Proper 5: God at the Centre

Hambleden Valley Group Service – St Mary the Virgin, Fawley
Proper 5

1 Samuel 8:4-11,16-20
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Sieger Koder
Fr Sieger Koder, Jesus Loves the Children

I can only trust that it is divine providence to be preaching on 1 Samuel 8 and Mark 3 this morning; my first Group Service as Priest-in-Charge of the Hambleden Valley Group. I also realized that I haven’t written a sermon on this Sunday before either. Indeed a fresh start.

Both of these books along with 2 Corinthians will feature over the coming weeks according to the lectionary. Might I suggest adding them to your summer reading lists! There are some solid and still relevant lessons in them. I hope that the take away today: Is Jesus at the centre? It is a fundamental question for the Benefice at this time and for each of us. What happens when He is not? How do we put him back?

To set up my stall: I like the Old Testament. A lot. I am by no means an expert, it does take some time and energy to get one’s head around it and when you do there is beauty and story to be discovered.

If I had to nutshell the Old Testament it is this: it is a story of a people who messed up and the God who loved them anyway. These people, Israel, had been chosen by God to be his people (unsure why them), to be the Chosen ones they had to follow some rules – the Chema (love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. Super easy!) Israel had to care for the neighbours, the widows and orphans but above love God.

Yet, they couldn’t do it. They focused on what they didn’t have, they worshipped other gods, complained about what they felt entitled to, nothing was quite good enough, they wanted what the neighbours had. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?

In 1 Samuel, this all comes to a head as Israel demands a human king to look after them ; just like all the neighbours had. They thought this was a better option than obeying God. At this point, Samuel was an old man, his own sons had chosen their own paths and went astray so he would not be leading them for much longer. Israel has reached a critical moment in their history, two ways to go here. The way of God or the way of themselves.

Samuel gets a warning from God which he passes on about how awful the ways of a human king are going to be. A human king will turn their sons into war labourers, daughters will be put to work; he will take the best of their flocks, fields and vineyards for his friends, and then a 10% cut on top of that for his own personal use. This is grossly unfair. However, the people will not listen and continue their demands, they are actively rejecting God for their own agenda.

God’s response, despite the warning, is to give the people what they want. There are consequences, the Lord will not answer when they cry out because of the king. God did not do this because he is uncaring or gave up on his chosen people; he wanted to show them that His way is the better one, following him leads to life and not death. If God is not at the centre of life and we choose to go our own way, there are consequences, there are responsibilities that come with free will.

Stay tuned as the first human king of Israel will be appointed in next week’s edition!

Summer Reading Book 2: Mark’s Gospel

We are now in the early days of Jesus’ ministry and things are hotting up. Jesus is travelling, healing, teaching and gaining attention. He was doing things, like healing people on the Sabbath and declaring forgiveness of sins, getting in the face of the religious establishment. This attention is likely causing some pressure on his family.

We do not know very much about Jesus’ family life as there are few references to them. We have two in Mark 3 and they both indicate that Jesus’ family life likely was not easy! His family certainly doesn’t come across well; Mary and the brothers go to restrain him, public opinion was that ‘he had gone out of his mind’ and his family seem to have gone along with the crowd on this one. I am sure that many of us know what it is to have awkward/difficult/odd family members.

However, what Jesus is saying is lucid and makes sense. Jesus is pushing them to look not just at the theory of God but the reality of God. Everything Jesus was doing was good. Everywhere Jesus went people were being restored to God, evil and sickness were banished, demons were exercised. The root of the problem was that the power Jesus was displaying could only come from two sources: God or the devil.

Jesus is not only proclaiming the word of God but performs it in action. If we read God’s word, then we should be able to see it in action. Evil simply cannot work against itself.

This pushing made them, his family and the religious leaders, uncomfortable. His family was risking a bad reputation. The religious leaders could lose control of the population; so much so that they were willing to lie and deny the consequences of what Jesus was saying and doing was true.

Revd Dr Cally Hammond in this week’s Church Times, ‘We human beings have the terrifying freedom even to reject our Maker, and refuse to hear his voice. There are people, both inside and outside the churches, who put themselves – and keep themselves – beyond God’s forgiveness. This makes them literally ‘unforgivable’; because they refuse to respond to him, they harden their hearts against the call to turn and begin anew with him. This is not a matter of religious observances (reading the Bible, church attendance, saying prayers): it is about the command to confess that God is, with all that flows from that confession It is no sin to be ignorant of that, or to refuse it on the basis of a misunderstanding of what God is. But truly to know and still refuse? That really is unforgivable.’

