Sermons

Here is a small collection of recent sermons at St Chad’s and St Alkmund’s. If you are not able to come to church, or if you would like to spend more time with the script, we hope you will find this useful. Other sermons are further down the page.

 

29 May 2022. Rev Gavin Williams on John 17.21  ‘That they may all be one’

The Lord’s Prayer in this morning’s gospel (Jn 17) is a bit different from the ones in Matthew and Luke. Here Jesus is praying about us, for we are those ‘who believe in him through the words of his followers’ (17.20). Jesus prays for us to be one as Father and Son are one and for the whole world to see the love we have for each other as being from God.

How are we doing? Are we a people who are ‘one, holy and universal, founded on the teaching of the apostles’? While there is much to give thanks for in terms of the efforts made to promote unity between different Christian churches, Jesus’s prayer is some way from being fully answered. Why is this?

John has an answer to this question, but being the most subversive of the gospel writers, what he does not talk about is especially interesting. For example, in John’s gospel we will search in vain for the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ that means ‘church’. And in a gospel that is all about sending, John does not use the word ‘apostle’, meaning ‘the one who is sent’. What is going on here? Why does John not talk about ‘the church’ or ‘the apostles’?

Alan Ecclestone, who was a communist Anglo-Catholic priest in Sheffield, argues that John’s omissions are a direct response to problems he saw in the early church. For example, he saw some using apostolic authority in paternalistic, hierarchical, and judgmental ways. He saw that men assumed that leadership roles belonged to them and he saw that churches failed to do what they claimed to believe in. Who knows, there might even have been bullying and manipulation. The result was disunity and division.

John deliberately resists the temptation to turn the Christian faith into a theological or dogmatic system and tries to keep alive its Spirit inspired freedom. John’s gospel is deliberately not about ‘religion’ expressed in church structures and ordained ministries, but about the life we enjoy in fellowship with Jesus of Nazareth.

So what changes might be necessary in God’s ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church’ if Jesus’s prayer is to be answered?

Might it be the case that believers sometimes assume they know how things are or should be done, and rather than being open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit, they refuse to change?

In the reading from Acts, we can contrast the gaoler’s openness to God’s action with the blindness of the owners of the slave girl. Furious about their financial loss, the latter cannot see God is offering them a way of salvation too.

John’s gospel is clear that if we are to make Jesus’s prayer a reality, we need to be very careful not to import into our common life the sorts of attitudes and relationships that belong to the world and that we are called upon to transform. For example, we cannot be one if some try to lord it over others, but only if we are all willing to wash each other’s feet.

The good news is that all of us were chosen by God and all are called to live in fellowship with him. If this is our faith, and by that I mean our sincere desire, there is no reason why we should not be one in our life and worship. Then the world might pay attention… or it might not.

Amen.

6 March 2022. Rev Pat Aldred is a serving army Padre. This sermon was given in St Alkmund’s church.

The Gospel was on the Temptations of Christ. The context is the Invasion of Ukraine.

There’s the story that’s told of a young boy in Nazi Germany who attended church during the Holocaust. The church that he went to was in front of the railway tracks. As the church gathered, each Sunday, they would hear a train passing by and, eventually, the cries of those who were being carried to the death camps, imprisoned inside the train carriages.

Because the congregation didn’t want to hear the cries of those who were passing by, they adjusted their service times so that they would be singing hymns as the trains passed. By the time the train came along, they were singing at the top of their voices and, if they heard the peoples’ screams, they simply sang more loudly until they could hear them no more.

Well, we’ve read about the temptations of Christ this morning and I wanted to repeat that story, because there’s a real temptation, amongst some Christians, to ‘sing more loudly’ when faced with atrocity and evil in the world. I fear that if I spoke about anything other than Ukraine, this morning, I too might be guilty of drowning out the screams with my own high-pitched warble. Today, I’m afraid that other topics will just have to wait.

We’re reminded in our Gospel lesson, that’s set for today, that evil and violence, though often met with weapons of warfare, are, eventually, best met with the spiritual weapons of prayer and fasting. That may be the most important message for the season of Lent, this year. As war shakes Europe to the core, we can join in the sufferings of our sisters and brothers, in Ukraine, to implore God to bring peace and end all violence.

