Taking up the Holy Cross (Sermon on Proper 19B, 16th September, 2018)

Orthodox cross


Isaiah 50:4-9a

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38


Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Who is Jesus to you?


While you are thinking about that, what do the disciples say?

John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’

John the Baptist returned from the dead?  John has been beheaded by Herod and buried in a tomb (Mk 6:27-29)

John was a contemporary mystic and spiritual leader – of which there were many at the time of Christ – think life of Brian

But Jesus is no folk hero, no ephemeral guru

Is he Elijah?  Why Elijah?  Because Elijah announces the coming of the Messiah

Messiah = the anointed – like David – the king of Israel

Prophesied in Isaiah

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will bring justice to the nations. (Is:42:1)

Whom Jews await every year when they leave a cup of wine for Elijah at the Passover meal

But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.

What did it mean to Jesus to be the Messiah – would he be a conquering hero to liberate Israel from the Roman yoke?

Indeed not.  The concept of the Messiah would be changed in the light of Jesus’s inglorious crucifixion and lead to a re-examination of other verses of Isaiah like those in our OT bible reading:

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;

I have not been rebellious,

I have not turned away.

I offered my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;

I did not hide my face

from mocking and spitting.

The Messiah is now a suffering servant taking on the sins of mankind

Mark tells us:

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

The salvation which Jesus promises is not military victory but rather by aligning oneself and absorbing oneself into the self-sacrifice of the suffering servant and thereby discovering a whole new kind of life

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

This might well be a prophesy of the deaths of many Christians in the persecution which were to follow

But how might we read it?

That there is no physical wealth which can make up for spiritual poverty

That spiritual wealth comes from self-denying acts of sacrifice

Through death to self is found eternal life

Through the cross

As you may know, I have been travelling

One of the features of the Orthodox branch of Christianity is its focus on the Cross

The Orthodox make the sign of the cross continually

  • When they approach and leave their churches
  • When they venerate Icons
  • Liturgical points in the service – when God is mentioned
  • And just when they are moved – when Christians in other traditions might raise their hands or shout “alleluia”

The Orthodox make sign in a different way also

The Western cross is trinitarian

We indicate the:

  • Father (God in heaven = up)
  • Son (who came down to earth and was incarnate = down), and the
  • The holy ghost (which unites everything in the love of God = side to side)

Orthodox Cross is made differently

First the hand is significant:

  • The thumb and first two fingers are held together to make the Trinity
  • The other two fingers are kept flat representing the two natures of Christ who was man and God

The hand then moves from

  1. The Head – for the reason – the OT prophesy
  2. The Navel – for the centre of the emotions in the ancient world
  3. The right shoulder – the centre of strength , the should which carried the cross
  4. The heart – which is where the life force is – the blood

We remember the Lord’s injunction to

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Lk 10:27)

So that is what it means to make the sign of the cross – what does it mean for us to carry it?

The Orthodox way to look at this is the way the Orthodox cross works

It is the normal Christian cross with two additional elements added

A cross beam at the top – the Titulus – the crime of the crucified criminal

What did it say?


Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum

Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews

Jesus of Nazareth – not bar Joseph – he is a man with no father – any man – a son of man

who was King of the Jews – the Messiah – but no ordinary messiah – the suffering servant

But then there is also a second additional cross beam, this time slanted up to the right from the point of view of the crucified

This is the foot rest on which Jesus leaned

The ground on which he walked as a human

It points up to heaven and down to hell

Traditionally it points up to the repentant thief who will be with Jesus in paradise and down to the other who will languish in hell

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’

Taken as a whole, the cross of Jesus Christ speaks to us first through the Roman Cross, of the love of God incarnate with us here on earth as his son through the power of the holy spirit

That our way is to follow his road

That road is the way of the Orthodox Cross

With heart and soul and mind and strength

To die to self in order to achieve eternal life



Sermon preached by Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 16th September, 2018

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Readings for Proper 13B

You remember the famous I am sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel?  I am:

  • The light of the world
  • I am the way the truth and the life
  • The true vine
  • The good shepherd
  • The sheep gate
  • The resurrection and the life
  • The bread of life

Through the summer of Lectionary Year B we have 5 weeks on John chapter 6 with its focus on just one of these – “I am the bread of life”

Last week we had the Feeding of the 5,000 – there is lots of bread there!

Over the next 4 weeks we have readings which are so tightly drawn from Chapter 6 they overlap each other

The word “bread” occurs 18 times in this chapter

We will have the expression “I am the bread of life” or “ I am the bread which comes down from heaven” 7 times

So you will be in no doubt that Jesus is “the bread of life”

But will you have any better idea about what that means?

Let’s see what we can do.


What is bread?

