Sermon archive

Sunday 19th June 2022 - Martin Mowat.

Readings: Psalm 23 & Matthew 4: 1-11

We’ve started to look at the topic of the early church, and that was why six weeks ago we started to meander through David’s 23rd psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd”. On the first occasion we looked at the first two verses which talk about a deeply personal relationship, a relationship of perfect trust, one that enables the shepherd to bring his sheep into a place of peace, security and nourishment, a place where we can feel God’s love for us and see our lives from His perspective.

Then, on the second occasion we saw how God wants to refresh and restore our souls by leading us in the paths of righteousness, and we saw why he does that: “For his name’s sake.”


Thank you Bridget for reading us this amazing psalm again just now. I’d like us to look now at verse 4 which says “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. At this point David seems to do two things. First of all having been talking about God, he now starts to talk to God, and secondly he seems to change his focus. Having been talking about the wonderful life of a sheep in Jesus’ flock, he now seems to take a more negative stance.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley”. You may be more familiar with the King James version which says “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

I have seen this described as “one of the most famous phrases in the whole of world literature”.

One of the most likely places considered to be the setting for 'The Valley of the Shadow of Death is a deep gorge in the Judean Wilderness that runs from Jerusalem down to Jericho, called the Wadi Qelt. It is a very solitary place which the prophet Jeremiah described as “the barren wilderness, … a land of deserts and ravines, a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives

Philip read for us the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and the reason that I chose that particular passage was to illustrate that Satan is a real character, and we’ll talk about him in just a moment. Coincidentally, the place where Jesus was tempted is generally considered to be a mountain which rises up out of the Judean Desert 3 kms north west of Jericho, so not a million miles from “the Valley of the Shadow of death”.

So why did David bring this gruesome place into this psalm? I want to be sensitive here. Many of us have had terrible things happen to us in our lives. Many of us have been through, or may be now going through, VERY difficult times. Just recently, Covid which forced us into seclusion and isolation, created vast physical, psychological and emotional problems for thousands and thousands of people. The war in Ukraine is creating boundless misery. Some of us have experiences premature bereavement, some of us untimely ill-health. I could go on and on.

But my point is that “stuff” happens. Why does God allow it? Good question.

Is Satan to blame? In Job’s case, yes, he certainly was, but whether or not he deliberately orchestrated this or that road accident, is another question. Most of the time these things are simply a result of the fall. Adam and Eve wanted to be able to make their own decisions and live life their way, and when everyone thinks they know best, and live according to their own priorities and agendas, there is conflict and things go badly wrong.

Personally I’m convinced that God does not deliberately cause terrible suffering, but he does USE the hard times to shape us and to equip us. Equally, I’m not sure that Satan deliberately causes these things but he does use them to taunt us and to sow doubt, mistrust, unforgiveness, and division.

But whatever the cause, we have to live with the consequences, and that can be like Jeremiah’s barren wilderness”, his “land of deserts and ravines’, his “land of drought and utter darkness”.

But, of course, the reason that David even mentions this fearsome place, is to say that even there, we need not fear.

Matthew records for us that when Jesus began to preach, he quoted a verse from Isaiah chapter 9 in which Isaiah prophesied that “the people living in darkness (would) see a great light; (for) those living in the land of the shadow of death a light (would dawn).

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;” said David.

God described David as a man after his own heart, and we can see why. He knew, 110%, no question, that God not only exists, but that he looks after his children. Yes, life happens, yes, it’s tough, it’s shitty, it sucks at times, but “don’t fear”. Don’t pour another glass, don’t consult a medium or fortune teller, as so many do these days, don’t worry even. God’s in control.

Do you know this song, I wonder ?

When you walk through a storm

Hold your head up high

And don't be afraid of the dark.

At the end of a storm

There's a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

For your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart

And you'll never walk alone.

You'll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart.

And you'll never walk alone

You'll never walk alone.

The song was composed for a Broadway musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1945. In England it was made famous by Gerry and the Pacemakers in the early 60’s and was adopted by the fans of football clubs like Liverpool and Celtic. More recently it was re-released by Barbra Streisand as a tribute to healthcare workers and in support of COVID-19 relief.

A lot of the time the people who sing it probably don’t know how true that can be. “You'll never walk alone.”

And David is saying the same thing in Psalm 23,. “… for you are with me”. I will fear no evil, he’s saying, because you are close, because you are beside me, because you know me better than anyone on earth and because you love me completely, I will never walk alone.

And the mood of the psalm changes it goes on with another somewhat unexpected phrase, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

What’s this all about? Rods are used for beating people aren’t they? How can such a thing be comforting? I went to school before corporal punishment was abolished, and I can assure you that being beaten for one’s misdemeanors is far from comforting.


But that’s not at all what David’s talking about. A shepherd’s rod is not a stick to beat the sheep, but a weapon to defend the sheep against wild animals and predators, against the thieves and rustlers who come to steal and destroy. God is not meeting out punishment, but he’s protecting and defending us and he’ll stop at nothing to save us.

And the staff? You’ve maybe seen pictures of shepherds carrying a “crook”. Bishops carry them too. It’s a stick with a curved end. Sheep can be fairly brainless and wooly headed. They’re also prone to panic so they will go off in any direction without warning. The shepherd uses his staff to hook around the sheep’s neck and guide it painlessly back onto the right path, “the paths of righteousness” that David was talking about back in verse 3.


The Bible has a lot to say about righteousness, and it’s the path that our shepherd wants us to follow. It’s not just not being bad, it’s not even just being good, it’s more about doing good, promoting good, standing up for what’s right, helping and guiding others in the right direction.

The shepherd knows how to use these two simple tools with great skill, to protect us and keep us going in the right direction, and that IS a comfort when you think about it.

In one commentary I read this, and I think it sums up this verse very well. “God is not a punitive God. He is not about threat and punishment. … the Hebrew scriptures need to be read through the lens of this psalm and many other passages of tender love, forgiveness and protection. Here is the truth at the heart of the universe”, it said.

And I would add that this is part of the message that Christ commissioned his church to share with the world. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In conclusion can I say that today we’ve only covered another two verses, which leaves us two more. We’ll look at those next week, God willing, and have a chance after the service to discuss what we’ve discovered in this amazing psalm.


