Sermons

Sermons for Whit Sunday, Seventh, Sixth, Fifth, Fourth, Third, Second Sunday after Easter, Low Sunday, Easter Sunday, Good Friday Addresses and 29th March below
Canon David Reindorp’s Mattins and Holy Communion Streamed from Chelsea Old Church Sunday 24 May here
Mattins and Holy Communion Streamed from Chelsea Old Church Sunday 17 May here
Streaming of  Mattins and Holy Communion Sunday 10 May here
Canon David Reindorp’s Third  Sunday after Easter Video Message here
Canon David Reindorp’s Second Sunday after Easter Video Message here
Canon David Reindorp’s First Sunday after Easter Video Sermon here
Canon David Reindorp's Easter Video Message 2020  here
Canon David Reindorp's Palm Sunday Sermon video here
Also videos of Chelsea Old Church services and messages collected together on youtube channel

Sermon for Sunday, 31st May 2020.  Written by our Reader, John Watherston CBE.  Whit Sunday (Pentecost)
Readings: (1) Acts 2.1-21; (2) John 20.19-23.
Today, Whit Sunday, is one of the great festivals of the Church’s year. It is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to our Lord’s disciples a few days after our Lord’s ascension, as we heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It was obviously an extraordinary event. Up to that moment the disposition of the disciples, even after they had been assured of our Lord’s resurrection, remained very subdued. They kept themselves to themselves, still fearful of what the authorities might do next. Then, on the feast of Pentecost, comes this wonderful gift of the Spirit, and the whole atmosphere changes. The apostles go out and preach Christ’s gospel boldly, in numerous languages, so that the many pilgrims who have come from all over the Near East to Jerusalem for the feast can understand them; and we are told that on that day 3000 souls were added to the Church. It is as if new life has been breathed into them all.

And that is not an inappropriate simile. In the Nicene Creed, when we declare our belief in the Holy Ghost, we also affirm that he is the Lord and giver of life; and it is from that day of Pentecost that he has inspired and guided the Church of Christ, and not only the Church as a whole but each of us individually who is willing to receive him. As members of the Church we are the body of Christ: we are his agents to do his will, but because we are human and fallible we need strength, courage, confidence, guidance and comfort: all the qualities we collectively need to preach Christ’s gospel and advance God’s kingdom and his truth upon the earth. All this will not come to us from some external source but from within, from God’s Spirit who will dwell within us if we are willing to receive him.

We can think of this, as C.S.Lewis once wrote, as a kind of “good infection”, which is perhaps an appropriate metaphor in a time when the country is suffering under a bad one. In our natural state, he said, we only have a biological life which will eventually run down and die. But if we let God have his way we can come to share in the life of Christ. We shall love the Father as Christ does and God’s Holy Spirit will dwell within us. Christ came to this world and became a man in order to spread to others the kind of life he has – by what I call “good infection”. This life of faith is not about a forced acquiescence to do God’s will but what becomes a natural instinct to do what matters to God. The Holy Spirit is an agent of transformation, renewing our hearts, minds and wills so that we gradually come to love what God loves. The Holy Spirit is God’s active presence in the world he created.

Down the centuries many theologians have tried to provide a summary of the work of the Holy Spirit of God towards us. I should like to leave you with one of the better known, written more than 1600 years ago by St Basil of Caesarea.

“Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of Heaven, adopted as children, given confidence to call God “Father” and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.”

Amen.

Sermon Sunday 24 May 2020 The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Sunday after Ascension Day  (Easter 6)

Readings: The Acts of the Apostles Chapter 1: verses 6-14.         The Gospel of St John Chapter 17: verses 1-11

 It is always easy to be wise after the event. Hindsight is an exact science, especially if you know the whole story. That is why it strikes one as odd that the disciples, and even the Apostles whom we are told were all there, despite them experiencing at first hand the whole ministry of Jesus, the Last Supper, the events of Good Friday and Easter, still ask the question and in the presence of Jesus: ”Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

It is very tempting for us to observe how could they be still so obtuse. To understand from where they are coming we have to remember they were Jews, steeped in the Old Testament and the Psalms that all spoke of the triumph of Israel. It makes them human that they are still thinking in terms of a political kingdom.

