered that man’s murder to protect his own reputation. He mentions Tamar, who pretended to be a sex worker, and Rahab, who was one. These are just a few representative samples.

Notice anything? Anything like messiness? Complication? Scandal? Sin? How interesting that God, who could have chosen any genealogy for his Son, chose a long line of brokenness, imperfection, dishonour, and scandal. The perfect backdrop, I suppose, for his beautiful works of restoration, healing, hope, and second chances.’

Not only was Jesus born into a messy world, but a messy family.

Joseph helps to remind us that what God asks of us is often messy and unexpected. We should however expect to have our own ideas upended and challenged. Yet do not be afraid. I hope as we come fully into this Christmas season and new year that we are not afraid to love more deeply, pay more attention to what God is doing or asking of us. It might be messy.

Do not be afraid of the mess. It is in the mess that Jesus our Saviour was born.

Epiphany: Life Changing Moments

Pieter Bruegel’s Adoration of the Magi

Psalm 72 (1-9) 10-15
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

O God, we give you thanks because,
in the carnation of the Word,
a new light has dawned upon the world,
that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness
to see the radiance of your glory. Amen.

We are shortly coming to the end of the Christmas season as we come to enter the season of Epiphany. Even though our Gospel reading this morning makes it still feel as though we are in the Christmas Season – at least in the church. I have heard rumours that Cadbury’s Easter Creme Egg displays are popping up in the shops already!

However, a new season begins with the arrival of the Wise Men. Over the next couple of weeks, if you pay attention to the Bible readings, we will see epiphany stories in the lives of Eli and Samuel and at the wedding in Cana.

For today, I thought it was fitting to go through a slow-read through the Epiphany story. It is only Matthew who includes the story of the Wise Men or Magi from the East in the Christmas story. Their epiphany was the sudden and great revelation of Jesus and their response is the story being told here.

What does Epiphany mean? In the everyday it means to have ‘a moment of great or sudden revelation or realisation.’ I am not sure if you have had an epiphany moment but they are quite extraordinary! Those moments when some new idea, knowledge or thought blows through your mind and you suddenly and sometimes drastically see the world, people, and a situation in a totally new way. Epiphany moments can cause a fundamental change in one’s life.

Epiphany moments aren’t always dramatic affairs. They can happen in a quiet moment when you know that something has changed in your mind or in your heart.

I grew up in the church: Sunday School every week, my parents were very involved in the church, I sang (badly) in the choir, and was in various youth groups. I knew about Jesus but I don’t think I knew Jesus.

My first epiphany moment came while I was eating lunch in a dry field on a very hot July day at Ephesus, in Turkey. A few hours before this I was struck by the understanding that St Paul had been at Ephesus – not just the Greeks and the Romans – and had written the letter to the Ephesians.

I was where the Bible was. I had always seen it as a book, a story; but to be where the Bible took place – blew me away! I began to think that if the Bible happened in a real place – then maybe God and Jesus were more real than I thought they were.

By lunchtime, with all these thoughts rolling around my head, I had this sudden wave of peace and a sense of relief from all the grief and anger that I had been carrying around from the previous year and a half. I walked out of Ephesus that day totally different from how I walked in. I have never been the same since.
Matthew begins the Epiphany story ‘in the time of King Herod.’ If you are a fan of the soaps like Corrie or East Enders – then you will love The Herod’s. This family played an important part in the political setting of Jesus’ ministry. Several of them are mentioned in the Gospels along with a group known as the Herodians.

The Herodians were from a region that was forcibly converted to Judaism about 127 BCE. The male Herod’s were a talented bunch; they were political power-players who won favour with the Romans. They were also gifted at military strategy; Herod’s father held the post equivalent to Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This Herod became the military governor of Galilee when he was 25, his skills and talents made him friends with the likes of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra and Caesar Augustus.

These relationships brought him more land and his kingdom grew. Herod’s reign (for part of it) was a time of stability, prosperity and splendour – he founded cities, buildings and most notably rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem.

When we meet Herod in Matthew chapter two, he is about 70 years old and roughly two years away from his death. Herod is in a state of emotional and psychological deterioration as he became increasingly paranoid and mistrusting; so much so that he had 3 of his 15 children executed.
These 15 children came from the 10 wives he had! Herod is said to have died a painful death from kidney disease and gangrene.

This is the Herod that the wise men from the East met when they arrived in Jerusalem. Where did they come from? Persia, Babylon or maybe Arabia. Not sure. They are presumed to be Gentiles (so not Jewish) and come to represent the best wisdom of the Gentile world – they are the spiritual elites.

