Category Archives: Published Talks

John 4: Barriers overcome by hope

Based on a Sermon first preached at Westergate Methodist Church on Sunday 15th March.

We find ourselves in unprecedented, anxious and unexpected times. It is almost impossible to escape the unending media updates on the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak, and at times it is hard to work out what is truth, and what is media spin, fiction and scaremongering.

It is likely that within the next few weeks we will find new barriers and boundaries placed upon us to seek to protect the vulnerable and control the spread of the virus; social-distancing, self-isolation, hand-washing, cancelling of events and closing of buildings among them. People are understandably anxious about what the next few weeks will hold, including whether we will have enough food and supplies.

But barriers are not new. Good or bad, they have always been part of human life, from the segregation of the feudal system and the slave trade to stories throughout scripture where we find kingdoms and walls and wars where people are divided and boundaried. And many boundaries we know today are human made, from walls and fences, to the meaning we human beings have place on rivers, forests, cliffs and mountain ranges.

As we come to John 4, we meet Jesus who ignores social, cultural and geographical boundaries for the sake of his mission.

Things had got a bit difficult, Chinese whispers spreading and anxiety growing, for rumour had it that Jesus was baptising more people than John. And while the truth was that Jesus wasn’t baptising anyone (4:2), at the time it was the rumours that help weight – not the truth.

So what does Jesus do?
He leaves Judea, and to do so he heads through Samaria – outsider land, a place that Jews didn’t typically go, to a people that Jews didn’t typically mix or socialise with. But Jesus is either ambivalent to the boundaries or intentially walks through them. It seems that boundaries were not so important to Jesus…

As the day goes on, Jesus is tired so as they reach Sychar, the disciples head for food while Jesus rests by the well; tired, hungry, thirsty, alone. Perhaps he’d been there a while when along comes the Samaritan woman, in the heat of the day. And ignoring social and cultural boundaries, Jesus speaks to this Samaritan, this woman, and not just speaks, but asks her for a drink too.

And as the conversation goes on (and there’s much more that could be said!), Jesus offers hope of living water, that will spring up into eternal life. The idea of a fresh, abundant, flowing spring of life excites the woman, gives her hope and she says to this Jewish bloke, give me some! (4:15).

This woman, in her conversation with Jesus, finds a sense of hope, life, freedom, self worth – as Jesus sees her as the human she is, without the barriers of social and cultural conformity. She declares ‘you are a prophet’ (4:19), and Jesus then declares that mountain and Jerusalem will one day not matter at all, because true worshippers will worship in Spirit and in truth (4:21-23). Not worship that conforms to human barriers and boundaries, but worship that is personal, individual, true, in spirit.

In her encounter with Jesus, this woman is set free, through Jesus simply speaking words of truth and compassion, and ignoring barriers of culture and society. She becomes an evangelist in telling the rest of the city of her encounter, and many also believe.
All because Jesus didn’t have a bucket, and didn’t care for cultural, geographical and social boundaries.

Jesus comes to meet each of us at the well, just as he met the woman at the well. He meets us as human beings, fearfully and wonderfully made. Filled with possibility and potential, love and compassion, mercy and grace, creativity and gifts and skills.
Each of us brings to the table of the work of God something no-one else can be. Being someone no-one else can be.

So where is our well? Where can we experience the transformation of Jesus presence?

Over the coming weeks, we don’t know what barriers and boundaries are going to be placed upon us, in an effort to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the nation, especially those who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.

But whatever boundaries may be put in place (which we need to respect and follow), Jesus doesn’t follow them.

Jesus doesn’t conform to human boundaries, Jesus meets us at the well, even if we’re isolated and alone, and says mountain or Jerusalem, church building or community centre, that doesn’t matter, what matters is worship in Spirit and in truth.

Gathering in a community of believers is helpful, encouragement, supportive, and we know that to belong to Jesus, to worship in Spirit and truth, is to be part of a communtiy of believers.

But we can be community without being sat next to each other, for a time. We have phones, some have email and social media, we overcome barriers and boundaries in different ways. Wherever we find ourselves over the coming weeks, in these days of anxiety and uncertainty, Jesus ignores the barriers and offers living water to all, that springs up into eternal life.

Jesus offers hope.
Hope that this too will pass.
Confidence that Jesus will overcome any barriers or boundaries that may come our way.
Assurance that he is always with us, no matter what.

Jesus does and will meet with us wherever we are, no matter what is going on in the world around us.


COVENANT: Living without the full picture

Adapted from a sermon preached at Covenant Services in January 2020 at Westergate, Bognor Regis and Felpham Methodist Church, West Sussex.