Jesus doesn’t despair but says something that makes sense to us because we know the whole story. “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. ”Then the Ascension happens. They described it as Him as being lifted up and a cloud taking Him out of their sight. It is always difficult to picture how events actually happened. I remember how, at my theological college, we celebrated the Ascension. After our service we all went into the college garden to watch the senior student fire a rocket from the roof of the college. No Health and Safety Executive then. This was followed by a champagne breakfast. Our non-conformist colleagues put it down to typical Anglican eccentricity and I think were a bit shocked.

But of course what we know, and the Apostles did not, is that they were about to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit. Again it defied description. It was described as a mighty rushing wind and a moment when Peter could be understood in all languages. It was at this juncture that they understood the whole. Their task was to live out in themselves and together what it meant to live out the experience of their encounter with Jesus’s life, death and resurrection.

It meant the founding of what we now call the Church of which we are a part, some 2000 years later.

Next Sunday we celebrate, in a very changed world, how we are the Church today.

Sermon 17 May 2020 Easter 5 The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Readings:Acts 17 Chapter 17 verses 22-32. The Gospel of St. John Chapter 14 verses 15-21.
Our two readings today could not be more apposite. For they are both about expectations.
We are in the midst of this as we are making our way gingerly out of lockdown. 
We as a people, guided by our government, are wrestling with how we balance coming out into the world without infecting each other and risking another spike.
In our first reading St Paul is preaching the sermon of his life. The setting is Athens, at the heart of Greek philosophy. Greek culture meant listening to all views and St Paul cannot but have been aware of Greek philosophy that underpinned a great part of the ancient world, including the Romans whose empire had superseded that of the Greeks. The Greeks were anxious to cover all bases. St Paul had found an altar with the inscription “to an unknown God”, and St Paul goes for it and he lays out the Christian message. But it is when he gets to the Resurrection his hitherto attentive audience begins to mock. And we are told others said, “We will hear thee again of this matter”, meaning “We don’t want to hear anymore”. I am sure all of us have had polite conversations about our faith that have gone the same way.
In our Gospel reading Jesus is talking to his disciples. “If you love me you will keep my commandments and he will give you another advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth.”
What he is talking about is the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit.
On Ascension Day, which we celebrate this coming Thursday, the disciples experienced Jesus as having ascended back to heaven. They must have felt in limbo. Because we know the whole story, we know they are about to experience the coming of the Holy Spirit.
That gives us assurance because we know that the coming of the Holy Spirit was felt to be the moment when the disciples were galvanised into the founding of the Church of which we are part some 2000 years later. We have to find Church in a new way, separated as we are from our physical buildings and our physical coming together. Our future is going to be different from our past. As the Church has trusted in the Holy Spirit in the past, we place our trust in the Holy Spirit for our future as we as a nation, indeed as a world, make our tentative steps out of lockdown.

Sermon 10 May 2020 The Fifth Sunday after Easter
Reading: The Gospel of St. John Chapter 14, verses 1-14
Whenever I feel that I have not lived up to my profession of faith I always take comfort from the fact that the disciples, who lived alongside Jesus and witnessed his Ministry, often got the wrong end of the stick. 
I am also comforted by the fact that when the crunch came and Jesus was arrested, tortured and crucified, they, almost to a man, fled. Peter, whom he called the Rock, actually denied meeting Jesus. And yet he was forgiven and became the founder of the Church.
In our gospel reading the disciples, yet again, are misunderstanding. Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
And Jesus continues, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas says to Jesus, “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
The lovely thing about Thomas is that he always wanted to know the detail. You may remember that wonderful scene where the disciples say to him, “We have seen and encountered the risen Lord.” And Thomas says, “Unless I feel the holes in his hands and the wound in his side, I will not believe you.” And then there is Jesus suddenly before him, saying “Feel the holes in my hands and the wound in my side.”
Thomas would not believe until he had seen it for himself. We take it on trust.
In our reading, Jesus says to him, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus answers Philip by saying, “Have I been with you all this time Philip and you still do not know me?”
The disciples were God-fearing men. They had encountered in Jesus quite literally God being with them in the person of Jesus. That is why his death so puzzled him. Only after the Resurrection did it all make sense. They realised the whole and determined there and then to proclaim and live out their faith whatever the cost. They were prepared to live for it and if necessary, to die for it.

