Sermon for Lent 1 by Neil

It was noticed on the on line Bible Study Group the other day that last Sunday’s gospel and today’s gospel both from Mark, contain very similar proclamations reputed to come from heaven or from God.


It is also interesting to note who it is who hears these proclamations, today it might appear that only Jesus heard the heavenly voice and last week it would appear the voice spoke to the three specially chosen disciples.


“You are my son the beloved, in you I am well pleased” (today) and “This is my son the beloved, listen to him” last week.


It is important to remind ourselves that we have heard these heavenly proclamations in reverse order, as they actually open up something important for Mark as he unfolds his announcement of the Good news about Jesus the Son of God. He has stated his agenda in the opening of his account and so this week’s heavenly voice followed by last week’s heavenly voice and crucially followed later by the centurion speaking from the cross no less complete the revelation.


“Truly this man was the son of God”


There is no coincidence in the way Mark unwraps his story, it is precise and it is intriguing and exciting.


Mark, in a similar but different way to John, begins with the point clearly understood that Jesus is the Son of God.


Mark however sees this in a more narrative and earthly setting, a way that may appear to us like a traditional biography of events.


Within this biography there are these celestial proclamations but the rest is left to the Disciples to learn mark and inwardly digest (as one of our famous collects neatly puts it.)


By the time Mark (a gentile convert to Christianity and not a Jew), wrote his gospel the church was well established and information and belief about who Jesus was  well held amongst the company. He casts back into the life of Jesus an exciting web of intrigue into the story set off by these heavenly proclamations.


All the other recognizers of Jesus in Mark are the possessed and “of the other world”


Mark has Jesus “hidden(though in plain sight)” throughout the gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to keep things secret, not to tell anyone who he is, and he commands the evil spirits who recognize him to be silent.


Mark writes a good mystery story. All will be revealed at the end.


Some other interesting observations are that after today’s gospel reading Jesus finds himself in the wilderness undergoing a time of testing for his mission, and after last week’s heavenly proclamation on the mount of Transfiguration it is the disciples who find themselves in a state of testing confusion when they come down from their “spiritual high” to be confronted by apparent failure and weakness. (“why what has happened?”)


As we journey through Lent let us be aware of the precious gift that we carry within us, that life of Jesus which we hold to be important to us.


It may not always be apparent; we sometimes even want to keep quiet about it. There are times when it will even confound us (why what has happened?).


We have heard and read heavenly proclamations and still it sometimes seems less than fully clear.


We will continue along with Jesus and experience the ups and downs of the disciples in the story, for sure it was not an easy ride even for them.


We will even at times in our journey deny and forsake our Lord.


But the road to the cross standing at the head of Lent beckons us on and with the centurion we can proclaim “Truly this was the Son of God”

Pew Sheet for Lent 1

Second Sunday before Lent by Alma

Sermon For Second Sunday before Lent year B.  Epiphany 8


First I’d like to start by posing a question.

How would you explain or describe your concept of God?  The beauty of this question is that there are no wrong answers because we all have our own idea! Now put your thought on the back burner for now, and maybe you would like to share your ideas with others later. I’m pretty certain that this afternoon, after the service at St Colman’s there’ll be quite a discussion about people’s answers.

We re told that no one has seen God at any time but we are given some clues in our readings today. And what brilliantly poetic and evocative passages they are!


Lets start with Proverbs.

Lady Wisdom is describing time before the creation of the world and her part in it as well as her relationship with God. She says, ’The Lord created me at the beginning of his work before the beginning of the earth. When he established the heavens I was there….. I was beside him like a master worker, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. ‘


Wisdom is an integral part of the Jewish  faith and is usually personified as female.

