Christ the King

Sermon by Rev’d Lizzie Kesteven 22/11/2020

Ezekiel – 34 – The Good Shepherd

Matthew 25 – Sheep and Goats

I suspect that I may not be alone when I tell you I have spent some time this week watching Series 4 of The Crown on Netflix. The Crown begins back in the 50’s and follows each new generation of royals and different parts of their stories. Series 4 which has been much anticipated is now in the 80’s and finally for me the series has caught up with a time in life that I actually remember. There is something rather fascinating about following the life of the Monarch and her family, even if it is as we are reminded its a fictional account, rather than a documentary.

Perhaps it is apt that this popular series about the Royal Family, a story which looks at power and kingship, at authority and rule, is back on the TV at the same time as this final festival in the churches year that we celebrate today.

The festival of Christ the King, is always the last Sunday before Advent. Advent, next week marks a new time in our seasons, a new year, a new beginning as we turn towards the crib and prepare ourselves, body and soul for Christmas. Yet today, this last festival of our year, the festival of Christ the King is a relative newcomer to the table. It was established as late as 1925 by the then Pope. A time in history when political powers were jostling over people and land, post the carnage that the First World War. It was then, and remains as today a reminder to us of , a rather brassy political statement by a Pope. A salutary poke to all those in leadership around the world, that there is only one ultimate authority and judgement that the church recognises and that is the Kingship of Jesus Christ.

It is also apt perhaps that the readings that we are asked to respond to today are ones that take a hard look at how we treat other people.

The prophet Ezekiel is always a good place to start any evisceration of those in power….and he does not let us down today. Ezekiel was also talking in a highly charged political environment and the prophet is not shy at going to town on his critique of the leaders of the day. They are held up as people who have not cared for their flock of sheep well. It speaks of those who have been greedy and taken what they needed and wasted what was left. It speaks of a sense of individual regard above that of what would be right for everyone. What does he say

“You pushed the sick ones aside and butted them away from the flock”

That is pretty damning.

So Ezekiels prophesy says that a new shepherd will come and lead the sheep. His words are ones which are definite and unshakeable. The Sovereign Lord himself will lead the flock to new pastures. He uses the words “I will” repeatedly – and it gives a sense of reassurance to those who are struggling, and that reassurance leads to a place of hope.

“I will bring them back…. I will take them out of foreign countries….I will lead them back to the mountains….I myself will be the shepherd of the sheep”

When the people cannot do it. God will.

It would have been these words and images that sprang to mind as people listened to Matthew’s gospel and account that we have today. The pictures of sheep and goats are straight out of Ezekiel. Matthew’s community, of Jewish converts would have known Ezekiel well. They are being given no doubt that the Jesus of Nazareth who has led a motley crew around Galilee for three years is presenting himself as leader of the sheep – as the new shepherd –  and in that way the ultimate authority on heaven and earth. They were dangerous political words to write in 70 AD and they were dangerous images to draw to peoples attention in 1925 when Christ the King Festival was begun. They still carry that edge and threat.

And yet acting on them – is precisely Jesus point. This is how to live. This is what I have shown you. Just as in the breaking of bread at the last supper Jesus Says “do this in remembrance of me” – here we have the words – “Do this and you do it for me” – and they are just as powerful. They form the backbone of the social gospel. They are still as revolutionary and all inclusive. DO this for anyone and you do it for me. Not do it for someone who looks like me, or thinks like me, or likes the same cat meme on facebook like me, or just the person that makes me laugh, or whose company I might enjoy. Its easy doing nice things for people we know and love. But Jesus says –

“Do this for anyone of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me.”

The forgotton, the naked, the vulnerable, the hungry, the convicted, the sick, the despised. Those. And of course during his lifetime Jesus has been everyone of these. None of those experiences are things unknown to the Soveriegn Lord, whether that is in a stable, as a refuge, as a prisoner in front of Pontius Pilate or on a cross naked.

