Category Archives: New Testament

My first sermon – the actual text

Good Morning. As you can imagine I am a bit nervous, standing in front of you like this for the first time. And I am even more nervous because I will be unconventional, radical even right now: I will be sharing my thoughts on how I read today’s gospel with you and standing up there behind the lectern would imply that I know more than you and am trying to teach you, which is not what I am doing. However, if I am standing down here, Andrew and Richard are at my back. And apart from that making me even more nervous, I also don’t want to develop a crick in my neck trying to look at them once in a while! So, here is the radical part: Andrew and Richard, would you please come and sit down here with us?

Coincidentally, being unconventional and even radical is a big part of what I read in today’s gospel. Jesus tells us a story of a shepherd and his sheep. He calls them, they come, and they certainly don’t listen to the thief climbing over the wall, they only listen to their shepherd. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? All is good, the sheep are safe and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? I don’t see this in the world as it is today. Not at all. It is more like the opposite of what I see!

There has to be more to this story. So let’s have a closer look. One really important image in this story is humanity as a herd of sheep. This image is used again and again in the bible both in the OT and NT. We are quite used to it by now and most of the time we take a look at what the shepherd does. Today I would like to take a look at the sheep in the story. Sheep are rather simple minded, they follow each other, panic at the slightest provocation and all of these mean they sometimes run over the edge of a cliff. We, the humans, can be quite similar to this: We focus on the easy-to-understand things in life, follow each other – listening to the same music, wearing the same clothes and so on – and sometimes this actually leads to our own destruction.

Being German I maybe have a special relationship with this behaviour. My grandfathers were volunteers for the army in 1939. They were excited to defend their country and restore its honour which they felt had been destroyed at the end of WW1 and the following years. They had seen the economic successes of Hitler and the 3rd Reich and were looking forward to a bright future for Germany and for themselves. But essentially they were good people. And so I grew up with one grandfather telling us children over and over again how stupid he had been and that he regretted nothing more than signing up for war. The other never spoke to me about his time as a soldier nor, as far as I know, to anyone else. I can only imagine that it was too painful for him. Only after he died, did we find some letters he wrote to his sister during his time at the front and in prison just after the war. The letters started off very happily, war was all sunshine and fun. But bit by bit the tone changed and though he couldn’t very well tell his sister explicitly, it is obvious that he lost his faith in the war and realised that it had been a terrible idea.

My grandfathers only realised what their mistake when it was already too late. They were caught in a flood that was just pulling them along and they could not find a way out. Of course theirs is a rather extreme example, but aren’t we all sometimes caught up in something we know is wrong? A lie leads to more lies until we have woven a tight net we can’t seem to escape, gossip divides us from each other and building a bridge across the divide becomes impossible, we do something even though we know it’s wrong. We literally cannot help ourselves.

So now, instead of it being happily ever after, everything is all doom and gloom? We always follow the herd and it leads us away from the shepherd towards the thief?

No. If there was no hope, there would have been no Jesus! The point I see in today’s Gospel is this: Jesus calls for us. Then, when the watchman opens the gate and the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, they follow him.

I’d like to talk a little bit about this calling from Jesus. When I was writing this sermon I was not sure I could do it. This was not because I don’t have the ability to speak in public or because I didn’t think my English was good enough but that Jesus calls me the same as all of you. I don’t know more than anyone else!

I have a confession to make. When I asked Andrew and Richard to come and sit down here I didn’t really do it because of my neck. I asked them because Jesus calls them the same as everyone, there is no one called more or called less, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a priest, postulant, come to church regularly or never at all – Jesus is calling you!

You might not realise you are hearing Jesus’ call. Rarely do we experience this call consciously – it only happened twice in my life, both of which were the most awesome experience and really changed me. The clarity and understanding of the beauty of God’s love and forgiveness were truly amazing.

Most of the time though, we don’t get that but we still can hear the call. God is talking to us by other means and they can be anything: other people, poetry, songs, hymns, really anything. For example, when we had the vision day, the young people decided to start a home group. There was no bright light shining down from heaven but I know it was still God calling us to do it. And you being here today is also answering God’s call, no matter what other reasons you might have. My family is here to support me, yo0u might come every week or for any other reason but today Jesus called all of us together to experience fellowship with each other, praise God and to listen for his call.