At one level it is intelligence or shrewdness. At the next it is good sense, sound judgment, and moral understanding.  A third level is the capacity to consider profounder problems of human life and destiny. Wisdom therefore becomes the fruit of the unending quest for the meaning of man’s experience of life and religion. The search for the higher wisdom led to the twin convictions that, in the last analysis, wisdom comes to mankind only as a divine gift, and that it belongs to the very nature of God himself. (My Jewish Learning)

But what stood out for me in this reading was the sheer joy and enthusiasm in the creation. I felt that the author of Proverbs, probably Solomon, portrayed the energy and excitement and delight of God and Wisdom working together. It was the Genesis story but with more passion and poetry.


And then we come to John 1. Another ‘beginning ‘ story but so well known that I think we sometimes lose the significance because of the familiarity of the words. We can get carried away with the rhythm  and flow of the language  and forget to absorb the depth of meaning. ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ Now that’s a bit confusing!  I’m not a Greek scholar so I decided to do a bit of research into the original Greek translation and after a lot of grammatical explanations that were over my head I finally came up with the suggestion that in the original writing

it does indicate that this Word was not the same ‘person’ as the Father God, but has the same ‘essence’ and ‘nature’.

Slightly less confusing and looking a lot like the origin of Lady Wisdom who was created by God in the very beginning!


And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his Glory, full of grace and Truth.

Which leads us nicely on to Colossians!

It begins, ‘Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,’ and later ‘In him all things hold together.’What a modern statement when you consider that  we now accept, scientifically that all life is interdependent‘  He is the beginning!’


When I first read these three passages I must confess that I found it mind blowing. They literally took my breath away!  My first thought was ‘Wow,  what a brilliant sermon that would make!’ Then I remembered that I was writing that sermon and reality struck! Over the last month I have had so many images and ideas whirling round in my head that my mind has literally been in a state of chaos, so please forgive my meanderings as I try to make sense of these incredible readings.


The first thing I had to get my head around was the time scale. Remember the first reading about Wisdom? ‘Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.’ I noticed how much emphasis was put on water. The significance of this hit me when I read the following quote.

‘The water you drink is older than the planet you are standing on! Up to 50% of the water in your drinking glass was created over 4.5 billion years ago, which means that Earth’s water is older than the Solar system, the Sun and the Earth itself.’ (Source; Physics 

My attention was caught!   4 and a half Billion years!  How old was the Universe? Turns out it’s estimated at 14 billion years! That’s a long time!


It always amazes me, when I read the Creation story and remember that it was in circulation before the advent of writing, how close it is to the scientific theory of evolution. How on earth could the first tellers of the creation story get it so right?

Then I thought of the verse in Genesis about God making mankind in his own image and remembered about something that Richard Rohr had written;

‘For those who are willing to see, the divine self-revelation of creation as image and likeness is everywhere evident, long before Scriptures were written. God was not mute for 14 billion years. Even though Abraham didn’t have the Bible (either of the Testaments!), he and Sarah still knew God—which is true for all the Patriarchs and their families. They instead knew God by the relationship called faith, better translated as “trust in goodness.” He  also explained that“Image” is our objective DNA that marks us as creatures of God from the very beginning.


There has been a lot written about DNA and the fact that you can trace your ancestry back through countless generations.   How awe inspiring is it to think we can go back to the dawn of creation, to the time when Wisdom rejoiced in the inhabited world and delighted in the human race. Our at-one-ment with God has always been with us regardless of who we are and how we differ in colour, language, gender and all the other differences we choose to notice.


Then 2000 years ago, a blink of an eye compared to the 4 and a half  billion years that had passed, the Word became man and lived with us, bringing a message from the dawn of time. He reintroduced us to our Creator, the living God  who made us in his image, who gave us his DNA. And the message he brought is as simple, radical and life-changing now as it was then.   Love God,  love each other!

He brought the truth – the Word,- that had been lost, and he promised us the wisdom in the shape of the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us if we allow it. He taught us how to delight in God, his world and each other and to look forward to the joyful coming of his Kingdom.


At the beginning I asked you to think how you would describe your concept of God, so it’s only fair that I should offer you mine.  For me, God embodies Love, Truth and Wisdom but  ( to paraphrase St Paul) the greatest of these is Love!



Sunday next before Lent

Pew Sheet for second Sunday before Lent

Pew sheet for Epiphany 2

Sermon for Second Sunday of Advent

Advent this year has brought in me a real mix of feelings and thoughts.


I really appreciated what Alma said last week about the preparation and the question to us about how we prepare for most things but how are we preparing for the journey of life. Advent is certainly about preparation and is about seeing this preparation as to do with life.


The online bible study through the diocese to which a few Shetland folk contribute has also been a source of thought and encouragement for me.


This week attention was drawn to baptism (in fact it was Rachel that brought this point) and the way Advent could be a time to remember our baptism and the promises we have made and the assurance of Gods redeeming love for our own Christian journey.


Mark as we know does not have a narrative about the birth of Jesus. For Mark this spotlight of God is put wholly and completely on the baptism of Jesus.


Whereas our Christmas Stories fulfill the function of humanity recognizing God at work in the person of Jesus… for Mark it is the Baptism where this happens and the climax of this for mark is that declaration “This is my beloved son”


From this point in his story mark unwraps all the ways in which the Good news of God’s love is shown and made clear.


I am pleased that two of our Gospels do not have a birth narrative. John and Mark.


It is also interesting to note that Mark was the  first Gospel to be written, and John was the last. In neither is there talk of Mary and Joseph and the donkey, the shepherds or even wise men.


People often worry today that with all the commercialization of Christmas and the hype and focus on presents and cards etc, the real meaning of Christmas is lost.


But I also want to say to the church that sometimes with all the focus on the stable, the point of Christmas as A Christian feast can also be lost. It is after all so easy to pack away the trappings after the story has been exhausted.


Mark’s simple declaration “This is my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased” really says it all. The spotlight is firmly set on Jesus and we would do well to follow this good news as it unfolds. This Good news is not so easily packed away in the boxes.


So if Advent can help us remember Baptism this is surely a good thing. We will realise that the journey we make is one of faith and one that we continue to learn about throughout or life.


To jump ahead to John the other gospel with no stable we are shown at the outset a light that enlightens the world and one that gives us the power ourselves to be children of God.


So on this second Sunday of Advent lets us indeed be prepared. Our Baptism, or whatever moment we personally declared allegiance to God in us, is the beginning of a journey. A journey, a process , which we carry throughout our life.


The Stable we shall soon inevitably visit is but a part of the recognition of God at work, it is not the whole story.


Advent reminds us of the need to be ever watchful and wakeful to the openings of God… and from our epistle today



14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Pew Sheet for Advent 3

Pew sheet for Advent 2

Alma’s sermon from Advent Sunday

Have you been on any journeys lately?

Maybe on holiday, or a short visit to a friend, or even a trip to the shops?

Did you prepare for your journey, or was it a spur of the moment decision?

How much planning did you do? Did you write lists or just hope you’d remember everything?

We probably do more planning than we realize. Obviously if we are going on a holiday we have to book accommodation and travel arrangements well in advance, and then decide what we need to take with us and what we can safely do without.

Even short trips tend to be planned. What’s the best time to go? What do we need to take with us? Do we need a shopping list?

But what about the other journeys we make that don’t necessarily include travelling but still have a goal? What we could call mental journeys. The list is endless. We’ve all been through the educational voyage, at least to the age of 16, although some of us continued long after that.  Some of us have been through the hazardous journey of parenthood with the added difficulty that no map is provided and the journey often goes on much longer than expected! Of course the most unpredictable and exciting journey begins at birth and goes on to death.


Today, as Christians, we are starting a new journey. The season of Advent, the beginning of a new Liturgical year. Often Advent is considered a time of waiting, almost a standing around doing nothing time, while we wait for the big event, the birth of Jesus; Christmas Day. Of course its nothing like that really, as some of us have been preparing for weeks, ordering presents, sorting out menus for the whole holiday season, decorating the house, planning our social life and so on, anything except standing around!  But are we missing the point? Advent is not so much a time of waiting for something to happen, but more a time of preparation, a very personal time where the physical tasks of getting things done, might take second place to the chance of preparing ourselves mentally and spiritually for one of the most significant times of the Christian year, the celebration of God, made Man! It’s an opportunity to reassess our priorities, to get rid of all the inessentials we seem to have collected through the past year, and to focus on the year ahead and how we can prepare not just to worship the baby but also to follow in the footsteps of the great teacher.

And so we come to today’s readings. When I realized I was preaching on the first Sunday in Advent I was quite excited. Ideas were tumbling round in my head, you’ve already had a glimpse of them, journeys, new beginnings, anticipation and so on. Then I read the Lectionary and my heart sank.  It was very difficult to find any comfort in them. Where was the joy, the anticipation that I had thought about? For a short while I considered handing the task over to Neil who I’m sure would have been delighted to accept the challenge but I decided that was the cowards way out!   So here goes.


First the reading from Isaiah. To refresh your memories, the writer is obviously unhappy with God’s treatment of the Israelites.  God, who had always been there for them seems to have turned away from them. He says, ‘You were angry; you have hidden your face from us’. Not a good place to be.

But lets put this reading into its historical context. Of course the Israelites were upset because they were in exile, away from their own country, in a strange land! Of course they felt deserted even though the reading makes it quite plain that they accepted that it was their own fault. The writer says ‘we have transgressed, we have sinned, our iniquities, like the wind; take us away.’

The gospel reading doesn’t offer much comfort either in the beginning. Jesus said In those days after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heaven will be shaken’. Pretty grim reading!


But again lets put it in context. Mark probably wrote this during or just after the Jewish uprising against the Romans, which was a time of persecution, bloodshed and uncertainty about the future particularly for Christian Jews. They too must have felt that God had turned away from them.

And then I thought about our world at the moment. Every day we read the newspapers, or tune in to Radio or TV and hear so much to worry us. At home we are beset by dire predictions over Brexit and the difficulties that lie ahead. We worry about the outcome of the disagreements  between the leaders of America and North Korea, and agonise over the plight of those who are dispossessed and driven from their homeland by war or religious persecution. And that’s before the natural disasters of hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes. Has God turned his face from us? There must be times when we think so.


But, and fortunately theres always a ‘but’, hope is not lost.

Isaiah says that God is like a potter and we are the clay. He has us in his hands, he is our father and we are his people.

Mark talks about the fig tree, apparently dead but as summer comes so do the new leaves  then we know that God is near.

The Israelites returned to their home, Christianity thrived and despite many setbacks  the message of Christ still continues to bring joy today.


As we enter the season of Advent, this may be the perfect time to consider what Advent is all about: entering the shadows of despair, war, sorrow, and hate, actively waiting for Jesus to come, lighting candles of hope, peace, joy, and love.

Likewise, to really hear what Mark is saying, we first need to enter the shadows, those places where all hope seems lost. Once we have entered the shadows (both intellectually and emotionally), from there we can proclaim the good news, the hope that rings out when all hope seems lost.  The message is that God is on the way!  And precisely because of this, all of us should be watchful and alert over the days and weeks ahead, cultivating a mindful attentiveness to signs of hope and wonder all around.  Keep awake!

Despite the dreadfulness we hear about and see, Gods love shines through in the acts of those who refuse to give up hope, who stay awake to continue his work by shining light in the dark places of the world. We, like the Israelites are beginning to realise that many of the disasters are caused by our own actions and are trying to put things right.

So as we start our journey through our new liturgical year let us not forget to keep the light of Gods love shining as the Star of Bethlehem shone over the babe in the manger and keep awake!


Alma Lewis Lay Reader