Margaret's Sermons

Easter Day 2015

(Mark 16:1-8) Jesus is risen – that’s our Easter message.  But, what do we understand by it?  In the space of one week we have remembered Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds shouting and cheering him.  We have recalled the last meal that Jesus had with his friends and the instructions he left that when we break bread and drink wine together we should remember him.  We have shared in the agony and pain of Jesus’ crucifixion and the total desolation that his mother and his followers experienced as he died.  And now we celebrate our belief that his death was not the end but that God restored Jesus to life, not so that he would then die in old age but that he would live forever and be a living Lord and Saviour for us all.

The resurrection is fundamental to our Christian belief and yet is not easy to understand and accept.  It’s not really surprising that many people simply reject the idea and sceptics try to explain it away, by, for instance, suggesting that Jesus didn’t really die and that in the cool of the tomb he then recovered.  Yet, the gospels each point to the fact that the cross was not the end for Jesus.  

My favourite account of the resurrection, that we’ve not heard this morning, is St John’s beautiful account of the women going to the tomb and finding it empty.  The others go off but Mary Magdalene remains weeping beside the tomb, when someone, who she takes to be the gardener, speaks to her.  She begins to question him about what has happened to the body and all he says is her name, and Mary knows immediately that it is Jesus.

In some ways, the account in St Marks’ gospel that we’ve heard this morning is less satisfactory because it doesn’t record anyone actually seeing Jesus.  Indeed, it presents quite a disturbing account because the women who have shown such love and devotion in following him right up until this point are now terrified into silence.  So, on a first reading we might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus’ life and death had achieved nothing.

But, St Mark clearly does believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and in these concluding verses of his Gospel, he intentionally emphasises the mystery and awesomeness of the Resurrection. But, he also believed that the world would end soon and the early church had to be ready for that, which explains the urgency of this passage.    The Gospel says that the risen Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee and, the disciples, despite all their failures and failings, are again called to follow him.  If they follow him, they will find him.  That message is for us too.  We also are called to follow Jesus who goes ahead of us.  And if we follow him, he will show us the way to God.  

Perhaps in the strange providence of God, the way St Mark’s Gospel ends encourages us to explore our faith again.  There is a blank at the end of the narrative that we’re invited to fill ourselves.  It encourages us to think again about how we feel about Easter and Jesus’ resurrection.  It encourages us to reflect on how well we know the risen Lord and to ask how we can get to know him better.  It encourages us to ask where it is that Jesus is calling us to follow him?  To wonder what tasks he has for us to undertake today, tomorrow, in the coming weeks?  And, whatever it is we are asked to do may we respond to his beckoning call wherever that may lead.

 

Reconciliation

Rev. Margaret's sermon from the 7th of September 2014

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Every time we switch on our televisions or open our newspapers we are confronted with images of conflict – conflicts between nations, between factions within nations, in the workplace, in the home, rivalry between siblings and physical, mental or emotional abuse of wife by husband or of husband by wife. Yet is it really any worse than it’s ever been?

Today the media ensures that we have up to the minute news from anywhere and everywhere in our global village. But today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper, or at least it used to be in days gone by! And that’s how it is – once the sensationalism of whatever it is – the shocking scenes of devastation wrought by the hostilities in Gaza, and in Syria and Iraq, the plane shot down over the Ukraine, the abuse scandal in Rotherham – it quickly disappears from the news, even though the lives of the people affected have been changed forever.

But, returning to my question is it really any worse than it’s ever been? I would have to say I’m not so sure. In the Bible there are countless occasions when people have been wronged – Cain murdering Abel, Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright, David lusting after Bathsheba and then sending her husband to his death, to mention just a few.

The theme of today’s readings is reconciliation and it is, without doubt, something that the world is in great need of. Where envy, jealousy, selfishness, greed, desire for power, anger and hate exist, people are going to continue to cause suffering for others. It’s at the root of all our troubles and more attempts at negotiation are so much needed.