If our Lenten journey into the wilderness, this year, is to mean anything, it must include more than a passing reference to the plight of those who are on our doorstep. For, if we ignore the cries and pleas of our neighbours, we too, may well be guilty of singing more loudly as the train rushes by. That is the whole point of Lent – it’s supposed to make us think. It’s a journey of conversion. A journey where our prayer and fasting and giving to charity, changes, not only us, but those we seek to support in bringing relief and comfort.

What’s happening in Ukraine — not to mention in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mali, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere — is meant to bring us to conversion.

‘I can hear the train a ‘coming,’ sang Johnny Cash and he’s not the only one. If we close our eyes and ears to the screams of others, we will be no better than the rich young ruler that Jesus spoke of in his parable – feasting sumptuously while others are starving and suffering and even under attack. Or to coin another parable, whilst whole cities are being attacked by military might and people left to die in urban ditches, let’s not be like the other priests and Levites, in the story of the Good Samaritan, and pass by on the other side of the road.

We have an opportunity over the next 40 days and nights, not just to just knock off some rough edges in our character and personality but to undergo real change and conversion. To change the way that we look at ourselves and others and, even, God. We have a fresh opportunity, if you like, to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus. Of having our own hearts moulded and filled with love as we draw alongside the cold, the hungry, the thirsty and naked.

As we remember those far from home who are sick and tired — or even those who are being assailed by missiles and cluster bombs, tanks, grenades, and bullets.

The outpouring of peoples’ generosity, this week, has been truly amazing. Church halls and social clubs, up and down the country, are full to the brim of clothes, and blankets, and food for the people of Ukraine. The Disaster Emergency Committee received over £55 million pounds in a single day. And I am reminded that those who have received much, much will be expected.

As Jesus faced his own wilderness, he encountered evil and the devil for himself. It’s a familiar story. We’re told that he was tempted by the devil who puts three tests to him, and three times Jesus declines, what an estate agent might call, ‘an inviting offer.’ For some, that’s where Lent ends in some kind of pass or fail exam. Jesus passes, and we fail miserably trudging on to the end of the road. But don’t you think that it has to be more than that?

You see, Jesus isn’t dragged into the desert, he’s led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. The Devil is not in charge – God is – and that’s important.

Just before this gospel story in Luke, we hear of the baptism of Jesus where a voice comes from heaven telling Jesus, and the crowd gathered by the river, ‘you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’   Jesus knew that he was loved beyond measure. Held in the hand of God. Encircled by his love.

And that is the greatest truth that anyone of us can ever know. That we are loved, treasured and precious to God. No matter what life throws at us – that will never change. God loves you. He loves you. Jesus goes from his baptism into the desert, filled with the Spirit, and led by the Spirit. That trumps everything else.

And what comes after our story? Well, Jesus goes to Nazareth into the synagogue and proclaims; ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.’ It is the start of his ministry, and Luke signals that, at its heart, is love for the poor and his love for the oppressed.

If we follow Jesus, it seems, to me, that the desert experience is all part of the package. Many people experience their own ‘dark night of the soul.’ And maybe you do too. In it all though, hold on to the claims made for you at your baptism: you are my child, you are beloved, with you I am well-pleased.

Those temptations may seem a million miles away from the world around us today as people are trying to cling on to what little they have, and many have lost everything. And yet, when I hear of those temptations to satisfy oneself, to test God and to seize authority of all nations and have it all, Ukraine doesn’t sound too distant.

Whatever else happened in Jesus’ life, he remained a child of God and beloved. The same is true for you. His love for the poor, the oppressed, the naked and cold, the downtrodden and war torn has never diminished. And it’s not hard to see, this week, who they are.

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? That’s difficult. Let’s not turn up the singing to drown out the train – this Lent, let’s play our part.

Knowing we are loved by God and knowing that we are called to love others with that same love, holds true in today’s wildernesses every bit as much as it did for Jesus in his.

This Lent may we not only practice what we preach but preach what we practice.

Amen.