Bread is the basic food stuff of the western world. It is essential for life – we call it the staff of life

A loaf is also too much for one person to eat at a sitting – so bread is shared – in the extreme in the feeding of 5,000 people

Bread needs to be broken, and when it is broken it is a little like a killing, a sacrifice and it is often blessed – especially in Judaism.

Furthermore, bread takes effort to make:

  • Growing the grain
  • Collecting the grain
  • Sifting the wheat from the chaff
  • Milling the wheat into flour
  • Mixing it with water, butter and yeast
  • Making dough
  • Kneading it
  • Baking it

It is a day’s work – and so daily bread is work for everyday

  • it is again sacrificial – that’s what sacrifice means – giving something up for the future

A Recent Church times article tells of the discovery that bread goes back 14,000 years

  • that it pre-dates agriculture – in fact agriculture seems to have developed in order to supply grain to make bread

Originally people made it from wild grain which meant that it took more energy to collect and make it than it yielded

  • it was sacrificial
  • it was communal
  • it was religious before it was food

Remember that religious has at its root ligo (to tie), like a ligament, that which ties us together

So when Jesus says he is the bread of life he is saying all of these things – he is:

  • Essential
  • Shared
  • Sacrificial
  • Bonding
  • Religious

and more …

He mentions the manna which came down from heaven –

That’s why we have that story about the grumbling Israelites with their grumbling stomachs from Exodus

In this sixth chapter Jesus is journeying around even across sea of Galiilea and the people are chasing after him: they are like the Israelites in the desert following Moses, searching for the promised land

Here they are looking for a sign

The feeding of the 5,000 is not enough for them

It is again just like the complaining Isarelites in Exodus

The Israelites were given Manna – ‘what is it’? they said

The Jews were given Christ and they said – ‘who are you?’

Jesus is more than the manna – because the manna was just about food

Jesus sustains in a different, a more comprehensive way than food – we have been given gifts greater than food

For an understanding of this we can look to our Ephesians reading

 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

My commentary says this is the most difficult verse in the whole letter – that gets my attention!

We have already heard about the Manna which came down from heaven and which was a gift from God

That which is of the earth is temporary – it lasts just a day – like bread

But Jesus is the manna which came down from heaven and has returned to heaven – things which are in heaven are eternal

He is not food which lasts but a day, instead He who has descended has then ascended.  As such He is heavenly manna, food which lasts for ever – the bread of eternal life

This gift – Ephesians calls it the gift of grace – this gift which we have been given – is the gift of love

It is not enough to eat

It is not enough to sustain yourself with food

What we need is the grace to live with one another and for one another

To live together

To live sacrificially

To live in the community of bread


Ephesians – which is a kind of handbook on Christian living – is full of advice on this

  • Be nice to your wife
  • Be nice to your husband
  • Don’t get drunk

So far so good – so far so obvious. But then it adds this:

  • Know yourself and where you fit
  • Work out what you are good at and how you can help others by playing your part in the body of Christ

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace… 

speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

So we pray we may live, with one another and for one another, in the community of the bread of life.

Making bread, breaking bread, sharing bread,
every day,
for eternity


Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 5th August 2018

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Building the house of the lord

Readings for Proper 11B

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The lectionary this summer takes us on a tour of the book of Ephesians over 7 weeks

Six chapters which means you can read 1 chapter for each of the next weeks and finish the book together

This is one of the great benefits of the common lectionary

  • You have these sequential passages
  • We are all reading them together – the same day

In each of our three churches this passage will have been read and reflected upon this morning

That fits with the theme of Ephesians because it is all about the Church as the means of uniting different people as the body of Christ

You may feel that is somewhat ironic given the tendency of the Church to fragment

  • Catholics and protestants
  • Greek and Russian orthodox
  • Methodists, Baptists
  • Copts, Armenians
  • Quakers, Shakers
  • Pentecostal, Baptist, Anabaptist
  • Presbyterian, Lutheran, free church

the list goes on …

Indeed, the unity of the church may already have been an issue when Ephesians was written – as most scholars believe towards the end of the first century as a kind of reworking of Colossians but with the church rather than Christ himself as the means of unity

Turning to scripture

The first chapter of Ephesians was almost all one single long, poetic sentence

We are special people – the blessed – the children of God – God has a plan and that the revelation of the love of God in Jesus Christ is the culmination of that plan

As a result, we have been marked out – sealed – with the holy spirit (baptism)

Our passage today is the second half of the second chapter

In  what is missed out, the writer has prayed for us – that we would have the spirit of wisdom as we come to know God more and more

And introduces the image of the church as the body of Christ

Chapter 2 begins with an exploration of how far we were from God before the gracious love of Christ

We were divided from God and divided from one another

This is the theme of our passage for today

We were divided from the Jews by the law and both Jews and gentiles were divided from God by sin

Jesus has broken through that barrier – just as the veil of the temple was torn in two at his death (Mk 15:38)

To mark this change – this move from a position of peril to safety, the writer uses the image of a house, a household into which we are all drawn, all safe

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

This is an image which is full of significance in the bible

  • The house of David
  • Bethel – the house of the Lord
  • Bethlehem – The house of bread – think of that

A house is built of many parts – and all are important in the construction – the bricks, the timbers, the slates, the doors and windows:  many materials, many shapes are required, each playing their part

But the most important part is the plan, the drawing, the vision on which it is all based

In the ancient world a structure was built by reference to the first block which was laid – the cornerstone – selected for its size and shape.  The first laid block was of such importance that a sacrifice was often made and placed under it.

