In Search of the Mystery of God

“Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.” Implicit in Jesus’ invitation is the hidden-ness of God. God’s presence among us isn’t immediately obvious, otherwise we wouldn’t have to seek. The door isn’t just standing there ajar – we have to knock… The invitation is for us to start looking, to open our eyes, and to see what we didn’t before.

As part of our seeking to discover this mystery of the God who waits to be found, a selection of podcast sermons recorded during Sunday services are offered here to aid in that journey. They are usually between 10-15 minutes long, are based on the Bible readings for the Sunday in question (references provided), and usually include a poem in the hope that at least those words will be edifying.

If you find them helpful, please feel free to leave a comment or pass the word on to others.


    

The Epiphany, by its nature, is enigmatic. On the 6th January every year, the 12th Day of Christmas (depending on when you start counting), we celebrate the visit of the wise men from the east to see the baby king in the stable with his mother and father, bringing their gifts. We call it The Epiphany because it represents the recognition of God's coming by the Gentile (that's us) world. 'Epiphany', that moment of sudden awakening or realisation.
But what was realised? Who noticed? Notoriously, Herod became furious when he realised he was tricked by the magi, and sent his soldiers to slaughter all the boys aged two and under in and around Bethlehem, perhaps between six and twenty children, in the hope of killing the baby Jesus and eliminating any competition for his throne.
But apart from the magi and the shepherds, we are not told of anyone else having a clue about the significance of Jesus' birth. Some 'epiphany'!
TS Eliot, in his famous poem 'Journey of the Magi', takes up this theme of the enigmatic nature of the Epiphany, telling it as a story seen from the perspective of the magi. But it is a journey riddled with pain, difficulty, and disappointment. There are moments that flicker with hope, 'Then at dawn...', but they soon fade back into the grey dampness of the cold world. They wander, searching, through the valley of the shadow of Christ's death, unknowingly, until they reach their moment of 'epiphany': 'It was (you may say) satisfactory' in the most underwhelming of climaxes.
The journey, however, is for us. We are Eliot's magi, on what seems a hard, bitter, and foolish journey with almost nothing to show at the end, except a morsel of bread made from flour from 'the mill beating the darkness', and the wine from 'the vines-leaves over the lintel' and the 'empty wine-skins' being kicked under the table. But the encounter changes us, and we are left having died and been born again, no longer at peace with the idolatry of the world around us, waiting, longing for the old white horse in the meadow to, at last, carry its white rider...
The Bewcastle benefice sermon for the first Sunday of Epiphany (2024)
Poem: 'Journey of the Magi' by TS Eliot
OT: Isaiah 60:1-6
Gospel: Matt 2:1-12

Powered by RedCircle


    

Chocolate calendars, numbed shopping malls, new oil deals, and an unHoly Land. Dare we pray the prayer of Advent? Dare we not?
It is easy to become disillusioned, despairing almost, of the direction of travel that we, as a global species, appears to be taking. Western society seems infatuated with technological 'progress' irrespective of cost or consequence, and commercial interests have come to dominate most decision-making. How many sci-fi films do we need to warn us before the ultimate destination of, for example, artificial intelligence, is inevitable? But the alternative rise of so-called 'populism' demonstrates a dark, fear-driven revolt against the perceived threat to self-interest. The 'other', the 'not us', has become a target to rail against, to blame; exactly what happened in 1930s Germany.
There are those who work behind the scenes, refusing to give in to these seemingly insurmountable forces, whose agenda is to help bring about a better world where care and kindness towards people and environment are the measure of our action and 'telos', or endpoint. But their gains are hard won and easily overturned.
Prophets have rarely been popular figures. Their warnings and offers of an alternative way upset too many, especially those with something to lose. The way we have structured our societies places inordinate power, and therefore trust, in the hands of the few. Whether they be public politicians who make laws and direct policies, hoping to keep our vote, or private board-room directors who exploit human weakness and need for power and wealth, their decisions shape our society, subtly influencing our values, often cynically, by making us feel inadequate compared to others, and then appealing to the self in us to become like them. Perhaps we need a few more David Attenboroughs who can command our respect and affection while encouraging us to walk a different path, the path of compassion and care for creation.
This 'different path' is the Advent calling, set, as it is, in the approach to the darkest part of the year, when the forces that would exploit us by playing to our interests of self-preservation are most powerful. The prayer 'Come' requires us to prepare ourselves, to be brutally honest about who we are, both in our vulnerability and in our self-interest. For when we are, terrifying as this may be, we are met by the One who loves us with a passion that will lead him to the Cross on our behalf.
Dare we pray the prayer? Dare we not?
Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Advent Sunday 2023.
Poem: 'Advent Calendar' by Rowan Williams
OT: Isaiah 64:1-9
NT: 1 Cor 1:3-9
Gospel: Mark 13:24-end

