Friday, 29 December 2017

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Joseph's Faithfulness - Annie Saunders Sermon for Advent 4

May I speak in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in Love


Today I want us to think about faithfulness.  What does it mean to be faithful? The word faithful derives from the noun for faith and means to believe or have faith in God or another person or a cause. To be faithful means to be a person who is loyal, reliable, trustworthy. An individual who is steadfast, resolute, dutiful and dedicated. In addition to be a faithful person means to be great with or filled with faith in God one who is grounded in God or abiding in the Lord, living in Him and His Spirit. Our Gospel reading from Matthew focuses on the role of Joseph in the nativity narrative. As Joseph is the person in the account usually given a back stage role I want us to consider his faithfulness and how he can act as a role model for us.

Joseph is the solid silent type. Mary, Elizabeth, Gabriel and even Zacheriah all speak but even in Matthew's account - the gospel which includes Joseph - Joseph is silent. Often portrayed incorrectly as much older than Mary he is the figurine that gets pushed to the back of the crowded crib. In fact Joseph is the faithful one who holds everything together, is faithful to God, faithful to Mary and to Jesus and who stands firm as the leader in the family. Silent, quiet but an individual of action

What can we learn about Faithfulness from Joseph? Let's look at Matthew's text on the reading sheet. Joseph is faithful to Mary. We are told by Matthew that he is engaged to Mary but engagement in Jewish legal and religious culture was more binding than it is today. Although prior to marriage the couple did not live together or have intimate relations Jewish law considered them already man and wife. A woman found to be unfaithful in a betrothal relationship could be charged with adultery or even publicly tried and executed. And Mary is with child. So for Joseph this is personally and publicly a very risky situation and one with life long consequences too.

We can imagine Joseph's immediate feelings when he hears her news – outrage, anger, hurt, disbelief. We can tell that Joseph battled with his emotions and with himself – verse 19 tells us he decided to dismiss her quietly but the following verse says that Joseph had to resolve to do this. It sounds as if he went  through a process of resolution trying to deal with this very difficult and delicate situation. Also in our text we are told that Joseph is a “righteous man” and that he is unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace.  By using the term “righteous”, Matthew is telling us that Joseph is a man of God who worships God fully and who keeps all the Jewish laws. So in terms of his public reputation, Joseph has a lot to lose – the situation makes him vulnerable. At the same time Joseph is obviously a kind man who cares for Mary -  he is sensitive to her situation.

But then – an angel of God appears to Joseph in a dream. The angel says:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”

Joseph wakes up and “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him  ..”. He obeys God immediately. He doesn't need to resolve the situation anymore, he just obeys God. Joseph's response indicates he is very much a man of God, a righteous man – he immediately obeys the Lord. He is submitted to God – his ego and male pride don't get in God's way because Joseph is already faithful to God.

In addition to being faithful to God Joseph is also a man of great faith. He is asked to believe the impossible and once God has spoken to him via the angel he straight away believes God rather than his own rational mind. And Joseph has dreams. In time to come he experiences three more of these dreams in which God speaks to him. It seems then that as a man of faith who already knows and obeys God Joseph doesn't need a miraculous physical manifestation of an angel – God can speak to Joseph in his dreams and Joseph already knows God's voice.

God has confidence in Joseph – like Abraham the Lord knows He can trust Joseph because Joseph is a person of integrity; he possesses the same faith and love for God shown by Abraham and Moses – he is in fact a great man of faith, a leader and a role model. God called Abraham a father of many nations but Joseph is the human father God chose for Jesus, His divine Son.

So what do we find in Joseph that can help us to follow the Lord faithfully? First I want to point out two things: Joseph is faithful. And Joseph is ordinary and human like me and you. He isn't a rabbi or a priest with learning and authority but a carpenter or builder. He isn't affluent. He is human – he has the same passionate emotions and responses we would have in his situation. And he is caring. Your average Joe! But Joseph is open to God – not only can God speak to him in his dreams but the man immediately does what God instructs him to do, he puts aside his own feelings to serve God. Joseph listens to God. In fact he seems to be almost like a conduit for God, an open channel, a man who is both open to and listens for God's voice.

