Epiphany 4: Now is the Time

14th Century fresco from the Visoki Decani Monastery in Kosovo

23/1/22
Epiphany 4

Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21


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.

We are still making our way through this season of Epiphany. The readings over these Sundays have shown us the Epiphany experiences of various people: the Wise Men, Eli & Samuel, Mary, Joseph and young Jesus, grown-up Jesus and John the Baptist, Mary and the disciples at the wedding at Cana and now Jesus speaking publicly in the synagogue of Nazareth.

What does Epiphany mean? In the everyday it means to have ‘a moment of great or sudden revelation or realisation.’ Those moments when something new blows through your mind; you see the world, people, a situation in a totally new way. Epiphany moments can cause a fundamental change in one’s life. The Epiphany stories of the people we meet in our Bible readings are the stories of their revelations and realisations of God the Father and Jesus the Son.

In our Gospel reading for today the whole synagogue in Nazareth has something of an epiphany when Jesus stands up to read the scroll from what we know as Isaiah 61. It could have been a normal sabbath day, worship as usual in the Nazareth synagogue. What is the big deal?

For the sake of an example, let’s say that the Archbishop of Canterbury sent a letter to every church in the land saying we had to feast and celebrate right now because today is a day holy to the Lord. If he then insisted that 2022 is the ‘year of the Lord’s favour,’ what would you say?

‘Are you kidding me Justin!? Today? Right now?’ Looking around at the state of the world, we would not be alone in our scepticism. Covid remains, the NHS is exhausted, national and local economies are in difficulty, the price of heating is rising, threats of wars, natural disasters, violence, climate change, rising epidemics in mental health. Not many would call our current moment holy or favoured by God.

Yet this morning we hear a call to now in both 1 Corinthians and Luke. The first letter of Corinthians is Paul responding to the letters that have been sent to him from members of the Corinthian community. Paul responds to things like: a church divided over its leaders, what it is to be an apostle, how to deal with incest, lawsuits among believers, sexual immorality, married life, food sacrificed to idols, how to conduct communion, spiritual gifts, love, worship, resurrection of the dead.

Paul is making an impassioned plea for them to attempt to think in a completely new way. Instead of always thinking about themselves and their individual needs and rights, instead of always battling to be the most important and gifted person in any gathering, the Corinthians have to learn to think of themselves as one entity, one body, whose health and life depends on cooperation and connection.

Paul is reminding us that we are the body of Christ and we have been called to take up our roles. We may have different gifts and calling but all are as important as the other. All are needed just as all parts of the body are needed. We are part of the one Spirit, one baptism and we all have gifts to share; things to strive for.

Luke has Jesus returning to Nazareth after being away; we don’t know how long he was away for, maybe months or even years. Jesus is, however, returning differently to when He left. He comes back after being baptised, tempted in the wilderness and filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus has returned home with power that is about to be displayed in the synagogue as he is handed the scroll that not coincidentally was Isaiah, the book containing more prophecy about him than any other.

If you replace me in verses 18-19 with Jesus, it is difficult to see how anyone else in all of history fills this position. It has finally been filled by the one written about centuries before when he returns home!

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (Jesus),
Because he has anointed me (Jesus)
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me (Jesus) to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour


This is Jesus’ chosen description of his mission. It isn’t about teaching us a better spirituality but about doing God’s justice and creating God’s community. When Jesus said, ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ the meaning of ‘fulfilled’ here is ‘to fill a vessel or hollow place’. How many of us know what it is to have that hollow place? He wants to fill it now – not tomorrow or next year or when we feel better or life is back to normal. Jesus means now.

What else has He come to do?

Preach the good news to the poor: Jesus didn’t mean the financially poor. The poor being referred to here those in ‘utter helplessness, complete destitution, afflicted, distressed.’ This has wider implications than finances alone. God created us to need something or someone else and sooner or later any healthy individual will realise that autonomy doesn’t cut it. However, if we subsist only on what others can give us, we won’t be fulfilled. Jesus does not want us to subsist – we were meant to thrive. Until we let Him fill our cups daily, we will only subsist.

To heal the broken-hearted: Broken-hearted here means ‘to break, strike against something, to break the strength or power of someone’. The Hebrew translation of heal ‘to mend by stitching, repair thoroughly, make whole’. Total breakage needs total healing. One stitch follows another, it takes time and can be painful! Healing can be painful.


To proclaim freedom for the captives: Notice that Jesus proclaims freedom, he didn’t impose it. It remains an offer.