Powered by RedCircle


    

For over 2000 years Japanese women, known as ama, have descended to depths of over 30m underwater, in a single breath lasting over two minutes, in search of pearls. They descend into the darkness where all colour has vanished. Only silence, shadows and outlines remain. It is a place of extreme cold and danger where few ever venture. They do it 100-150 times a day, and continue into their eighties, needing to retrieve a ton of oysters in their nets to find four or five decent pearls. Not many of us will ever experience the physical and physiological hardship of such a way of life.
But many of us do experience the depth of darkness of physical or emotional pain, loneliness, loss, or other forms of suffering. It can seem like a place without end, without hope, devoid of joy or happiness, no 'light at the end of the tunnel', just continual darkness. For some, the weight of bearing pain, or caring for others, can be relentless, lasting for years, For others, traumatised by experiences of years ago, or who have suffered abuse of one form or another, it can seem like being trapped in a suffocating cage from which there is no way out.
Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, grapples with the depths on his own failure as a human being. Although he begins with a summary of the mess the world is in (chapter 1), describing our struggles with fallenness, he descends further and further into the darkness of our own, and ultimately his, sinful nature (chapter 7) - "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
It is true that he passes the beautiful corals of Christ's work on his way down (chapters 5 and 6), and they hint at the treasure below. But he must make that descent himself first, before he can find the pearl of great price for which he seeks in the darkness of his innermost despair.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 8th Sunday after Trinity, 2023
Poem: 'The Bright Field' by RS Thomas
OT: Gen 29:15-28
NT: Rom 8:26-end
Gospel: Mat 13:31-33,44-52

Powered by RedCircle


    

Duplicity. Abraham complies with his wife's scheming and then denies his firstborn. Isaac is tricked by his second-born with the help of his mother's plotting. Jacob indulges his wives' bitter rivalry, and so spawns the twelve tribes of Israel. The Patriarchs of Israel are a sorry bunch, for whom 'integrity' was not a word that carried much currency. And yet. And yet God chose them. Promised to bless the world through them - schemers and dreamers though they were.
But perhaps it was the dreaming for which they were chosen? All of them 'heard' God speak words of promise. What does it mean to 'hear' God? How do you know it's God speaking and not your own imagination, or madness? Then again, they were all exceptionally wealthy, so perhaps they weren't mad after all.
But Jacob has fled from his brother, having deceived his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn, which his brother, in a moment of rash stupidity (and probably joking), had agreed to give him in exchange for a bowl of stew, and been sent off by his mother to her brother's household in search of a wife.
Alone and in the darkness of the wilderness, Jacob dreams a dream: God promises to bless his offspring and the whole world. So he calls the place 'beth-el', house of God.
But what, really, is this 'house of God' that Jacob attempts to locate in the wilderness? Paul, in his majestic letter to the Romans, unpacks the promise, and our place in it.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 7th Sunday after Trinity (Year A).
Poem: 'Seabirds' Blessing' by Alice Oswald
OT: Gen 28:10-19a
NT: Rom 8:12-25
Gospel: Mat 13:24-30, 36-43

Powered by RedCircle


    