Not surprising then that Christ should be seen as the Cornerstone – both the reference point but also the sacrifice

the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

Does that sound familiar?  It should – it is a repeated theme in the bible (Ps 118:22, Mat 21:42 , Acts 4:11)

the stone that the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone and it is marvellous in our eyes


Divisions are normal because we are all different – it is in the nature of humanity to divide into groups – sub-speciation – and it is good in a way because it is how we develop most quickly, through competition

But it can be dangerous and can blind us to the fact that we are much more similar than we might imagine

In my other life I was with a geneticist last week discussing this and it seems that even the most divergent of humans are 99.9% identical with one another

Moreover, we are 98% the same as chimpanzees – some more so than others

Thinking about our pets’ service this pm, we are

84% same as dogs

80% same as cows

75% same as a mouse

60% same as a Fruit fly

50% same as a Banana

So if you don’t have a pet you can bring a banana to the service


The brilliance of this image of the cornerstone is that the plan for the building is the thing which unites all its constituent parts and materials into a single whole – the cornerstone physically and intellectually unites everything – it is our common DNA

How does this work in the real world rather than the metaphorical?

We have divisions – how do we overcome them?

Take as an example the familiar scenario of lanes merging on the M25

  • The traffic slows to a standstill as drivers refuse to let others in
  • Only when someone gives in and let’s another in ahead of the can the traffic

Reconciliation begins with Sacrifice – someone has to be the bigger person and let another go ahead

  • Apologising and forgiving are both forms of sacrifice
  • When we apologise we lose face – we humble ourselves and beg for forgiveness
  • When we forgive – we give


In all of this Christ is our model – the plan, the cornerstone for our lives

Relationships are forged by sacrifice – like the sacrifice which underlay the cornerstone, like the sacrifice which saw an innocent man hanging from a cross

When we come together, divisions are healed  – we are made whole

This is possible through the love of God as exemplified in Christ Jesus

In the Mark reading we see how the healing power of God works through Jesus to heal all those who come to him

We celebrate that union with one another and through Christ when we come together on a Sunday

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

In words from our reading which fit in our Sunday liturgy

  1. when we share the peace

We are the body of Christ in the one spirit we were all baptised into one body

2. When we share in his body and his blood in the eucharist

The ultimate act of unity, of sacrifice and of forgiveness

At the end of the communion, in the prayer of thanksgiving  we give thanks in words taken from this letter

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off

Father of all,
we give you thanks and praise
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.

As we line up at the altar rail and take the body of Christ, the cornerstone, into our bodies and into our lives so may we become a dwelling place for God – through living together, recognising difference, making acts of sacrificial love

In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.



Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Peter’s, Walton-on-the- Hill, 22nd July, 2018

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It’s not just a game – it’s life and death

John, whom I beheaded, has been raised

This is probably how Theresa May feels about Boris Johnson – he has come back from the dead in the form of Donald Trump

Prophets are annoying – it’s their job.  This story comes just after the story of Jesus being rejected by his own people in Nazareth – his home: ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home’ (Mk 6:4)

That doesn’t bode very well for an Ordained Local Minister like me who is licensed to preach only in his own home and to his own kin

Notwithstanding this, I dare to continue and to address the issue of the raising of Christ – the raising of Christ which seems an important issue as Christ does seem to be going out of the lives of so many in our country today – the raising of Christ which for me at least simply will not go away

This was much on our minds and in our prayers as Harry and I attended the Guildford Diocesan Triennial Clergy Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, a week or so ago

It was a great unifying event – to have all the clergy of the diocese in one place for three days

The climax came with everyone packed together, all focused on one thing, for two hours passion ran high, there was a feeling of great togetherness, at the end there was shouting and cheering – even dancing around

Was this the keynote speech by Bishop of Burnley, Philip North – in which he derided the new heresy of ‘declinism’ in our church despite the fact there are more Christians in the world today than ever before and promised us that the church in this country would arise anew from the poor.   No – though that did get a standing ovation!