Recovery of sight for the blind: We know that Jesus physically healed the sight of many blind people, but this is a different kind of blindness, a more serious kind of blindness. The word here means ‘to envelop with smoke, be unable to see clearly.’ This is about clouded vision, not being able to see the light of gospel or the glory of God. Jesus came to clear our vision so we can see him clearly.

To release the oppressed: to be oppressed is to be treated harshly or unfairly by someone in authority. This release is about breaking the chains of unhealthy attachment.

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour: That year, those gathering in that Nazareth synagogue were staring in the face of the Lord’s favour – His blessed gift of grace, Jesus. Year here means ‘any definite time’ – not a calendar year.

There is an urgency in both of these passages, not so much pressure, but the invitation that what God is offering is available now. We can wait until things get better, struggle on under our own steam or we can go to him now.


Maybe this is our epiphany moment this morning: We don’t have to wait until things get better, Covid goes away, the sun shines. Jesus laid out that day in the Nazareth synagogue of his childhood what He came to do in fulfilling scripture. He came with the Spirit of the Lord upon him to bring the good news to the poor in spirit, proclaim release to the prisoners who want it, recovery of sight to those who had lost vision of God, freedom for the oppressed and to usher in the time of the Lord’s favour – available to all until He comes again. This day is holy to the Lord. Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. May it be so.

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.

Epiphany 2: What Are You Looking For?

Happy New Year one and all! It might feel like a long time ago – but I hope that you had a nice holiday.

We are on the tail end of the Christmas season depending on who you talk to. In the Epiphany season we have the opportunity to consider and study what happened after Jesus was born: the Wisemen coming to visit, the family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod and their return.

The Gospel jumps around a bit as we have a few weeks of Jesus in the early days of his ministry featuring John the Baptist and the gathering and calling of the first disciples. The season ends with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple when he was a baby.

Through these readings runs the theme of new beginnings and the changes and challenges that beginnings can present us with. Not every new beginning, as many of us know, is welcome or wanted.

It can take time to adjust to a ‘new normal’. I think that a lot of the difficulty stems from the changes that are forced upon us and we either lose or have no control over them. Change ultimately requires us to adjust our behaviours, attitudes and expectations; which – if we are honest – we don’t want to do unless we must because it is hard work!

Change can initially bring uncertainty, confusion and can take away our confidence until we learn new ways of living and being.

However, we are not alone in the changes of this life!

In all three of our readings today we see various changes and challenges faced by the people in them. The great comfort is that God is with them and with us!

It is well into the book of Isaiah before the prophet tells the story of his calling. Most of the other OT prophets usually start by giving their credentials: who they are, usually some family information and how they came to be called by God.

Isaiah seems to save his story until he needs to tell it. Isaiah needs to convince the Israelites that God is faithful and has chosen them; so he uses his story, his testimony.

It is not always easy to talk about our faith. We can get awkward about it, make excuses, feel embarrassed or under-prepared. Most people want to know our story though. Who doesn’t like talking about themselves?!
Sharing our stories is an effective way to talk about faith and what it means to us as people can’t argue with personal experience.

Isaiah knows that he has been called by God. This wasn’t easy, he had his challenges, doubts, frustrations and wanted to give up on the people more than once. But he knew, in that deep-down knowing way, that God was faithful and had chosen him before he was born. He wanted the people to know that too.

Corinth was one of the most important cities in Greece with a population estimated at 500,000 people. It was a leading seaport and centre of commerce. Paul had evangelized the city on his third missionary journey.

The church that Paul founded was growing and they needed guidance and reminding on the central themes of the gospel. Paul is writing to the Corinthians to correct and encourage the newly established church.

It wasn’t going to be easy as there were many outside influences – not always positive ones clamouring for attention. Again, God would be faithful and had called and would strengthen the Corinthians to follow him. Paul was speaking to patterns of behaviour in church and at home, dietary issues, sexual issues, how to handle arguments and issues around death.

Sometimes we need correction and guidance that lead to changes in lifestyle or habits. We can need correction and guidance as a church too. God will be with us in the trials and changes.

Paul, in this letter to the Corinthians, wanted them to know that too. God is faithful and that he (God) had called them into fellowship with Jesus.

I was able to get to Canada for 2 weeks of vacation which was great. While I was there, I was able to do some shopping. Compared to shop assistants in the UK, the Canadians are a bit more polite. I was asked numerous times (sometimes in the same shop) ‘can I help you?’ ‘did you find what you are looking for?’ ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’. This is all very normal of course.