Joseph trusts God. He trusts that by God's grace and by God's faithfulness, all will work out according to God's wishes. When we consider Joseph's subsequent actions and his lifelong trust in God we remember Paul's words in Romans chapter 8. That all things do work together for good, for loving followers of the Lord who are called by God for His purposes, His plans. Joseph shows us a great example of how this living, faithful trust in God works.

Joseph is courageous. His faith in God allows him to meet the difficulties and dangers which face him in obeying God, the fears and apprehensions he must have experienced. Like Mary, Joseph doesn't know where God is leading him. Like us he doesn't have the whole picture of God's plan. But Joseph is big hearted and trusts God faithfully enough to go ahead and take the risks, both the personal and the life threatening dangers to come.

In conclusion, we can learn a lot from Joseph's faithful following of God. We can ask God for a little of Joseph's openness and his ability to listen. Perhaps we may want to pray for Joseph's amazing trust or for his bravery. What has struck me about Joseph is just how faithful he was. I've been praying for greater faithfulness generally. The other thing which has impressed me is that Joseph grew to be like God – loving, protecting, providing for his family, guiding Jesus as a child. As a person who tries to follow God and as a parent like Joseph, I find, probably like our Lord did, that Joseph is a role model I want to copy and be inspired by. So I pray for Joseph's faithful love for God and for his self-less care for others for all of us this Christmas.


Are you the One? Revd Ray's sermon for Advent 3

Are you the One? Revd Ray's sermon for Advent 3

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Violence of the world and the Yearning of God - A sermon on Hosea 11: 1-11

Revd Ray's sermon on Hosea downloadable from here

Partners in Prayer - A Sermon by Annie Saunders 24th July 2016


May I speak in the Name of Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit, in love. Amen

Howdy Partners! How many famous partnerships can we think of?

Tom and Jerry, Batman and Robin, Lone Ranger and Tonto, Frodo and Sam, Mary and Joseph, Sherlock and Watson. Abraham and God, Moses and God, David and God, Mary and God, Jesus and Peter … …

Partnerships take all sorts of forms and the partners aren't necessarily on equal terms, they can be based upon family relationships, marriage, friendship, service. And there can be more than two partners for example in a law firm or a doctors' practice.
Partners may live together or work together, be bonded together by law or service or by blood or love. The Bible is full of partnerships with God – we just identified some of the individuals who were close intimates, partners with the Lord. In prayer and in building His Kingdom on earth, we are also partners with Christ. I want us to focus on our partnership with God in prayer. First we'll examine our two readings. Then we'll consider – what is prayer. Then think about intercessory prayer and how we can be partners with God in prayers for others, for situations and for our world.

In our reading from Genesis, Abraham prays or talks to God about saving the people in the cities of Sodom and Gommorah. His nephew Lot and Lot's family are in the cities. Abraham is very persistent and virtually negotiates with God again and again.
In our New Testament reading from Luke the disciples are travelling gradually to Jerusalem and Jesus is teaching and preparing His followers for events which will occur once they arrive. His disciples ask Jesus, “Teach us to pray”. Jesus gives them His prayer which for us is like the blueprint prayer of our faith. Jesus then proceeds to tell them the parable of the persistent friend – the one about the bothersome neighbour who knocks on the door asking to borrow supplies in the middle of the night. The householder reluctantly gets up and gives his friend the bread he needs, basically to get some peace – he knows his friend will not go away otherwise.

Jesus then goes on to say, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened”. Jesus is instructing His followers and us how to pray, to ask God for things we need, for ourselves, for those we care about and for our world. Ask, Seek, Knock, like the persistent neighbour and keep on doing it, like Abraham. “Teach us to pray Lord” - this is how to pray.

Why? Jesus goes on to clarify the parable of the persistent neighbour – because God is our Father and like any good parent He longs to give us good things. Jesus uses the bothersome neighbour story as a contrast – God isn't like the reluctant householder – He waits lovingly to give us things, but we must ask and be persistent. Ask, Knock, God wants us to be involved, with Him in making good happen, in spreading love.