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. A long time ago...'
We love stories. From our earliest days to old age we love listening to, and telling, stories. They are how we make sense of the world around us, how we first encounter 'others' in our imaginations, and they are how we form our collective memories that bind us as societies. Jesus was a master story-teller; his stories, called parables, played off the collective stories familiar to his listeners, and turned out to be enigmatic, challenging, full of surprises and unexpected outcomes. His stories are crafted to disrupt in order to allow light to enter the dark places of our hearts.
The problem, though, is that the darkness in our hearts only enters through stories as well. Bad stories. Stories that speak against, stories of victimisation and discrimination, of separation and boundaries, stories that reinforce prejudice. These are the stories that feed self-pity and blame others. We see it all around in families, local communities, society, politics, nations. At every scale stories feed and shape our beliefs.
The story Jesus tells is of the end of all these dark stories and the beginning of the new story, which is the oldest one of all. It is the story of death; Christ's death, our death. And then birth, with the offering of a new beginning, where, like children, we learn there are no borders other than in the mind. 'There is no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male or female, for we are all one in Christ.' This is the nature and gift of baptism. The new story is of the unquenchable love of God poured into the world, poured into our hearts.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity (Year A).
Poem: 'The Island of The Children' by George Mackay Brown
OT: Gen 21:8-21
NT: Rom 6:1b-11
Gospel: Mat 10:24-39

Powered by RedCircle


    

'Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls' shouts the psalmist through the drenching thunder.
So many of us are nervous souls, battered down by cares and worries, apprehensive for loved ones or ourselves. The experience of hurt and disappointment has left us timid and small. The adventure of childhood has long since been buried to allow us to cope with our journey towards the end. The thrill of life is now often found only in a book or on a screen. We manage our environments as best we can - warm homes, stocked cupboards, comfortable cars. Even so, financial worries still fret away - will we be able to afford next month? Church, too, is sedate and safe, routine and reassuring. Danger is best avoided with a thorough risk assessment. Our small worlds are contracted to a single stone in a bare field.
The wilderness is a long way from here. Thankfully?
I read a poem recently, about Christ being crucified on "the skull of the world". It's a reference, of course, to the hill on which he was crucified, called 'Golgotha', meaning 'place of the skull.' But it captures something far deeper about the deadness of the world, the deadness of humanity, on which and for which he died. The poem goes on to speak of the one who hungered yet fed others, who thirsted while inviting others to come to him to drink, who raised the dead to life while dying himself. As the mockers so astutely put it 'he saved others, he cannot save himself.' How? And why?
Christ lived under the thundering cataract of God, the swirling presence of the Holy Spirit. We have been given so many images of this Spirit; water, wind, fire, and none of them are comfortable, not even the dove, who 'drove' Jesus out into the wilderness. And yet the Spirit is called the Comforter.
Perhaps its time we rediscovered this Spirit of God.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Pentecost, Year A.
Poem: a few verses from 'Little Gidding' by TS Eliot
NT: Acts 2:1-21
Gospel: John 20:19-23

Powered by RedCircle


    

