January 2011


Sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham on 23 January 2011, Epiphany 4 [typos and all]

Naaman is one of those characters in the Bible whose story is familiar to almost everyone who has been to Sunday School for any length of time. Every time I read or hear the story myself, images of the fuzzy felt storyboard from my own Sunday School in the early ‘70s and ‘80s come flooding back.

And like so many of the biblical characters we encounter through Sunday School, Naaman gets a bit of a rough deal. He comes across as something of an anti-hero: he is the enemy general who has vanquished God’s people in battle, killed their king, kidnapped a poor Israelite girl as a slave, who shows no faith in the promise God makes through His prophet, and who is saved only after his servants persuade him to listen to the prophet. However, even a brief moment of self-scrutiny should make us realise that this is hardly fair on Naaman: he is certainly no worse than us. At every turn his reactions are just what you would expect from any normal, rational person. This passage is not a story about Naaman’s foolishness—it is a story about God’s foolishness, about how God saves us through wonderfully foolish means.

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A sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on the feast of the Holy Innocents, 2 January 2011, by Pastor Charles Varsogea.

Text: Matthew 2: 13-23

I’m not from here. Which means that I need you to answer the following question for yourselves. Do you think of yourself as a country at war? You’re shrinking the Ministry of Defense and your Navy has given up fixed wing aviation for now, which aren’t the kinds of things warring nations do, yet Herrick 14 is about to begin. In a few months Royal Marines, young Englishmen, people, are going to begin dying. At home the death toll is a constant presence. The names of the dead are solemnly read on the news at the end of each week and yet we Americans still need to be reminded that ours is a nation at war.

This has been such a long war and so unusually fought that we’ve begun to get used to it. My youngest children have never known even a day during which their country was not at war. They have no idea whether peace is any different. They have to take it on faith that there is something other than war, some other way to exist. The same is true for many children in the world and for most of those children it is a much more personal and terrible experience. The war is waged in and around their homes and they are far too often casualties themselves. Once you get used to waging war though it is easy to forget what your goals are. It can be difficult to remember what victory is. All you want to do is get through the current misery and find some comfort before the next wave of fighting starts.

We’ve gathered here this morning, a bunch of nice people with kind hearts, to encourage one another and to worship God. This hall belongs to the Boy Scout, the very epitome of neighborliness and helpfulness. We’re all busy trying to stay well and pay our bills and keep our families together. It doesn’t feel like were at war. But even if the Taliban were to suddenly blink out of existence and all of our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines could home we’d still be at war. Today’s Scripture lessons all serve to remind us of the endless war that the devil, the world and our flesh wages against God , His Word and, alas, His people.

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“And at the heart of [the] contrast [between Jesus and Moses as new vs. old] are the different functions assigned to obedience under the two mediators. ‘For the Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (Jn. 1:17). From the perspective of the first Moses, the question, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ is a perfectly valid question (Jn. 6:18; cf. Ex. 18:20, 36:1-7, etc.). But when the new Moses has come, the question cannot be posed in the same way. There is now one work which is to be done—to believe (Jn. 6:29) —which is unique among works in that its efficacy depends, not on its activity, but precisely on its passivity (Jn. 1:12, 3:14—17, etc.).”
Karl T. Cooper, ‘The Best Wine: John 2:1–11’, Westminster Theological Journal , 1997, p. 373

For those who missed it, yesterday BBC’s Radio 4 marked the 400th anniversary of the Authorized Version, also known as the King James Bible, by a series of readings throughout the day. In seven separate episodes, key passages from the Old and New Testaments were read by various British actors.

On the downside, most of the introductions to the selections are appalling: very appreciative of the language, hyper-sceptical and often ill-informed about the history and theology. However, the readings are beautiful renditions of the biblical text.

Go and listen here. Alternatively, you can get the whole lot as a podcast feed from here.

Available until Sunday 16 Jan 2011.

Homily preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham, on Sunday 9 January 2011.

Text: Matthew 3:13–17

Baptism of JesusIt really made no sense. John the Baptist had been preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in anticipation of the coming of the kingdom of God. The Lord’s Messiah was coming and he would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire, with his winnowing fork in his hand to separate the wheat from the chaff.

And so they came. Matthew tells us that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins”. It was one mighty washing: the waters of the Jordan being stained with the crimson sins of the repentant sinners of Jerusalem and Judea, all of them eager to be found to be gathered as wheat into the Lord’s barn at the coming of His kingdom, not be burned up as chaff.

So what was Jesus doing, asking to be immersed in these same waters of the Jordan, to receive the sinners’ baptism? The pure lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, asking to be baptised by John, who has come to prepare the sinners of Israel for His coming? John’s reaction is not only understandable; it’s the only reaction that makes sense: “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me? ”

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