 

Sunday 27 March 2022; Rev Pat Aldred.
Transfiguration Sunday 2022, at the end of the week which saw the invasion of Ukraine.

The Transfiguration Luke 9: 28-36

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Most of you know that I’m a serving army Padre and so I want to talk to you, unsurprisingly, this morning, perhaps, about Kyiv which has been on everyone’s heart and in everyone’s prayers over these last few days and weeks.  I also want to speak about Vladimir – who probably hasn’t.

Vladimir – no, not the one who is in the daily headlines – but another one – was the Prince of Kyiv in the 10th century.  The city was in turmoil.  Vladimir had been exiled to Sweden after his father’s death but now returned with a huge army to take back the city and re-establish his throne.

Like many, he was a pagan, but he wanted to discover if there was a true faith for himself.  The story goes that he sent envoys to the four corners of the known world to uncover true religion. Each group came back with tales of what they had discovered on their journeys, but nothing appealed to Vladimir.

Eventually, a group returned to Kyiv from Constantinople, the home of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  It was here that the group had visited the Haghia Sophia or Holy Wisdom church as it is known today.  It was an experience that left an indelible mark on them which they could never forget.  History records their report to Vladimir – they wrote:

‘We went to Constantinople, and they led us to the place where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or earth, for on earth there is no such vision nor beauty, and we do not know how to describe it; we only know that God dwells among human beings. We cannot forget that beauty’.

Vladimir was so moved by that report that he was eventually baptised as a member of the Orthodox church and, took with him, the people he ruled.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Eastern Orthodoxy spread eastwards through the Baltic states and throughout Russia.  It became the normative faith of the people, and Vladimir is regarded as the founding father of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was declared a saint and his feast day is July 15th.  He died in the year 1015 and is buried in Kyiv in the Church of Tithes.

For many of the Orthodox faith, Kyiv is regarded as their mother city, playing a similar role as Jerusalem does, for many other Christians. And I can’t help, this morning, but recall the words of Jesus as he approached Jerusalem for himself.

We’re told in Luke’s gospel that as Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side.’  Those words seem hauntingly prophetic in this week of all weeks.

Today, that other Vladimir is circling the city and hope seems lost.  Hope, it seems, has been a commodity in short supply over these recent weeks. Internationally, we have war and rumour of war, nationally we’ve had the political fallout of covid and, locally, here in Shropshire, there are those who are mopping up, yet again, after enduring the recent floods and storms.

And so, we find ourselves in church, this morning, and what is our response to all of this?  How do we deal with the suffering and hardship that we see all around us? Where can we find any hope for the days ahead?

Well, it’s here.  Within these hallowed walls and sacred space.  It’s here in bread and wine poured out for each one of us and it’s here, in our gospel reading set for today. We find hope in our worship, where heaven meets earth, and we join in with that heavenly choir. We find hope as we eat bread and take wine and partake in that heavenly banquet prepared for all mankind and, as we follow in the steps of our Lord, in our Gospel reading of the transfiguration, we are given fresh hope and yet another glimpse of where heaven meets earth and hope reigns eternal.

The transfiguration of Jesus shows us that, in this mountain top experience, heaven has met earth and earth has been drawn into heaven.  It’s a glimpse, a vision if you will, of what is to come, and that nothing can ever be the same again.

The transfiguration ‘is the meeting-place between human beings and God, between the temporal and the eternal, between past, present, and future, between everyday human life – with all its hopes and fears – and the mystery of God.’

As Charles Wesley put it all those years ago, we see Jesus, ‘changed from glory into glory’ what a marvellous vision that is.

The disciples can’t quite believe it. ‘Let’s stay here,’ Peter manages to blurt out. He wants this moment to last a lifetime. But that’s not the Jesus way. Because Jesus had already set his sights on another mountain top where all would seem lost.

On Wednesday, we will begin our walk, through Lent – coincidentally, it’s also the feast day of that other great pilgrim, St Chad. This year, perhaps more than others, we will be conscious of the hardship and hopelessness of those facing war and fighting.  We will reflect on the sinfulness of the world and our own shortcomings.  We will journey through desert places and the wilderness, until we reach the promised land of the Garden of Gethsemane and, finally, Easter morning.