Sunday 12th June, 2022 - Martin Mowat

Let’s talk about breaking bread! Also called Holy Communion, the Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper, depending on your denomination and background.

To do that we must of course go back to all that happened at the Last Supper, which we also touched on last week.

It was a particularly precious time for the disciples, one that would be indelibly marked on their memories and remembered over, over and over again. Their last moments with their Master, their friend, the man they had lived with and followed for 3 years.

Several things happened during the course of that evening and they’re all relevant.

1. They relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company

2. They shared a meal that was a joyous part of an important religious festival

3. When they got into the room, Jesus washed their feet

4. As they took their places around the table, the disciple that Jesus loved sat next to him.

5. They broke bread together

6. They drank wine together

7. Jesus gave them a gift to remember him by

8. Judas snuck out and scampered off to do his dirty deed, for whatever motive we will never really know.

Let’s run down the list.

1. They relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that it’s important that God be approached respectfully and treated with decorum and I respect and appreciate church liturgy, but from my reading of the Bible, from going to church for most of my 70 years, and participating in communion in all sorts of different ways, I’m not sure that we’re intended to be too po-faced about it. Most of the Jewish religion is based around feasts designed to remember, to rejoice in and to celebrate things that God has done. Communion is remembering, rejoicing in, and celebrating something that God has done, something huge, and the first time that it was ever celebrated, at the last supper, it seems to have been a very relaxed and informal affair.


2. They shared a meal that was a joyous part of an important religious festival

On this specific occasion they were celebrating Passover, and this is VERY significant. Passover was when God rescued the Israelites, his chosen people, from the clutches of the most powerful nation on Earth. Significantly, in order to demarcate where each Israelite family lived, they had to daub their doorposts with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, then they had to cook the lamb with its entrails, and they had to eat it with unleavened bread. That could be a whole sermon in its own right, but you understand, I’m sure, the significance and pertinence of those things. But the point we mustn’t miss is that they were celebrating.


3. When they got into the room, the Lord of the Universe, the Commander of Heaven’s Armies, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, got down on his knees on the floor, and washed his disciple’s feet as an example of servant leadership, and as an intimate gesture of his love for them.


4. As they took their places around the table, the disciple that Jesus loved sat next to him. This was almost certainly John but it didn’t mean that he didn’t love the others just as much. But everyone has a best friend, and that’s OK. However, I want to say that each of us is also a disciple who Jesus loves, and he wants to sit next to you and feel your nearness during these special moments. He wants you to feel his nearness too and be strengthened by that closest of relationships.

Communion can be a time when we are particularly aware of the Lord’s presence.


5. They broke bread together. As it is in France, bread was doubtless an important part of meals like that, and would have been supplied as large round flattish loaves, that were perhaps passed around the table and each person broke off as much as he wanted.


Interestingly, bread in the middle East, particularly in Arab cultures is considered to be a divine gift from God. In the Jewish culture the bread was “broken” at the beginning of the meal as a way of blessing the meal, a bit like saying “grace” perhaps, to give thanks for the meal.

As he did so often, Jesus took two very ordinary actions and used them as pictures for his disciples. This breaking and sharing were now to symbolize, for ever more, the breaking of his body on the cross, and it being shared with each one of us who wishes to participate.


Can I also say, and this may uncomfortable for some, that Jesus did not turn the bread into flesh of any kind (what the Catholic church call transubstantiation) nor did he tell anyone else to do so. None of the 3 gospel accounts give that impression.


6. They drank wine together. Wine was safer to drink that water, because the alcohol killed the bugs, and it was perfectly normal to drink it with food, not just at parties or religious feasts. Perhaps because of its colour, Jesus used it to provide them with a visual reminder of the sacrificial blood that he was about to spill, blood that would signify not death but sacrifice, spiritual cleansing, salvation, rebirth, new beginnings.


Again, Jesus did not turn the wine into blood. All he said, according to Luke for example, was “take this and divide it among you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”.


This, Jesus said, was to be the symbol of a new covenant. What’s a covenant? A pact, a treaty, an understanding, an agreement, a contract sometimes.


7. Jesus gave them a gift to remember him by, when he said “Do this in remembrance of me.” That’s the point. It’s not the ceremony, it’s the remembrance. “Do this whenever you break it”, he said, which, in that culture, would have been almost whenever they ate.

“Twice, three times a day, remember me.” Not just in church, not just once a week or once a month, but in your homes, not just with a priest or a licensed chaplain, but when you’re together. Even on a picnic for example, why not? What a gift.


8. Judas snuck out and scampered off to do his dirty deed, for whatever motive we will never really know. This is a part of the story that we don’t really like to talk about. How could he? I mean, how could he be with Jesus for 3 years, and then do such a terrible thing. I mean, inconceivable, unreal, daaa!


But he did, and that’s the sobering thing. He was disappointed because things weren’t going the way he thought they should. And so could we in similar times of frustration and despair.

Afterwards Judas was so disgusted with himself that he committed suicide by hanging himself in a tree, but he needn’t have, because no matter how heinous our wrongdoings, how disgusting, how selfish, how thoughtless, how revolting, in Jesus there is always forgiveness, if we will seek him out and repent, just as there was for Peter when he denied him, not once but three times.

Peter went on to be one of the pillars of the church. So could we.

So, in conclusion then, about communion, yes, let’s treat it with respect but let’s not get over-religious about it. Let’s even be a bit adventurous, occasionally, about how we do it in such a way as to keep it meaningful.

Covid doesn’t help, of course, when it comes to being spontaneous, but it has taught us to be more mindful of each other in terms of hygiene. And so the use of our little wine cups is probably here to stay.

We can however pass the elements around and offer them to each other in a meaningful way.

The bread today will come in two formats and you may choose either or neither according to your preference. Some has been careful prepared beforehand, and some will be broken, and you break off a little piece for yourself as it’s passed round. The significant thing as that all the bread will have come from the same loaf.

CONCLUSION

So that’s why in our communion prayer we say that we do it in obedience, in remembrance, and in gratitude.