I have often been fascinated by the different images that come to be associated with different gospels – Luke is an Ox, John is an Eagle, Mark is Lion. I think that the images make is so much easier to identify the different gospel writers in stained glass windows, or pictures.

Matthew is the human face. And in that case here at the end of this church year, on a festival where we celebrate and affirm as Christians that Christ is the King  – then how right perhaps that we have these very human faces in our gospel reading.

They put us right up close to others and what being human can mean. We cannot remove ourselves from the human faces that we see everyday. Perhaps that is why the pandemic is so challenging to our human way of life – because we are called to step into rather than away….We are called to be with others rather than apart.

It is the being with others, as God chose to be with us, that Jesus’s life, death and resurrection calls us to. There is a bigger picture or large strategies and overarching policies that can be implemented and that will help many  – be that the critical reform and funding of our health, prison, and education systems. The need to continue to be generous in the sharing of our resources with others from around the world through generous management of our foreign aid budget. 

Yet also on a much more immediate level we are asked to look at the human face, of the people around us and consider their immediate need. Are they hungry? Are they thirsty? Are they sick? – What can I do this day with one of these people? And when we do – then we meet the human face of Jesus Christ. It really is that simple. That revolutionary. That political. That Godly. Amen

Bible Sunday – 25th October 2020

Sermon Preached by Diane Simms 10am at St.Mary’s Fishponds

Readings: Psalm 77 and Luke 15:11-32

Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so


Today is Bible Sunday.
They say that the hymns we sing have a deep and lasting influence on our
faith – on what we believe – about God and Jesus.
As a child, back in my Sunday School in the Church of Ireland we used to
sing this hymn. At the time I had no idea that the words were forming my
faith, the faith in Jesus I still hold today.


Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so


This simple children’s hymn captures in a few words the vital message of
the Bible. Which is this:
The Bible is the story of God’s love for me – and for you.
And Jesus shows us exactly what God’s love is like.


Another important point about this little hymn is that it teaches that the
Bible is trustworthy. It is a reliable source of information about Jesus and
God. I know Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so.
Martin Luther, the theologian who inspired the Protestant Reformation
held a high view of the Bible as the doorway to God’s grace through faith.
Luther expressed this in a three-part saying: ‘Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide,
Sola Gratia’. By Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone – we are
saved, through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the reason we celebrate Bible Sunday. The truth is – we follow
Jesus Christ and not a book. And yet, we call this book the Holy Bible
because it it bears witness to something miraculous – the Word Of God
taking on human flesh in Jesus Christ.


Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.


The story of Jesus’ love begins in Genesis at the very first moment of
Creation. In the Nicene Creed we declare that Jesus is ‘of one being with
the Father, through whom all things were made’. Jesus is the co-creator,
the eternal word, God’s Voice. The voice that cried out: ‘Let there be
light!’ John echoes this view of Jesus as God’s voice at the start of his
Gospel when he refers to Jesus as the Word – the source of life and light.
Jesus is much more than a Word in print. He is the living Word who
speaks and acts. He heals and saves.


In recent decades Bible scholars have become enthralled with
understanding the Bible as one integrated narrative from Genesis to
Revelation. They view the Bible as the dynamic drama of God’s love in
action. God’s love is revealed through his wonderful deeds. The Anglican
Bible Scholar, Tom Wright, who was a previous Bishop of Durham,
describes the Bible as a five act play stretching from Creation to New
Creation. Here is rough sketch of his view.

Act 1 is Creation: In Genesis we meet a Good God making a good world. God who says ‘Let us make human beings in our likeness.’ The Bible begins by telling us that we are wanted. God didn’t have to make us. He loved us into existence and we have a purpose in reflecting God’s image in the world by caring for creation and each other.

Act 2 is the Fall, told in Genesis chapters 3-11. Humans rebel against God. They try to go it alone and build their own empires.

Act 3 is the story of Israel which stretches all the way from the call of Abraham through Moses and the Exodus, the Promised Land, the Exile in Babylon, and Return to Israel – up to the birth of Jesus.