We rejoice to join in with that heritage. Without labouring the point, because you know and are experiencing it, we are now living in changed and troubled times. This week we have celebrated V.E. Day. Because my father-in-law was a prisoner of the Japanese V.J. Day, which is yet to come, is always in my mind. All those years ago, though in living memory, we overcame what seemed impossible odds. Being the Body of Christ here on earth, despite our buildings being closed, we take comfort that trusting in God we will come through, chastened, shocked, mourning, on the other side.

Sermon 3 May 2020 The Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Gospel of Saint John Chapter 10 v 1-10
We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. 

These words are from the Mattins service. The agricultural metaphors used in the New Testament do not always translate into our modern world, but we do feel like lost sheep at the current time because we all are scattered to our homes.
One of the great privileges of my priesthood has been that my first parish where I was vicar was rural. The change in agriculture, and indeed in our world, was brought home to me by one of the first funerals I did in the village parish church. The man who had died was the last person in the village who knew how to make a stook of corn by hand. The village church was packed. The change in our world was made all the more poignant by the fact that on either side of the widow stood her strapping grandsons. The grandsons were both computer programmers. The grandmother could scarce comprehend the world of her grandsons. The daily life of their grandfather was to the grandsons, part of past history.

This was shared in part by their vicar who still blushes at a conversation he had in the early 80’s with a man who said he was in software. The man was somewhat puzzled by said vicar asking about the world of cushions.
The irony is that our present isolation is much ameliorated by our present much derided technology.
We also in this country have a very different system of sheep rearing. Sheep in this country are herded by dogs. The shepherd is in the rear. I have never forgotten, whilst riding in my air-conditioned coach in the Holy Land and looking out of the window and seeing a scene from the first century AD: A shepherd boy had on a rope a camel which was followed by goats and a herd of sheep. The only jarring note that prevented it being wholly as Jesus would have known it was by the young boy having an enormous ghetto blaster on his shoulder.
Biblical sheep were led by the shepherd who risked losing the lives of his flock and even his own life from wolves and even lions.
In our Gospel reading, despite the difference in history, we wholly comprehend the task of the shepherd. It is to lead and name and know his sheep. The phrase, ”the Paschal Lamb”, which to Jewish ears would denote the physical sacrifice of a lamb, is made new in Jesus being the Lamb of God sacrificed for us by whose Resurrection our whole life and world and understanding of that world is utterly transformed.
“So again Jesus says to them,

Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and bandits
But the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.
The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

The choice is ours.
Ps Talking of modern technology the Family Service are having their Animal Service on-line. You submit your picture. Last year’s prize for the animal that looked most like the vicar was won by Sneeze, a pug!

Sermon Sunday 26 April 2020 Third Sunday after Easter
The Gospel of St Luke Chapter 24 v 13-35 The Walk to Emmaus

