Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus Predicts His Death
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The Way of the Cross
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Last week, if you followed the lectionary, you would have heard the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus more or less says no, because He has come to help the Jews, not the Gentiles, which is very difficult for us to read and comprehend. This is not an all-loving Jesus; this is a rather harsh Jesus. He was rude to the woman, and He called her a dog. Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. His human part is still developing, and He is still learning about and understanding his ministry. Jesus is only just realising that He is not just there for the Jews, He is there for everybody. Jesus only realised this after He had met the Syrophoenician woman and heard her response to His refusal to heal her daughter. So, He changed his mind and healed the girl.
Jesus is being rude again in today’s reading. He is being rude to Peter, who has gone from hero to zero within two verses. The climax of Mark is Jesus asking, “Who do people say I am?” Who do we think Jesus is? Is He just a biblical figure and a great storyteller? Is He just a miracle worker, someone who can feed 5000 people with only a few loaves and fishes and raise people from the dead? How we respond to these questions changes our lives. If we only think that Jesus is a miracle worker, then so what? But if we believe Jesus is the Son of God, then that changes everything.
In John 6:66, Jesus’s message was not liked, and many turned back and no longer followed him. In the next two verses, Jesus asks his disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter is saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the person sent by God to save us. Jesus may not be who they expected, for instance, a warrior with a mighty army. Other people claiming to be the Messiah had appeared in this way, but they had failed.
Jesus was pleased with Peter’s answer but, as we see in Mark, His attitude quickly changes. He tells Peter to shut up and “Get behind me, Satan!” Once again, Jesus is coming across as a bit rude. What Jesus was trying to tell Peter was, despite knowing Jesus was the Messiah, Peter was wrong to rebuke Jesus for talking about his upcoming death. Jesus is saying Peter’s thoughts did not come from God, but man. Peter was right about Jesus being the Messiah, and he was right to follow Jesus, but Jesus is making him aware of what will happen to his followers. They will lose their lives.
Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, was skinned alive in Armenia. James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, had his head bashed in. Andrew was crucified in Greece. Judas Iscariot, as we know, hanged himself. Peter was crucified upside down by Emperor Nero. Thomas was stabbed by a spear in India. James the Great was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. Philip was tortured and hung up to die. Matthew was staked to the ground in Ethiopia. Jude, also known as Thaddeus, was crucified in Turkey. Simon was crucified and sawn in half. Even Matthias, who replaced Judas, was beheaded. The only disciple that we believe died from old age was John, the author of the Book of Revelation.
The disciples went to horrible deaths, and that would not have happened if they did not know Jesus was the Messiah. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a famous book called The Cost of Discipleship (1937). He says the reason Christianity is suffering is because people go for cheap grace. People think by saying that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour, they will be alright. These same people never put their beliefs into action and speak up for Jesus. But as Bonhoeffer, James and Mark say, people should show their faith through their actions. If you want your faith to show, then it has to be full of good works. It is not a cheap grace; we have to suffer for our God. Jesus is telling His disciples that they will suffer, but your soul will also be saved.
As always, it is our choice. God does not let people into heaven who do not want to be there. The only people who will get to heaven are the people that want to be there. To want to be there is to love God and to love God is to show it.
This sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 12th September 2021
St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most famous landmarks in London. In photographic and illustrative cityscapes of the capital, St Paul’s is invariably positioned in the centre. The cathedral is so well known, it independently represents England’s famous city.
The beautiful building is admired by thousands of visitors every day, attracting over 250,000 school children per year. For many, to have a photograph taken on the steps of the main entrance is sufficient, however, the interior is something not to be missed.
In order to fully appreciate the magnificence of the architecture and decoration, some knowledge of the cathedral’s history needs to be recognised. Many people know about the destruction of the building during the Great Fire of London in 1666, but the current structure is actually the fifth cathedral to have stood on this site.
In 604AD, King Ethelbert of Kent founded the first St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the City of London. At this time, Christianity was still relatively new, therefore the wooden structure was one of the first religious settlements in England. Unfortunately, most likely due to the inadequate building material, it succumbed to fire in 675. Undeterred, the building was re-erected, only to be destroyed by Vikings a few centuries later.
The third version of the church was sensibly built in stone, however, St Paul’s appeared to be ill-fated, suffering another fire in 1087. With the Normans on the throne, those in power were determined to build the tallest church in the world, so construction began on a fourth building. The erection of this unique cathedral took many years followed by an additional 60 to make it even larger.