Was it the sermon by Bishop Andrew when he called on each of us to trace the grace in our own lives – to mark it out and to call it out to others as the sign that God is very much alive?  NO – though that is the lasting memory of the conference for me

Was it perhaps at the elevation of the Host in the Eucharist – the moment that was so revered in the Medieval church, so special that it was marked by the sounding of a bell at which everyone in church – even those behind the rood screen who could not see because they were too poor and unimportant – would drop to their knees at the idea of Christ’s special presence with us?  Again, NO, though for me that is the highlight of passion and engagement in our service together each Sunday morning – so please sidespersons remember the bell!

No, the event which unified everyone with common emotion and purpose giving rise to those cheers and dances came when Eric Dier scored the winning penalty for England against Columbia in the world cup round of 16.  Shame!

It is commonly said that football is a religion – as one of the high priests from one of its most famous temples once said: ‘it’s not life or death, it’s more important than that’

Football indeed has lots in common with religion

  • There is the pilgrimage to the ground
  • The iconography of the players
  • There is affiliation from a shared uniform – the vestments are the team’s football shirt – or indeed no shirt when the team is Newcastle
  • There is a sense of belonging, of differentiation – of gaining identity from difference
  • There is the great unifying singing from the stands (but men predominate in the choir rather than women)
  • The action is vicarious – it is conducted by well-trained and highly skilled professionals, while the laity look on – this is an act of powerlessness, of humility on the part of the spectators – they give themselves up to a higher power

There are however some elements of football which are very different from Christian religion – pagan elements which perhaps account for its greater popularity but are dangerous

  • Large amounts of alcohol are consumed, before and after as well as during the service
  • The object of scoring a goal which has its origins perhaps in hunting (hitting a target) is connected also to fertility rites –the goal is penetrated and there is something undeniably sensual in the quiver of the net when the ball strikes it – these certainly engage primally and viscerally with our strongest and most basic passions – but strong is not the moral equivalent of good

There are other elements of football which we do well to leave behind – the identification of enemies – the self-definition through difference from the opposition

These things are very un-Christian – this is perhaps why I feel somewhat repelled by the quantity of vitriol poured out towards Donald Trump – bizarre and at times odious though he is

Such divisions may define us – one against another – but they also undermine and deny the common divine element in our humanity as well as our essential equality

For we are more alike than we are different:

99.4% the same in fact in terms of the DNA we each share with each of our fellow human beings

Indeed, we are even more like other animals than we would imagine:

98% the same as chimpanzees

70% the same as cats

50% the same as bananas!  (Perhaps someone will bring a banana on a lead to the pets service on 22nd July!)

The role of a prophet is to point out the underlying truths which may be obvious but ignored – like the fact that King Herod is having an affair with his brother’s wife – which got John the Baptist killed (Notice how it is the primal passions which provoke first Herod’s adultery and then the murder of John the Baptist)

The prophet takes a plumb line to life and points out what is straight and true (Amos)

In our collect we prayed for God to ‘graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion

I can honestly say that Arsene Wenger has let me down every year for the 15 years since Arsenal last won the title – in that time Jesus Christ has never let me down

That helps me to love his name and increases in me true religion

Over the next six weeks we will be studying the letter to the Ephesians – it is short so why not read one of its 6 chapters each week

It is probably not by Paul but instead the writer used his name in an early attempt to draw together a church which has already started to split into different camps and to see a divergence of belief and behaviour

It uses the famous images of the body of Christ and the armour of god

It is a prophetic call to live a Christian life which holds in tension the fact that we are all different and have different roles to play in creation but that we are all fundamentally the same – all connected

As we heard in this morning’s Epistle,   in the longest sentence in the bible: We are all God’s children and inheritors of God’s kingdom

We are all special

We should all be excited about life

About sharing life together

About sharing the good news

About sharing the presence of God with us this day

And we meet with Him who is all life and power in the body and blood of his son

We are called to be a part of the body of Christ

John, whom I beheaded, has been raised

So in our worship and in our lives, let us raise the body of Christ anew – bury our divisions and live as one – like a football crowd

I do not expect cheering and dancing in the communion

But I do ask that you put your hearts and minds, your bodies and your souls into that moment and lay them before your God for His salvation – just as much as if it were a penalty shootout for the national team

Religion is not just a game – it is more important than that – it is life and death and, indeed, life after death


Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 15th July, 2018

Proper 10B – Collect and Readings

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen

Amos 7:7-15

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:14-29


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The Human Touch – Sermon on Mark 5:21-43


The Gospels have not been written randomly, the ordering of the stories is deliberate and careful

It is normal to look either side of a reading to see how it fits with what surrounds it – the surrounding stories and events inform what lies within – they help us understand them

Here we have two stories which not only interrelate they are interwoven,

So we should look for connections

What do we see?