During the 2020 Christmas break we took our first ever family trip to the cinema to see Frozen 2. If you want to watch a movie that includes songs that will undoubtedly get stuck in your brain forever… that’s the film to go and see…

We sat in the cinema, waiting for 12:30 to arrive… and when it did, the sound came on…be we had no picture. At first we thought the film must be starting off with some radio adverts, but after a while of listening and hearing some adverts that made no sense without pictures, and I was convinced I’d seen on the telly in recent days we began to think something might not be quite right.

Continue reading COVENANT: Living without the full picture

God of all: Unity in difference

Adapted from the transcript & notes of a Sermon first preached by Rev Dan Balsdon at Bognor Regis Methodist Church on 20th October 2019.
The Readings were Jeremiah 31:27-34 & Luke 18:1-8

Please forgive any typo’s I missed!


As a probationer presbyter, the Church requires me to undertake ongoing study.
At the moment, I’m preparing for a study week with fellow probationers in November which will centre around reflecting on our first year of ministry and thinking about what the Christian gospel looks and feels like in the places I serve.

Continue reading God of all: Unity in difference

The chocolate story of Joseph

I originally put together for use during a summer All Age Worship at Felpham Methodist Church, West Sussex, as part of the launch of a Scripture Union holiday club and mission week exploring the story of Joseph.

Please feel free to use this as a resource, and adapt it as appropriate. If you do use it, let me know, and tell me how it went!

Rev Dan – Summer 2019

© Rev Dan Balsdon 2019
https://revdanbalsdon.wordpress.com/
dan.balsdon@methodist.org.uk

Watch me performing the Chocolate Story of Joseph at Felpham Methodist Church,
4th August 2019

Some notes for use

It takes about 7-10 minutes to perform, depending how you do it.

I delivered it with a large table in front of me, and all the chocolates in a basket, bringing them out and holding them up as I referred to them (in red), the placing on the table. The times there is a chocolate in green means you’ve used it once already, so you’ve got to find it on the table – which adds to the entertainment factor!

Alternatively, you could do it with pictures on a screen, or with congregation having to shout out when they hear a chocolate reference.

Note that the script only briefly deals with some parts of the Joseph story, particularly the dreams of the baker and butler, and the toing and froing of the brothers in Egypt. You may want to develop these bits.

After using it for worship, we used it again with the young people, and divided it into parts, with one of them reading, and the other holding up the chocolates.

The unexpectedness of God

A couple weeks ago we were surprised to wake up to over 5 inches of snow, with more still falling. We knew it was coming but hadn’t expected it to be quite such a significant quantity!

Have you ever considered how disruptive Mary’s encounter with Angel Gabriel must have been? What was most likely a normal, mundane day was turned upside down by an unexpected encounter with God’s messenger. This unexpected encounter changes Mary’s life.

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

It seems to me that the Christmas narrative as a whole is filled with God being and doing the unexpected…

  • Elizabeth and Zechariah expected to never have children, yet along comes John…
  • I doubt anyone expected Augustus to announce a census where everyone must return to their home town…
  • Mary came from Nazareth, and in John’s gospel we find Nathaniel’s questions of ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ – indicating that people from Nazareth weren’t expected to achieve anything…
  • The Shepherds were having a normal night watching their flocks when unexpectedly an angel stood before them…
  • The magi expected Jesus to be born in a palace in Jerusalem, but found him in Bethlehem…
  • Herod was frightened by his unexpected visit from the magi suggesting a new King of the Jews was to be born…

If there’s anything that the Christmas story tells us it is that God comes into the unexpected….God is in the unexpected…God is unexpected…

And nothing says that more clearly that the unexpectedness of the Christ-child, Jesus, born as a baby, who was, and is, God.

How do we respond to God’s unexpectedness? In the midst of the commercial hype of Christmas, how ready are we to even recognise the unexpectedness of God?

Upon receiving her unexpected message, Mary was both perplexed and questioned Gabriel. The Luke narrative doesn’t show Mary rejecting the message, ignoring or running away, but on hearing it seeking to engage with and understand the message. After Gabriel responds to Mary’s questions, Mary’s response is simple, humble, obedient and heroic…

‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Luke 1:38

Mary’s receptiveness seems admirable. She responds to this unexpected and life changing encounter with grace and acceptance.

And remember the stakes were high here. She was betrothed to Joseph, and now she was going to be pregnant, and he’d know it wasn’t his child…What would her family, neighbours, community say and think of her.

So today, consider how ready you are to encounter the unexpectedness of God. Not to be consumed by the festivities of the Christmas season but to be able to see beyond the tinsel, turkeys and wrapping paper to encounter the manifest and unexpected presence of God, in the unlikeliness of Christ Jesus.

Receive afresh God’s promised gift, to receive afresh God’s revelation to humanity.

Be ready to respond with grace to the unexpectedness of God.