I didn’t think much of it, until I read the Gospel reading for this morning. What caught me was Jesus’ asking the disciples of John the Baptist (who happened to follow him), ‘What are you looking for?’ This is the first ever question Jesus ever asks. I think it is a good one – especially at the start of this new year.

It made me think of being in the Canadian shops and being asked that question. ‘What are you looking for?’ Sometimes I had no idea what I was looking for. Other times, I thought I knew but then couldn’t find it or if I did find whatever it was, I thought I was looking for – it wasn’t right.
On rare occasions I did find what I was looking for. Happy day! A rare event indeed!

Here is the third challenge we might be facing this morning and my first question to you this year – what are you looking for? This year, in life, in a situation – whatever it might be.

In order to finding something that we are looking for – as in a shop – we need to look and see what is going on around us. John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and knew immediately who it was and tells his disciples the story of how John knows this.

John had experienced Jesus, they were cousins, born within a few months of each other. I don’t want to speculate how much time they spent together growing up; that information is not known to us. John’s life had a purpose and there was a calling which he fulfilled – ‘to come baptizing with water, that Jesus might be revealed to Israel.’

With the appearance of Jesus, John’s ministry begins to shrink. His calling had been fulfilled. John’s disciples (including Andrew – brother of Peter) are pointed in the direction of Jesus and they follow him. It is at this point when Jesus asks them the question ‘what are you looking for?’

Andrew and the other unnamed disciple obviously found what they were looking for in Jesus. I am not sure they even knew that they were looking for anything. After a few hours with Jesus, they knew they had found something. And a new beginning was begun.

We will find everything we need in Jesus. I am saying that to you as much as I say it to myself. Everything we need will be found in him. I can’t say that enough. Even when it doesn’t feel like it or we can’t see it. Jesus is enough.

I know that many of us are facing change and challenges at the start of this new year. Know that God is faithful and has called you – even if you don’t know to what yet. He was faithful in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and to us today. There is a calling on your life; we are never too or too young to be called. We might have to go looking for it – rest assured it is never that far away. So whatever it is that you are looking for this year – let’s start looking for it and let’s start with the Lord.

Trust of the Saints

This past Sunday was technically the 2nd Sunday of this year’s Stewardship campaign and I was to preach on that. However, in the last few weeks 2 long-time members of the parish have died. Reg and Ralph were two of the loveliest, funniest and godly men I have met. Both of their wives were in church yesterday and while I initially wrote this with Ralph in mind, I was able to easily make room for Reg as it speaks of him as well.

Trust of the Saints

Jeremiah 17:5-10
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

I didn’t feel that I could not not talk about Ralph and Reg today. While I, like you, are very sad about this, I have found myself to be very grateful to have even known Ralph and Reg, to have been ministered to by them and to have confidence that they are now in the presence of God – whatever that looks like.

How do we make sense of the things that happen to us or to those that we love? I suspect that a few of us might be trying to work this through in these days. I think that it really comes down to trust. We can all see in Ralph and Reg, lives of faithfulness to God but also a life of trust. Trust also happens to be the golden thread that runs through our readings this morning.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God’s message was that he wanted his people to trust him alone. No other gods, idols or even humans could replace him. So determined is God to have their trust – he is prepared to curse those who trust in ‘mere mortals and make human strength their only strength.’ Over time the Jewish people had gradually come to trust in other things, in themselves, in novel religious rituals, in wealth – basically anything but God and they are paying a terrible price.

People like these live ‘like a shrub in the desert.’ There is no water, nothing to feed them. They won’t see relief when it comes. Think about for a moment when you are hungry or thirsty to the point of distraction? Can you think clearly? Living like this means a life of constant worry, anxiety and inability to focus on anything other than survival.
Jeremiah uses water as the image of God. God is as essential to life as water is, and to choose to live without him is as dumb as it would be to choose to live without water. Instead of being cursed, those ‘who trust in the Lord are blessed, like trees planted by water, sending out roots by the stream.’ These people are constantly being fed and watered by the stream that is God. They don’t have to fear and be anxious when things get difficult; they bear fruit always.

It would be silly to suggest that Ralph or Reg were never fearful or anxious. We all do – of course! But they knew where their roots where. By the stream, planted by the water that is God. Can we check our root system today? Have near or far from water are they?