  1. We hear that “many were in the crowd pressing in on him”

Despite the crowds these are private encounters one-on-one

First Jesus identifies the woman who has touched him despite the crowd.  Despite the multitude he knows her

Then Jesus gets rid of the crowd so that he is left with only Simon Peter, James and John. Finally, he clears Jairus’s house of the crowd of mourners to leave himself alone with the father and the mother and more importantly the girl

Despite the crowd, Jesus is meeting with people individually – offering a personal encounter

2. These are encounters with women

But two very different women – the interwoven stories invite us to compare

  • The young girl who is the daughter of rich man who has died at the age of 12 – when she was just about to enter society as a woman of marriageable age
  • A woman who has hemorrhaged for twelve years and so been kept from society – in particular, it kept her from worship – she has impoverished herself by trying to buy a cure

In some societies women still face social exclusion if they do not keep the rules

I have just come back from the middle east and it is extraordinary to see women veiled – and apparently through choice – though I wonder how much choice there is really

To see how differently people can be treated on grounds of gender

The woman with the haemorrhage faced a particular issue

No one wanted to risk being touched by her

Issue of pollution from childbirth continued till very recently

Churching of women is in the prayer book -though its words speak of the ‘thanksgiving of women after child-birth’ it is difficult not to see links back to the laws of Leviticus 12 in which a woman was kept from society for 40 days after the birth of a child

There was some sense in this of course in that a woman should be given time to recover from the exertions of childbirth and to focus her attention on the wellbeing of the newborn

The idea of pollution around menstrual blood served less purpose but was very strict:

If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, for all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. (Lev 15:25-27)

This is the context for the women in our story – she is not allowed to worship in the temple – she is not allowed to touch anyone or anything – especially not a man

I know women who have suffered from this condition – endometriosis – and it is hard enough to bear physiologically and psychologically without the stigma of ritual pollution

This is the context for the woman who reaches out and touches Jesus

In Old testament terms, by reaching out and deliberately touching Jesus she is polluting him

In New testament terms,  by reaching out and touching Jesus she is making contact with the living God.

And God incarnate in Jesus Christ calls her ‘daughter’

What of our other story?

Here we are with another ‘daughter’ but at the other end of the social spectrum – while the haemorrhaging woman has spent all her money on doctors – the leader of the synagogue is a rich and powerful man – but disease and death are levellers of social class

The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little. (2 Corinthians)

– not only that but Jesus makes him wait!

There is an Old Testament parallel in this story with the Elijah’s meeting with the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) – a widow whose son is ill and without her son she was in great peril – economic hardship and exposed to predation – often such women would be forced into prostitution

By contrast a woman – especially a daughter was of little value – indeed she would cost money in the form of a dowry

And yet when Jesus heals her, the parents celebrate

In Greek it is given great emphasis – ezestesan euthus ekstaei megale – “they were immediately ecstatic with great with ecstasy” They are beside themselves – taken out of themselves – transformed

It is revealed that she is a young woman – a kore, an adolescent – just of an age to be married – as Mary was, Jesus’s mother

Indeed she is 12 years old – born at the same time as the other woman had started bleeding

The effort of bringing up a child – those years of investment of love and patience might have been wasted just at the point where she is on the point of marrying and starting her own family

After her encounter with Jesus – after he takes her by the hand – these years are now not wasted – he speaks to her in her own language – Talitha cum is Aramaic – and she is healed – And given something to eat – we will come back to that


What do we take from this stories serve to establish Jesus as someone quite extraordinary  – in Mark’s Gospel he is often portrayed as a kind of epic hero

With super-natural knowledge – he knows a woman has touched him (in Greek he looks for ‘the woman who did this’ the feminine gender showing he knows)

He is a super-natural healer – healing people that no doctor can heal – bringing people back from the dead

What are we to make of that in our contemporary scientific, secular, sceptical cynical society?

As often these stories make most sense today as exemplars of our own journeys to God through the message and ministry of Jesus Christ

Of our own coming to spiritual health and wholeness

Many were in the crowd pressing in on him – but those who had need, received and received through an intimate, physical encounter

There is a need for patience – even a little suffering in the journey of faith

12 years for the afflicted woman

12 years for Jairus to look after and nurture his daughter

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations)

Ultimately God waits for us to make our response to him

With honesty – in confession – Jesus knows it is a woman – but it is important that she responds, humbly, on her knees,

As the afflicted woman we are encouraged to boldly reach out to Jesus

As the child who has looked into the face of death – we put out our hand and allow ourselves to be led by Christ and to follow him in the way of life

Jesus brings the old and the young back to God – back to spiritual life

The love of God in Jesus Christ particularly reaches out to those who find themselves outcast – outside of society

In the incarnate Christ, God reaches out to us in our humanity – in human touch

And asks us to respond

In our lives, in our faith and in our worship

And when we reach out – with faith – then we will find healing

and we will find joy – we too will be transformed

we too will be ecstatic with great ecstasy –

It is for this reason that the physical encounter with God in bread and wine is called the eucharist

The giving of great thanks


Like the afflicted woman, like Jairus’s daughter, you will shortly reach out your hands to receive communion

So you too will touch God.