I have always been curious about the nature of the unforgivable sin and what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I have found a clearer explanation than Dr Hammond’s. It is to know God truly and still refuse. This does not apply to people of other religions or little tribes of people in deepest, darkest, wherever. This applies to people who know and refuse to put God at the centre, actively rejecting what is on offer. Unfortunately I know many more of them than I do Muslims, Hindus and Samburus.

How do we keep God at the centre as a Benefice and as the beloved children of God? From the examples of 1 Samuel; choose God’s kingship over that of other imperfect and fallible humans, care less about what the neighbours have and what you do not. God is faithful and he will give us what we ask for sometimes; be careful what you are demanding and why. You just might get it!

From Mark, look to the love and goodness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Living a God-centred life is not always easy, the temptation to lie and deny can be strong at times, what other people think has a powerful influence on us, tuning that out to follow truth and conscience is never easy – not even for Jesus.

Good and saintly people of the Hambleden Valley Group – we will face consequences if we do not stay together, we cannot become divided over opinion, preferences or money and all the myriad of things that can cause difficulties in churches. We need to be united with God and with each. With God at the centre of our lives and churches there is a bright and hopeful future ahead of us.

I am going to end with a poem today called ‘I Am Bending My Knee’ by the Scottish folklorist, Alexander Carmichael.

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection.
Through Thine own Anointed One, O God,
Bestow upon us fullness in our need,
Love towards God,
The affection of God,
The smile of God,
The wisdom of God,
The grace of God,
The fear of God,
And the will of God
To do on the world of the Three,
As angels and saints
Do in heaven;
Each shade and light,
Each day and night,
Each time in kindness,
Give Thou us Thy Spirit.

Summer Reading: Trinity 4

Back at it again! Today I went really Old Testament on 2 fairly unsuspecting congregations in the parish I cover services for on the 4th Sunday of the month. They are in a vacancy at the moment as their former Priest has moved on. I do enjoy surprising them with my sermons – I’m not quite what they are use to! In a good way – I hope!

This morning my focus was on David & Goliath.  Every one – young and old – were given this on the way into the service…

Image result for david and goliath

1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 133
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

You might have noticed that you were given a David & Goliath colouring sheet on your way in – which you are indeed welcome to colour at your leisure (now or later), or make a shopping list, etc. I did this to make my first point that when it comes to the OT many people have a Sunday School view of the stories.

We are told these stories as children and we hold them there. Some cite that the OT is too violent, boring, hard to understand, etc. I hope to go some way in dispelling that for you this morning. These Sunday School stories have far more going on in them!

To summarize the OT, I often describe it as the story of a people who screwed up over and over again and the God who loved them anyway. Israel was God’s chosen nation and people – not totally sure why – but they were. God would provide their every need if – if – they would fear him, serve him, listen to his voice, stop rebelling and follow him. Behave!

But they couldn’t – Israel proved over and over again to be unfaithful, they wanted to be like the neighbours with their own king, they disobeyed God and went their own way, making bad decisions. They were punished for it – until God finally had enough. And sent Jesus to rescue us from ourselves and our sin.

Second point – we can’t separate the OT from the NT. The whole of the OT is orientated towards the coming of the Messiah. He is prophesied about, spoken of – Jesus is very much present in the OT.

This morning we pick up in the middle of 1st Samuel – set in 10th Century BC and it describes the rise of the prophet Samuel and the reigns of Israel’s first two kings – Saul and David. At its heart the books of Samuel tell about God’s involvement in Israel’s history and highlights the fallibility of human choices. Israel gets what they ask for (human kings) and the consequences that follow.

That is a brief explanation of the OT and books of Samuel very widely. Now we focus on the particular story of David and Goliath.

Saul – Israel’s first king is still alive, on the throne but has fallen out of favour with God due to bad behaviour and disobedience. David – Israel’s second king has been anointed by Samuel. As he is maybe 13 or 14 years old and the youngest of 8 brothers – he has been relegated to the sheep fold until he was called into Saul’s service – armour carrying flute player to calm Saul’s tormented soul.

Then the Philistines show up – again. Philistines have been a problem for Israel for about 200 hundred years. Samson did battle with the Philistines – particularly their women! God had forbidden intermarriage between Israel and other people. Problem goes back a while!

More recent to our story – God had told Israel (via Samuel the prophet) if they would return to Him and stop worshipping other gods – He would get rid of the Philistines. There is a brief period when the Philistines went away and didn’t bother Israel.

But – then – Israel fell back into her old patterns and the Philistines returned!

I think this says something about getting to the root of any problems or issues we may be facing– if we don’t get to the root of them – they will inevitably grow back.

At the start of Ch 17 – the Philistines are back! Problem not gone away and bigger than ever. We can use Goliath as the working example. I want you to imagine for a moment what Goliath might have looked like. If he were alive today he would be over 9 feet tall or 3 metres tall!