Follow the story in your own bible for the one thing we have in abundance is time.
It seems to belong to another age to be able to walk with somebody outside one’s family and to be joined by a stranger whom one welcomes to walk with one.
The two disciples are talking about the events of Easter.
The man, the stranger, asks them, clearly in ignorance, what they are talking about and they tell him.
Having just celebrated Easter ourselves, albeit in its truncated form, we know what they are talking about. The stranger seemingly does not.
Then, astonishingly, the stranger gives them a history lesson, beginning at Moses and the history of the people of Israel, and the place of the Messiah, and says to them, “Do you not understand?”
When they arrive at Emmaus, they ask the stranger to join them for supper. The stranger takes bread, blesses it and gives it to them.
They suddenly realise the stranger is Jesus. All that they have experienced of the Easter story makes sense, and then we are told he suddenly vanishes.
So excited were they that they retrace their steps, rush to the disciples, and tell them what has happened. The disciples too say that they have too experienced the Risen Lord.
Had there been a fly on the wall it would have told of their excitement, their amazement. They cannot have known at that stage what it would lead to.
The founding of the Church.
And here we are, 2000 years later, joining in their excitement and wanting to share our faith with others and what it means for us.
It may sound strange to say this when we are so constrained but we have discovered anew that being the Body of Christ here on earth is not about buildings because we are flourishing, though we miss each other and our buildings.
What I have found salutary this week was a comment in the Church Times from an Indian priest who said, “For us social distancing and washing of hands is a luxury we do not have”.
Food for thought. Indeed, we have food, and water. Let us never take that for granted.
Let us give thanks for being the Body of Christ, for the moment, in our homes and be grateful.


Sermon from our Reader John Watherston for Sunday, 19th April 2020  (Low Sunday)
Our reading today from St John’s gospel (Jn.20.19-30) tells the familiar story of our Lord’s first appearance to a group of the disciples on the evening of the day of his resurrection, and then an appearance a few days later when, unlike the first time, St Thomas was also present. On being told of the first appearance Thomas had said he would not believe that our Lord had risen from the dead unless he saw the physical evidence; and when he does see it and accept it our Lord says to him: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

In the way St John tells the story, and in our Lord’s words, there is an implied reproach to St Thomas for a lack of faith: he is unfavourably contrasted with those who have not seen and yet believed. But I suspect that most people today would sympathise with Thomas. Whether or not we are scientists – or lawyers, come to that – we are children of our age; we will have imbibed something of the scientific method and learned to ask for evidence, certainly if we are being asked to believe something very much out of the ordinary. Scepticism is often seen today as a virtue, a sign of intellectual rigour, by contrast to what, looking down from what we flatter ourselves is the superior height of our modern age, we may see as the foolish gullibility of earlier, pre-scientific ages; and indeed there is a hint of apology about St Thomas’s confession to the other disciples that without evidence he cannot believe. After all, he like the others had been with our Lord throughout his earthly ministry, which among many cases of miraculous healing had included at least three instances of the dead being restored to life; moreover, the virtue of faith was a constant theme of our Lord’s ministry.

But Thomas was simply being honest: he would not pretend to believe when he didn’t; perhaps the story was in his eyes too good to be true, without proof, that is. Moreover, after his death on the cross our Lord was no longer visibly there to perform the miracle; and it is certainly true that our Lord’s resurrection was unlike the miracles of raising the dead that he had performed during his ministry. Lazarus and the others would continue their earthly lives in the usual way and eventually die again. But our Lord’s resurrection was profoundly different: it was essentially God’s vindication of our Lord’s identity both as Son of God and (as St. Paul expressed it later in his first letter to the Corinthians (15.20,22)) as the first-fruits of them that slept . . . in whom all shall be made alive. Although neither St Thomas nor the other disciples could have fully understood all this at that time, this was the grandest of all miracles, and a vital ingredient of the Christian faith.

Thomas’s intellectual honesty extended to being open-minded enough to accept the evidence when he was presented with it, unlike those scientists and philosophers who dogmatically assert that Nature’s laws must always apply, with never an exception, and dismiss all evidence to the contrary – and there is a great deal of it, and not just from biblical times – as fraudulent or mistaken. As Christians we take a more judicious view. It is our belief, first, that Nature, together with its laws, has a divine creator, God, who is not part of it but who is constantly involved with it; and that he can intervene and bring about events that would not otherwise occur, such events being, as St Thomas Aquinas put it, outside the normal order of nature and constituting, not violations of it, but exceptions to it, Secondly that, humanity being what it is, there have been innumerable cases of mistaken or fraudulent claims of miracles, especially in mediaeval times; indeed the abuses were so great that they drove the Protestant reformers of the early modern period to make the unfortunate assertion that miracles ended with the New Testament. But none of that constitutes any kind of proof that miracles cannot occur; and on the other hand there is much good evidence of miracles throughout the Christian era. Third, it is right to be both rigorous and honest in examining the evidence for a claimed miracle: being foolish or gullible is no part of being a Christian. And fourth, as part of that examination, a guiding principle is that God will only perform a miracle for good reason, which, sadly, will usually be linked in some way with human weakness.