From 1300 to 1600, St Paul’s Cathedral stood without fatal incident, however, lack of care resulted in a gradual deterioration. Inigo Jones, a notable architect (whose other notable works include the Queen’s House, Greenwich) oversaw the restoration of the decrepit building, but it was doomed from the start with the launch of the English civil war. Plans to continue developing the cathedral were made after the reinstatement of the monarchy, with Christopher Wren drawing out the blueprint, unfortunately, the hapless building was to face another demolition. In 1666, before Wren had the opportunity to start building, St Paul’s was completely destroyed by the infamous Great Fire of London.
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was a remarkable man of many talents. Now respected for his architectural skills, he was also an accomplished astronomer and mathematician. In fact, he was a professor of astrology at Gresham College in London and Oxford University. His deep-rooted devotion to Christ, as a result of being a rector’s son, and his allegiance to the royal family during the civil war earned Wren the opportunity to work on the prestigious cathedral.
Wren had already completed several commissions in London, including the palaces at Kensington and Hampton Court, therefore Charles II knew he was a trustworthy architect to take charge of London’s greatest building. With a motto “Architecture aims at eternity,” Wren not only focused on the aesthetic appeal but took into consideration the longevity of the construction.
By 1675, Sir Christopher Wren was ready to begin building work. The floor plan was set out to resemble a Latin cross – an indicator of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and the building was to be topped with a dome, mainly to satisfy Wren’s desire.
Initially, Charles II and other influential individuals were set on having a spire atop the cathedral, but due to Wren’s persistence, the famous dome was assembled instead, thus unintentionally creating one of St Paul’s Cathedral’s famous interior marvels: the Whispering Gallery.
The Whispering Gallery, located 30 metres above the cathedral floor, got its name as a result of an architectural fluke affecting the acoustics in the dome. A whisper against the wall on one side of the gallery can purportedly be heard at the opposite wall. Unfortunately, the number of visitors in the gallery makes it impossible to fully test this theory. If the 257-stepped spiral staircase was not too much for you, it is possible to climb even higher. Above the Whispering Gallery at 52 metres and 85 metres from the ground are the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery. These both run around the outside of the dome, providing fantastic, panoramic views across London.
Although the unique acoustic trait may fail to occur, it is still worth the long climb up to the Whispering Gallery. From the balcony, you can peer down at the floor of the cathedral where the main church services are conducted. Depending on which side of the dome you stand, it is also possible to see a bird’s eye view of the nave, north transept and south transept.
The most awe-inspiring sight from the Whispering Gallery is not the view below but the closer view of the painted ceiling of the dome. This, of course, can be seen from the ground, however, the intricate details can be better appreciated from this higher vantage point. Surrounding the entire dome, and made to look three dimensional with the inclusion of painted pillars, are murals to represent the life of Saint Paul.
There is evidence to suggest that Christopher Wren wished the entire ceiling to be made up of mosaics, but, most likely due to costs, Sir James Thornhill (1675/5-1743) was commissioned to provide monochrome paintings instead. St Paul’s Cathedral is one of two famous ceilings that Thornhill was responsible for, the other being the ceiling of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
Thornhill did not paint alone, instead, he supplied detailed pen-and-ink sketches for other painters to replicate. A total of eight scenes completes the experience of Saint Paul as written in the fifth book of the New Testament: the Book of Acts. A particularly memorable painting is based on an incident accounted in Acts 27 in which Paul has been shipwrecked on the island of Malta. The artist has depicted Saint Paul holding a poisonous snake, which ought to have killed him. His survival convinced the island inhabitants of the existence of God.
Although Wren did not get his wish for the entire dome to be decked in mosaics, the triangular spaces below Thornhill’s work caused by the structure of the dome’s arches, have been filled with the coloured mosaics. Designed by Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) and George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), these portray four Old Testament prophets (Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah) and the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Again, these can be seen from the cathedral floor, or from a closer perspective in the Whispering Gallery.
It is only natural for a cathedral to be filled with biblical paintings and objects, however, St Paul’s is also famous for a number of burials. The crypt, which can be entered via stairs by the north transept, is home to many graves and statues that honour individuals of significant reputation. The two most popular are the tombs of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.
Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson earned his spot in St Paul’s crypt after being killed in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. Despite his demise, Nelson prevented an invasion of Britain by Napoleon and his army. Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, is also a national hero and deserves his granite casket under the cathedral. His army successfully defeated Napoleon at the famous Battle of Waterloo.