Secondly, we need to trust in the resurrection. This is essential to the Christian faith – we can’t avoid it or downplay it. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, is rather stunned by those who say there is no resurrection of the dead. If Jesus was not resurrected, Paul says, then our faith is futile, and we are still in our sins. Those who have died in Christ have perished. That means they no longer exist anywhere – they have come to nothing. Do we really dare want to believe that? This is a very black and white matter of faith.

The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that offers us redemption and is the same power that made us in the first place. This is power that we can trust in! This is the Good News of the Gospel – Jesus has been resurrected from the dead with the power to redeem and restore us. This is what the rest of the world needs to know – it is what the church should stand for, be about, why we give our time, talents and money. It is where we should put our trust. This is where Ralph and Reg put their trust.

Thirdly, the message of the Gospel is where we need to put our trust. Sometimes it is a hard message but first and foremost it is about love. The love between God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit – all equal parts. This is the love that we are invited into, that we were created for.

Luke, like Jeremiah, has a message of both woe and blessing. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular.

Debie Thomas: ‘As Luke tells the story, Jesus has just spent the night alone on a mountainside, praying before he chooses his twelve Apostles. As morning dawns, he and the newly called Twelve descend from the mountain to find a vast crowd waiting for them. The multitudes have come from everywhere, seeking help, and Jesus — in his element, with power literally pouring off of his garments — heals them all. Then, standing “on a level place” with the crowd, he tells his would-be disciples what discipleship actually looks like. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular. Yup, that’s the fabulous Good News of the Kingdom of God. A world turned upside down. An economy of blessing that sounds ludicrous. A reordering of priority and privilege that the Church will find awkward and even offensive for centuries to come.’

Again this is about trust. What is our trust in? Being rich, full and popular? These are good if used in the right way, not to be taken lightly or misused for our own personal gain. Woe to you if this is what your trust is in. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Why are they blessed? God’s favour falls on those who have nothing to fall back on – no pension, no credit line, no NHS, no social care, no credit card. Jesus is standing with people who are hungry to benefit from the power that streams from him, and he announces through his healings and his words that God cares for the poor, the hungry and the suffering.

The power of God is a power that is used to comfort and renew. It is the power of the cross and resurrection. It is the power that has raised Ralph and Reg and will one day raise us too.

Where then is our trust today? Maybe in light of what has happened it has been shaken – but that doesn’t mean that God’s power is less. Ever so fortunately, God’s power and love is not conditional or contingent on how we might be feeling in a particular moment. There is no better alternative to his power. Until we are powerless ourselves; we cannot truly understand his power. Find your roots again today and stay close to the waters where fear and anxiety are taken away. Our dear friends Ralph and Reg have been strengthened and healed by the power of the resurrection. There is no fear in that but only trust.

Summer Reading: Trinity 6 – Thorns in the Flesh

8/7/18
Trinity 6

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

This past week I was in Poland for 5 days. I really am getting in my European travel at the moment!

One of the few things I do outside the parish is serve as a volunteer Trustee for St Katharine’s Parmoor which is a retreat house outside Marlow/High Wycombe. St Katharine’s was used as a convent during the Second World War for an order of Catholic nuns who had to leave London during the Blitz.

St Katharine’s was later given by these nuns to Sue Ryder – a name some of you may know from the hospices and charity shops around the country. Sue Ryder dedicated St Katharine’s as her ‘powerhouse of prayer’ as well as a place of rest and retreat for herself and her staff. Sue very much believed that prayer underpinned everything that she and her charity did.

Sue Ryder was born in 1923 and died in 2000. From a young age Sue was made aware of the plight of people around her – firstly by her own mother caring for the families who lived in the appalling conditions around their home in Suffolk. Sue joined the FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) in WW2 – an all-female charity that did both nursing and intelligence work during both wars. It was during this work that Sue came into contact with Poland and the Polish people. They were to become the thorn in her flesh – so to speak.

After the war ended Sue spent a lot of her time in Poland caring for POW’s and those who had survived the German concentration camps. She would drive back and forth between England and Poland, collecting supplies to take back and set up homes for them.

This is how I came to be in Poland this past week with a group of Trustees and volunteers from St Katharine’s and 2 other wings of the Sue Ryder family. We went to meet with the Board of Sue Ryder Poland who do similar things that happen here – we visited a care home, a school and a charity shop – all under the banner of Sue Ryder Poland. It was fascinating to see the work being carried on with such passion and commitment to Sue Ryder’s legacy.

The other lovely thing about being Poland was visiting many different churches and chapels – I love religious art! I am a church geek! The more bonkers – the better!

