St James’ Church, West End, Southampton SO30 3AT Registered Charity Number 1132863
Photography: Donna Ash
May I speak in the name of Jesus who delivers us into new life, Amen.
If you have come to church hoping to hear good news -
Look again at the gospel reading…
Here is Jesus in resolute ‘tell it as it is’ mode -
So how can Jesus' tough straight to the point speaking help us when there are so many alarming happenings reported day after day in the news?
At a time when many are facing uncertain futures can we like the psalmist truly have the confidence to declare that our fortune lies in the Lord's hands?
The good news? Jesus said many will try to lead us astray but ‘Do not be alarmed’ at wars and rumours of wars, kingdoms against kingdoms, earthquakes and famines.
But it is not that simple is it? When we hear that Jesus says ‘do not be alarmed’ how does that work whilst threats of war are a reality and a fine line exists between nations respecting nations -
And yet -
Let me try to explain how I understand it:
His message is clear: ‘don't be troubled’… of course if we are concerned and told ‘not to worry’ more often than not we let it bother us a great deal -
Jesus says: ‘Do not be alarmed… the end is still to come:
This is but the beginning of the birth pangs!’
For over 35 years I had the privilege of walking alongside countless women and families, as a midwife I was a guest sharing their journeys of pregnancy and birth. An essential part of that role involved helping couples prepare for the ‘big day’ -
Any apprehension resulting from not knowing exactly how long or how painful the labour might be can be counterbalanced by the positive expectation of meeting and celebrating the new life coming into the world.
The name ‘midwife’ is relational and simply translates as ‘with woman’. Today's readings very much follow the theme of ‘God with us’ sharing, teaching, warning, advising and reassuring. And he gives us choice -
Jesus had been teaching and healing in the courtyard of the Gentiles within the Temple compound. Herod's Temple -
For the Jewish people the Temple represented the place where God dwelt separated from the ordinary people by the sanctuary curtain and only accessible to the High Priest. The time was fast approaching when Jesus would make the ultimate sacrifice and the curtain of the Temple would be torn in two. Mark records an eye witness account of Jesus privately meeting with Peter, James, John and Andrew: he gave them a warning -
In labour early signs precede the active phase when the contractions are strong and there is hope that the labour will become established and lead to a birth. Applying this analogy can help us understand Jesus' warning to the disciples then -
Jesus' message for the disciples can strengthen us. When we see all the traumas of the world and cry out to be led safely through life's difficulties, he will hear our worries and guide us in the way that leads to new birth as children of God. From personal times of trial and darkness, illness and loss, to world events of devastating proportions, it is when we are in a trusting relationship with Jesus that he will guide us, empower us, present us with choices and deliver us from pain and anguish and transform our lives. God has promised to be faithful and asks us to hold fast to the hope we place in him as an encouragement to others.
‘Do not be alarmed… the end is still to come:
This is but the beginning of the birth pangs!’
The birth pangs should not frighten for they herald the incoming of God's kingdom. When a labour reaches its fullness the baby is born -
Even when warned by Jesus of turbulent times yet to come we can find assurance in his message and the words of today's post Communion prayer summarize our desire:
‘Gracious Lord…..bring us at the last to that fullness of life for which we long.’ Amen.
The clocks in the UK have gone back one hour and we have to adjust to the daytimes that will become increasingly shorter and darker -
While on the island he had visions -
The damaged creation is something that we cannot fail to be aware of today. The news items about global warming, the pollution of our land, our sea and our air have at long last entered the realm of our popular media -
What the writer of Revelation is saying is that there is hope -
God is saying, ’See I am making all things new’!
What, you might be thinking has this got to do with the Christian Festival of All Saints that we are celebrating today?
Saints are those who are to come into God’s presence. In fact, in the New Testament, saints are the community of believers who share a faith in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Everyone has the qualifications to become a saint -
Fortunately for all of us -
In fact, the Gospel reading chosen for today does not highlight someone whom we would necessarily regard as a saint in the usual sense. Lazarus, as a young man in the household of Martha and Mary, was not considered to be the head of the family as we would expect. Lazarus, who was loved by his sisters and by Jesus, had died and was bound in his grave clothes in his tomb, but he was given life as a free gift from God.
We, like Lazarus, as Christ’s disciples, are called to emerge from our former lives to enter God’s new creation and join in the worship in God’s presence.
This brings us to the Psalm we heard this morning -
We are invited to join the singers of the Psalm. They are gathering -
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