Act 4 is Jesus – putting Israel and the nations right with God, through his living, suffering, dying and rising to new life .

Act 5 is the unfolding of God’s New Creation. Equipped with the Holy Spirit we in the Church are God’s partners working with him to bring hope and healing as we anticipate God’s New Heaven and New Earth.

This is the overarching story of the Bible – the story of God’s salvation which we love to hear again year after year at the St.Mary’s Easter Vigil service. The Exodus foreshadows the Resurrection. The dramatic crossing of the Red Sea tells of God’s rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s liberation of the whole of humanity from the slavery of sin and the sorrow of tragedy.

So where does faith come in? We latch onto faith by finding our place in God’s story of salvation. Where we are each coming from and where we believe we are going. I wonder where you found yourself in today’s Bible readings: yourself, your family, this church or community and our current world?

As we listened to the first half of Psalm 77 we heard the Psalm writer expressing a sense of disorientation. She dared to accuse God of forgetting her plight. She longed for life to return to the way it was before. But even in her sharply worded questions in verses 7-9 you can see that she knows that God is gracious, compassionate and merciful and she rightly expects to God to show his true colours.

This rant to God is called a lament and here in England, if we are nice polite people, we don’t take naturally to it. But we should! In these months of disorientation we can use the prayer of lament to shift our troubles and worries out of our heads and place them instead before God.

Jesus himself used the prayer of lament in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And like the writer of Psalm 77 getting things off our chest leads to fresh hope and trust. We turn from looking down and inwards and saying “Poor me!’, to looking up and outwards to God. The turning point in Psalm 77 happens at verse 11. ‘I will remember the works of the Lord and call to mind your wonders of old time’.

As I already said – the Bible is a record and reminder of God’s acts of saving love in the past. We can hold on to those mighty deeds to keep us going in the present.. With good memories to cherish, lament can turn into gratitude. And gratitude for small mercies brings hope of bigger ones. Look, we are here together in church with a choir that is singing and an organ being repaired. Thanks be to God!

A couple of weeks back we prayed words of St.Augustine – in one of my favourite collects. He says this to God: ‘Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in You.’ The writer of Psalm 77 goes on this journey from restlessness to rest, from dis-orientation to re-orientation. By remembering God’s help in times past, she recovers her attitude of gratitude and a sense of peace.

And finally let’s return to the Prodigal Son. I chose this reading for Bible Sunday because it is the Bible story supreme. A parable told by Jesus about God’s love. In this parable the storyteller and the story merge into one glorious harmony.

When people ask you why you go to church, you could simply say… ‘Let me tell you a story Jesus told..’ When you know this story by heart, it becomes so easy to show people the one true God Christians believe in. I might say something like this:

We have a God who knows we make reckless mistakes (like the younger son) – we’re mean-spirited (like the elder son). In our hearts or with our feet we leave home, get lost and drift away from our Father’s love. But then, perhaps someone close to us, something in us – God’s Holy Spirit – nudges us back to our senses. This reality check, this feeling of remorse, tells us things are not right and slowly we turn and we turn until once more we see clearly the face of our heavenly Father. He is running to meet us down the sidetrack we got lost on, with a smile on his face, eager to lead us back home. This God of second chances starts forgiving us and straightening us out. And as we glow in the warmth of his love our mean spirits and hard hearts begin to melt towards others who have wronged us. And we celebrate coming home to God where we belong together as God’s adopted children.

Let us pray

Storytelling God, you unfold the creation and call a people and send Jesus to draw us into your story and make us your companions forever. Be near to any who feel they’ve lost their way in these days and lead them home to you through Jesus Christ. Amen.

St Luke’s Day – 18th October 2020

Sermon preached by Rev’d Lizzie Kesteven

Luke

Today is the day that the church has typically over the last 1500 years recognised as the day to celebrate Saint Luke. He is perhaps one of the more familiar saints to people as he is the writer of one of the Gospels.