In 1649 to St George's Hill A ragged band they called the "Diggers" Came to show the people's will. They defied the landlords, they defied the laws; They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs.
'We come in peace' they said 'to dig and sow. We come to work the lands in common And to make the wastelands grow; This earth divided we will make whole So it will be a common treasury for all.' So begins a song by Leon Rosselson about Gerard Winstanley and the first Diggers - one that I sometimes sing at our folk evenings. The Diggers arrived at St George's Hill in Weybridge, Surrey, in April of 1649 as a small group of men and women who had lost their homes during the Civil War and due to Enclosure. By August they had been driven from the land by nearby landowners and resettled a short distance away at Cobham, still in Surrey. By April of the next year the local clergyman, another landowner, had managed to force them off that land also. It is a sorry and uncomfortable tale. For such a briefly-lived movement, the Diggers have had an astonishingly disproportionate influence, still inspiring young and old alike. That fact, alone, speaks of a resonance deep within us that yearns for a different way of being in the world. Winstanley's own inspiration, itself, came from the book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 44-45: And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. But this wasn't the first time in English history that the Bible had been the inspiration for understanding the equality of all. In 1381 the Peasant's Revolt was stirred by the preaching of the priest John Ball, credited with the first protest rhyme in the English language, "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the Gentleman?" Ball worked alongside John Wycliffe, who was translating the Bible into the English vernacular for the first time in history. Now the Word of God was reaching the Commoners and it was dangerous stuff. This is some of the history with which we have to contend when we read Acts 2. It is difficult because we don't take it very seriously any more - it poses far too much of a threat to our established way of life. So we hide behind excuses like 'history proves its entirely impractical to live like that anyway.' And its true, many attempts to live a 'common life' have ended in failure. Many, but not all. Monastic communities have been since the first centuries of the Church's existence as a continuation of precisely this description of the Church in Acts. They still continue today. Of course, there are multiple notorious examples where these 'communities' have been farcical mockeries, even evil parodies, of their calling through history. But there are also countless others, untold and unsung, where true life has been lived. The question then falls to us as to how we are to respond because, despite what we may tell ourselves, possession and wealth are not the answer the world would have us believe, and that, generally, we are inclined to accept. If we were, somehow, to find a way of walking to a different drum, what would the world look like then... The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter. Poem: 'Sudden Shower' by John Clare NT: Acts 2:42-47 Gospel: John 10:1-10

Powered by RedCircle


    

Hope belongs to the world of belief; it has direction and a future. Atheism, in contrast, and by definition, has only chaos, and therefore neither. We, all of us, depend on hope, live our lives in hope, even as we rest in the moment. But hope disappointed can be shattering, destructive, devastating. It can ruin a soul and lead to utter darkness. It is the place of hell.
So how do we choose what to hope for? How do we know who or what to trust and believe in? A topical question in a world of 'fake news'. A cynic's answer might be to trust no one but yourself. But only the arrogant would be so foolish, for we all die, and what is 'hope' that ceases to exist when we do?
Those seven miles of the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus were the seven miles of holiness. On them, the unknown stranger picked up the broken pieces of shattered hope and started reshaping the story in which they had hoped, had believed, had been destroyed. And at the end of those seven miles an extraordinary new vista emerged, a new hope, a greater hope, a hope that filled their hearts with burning. And then the bread is broken, and the burning bursts into sudden, blinding light. Now, at last, they know who they believe in...
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the third Sunday of Easter (Year A).
Poem: 'I saw him standing' translated from the Welsh of Ann Griffiths by Rowan Williams
NT: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

Powered by RedCircle


    

How does one make any sense of that which is beyond comprehension? How does someone from a flat world grasp a third dimension? How do we estimate the cost of our darkness, the damage of our sin, both to ourselves and to the stardust of the cosmos of which we are formed, and from which all else is created? Are we arrogant to think that we even have such significance? And yet the story of the Incarnation requires us to understand that the Creator knows we do. How? Worse, for some unfathomable reason, the Creator considers us worth the ultimate sacrifice. Us, who are guilty of dust and sin. Why?
We may think we know. And perhaps we can know enough, and that is enough.
It is called Love.
But the consequence of his coming is beyond our wildest imaginings. All that terrifies us evaporates as the mist in the morning sun. The clouds break open and the sudden shaft of sunlight reveals the brightest of fields. Eternity has inrupted our time-delimited existence. There is no more need for violence or greed, for insecurity or fear, for domination and manipulation, for the quest for power or wealth or freedom; all the trappings of a death-infested world. The Dawn of a new world has woken and we are invited to tread in his wake. The painting has come to Life.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Easter Morning, 2023.
Poem: 'Love (3)' by George Herbert
NT: Acts 10:34-43
Gospel: Matt 28:1-10

Powered by RedCircle


    

Sometimes we struggle with the concept of 'belief'. Yet everything we do from the moment we get up to the moment we die is governed by what we believe about the world we inhabit. The stories we are told by the society in which we live have the power to control our concept of reality, and hence the entire direction of our lives, simply because we 'believe' them.
So when Jesus says to Martha, 'do you believe?', he is challenging the story by which she lives, the story that defines her understanding of what is real. 'I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe me?' And then the Spirit blows, and breath comes to the dry bones. Our reality cracks, splits, shatters, and Life flows in. So the soil that we are learns how to Breathe once again.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
Poem: 'The Desert Speaks' by Cynthia Fuller
OT: Ezek 37:1-14
NT: Rom 8:6-11
Gospel: John 11:1-45