In the chapel of the Sue Ryder care home in Pierzchnica behind the altar was this picture – St Rita of Cascia. I stood in front of it for a little while as I didn’t quite understand what was going on!

St Rita was an Italian Augustinian nun who lived in the 1300’s. In this picture she is kneeling before a crucifix and the figure of Jesus looks to be piercing Rita’s head with a thorn from the crown of thorns on his own head. It looks like Jesus is zapping her with a laser beam! What a religious experience that would have been!

St Rita became a powerful intercessor along with being a very kind and caring woman. She became known as the Patroness of Impossible Causes – in the Catholic church she is the patron saint of abused wives (she was insulted and abused by her philandering husband – married when she was 12 – he was later murdered) and heartbroken women. According to the stories Rita endured this with humility, kindness and patience and apparently her husband became a better guy. Her kindness, good character and piety were obvious to all.

After seeing this picture and then realizing that the 2 Corinthians reading this morning was Paul’s recount of his thorn in the flesh – I had to put them together!

2 Corinthians 12 begins with Paul making the point that there are some people who have something to boast about – like someone who has had a mystical experience of God which Paul uses with the example of a man caught up into the heavens. It is thought that Paul is talking about himself and his own spiritual experience – maybe on the Road to Damascus. He is very reluctant to admit he might be talking about himself – but needs to in order to make his point.

Self-boasting in never okay according to Paul as it can lead to arrogance – rather than humility. Paul is boasting – this is his most dramatic boast yet. Paul is boasting from a place of weakness; a place of humility.

Paul talks about the importance of humility from his own experience – referred to as the ‘thorn’. It is not clear what the thorn actually was – could have been an illness he picked up like malaria, has been suggested it was his eyesight or kidney issues. It could have been a moral or character issue. It may also have been a person who was undermining or opposing Paul’s work.

Whatever it was – it limited his actions in his mind.

It is not what the thorn was that mattered to Paul – the point is the spiritual relevance of the thorn. The Corinthians – who Paul is writing to – were very keen on exciting experiences and they have been influenced by the visits of the ‘super-apostles’ who appear to have been pandering to their love of entertainment.

Paul is trying to counter this attitude of being dazzled by the spectacle. Paul’s calling was to witness to Christ. St Rita was a woman who was devoted to prayer and intercession for people who were hurting and abused; she publicly forgave her husband’s murderers. Sue Ryder worked tirelessly for the Polish people who had been devastated by the war as she had been so moved by the hardships they faced.

Each of these people have gone to great lengths to serve Christ, be a witness to Him.

I don’t think you can preach on this passage and not acknowledge that God did not grant Paul the healing he prayed for. God said no to Paul three times. Don’t let the significance of three pass you by. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gesthemane three times and he was not delivered from his suffering either.
Paul was given the grace to endure the suffering; and that is better than deliverance. God is not a magic genie in a bottle or some holy fruity machine.

The ‘No of God’ taught Paul to rely on the ‘Grace of God’ rather than his own strength. How much energy is wasted by thinking we can do it ourselves. Sue Ryder knew she couldn’t do it herself – so she recruited her friends and neighbours – 2 of the people on the trip to Poland had gone to school with Sue’s children, now in their late 50’s and are still involved with her work. Sue Ryder set up shops to sell second hand goods to raise money.

Paul also learned that his own weakness was more than compensated for by the strength of God. Paul takes on this suffering on the human level so that he may find Christ’s grace and power more fully.

No is not always the bad or wrong answer. No is a hard answer to hear – especially from God. Paul found this very difficult to live with – he may have thought his thorn was limiting his effectiveness or lowering the opinion of the people he was trying to reach.

However, God is not concerned about this in the same way that Paul is and we can be. God is not dependent on the world’s good opinion of him.

This is why the thorn is a gift – it reminds Paul that God is God and he is not. Paul is dependent on God – not the other way around. The relevance of the thorn is not lost or irrelevant – it is central to Paul’s mission and ministry. He needs to be reminded of that daily.

I hope you picked up the theme of prayer running through this morning. Sue Ryder and her powerhouse of prayer, St Rita and her intercessions for others, Paul and his three prayer requests. This is how we live with the thorns in our own flesh. God may tell us no too but that is not the end of the story. He hears our prayers, wants us to be dependent on him in everything.

It is how we use the thorn to tell the story of God’s grace in our lives – not for the entertainment value – but for the lived-out experience of complete dependence on Christ in us.