In amplification of that last point, let me end by quoting a few sentences from a sermon Austin Farrer, of Oxford University, once gave on this same text from St John’s gospel-

“That miracle is a concession to our condition who will deny? God will go no further in miracle than we extort from him. But then the whole work that God did in Christ and still does for our salvation is a concession to our condition, extorted by our need for his compassion. Every line, every page, of the gospel records the concession of divine wisdom to human folly.”

Amen

Canon David Reindorp’s Easter Sermon 2020 below

THE STRIFE IS O’ERE THE BATTLE DONE
My favourite Easter Hymn. In previous years there has been gentle banter with Andrew, the Director of Music, saying that ideally I would want to sing that hymn in all the hymn slots. I even once said I would want it at my funeral. It seems jest but which one of us has not contemplated in these last few days our own mortality?
A scourge that has affected the Prince of Wales, put our Prime Minster in hospital, makes us all equally vulnerable.
Our Government has had to make very tough decisions. Our Archbishops have responded to that discipline. We flout that at our own peril.
So let us be grateful for all that we have. Every morning I give thanks for my warm bath, food and loo paper and remember all those across our suffering world who have not what we take for granted. I daily give thanks and pray for all those in the front line, especially the NHS who bravely and sacrificially keep our world going.

By the wonders of modern technology this goes out, not just to us Chelsea Old Churchers, but to those of no faith and other faiths. It gives us a chance to share what it is we do this Easter Day. As Christians we believe in a God who took the risk of sending his own Son to be a human being like you and me. The Christmas story celebrates this miraculous risk.

At Easter, and in the days before we call Lent, we make real in our own lives the experience of Jesus, the son of a carpenter and a carpenter himself, who came to understand that he was the Messiah. Gradually those around him, who saw and experienced what he did and said, understood and recognised that he was the Messiah. They were puzzled because he was not what they were expecting. The religious authorities were appalled and terrified. They combined with the equally terrified civil authorities to publically put him to death. The Cross is so familiar to us that we don’t always realise how agonising it was. You literally drowned on dry land. It was meant to be terrible

The night before He died, at a meal we call the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and gave the Commandments to love one another and to do this in remembrance of Him. We Christians call this the Holy Communion. It would be good to record that his disciples were with him in His agony but even his best friend, Simon Peter, when the crunch came, swore foully that he had never even met Jesus. Then something extraordinary happened. Two women went to the grave and said that not only had the body gone but that they had met Him. Then the disciples themselves encountered the Risen Lord. What they said was that He was with them. And that is what they lived out and told the whole world and died for. They decided to live as a community and founded the Church.

2000 years later, in deeply trying circumstances throughout the world, Christians, wherever they are, will be celebrating that remarkable fact and living it out in their own lives. The fact that we cannot be in our church buildings brings home that the Church is not buildings but that we are, each and every one of us, the Body of Christ, wherever we are.

JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN TODAY, ALLELUIA

PS May I add a personal note. This week my daughter gives birth to her daughter. We celebrated her brother Archie’s third birthday this week. The puzzlement he experienced as to why his family wasn’t with him but were on telly was mollified by the realisation that his cake could only be eaten by him, His Grandpa could not take his usual generous share!

Curiously enough, Grandpa’s suggestion that the child be called Davidena seems to be gaining no traction within the family at large!