Often we cannot hear Jesus calling us. We are too caught up in our lives, we are distracted by our own lives. My grandfathers were full of pride for their country, anger at the other countries and seduced by their desire for the acceptance by others.

I wish there was a recipe to follow that works for everyone but there really isn’t. There are as many ways to open up to God’s calling as your imagination permits. They do all have one thing in common: We need to pay attention! We need to make sure that we are NOT too distracted to hear it blasting in our ears.

Because we can be sure of one thing, no matter whether we have experienced it or not:

Jesus calls out to every single one of us because he knows that, as sinful as we are, as many mistakes as we make, we are worth it and we CAN get it right! Jesus believes in you!

He believes in you so much, that he died for you on the cross and defeated death. Jesus loves you and he believes in you and he is calling for YOU!

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Filed under Bible, body and soul, Community, My calling, New Testament, Prayer

First sermon – the (not) writing of it

I don’t know if you have ever written a speech. The only ones I have given before were presentations at school or university, with power point slides, very technical requirements, none of which were inspiring the audience but mostly the dissemination of information. I had been successful at that but in preparing my first sermon, I quickly realised that this would be very different.

You are supposed to put yourself into your sermon. Your own thoughts, your understanding, your private recollections are really the only way to make it truly meaningful to your audience. And this is frightening. The idea of standing in front of a lot of people you know and will continue to know and basically undressing your soul for them is not something I relished doing.

When I was given the gospel for the day and it turned out to be John Chapter 10, I was stumped. I had nothing to say. I only had a question: Why is the world not perfect if we answer to our shepherd?

Thankfully, the Minister had a good idea – why not talk about that question? So simple and so great. Once I had that theme decided on, thing just flowed. I am lucky in that my mother is something of an expert on the art of rhetoric and for two months every night in bed I played with what I wanted to say. I even had a first version written down about two weeks before I was supposed to give the sermon and had planned to practice it on my friends – that never happened. I was too chicken and it didn’t feel like I had gotten it right yet.

I am one of those people who will start something in good time, get a first draft with plenty of time left and then won’t finish until the last minute when the pressure is on maximum. Accordingly I completely rewrote the whole thing on the Sunday morning at 9 o’clock (the service starts at 11.45h), practiced it in my hallway, rewrote some parts again on little note cards (there was no actual text until after I had to hand it in to the DDO) and left for church at 11am. I was nervous like you cannot imagine as I pulled up in the car and entered the church.

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Worship with my children

No, I am not married and I never had children. But organising a prep course for first communion and since then leading the Sunday School services in our chaplaincy have provided me with a small group of great kids with whom I get to learn and worship about once every two months.

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1 John 4:16 (b)

 God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

And that is the most important truth about God. He loves us. Always. Whether we know it or not. And it is his love that brings out the best in us. Feeling his love can turn a life around forever.

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John 15:12

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

My favourite verse in the New Testament is this one. It really shows the priorities we should all have and what Jesus expects of us. If only it were as easy as it sounds…

 

 

 

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Interesting, interesting, interesting! A thought provoking look at women in the New Testament:

ben.edictions

I decided to jot this down after reading an essay by Scot McKnight of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.  The point of his essay is that for whatever reason (he gives a few but I don’t necessarily agree) these women are pushed to the margins of both biblical studies and church teaching and have there for much of Christian history.  A few names on this list are familiar, but most I know only through scattered references and some not at all.  Even of the prominent, their true role as portrayed in Scripture and the implications of that role are almost universally minimized.  Simply put, I’m writing this post to stop being part of the problem.  After reading through the following I hope what I mean here will become clear.  I am not trying to advocate for any certain theology or way of life.  I just think it is time…

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Filed under Community, History, New Testament

Two or three

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Tes...

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The new testament tells us the most astonishing story of God being born as Man and coming to Earth. And not only does he condescend to our rather low level of existence (as it must seem from his point of view), he also let’s himself be tortured and killed, and all in the name of saving us. This must be the ultimate proof of God’s love for mankind. Only a God who really wants to help would do that. And in the form of Jesus he tells us quite a bit about his love.

 

Matthew 7:7

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”

So, while the initiative is our responsibility, God will always be there for us. All we have to do is ask. Isn’t that amazing? We know that we never need to be alone, whatever happened, whether we were hurt by someone, are ill or in pain, or if we screwed up; God is there, ready to assure us that he loves us and always will. It doesn’t get more comforting than that!

 

Matthew 18: 20

“For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.”

Additionally, whenever there are people together, talking about or to God, they will not be alone. God will be right there with them, supporting them and helping them help each other. He explains how he does it: He will work through the other people (which is why he needs at least one more person there). So there won’t be lightening and thunder to help us but someone else, of our own kind. While it might seem a bit of a let-down that God won’t change the course of history or science because we ask him to, it also means, that God has probably helped us many times already without us even noticing.

 

Matthew 28: 20

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

All of this really leaves no room for interpretation; God is there, he hears and listens and he helps us through the work of others. And the best thing is: No matter what happens, he always will.

 

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A life can never be given back

English: Footprints from Westhaven. Looking ba...

Today I was listening to a lecture on Christian ethics, originally to try out whether I liked the speaker or not. Then I realised he was talking about the death penalty and what the Bible says about it and I couldn’t stop listening. This is something very important to me, not least because a friend of mine was murdered a few years ago. Now, you might think that I would want the killer to die, maybe even, that I should want him to die but actually I don’t. In fact, when I first thought about it (being from Germany where the death penalty is not an option, it didn’t cross my mind until someone asked me) I realised that I felt quite the opposite. This man had taken my friend’s life and I wanted him to realise what he had done (he never showed remorse or apologised to her family or anyone else as far I know) and then live with it. Because wouldn’t that be so much worse than just dying? I feel terrible whenever I do something to hurt anyone else and while I realise that not everyone feels the same, I hope that killing your girlfriend would result in that. I think if the guy was killed because of the society I am a member of I would actually feel guilty (and I agree that that would go a bit far and not be a reasonable reaction at all). There are a lot of reasons for and against the death penalty and I cannot possibly list them all here but if you are interested here is an extensive list of all the arguments. The lecturer, I was listening to, made some arguments for and against it  and finally came to the conclusion that the Bible allows the death penalty if it is applied justly and fairly. This is a big if of course and he also concluded after giving a few examples that the process cannot ever be completely just and fair. While I agree with the latter I don’t agree with the former. His arguments were compelling but mainly based on the Old Testament and I choose to believe that God told us in much more detail about himself in the New Testament. Even as early as Deuteronomy we are told that revenge belongs to God and Paul explains it to us in Romans: Do not take revenge my friend… on the contrary if your enemy is hungry feed him… Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. Also, using my moral sense it just feels very wrong. Like I said, it would be too easy for the killer and he would never have the chance to repent and try to atone his crime. I believe, and maybe this is a little wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, that everyone can give something to society and that every single person plays a role in the greater scheme of life. Letting somebody live, even if it is just in prison, gives him (or her) the chance to give something back. Even if it is writing a book and becoming rich or just sowing footballs (or whatever it is they do in prisons these days). I am just a normal person who likes to hold a grudge as well as anyone, so don’t think I am some angelic weirdo. In the beginning I was so furious (and so very sad!) and as I found out more details about her Footprints in sand. Marinha Grande, Portugal.death I became angrier and angrier. For a while all those feelings took over my life. When the trial was finally over, after almost a year, I was so glad that his terrible crime was acknowledged by awarding him the maximum sentence possible (15 years, if you are not considered a menace to society in Germany). As I write these lines and remember it all, the tears come back into my eyes.  I am very glad I was asked about my friend’s killer because it helped me to find out, in a moment of amazing grace, that I had started to forgive him.  I realised that I didn’t want him to suffer in prison and that I hope when he leaves, he has used the time in prison to get an education and make something of his life. Enough lives have already been destroyed because of his actions. I don’t think I will ever stop being sad but I am eternally grateful that I have stopped being furious. Sometimes I am still angry but it passes quicker every time.

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Filed under Bible, Ethics, good vs. bad, New Testament, Philosophy, Prayer