Powered by RedCircle


    

A loose woman and a single man meet alone at a well in the desert. He starts talking about giving her 'living water'. This is the sort of place where encounters of a certain type begin.
John's Gospel is the gospel of the Spirit. Jesus has been speaking to Nicodemus about the Spirit blowing beyond the boundaries. How far beyond? This is the first woman we encounter in John's Gospel after his mother. Not only is she a woman, but worse, she's a Samaritan. And although the conversation begins enigmatically, Jesus turns a key and unlocks her to open to the Spirit. John is showing us how Jesus pushes the boundaries, not just beyond Mount Gerazim of the Samaritans, but beyond the Temple of Jerusalem. He has replaced the Temple as the meeting place of God, and the Anointed Agent of the Spirit of God. The living waters of the Holy Spirit in the Sinai desert flow from him who is the rock and the manna, Jesus, the bread of heaven. This is heady stuff.
And the work of the Spirit? To restore us to the likeness of God - to love the world unconditionally, just like him who gave his Son to bring us home.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent (Year A).
Poem: 'I am the Great Sun' by Charles Causley
OT: Ex 17:1-7
NT: Rom 5:1-11
Gospel: John 4:5-42

Powered by RedCircle


    

Wind. Breath. Spirit. All the same word. A Pharisee, a son of Abraham, is in the dark, visiting the rabbi by night. What is this wind? What is this birth of which you speak? But we are sons of Abraham. Aren't we? The wild wind of God has blown beyond the boundaries. So how do you know where it blows to? The death of water and the birth of wind. St John the Evangelist is in his element.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent (Year A).
Poem: 'Instructions for the Desert' by Cynthia Fuller
OT: Gen 12:1-4a
NT: Rom 4:1-5,13-17
Gospel: John 3:1-17

Powered by RedCircle


    

Hmm. Temptation. Choice and decision. It's a struggle for us, isn't it.
Many pious people, and indeed the orthodox teaching of many churches, claim it is blasphemous to say Christ was really tempted in the desert, since he was fully God and God can't be tempted by evil. No, he just appeared to be tempted in order to vanquish the devil.
But Jesus was also fully human, and the writer to the Hebrews says that he 'suffered when tempted' and was 'tempted as we are but without sin.' In fact there was no point in going into the desert to be tempted if he wasn't!
So what was the point? Why was the Son of God, straight after his baptism in the River Jordan by his cousin, John, 'driven' by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted? And what's it got to do with us in the here-and-now anyway?
St Paul, in his brilliant letter to the Romans, paints it as a cosmic recapitulation of the Creation story, in which we, who struggle with the age-old temptations of self-sufficiency and independence, being 'clothed' with Adam and Eve, instead become clothed with Christ.
Heavy? Not really. It's actually just about our daily Bread.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the First Sunday of Lent (Year A).
OT: Gen 2:15-17. 3:1-7
NT: Rom 5:12-19
Gospel: Matt 4:1-11

Powered by RedCircle


    

Encounter, not meeting, changes us, and we are left different. Something touches our inner being, and we begin to flower. Or wither. Encounter has the power of life or death.
Mountains are metaphors of encounter with God - "who will ascend the mountain of the Lord?" asks the psalmist. The Ark on Mt Ararat. Moses on Mt Sinai. Elijah on Mt Carmel. Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. The Sermon on the Mount.
These encounters of creature with Creator burn through us, transforming us into our true selves, revealing our true natures, and liberating us from the terrifying guilt most of us know we are too frightened to face. And so begins our journey from self-centredness to love, from isolated individual to catholic priesthood, from mere resemblance to true personification, from fallen image to risen likeness.
But encounters are transient, momentary. In a blink they are gone. Did it really happen? All that is left is an indelible mark on our soul, and a piton driven into our memory. But that piton acts as a life-saving anchor. When we slip, lose our grip and fall, they hold us fast. They are God's timeless presence with us. Always.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the Sunday before Lent (Year A)
Poem: 'The Incarnation, And Passion' by Henry Vaughan
OT: Exodus 24:12-end
NT: 2 Peter 1:16-end
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Powered by RedCircle


