St James’ Church West End
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Our faith Sermons 2019-03

St James’ Church, West End, Southampton SO30 3AT Registered Charity Number 1132863

Photography: Donna Ash

March 2019:

Under Pressure

Brenda Holden 17 March

Annual Servicing

Brenda Holden 3 February

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March 2019

Under Pressure

Preached by Brenda Holden on 17 March 2019: 2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13 31-end

Time was running out for both Abram and Jesus in our two Bible readings this morning. The clock was ticking as they were both aware of the end of their journey of life. They both felt under pressure from their commitments with God. The covenant relationships that they had both entered into with God at the start of their journeys had reached a critical phase.

Abram, yet to be re-named Abraham, had felt compelled under pressure to take matters into his own hands to produce an heir in order to fulfil God’s promise that he would be the father of the nation. Unfortunately, his fathering of a son with Hagar, a slave in his household, caused tremendous hurt within his home for his wife, who was at that time child-less, and all those involved. As observers we could have told Abram that things would go pear-shaped if he took matters into his own hands.

Under pressure Abram had not trusted enough in the covenant relationship he had with God. Abram was getting old, he felt that God was being too laid back. God was leaving things too long for Abram’s descendants to be more numerous than the stars in the sky!

Up until this point in the story Abram had listened when God spoke. It had been very much a one-sided conversation. Perhaps Abram felt over-awed by the fact that he had been chosen by God. Under pressure Abram broke his silence and an outburst of frustration exploded from him.

Abram pointed out that he had done everything that God had asked of him. He had kept his side of the covenant. He and Sarah had left their home in Ur and started on the journey that God told them to take. God was yet to fulfil his promise and this made Abram angry and disappointed. God was made fully aware of his feelings!

God accepted Abrams bold outburst - this showed God that Abram was worthy of the role that he had been given. The time had come for the covenant to be re-enforced by a ritual. To us the ritual seems a bit horrific.

Imagine for a moment the scene - Abram brings a 3 year old heifer, a 3 year old female goat, a ram of 3 years old plus a turtle dove and a young pigeon. He then proceeds under instruction to cut the heifer, the goat and the ram in half - a bloody scene reminiscent of a slaughter house - not a place for the squeamish! He didn’t bother cutting the birds in half.

Splitting the animals in two in that way suggested that Abram and God were equal members taking part in the covenant. An exhausted Abram must have had a full-time job keeping the birds of prey away from the carcasses until God arrived when it was dark with the smoking pot and flaming torch which were passed between each of the bodies to seal the covenantal relationship.  

Abram was left in no doubt that God was fully committed to their covenantal relationship.

God’s commitment extended from that time onwards. The relationship with the nation from Abram’s offspring was still in existence through the test of time until it was necessary for God to send His Son to once again display His commitment to His people.

In our Gospel reading Jesus was seriously under pressure. We are surprised to hear that some friendly Pharisees came to warn him that Herod was out to get him.  It makes us realise that not all the Pharisees were the bad guys that they have been painted with the pens of the gospel writers.

Jesus knew exactly what the situation was - his reference to Herod as a fox speaks volumes. Under pressure Jesus reflects on the innocent blood that has been shed within Jerusalem’s city walls. He laments for the city of Jerusalem in the knowledge that it will be the place of his own sacrificial death in the not too distant future. However, Jesus keeps calm under pressure and continues calmly along his journey until the time is right for the showdown in Jerusalem in Holy Week.

He gives us the memorable image of himself as the mother hen protecting his followers, the chicks under his wings. Hens will endure all manner of hurt in order to protect their chicks. This image encourages us to place our trust and hope in him in the same way that Abram under pressure would put his trust in God the Father.

What we have seen in our readings today is the importance of our relationship with God in giving us a firm foundation and protection in our lives when we pass through periods of difficulties, doubt and pressure.  

We have to remember that God is always there for us!  Amen

Annual Servicing

Preached by Brenda Holden on 6 March 2019: Ash Wednesday  
Isaiah 58:1-12,  Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

We are all familiar with the need for an annual service for our cars and our central heating boilers if we have them. The annual service ensures that these items run smoothly, efficiently and safely. Lent is an opportunity for us to perform and annual service on our bodies and spirits and today, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent it can be the start of our programme to get our lives back into a good running order.

The word Lent is from an Old English word for spring and this year with Easter on 21 April we are already in springtime. The next 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, not including the Sundays, we remember the time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness and how he learnt to resist the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

In former times, before the industrial revolution, spring was a time when fresh food was in short supply. The cupboards that had been stocked by the previous year’s harvest were becoming bare. It made sense for the Church to use these weeks to encourage fasting and to link the bodily fast with a time of spiritual self-discipline in preparation for the celebrations of Easter. In those days the annual servicing of the members of the congregations through fasting and prayer fitted very neatly with the availability of resources.

Fasting and spiritual self-discipline do not  fit as neatly into our present situation.  Some people choose to abstain from luxuries like chocolate for Lent. My father’s mother had a good take on that one. She indulged herself with chocolate on Sunday afternoons having been to church in the morning because, as she said, Sundays are not part of Lent. She probably ate more chocolate on that one afternoon than she would normally have had in a whole week!

We now live in a part of the world where we have food in abundance. We are overwhelmed with choice and we expect all varieties of foods to be available matter what the season. What we have enjoyed may change if there are problems in trading with foreign countries and hold-ups at ports in the future.

The over-abundance of food has seriously impacted on the health and well-being of our population and those in other prosperous countries of the world. Our nation was probably its fittest in a bodily sense when there was rationing during and after the last war. When we observe the weekly rations allowed to families it was a form of fasting for every week of the year.

Today, we need more than ever an ‘annual service’ of our bodies and our spirits. In many ways it is less about restraining from luxurious indulgences and more about looking for ways to re-kindle our relationship with God and developing good habits over the coming weeks of Lent that can be sustained throughout the rest of the year.

During Lent we will see the ‘penitential purple’ displayed on the altar frontals and in the vestments worn by the priests. Additional penitence in our Eucharistic worship is acknowledged by omitting the Gloria and Alleluias. Also our hymns and psalms during Lent lean towards the more solemn.

This evening at the start of Lent we are invited to receive the mark of a cross on our foreheads. The ash having been made by Doug from last year’s Palm Crosses that have been burned and mixed with a little olive oil.

These outward symbols and actions are part of the annual service for our church community, but we also need to make a personal commitment through prayer and study in order to be reminded that true happiness comes from knowing that God loves us. Our true vocation as practising Christians is to love God and our neighbour.

We heard in our Gospel reading that Jesus condemned those who forced their penitential humility down the throats of others by being boastful. He told his disciples to continue to go about their daily lives ‘so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you’.

As part of our annual servicing it may be that we prayerfully reflect on what is ‘treasure’ to us -what do we value most in our lives?  Hopefully our annual servicing will result in our bodies, minds and spirits working smoothly, efficiently and safely! Amen

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