A sermon on the character of King Nebuchadnezzar, recorded for Felpham Methodist Church, April 2023.
Bible references Daniel chapters 1-4.
A sermon on the character of King Nebuchadnezzar, recorded for Felpham Methodist Church, April 2023.
Bible references Daniel chapters 1-4.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.Matthew 5:13
Developed from a sermon preached at Felpham Methodist Church, West Sussex, on 5th February for their Vision Sunday. The full audio recording of the sermon is available below.
When we moved into our home, the garden was a mess. the bushes and weeds hadn’t been pruned regularly, and so it had all become rather overgrown. but one day, as we cut back some of the overgrown bushes, I was delighted to find a compost bin.
That compost bin now sits proudly on the corner of the vegetable patch, and in it we collect the grass cuttings, vegetable peelings and the occasional mouldy orange – and over time the worms do their thing and it all becomes compost, which has helped to boost the soil and grow great plants and crops on our veggie patch.
In the last weeks, all the autumn’s offerings have meant the compost bin has been overflowing, and I recently had to dig out some from out of the bottom to make space for more to be added.
Compost is great for the garden, but only when it is used. My compost will never serve its purpose if I leave it in the compost bin. it needs working into the soil to fulfil its purpose.
Jesus’ words ‘you are the salt of the earth’ in Matthew 5 are often understood as calling us, as salt, to flavour the earth, the world, will God’s goodness. But sometimes this can also lead to seeing the world as other than ‘us’, and something to not be directly engaged in, for fear of being tarnished by an unsalted world.
But, while the idea of being people who bring the flavour of God to the world can be a helpful metaphor – I find another interpretaiton equally helpful, if not more so.
Because in Jesus day, I don’t think they had table salt as we do today. So the word we read as ‘salt’ might have meant something slightly different to Jesus first hearers.
In the dead sea area of Palestine, minerals we now know as phosphate were plentiful, and used to fertilize the ground and were spread and dug into the land.
So when we read Jesus saying you are the salt of the earth, could Jesus actually have been saying you are the minerals of the soil? The compost for the vegetable patch?
In many ways I find that a comfort and encouragement. That might seem odd… why would I find encouragement in being told I am a mouldy orange or pile of potato peelings?
But for me, I find that an encouragement because it reminds me that despite my own self-doubt, my imperfections, my brokenness, my humanity, my own feelings that I can never live up to what God wants for me – God says you have great potential.
Even in the mess of my life,
there is goodness and fruitfulness to be discovered.
Jesus doesn’t want perfect human specimens, stored up in a salt cellar of equally human specimens, looking out on the world.
Jesus wants us to be real. Human.
Jesus wants us, calls us, loves us, warts and all…
And invites us to be salt of the earth,
the mineral for the soil,
potato skins, banana peels and grass cuttings – compost for the veggie patch, with great worth, purpose, potential and goodness.
So Jesus invites us to get out and live on the earth, dug into the soil of the world. Getting stuck in and living as people of God.
We’ve reached the final week of There is Room – and our theme as we conclude this journey is ‘There is Room for Revelation’.
The Christmas story is full of it – so much of it in fact – that I wonder if we to easily gloss over the breadth and height and depth of revelation we encounter in our journey through the Christmas story.
Go right back to the beginning of the gospel story. God revels through an angel to Mary she will bear a son. God reveals to Zechariah that Elizabeth will be with child in her young age. God reveals to Joseph through a dream that Mary was pregnant, despite him know the baby wouldn’t be his.
Then to shepherds on a hillside God reveals the wonder through choirs of angels, and to Magi who saw a star, and through diligent study find prophecy revealed.
And journeying on God reveals to the Magi through a dream not to go back to Herod, and to Joseph through a dream to flee to Egypt.
And all circling a baby in a manger. God revealed as man to dwell – Jesus our Immanuel.