May you find the healing you are looking for

May you be ecstatic with great ecstasy


Sermon delivered by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 1st July, 2018

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Our Fathers’ Day


3rd Sunday after Trinity, Proper 6 Year B


1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17

Mark 4:26-34


To all the Fathers, Happy Fathers’ day!

We will be looking at what it means to be a father and to call God, Father

Since I have been ordained, people that I don’t know have started calling me Father – which is a bit disconcerting, especially when they are an 80 year widow!

What is a father?  Well at one level it is a biological matter – please bear in mind that I did Greek not biology …

The ancients believed that the father provided the seed the spark of life– in Greek that’s sperma – which literally means seed – those who did biology will know what I mean

When we call God father we express the fact that the spark of life – that remarkable gift – comes from something before us – long before us

We heard in our Gospel reading:

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how

This line of scripture sums up the extraordinary ability of the created world to grow- to multiply, develop and become more sophisticated ‘we know not how’

Growth is embodied in God’s creation

From the tiniest of mustard seeds

With what can we compare the kingdom of God?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Here we have some mustard seeds [click here] – see how small they are (1 mm diameter) – bear in mind that you came from something which is 0.05mm – a twentieth the size of that

This story of miraculous growth is my experience of being a father

One minute you’re being told you’re going to have a baby and then before you know it this is what you’ve got

[two sons come forward]

In our old Testament lesson

Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”

Yes they are!

Fathers plant the seeds from which the plant grows

Can you see something of the father in these two?

I hope so

What does that tell us about God the father?

That within us – as children of God – there is something of the Father – the seed from which we grow – the divine spark lies within each of us

Then when the children grow you have to decide how to discipline them

My father was brought up by a Victorian father – there was a lot of discipline and corporal punishment

He tried to make his son in his own image

My own father started in the same way – with a cane

Like this one – but with a split in it

But he gave it up – it wasn’t him and it certainly wasn’t doing us any good

He learned – as we all have to learn – that whilst it is the role of a father to make rules and set boundaries – the ultimate act of love is to let go

St Paul writes about how God gave up his power in order to get closer to humanity – to become human

Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

    did not regard equality with God

    as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,

    being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

    he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—

    even death on a cross.

God humbled himself to become human

Becoming human means getting involved in the love business and that love has a cost – love entails sacrifice

In the ancient world there was no greater sacrifice than losing a son, especially the first born son – that is the story of Abraham and Isaac – that is the story of God the Father and Jesus the son

God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that those who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life…

It turns out that being a Father is not about Old testament discipline but about that New Testament sacrificial love

  • picking them up from parties at 2 o’clock in the morning,
  • taking an interest in dinosaurs even in late middle age
  • even listening to musical theatre in the car (she isn’t here)

Forgiving everything

Loving un-conditionally

Jesus taught us to think of God in terms of that intimacy

You will see we are surrounded by our prayer stations of the Lord’s Prayer

The first words of the Lord’s prayer express something profoundly important

“Our Father”

Father because we have that same intimacy

‘Our’ because our relationship with God is universal

Whoever our earthly father may be, “Our Father which art in heaven” binds us all with a common familial bond

Because we all have one father we are all brothers and sisters

Made new in our commonality in God

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

The message of Jesus is that we think about ourselves and God in a new way

That we think about God as our father in three ways

  • as the life giver whom we thank for our creation – “hallowed be his name”
  • the disciplinarian who let’s go and leaves free to make our own mistakes and “forgives us our trespasses” if and when we fail
  • the common denominator in everything we do, the origin of all, the eternal and everlasting

For thine is the Kingdom the Power and the Glory, for ever and ever.  Amen

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, on Father’s Day, 17th June, 2018

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Exploring the Holy Trinity – by way of the cross

Image result for welby blessing with the sign of the cross


Isaiah 6:1-8

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17



It is not uncommon on Trinity Sunday to duck this most difficult area of Christian doctrine – but I will do my best to explore this mystery – of how three things, three persons,  can be one – without in any way trying to remove its mysteriousness.

By way of preamble, I was taught in pre-ordination training, that all talk about God (i.e. all theology) is necessarily provisional, because it is in the nature of God that God can never be fully known or comprehended by the human imagination

But what can we say?