Luke is a bit of a mixed bag. It would I think be fascinating to meet him. We hear about him when Paul writes his letter in Timothy – a rather sad account of everyone who has deserted him and how only “Luke is with me”. However, that small snippet has been the basis on which most people believe that the person of Luke who wrote the gospel was a travelling companion of Paul’s. And this makes lots of sense, because Luke is also meant to have written the whole of the Acts of the Apostles – a detailed account of Paul’s journey.

On the one hand Luke is a meticulous writer. Known often as a Historian.  I love his first sentence in the gospel  – where he basically tells us that the reason he is writing is to give an orderly account.  Inferring that those who have written before haven’t done that – he is rather scathing perhaps of Mark’s gospel which he ironically uses a fair amount!

Many people have done their best to write a report”

Yet to be fair to Luke he has had a little more time to compose his words. He is detailed and precise in doing so. He writes a gospel of considerable length, then followed by Acts his sequel which takes up together nearly a quarter of the New Testament. He was amongst other things a prolific writer.

Yet this Historian perplexes me because he is also the most majestic of story tellers. It is in Luke that we get the story of the Prodigal Son, and that of the Good Samaritan. It is in Luke that we hear of the detailed unfolding of the events of Jesus own birth. It is with Luke that we walk the way of the Emmaus Road after the resurrection – where his story telling combines to retell the whole story of salvation. Luke tells us about Jesus and who God is with the most amazing stories. For a historian he is a pretty formidable creative writer.

Luke is also known for being the Patron Saint for Doctors and why you can often see him depicted in pictures and windows with a medicine box of sorts in his hands. Interestingly many people have noted how one of the strong themes that Luke brings to his writing is that of healing, not just physically but of Jesus bringing emotional and spiritual healing to those who ask. It is Luke whose gospel speaks strongly about Salvation being from Christ –and the word Salvation means to be “made well”.

Yet strangely perhaps– just as the Historian of Luke meets with the Story teller – so the Doctor in Luke meets with the Artist. As Luke is also the patron saint of Artists and Painters. He can be seen in the pictures of holding a classic pallet in his hand often painting Mary, who man believe he knew and met.

I wondered then – why it was that to celebrate this Saints Day that the church choses to hear from Chapter 10 of Luke. The sending of the 72. Why not have one of the unique stories – why not have the shepherds or the Emmaus Road. what is it about this account of the sending of others that is pertinent. We are because it’s Luke, drawn into what that might have been like for those who were asked by Jesus to go with no purse of bag or sandals even. That reliance on God – and the peace that brings to the households that you might encounter.

Maybe it’s because of that strong sense of peace and healing that is evoked in the passage and not just the encouragement of the 72 but the power of being able to heal the sick. For me it is that word that is key – The passage speaks of empowerment. Handing over of Power. Passing on of Power.

Now power is an interesting thing.

How we use power? Who has power? Who is powerless?

And in many ways Luke’s gospel centres on themes of power. He is the writer of Marys Magnificat – the raising up of the poor. He is the writer of the Samaritans and the tax collectors and the prostitutes. He himself was probably an outsider – a Gentile  – and it is from this place that he writes.  In fact there is a lot that Luke writes about Power and Gods’ desire in Jesus to see a power shift. Shift from those who have it to those that don’t. For the world to see Gods power and spirit and healing and peace to be possible for all people and not just a few.

We have seen in the last 9 months some of how power changes and shifts. Different groups of people have come to know the power of their voices. We have seen a shift of emphasis and status from bankers to nurses. We have also seen how people cling to power or use the power they have for their own benefit. There are power struggles happening this weekend between regional and national and devolved parties and powers, between nations.

Luke stages the gospel and the good news as the story not just of salvation but of empowerment. To those who felt they had none. We do not know who made up the 72 – but by any reckoning of Luke it will not have been the powerful. And yet in this God, through Jesus, gives them all of his own. He sends them in his name, with his power to spread the good news of peace and healing and to tell people that the Kingdom of God has come near. One of the compelling reasons that Christians can be confident of their conviction that Jesus is Lord, is the very fact that he became powerless. Knowing he was God, meant that only God could give it away.