Adapted from a Sermon preached at Bethel Methodist Church, St Austell Circuit, Cornwall on Christmas Eve 2017.

Image: Trees at the Queens Foundation, Birmingham, December 2017.

A message for Pentecost 2017

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 is the classic text for Pentecost Sunday, and the text I began reflecting on this week as I started to prepare a sermon. As I read the text I was struck by the surprises in narrative…

  • The surprising sound of blowing, violent wind, tongues of fire. (Acts 2:2)
  • The various reactions of the gathered people, amazed and perplexed by what was happening around them, surprised that they could all hear what was being said in their own languages. (Acts 2:11-12)
  • The surprising transformation of Peter from the impulsive, put his foot in it disciple who ran away, to preaching here with power and conviction. (Acts 2:14-36)

But this week I also noticed another surprise I hadn’t consciously noticed before, how God’s Spirit seems to transcend human divisions and labels in the narrative.

The Acts narrative highlights geographical differences…

  • ‘Jews from every nation under heaven’ (Acts 2:5)
  • ‘Are they not Galileans?’ (Acts 2:7)
  • ‘Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs’ (Acts 2:9-11a)

The narrative also seems to highlight the distinction between Jesus followers gathered together, (Acts 2:1; this includes the disciples and others, see Acts 1:12-13), and the Jews and Jewish converts staying in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5 & 11).

As Peter begins his preaching he quotes from the Prophet Joel…

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your young men will see visions,

your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

Acts 2:17-18, from Joel 2:28-29. Emphasis added.

This scripture seems to highlight societal divisions of age, gender and class.

Yet God’s Spirit will be poured out on all people. The gathered crowd, no matter what their nationality, geographical origin or language, they could all understand what Jesus’ followers were saying.

Labels of age, gender, class, geography, language, nationality…descriptors that in many ways are still used to define us today, but can also divide us. There are many more labels in use in society today too…

  • Employed or Unemployed…
  • Teacher,  accountant, shop assistant, nurse, farmer…
  • Student, Apprentice…
  • Child, teenager, Adult….
  • Lesbian, Gay, Straight…
  • single, celibate, married…
  • Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist…
  • Evangelical, Liberal, Fundamentalist…
  • Tory, Labour, Green, UKIP, Lib Dem…
  • Disabled, Depressed, mentally ill…
  • Rich, poor…

To name but a few…a comprehensive list would seem almost endless…

Sometimes these labels are helpful. We use them to define ourselves, explain who we are, understand and communicate our identity. But I wonder how often we apply labels to other people in ways that are not helpful. Ways that reinforce stereotypes and personal prejudices, perhaps not even realising we are doing so.

Now I want to take that a step further…

How often does the Church apply labels to the work God’s Spirit is doing?

Do we limit our experience of God’s Spirit by our own assumptions or expectations?

In Acts 2 we seem to see a picture of God’s Spirit working outside of human labelling and division…

The Spirit, poured out on all people. (Acts 2:17)

No sub-clause – all people.

God’s Spirit is in and among all people.

Regardless of our expectations.

In the book of Numbers we read about a group of elders gathered together by Moses, who are physically overcome by the power of the Spirit. (See Numbers 11: 24-30) Two elders, Eldad and Medad, were not gathered with the others but were in the camp and they too were overcome at that moment. Joshua runs to Moses and says ‘my lord, stop them!’ (Num 11:28).

Moses seems to call Joshua out quite directly…

‘Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’ (Num 11:29)

Reading of Joshua’s reaction reminds us that we are human, that we respond and react as human beings, that we need to be aware of our human response to the work of God’s Spirit.

This poses us with a great challenge.

What is our response to God’s Spirit?

When God’s Spirit is at work, do we recognise that and celebrate it with joy, wanting to see more?

Or do we respond with jealousy, rejection, ignorance, finding other explanations, asking if people are drunk as the crowd did. (Acts 2:13)

God’s Spirit is most certainly at work all around us.

Working outside of the barriers and boundaries, divisions and human labels that exist in society.

God’s Spirit challenges us to live in a way that celebrates and embraces all God’s Spirit is doing.

In the last 24 hours the attack in London has highlighted division in society. In the coming days as the country goes to the polls, differences in opinions, views and convictions are highlighted and can very easily become divisive.

Yet God’s Spirit is working to draw us together when others seem to be seeking to divide us and violate life. Whether we have casted our vote by post already, or not yet decided how to vote, we all hold various views and come to various conclusions, based on a variety of rationale. Whatever the result we wake up to on Friday morning (or wait up for on Thursday night!), we must guard against the result leading to further division.

As happened on that Pentecost when God’s Spirit came down like tongues of fire, we are challenged to overcome the divisiveness and prejudices of human labels – to encounter the Spirit of God, living and active, uniting us and reconciling us to God.