Unknown to the disciples in our reading, Jesus is already beginning his own long walk. A walk that will lead to another mountain, the Mount of Golgotha, where he would face torture and torment and be lifted higher than anyone would ever have imagined – with all hope vanquished.

Jesus knew that ahead of him was the long walk to the cross, with all its possible diversions and side-tracks. He would be tempted to take an easy route, a less difficult path but he knew that he must set his face in one direction and not give up hope or waver from the course set out before him – because even though the situation seemed dire, this wouldn’t be the end of the story.

The transfiguration, then, invites us to experience deep change within ourselves.  For it is only as we are prepared to be changed into the image of Christ that we have the right to expect change in others.  We can only pray for peace as we become peacemakers ourselves.  The bedrock of our faith is having confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

The immediate future may look bleak, it may seem that all hope is lost and yet the transfiguration allows us to see that transformation is possible and that transformation starts with us! All is not lost, for we have an eternal hope.

‘Glorious God, who brings light out of darkness, give us grace to shine into lives around us; so, the glory we see in the face of your Son, may light up the faces of those we meet. Shine your light in the darkest of places and bring us your peace.

Amen.

Sunday 24 Jan 2022; Rev Gavin Williams.

The Nazareth Manifesto, Lk 4.14-21 and Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, 1 Cor 12.27-31

As we came into church this morning, we passed a board in the antechapel. On it are the names of the vicars of St Chad’s going back all the way to the twelfth century.

Why is it there? Though I am grateful for the ministry of the vicars I have known: Yejide Peters, Mark Chadwick, Mark Thomas, Chris Liley and Michael Pollitt, I wonder whether they should be the only people we are visibly reminded of when we think of God’s ministry here over the centuries.

Jesus was not a vicar or professional religious person when he went to his local synagogue on the sabbath. In a first century synagogue, like the one in Nazareth, there was no ordained minister. It was controlled by a committee of elders and had an attendant who was cleaner, odd job man, beadle, and teacher. Anyone of sufficient learning and good reputation was invited to take part in services. So it was that Jesus took his turn to read from scripture. It was expected that he would then give a sermon, but not that it would be so short! And boy did it get people talking because in this one sentence, Jesus announces that what Isaiah had prophesied is being fulfilled. Building on the experiences he has recently had at his baptism and in the desert, themselves the culmination of decades of praying, discussing, and reflecting, Jesus says he is the Servant of the Lord, sent to announce that the reign of God has begun. Now, today, God will send away in freedom those who have been broken in pieces.

The work of setting free those who have been broken cannot be left to vicars alone. Whatever their gifts, they are only ever one part of the body that is the church. And as Paul tells believers in Corinth, everyone in the church has their part to play because everyone in the church has been given one or more gifts. Some are apostles – gifted wandering evangelists like Paul – some are prophets, with the gift of communicating the word of God. Others are teachers, mature Christians who have the gift of being able to inspire and instruct others in the meaning and moral implication of the Christian faith. Then there are gifted healers, gifted organisers and those whose gift is to be a person in whom the praise of God constantly bubbles up. Please note that elsewhere, Paul mentions other gifts including mercy, encouragement, giving and the greatest of them all, love.

Let us pause for a moment and ask ourselves, what is my gift?

And what are the gifts of those sitting next to us or near us?

And if we think we missed out when the Spirit was giving gifts, or that others have greater gifts, Paul says think again. Because we are all one body, we should give thanks that we are an indispensable part of a gifted whole1.

How might we turn our theology into action?

Could St Chad’s have a noticeboard in the entrance hall covered in photographs of the gifted people who worship here?

Or could we upload to the church website pictures of some of us with a few words about who we are or what we are doing, whether it is working at the hospital or being a schoolteacher or running a business or feeding homeless people or making coffee or praying or visiting or welcoming strangers?

Or could we upload to the church website a few short videos in which we offer a sentence or two about what God has done for us? Would this not be a 21st century way of communicating that the reign of God has begun and that those who were broken are being set free?

1 Diversity in our unity

 

From earlier:

2013

Music Festival 2013 – The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster

Interregnum” – Bishop Ronnie Bowlby April 2013