Well in terms of the bible especially in John’s Gospel and the writings of St Paul we have a linear depiction of the Trinity

God sends Jesus who sends the Holy Spirit

“As the father has sent me so I am sending you.  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 20:21)

At the meeting with Nicodemos described in our Gospel reading, Jesus tells how we too can become involved in this story of special relationship  with God – Jesus says:

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 

‘Water and spirit’ – Ie through Baptism – through following in the footsteps of Christ

Notice how at Baptism we have all three persons of the Trinity present – Jesus, the Holy Spirit like a dove and the voice of God

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16-17)

How is this possible?  Three in one – simultaneously

There are several models which can help to explain this

First, the three states of matter – water is still water when it is Water, when it is Ice and when it is water vapour (steam).

Surely this is a good model of how the Trinity works?

In fact this is a heresy (Modalism).  It misses out the important point that God is not the same as Man nor yet the same as the Spirit

Moreover, it is important that Jesus has not just the appearance of a man – that God actually was Man.

So, if it is important that there is difference between God and Man and Spirit how about three different things united in one thing.

Like in a Mars Bar – the exterior chocolate and the interior nougat and caramel

Alas, this is also heretical as it suggests that the three are in some way separate – it separates God from Christ and from the spirit – this is the heresy of Tritheism

But it is important that it was not just the human part of God that suffered with us – lifted up like the snake in the desert

That God did die on the cross and man did rise from the dead

All models of the trinity end up being heretical because they don’t quite express the truth as described in Christian Doctrine which places the Trinity in a paradox.  And that is a good sign as we find that God operates at the level of paradox and so ‘passeth all understanding’.

There is another model in this vein which I think takes us in interesting direction.

That actually we take God and Jesus and the Holy spirit into ourselves and they are mixed in us at the Eucharist

The Eucharistic elements mirror the Trinity

Bread – wine – water

Father – son – holy spirit

These three come together when mixed in us in holy communion.

So we can say that the Trinity is brought together and made especially present in both of the key sacraments – in Baptism and in Holy Communion.

What about the other major sacraments – absolution, anointing, marriage ?

There is another model which helps with these as they are marked by making the sign of the cross

The cross itself is a model of the Trinity.

It begins with a vertical line from Heaven to Earth

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

There is a great irony here of a man being lifted up to die who himself came down from heaven.

At the last, on the cross, the elements of the Trinity – body, blood and spirit are combined:

 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)

There is even the addition of sour wine to complete the Eucharistic parallel

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (Jn 3:16-17)

The father the Son and the Holy Spirit are joined together on the cross – in suffering

And that is the message that all three writers give us in our readings

The coal of Isaiah burns us – the way of the Spirit is not a way of bliss but of suffering service

Paul teaches us that the inheritance that we have with Christ through following on the way is the way of the cross is to be children of God

And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Rm 8:15-16)

So we meet God on the cross

In our suffering

And in particular in our self-sacrificial, redemptive suffering for the sake of others

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

And so when we make the sign of the cross –  in blessing –in sanctifying, in simply living sacrificially – we unite all these things in our lives

And there is great power in this – when God and Man and Spirit unite

God the Father – the creator of all – the power of the rushing wind of creation (up)

Who came down to earth and became human in God the son, our Lord Jesus Christ (down) and

Who is with us always, uniting us in the power of his holy spirit which brings life and love to all (across and side to side)


Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Andrew’s, Box Hill on Trinity Sunday, 2018


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Come on Baby light my fire – Sermon for Pentecost



God, who as at this time
taught the hearts of your faithful people
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgement in all things
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
(Collect for Whitsunday)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (16: 13)

Our collect and readings morning are all about knowledge:

Let us investigate what is this knowledge – first,  the Spirit of Truth, what is this Holy Spirit?

We hear that it comes as wind and fire

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting

The Wind – the breath – the spirit of the Lord – is the spirit of creation

Remember Genesis Chapter 1

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

In Greek it is pneuma – a violent force like a pneumatic drill

In Latin it is spiritus – the  whisper which is the breath of life – respiration and the last breath when we die we expire

But in Hebrew it is ruach – a word which encapsulates all the wonder of the creator of this vast and remarkable universe – ‘ruach

So if the wind is the creative power of God what of the fire?

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 

The fire is the fire of the burning bush of Moses direct, personal encounter with God – face to face

‘Divided tongues’ because it is a personal experience

In Greek it is diamerizomenai – the holy spirit is shared out – apportioned – there is something for everyone – personal to them

and unlike Moses this fire rests on them – there is personal contact

So the writer of acts makes it clear that this is the power of God – a direct and personal encounter with God

And what did Jesus say about the holy spirit?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus promises that he will send you the paraclete – variously translated as the comforter – the advocate

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,  to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (Jn 14:16)

Something which will support them in the way that Jesus has supported them when he was alive

And then when it does come it comes as the breath of Christ himself

Jn 20:21. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

and what happens to the disciples?