    

The last two words of TS Eliot's third poem, 'The Dry Salvages', in The Four Quartets. We are approaching Lent and the wilderness is in view. The horizon draws nearer. The desert where all is stripped away and we are left naked and exposed.
We, as human beings, created from the soil of the earth and breathed into by God, thus becoming 'significant', were tasked with being God's image present in his creation, itself just completed as an act of exuberant joy.
Instead, we have made ourselves gods of creation, thinking that 'dominance' means to dominate, rather than exercise the Creator's 'dominus', or Lordship, expressed in the delight and honour of a created world of wonder.
Modernity. Science. Power. Money. All the things that we use to define western progress turn out to be the arrogant antithesis of who we actually are. And the consequence is the environmental disaster we see unfolding before our eyes, still blind to seeing the molecules around us as an interleaving of our very bodies.
So we head to the desert, heads hung low with repentance, and seeking forgiveness from the one who calls us his children. We follow where our Dominus has led...
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the Second Sunday before Lent, Year A.
Poem: 'Cuddy' by Malcolm Guite
OT: Gen 1:1-2:3
NT: Rom 8:18-25
Gospel: Mat 6:25-end

Powered by RedCircle


    

A man was once convicted as a 'terrorist' for advocating a system of beliefs that threatened the status quo. He was tried before a kangaroo court and executed as a common criminal on wasteland outside the city wall. This man, apparently, displays both God's wisdom and his power. What?
To understand, we turn to the Gospels. But we can't approach them like any other book because we already know the end before we begin. No, instead we need to see them as secret gardens to explore, with corners populated by extraordinary plants, bursting with exuberant and colour-filled verdure, designed with arrangements that astonish, surprise, shock and delight. These are the gardens of The Word.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the fourth Sunday of Epiphany.
Poem: 'Mother and Child' by Charles Causley
OT: 1 Kings 17:8-16
NT: 1 Cor 1:18-end
Gospel: John 2:1-11

Powered by RedCircle


    

What does it mean to "dwell in darkness"? While we can probably all identify "dark" situations around the world, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us might recognise that each of us have dark areas in our lives. They might be external circumstances where we are held in some form of captivity by someone, possibly close to us, or oppressive situations in which we find ourselves, or internal struggles. Some are weighed down with guilt, some with pain, or deep anger, or just plain loneliness. Jesus' invitation to the first disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, to come and dwell in the Kingdom of Light, echoes in a direct line down through the centuries to us, here and now, wherever we may find ourselves.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the Third Sunday of Epiphany.
Poem: 'I Am the Way' by Alice Meynell
OT: Isaiah 9:1-4
NT: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

Powered by RedCircle


    

Its eight days after Christmas and a recently-born Jewish baby is circumcised and named on his 8th day of life, as all Jewish boys have been for over 3000 years. But why is this one special, and why on the eighth day? In a world where all time is governed by a 7-day cycle, what does this eight mean? It all goes back (as everything does) to the opening chapters of Genesis, and that extraordinarily perspicacious story of Creation (and Fall). Dust and ashes. Poetry and mystery. Justice and freedom. The God of Joy is at work...
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Christmas - The Circumcision and Naming of Christ.
Poem: 'The Darkling Thrush' by Thomas Hardy
Old Testament: Num 6:22-end
New Testament: Gal 4:4-7
Gospel: Luke 2:15-21

Powered by RedCircle


    