Why is this important? Tom Wright explains ‘Matthew wants us to be clear about something from the start. If Jesus is in some sense king of the Jews, that doesn’t mean that his rule is limited to the Jewish people. At the heart of many prophecies about the coming king, the Messiah, there were predictions that his rule would bring God’s justice and peace to the whole world.’

Right from his birth, Jesus is meant to rule the world. All people. Every nation. Matthew wants us to know this. It makes sense then that people outside of the Jewish faith see and experience who he is too.

Herod is frightened by the arrival of the Wise Men. The news of a new ‘King of the Jews’ has rocked his world. Herod had had this inscribed on his coins and to claim this title was treason. The title ‘King of the Jews’ was also on the cross of Jesus at the crucifixion. Herod had the title on his money; Jesus on the cross.

Who do you think the real king is here? This is Herod’s epiphany moment – he is not the real King of the Jews! Herod sends the Wise Men to Bethlehem with his made-up story he wants to pay homage as well. Herod is making an attempt to destroy Israel’s true king by employing foreign magi (oh foreign workers forever causing problems!) – but they only bring honour to the king’s rival – Jesus.

The Wise Men were obedient – this was a new thought to me. They followed the star even though they didn’t know where it would take them or what it meant but they followed it anyway. It made me think about what and who I follow.

Am I fully obedient to what God is calling me to do – even if I am not sure where it will lead? How far out of my way do I go to meet Jesus? Would I follow a star?

We know that the star that went before the Wise Men and came to rest over the place where Jesus was born was not an ordinary star. Sometimes you need some imagination to help picture these things. This star does not stay still – but moves as a guide.

Finally, the epiphany moment comes, notice it starts to happen before they even lay eyes on Jesus – simply the promise of him seems to be enough. It is when the star stops moving, Matthew tells us the Wise Men ‘were overwhelmed with joy.’ When was the last time you were overwhelmed with joy?

Does the thought of Jesus bring you joy? If not – then why not? What is missing? Maybe at the start of this new year it is time to ask for your own epiphany?

The Wise Men entered the house, overwhelmed by joy and knelt down before Jesus. They opened their treasure-chests and offered him gifts.

Gold – to show He was a king.
Frankincense – to show He deserved to be worshipped.
Myrrh – this is a strange gift to give a baby. Myrrh was used at the time when someone died. Jesus was the baby who would grow up and rescue us by dying in our place.

These were gifts of substantial financial value and the Wise Men expected to find what they were looking for at a royal court, and perhaps win favour there, but they were not disappointed with what they received.

What do we bring to God this morning? The Wise Men brought the best of what they had. Do we present our best? The best of our time, the first of our money, the greatest of our love, the first of our thanks? This is not to point out any deficiencies – I often get the order wrong myself.

The whole of the Christmas story from Mary & Joseph, the birth of Jesus, the message of the angels to the shepherds and their arrival at the stable to King Herod and the Wise Men – is a story of Epiphany. Great moments of realisation that do not leave us the same.

When we present ourselves to God – this is the most valuable thing we have – this is the only thing that He wants. You are more precious to Him to gold, frankincense and myrrh. When we encounter God we are never the same again. Thank God for that!

Knowing Me, Knowing You

2nd Sunday before Advent
November 15th, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Matthew 25:14-30

‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ is (I think) an appropriate title for this week’s sermon as it reflects one of the threads in Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven. It is also, incidentally, a title of one of Abba’s greatest hits. The song is about a couple facing divorce and accepting the inevitability of their break-up. ‘We just have to face it, this time we’re through, breaking up is never easy.’ This is not an easy parable nor is it made any more comforting by the times we find ourselves living in, but I am going to try!

As I was preparing for this week, I saw more cries for help than usual from clergy on various social media platforms who are also preaching on Matthew 25 today. Like many of Jesus’ parables, it can be read on several different levels and it needs careful attention. We are becoming much more aware of the disparity between people, rich and poor, north and south, east and west, educated and less educated in our own country and around the world. Some could read this parable as the kingdom of God being unfair. It is a kingdom that gives more to those who already have more, less to those who are already disadvantaged. God is likened to the rich man who rewards his slaves based on performance, rewarding only those who make him richer and punishes those who don’t. In the light of Black Lives Matter, it is particularly problematic to view God as a slave owner. However, God does not work like that, he is a loving Father, he is not mean, and he is certainly not unfair.

We could also read this parable as a call to do more with what God has given us. It doesn’t matter how much we have been given, just do more with it and be smart about it. Again, if we don’t use it, we will be punished. The tension here is that, given the current situation with Covid, many people cannot volunteer or contribute their gifts for the service of others as they would in more normal times. Should they be made to feel guilty? Punished for what is beyond their control? These questions can lead to feelings of anxiety, despondency, sadness and depression.