“Don't ask – Don't get” is the saying, meaning go ahead and ask – if you don't, you'll never obtain what you need. As I thought about today's readings and about prayer I had a realisation. For about five years, since they moved, I've wanted to go and see the Stanbrook Nuns now based in the North York Moors at New Stanbrook. They moved from Worcestershire to Wass in North Yorkshire and have established a first eco-convent. I miss my retreats at Old Stanbrook, I miss the friends I had made, especially Sister Philippa. These Benedictine nuns are the intellectual brigade – writers, photographers and artists but most famous for their singing and their prayer. I miss the blessings of their singing, I miss the power of their prayer and their goodness. And I suddenly realised I've never thought to ask God to help me to get up to North Yorkshire and see them. “I've never asked Him”, thinks me. So, although the same multiple obstacles remain – cost, difficult to get there, middle of nowhere, nowhere near to stay – I've asked the Lord. I'll let you know what happens.

So, what is prayer? To me, prayer is time spent in loving relationship with God. It's being with God, conversing with God, in some form, at whatever level. Basically – talking to our Creator who is within us, and outside us, around us. Prayer can be formal – or informal, spoken and silent communication. It can be deep contemplation or meditation, communicating without words. Prayer is about friendship and companionship – keeping company with our Lord. Jesus says, we are His friends, friends not servants. Of course, prayer is often difficult – the author Yancy says, “Turning up”, is enough, just being there with God's Spirit, even if it's just for a snatched half-minute of prayer.

Prayer is also about interceding for others and for situations in our world. To intercede means to place oneself in front of, to come inbetween them and their need or condition. This is exactly what Abraham does – he puts himself between the inhabitants of Sodom and Gommorah and his relatives and the danger all are in from the impending disaster. He intercedes for them with God.

God wants us to do the same – to intercede for other people – to come alongside them in their need. And to speak to Him about them or the situation which exists. Yancy says, God acts in response to prayer – that somehow, prayer sets God loose to act. Our prayers make a difference to other people and to our world – our prayers are part of building Christ's Kingdom of Love on earth. Our human strength is, we know, pretty feeble but Christ is our High Priest – He intercedes for us and for the people we pray for – and His strength is the ultimate strength, the power of Love.

So, we are partners with Christ when we pray. Julian of Norwich, the 14th century mystic and first female British author, identifies prayer as the main channel by which God continues partnership with us today.

Julian writes

“Prayer makes the soul one with God … For He beholds us in Love and would make us partners of His good deed and therefore He stirs us to pray for that which it pleases Him to do”

Basically, prayer and praying for others is a joint effort with God, a partnership of friends who work together in loving relationship to create good, to make God's Kingdom of Love. God and me, God and you, God and us, all partners in prayer.

So how do we pray for others? I'm sure you're ahead of me in this, I'm learning but in this partnership of prayer we are all constantly learning about how to pray. So I wanted to highlight a few ways I've found of praying for others or for a bad situation. Sometimes I light a candle at home and keep it burning as long as possible and I focus on the candle and speak to God about a person or about a crisis. Quick prayers at the bus stop or in traffic if you're driving, I've found helpful. And prayer beads or bracelets can help me when I'm quiet, just handling each of the beads and either thinking of someone or asking God to speak to me about a person or a situation. You probably know and find other ways of praying helpful – come and share your ways with me after the service. Probably the most helpful way of prayer is asking God who or what we should pray for - “what would You like me and You to pray for Lord?”

The power of intercessory prayer formed in relationship with God is immense. I want to describe it as like dynamite – but that's too destructive a description. And the power of prayer is far deeper than temporary exploding power. It's of the very essence of life, of how our world, our existence works, of how the God of infinite Love works.

Perhaps the most important need when we pray is being still and allowing Christ to enfold us in His Love – dwelling – even for a short snatched time, in Christ's love for us. And letting His awakened Being, His Love within us, move and flow, and together with Him letting that love and light flow through us, to a person or a bad situation which really needs it. Prayer is about He and me, He and us, together sending Love into the world and to others.

Let's pray

Lord, teach us to pray.
Immerse each one of us in Your Love.
Help us to pray your wishes, to hear your
desires for other people and to work
with You to send them Love.
Lord, teach us to pray with You.