Let me close by reading you Acts 2:42-47, The Fellowship of the Believers

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

~~~~~

Sunday 5th June, 2022 - Martin Mowat.

Readings: Acts 1:4-11 Acts 2:1-12


Ten days ago, the church celebrated the Ascension, today it celebrates Pentecost. These are two hugely important events because they had a fundamental effect on the life of the early church, which is our subject at the moment, so it would be good to take the time to think about what happened on those two occasions, how, why, and to what consequence. Let’s pray….

I want to focus this morning on some conversations that the apostle John recorded for us in his gospel, in which Jesus talked about what would happen at the end of his ministry, and where he was going. I guess that it was quite a hot topic of conversation amongst the disciples, so these are certainly only a sample.

We find the first in chapter 8. After the Pharisees had brought Jesus a woman who had been caught in adultery, he had an argument with them because they said to him that his own testimony, about who he was, wasn’t valid. Part of his response was to say “I know where I came from and where I am going, but you have no idea where I came from or where I am going. …. I am going away, and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.

This made them think that perhaps he was going to commit suicide, but no, he explained. The reason was “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”

The point Jesus was making, of course, was that if people die in their sins, they will be unable to go to heaven. More on that in a second.

Next, in Chapter 13. At the last supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and had a difference of opinion with Peter about it. Peter, you remember, felt very uncomfortable about his teacher and mentor doing such a menial job, when if anything, it should have been the other way around. During the ensuing conversation Jesus predicts both his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and then his denial by Peter, and it was in this context that he said, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

This time he was talking to the disciples, not the Pharisees. The disciples, having given their lives to Jesus wouldn’t be dying in their sins. Jesus’ point, of course, is that if we believe in him, we WILL follow him to heaven.

The conversation about where he was going continues in the next chapter, in which Jesus makes things very clear indeed. He said that he was going and prepare a place for them, that he would come back and take them to be with him so that they also would be where he was. You know the way to the place where I am going” he reminded them. And then he had that famous conversation with dear Thomas in which Thomas said “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” He was just so like we would be, wasn’t he?

Then Jesus, almost appearing to twist his answer, says to him so famously, and I’m paraphrasing a little, “Thomas, I am the way, and what’s more I’m also the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, then you know my Father as well. From this very moment, you do know him. Because you’ve seen me you’ve seen him.”

And then I just love what Philip said next, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Think about that. “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” He still hasn’t quite got it in his head, but his heart is just WIDE open. Is yours ?

But there was yet another conversation that John recorded for us. It’s in chapter 16 and I’d love to read you the whole chapter, but permit me just an extract. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me;10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

And so, finally, Jesus left them. He didn’t just disappear like a ghost. He didn’t just walk off into the sunset. He rose vertically from the ground, and he rose, and rose, and rose. To make it even more dramatic two angels appeared and started admonishing them for standing and gaping with their mouths open.

This was real, it was visible. This was recorded, this was epic, dramatic, this had a clear life-changing message, this was quite literally “biblical” in proportion, and people have been talking about it ever since.

So let’s move on and think about Pentecost for a few minutes. I have a brother and sister who are 11 and 9 years older than I am, and a younger sister who is 2 years my younger. When we were young I remember that there were occasions when my parents took my elder 2 siblings on holiday and left my sister and me at home. But that was OK, because there was a lovely young woman called Phyllis who lived with us and looked after us, and as far as I remember we had a good time too.

But being abandoned is something that all of us fear, particularly when we’re young, so it’s no surprise that the disciples were so concerned about what was going to happen. Not only was Jesus their guide and their mentor, he was their protector. He was the one who took all the flak from the Scribes and Pharisees, and who came up with all the brilliant answers

So let’s go back now to our conversations in John chapters 14 and 16, where we saw that Jesus reassured them that he wouldn’t leave them stranded. “I will send an advocate” he told them, “a comforter, the Holy Spirit”.

And he did. Jess read about it in Acts 2. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.


It all sounds very dramatic, and it was. It all sounds a bit worrying too because we’re not all comfortable with the idea of signs and wonders and speaking in tongues, though to be honest we should be. But I don’t want to be led down that road today.

“What was going on?” and “Why?” is what we’re most interested in this morning.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. But this wasn’t his first appearance. He was present at creation. He had been part of the Trinity since the very beginning. It’s more as if, now that Jesus, God the Son, also present at creation and part of the Trinity since the very beginning, God the Son having paid the ultimate price for man to have the option of eternal salvation, God the Holy Spirit was to have a more hands-on role to play in the future.


“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus had said to his disciples. (Acts 1:8)

Jesus discerned that they would need power, why? Because he wanted them to be the living stones that he would use to build his church and he wanted them to be his witnesses.

The Holy Spirit would also “teach” them, we heard earlier, and “guide them into all the truth”. He would “Testify about him”, he would be their “Advocate” someone who stands in the gap. It’s the person who defends you in court, who pleads your case. According to the dictionary it’s also “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”.

And he would “baptise” them, immerse them, soak them, fill them to overflowing, …

This too was real and visible, this too was recorded, this too was epic and dramatic, this too had a clear life-changing message, this too was quite literally “biblical” in proportion, and people have been talking about this ever since, as well.

“To what consequence?” we said we would ask, and with this I’ll close.

That first Pentecost was just the beginning. We read about the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the New Testament, and throughout the history of Christ’s church to this day.

A few dismayed, frightened, lost, confused, uncertain men and women literally changed the course of world history. The spread of Christianity around the globe has changed people and the course of events wherever it has spread. Those few people, and those who came after them became, bold, purposeful, clear-thinking and focused. They had a vision, and a mission. They had a goal, they had a church to build, they had a message of hope and peace and good news to convey, they had care and aid to bring to those in need.


They had a burning fire in their hearts that had been put there by the only person who could, God himself, they were fueled and empowered by his Holy Spirit, and they had the Risen Ascended Lord Jesus Christ as their leader.

And WE are their inheritors. WE are their successors. Let’s pray ….


~~~~~


Sunday 15th May, 2022 - Martin Mowat.

Readings: Psalm 23 & Ephesians 1:1-10

Two weeks ago, we started to look at the topic of “church”, but strangely we did so by starting to meander through David’s 23rd psalm. We just looked at the first two verses.

We saw that it talks about a relationship which is deeply personal, “The Lord is my shepherd”, and that it’s a relationship of perfect trust, one that enables the shepherd to bring his sheep into a place of peace, security and nourishment, a place where we can feel God’s love for us and see our lives from His perspective.