There is so much of God’s revealing threaded through the Christmas story. Moments where the divide between heaven and earth runs thin. Where something more of God, God’s nature, God’s will, God’s plan, God’s faithfulness, God’s presence is revealed.
One of my most personal, most tangible moments of God revealing to me was in a field at Soul Survivor. 10,000 young people gathered in a massive big top. We’d been worshipping for some time, and then ther band struck up an acoustic version of Amazing Grace. Perse by verse the band began to drop out and leave the stage, until we came to sing the last verse:
When we’ve been there ten thousands years
Bright Shining as the Sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begin.
As we song that last verse, 10,000 voices, I could have heard a pin drop. In that moment I got a glimpse of what heaven might be like – I felt the divide between heaven and earth run thin and felt a certainty in the depths of my soul of God’s presence and love for me.
While that experience was a particualrly powerful one, I believe God is always speaking to us, revealing to us, moving among us – but we don’t always notice.
Speaking through dreams, angels,
Through putting a thought in our minds,
Through a conversation with someone else,
As we reflect on life’s events.
Moments when a mundane activity or an ordinary place becomes moments of divine encounter.
As we journey into a new year – let us make room to be ready to see God among us, to and experience God’s revealing. For God is with us. Alleluia. Amen.
When I was at Theological College I remember a visiting speaker asking us to share with the group where our home was. I naturally responded saying it was here at Queens – because for that 2 year period Queens was home…
But immediately I was asked – “no I mean where is your actual home…”, and I pushed back… “this is my actual home…”
Having moved around a lot as a child, and now training for itinerant ministry – despite the instability it offers, I’ve got quite used to home being a movable place – that where my family is is home.
The Nativity story is also one of changing home. Mary and Joseph leave their home town of Nazareth, and find a borrowed room in Bethlehem – and then they have tio move on again – and end up in Egypt.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.Matthew 2:13
“Get up,” he said,
“take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.
Stay there until I tell you,
for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
I wonder how Mary & Joseph felt at that time. They’d got earthly responsbility for God’s son – indeed to them Jesus was their son – and yet so much danger surrounds them.
This year I’ve come to question the line in Once in Royal David’s City ‘And through all His wondrous childhood’ (verse 3). Was Jesus childhood years, living as a refugee, an alien in a foreign land, wonderous? Is it wonderous to live in fear? To have to flee for your life?
Jesus experienced persecution from those who clung desperately to power from an early age. And so too, today, there are people in our world who spread hate against others – including for refugees – simply so that they can cling to their power.
May 2023 be a year when we turn hate into love and hostility into peace – and make room for refugees who from terror and devastation flee.
A Grandparent was staying with one of their children, who were having building work done on the house.
They when into a bedroom to find their grandchild jumping up and down in a playpen, crying, reaching up their arms longingly saying, saying “Out! Please! Out!”
But they knew that their grandchild had been put in the playpen to keep them safe while builders were moving equipment around in the house.
“I’m sorry my love, they said, you need to stay in.”
But the child kept crying. Their tears and outstretched arms reached deep into the grandparents heart. What could they do? The child needs to stay safe, but they were desperate to comfort them.
Finally – love found a way – the child couldn’t come out of the playpen – so they climbed in the play pen with them.
The Christmas story is one of a loving parent seeing those they love in need, and choosing to climb in with them.
God – chooses to become flesh – human, like us – and to be born as a vulnerable babe.
There was a time when God was seen as a more distant being, somewhat beyond our reach and understanding – and only interested in those who were descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That there wasn’t room for others.
But as God comes to live among us, God does the unthinkable, the unexpected, and shows that God is not above us or beyond us, or distant from us or even against us or only for a select few…
but shows God is with us and among us.
And loves all of us.
For Mary and Joseph, when they arrived in Bethlehem the usual places of hospitality were full – there was no room. But Mary and Joseph found room – they had to – Mary was about to pop! They made room for a baby, for some shepherds – and we think there would have been some animals around too. And later in the story – at the other end of the scale – magi come along too.