GOOD FRIDAY Addresses; first, second and third cycles


Good Friday, 10th April 2020: The Three Hours First Cycle: Readings: 

1. The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan

2. Luke 22.1-38
Every year on this day, Good Friday, the most sacred day in the Christian calendar, Christians have commemorated the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is an event that lies at the heart of our faith. This year we do so in difficult circumstances: sadly we cannot gather in our church for this time of meditation; but let us remember that often in the past Christians have kept this day under much worse conditions. Other great days in the Church’s year – Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, All Saints and others – are occasions for rejoicing; but this day, though we rightly call it Good, we keep as a day of reverent meditation and quiet devotion, reflecting on the deep mystery of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, culminating in his death on a cross. We shall hear the story told in readings from St Luke’s gospel.

In the Nicene creed, the declaration we make of our Christian faith at every communion service, we say that Jesus Christ “for our salvation came down from heaven . . , and was made man, and was crucified for us . . .”; and among many familiar sayings of our Lord you will recall that he said he came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt.20.28); and again: I am the good shepherd . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep (Jn.10.14-15). That was his mission: the end purpose of his life and of his pilgrimage on earth.

I am sure we are all familiar with the idea of pilgrimage: if we have not been on one ourselves we will certainly know of someone who has. A pilgrimage is a journey in quest of a place of holiness or healing or for some similar religious or salutary end, the essence of it being the spirit in which it is undertaken. Down the centuries many millions of people of different religions have undertaken pilgrimages of one kind or another. Jerusalem itself was in our Lord’s day – as it still is – a place of pilgrimage, and at the time of the Passover and our Lord’s passion would have been full of Jewish pilgrims who had come up for the feast

In these instances pilgrimages have been literal or “external” journeys from one place on the earth’s surface to another. But the term pilgrimage is also applied to journeys that are figurative, or “internal” as they are sometimes called; and though the literal or external ones are likely to be physically less comfortable, those that are internal are likely to be more demanding, involving more self-discipline, mental effort and staying power: indeed a true Christian pilgrimage of this kind is life-long. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic description of such a pilgrimage, in which, as expressed in the full title, the central character journeys from this World to that which is to Come; but though the story describes a literal journey it is of course really an allegory of the figurative or internal journey of a Christian through life enduring, and by God’s grace surmounting, trials and hardships along the way. In the extract we heard a few minutes ago the Pilgrim’s journey has only just begun. It is to this kind of figurative pilgrimage that all of us as Christians are called.

In a similar way our Lord’s earthly life can also be seen as a pilgrimage, during which he had to endure temptations and hardships; but in other ways it was very different from ours. He was coming from the opposite direction, as it were. In the gospels we read our Lord’s parables of seeking what is lost – the prodigal son, a lost sheep, a lost coin – and the father’s or owner’s joy when he or it is found. Our Lord’s life can be seen in the same way, but writ immeasurably larger: his quest was nothing less than a pilgrimage by God in search of the whole of lost mankind; a pilgrimage whose end, as foreseen by our Lord, was a terrible one, culminating in a grim, but for us redemptive, death on a cross.

You will have noticed that near the end of the reading from the Pilgrim’s Progress Christian asks the character called Good-Will if he could help him off with the burden he bears on his back; to which Good-Will replies that he must be content to bear it for the time being. I shall return to that in the next address.

Good Friday 2020 Second Cycle: Readings: 

1. Peter 2.11-12, 19-25 2. Luke 22.39-71

The last address ended with a reference to the burden John Bunyan’s pilgrim Christian bore on his back. He wished to be rid of it but was told he must bear it for a while. The burden, of course, was the burden of his sins.

The burden that we bear has in fact a dual character. It consists both of sins we have actually committed and of our tendency or inclination to sin in the future, that is, our susceptibility to temptation. In our prayers we seek God’s forgiveness for the first – the sins actually committed – and provided we are sincere in our repentance (which may include putting right the wrong we have done) and in our desire to do better, we receive pardon and deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ. But the remembrance of our sins may still be painful, especially in cases where we cannot make amends.

The other part of our burden is that we remain subject to temptation. In the reading we heard just now from his first epistle St Peter admonishes us in forthright terms: “Beloved, I urge you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” The term “fleshly lusts” of course here means all the weaknesses of the flesh, not just sexual ones.

As Christians we believe that our ideas of right and wrong come from him who created us – that is to say from God – and above all from the teaching of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament. From him we learn two things. First, that we are called to participate in the nature of God, in whose image we are made, and that that nature is perfect goodness, and above all love, which is thus the supreme moral principle of Christian ethics. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord sums up one part of his teaching by saying: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5.48). 

And the second thing we learn is that moral conduct is not simply a matter of following a prescriptive rule-book – do this and don’t do that, as the scribes of our Lord’s day were apt to do – but of being guided by certain good principles; and this indeed accords with our experience of coping with the complexities of life, where the moral questions that confront us every day – mostly small but occasionally great – will often be matters of judgment, of weighing up conflicting principles and other considerations. It is not for nothing that prudence, or practical wisdom, is reckoned the most important of the cardinal virtues, and essential for regulating the all the other others. We need wisdom truly to discern right from wrong, and in particular to check our consciences, which are not infallible, to see whether they are misleading us. It is all too possible for us in good faith to condone actions that are wrong; or, conversely, maybe through a false sense of guilt, condemn actions by ourselves or others that are morally blameless.

And there is a third thing. God has created us with freedom to choose how to act. Though not expressed in so many words this is implicit throughout our Lord’s teaching: for example in his calls to repentance, and in his parables, where the characters must take responsibility for their actions. God has given each of us freedom to choose how to act. In any given situation there will be constraints, of course, but in principle it is for us to decide what course to take, for better or for worse. He gave us that freedom because, as we believe, he did not want us to be mere automata, programmed to behave in particular ways; but rather to be independent and (ultimately) mature and responsible beings who would be capable of love and all the other virtues. So why is it that we so often get it wrong; choosing the bad rather than the good? I shall return to that in my next address

Good Friday 2020: The Three Hours Third Cycle: Readings: 

1. Romans 5.14-25 2. Luke 23.1-26

Bunyan’s Christian pilgrim continues his journey. Before long he comes to a hill with a cross standing on it; and as he comes up to the cross his burden of sin falls off his back and tumbles away into a hole in the ground. That, of course, is good theology: it is indeed through the cross of Christ that we obtain remission, or release from our sins; but as we were reminded by the reading from St Peter’s epistle a few minutes ago, it is not the end of our difficulties. Nor was it for Christian, who still had a long way to go on his pilgrimage, and who on the way succumbed again to weaknesses and temptations. Where do these difficulties come from?

Every Christmas we hear read the story of how Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden succumbed to the serpent’s temptation to sin. We no longer regard it as historical, but rather as an inspired allegory which contains all the theologically essential ingredients; and from it in course of time was drawn the doctrine of original sin, which imputes the sin of Adam and Eve to the whole human race; but there are objections to that doctrine: not least that that kind of transferred guilt hardly seems to accord with divine justice. And even in this age of advances in the sciences of the mind and of human behaviour, the argument goes on and we are no nearer a conclusion about the origins of our wrongdoing. What we do know for sure is that we are constantly subject to temptation and that we too often succumb to it.

Even though we know in general terms what we ought to do, it is for each of us a sadly observable fact that we do not always do it. We call our lapses sins, and they constitute a burden for us – as they did for Bunyan’s Christian pilgrim – and a barrier between us and God. In one of our prayers of general confession we say of our sins that “the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable”; and that may be no exaggeration. Even a great saint like St Paul suffered from this burden, as we heard in the reading just now (Rom.7.21ff):

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me a captive of the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

We can sense in those words St Paul’s rage and frustration with himself, and I expect we all sometimes feel like that; but he is also making an important point. He speaks of being a captive of the law of sin which dwells in his members, or in other words that a tendency to sin seems to be part of his very being. Some sins – the worst ones – arise from human malice, and they are usually consciously committed; but most spring from human frailty, from the bad, self-interested or self-indulgent habits of mind or body that come all too naturally to us and that we have slipped into over the years, so that they have become part of our character. We may even have become unaware of them, and in that regard live in what Keble called “the deadly peace of the unawakened conscience”. Those that we fall into most often we used to call besetting sins. Christina Rossetti, whose conscience was certainly not unawakened, saw the very problem clearly and wrote this lovely prayer for grace and strength to deal with it:

“Lord, give us all, we beseech thee, grace and strength to overcome every sin; sins of besetment, deliberation, surprise, negligence, omission; sins against thee, our self, our neighbour; sins great, small, remembered, forgotten – Amen.”

From The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan 

So in process of time Christian got up to the gate. Now over the gate there was written: “Knock and it shall be opened unto you”. He knocked therefore more than once or twice. At last there came a grave person to the gate named Good-will, who asked: Who was there? And whence he came? And what he would have? 

Christian replied: “Here is a poor burdened sinner. I come from the City of Destruction, but I am going to Mount Zion, that I may be delivered from the wrath to come. I would therefore, sir, since I am informed that by this gate is the way thither, know if you are willing to let me in.” 

Good-will said: “I am willing with all my heart”, and with that he opened the gate. . . . So when he was got in the man of the gate asked him who had directed him thither. Christian replied: “Evangelist bid me come hither and knock (as I did) and he said that you, sir, would tell me what I must do.” “An open door is set before thee, and no man can shut it,” said Good-will. 

Christian then tells of the troubles he has encountered, of his fall into the Slough of Dispond and of his being tempted aside by Mr Worldly Wiseman; and he continues: “Why I truly do not know what had become of me there, had not Evangelist happily met me again. . . . But now I am come, such a one as I am, more fit indeed for death . . . than thus to stand talking with my Lord; but O what a favour is this to me, that yet I am admitted entrance here.” 

To which Good-will replied: “We make no objections against any, notwithstanding all that they have done before they come hither, they are in no wise cast out; and therefore, good Christian, come a little way with me, and I will teach thee about the way thou must go. Look before thee; dost thou see this narrow way? THAT is the way thou must go. . . 

“But,” said Christian, “Is there no turnings nor windings, by which a stranger may lose the way?” “Yes,” said Good-will, “there are many ways butt down upon this, and they are crooked and wide; but thus thou mayest distinguish the right from the wrong, the right only being straight and narrow.” 

Then I saw in my dream that Christian asked him further if he could not help him off with his burden that was upon his back; for as yet he had not got rid thereof, nor could he by any means get it off without help. Good-will told him, “As to thy burden, be content to bear it, until thou comest to the place of deliverance; for there it will fall from thy back itself.”

Thoughts from the Reverend Canon David Reindorp, Vicar of Chelsea Old Church on 29 March 2020

Dear All

The Archbishops have made a tough call and have asked that no services be streamed from churches. So this comes from my home.

The readings today could not be more apposite. God is talking to Ezekiel: ”Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say our bones are dried up and our hope is lost. We are cut off completely.” This last is true, but our bones are not dried up and our hope is not lost.

The Gospel reading is about the raising of Lazarus. That reminds us that our Easter journey is about victory over the grave. The raising of Lazarus clearly astonished the onlookers and terrified the Pharisees who must have reported it to the Roman authorities. Because we know the whole story, the raising of Lazarus doesn’t surprise us. Our whole Christian hope is bond up with the Resurrection and that we are the Body of Christ here on earth is a result of that Resurrection.

Our churches are closed. That is a sadness and a deprivation. But the Church is more than buildings, however beloved ours is. We can still pray and worship in our own homes and in our hearts. This is a time to love our neighbours as we are commanded. Through the miracles of modern communication, we can keep in touch with all.

This week I rang my old nanny. In my mind she is ageless though she will be 80 this year. She said she had never nannied such a gifted and beautiful child (if you believe that you will believe anything!) These are serious times. We face an external and unknown enemy which literally seeps into our lives and the anxiety creeps into all our hearts. It is a time for trust in God and each other. We are the Resurrection people.

God bless you all and stay safe.
P.S. I was amused to overhear my youngest son, who is with me, talking to his sister who is expecting a baby in the next fortnight. She is in isolation. She was saying how difficult it was to keep a two-year old amused
My son said: “You think you have it tough? I’ve got Dad!”