The Bible describes him as a ‘champion’ but doesn’t tell us what for or why. The rest of the description we have about Goliath is about his armour – his helmet, armour, javelin, spear and sword. Goliath is a giant and well-armed problem standing in front of Israel – pointing to their inability to fear, serve, listen and follow God.

What do we learn from David and Goliath:

First – doing nothing is not always an option. Sometimes the situation we are in simply won’t go away. This current situation between the Philistine’s and Israel has been going on for 40 days when David gets involved. They are each camped on mountains with a valley in between them. Every day, twice a day, the same thing would happen – Goliath would stand up and yell at the Israelites. They would do nothing.

Somebody needed to do something! We will all face situations where we must act – must go and stand in the valley. This can be quite scary and comes with a lot of responsibility. It is David who steps up.
Often in the Sunday School tale he is an angelic little boy – I kind of imagine Prince George! However – think about 13 or 14-year-old boys that you might know! Crazy teenage brains!

David is seriously angry at this situation. He is indignant that the Philistines are defying the armies of the living God. Angry enough to do something about it! According to his brothers, who are in Saul’s army and not stepping up themselves – David oversteps the mark with his comments. David answers his brother ‘What have I done now?’ So not the first time he has spoken out. Yet these words make it back to Saul and David is sent for.

David learned some things in the sheep field – how to defend himself and protect the sheep, he learned about fighting lions and bears. David’s moment has arrived! ‘Don’t let your hearts fail because of him (Goliath) – I’ll go and fight him’ declares David.

He is not going to let what is standing in front of him – defeat him! David took opportunities when they came – despite circumstances. By taking these opportunities David was building up his skills – maybe not realising how they will be useful one day. We need to take the opportunities that come to us to learn new skills, new ways of thinking, being or doing. You never know when they will be helpful, but we can be prepared for whatever comes. No education or experience is ever a waste – even if we can’t see at the time what the point or purpose of it was.

Saul wants to help David by putting his armour on him; but David knew that wearing Saul’s armour isn’t going to work for him. It wouldn’t help him. Sometimes doing things that other people suggest just won’t help us in our situations. Other people might really want to help us, but their advice or help might not be what we need. David knew what he needed – 5 smooth stones and his sling. We know what happens next – words are exchanged, the beautifully ruddy boy slings the rock into the giant Philistine’s forehead and its lights out.

The story is not about the size of Goliath or stones & slings.

The biggest thing that David had going for him was his trust in God. David’s confidence was in the name of God – this was God’s fight. The same God that David trusted and had confidence in – is the same God we have today. He is completely trustworthy. He wants to help us face our challenges. We can trust Him with whatever we are facing, bring it to Him in our prayers and ask for help.

God will calm the storms – the Gospel reading for this morning is Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee. The gale comes up, Jesus is sleeping peacefully the disciples (most of whom are fishermen who knew the Sea rather well) freak out and wake Jesus up. Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, then asks them ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ The wind and waves obey him! Giants submit!

David was not afraid to face Goliath – not because of what David could do himself but because David knew that God would help him and be with him. The disciples saw first hand the power of the one who can calm the wind and waves.

There is no challenge to big that we cannot face when we have God with us – even if he is sleeping in the boat.

Who is our confidence in – as people, as Christians, as a Parish – St Mary’s/St Thomas? That is – at is most basic – what these two stories are about.

Summer Reading: Trinity 3

I think I might be the only person between the 2 congregations doing the ‘Summer Reading’ but I am really enjoying it. I don’t have anything for Trinity 2 as I got a week off! More on 1 Samuel and the exploits of the great prophet and the anointing of Saul as God gives in to human demands; 2 Corinthians and Paul and Mark’s continuation of Jesus’ early days…

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

How is the summer reading going? Hope you didn’t think I would forget!

Samuel – our hero Samuel is getting on pretty well. He remains faithful to the things that God has called him to do – mostly warning the Israelites of the doom that is about to befall them if they don’t get their act together.

Samuel is an excellent study about what the OT is really all about – God calling his people – Israel – to fear him, serve him, listen to him and follow him and it will be well! God will ensure their safety and survival, they will prosper and live in peace.

But they can’t seem to do it. Israel acts out of turn, making bad decisions, do the things that God has expressly told them not to do. The whole of the OT is the story of a people who messed up and the God who wanted them to do better.

Part of the problem with the Israelites is that they keep worshipping other gods along with God. They make some decisions that they did not consult big G God on and they are punished. Samuel pleads with Israel to return to God with all their hearts and put away the foreign gods and God will deliver them from the Philistines. The Philistines are one of the biggest and most troubling enemies of Israel. Goliath was one of them.