A right mix of beings – who all found room to come and meet the babe – who was the Son of God. And now, 2000 years later, that opportunity continues.
There is room for you in God’s story – because God in interested in everyone. God welcomes everyone. God makes room for you, me, us and all.
The story is told of a school preparing for their Christmas play. One of the focuses of the play was to reflect the radiance of Jesus. An electric bulb was hidden in the manger and all the stage lights would go off, except the one in the manger.
On the day of the performance the moment came, the lights went out.. and so did the one in the manger. There was a period of silence when a little shepherd loudly whispered – “Hey, you’ve turned of Jesus!”
As we discover There is room in God’s heart for you, for me, for us, for all, we are offered an opportunity to respond – invited to make room in our hearts for God…
In the festivities of the season,
Delayed Christmas deliveries,
A new Christmas jumper,
That one last person on the Christmas gift list you just don’t know what to buy for
And working out who is going to have Aunty Marjorie for Christmas Day,
Let us not turn off Jesus.
Let us not forget the reason for this season.
Let us make room in our hearts and lives for the one who made room in the world to be with us, and say to us there is room for you, me, us and all.
This week, as part of a series of blog posts engaging with the Methodist Church in Great Britain’s Advent & Christmas theme ‘There Is Room’, I posted a blog titled ‘There is Room for All Ages and Genders’.
The brief blog reflected on my own experince leading a school assembly last week, and through the charcter of Mary reflected on God’s calling to all people regardless of societal expectations around age and gender.
I confess to it being the blog post in the series that I was most anxious about – because there is so much debate and vitrol around gender in particular at the moment, in society and especially on social media. But I having been moved and challenged by my own experience during the assembly, this was a reflection I wanted to share.
As always, the post also linked to Twitter, and I’ve been surprised by some of the response… challenging my use of language in the blog, suggesting it was the most exclusive depiction of inclusion and blasphemy. Others challenged that to talk about age and gender was not inclusive because and lacked narrative about abuse, appearance and beauty.
I’m not perfect, no one is, and when it comes to the use of language, we are all at the mercy of writing something that means one thing to us but gets interpreted in different ways by others. We write from our perspectives, our experiences, our limited learning and understanding.
And I know as a white, heterosexual man I write from a place of privilege and power. I’m always conscious of that, and as a result, I know there are times in my past where I have dissuaded myself from engaging in this area. Knowing others have more experience, more knowledge, more right to speak into the debate.
But recently I’ve found myself feeling challenged afresh by God that in being relatively silent, I serve to enable the powerful, not empower the powerless. That I will facilitate the marginaliser, not stand alongside the marginalised. In not being explicit in speaking up – I abuse the place in which God has placed me.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at all that posting about inclusion of age and gender led to a backlash. But I think the idea that one short blog, from one voice, reflecting on my experience of one tiny part of scriptures story, should tackle every nook and cranny of inclusion, seems ridiculous.
Twitter isn’t always a healthy space – cramming what we want to say into 280 characters often drowns out the possibility of nuance and at times, friendliness.
Jesus was not afraid to challenge, but the gospel I read also shows Jesus’s character was one of compassion and grace. He taught his disciples, sometimes he rebuked them, but he also educated them.
This experience of choosing to speak out, while knowing I have less personal right to speak on it that others, leads me to ask – Is there room? Is there room for conversation? Is there room to help one another learn? Is there room to share together constructively, with compassion and grace, rather than shoot one another down?
I leave you witha short quote from John Wesley, which has guided me through many moments of diverse opinion in my early years of ministry.
“Be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion…John Wesley, 44 Sermons
love each other, despite holding differing opinions.”
I was leading a school assembly last week. It’s the first time I’ve visited the school and I was excited to have been invited to lead a Christmas themed assembly for Key Stage 2 (age 7-11). Thought slightly less excited to get a call the night before to say that Ofstead would be around!)
We retold the Christmas story, with some help from a few of our many nativity sets, including my new inflatable one pictured below!