A third important thing to locate (no, not the cafe – although do visit that as well) is Sir Christopher Wren’s tomb. This is slightly more difficult to find in comparison to the elaborate memorials of the war heroes. In the south aisle of the Chapel of Faith, set in the Cathedral’s foundations, is a simple stone slab. Initially, this may appear an insult to the great architect and individual responsible for the construction of the long-lasting building, however, written in Latin above his tomb is the epitaph “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.” Wren does not need an effigy or ornate tombstone, he is buried in the undercroft of his very own creation.
Other notable memorials around the crypt are for artists and scientists who contributed greatly to society through their work. These include J. M. W. Turner, Joshua Reynolds, William Blake, Randolph Caldecott, Sir Alexander Fleming and Florence Nightingale. The latter is one of the very few women to be honoured in such a way at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Memorials in the form of statues can also be found inside the main body of the cathedral. Carved by various sculptors from a variety of stone, an abundance of well-known names and likenesses can be spotted from all corners of the building. Lord Leighton, Lord Kitchener, Samuel Johnson and John Donne are a few examples. In the grounds outside, a gilded statue of Saint Paul and a stone Queen Anne, the reigning monarch at the completion of the Cathedral, are located.
St Paul’s Cathedral is also home to other artworks, excluding the memorial tombs and statues. The ceilings themselves are an exceptional feat, decorated with complicated mosaics. These were added from 1896 in order to appease Queen Victoria, who believed that cathedral looked dull and shabby.
Other works to look out for include Mother and Child by Henry Moore and The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt – the altarpiece in the Chapel of Saints Erkenwald and Ethelburga, as well as temporary exhibitions: the Commemorative Crosses by Gerry Judah – in memoriam of the First World War, Tides by Pablo Genovés and Martyrs by Bill Viola.
Of course, everything else in the cathedral is beautiful enough to be recognised as art. From altars and gates to the stone flooring, everything can be appreciated. The current organ is also a sight to cherish. Being the third largest in the United Kingdom, it has 7256 pipes and is decorated with elaborate carvings. Apparently, even the original organ was something special, being the first in Britain to have pedals. The composer, George Frederick Handel, got great pleasure from playing this instrument.
St Paul’s Cathedral is as magnificent as it was when completed in 1711, only 36 years after work began. It has been the location of many ceremonies, particularly the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles in 1981. It has also been a place of celebration for the jubilees of both of Britain’s longest reigning queens.
Thanks to Sir Christopher Wren’s durable architecture, St Paul’s Cathedral will hopefully remain standing for centuries to come. Thousands of services can be predicted to take place during the following years, but why wait to experience the amazing building? As long as you are willing to pay the fee, St Paul’s Cathedral is ready to welcome you and reveal its true beauty.
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Taming the Tongue
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
I have found some interesting facts about the tongue:
How do we use our tongue? It is important to remember that everything can be used for both good and bad. A knife, for example, can be used as a tool, but it can also be used as a weapon. Nuclear atomic energy is a clean form of energy, but it can also be used as a weapon of mass destruction. The same applies to the tongue; we too can cause enormous devastation.
A man came up to me and said, “Martin, you remind me of a computer.” I thought, wow, is that because I am quick, can solve most things and retain information? He said, “No. As you get older, you lose your memory, you become outdated, you crash unexpectedly, and eventually have to have your parts replaced.” Rude!
So, with our tongue, we can uplift, or we can vilify. At a football match, there is chanting from the spectators. This chanting can uplift, and players have said there is nothing better than hearing their names being sung. Yet, the chanting often becomes quite nasty against the opposing team.
We can control the tongue. We can control what we say and what we do. The reading in James is reminding us that there will be a judgement day. What we say and how it is received is very important. James is warning us to be careful.
There is a little mnemonic, which is quite useful: THINK. Before you speak, you have to think:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
Before you speak, THINK, and if your words fit that criterion, then go ahead and speak.
This Sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 12th September 2021
It is virtually impossible to find a building more steeped in British history than the spectacular structure of Westminster Abbey. Although sections of the present building date from the 1200s, its history dates even further back. Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Abbey has been in constant use and importance in the life of past and present royal families. Still used for church services today, Westminster Abbey welcomes visitors to tour the sacred building and marvel at the architecture and the many wonders hidden inside.
There is a discrepancy about the origins of the first church built on this site, however, historical evidence has been confirmed for the years subsequent to the death of Edward the Confessor at the very beginning of 1066. Children are taught at an early age about the Battle of Hastings that followed the death of this holy king, but little to no emphasis is put on the use of Westminster Abbey at that time, nor in the lives of future monarchs.