If you remember, we ended up last time on the shore of a lake in the Swiss Alps where there wasn’t a breath of wind and the surface of the “quiet waters” was reflecting the mountains, the sky and the heavens. A bit figurative perhaps, but you got the point that I was trying to make, I’m sure.


Before we continue, lets pray …

In the KJV the next phrase, “He restoreth my soul” starts a new sentence, but in the NIV, where it is rendered “he refreshes my soul”, it’s part of the sentence that says “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”

So in a way we could have just rolled it into what we were saying about quiet waters, and the refreshment he give us along life’s sometimes tough and thirsty way, but actually there’s more, because the KJV talks about “restoration” rather than refreshment, and it also introduces the notion of “soul”.

The Hebrew word that David used for soul was “nefesh” and it means, apparently, “all of us”, our body, mind, spirit, personality, consciousness, everything that makes us who we are, so what David’s talking about is, effectively, our identity.

In an ideal situation, all of those elements are in perfect balance and in perfect health, but of course we know that that is rarely the case, and so refreshment and restoration are both very much needed.

When we bought the house we live in now it seemed to be in quite good condition, and apart from needing a new roof, it was. But it had been abandoned in the 1960s seems to have been unoccupied for quite a time until it was bought and “restored” by a plasterboard fitter. His idea of restoration was to fit a plasterboard box inside the stone shell, thereby hiding all the imperfections, but with it all the character.


By judicious removing of some of that plasterboard, and repairing the beautiful stone walls behind it, we have been able to restore some of that original character.

Restoration is not about hiding things away, but that’s what we all tend to do. We put up screens to hide our imperfections, we employ all sorts of ways to cover the scars of life, the bad habit’s we have adopted, the dark secrets we have acquired, the relationship problems we have fallen into, etc., etc.

But if we let God restore our souls, he puts EVERYTHING back in balance. He heals the hurts, he rights the wrongs, he makes us beautiful again, the way he created it to be.

The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God, but sometimes, looking at us, you’d need a lot of imagination to see God’s image. “He restores my soul.” “He restores His image in me.” “He restores my true identity.” And when we allow him to do that, when we reflect his personality, his love for his creation, we can be his witnesses, and we can be his church.

“He restores my soul.” And then it goes on to say “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.”

There’s a lot in this verse, so it’s as far as we are going to get today, I’m afraid.

We could start with the first three words. “He leads me.” But we’ve talked about how the shepherds lead, and the sheep follow. We’ve talked about this being something individual, personal, special, relational, but perhaps we haven’t mentioned that following someone also implies that we follow His example, we adopt his values, his priorities, his standards of justice.

We could talk about paths, and quote Psalm 119 which says “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”, and we could cite Proverbs 4:18 “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” But rich as those verses are, let’s stick to our psalm.

There is so much in our world today that is dark and patently unrighteous. The war in Ukraine, the exploitation, the rape, the human trafficking. There’s the blatant disregard for truth and integrity that we see in so many politicians and business leaders. There’s the misuse of social networks by the so-called trolls, the unfair distribution of wealth and resources, the blatant abuse of our planet. The list goes on and on.

Those things are unrighteous and unrighteousness is easy to recognise, easy to define, but righteousness is less straightforward, and the “ways of righteousness” can seem a rather vague concept.

One dictionary definition I found says that Righteousness is the quality of being virtuous, honorable, or morally right. It can also refer to such behavior. Righteousness is the noun form of the adjective righteous. Being righteous means doing what is right.”

I like to tell Charlotte that when I was at school I never did anything wrong, but of course that’s far from the truth. And in a way we all do that. We like to think that we are all basically good and that we do indeed “do what is right”. But the reality is that we compromise left, right and centre. We justify the ways that we give in to temptation, what we watch and listen to, all sorts of things, and in so doing we stifle our own consciences, thus becoming less spiritually alive than we should be.

But God wants to lead us in the paths of righteousness.

In our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, we were reminded that a person is not righteous in God's eyes because of his choice or commitment, his good works or his piety, his emotions or intellect, or his good behaviour. Instead, he is righteous because “before the creation of the world he was chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight-,”

One commentary on Psalm 23 that I read says this. “He will lead me in the right paths, he will forgive me for all of the wrong paths I have taken. He will never let me go finally astray because of His eternal love for me and because He has chosen me to be an ambassador for His true character. This is our destiny, to become like Him.

“He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness”. Why ? According to the psalmist David “For his names sake.”

And what does “for his name’s sake” mean? What’s in a name?, in other words. And maybe you’re thinking “daaaaa, we all know what a name is”, but wait.

Your name is not just what people call you, it embodies everything you are. We were talking about it earlier when we were talking about our souls. God’s name represents EVERYTHING that he is. So he is going to make sure that we lack nothing, he’s going to make us lie down in green pastures, to lead us beside quiet waters, to refresh and restore our souls, and guide us along the paths of righteousness, to build his church, for the sake of everything that he is.

Let me just finish by telling you about an email that I received on Thursday from a very good friend of mine, Mally, who’s a pastor in Paris. He wanted to share the story of an American student there who had been struggling with deep self-doubt, shame and worthlessness. She had resorted to substance abuse to numb the pain and was also heavily into alcohol, and self-harm. When she hit rock bottom she happened upon a mini New Testament that had been given to her by a taxi driver in South Africa 5 years ago. As she started to read it she had a sensation of being loved and valued like never before. For the first time in her life, she cried out to God and asked him to speak to her clearly.

Aubrey’s parents are not Christians, nor was she, so it is most unlikely that she had ever read, let alone memorized, any of the Old Testament, so can you guess what God said to her?