We hear the Christmas story year after year; the shepherds, the angels, the wise men. And it all seems so obvious, so blatant. But what did the shepherds actually see? Just an ordinary wrapped baby in the byre with a young mother and father. How was that a recognisable sign? Or the wise men who travelled following a moving star (what does that even mean?). All they found, too, was an ordinary baby with a mother. One wonders how all this ordinariness can carry the weight of centuries of prophecies, and the hopes of an entire nation... But this is the enigma of the God that hides in plain sight.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the Advent 3 carol service, 2022.
Poems: 'The Offer' by Mark Greene, 'Annunciation' by John Donne
Readings: Gen 3:1-16; Is 9:2,6-7; Lk 1:26-38; Lk 2:1-7; Lk 2:8-16; Mt 2:1-11; Jn 1:1-14
Apologies for the sometimes poor quality of the radio mic.

Powered by RedCircle


    

Like a thief in the night, the Lord will come on clouds in Glory. The paradox is resolved in the fact that clouds hide the light. The Gospels are littered with warnings that we might miss his coming unless we are very careful. And then we discover that Christ is already here - our task is to live in his light in the midst of the darkness, to beat the swords into ploughshares, the spears into pruning hooks. Welcome to Advent.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Advent Sunday and the start of the new lectionary year: Year A.
Poem: 'The Coming' by RS Thomas
Old Testament: Isaiah 2:1-5
New Testament: Romans 13:11-end
Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44

Powered by RedCircle


    

Jesus was mockingly called 'The King of The Jews'. He was given a purple robe, a sceptre, a crown and a throne - all the regalia still used by the British monarchy today. We vest the wealth of the nation in our monarchy, and they are bathed with military honours.
But for all our tradition, does this actually have anything to do with kingship? And who decides what a real king looks like, and how a real king should act? They thought they knew in the 1stC, and it looked a lot like our modern expectations. Have we learned nothing in 2000 years?
This King upends all our notions of royalty and fealty.
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Christ The King, Year C.
Poem: 'The Kingdom' by RS Thomas
Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:1-6
New Testament: Colossians 1:11-20
Gospel: Luke 23:33-43

Powered by RedCircle


    

War begins in the soul. It is planted through the stories we are told by those around us, and that we then tell ourselves - stories of 'us' and 'them'. In these stories our fellow humans are cast as somehow different, other than 'us'; not 'us'. This, then, allows us to distance ourselves from them, and in that move lies the licence to deny them the same humanity as 'us'. This is the first step of murder and of war - the denial of a fellow human as brother or sister.
So what does it mean to be 'fully human'?
In the beatitudes, Jesus' "Blessed are..." sayings, he reveals the opposite way to live, being 'poor in spirit', not arrogant; being 'gentle', not a 'task master' or a bully, etc.
But then there is the difficulty of others who treat us as less than human, where we become the 'persecuted'. As was Jesus - and it led to the Cross. How then shall we live?
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Remembrance Sunday.
Poem: 'A Listening Post'; by RE Vernede
Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

Powered by RedCircle


    

Turmoil and uncertainty all around. From the crisis in social care, to terrifying food, energy, and mortgage inflation; from government sleaze to the 'invasion' by the destitute and homeless; from children dying of starvation to personal rockets to the moon; from the Trumpeting of the end of democracy to the rise of nationalism and xenophobia; from corporate mega-profits to the extinction of the human race through catastrophic climate change: take your pick. We can find glimpses of goodness in the personal, but broaden out and there is injustice and injustice at every turn.
Job is devastated by a hurricane of disasters, yet still hopes. The Thessalonian church is persecuted and perplexed, but still believes. The Sadducees know talk of 'life after death' is utter nonsense, and for whom there is no 'yet' or 'but'. In the midst of it all is the God who stills the storm by taking it all into his Son...
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 3rd Sunday before Advent, Year C.
Poem: 'Inversnaid' by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Old Testament: Job 19:23-27
New Testament: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5,13-end
Gospel: Luke 20:27-38

Powered by RedCircle


    