Originally, the church founded by Edward the Confessor stood in roughly the same place as the current Abbey, however, its surroundings would have looked completely different to the built up area that exists today. Over a thousand years ago, the Westminster area was on the very outskirts of London, a city which had not yet expanded to its contemporary grand size. Not only was the church located in the suburbs, it stood on a boggy, inhospitable island known as Thorney. Surrounded by many tributaries of the River Thames, it was not the welcoming district it is today.
The current building was erected over hundreds of years, beginning during the reign of Henry III (crowned 1216-1272). As a devotee to the canonised St Edward (the Confessor), Henry wished to demolish the existing church and construct a spectacular structure in the European Gothic Style in the saint’s honour. St Edward, who had been buried in his own construction, was provided with his own shrine. St Edward the Confessor’s Chapel still remains in the centre of the Abbey, unfortunately, due to fragility and age, visitors are unable to enter.
Little is known about who was responsible for the design of what was to become Westminster Abbey, but the three main stone masons involved in the raising of the building have been recorded as Henry of Reyns (d1253), John of Gloucester and Robert of Beverley (d1285). Although influenced by French cathedrals, the continental style was simply appropriated rather than copied. In order to make the building unique to England, as well as contain the highest vault (102ft/31m), certain aspects were altered from the geometrical system. This includes a single aisle, a lengthy nave and wide transepts. The stone and marble sculptures add to the Englishness of the building.
The façade of the Abbey, for which it is most famous, is as impressive as its interior. In order to keep its magnificent appearance, Westminster Abbey has been refaced several times, and may no longer resemble the original building. Architects, such as Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and James Wyatt (1746-1813), have done a great deal of work on the building over the centuries. The latest major restoration took place between 1973-1995.
It is not clear who is responsible for the carvings, statues and effigies, but these are in over abundance in and out of the Abbey. Many Kings and Queens of England have been laid to rest under elaborate shrines and memorials that are so intricate it is difficult to believe that they were produced by the hands of a human being. And it is not only the royals who have been subjected to this lavish treatment; many members of the aristocracy have been honoured with a burial place in Westminster Abbey.
The most remarkable monument in the Abbey can be found in St Michael’s Chapel, one of the many small chapels located around the perimeter. Interestingly, this does not belong to a monarch but rather Lady Elizabeth Nightingale (1704-31) who died in childbirth. The memorial was designed by the French sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac (1702-1762) and consists of life-size figurines of Lady Elizabeth’s husband trying to protect her body from a skeletal apparition of death. To create realistic statues of people is one thing, but to successfully carve a skeleton from stone is a serious feat. Roubiliac was responsible for other effigies in the Abbey, including one of the musician Handel located in Poet’s Corner.
Westminster Abbey is open to the public every day for services including Holy Communion, Morning Prayer and Evensong. For a fee, tourists are allowed in to follow a plotted tour around the holy building. Although this means it is difficult to take your time and study every hidden corner as a result of the crowd continually surging forth in one direction, the tour is laid out so that nothing is missed. The accompanying audio guide provides the history of the building’s involvement with the English royal family but also points out works of art, sculpture and architecture that will amaze many a visitor.
Unlike most churches throughout the country, not all the effigies remain the whitish-grey colour of stone. Evidence remains of coloured paint that was added to the statues to make them as lifelike as possible. Although some of these have faded over the years, many are still covered in the rich reds and blues.
Westminster Abbey was built before the fashion of painted ceilings and walls came in to being. In contrast to other London churches, for instance, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Abbey relies on ornate carvings for decoration. Having said that, during a cleaning in the 1930s, two wall paintings were uncovered that historians believe date back to the end of the 13th century. These have been identified as images of Christ with the apostle Thomas and Saint Christopher. Of all the artistic components of the Abbey, these early paintings are one of the few that feature religious content.
The most complex piece of art situated in the Abbey is the Cosmati Pavement in front of the High Altar. This also dates back to the 13th century and was commissioned by the abbot of the monastery, Richard de Ware (d1283). Pavements made of mosaics were all the rage in Italy, therefore Roman stonemasons were invited to England to lay something similar in the newly built Abbey. The pavement spans 24ft and is made up of a variety of material: onyx, porphyry, limestone and glass. The geometric pattern consists of an assortment of shapes and colours and, despite its age, still looks colourful today.
Although the architecture is phenomenal, the greatest attractions are the tombs and memorials of famous people – and not purely the Royals. Upwards of 3000 people are eternally remembered in the Abbey and more are likely to be included in years to come. The flamboyance of previous centuries has abated resulting in more indistinct plaques and stones for the more recent tributes. The most popular area for tourists is located in the South Transept and is most commonly known as Poet’s Corner.