He said very clearly, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

That changed her life, she has become a Christian and on Wednesday Mally baptised her in an inflatable paddling pool that her parents brought with them all the way from California for the occasion. Aubrey now has a sense of value that she had never had, and a certain knowledge that God had chosen her personally, and for a purpose.


~~~~~

Sunday 1st May, 2022 - Martin Mowat

Reading 1: Psalm 23. Reading 2: John 10: 9 - 18

We’ve spent a few months studying Jesus’ ministry, and said that we would move on to something different. That’s quite appropriate now that Easter is behind us.

Or is it behind us? No, not quite. We’re in a sort of limbo, a time of 40 days when Jesus was alive again, he’d come back from the dead, and although he appeared and disappeared at will, almost as if he was a ghost, when people touched him he was real, he was flesh and blood, he ate meals with them. He was risen!

But what I suggest is that we look at all that when we celebrate his ascension in a few weeks’ time.

I said that we’re going to start looking at the topic of “church”, and I touched on it a few weeks ago. We were reminded that the church was Jesus’ idea, and he made it very clear that he was going to build it. If you remember, we worked word by word through Jesus’ statement “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Four weeks ago, Jess also gave us a fascinating history of the church which caused me, for one, to ask the question “why”? “Why” have so many people, over such a long period of time, poured so much time, so much energy and so much money into the church? And not only that, they’ve fought for it, given their lives for it, divided families for it, gone into monastic orders for it. I could go on. If you weren’t here that Sunday, I’m sure that Jess will be only too happy to send you a copy, or you can find it on our internet site, as well as the Easter Day message.

Today, and this might seem a little bit “off the wall” I want to suggest that David’s 23rd psalm, so beautifully read for us by xxx, can give us a few clues about what church is and what it should look like.

Psalm 23 is certainly one of the best known, if not THE best known of all the Psalms and it starts off with those immortal words “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”. That’s the KJV, the NIV says “I lack nothing”, the God’s Word version “I am never in need” and the Good News even says “I have everything I need”.

This psalm is so rich, and so pertinent, so relevant to our personal situations, as well as to our church, any church for that matter, that I think we shouldn’t rush through it. So let’s just take our time today with the first few verses, and then pick up where we left off next time.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

“I want.” How many times have we heard our children and grandchildren say “I want”? Sometimes they go even further and say “I need”. “I need” an ice cream, “I need” a new pair of latest fashion jeans, “I need” an iPad, …. But let’s be honest with ourselves, we do it too, “I need” another drink, “I need” a bigger garden, “I need” a more powerful computer, “I need” a faster car, ….

As a parent we think we know and understand what children really need, and we try not to acquiesce to all the “I want”s, though sometimes that’s not as easy as it sounds, but let’s not digress!

As I’ve said before, I know, a shepherd knows his sheep, he really knows them, and he provides for them, sacrificially sometimes, so that they lack nothing, “no good thing”. That’s his job, it’s his mission in life, it’s his ministry, it’s the thing that brings him the greatest joy, the most fulfilment.

David was a shepherd himself, for many years. There was nothing about the life of a shepherd that he didn’t know intimately.

And David, the shepherd, had a shepherd of his own. “The Lord is my shepherd”, he said.

Jesus knew all about sheep and shepherds too, which is why he told that beautiful parable about the good shepherd who left the 99 to go out and search for that one lost sheep. She was brought back, safely, and was also able to say “I lack no good thing”. It’s a beautiful picture of what a church should be like.

In our second reading from John 10, we heard Jesus say “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and … so when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

He said that to warn us that unfortunately, in the church, there would be good shepherds and bad shepherds, that some church leaders would be uncaring, some would be controlling, manipulating, even exploitative. That’s bad news for the church, it’s totally counter-productive and it does no favours for its reputation. You may have come across some of those people, you may even have been hurt by one or more of those people, and if that’s the case, then I am deeply sorry. If you ever need someone to talk to about that, do please come and see me.

But Jesus is the good shepherd, and the true example for the leaders of his church. It’s because he is the “Good Shepherd” that church is possible. It’s because He loves and cares for each of us so tenderly and so completely that church is possible. It’s because he knows that sheep are wooly headed and wander off and so need rescuing and bringing home, need his love and his care, that church has a context, a raison d’être.

When I was a child, growing up on the farm, and we went to get the sheep from the field in order to take them to the farm buildings for one reason or another, we would go around behind them and goad them forward from behind. But the shepherds that Jesus was talking about didn’t do it like that. In the Middle East the shepherds lead from the front, and the sheep follow. They follow because they know that the shepherd loves them, cares for them, provides for them, and that he can be trusted, ABSOLUTELY. They know his voice, and when he calls, they come to him voluntarily, willingly.

I may have told you that, at night, to protect the sheep from predators, and so that the shepherds can take it in turns to get some sleep, they will often put several flocks into the same stone-walled enclosure. You would think that the sheep would get all muddled up, and they do. But in the morning, when each shepherd calls his sheep, they split up and follow their own shepherd. I can imagine that it’s an amazing sight.

The Lord is MY shepherd. This is personal. Jesus knows you, he loves you, he cares for you, he knows what’s best for you, he will go ahead of you, he will lead you, and you will not want. And that brings us onto the next verse of our psalm.


He makes me lie down in green pastures. Sheep need a sheepfold, somewhere where they are protected, and where they feel secure, and that’s why Jesus said that he would build his church.

The green pastures that David is talking about, though, are not church, but they’re a place where church is possible in an atmosphere of love and safety.

Safety is a rare commodity these days. Wars, famine, politics, abuse, poor parenting, psychological disorders, ill-health and an overloaded health-care network, the list is endless of things that rob us of our security and safety, of a feeling of well-being.

The Lord is my Shepherd, he makes me lie down. David’s psalm is a wonderful word picture because, interestingly, sheep only lie down when they feel safe. The Lord has created a safe space, just for you, because he loves you. It’s a green pasture, a place where you can lie down, rest, de-stress, chew the cud, feel valued and protected, spend time with Him.

It’s a place where you can see the world from a different perspective, from His perspective, from a place where there’s nothing to fear, a moment when you don’t have to go anywhere, do anything, make any decisions, where there is peace, where you are safe.