They suddenly start speaking other languages

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

The spirit has moved from fire to breath in language

Each in his or her own language

They had discovered how to tell the story of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ

They now had the wit to do this – that is why this Sunday is called Whitsunday  – not because of white but because of the spirit of truth that imparts knowledge  – ‘wit’

What might that mean for us?

I believe that the message of Pentecost is that each of us can know God directly and personally through the breath of Christ, through his message – his word – through his spirit.

That God speaks to us each in our own language

Especially when we gather together as the body of Christ as the apostles did on that feast of Pentecost – the Jewish festival of the first fruits

Not only that but also we can speak about God directly and personally and validly based on our own personal experience.

That we should speak to people in their own language of God

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify

You also are to testify!

Those of us who heard the Most Reverend Michael B Curry at Harry and Megan’s wedding yesterday will know what it means to testify in your own way, using your own divided tongue of fire.  He spoke in his own way for a total of 13 minutes and 43 seconds

But what he said could be said much more succinctly

God is love
God is the transforming power of love
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them ((1 John 4:16)

Pentecost was the Festival of the First fruits

Remember, Bishop Jo told us that we would bear fruit if we were attached to the vine – Jesus said

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is the first fruit of that love – the birth of the church

Our diocese is calling in us to Transform – to bear fruit

Ourselves –  our churches:  ‘Transforming Church, Transforming lives.’

The only way we will do that is by abiding in God’s love

By living lives dedicated to the transforming power of love

So let us receive the Holy Spirit anew this Pentecost

That we so know God’s love that we are transformed by it

That we have the Courage to speak our faith, in our language – what it means to us to know God – to be loved by God to love other people:  That would be fruit indeed!

Philip Larkin wrote a poem based on the weddings that traditionally happen on this ‘Whitsunday’, the Whitsun Weddings.   The poem tells how a railway carriage on its way to London fills up at each stop with newly married couples on their way to their honeymoons, as it nears its destination he says

What it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power that being changed can give.  (Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin)

So let ourselves be changed – transformed that we too may have ‘all the power that being changed can give’

Shaken, stirred, roused, enthused, inspired – full of wit – like those first apostles – who went from being frightened, confused, ignorant, leaderless and directionless to found the church whose birth we celebrate today.

But above all else – as we meet with God in the sharing out of bread and wine – we pray for a deeper encounter and a better knowledge of the God of love through Jesus Christ who is the spirit of all truth.

That he abide in us and we abide in him


Sermon delivered by Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, on the Feast of Whitsun, 20th May, 2018


Sermon delivered by Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s He

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Prayer station 5. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil


Why would God lead us into temptation?  If you find yourself wondering this then you are in good company as Henry VIII was so offended by the idea that he believed it must have been a mistake in the text of the Bible.

But ‘lead us not into temptation’ might be understood as lead us away from temptation.

Another way to think about this is that the word for ‘temptation’ (peirasmon) is the same as that used to describe Satan’s tempting Jesus in the wilderness.

We are asking God to lead us through the wilderness of our own lives and to protect us from the evil into which we can so easily fall.


These are all things which we can use to guide us through wilderness

  • The torch (representing the light of Christ) – you have to keep the batteries fresh
  • The Compass representing prayer – NB it only works if you hold it still
  • The bible – the word of God – why not try reading it?


Thoughts for prayer

  • Pray for areas of your life where you need guidance
  • Focus on Christ as the light of the world and ask
  • Pray for a greater reading of the Bible
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4. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

sin bin

It you look up the Lord’s prayer in the Bible you will see that words we know as trespasses are not in either account.  Matthew 6:12 has ‘debts’ (literally things which are owed, obligations) while the word trespasses (transgressions, overstepping the mark) occurs a little later, in  verse 14.  In Luke’s version there is both the word for sin (hamartia – literally meaning falling short of the mark, ie a failing) and the word for debt.


So, when we ask for forgiveness we can have all of these thoughts in mind:

  • Debts: The things we ought to have done but have left undone
  • Failings: Times when we have fallen short of the standard which is expected of us
  • Trespasses: times when we have strayed – when we have trespassed on other people’s property, other people’s feelings

This verse has a marked reciprocity

  • It is as important to accept forgiveness as it is to accept fault
  • It is as importance to forgive as it is to repent and seek forgiveness



Write the name of a person from whom you seek forgiveness on one side of the Post-it and on the other write a person whom you want to forgive

Alternatively write the sin you want forgiven and a sin you want to forgive

Then tear up the paper and put it the pieces in the bin!


Thoughts for prayer

– What are the things which you regularly find yourself doing wrong and why?

– What are the weaknesses in you which might be hiding strengths?

– Is there something for which you need help to forgive yourself?

– What are the things that you want to do but don’t?  Pray for release from whatever is stopping you

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