Over 100 well-known authors, poets and playwrights are celebrated in Poet’s corner. Some, such as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), have ostentatious friezes, however, the majority have modest stone slabs, many of which are embedded into the floor. Literature lovers will be excited to locate some of their favourite authors, including Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Geoffrey Chaucer (the first to be buried in this corner), Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, C. S. Lewis, Lord Tennyson and William Wordsworth.
With floor and wall space running out, memorials have begun to feature on stained glass windows. These have been added fairly recently and take into consideration the writers who were shunned at the times of their deaths. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wilde (1854-1900) is one example. Almost 100 years after his death, Oscar Wilde, who had been denied a place in Westminster Abbey on account of his sexuality, was awarded a humble lozenge in the giant window above the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer. Space remains on the window for future authors to take their place amongst the other literary greats.
Westminster Abbey is a captivating example of British architecture and history and is certainly worth the visit. There is no other church or building as elaborately adorned as this structure on the edge of the Thames. As visitors follow the numbered audio points on their tour, they are encouraged to look up and marvel at the mesmerising ceilings that must have taken several years to produce.
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Jesus Honours a Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Jesus wants some peace and quiet and has been wanting it for ages. He is travelling to the land of the Gentiles and is desperate for some quiet so that he can gather his thoughts. Yet, he does not get it because he is approached by a woman whose daughter has an unclean spirit. Despite being a Gentile, the woman knows about Jesus and follows Him.
Before I became a minister 20 years ago, another minister called Alwyn Knight preached on Mark 7, and I remember one of the things he said. Jesus said to the Gentile woman, who according to tradition is called Justa, whose daughter is called Berenice, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Many theologians and preachers have trouble with this verse. What Jesus said comes across as very harsh and horrible. He has called the woman a dog, which is not something you expect from the Son of God. But Alwyn Knight pointed out, this verse is not showing us the twinkle that Jesus had in his eye. He claimed this was a bit of banter between Jesus and the woman.
Yet, most commentaries say that Jesus meant what He said. He was calling the woman a dog, and that is difficult for us to get our heads around. Why would Jesus call this woman a dog? But the woman gets the better of Him by saying, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus appreciates this remark and tells her that for saying that, the demon has left her daughter. She went home, found her child lying on the bed and the demon gone.
What does this passage mean? I would like to share the first joke I used when I began preaching as a lay preacher about 23 years ago. A man wishes to go to a nightclub, but the bouncer stops him and tells the man he cannot come in. “Why’s that?” asks the man. The bouncer informs him that only people wearing ties can enter the club. The man asks what constitutes a tie, and the bouncer tells him it is something long and thin tied around the neck. So, the man goes away and finds a set of jump leads, which he ties around his neck. When he returns to the club, the bouncer says, “You cannot come in because you do not have a tie.” But the man says he has and indicates the leads tied around his neck. The bouncer sighs and says, “Okay, you can come in, but don’t you start anything!”
Now, how does this joke relate to the Gospel reading? I think what Jesus is doing is showing humanity. We have this idea that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. If He is fully human, then Jesus has to have some human foibles. In this passage in Mark, Jesus is showing his human side and that, perhaps, He did not recognise the full extent of his ministry. Has this woman, this Gentile woman, made Jesus realise that He has also been sent as a Saviour to the Gentiles?
I believe this passage shows us Jesus’s human side. He was rude, and somehow we need to process that, but it did prompt Jesus to rethink. Had His ears been opened to the wider ministry of the Gentiles, rather than sticking to the Jews? We believe the second miracle in Mark 3 also involved a Gentile. Does the passage make Jesus realise He is not just serving the people of Israel but that His mission is worldwide? Did this Gentile woman make Jesus change His mind about helping the Gentiles? There was only one time before this where Jesus changed His mind; that was about changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2).
Should theologians, preachers and all Christians consider Mark 7 as the moment when Jesus realised that His ministry is worldwide, and that there are no boundaries about hearing the word of God, that His ministry is for all people? So, think about it. Was this the beginning of Jesus’s wider ministry?
This Sermon was first preached at Wanstead URC on 5th September 2021
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German monk and professor of moral theology at the University of Halle-Wittenburg. Through his own preaching, Luther challenged the Catholic sentiment that freedom from God’s punishment for sins could be purchased – occasionally with monetary donations – with the idea that salvation and eternal life are given as a gift from God for the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ. His academic debate criticising the ecclesiastical corruption was written up in his Ninety-Five Theses (1517) and sent to Albert of Brandenburg (1490-1545), the Archbishop of Mainz on 31st October 1517. Allegedly, Luther may have also have posted the Theses on the door of All Saints Church, Wittenberg as well as other churches in the area.