It is important to set the wider context before we go any further. Both Paul writing to the Thessalonians and Matthew speak to the return of the Lord. God is coming back some day. The gospel writers, Paul and the disciples thought Jesus was coming back soon, at any moment. Yet here we are two thousand years later, still watching and waiting. Like the Thessalonians, we do not know the day or the time. Paul and Matthew are concerned with what people do in the meantime. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to put on the breastplate of faith and love, a helmet for the hope of salvation. Paul wants them to encourage and build each other up. Jesus is coming back, and it matters what was done in his absence. This is true for us to, how are we doing in the meantime? Are we being foolish or wise, investing, hiding or squandering?

In Jesus’ parable, the man (master) is going away for an undetermined amount of time. He calls his servants and gives them each a talent of silver, ‘to each according to this ability‘. Notice though that he does not give them any instructions about what to do with the talents. This is where knowing me, knowing you comes in. The man knew his servants, he had worked out what each would do with the talents given.

Through the actions of the first two servants, those who invested the talents, we can see that they knew their master. Even without explicit instructions, they knew what was expected of them, what would please their master. It is doubtful that these two slaves understood the motivation of their master but possibly suspected that this was some kind of test. The third slave knows his master too, he doesn’t like him, fears him and assumes that the master doesn’t think much of him either. The master does not seem to trust this slave as much as the others.

We don’t know why; Jesus does not provide an explanation of their relationship. Instead of trying to please or get to know his master, the slave gives up and buries the talent. When the master returns to his home, the third slave knows that trouble is coming so tells his master what he thinks of him. This slave had decided a long time ago that nothing would please his master so gave up trying. The slave focused on the negative and let fear take over. Many people can relate to the third slave, that nothing they do is ever good enough, so why try? This is applied to God too. I’ve heard things like, ‘God has never bothered with me, so why should I bother him?’ or ‘if God is so good, then why did x, y, or z happen?’ These questions often come from a place of deep hurt and carry some honesty, but they also indicate a lack of knowledge of God.

When it comes to talents, by this I mean our gifts and skills; they have come from God. They are given to be used, we are stewards of them, not the owners. The owner is God, and he expects us to use his gifts wisely. Gifts, like the silver talents of the slaves, increase with use. To use them wisely and to the glory of God, we need to know the giver, the true owner of these gifts. God has a genuine and vested interest is what we do in his name.

If we seek to know God and his will for our lives, we do not need to worry about the outer darkness. We are all going to have to account for what we have done with what has been given to us. It does not matter how much; this is not a competition. If you feel that God was stingy or somehow passed you by when handing out your gifts, seek him, ask him! God know you, knows your capacity, He also loves and understands you. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to: ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’

The third slave focused on the negative, what he did not have, did not get and blames the master for that. The master replies by pointing out that the slave did not try, did not seek out what he (the master) wanted. Many people who tend to blame God for their misfortunes, do not seek after him in the first place. Assumptions about who God is and what He is like are often wrong and based on circumstance and feelings rather than knowledge and relationship.

For Abba, Knowing Me, Knowing You was a serious song about the breakdown of relationship left to human devices and frailties. For the third slave, this could be his song, the breaking up is never easy and he had to go. For the other slaves and for us, who know Jesus, Knowing Me, Knowing You is a positive experience, it is an ongoing and ultimately loving relationship with the Father who loves us more than we can ask or imagine, who gives good gifts for the benefit of all. Don’t waste what God has given you, seek the Lord while he may be found, we need to build each other up for the day of the Lord in coming.

Remembrance Sunday 2020: Lest We Forget

Remembrance Sunday
Remembrance Sunday tableau at St Thomas, Colnbrook

I should have been leading the Eucharist at Burnham Abbey this morning. Sadly I was unable to with the new lockdown. Thanks to Bill Birmingham, LLM in Langley for his wonderful sermon from which I have borrowed.

Burnham Abbey – Remembrance Sunday

November 8th, 2020

Wisdom 6:12-16
1 Thessalonians 4:13-end
Matthew 25:1-13

Once again, we come together on this Remembrance Sunday to rightly remember those who gave their lives for this nation over the last 100 hundred years. It is now 75 years since the end of the 2nd World War. To have fought in it, someone must be at least in their late 90s and in a couple of years or so there will be no-one left who was a combatant in that war. Due to Covid, our lives and our economy are probably the worst since the end of the 2nd World War. The Coronavirus is the worst since the Spanish flu virus which in 1918-1919 killed more than died in the trenches.