It’s a place where you feel God’s love for you. It’s a place where you KNOW his love. He has led you here and he just wants to “love on you” as the Americans would say, to spoil you, to let you know how precious you really are to him. A place where you can take off that burden you’ve been carrying around, you can release that hatred and unforgiveness, you can enjoy the grass and the wild flowers, the birds and the insects, enjoy the view, enjoy the company, sleep and dream.

It’s a place of spiritual healing, a place where you can re-orientate your life, a place where you can begin to grow again.

And finally for today, He leads me beside quiet waters.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I would be very surprised if it were not true that sheep prefer to drink still water.

All living beings need fresh clean water to drink. And while some of the younger generation might contest this statement, all living beings need peace and quiet, need to be still from time to time.

The place beside still waters is a very special place. It’s a place of refreshment along life’s path, a place where your spiritual thirst can be satisfied, it’s a place away from the turmoil, it’s a place of beauty.

Charlotte and I like to take holidays in the car. We even drove to Venice for our honeymoon. Well, of course we didn’t drive around Venice itself in the car! Believe it or not the car broke down as we were driving into London on our wedding night. The clutch went, and so our drive to Venice was delayed 24 hours while we got it fixed, but that’s another story. The point of my telling you this is that on the way back through the Alps we stayed in a hotel on the edge of a lake. While we were having breakfast in the hotel dining room, overlooking the lake, there wasn’t a breath of wind and the lake was perfectly still as an Osprey was catching his breakfast too. It was breathtakingly beautiful, so peaceful. The surface of the lake was a mirror reflecting the mountains and the sky.

Still waters, a reflection, a glimpse of heaven. Dare I say that church could, should, be a glimpse of heaven too.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.

Isn’t this a fabulous psalm? And it has a lot more for us. Do please read it at home.

SUNDAY 17th APRIL 2022 - EASTER MESSAGE - Martin Mowat

Reading 1: John 20: v 1 - 10. Reading 2: John 20: v 11 - 18

Christmas Day and Easter Day are clearly the two biggest events in the Christian calendar, and for very good reason. Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, of the Messiah, of God incarnate, come to save his people. And Easter, even more gloriously, celebrates the accomplishment of EVERYTHING that he came to do and to achieve.

Those of us who have been working through the Lent Study Course have been reminded that Jesus, although divine, was also VERY human. He felt and experienced everything that we ever will, and far more. We saw the mounting pressure and stress on him during his last weeks and days evidenced by the way that he snapped at the poor fig tree that had no fruit. We considered the bitter-sweet of the last supper, the pain of the betrayal, his anguish in the garden of Gethsemane, and finally the desperation of the cross.

We finished up by looking at the reaction of some of the people who actually witnessed all of that play out, the spectators, the soldiers, the other two poor victims, the centurion who said “Surely, this man was a righteous man”, Jesus’ friends and family.

But all of that is behind us now. A new day has dawned and the tomb is empty.

Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James and Salome had gone to the tomb, taking spices to anoint his dead body, wondering how on earth they were going to be able to shift the great stone that had been placed, and sealed, across the entrance. But they needn’t have worried, of course, because what did they find? The grave was wide open, the grave cloths empty and laid neatly where the body had been, and an angel. What a sight for their poor eyes!

Mark 16:9 tells us that “when Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared to Mary Magdalen, out of whom he had driven seven demons” and that she then went and told the others.

‘I have seen the Lord,’ she exclaimed. ‘I have seen the Lord!’

A simple statement, but it says so much.

Jesus had told his disciples to meet him in Galilee. On his own way there he met up with two believers, Cleopas and his friend, who were on their way home to Emmaus, about 12 kilometers from Jerusalem. This is a particularly lovely story, so real, and it’s only Luke who gives it to us.

They had seen everything that happened 3 days earlier, and one can only wonder about what was going through their minds. We know that their faces were downcast, so was it disappointment, was it even despair, or was there still an element of hope?


As they walked, they discussed these things with each other, and then Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him, the Bible says.

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they were told that Jesus was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

They mentioned the fact that it was the third day since the crucifixion had taken place, so must have expected something to happen. They had heard that the women had found the tomb empty, and had seen angels who had said he was alive.

Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

They were obviously enjoying Jesus’ company and his teaching them about all the messianic prophecies, so much in fact that they persuaded him to stay with them overnight so that their conversation could continue over supper.

When he was at the table with them,” Luke tells us, “he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Then apparently, they got up at once and returned to Jerusalem in order to find the remaining eleven disciples, and those with them, and tell them that it was, after all, true! The Lord had risen, he had walked with them, he had talked to them, and he had broken bread with them.

‘We have seen the Lord,’ they exclaimed. ‘We have seen the Lord!’

Let’s consider also John’s story about Thomas.

On that same evening, the disciples were cowering behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders, when Jesus came and stood among them and showed them his hands and side. Needless to say, they were not only astounded but overjoyed when they saw him.

But Thomas, for some strange reason, was not with them, so, when they saw him later they told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But you’ve heard the story. He wouldn’t believe them unless he saw Jesus with his own eyes. He wanted to be able to say for himself “I have seen the Lord!”

But it was a whole week later that Thomas, with the disciples again behind locked doors, did in fact encounter the risen Jesus, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” he was told.

Thomas hardly knew what to say, “My Lord and my God!” he stuttered, and Jesus responded, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What was it that Cleopas said to his friend? “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road”.

It’s perhaps unlikely that any of us will see Jesus this side of the grave, though sometimes we can catch a glimpse of him in each other, but we can hear his voice, and it will burn within us when we do so. As we pray, as we read his Word, he will speak to us, reveal himself to us, teach us, encourage us, ….

Let’s listen carefully, and then even if we can’t say, like Mary Magdalen “I have seen the Lord”, we will be able to say like Cleopas “I have heard the Lord”.

SUNDAY 3rd APRIL 2022 – Jess Jephcott

Reading 1: Psalm 2. Reading 2: Matthew 16 v 13 – 30