Martin Luther refused to abandon his strong views and was eventually excommunicated by Pope Leo X and condemned as an outlaw by Emperor Charles V. However, with the recent mechanisation of printing technology, the Ninety-Five Theses was already spreading rapidly throughout Europe.
At this time, England was under the rule of the second Tudor monarch, the notorious Henry VIII (1491-1547). Initially, Henry debunked Martin Luther’s ideas by writing, or at least commissioning, Assertio Septem Sacramentum (In Defence of the Seven Sacraments) (1521). This earned Henry the title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) from the pope, however, he was soon to fall from the pope’s good graces.
For centuries, England had been a Catholic country with most aspects of life revolving around the Church. Although Henry was king, the Pope held higher power, therefore when Henry wished to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), in order to marry Anne Boleyn (1501-36), permission was denied. Enraged, Henry took matters into his own hands, utilizing Luther’s theory to overthrow authority and establishing himself as the Head of the Church of England in 1534.
Martin Luther, however, remained persona non grata after calling Henry a pig and a drunkard in retaliation to the king’s opinion that Luther was a malicious, evil and impudent monster. Although Protestantism entered England for selfish reasons, it soon spread quickly as the population’s literacy increased allowing people to read texts and form their own opinions. Soon, art and literature were adopting secular themes, theatres became popular, and religion took a back seat.
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2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith and Deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
The Book of James was written in AD 49, 16 years after the death of Jesus, but we do not know who wrote this particular book. Tradition says it is James, the brother of Jesus. He was later known as James the Just, and he led the council in Jerusalem. For the sake of this reading, we are going to assume the author was Jesus’ half-brother. His half-brother Jude also wrote a book in the New Testament, and the interesting thing is neither James nor Jude were followers of Jesus while he was alive. We can assume the brothers converted after the resurrection when they realised their half-brother was the son of God.
There are 59 imperatives in the Book of James: 59 things you should do. These are instructions on how to live your life, which is why James is considered a book of Wisdom rather than an epistle. It tells us we should not have favourites and not assume things because of someone’s appearance. Faith is not like that. Faith is a commitment and about doing what is right. Faith is making sure your actions are selfless rather than selfish.
Martin Luther and other religious speakers liked the Book of James because it is a reminder that salvation comes from knowing Jesus Christ. We do not get into Heaven by doing good things. God is not looking down on us, giving us points for our actions. It is not a case of getting 100 points before being allowed into Heaven; we are allowed in because we believe Jesus Christ is our Saviour. It is because we believe in Jesus Christ that we do good things.
This Sermon was first preached at Wanstead URC on 5th September 2021
We are unafraid to reason, laugh and explore.
Ask anyone in London the way to St Paul’s and they will inevitably point you towards the magnificent cathedral by the river. Yet, so many Christian churches have been dedicated to Paul the Apostle that it can be guaranteed that Sir Christopher Wren’s famous architecture is not the only building in London with that name. In fact, there are over a dozen “St Paul” churches in the capital alone, one of which is probably walked past by thousands of tourists every day.
Located on Bedford Street overlooking Covent Garden, is C of E’s St Paul’s Church. With a heritage designation Grade 1, the church, whose architecture reflects that of an early Roman temple, was built at the same time as the famous piazza during the 17th century. Still in use today, St Paul’s offers services throughout the week, its main one being at 11am every Sunday. However, visitors are welcome to visit during the week for a look around the historic building or to sit quietly and pray.
St Paul’s Church was designed by the famous architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) whose other notable buildings include the Queen’s House in Greenwich and Whitehall’s Banqueting House. Jones was employed by Francis Russell, the 4th Earl of Bedford, to build a square (Covent Garden) surrounded by mansions and a church. Purportedly, Lord Bedford requested a very basic church “not much better than a barn”, which Jones countered with: “Then you shall have the most handsome barn in England!”
Building began in 1631 and was quickly completed within two years, becoming the first church to be built in London since the Reformation – hence its Church of England denomination. Constructed from stone, the eastern end of the church looking over Covent Garden is fitted with a portico supported by four columns. It is this feature that most resembles the Etruscan-style temple that Inigo Jones so favoured. The main entrance, however, is at the rear of the church, through a less impressive facade.
Inigo Jones’ original plan was to have the main entrance at the east end so that the congregation could enter the small 50x100ft building from the main square. However, Christian tradition dictated that the altar must be at the east side and not the west where it had initially been placed. With the altar preventing anyone from entering through the portico, the entrance was bricked up, and a fake door erected in its place.