Desmond Tutu in his book No Future without Forgiveness (2000) talks about how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in South Africa when apartheid was abolished. He uses the ‘haunting’ words over the entrance to the museum at Dachau – Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. He continues that those who were negotiating our future in South Africa were aware that unless our past was acknowledged and dealt with adequately it could blight our future. The notion of national amnesia was rejected … because it would have meant denying their experience; a vital part of their identity … The Truth and Reconciliation Commission empowered those who were cruelly silenced for so long to tell their stories, allowed them to remember, so that publicly their individuality and inalienable humanity would be acknowledged.” The effect was therapeutic. We found that many who came to the Commission attested afterwards to the fact that they found relief, and experienced healing, just through the process of telling their story. The acceptance, the acknowledgement that they had indeed suffered was cathartic for them.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is clear about what each of us has to do as regards reconciliation. We cannot ignore our responsibility to sort out our differences with one another. If we have an unresolved issue with someone then we are required to resolve it before we come to the altar, before we receive communion. It’s not easy. Personal conflicts can be very painful, especially if the other person refuses to accept apologies and attempts at reconciliation, if their own stubbornness and attitudes stand in the way of brokering peace. Undoubtedly further mediation and help from other agencies may need to be brought in. But what is clear is that if, as Christians, we cannot resolve our differences and be reconciled one with another, we are failing in our responsibility as Jesus’ followers and are failing to set the example we need to set for the wider community and for the world.

Advent

Rev. Margaret's sermon from the 1st of December 2013

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Today marks the start of a new Church year and is a really significant time in the Christian calendar. Yet, as we enter Advent I wonder what thoughts are going through your mind this morning. Possibly for you, as for me, the fact that we’ve entered Advent is reminding you of just how soon Christmas will be upon us again and of all that there is to do in the next four weeks.

Like me, you may be wondering how you will fit everything in, do all that needs to be done and be ready for the big day. Christmas is always such a busy time and the whole point of the festival and the period of preparation before it can all too easily get lost as we get caught up in our own preparations.

For me, today is also a significant day because it is the first anniversary of my becoming your Priest-in-Charge. For us here in this parish of Whaley Bridge 1st marked the beginning of our journey together as we sought and continue to seek ways to bring the good news alive in this town and look for ways to build up the body of Christ. I have to be honest and say that it’s not been an easy year for me but I am finally feeling that there are now a growing number of people who are grasping a vision of what it means to live and grow as the Body of Christ in Whaley Bridge and are seeking ways to implement it.

The Study Course that has run during November has been really well supported and has challenged us to think about our faith and how we put it into practice here in the 21st We have had to face the fact that what has kept us coming to church may not meet the needs of people today and to think what this might mean. Even preaching a sermon like this could be off-putting to some. But, I believe that many of us have also December 2012 Century. been encouraged by the course and to realise that we need to be ready to embrace change as we grow in love and care for one another and begin to reach out more to those around us. We have a chance to grasp the moment and allow others to see what living and growing as the body of Christ means. And today is a God-given chance to make a new beginning in our following of Jesus and I pray that we will take this chance together. I am also reminded of what Bishop Robert said last year when he said that he hoped we would not be undertakers or caretakers but risk-takers for the Kingdom of God.

The season of Advent helps us to prepare for Christmas and the message for today is that of a wakeup call. St Paul tells us, it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep – to be spiritually awake. And being spiritually awake means being open and receptive, attentive to God and to others. It means living in love.

As members of this church we really have two options: we can be awake or asleep, a watcher or a sleeper. It’s easy to be a sleeper but sleepers waste their lives. It’s harder but very much more rewarding to be a watcher. To watch means to be awake, to be alert, to be concerned, to be active, to be interested, to care. Jesus urges us to stay awake, to be on our guard, to be on the watch. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from answering Advent’s wake-up call.

Advent helps us to remember and appreciate the great blessings God has given us in his Son, Jesus. It encourages us to hope and my hope and prayer today is that we will walk together on our journey and will grow together in love and service as we seek to draw others to join us on the road. Let us seize the day!”