As we began the story in Nazareth with Mary, I was struck that some of those in the room were age 11, and therefore probably not far off the age Mary may well have been when the angel appeared to her – probably in what we’d now call her early teens.
I then think of my eldest daughter, aged 8, and a friends daughter now aged 12, and can’t imagine the idea of them having children yet! To us today, in our 21st Century, Western society, the Christmas story is indeed one of unexpected turns and subversive moves of God.
But yet – despite Mary’s youth, God trust her and gives her the crucial task of both bearing the child – and nurturing them after they were born. it is part of the subversive nature of the Christmas story that by coming as a vulnerable babe, God must call on a woman – not a man – to bring the Son of God to birth. We do ourselves a disservice if we neglect to remember that despite the fact scripture talks about a lot of men – there are also stories in scripture of God calling and working through non-men too! mary, Ruth, Rahab, Deborah, Rebekah, Lydia, Susanna, Esther…
The Advent & Christmas story is filled with stories of God working in and through people that others would overlook, despite gender, age, race, ethnicity… yet in human society we are somewhat obsessed with these labels and categories… always needing to put people into binary boxes, male or Female, Brexiter or Remainer, Black or White…
But the just as God moves against the tide of human society in calling a young woman to bear the Christ-child – so too I believe God does not see the labels and categories we create. God sees people as people, made in God’s image – all loved and valued.
Let us not overlook others because of who they are or how they identify, and let us not be governed by humanly created labels and categories – because in God’s story, there is room for all.
If you’re a Great British Bake Off fan, you might remember 2018 series winner Rahul. Rahul left a mark on me, not so much because of his amazing baking, but for who and how he was.
After judging, the programme shows little video clips of the bakers reflecting on their successes – or failures, and the comments from the judges.
Rahul, on numerous occasions would be in mid flow talking to camera and then suddenly divert his eyes another way and say ‘Oh look at those beautiful peonies’, or ‘ooo look at that cute puppy’.
At the time I was struck by the way he noticed & was distracted by the beauty of creation. But I was also equally struck by the fact he kept apologising for it. He apologised for noticing the beauty of nature.
nature is part pf creation – part of God’s world – and so we should notice and marvel at its beauty. And we shouldn’t apologise for that! Scripture is plastered with such awe and wonder – and so should we be. For when creation flourishes – so too will humanity flourish.
Take Isaiah 35 for example:
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
They will enter Zion with singing;Isaiah 35:1-2; 5-6; 10.
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah prophecies that creation will flourish with new growth, and as creation flourishes, so too will humanity – for the all creation together will be overflowing with joy.
It might feel a bit strange to be thinking about creation in the midst of Advent – isn’t advent about Jesus – celebrating his first coming to earth…and anticipating his return?
Well yes – but I say, why did Jesus come?
John 3:16-17, perhaps the most well known New Testament verse says:
6 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through himJohn 3:16-17
Notice that, while humanity is given particular mention – it is to the world that Christ comes, to save the world.
I hate to burst our human-centric bubble… but the world is not humanity alone. Humanity is not the centre of the universe., and that’s a truth that has been passed down for centuries… at the end of Jonah 4 we find God say to Jonah:
And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”Jonah 4:11
In God’s heart – there is room for those like us.
There is room for those not like us.
There is room for those who, like the Ninevites, were unaware of the truth of who God was…
There is Room in God’s heart for all creation.
Christ’s salvation work is not just for humanity – but for all of nature. Such is Christ’s heart and love for all life.
Christ comes to the world, to make a way and room for all.
All humanity, and all creation,
To have hope, to grow and to flourish.
And calls us into partnership with him to share the good news,
To invite people to experience the salvation of God,
To care for creation,
To live and love in hope – throughout the world.
To make room for all the world to know God’s love, hope and salvation. Because when God reigns – there is room for all of nature.
In my first year of secondary school, there was a woodland behind the school, and in the woodland lived ‘Knocker’. Knocker got the nickname because, as the story goes, he hid in the woods and knocked on the trees to scare people away.