The church has undergone a few changes since its completion in 1633, however, it still largely corresponds to Inigo Jones’ original plan. A decade after it opened, St Paul’s Church was extended to add a gallery along the south wall, then, twelves years following that, another gallery was added on the north wall. Finally, in 1647, one more gallery was added, this time on the west wall.
In 1788, Thomas Hardwick (1752-1829), the English architect and founder of the Architects’ Club (1791), began restoration of the building which had already seen its first centenary. Unfortunately, a fire in the Bell Tower consumed the rest of the building, destroying the majority of the structure. Mercifully, the original pulpit was saved and the church was reerected to Inigo Jones’ archetype. The final major change was conducted by William Butterfield (1814-1900), a local Gothic Revival architect, in 1872, who raised the altar and was responsible for the positioning of the fake door on the east wall.
The interior of St Paul’s Church has been updated within the past century, including a restoration between the years 1981 and 1990. Changes such as the installment of electric lighting, sound systems, and heating were inevitable as technologies became readily available and affordable, however, other aspects of the church have been updated too. In 1945, the main altar was redecorated to include a copy of Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat (1480-1).
During the Second World War, St Paul’s Church was fortunate to avoid a direct hit from falling bombs, nevertheless, nearby explosions shattered the original windows. In 1969, the Reverend Clarence May paid for, as a parting gift, brand new stained glass windows, which are still in place today.
To the side of the main altar is a much smaller altar for the purpose of prayer to St Genesius, the Patron Saint of actors, clowns, comedians, dancers, and musicians. This is due to the church’s long association with the theatre community for which it received the sobriquet “The Actor’s Church”.
Covent Garden in the West End is London’s main theatre and entertainment area. Therefore, St Paul’s Church was predestined to have some connection with the acting industry. The first relationship developed as early as 1662 when the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was created. The same year saw the first ever production of the puppet show Punch and Judy – something of great significance in the area, emphasised by the pub of the same name on the west side of Covent Garden. Another significant link was established in 1723 when the Covent Garden Theatre was built (now named the Royal Opera House).
Many famous names have passed through the doors of St Paul’s Church. As early as 1710, baptisms were taking place for soon-to-be-famous people, such as Thomas Arne (1710-78) and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Of course, at the time, these babies were unknown to the world and were only baptised at the church due to their parents living in the parish. No one knew that the boys would grow up to compose the patriotic song Rule Britannia or produce over 2000 paintings. Similarly, there have been a few well-known burials, but, most interestingly, the first victim of the Great Plague of London. On 12th April 1665, Margaret Ponteous was laid to rest in the churchyard.
Burials were stopped in the 1850s resulting in headstones in the graveyard being removed and a garden laid in its place. However, this did not stop the people of St Paul’s Church commemorating the lives of well-known people associated with the church.
Adorning the plainly decorated walls inside the church are simple plaques stating the name, birth, and death of many actors, playwrights, singers and so forth who became part of The Actor’s Church during their lifetime. Theatrical personalities such as Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Terrence Rattigan, Vivien Leigh and Ivor Novello are just a handful of names located around the building. Although burials had stopped, the ashes of Ellen Terry and Dame Edith Evans can also be found.
The theatre memorials began after the Second World War, however, plaques have been raised for people who lived many years before then. This includes Thomas Arne, who was buried as well as baptised in the church and Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), a Dutch-British woodcarver who worshipped at St Paul’s. Gibbons is responsible for the limewood wreath near the entrance to the church and may have been the producer of the original pulpit saved from the fire in 1795.
Most of the memorials are very basic with no embellishments, however, there are a few that have a more decorative appearance. One of these belongs to the memory of Charles Macklin (1690-1797), an Irish actor and dramatist who spent most of his career at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. His memorial features a carving of a theatrical mask with a dagger positioned through the eye socket. This may seem a peculiar choice of imagery, however, it is significant to the actor’s downfall. In 1735, Macklin was sentenced for manslaughter after an argument over a wig with fellow actor, Thomas Hallam, spiralled out of control. In a fit of temper, Macklin thrust his cane into Hallam’s eye. Although he did not intend to kill him, the cane pierced through the eyeball and into the brain. Considering the circumstances, Macklin got off fairly lightly and was still honoured with a plaque inside St Paul’s Church.