2000 years of Christian Belief: Why are we here, in this building today? Why do Christians, all over the world, gather to worship God in buildings like this? Well, didn’t Jesus asked Peter to build his church? Well yes - and no. The New Testament was written in Greek, the authors of it wrote in Greek even when it wasn't the language they spoke, thus ensuring that their manuscripts could be widely read and passed on to future generations. The personal name of Peter comes from the Greek word ‘petros’, a pebble or stone. Jesus pronounced a blessing upon Peter and proclaimed Peter's answer as having been derived by divine inspiration. He then stated (Matt. 16 v 18), “And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” In a tradition of the early Church, Peter is said to have founded the Church in Rome, with Paul, served as its bishop, authored two epistles, and then met martyrdom there, along with Paul. Known to us today, of course, as St Peter and St Paul. For 2000 years, scholars have been analysing, interpreting, conjecturing, pontificating perhaps, about the true meaning of what is written in the Bible. It can’t have helped our own scholars that the Bible wasn’t written in English, so there has always been that possible ‘lost in translation’ factor.

RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD: Over these two millennia, Christ’s church has grown enormously, with Christianity arguably the largest religion in the world, with some 2 billion followers. It is closely followed by another of the three main Abrahamic religions, that of Islam, with an estimated 1.8 billion adherents. In terms of adherents, Judaism follows along behind. We have come a long way, for sure.

CHRISTIANITY: As we all know, Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Its largest groups are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and the Protestant churches, and Christianity’s sacred text is the Bible. Christ’s teachings have spread across the world, often through missionaries and colonisers, but has also been embraced by people whose ancestors had been violently removed from their countries and sold as slaves in the Americas.

WHAT HAVE WE DONE IN THIS TIME?: So, what has happened during this span of time, as we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday next week and, the most important of all festivals in the Christian calendar, Easter, the following week? What I would like to offer here is a commentary on Christ’s legacy; an insight into what we have done with almost 2000 years of our incredible Christian heritage. We cannot be sure of precise dates; we can’t even agree on the year that Christ was born, let alone the day of the week. The Bible doesn’t tell us. Astronomers have even sought to pinpoint the date through the movement of the stars. We take this year of 2022 as that number of years, ‘anno domini’, since Christ’s birth; it is a numbering system that has been faithfully used ever since, and adopted by most countries in the world today. We know that Jesus died at the age of 33, because the Bible says that Jesus started to serve and teach at the age of 30, and that he served for three years, which means that he was 33 when he was sacrificed. Pontius Pilate served as the prefect of Judaea from 26 to 36 AD. So, there is no precise dating evidence to be had there either. Again, I am not here to add to the dating confusion of the ‘ancients’. What I really want to share with you is an overview of what we have done with Christ’s legacy during these two millennia.

AFTER CHRIST’S DEATH AND RESURRECTION: As we know, after Christ’s death, his disciples went into hiding, fearful of being accused of being one of Jesus’ followers. As Jesus foretold, Peter would deny knowing him, three times, before the cock crowed. Peter was, of course, forgiven. While the gospels of Matthew and Mark end shortly after the Resurrection, Luke and John provide extra detail about what Jesus did during the time between his Resurrection and his ascent into Heaven. Matthew and Mark both close with the “Great Commission,” Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to go out into the world and spread the good news of salvation: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV) This passage has long been the basis of the Christian emphasis on sharing the Gospel with the world through evangelism and missionary work. 3 Mark and Luke describe Jesus’ departure from Earth into Heaven, “taken up into heaven”, after speaking to his disciples one final time. It is clear, from the gospel accounts, that the story of Jesus, reaches its culmination with the Resurrection. But the scraps we do get about the post-Resurrection days, not only satisfy some of our curiosity about how Jesus’ Resurrection was received by his followers, but also give us the evangelistic direction that guides Christians to this day.

ST PAUL: St Paul brought Christianity to people some time later. His conversion was, according to the New Testament, an event in the life of Saul of Tarsus/Paul the Apostle that led him to cease persecuting early Christians and to become a follower of Jesus.

THE CHURCH OF ROME: Both Peter and Paul, regarded as the chief apostles, are generally recognised as founders of the Church of Rome, and therefore also, its line of bishops. Why Rome? Why not Jerusalem? The Romans had destroyed the Jewish (and Christian) temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, followed by the building of a Roman colony over the ruins; the building of a temple to the Roman god Jupiter was built on the Temple Mount, and a statue of Venus was built on Calvary. Every effort to wipe out the memory of the city as Jewish (and Christian) was made. Had this not happened, it is likely that Jerusalem, not Rome, would have maintained primacy. At the very least, it may have been regarded as co-equal. Of course, Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire and that was the reason for the Church of Rome being where it was, and still is today. It wasn’t until the death of the Emperor Constantius in the 4th century AD that his wife, Helena, a Christian, persuaded her son Constantine, the new emperor, to embrace Christianity and to make his new empire, Christian. No more worshipping of pagan gods. I could talk much more about this time in our Christian heritage, but perhaps we should save that for another day - the Nicene Creed, the fall of Jerusalem to the caliphate in 630, the development of doctrine and practice of the Holy Roman Catholic Church that ensued, etc, etc. Here, in Mirepoix, in a region that became known as the Land of the Cathars, we are in a building dedicated to the Roman soldier, St Maurice, which had its foundation stone laid in 1298. Its beginnings more than seven centuries ago. The people of Mirepoix have been celebrating our Christian heritage continuously, here, since that time.

ST AUGUSTINE: But, we are the English Speaking Church of Mirepoix, so we are inevitably more familiar with our British Christian heritage. My home town of Colchester is the location of the earliest known Christian church in Britain, dating from the 330 period, from when Constantine became emperor of Rome. Archaeologists noted how, before around that date, the north to south facing burial traditions of the pagan Romano-British people that populated the colonia there, changed to the east to west orientation used by Christians, facing Jerusalem, as it still is today. Old habits die hard, and some of those early Christian burials were found to have grave goods for the afterlife, more associated with pagan worship. The Jewish Sabbath was no longer to be used as the day of rest. Instead, Sunday was chosen, as it involved an easy change for the sun worshipping pagans. Christmas Day was decided as working well with the winter solstice, another pagan festival day that would be an easy swap. Easter wasn’t so easy to fix, and we all know it today to be a ‘moveable feast’ day! In AD 597, Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to Britain. He came from Rome, sent by Pope Gregory the Great. It is said that Gregory had been struck by the beauty of Angle slaves he saw for sale in the city market and despatched Augustine and some monks to convert them to Christianity. Gradually, Christianity was spreading across Europe, and beyond. So much so that, around 663, was held the Synod of Whitby, a meeting held by the Christian Church of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, to decide whether to follow the Celtic or the Roman Christian usages. The decision led to the acceptance of Roman usage, rather than the Celtic form of Christianity that had developed over the centuries. To cut a long and interesting story short, the bishops were squabbling; the Pope in Rome was not happy. Their big problem was, how Easter was being calculated in Britain, in a different manner than that used in Rome. Iona, Lindisfarne, St Columbus, St Patrick, Bishop Aidan, Bede, etc, etc. Monasteries, friaries, nunneries, Augustinians, Benedictines, Greyfriars, Jesuits, etc. began to find their own styles of worshipping God. So, Britain had deferred to the Church of Rome’s direction – until Henry the 8th started to have marital difficulties. But, that is another story.