He was different, lived differently, and was shunned, gossiped about and avoided. but looking back, I have no idea what sort of person he actually was. All I knew about him was based on the bias I’d unconsciously built up through stories others had told, regardless of what the truth actually is.
John the Baptist is one who may well have stimulated similar reactions.
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.Matthew 3:4
The point Matthew is making is that John the Baptist was different. In his lifestyle. In his appearance. And in his message.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”Matt 3:2-3
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
For 400 years – the period between the Old and New testaments, there had been a perceived silence from God. No prophets, no message. Then from the wilderness comes – the literal wilderness John lived in, and the metaphorical wilderness of this silence, comes a voice saying:
“Prepare the Way!
The Promised One is coming.
Something is about to happen. To change. To transform.
Are you ready?“
John the Baptist, in his difference and diversity, is a trailer for the God who is about to do something different. Radical. Revolutionary. To come and dwell with us, as Immanuel, a baby who changes everything.
In doing something different God doesn’t thrown the past out with the bathwater, but takes the story into a new chapter, where prophecy is fulfilled, when the promises of God are made known differently, where the message of love and grace is repacked and transformed – into a living, walking, breathing human being.
In Christ, God did something different.
And still today, God is at work, moving among us many ways.
Known and unknown.
Expected and unexpected.
Making Room for diversity and difference.
Because in God’s story,
When God reigns,
There is room – for difference.
God makes room for you. For me. For us. for all.
Those like us,
Those different to us.
Those like John the Baptist. Those like ‘knocker’ who are different to us, seem strange, unpredictable or unusual.
So In our story,
Will we let God reign?
Will we prepare the way to make room for the difference of God?
The difference of one another?
The transformation that comes from embracing the radical and unexpected of God and God’s kingdom.
Will we make room for difference?
As we begin the journey of Advent, the churches I serve are following the theme ‘There is Room’, and in week 1, thinking about how, when God reigns, There is Room for You and Me.
Last Saturday, I had an experience while leading a baptism service that took the truth about how There is Room in God’s story for all to a whole new level.
I’ve done numerous Baptism in the last few years, but always for toddlers. So last Saturday was the first time I baptised a baby.
The baby I was baptising was about 6-7 months old, and as I held this helpless, dependant, innocent child in my arms, looking at his peace-filled, sleeping face, and spoke some of the baptism liturgy over them, I was somewhat overwhelmed…
for you Jesus Christ came into the world;
for you he lived and showed God’s love;
for you he suffered death on the Cross;
for you he triumphed over death,
rising to newness of life;
for you he prays at God’s right hand:
all this for you,
before you could know anything of it.
In your Baptism,Methodist Baptism Liturgy, Methodist Worship Book p.92-3.
the word of Scripture is fulfilled:
‘We love, because God first loved us.’
I had to take a breath to remind myself I was in front of a room full of people and was leading a service! In that moment, it had become as if it was just me and this innocent baby. Like nothing else mattered but the words of truth I was speaking over them – that the truth of God’s gift to them is that There is Room.
It took the grace of God to a whole new level for me. An innocent baby who cannot yet comprehend or communicate an understanding of God’s grace – yet God outpours his grace anyway. “All this for you, before you could know anything of it.”
I had the great privilege of declaring that truth to them, their family and friends, and welcoming them into God’s family.
God’s grace transcends our human understanding. Transends our western obsession with needing to be deserving, to earn and achieve all we have.
God’s grace is outpoured on the world – through the life and love of an innocent baby, born in a manger. A baby who declares There is Room in God’s Story for you, for me, for us, for all.
Find out more about Advent & Christmas events at Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate Methodist Churches as we declare There is Room .
Advent & Christmas 2022 at Bognor Regis Methodist Church
Advent & Christmas 2022 at Felpham Methodist Church
Advent & Christmas 2022 at Westergate Methodist Church