This week perhaps then I would encourage us in Saint Luke’s words to think about power.

What power do we hold? What power are we prepared to give away? What would we like the courage to say or do? Who might we empower? Who might we raise up?

How might we also go light footed and open hearted to our neighbours and friends to whisper the words of peace and healing that God empowers us with and say – “The kingdom of God is near to you”. Amen

Dedication Sunday – 4th October 2020

Sermon preached by Rev’d Lizzie Kesteven

Matthew 21 – The Two Sons

“Let they feet tread softly, like a saint in Heaven, unshod. For to be alone in silence is to be alone with God”

This is a quote that I was given on a card by my Mum when I was 14. And being the slightly pretentious 14 year old that I was I stuck them to the front of my A4 History binder. I haven’t clue who wrote them. Anon is the designated author. Yet I know that there was something about walking and treading softly, something about that image of heaven and saints something about God and silence that struck a chord. I think the intention of the quote from my mother was to give what she saw as a rather chaotic and gung-ho teenager the permission to be quiet occasionally. Yet strangely I have always seen them more as a call to how to walk in God’s creation. I was drawn more to the treading softly, than to the silence – strange that!

Today’s gospel reading gives us a small snippet of a picture of two sons. Both who make a decision. One says he won’t do something and then does. The other says he will do something and then doesn’t. Jesus asks in effect – Who is the better Son?

The context for Jesus is bigger than at first glance. We are in Chapter 21 of Matthews Gospel – it near the end game – so to speak. In fact we are already in Jerusalem and Jesus has entered in triumph and already upset the money changers in the temple. Tensions are high. We are in the midst of Holy Week when he tells us about the Two Sons.

It’s easy to see the tension. The High Priest who Jesus is aiming this at are in two minds. They get asked about John the Baptist and they can’t answer. What they want to say might annoy the crowds, and things are pretty agitated so that would be counter-productive – after all they will need the same crowds on their side in a few days. But to agree with Jesus would then to be to accept a new order, a game change that John and Jesus are bringing about and that would mean a relinquishing of power.

Jesus hits it all home with his story about the Two Sons. Obedience isn’t about what you say you are going to do. It’s about what you do actually do.

And that’s the crux – the difficult bit. I can identify with both scenarios. We can be nuanced here – there might be many good reasons why one of the Sons didn’t follow through – perhaps he over promised and then couldn’t deliver – I know that feeling.

The story acts as  a salutary reminder to those at the time and us today that one of the hardest accusations that can be levelled at a person is the charge of hypocrisy. Practice what you preach. We see the effects of what happens if we all are like the second Son in a number of ways – we can see the damage it does to work places, to governments and to churches. It erodes trust. It makes someone or some institution seem unreliable.

As (last week) and today we think about our lives, and how to live them, in this creation season, then the charge of hypocrisy is never far away. It can be levelled at people in all sorts of ways. A famous Prince of this realm was criticised for raising awareness of climate change one day and then taking a private flight the following week. Greta Thunburg avoided the charge by trying to travel as far as possible by boat around the world. And yet let us be honest – There is perhaps a slightly unhealthy desire to catch people out – to be the person who points the finger and shouts “Hypocrite” – to take everything in their shopping basket out and examine it in detail for a slip or failure to live up to the exacting standard that has perhaps been set –  so that we then don’t have to listen to a message in the first place. We have to be careful with the word hypocrisy.

However, The parable of the two sons suggests that words and actions do need to match up. So how do we do that? How do we break the debate up so that it feels less like a small collection of people having to shout loudly about the need to do this, and then being judged and discarded if they are found wanting.  And it feels more like a lot of people getting on with their daily lives treading a little more softly, in a way that becomes almost unintentionally how we now live.

God’s creation is a marvellous and wonderful thing. It draws us in and it renews and refreshes us. It provides all that we need in order to flourish and grow. The good news of this creation season, and harvest, is that God has indeed provided us with everything we need in order to tread softly. We have amazing people who are working on renewables and the technology to do so. We have people who can design transport that uses less or zero fossil fuels. And businesses are re-examining in the light of Covid 19 the need to get people to travel across the globe for a meeting. We are truly and wonderfully made and completely up for the task of treading more softly. And in our own small ways, each one us knows the little that we can do that adds to the whole that makes that difference. In that way we will and can change the debate and be part of the good news that we are called to.

Amen

30th August 2020


Preached by Rev’d Janey Hiller


Readings:
• Matthew 16:21-end
• Romans 12:9-end


We’ve come to a something of a turning point in Matthew’s gospel today. If we look back at last week – Peter had an inspired revelation about who Jesus was and the passage ended with Jesus telling his disciples to keep that knowledge to themselves – it says he ‘sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.’

Then, this morning’s gospel starts in contrast with knowledge being revealed – it reads: ‘From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’

So we’ve got this gear-shift from keeping things under wraps to things beginning to be revealed:

  • about Jesus’s purpose,
  • about Jesus’s mission,
  • And about what will need to happen to Jesus in order that they will be fulfilled.

One of the key characters in this story line is Simon Peter, and in that shift from last week to this week, there are some interesting contrasts in the way Simon Peter and Jesus interact.

First off, last week, in response to Simon’s revelation, Jesus renames Simon as ‘Cephas’, Peter – the rock – saying that rock would be the foundation stone of the church. But this week we have a very different type of rock – the kind of rock that you stub your toe on when you’re walking along – Peter – the rock – is now called a stumbling block.

A second contrast is around the source of Simon Peter’s inspiration. In last week’s passage Jesus blesses Peter for recognising him as the Son of God, saying the revelation was divinely inspired. This is not simply Peter drawing a human conclusion – rather it’s knowledge revealed to him by the Father. Contrast that with this week’s gospel where Jesus issues a biting rebuff to Peter. He effectively curses him – calling him ‘Satan.’! Then doubles that up by saying that Peter has set his mind on human things, not divine things.


So, Peter goes:

  • From blessed to cursed
  • From rock to stumbling block
  • From divinely inspired to carnal

It’s tempting to feel sorry for Peter – he just can’t seem to sustain these high-point moments. But more often than not, I’m inspired by Peter – because of his fallibility. We may not experience such profound contrasts in our walk with Jesus, but we are all fallible. We all have those times where words come out of our mouths and we wish we had a ‘delete’ button, or where we have an opportunity to act ethically and justly, but opt to preserve our own comfort, or we have the opportunity to trust, but choose to be bound by anxiety.

All of these little micro-choices we make on a day-to-day basis are just what it is to be human. It shows us that, even though we are able to touch divinity through Christ, we are all dust and flesh and we are making our journeys of faith both with a sense of awe and wonder as well as with a sense of trembling and fumbling and stumbling.

Back to the story.

The thing Peter is objecting to is the idea that Jesus is going to have to suffer. Not only to suffer but to be killed! Peter says, “God forbid it – this must never happen to you!” I can imagine Peter thinking about Jesus getting arrested and then leaping to his defence in much the same way that he did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter has as a brawny physicality about him – a robustness that life as a fisherman would have nurtured – no doubt he would have sought to defend Jesus physically if he saw a threat.

But Jesus is pointing out that Peter’s got the wrong end of the stick. Rather than protecting Jesus by trying to prevent him from going through suffering, Peter is actually standing in the way of Jesus and his mission. He’s hindering the journey towards redemptive freedom that will ultimately come through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Jesus goes on to talk about what he expects of his followers on that journey. That they would walk with him in embracing the hand-in-hand contradiction of suffering and freedom. If Jesus had that path before him, then that same path lays before his followers too. Jesus says, ‘if anyone wants to become my followers let them deny themselves take up their cross and follow me.’