This year our commemoration of both wars has inevitably been curtailed. Although the ceremony at the Cenotaph takes place, the march past of veterans and their families has had to be cancelled. Services and ceremonies at War Memorials up and down the country have had to be reduced in scope and moved online.

As part of what you might call ‘historical research’ for today, I watched the film ‘1917’. The premise of the film is the harrowing tale of two young soldiers sent to the front-line with a message to stop an impending British advance that would have resulted in disaster. The film shows their journey through the trenches, no-man’s land and many other horrors – you will have to watch for yourselves! The reason they are sent on this perilous journey is because the retreating Germans had cut the phone line and there was no other way to relay the message to the front.

I did have to stop and contemplate this! There was only one way to get the message delivered. Life and limb were risked getting it there. I am glad to live in a world where there is more than one way to get a message across. Some might argue there are now too many ways to communicate and we are not any better for it. I know that having moved everything online isn’t ideal. Some people will not be able to participate and it isn’t as good as meeting face to face. However, we need to hold the tension that we are doing the best we can, given the circumstances.

Just as men and women gave their lives during the wars and conflicts of the last century, or, if they survived, had been prepared to, so this year we have seen men and women in the NHS, care homes and other key jobs prepared to put their lives in jeopardy to protect others from the virus. The world war spirit was partly illustrated by the 100-year-old Captain Sir Tom Moore who, having fought with his comrades in Burma – and who survived, even though many of his comrades did not – was ready to walk a marathon in his back garden to show support for those in the NHS engaged in today’s battle against enemy.

It may seem that wisdom is illusive at this time, circumstances and situations force things to change very quickly and there doesn’t seem to be much room for the accumulation of wisdom. I think that part of the mass appeal of Sir Tom is his wisdom that he is readily sharing with the nation. His wisdom has been accumulated over many decades, even a century! According to Solomon, ‘wisdom is radiant and unfading and is found by those who seek her.’ May we be people who seek wisdom in our times of challenge and confusion.

One of the wisest things we can do is pray. In the middle of the 2nd World War and then on D-Day, King George VI called on the nation to pray. He said, “Four years ago, our Nation and Empire stood alone against an overwhelming enemy, with our backs to the wall. Tested as never before in our history, in God’s providence we survived that test; the spirit of the people, resolute, dedicated, burned like a bright flame, lit surely from those unseen fires which nothing can quench. Now once more a supreme test has to be faced. This time the challenge is not to fight to survive but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause. Once again what is demanded from us all is something more than courage and endurance; we need a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve.”

At the start of another lock down caused by the Coronavirus, we too should follow the King’s call in his day and pray in our day. We should remember to pray for those suffering or bereaved as a result of the virus and those in laboratories working to attack and overcome our current foe. Alongside our prayers for those who have lost their lives or been injured in the wars of the past and present.

We need to learn from our history, and therefore it is important for Remembrance Sunday to be maintained and the stories told to future generations. Soon all we will have is books and recordings and movies like ‘1917’ to tell the stories.

In the second reading from 1 Thessalonians, St Paul is addressing the concerns raised about what happens when people die. The people of Thessalonica were confused about what would happen, as I believe, many people are confused today. I hope that it is reassuring to know that no one is beyond the reach of God – living or dead. We will meet and be caught up in the clouds.

St Paul makes plain that God’s people will rise to be with Jesus whether they have died or are still alive at Jesus’ return. They will both be with the Lord for ever. St Paul is therefore able to urge the Thessalonian church members to encourage one another with his words. And so, in the same way, may we as members of God’s people here in Burnham encourage one another as we pass through the darkness of the pandemic.

Finally, our Gospel reading urges to be ready for Jesus’ return. The allied forces had to be ready for D-Day, when the King made his call to prayer, and the battles that followed. Jesus tells the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The wise had brought oil for their lamps; the foolish hadn’t. When the bridegroom arrived, the wise could light their lamps and come into the wedding feast; the foolish who had had to go and buy more oil were still queuing at the check-out and their opportunity was lost.

How many of us will find ourselves still at the checkout when Jesus, the Church’s bridegroom, comes? And what, if any, action are we taking now, or do we need to take, to be ready then? Or will we, like the foolish bridesmaids, miss out?

On this Remembrance Sunday, different from many others, we must not forget the history gifted to us from previous generations, we must seek out and listen to the wisdom handed down to us and then pass it forward. As we live through an unprecedented (for us) time with another virus, social and economic crisis all around, threats of terrorism – may we remember that this time too will become history. One day. From the bible commentator Walter Brueggemann, ‘In the recital of memory, these is hope for the future.’

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.