Hell is separation from the God whose being is Love. It is the place of bitterness, hatred, manipulation, vindictiveness, violence, loneliness, emptiness, worthlessness. All of us have been there, many live there. We have all pointed the finger of blame at others while failing to notice the three pointing back at us. Jesus confronts our hypocrisy by visiting those who 'deserve' our hatred. The hell in which they live fractures in the presence of his love: hell is harrowed. Dare we follow in his footsteps?
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 4th Sunday before Advent, Year C.
Poem: 'The Poet' by George Mackay Brown
Old Testament: Isaiah 1:10-18
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

Powered by RedCircle


    

Not the wilderness only, but the heart also, can be a dark, lonely, and deserted place, not least when seen under the glare of a ruthlessly honest conscience. And yet there is no other way to come to God. We follow the tax collector into the desert, and discover the extraordinary judgement of God, not just on ourselves, but on all creation. The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the Last Sunday after Trinity, Year C.
Reading: An extract from "Now, This Bell Tolling Softly for Another , Says to Me: Thou Must Die" by John Donne
Old Testament: Joel 2:23-end
Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

Powered by RedCircle


    

A rabbi wanders in no-man's-land between two countries where the outcasts dwell. He sends them to the Temple to praise God. But one of them returns before reaching his destination. Or does he? The sermon for Trinity 17, Year C.
Poem: 'The Prayer', by RS Thomas
New Testament: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

Powered by RedCircle


    

The means, or the end? The journey, or the destination? "Lord, we do not even know where you are going. How can we know the way?" But actually all we have is this mysteriously small moment we call 'now' in which to live. All else lies untouchably in the future or in the past. What we do with each step we take in the garden of time determines where we are going, and how we get there. The journey is the pilgrimage. And it all begins with the death and rebirth that is baptism, and the gift of the Spirit.
Poem: 'A New Child' by George Mackay Brown
Gospel: John 14:1-5

Powered by RedCircle


    

We have an innate sense of fairness. Society is built on the principle of justice. And yet justice has no power to give life - only to take it. And where and how do we stand before a just God? The Lord's Prayer has the key. The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 6th Sunday after Trinity, Year C.
Poem: 'St David', by D Gwenallt Jones
Old Testament: Hosea 1:2-10
New Testament: Colossians 2:6-15
Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

Powered by RedCircle


    

What does Jesus mean, 'let the dead bury the dead'? What is freedom? What is this 'Spirit' that is so often portrayed as a wild bird over the waters, or in the mountains? What does it mean to see the world aright and be alive to God? Some of the questions posed by the readings for Trinity 2.
Poem: 'The Raven', by Norman Nicholson
Old Testament: 2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14
New Testament: Gal 5:1, 13-25
Gospel: Luke 9: 51-end

Powered by RedCircle


    

A bleak island battered by the wild North Sea. A ferry ride. Spume against rock. A journey of disappointment through the darkness in search of a hinted promise. But what lay at the end of the road was not what was expected. Christmas Night sermon, 2021

Powered by RedCircle


Whose wedding? – the hidden renewal of creation, Epiphany 2, St Cuthbert’s Kirklinton, 16th January 2022

Poem: ‘God’s Grandeur’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Readings:

  • Isaiah 43:1-7
  • 1 Cor: 12:1-11
  • John 2:1-11

Hidden Revelation – the mystery of Epiphany, Epiphany, St Mary’s Stapleton, 9th January 2022

Poem: ‘The Journey of the Magi’ by TS Eliot

Readings:

  • Isaiah 60:1-4
  • Matthew 2:1-12

The Apple – a Christmas story, Christmas Day, St Mary’s Stapleton, 25th December 2021

Poem: ‘Hill Christmas’ by RS Thomas

Meat God: Encountering the Divine through the Incarnation, St Mary’s Stapleton, 19th December 2021:

Poem: ‘The Offer’ by Mark Greene
Readings as for 12th December 2021, below

What’s in a story? A reflection on the six Christmas readings, St Mary’s Hethersgill, 12th December 2021:

Poem: ‘The Kingdom’ by RS Thomas

Readings:

  • Genesis 3:8-14
  • Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
  • Luke 1:26-38
  • Luke 2:1-7
  • Luke 2:8-16
  • Matthew 2:1-11

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/in-search-of-the-mystery-of-god/