Whilst some religious and philosophical movements say the way to freedom is the elimination of suffering, Jesus’ way embraces suffering. It’s the mechanism through which he is able to fulfil the salvation of the world. Think about it – it’s actually incredibly bizarre! How can it be that suffering and death is the key that unlocks life?


Well, I think we can see a micro-version of that dynamic in our day-to-day lives. We form expectations about what is ‘ideal’ – whether it’s work, home, looks, self-expression – and we are prepared to make sacrifices to achieve those ideals. For example: a mum sacrifices staying at home to go out to work because she grew up in poverty and she doesn’t want her kids to go through the same. A young woman quits her secure well-paid job to pursue a dream of being an artist. I’m sure you can think of similar examples, perhaps even from your own lives.

So we’re familiar with the concept of delayed gratification – there is something in us that says that it’s OK to make sacrifices in order to achieve a longer-term or higher goal. That familiar principle plays out on a cosmic and divine stage in what Jesus is outlining to his disciples.

Following Jesus will involve sacrifice. It will involve us encountering suffering, it will involve us opting for forgiveness and reconciliation instead of grudges or revenge when we’ve hurt others or been hurt by them, it will involve holding faith when we wrestle with God-questions and yucky bible passages that we’d prefer didn’t exist, and it will involve persevering in love and kindness and grace for others who are ‘not like us’. All because we are called to be people who follow Jesus on a spiritual journey from suffering and loss to one of resurrection and life.


In the Lord of the Rings films, Frodo the hobbit is in possession of a ring which gives its wearer vast power. The evil Sauron wants to get his hands on it – no good can come of that – and it’s Frodo’s mission to carry the ring to the Fires of Mordor to destroy it. He endures huge suffering on the journey – both physically and mentally as he is tormented by the power of the ring affecting his mind and emotions. Climbing up the desolate, parched Mount Doom with his faithful companion Sam, they collapse in exhaustion. Frodo is unable to go on, but Sam gathers his last strength, and with tears streaming down his cheeks scoops Frodo up saying, ‘Come on Mr Frodo. I can’t carry the ring for you, but I can carry you!’ You can watch the scene here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqJGPzAwyV8

Now, we might not be climbing up Mount Doom, but we have been – and are – going through some tough times. Whilst some have been able to take the pandemic and lockdown in their stride, for many it has been like enduring suffering. Financial and housing insecurity, social isolation, limited access to health care, and anxiety about whatever and whenever our new ‘normal’ will become, have compounded pre-existing issues like domestic abuse, poverty, mental and physical ill-health. Aside from that, in the wider world, we hear stories about political upheaval and oppression, injustice and conflict, devastating weather systems and species extinction and so much more that speaks of a world enduring many aches and pains. And I’m sure there are those among us who feel like they are enduring rather than enjoying life.


We are, indeed, walking a road of suffering, as Jesus did.


But we do not walk it alone – we are carried by each other and by Christ. Our reading from Romans, urges us as a body to follow Christ’s example of mutual love together, to endure together, to nurture patience and perseverance together.

Despite Peter’s protests and misunderstanding, the message is that suffering didn’t have the last word for Jesus; resurrection did. And suffering doesn’t have the last word for us either.


In the Lord of the Rings book, the same scene tells of how Sam, when he collapsed on the mountainside, looked up at the sky – it reads:

 ‘There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.’

Much like that twinkling star that bolstered Sam’s hope, I too am encouraged to hope, in Christ, that the ‘shadows’ we are now in, are a ‘small and passing thing.’ That beyond the shadow of our present sufferings, there is light and high beauty for ever.

I’ll end with a prayer from Samuel Well’s book, Incarnational Ministry: I pray that: ‘Through the Holy Spirit, Christ, who releases us from the prison of the past through forgiveness, and from the fear of the future through everlasting life, may enable us to dwell in the present in faith and hope and love.’ Amen.