Israel’s second problem is that it wants to be like the neighbours – they want a king. By doing this they are rejecting God. He gives in – gives them want they want – with a full warning of what the human king will do to them.

Samuel has the job of anointing that first king – Saul. Saul is handsome, he is from the right family – wealthy father. From the outside he is the ideal king. You know what he did at his coronation?

Saul hid! Samuel has to go and find him to present him to his people!

Saul tries at the beginning – he is given two jobs – reign over the people of Israel and save them from their enemies. Yet Saul acts out of turn, doesn’t obey God, makes his own decisions. God would have established Saul’s kingdom forever – but doesn’t. We pick up the reading this morning where God has finally had enough – He is sorry that he made Saul king over Israel. Samuel and Saul part company too.

Why is this good for summer reading? If we are feeling frustrated at the state of this country or community – Israel provides an excellent example of what it is to get what it wants – and then realize it isn’t that great. The story may have been totally different if Israel had sought out what God wanted for them.

How often do we do that in our own lives? Demand things of God – want him to do things our way? Sometimes he will give us want we want – and we learn the hard way! God wants our obedience, we are to listen and follow him – not the other way around.

In the end God will get his way – it is a new day for Samuel at the start of chapter 16. He is to put Saul and the past behind him so that he can anoint the next king – one of the sons of Jesse. David. The ruddy faced and beautiful boy.

We do well to remember that God does not look on outward appearances, but on the heart.

2 Corinthians – we haven’t moved too far forward you jars of clay! I hope that you have not been crushed, driven to despair or struck down in the last two weeks.

You are light that shines in the darkness! Have you been shining?

Do not lose heart – you can be renewed day by day.

At the beginning of Ch 5, Paul talks about the earthly tents that we live in. I think this is a great analogy of our bodies. They are temporary. When I look in the mirror – this is not the stuff of forever.

Many of us here have faced and continue to face health issues – it can be scary, uncertain, frustrating – crushing, despairing to be unwell or disabled.

We know that Paul suffered in his body as well – he had a thorn in the flesh – not sure what it was – eye sight or kidney issues. Paul talks about our eternal home – in the heavens that God is preparing for us. We are to be forward-looking people. We have the Spirit as a guarantee. This is where our confidence should be.

How is your confidence this morning? What are you confident in?

Paul is calling us to be confident in Christ. Probably one of the hardest things to do is to ‘walk by faith, not by sight’. Psalm 119 – your word is a lamp unto my feet and and light to my path. The light is on the feet – we get enough vision for the next step – not the whole journey. Walking by faith in all the life throws at us.

Mark – Jesus is still going strong! He remains in Galilee and has recently appointed his 12 apostles who are sent out to proclaim the good news. The crowds are growing.

Jesus also has some family troubles! In the early days of his ministry they do not come across particularly well. His family – Mary and his brothers (Joseph is assumed to have died by this point – message for us on Father’s Day – Jesus would have experienced the death of his own earthly father as many of have) have tried to restrain him – he is out of his mind!

This is the biological, earthly family of Jesus. They grew up under the same roof – ate, drink, slept, played, worked and worshipped together for 30 years and they think Jesus is crazy. Mark is a good read for anyone who has a complicated family! Jesus gets that! Happy Father’s Day!

Jesus begins teaching in parables about the kingdom of God. He uses analogies of the seed and sower, lamps under bushel baskets, more scattered seed and the mustard seed.

Why these things? Well – lamps and mustard seeds represent everyday miracles. We all know how they work. The kingdom of God is in the everyday stuff of life. This is drastically different from the kingdom of military power that many people thought Jesus would bring – including the disciples.

Jesus is saying nope – this Kingdom of God starts small and grows large – much larger than we can ever imagine. Once a mustard seed start growing they need very little care and not much water. And they grow! They spread quickly – not exactly something you would want in a well-tended garden! Mustard seeds have small beginnings. They also make a delicious mustard – my favourite of all the condiments!

The kingdom of God starts small and grows – spreading out and changes the taste of the world around it.

As a church – and I mean as a parish – we need to spread out and change the taste of the world around us. Church is not contained to these four walls, this hour on a Sunday and only the people sitting here. Lord help us if that ever becomes our view of His church!

What we do as a church may feel small – but it will grow like a mustard seed if we let it. If like Paul we walk by faith and refuse to let circumstances crush or perplex us. If we choose to learn from the example in Israel as Samuel pleaded with them to serve God and follow him. It we focus more on our hearts, and the hearts of others and not on outside appearances – then we live in obedience and it will be well.

So there you go – caught up once again with the summer reading!