What would Jesus have made of it all?

LANGUEDOC: Nearer to us here, in the Middle Ages, France was convulsed by a crusade between the Catholic church and Christians, who called themselves Cathars. The Cathars rejected many core Catholic beliefs. Indeed, today, we live here in France in what is known as ‘The Land of the Cathars’. And so it was that the Pope Innocent the third declared a crusade again Catharism. It was a brutal business. The massacre at Beziers in 1209, brought about that famous reply from the Abbot of Citeaux, who, when asked about saving the Catholics that were in the city along 5 with the Cathars, replied, ‘kill them all; God will know his own’. Some 20,000 people were slaughtered and the city destroyed – in the name of God. Indeed, only three years earlier, Mirepoix was visited by some 600 Cathars - that is, where Mirepoix used to be located. In 1289, a dam in nearby Puivert burst, and old Mirepoix was destroyed by the ensuing flood. Thus we have our wonderful cathedral here, as a result, built in many different stages over the ensuing centuries. A magnificent example of the many cathedrals and churches that were built by rich and powerful Christian men, all over Europe. We think of the Crusades as a Christian versus Muslim thing – but it was also a Christian versus Christian affair. In the Baltics and Russia, Catholic knights fought the Eastern Orthodox Church. While in modern Turkey, the Fourth Crusade saw crusaders smash up the Christian city of Constantinople. Even today, we have Christians killing Christians in Ukraine. But perhaps the most terrifying of all, was the pope’s decision to crush the Cathar heresy, here in southern France.

What would Jesus have made of it all?

THE NORMAN CONQUEST: The Norman Conquest in England in 1066 saw the building of many cathedrals and churches, my old church in Fordham, Essex, being mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. With them, the Normans brought great change. The Danes became Normans, adhering to Christianity and abandoning their prior pagan traditions and nasty habits. The English language today is predominantly Norman French, with some German and Old English thrown in. Arguably, the Normans brought order to a troubled isle. In the case of their church, one of the ways that William the Conqueror got the pope to go along with his conquest of England was by promising to impose a complete reorganisation of the English Church and reform the ‘irregularities’ of the Anglo-Saxon Church, which had developed its own distinctive customs. Even though bishoprics existed, worship was very ‘localised’, with many small Saxon churches serving the local population. After the conquest, not only were the vast majority of clerical positions filled by Normans but they built massive stone churches, to imply that their spiritual power was as great as their temporal one. William’s first Archbishop of Canterbury, a monk named Lanfranc, instituted reforms within the priesthood itself as well, including requiring celibacy of all priests. The next few centuries brought the whole of Europe thousands of wonderful Gothic style church buildings, just like the one we are sitting in today, with its largest in France, central arch. Westminster Abbey, the cathedrals of Salisbury, Gloucester, Worcester, York Minster, etc, in England. Beauvais, Rheims, Notre Dame, etc. in France. A beautiful Christian legacy to be enjoyed for many more centuries, we must hope.

THE ENGLISH BIBLE: William Caxton brought the printing press to England in the 1470s, which paved the way for the ordinary man and woman to be able to own a bible, written in English. William Tyndale’s Bible of the 1520s, was the first English language Bible to appear in print. During the 1500s, the very idea of an English language Bible was shocking and subversive. For centuries, the English Church had been governed from Rome, and church services were by law conducted in Latin.

DISSENT: Martin Luther, a German monk, forever changed Christianity when he nailed his '95 Theses' to a church door in 1517, sparking the Protestant Reformation. He wanted to place the Bible into the hands of ordinary Christians. He translated it from Latin into German. Our own Henry the Eighth was a devout Roman Catholic who, as we all should know, had six wives. Unfortunately, the Pope didn’t agree with Henry over the matter of divorce, and so Henry separated from Rome and created the Church of England, placing himself at its head. Not surprisingly, this caused a great deal of upset in Europe, which led to wars and many deaths, not least with a few heads of wives and enemies being removed. He was responsible for the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the emergence of many different non-conformist sects. Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Puritans, New Jerusalemites, Muggletonians (look it up), to name but a very few. Not to mention, of course, those deemed as heretics and burned at the stake, martyred for their Christian faith, by Christians who believed they were doing God’s work. What would Jesus have made of all this - all done in His/God’s name? We had Huguenots, who were French Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who followed the teachings of theologian John Calvin. Persecuted by the French Catholic government during a violent period, Huguenots fled the country in the 17th century, creating Huguenot settlements all over Europe, and further afield.

HYMNS: Without a doubt though, a steadying factor in all of this Christian turmoil was the appearance of hymns, specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer. Isaac Watts, born in 1674, was arguably the Father of the Hymn, an English Congregational minister, hymn writer, theologian, and logician. We have been truly blessed with the hymns that we have to sing today, thanks to the divine inspiration of generations of hymn writers that have followed in Isaac Watts' footsteps. On that note, pardon the pun, I will start to draw this discourse to a close. Some of you may think I have left out some important historical figures during it - great preachers, such as, Wesley, Spurgeon, Billy Graham, etc. who, together with the great hymn writers, have shaped the way that English speaking Christians worship God today. Let us reflect on how 2000 years of Christianity has changed the world and us. How, despite the many evil acts done by evil men (and occasionally women) along the way, it has overwhelmingly triumphed by bringing God’s love for us through it all, for us to learn from and to enjoy, to thank God for, and for us to pass on to future generations. When I first mentioned the theme of this talk to my lady, she, very quickly, suggested Psalm 2, for our first reading today. Insisted even. An uncanny relevance? No. A Divine relevance. This psalm is God speaking to us. Guiding us. Teaching us. So, this is why we are here today, in this beautiful chapel? Are we not here in solidarity with God’s teaching, through his son Jesus Christ, our saviour? We faithfully come to hear the word of God, to learn, to confess our sins, to ask forgiveness, to share communion, as Jesus asked his disciples to do all those years ago? So, in anticipation of our forthcoming celebration of the persecution that befell Jesus, at this time that we all know as Easter, all those years ago, I will finally close this talk this morning with the last words written in the NIV Bible, Revelation chapter 22 verse 21. The Grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen