Tag Archives: Jesus

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

Creation and… well, what?

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not believe in Evolution. What I mean by that is, that I know evolution took place and therefore I don’t need to believe it. Whereas I believe that God created the universe. I believe that because there is no scientific proof that he has. There is a lot of scientific proof that evolution happened. But this post isn’t really supposed to be about evolution at all (maybe I’ll write more about that later but it will be less a post about what my faith tells me and more a post on science and knowledge), it is a question I ask myself whenever I start thinking about it. About what? The Fall. You know, when Adam and Eve supposedly ate the apple (or whatever fruit it might have been) and found out that they were naked and so on and so on. The Fall is almost the second thing that happens in the Bible (after everything is created and named and told its purpose) and without knowing what the Fall actually is, I find it difficult to understand almost anything else. Because everything in me tells me that creation is a good thing, that God is proud of it and that none of it is bad or evil. Yet, obviously, I cannot say that humans are good and everything they/we do is exactly as God wishes it to be. I have put quite a bit of emphasis on free will (see my posts on Invictus and what it means to me) and I honestly do believe that God gave it to us as a present. But! If it is such a good thing, why do we need rescuing from it? For me, Jesus dying on the cross feels weird if it was necessary to redeem humanity from the Fall. And what might the actual Fall be anyways? Is it when humans started to think abstractedly, develop a sense of self (animals have that), became creative? All of these together? And, since I believe (but don’t know the proof) that evolution was ultimately responsible for all of these, were they in God’s plan from the beginning and if so, why didn’t he change the plan again? As you can tell I am thoroughly confused. Please help me, tell me what you believe the Fall was/is and how it fits in with God’s plan. I will continue to ponder.

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Filed under good vs. bad, Old Testament

First Communion: My experience

Group portrait of children at their First Comm...

Group portrait of children at their First Communion, Holyrood School, Swindon, 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next Sunday my parish will have a discussion after the morning service on whether we should introduce a First Communion for younger children so they may participate in the Eucharist before having been confirmed. Apparently this discussion has been going on for quite a while, and everyone is hoping that staging a public discussion with a guest speaker will get things going. I will be there and discuss with everyone. This is something that is quite close to my heart, since I, as a Catholic, of course celebrated my First Communion when I was 9 and then my Confirmation at 16. Why is it so important to me? Looking back, I think, it is partly the fact that, as soon as I was allowed to participate in the Eucharist, I felt like a full member of the congregation. During the preparation I had learned a lot about what the Eucharist meant, how a mass was celebrated, and why in this order, and what everything we did meant, and I, as a 9 year old girl, felt very adult and privileged to become a part of the adult world. At the same time it was a great spiritual experience for me. Generally, the First Communion is a big deal for Catholic children and their parents, almost a mini-wedding, and some people really go overboard with the dresses and presents. In my village you get presents from almost everyone who knows you or your parents (for example I got a holy water basin from the church choir because my mother was a member, but also presents and money from the individual members). My village parish had just decided that things had gotten too far the year I had my First Communion, and that, for many children, the purpose of it all had taken a far second place behind the material side of it. So we had, what was called a silent First Communion, on Maundy Thursday, just over a week before the public ceremony. For me, that was exactly right; the idea that here I was taking Jesus’ body and blood for the first time was unimaginably precious. But what decides my opinion today is, that having a First Communion and being welcomed into full public membership early on, made my decision to be confirmed when I was 16 (everyone being confirmed was my age) a matter of my personal relationship with God rather than a requirement needed for me to feel like a full member of the parish community. Also, because all of us were older, we had the chance to discuss a lot of topics in more detail than if we had been younger, and some topics that we would not have been able to discuss at all; including sexuality. Having had that chance made my faith stronger, I believe, and having made the decision to be confirmed as a young adult also made it feel more of a commitment to God that I had personally chosen. All of this helped me to find my way back to Jesus and prayer after I had strayed a little while at university. It was definitely the right way for me and as much as I like and am committed to the Church of England, I will always look back with pride and gratefulness to my Catholic upbringing.

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Filed under Catholic Church, CoE