Since the graveyard was removed and garden laid in its place, St Paul’s Church owns one of the quietest grounds in the busiest city in England. Whilst the portico faces the bustling shopping piazza, the reverse opens up onto a small, peaceful area with two lawns and plenty of benches. Visitors are encouraged to spend time in quiet reflection away from the hustle and bustle of the city around them. Just as the church often gets overlooked by tourists, the gardens almost feel like a secret with only a lucky few stumbling over its existence. St Paul’s Churchyard is a lovely place for a picnic, place to sit and enjoy the atmosphere, read a book or recuperate after braving the hoards of tourists in Covent Garden. St Paul’s welcomes everyone, although, in order to keep the idyllic enclosure the much-loved peaceful environment, visitors are asked to respect the wildlife, avoid playing music, abstain from drinking alcohol, and not to feed the pesky pigeons!
St Paul’s Church has been extremely supportive of the theatrical world and, after almost 400 years, continues to be a pillar of support in the community. In 2007, the Iris Theatre was established in order to aid and encourage the next generation of professional theatre practitioners. The charity puts on regular shows at St Paul’s Church, relying on audiences and supporters for funding. St Paul’s hosts over 300 events a year, many as a result of the Iris Theatre. The company has a stimulating repertoire with different shows tailored to a variety of tastes. From opera and classical theatre to circus-style performances, there is something to entertain everyone.
Of course, St Paul’s Church is first and foremost a religious establishment with regular Christian services and festivals throughout the year. It is important to keep this in mind whilst exploring the historical structure, relaxing in the garden, or enjoying a theatre production. It may not be as impressive as the famous St Paul’s Cathedral, however, it does play a significant role in the community and has an interesting background. The theatre memorials are an invaluable feature, attracting tourists of all faiths and none.
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This is my first letter as a retired minister. At first, I was not sure what to write about because I said all my farewells and thank yous in my previous letter. I did not want to write a load of gobbledygook, but then I thought, why not?
Gobbledygook is a fun word to say. It was coined by Maury Maverick, a politician from Texas in the United States of America. During the Second World War, he wrote, “Be short and use plain language… Stay off gobbledygook language.” By this, he meant avoid using long, pompous and vague words when writing or speaking. He likened this to a turkey, “always gobbledygobbling and strutting with ridiculous pomposity.”
I am writing this having just preached my last sermon as your minister. One of the readings, James 3:1-12, spoke about taming the tongue. I asked Hazel to record the sermon using a mobile phone app called Otter, so that we could put it on our website. The app records verbal speech and types it up for us, which in the past has saved us a lot of time. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Hazel was sat slightly too far away from me to pick up everything I said. So, this resulted, quite frankly, in a lot of gobbledygook!
At the beginning of my sermon, I gave a lovely description of the human tongue, but this is what the app thought I said:
“In your talent you have to both manage response, but each case only leaves up to one to two whoops that was fine. Switching over sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savoury, the size of the town is more sensitive than the middle of town. The colour of the town can tell us with an awkward level rose taste buds visible to the human eye.”
There, that is gobbledygook. What I was trying to say was we have to be very careful in what we say and how we say things. I used the mnemonic “THINK” as an aid to help us speak more wisely. We must ask ourselves if what we are saying is:
If it passes all five tests, then speak away.
With all speech, we have to make sure we say the right thing, with the right words, to the right people, in the right way, at the right time. So, it can be particularly difficult to say things without there being any misunderstandings. Wherever God leads me in this new chapter of my life, I must make sure that there are no misunderstandings.
So, what am I sure about? I am sure that God loves us. Despite difficult situations, God cares for us and God has a plan for us. I am sure that the use of friends, loved ones, and people who we meet, are all part of God looking after us. I am certain that God is our Lord and Saviour. I believe this because I am told so in the Bible, and the resurrection was God’s endorsement of the things Jesus did and said. I also believe due the response of the resurrection, as seen by the rapid growth of Christianity throughout the first century, which is recorded in the book of Acts as well as in history.
The word of Jesus is love spread via the Holy Spirit. Despite a huge number of attempts, the light of Jesus has not been put out. I believe because of the disciples, who died, on the whole, pretty traumatic deaths. This could not have happened if it was based on a lie. Finally, I believe in following James’s example in 2:18, in which he says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” We do not earn our way into heaven and eternal life. This is unique to Christianity. Eternal life is a free gift given by believing in Jesus, but our response to that belief has to be shown through good works: loving our neighbour, looking after the marginalised, helping the poor, being a voice to the voiceless etc. We do this as a response to God’s gift of grace and forgiveness.
So, no more misunderstandings, no more gobbledygook. Let’s give our testimonies about what Jesus has done to transform our lives.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon