Sunday, 20 December 2020

'Perplexity, pondering, presence, power & possibility: Mary & the Angel - a tale for our times


First preached as an extempore homily at Croydon Minster and written down afterwards (hence discrepancies in what the congregation may have heard and what I have now written!). The readings were, 2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16 and Luke 1.26-38.


‘Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’.

(Luke 1.38)




The encounter of Mary and the Archangel Gabriel is timeless and enduring. It’s a scene portrayed in art and music.


Yet what this young woman is being asked is earth shattering, reputation crushing and terrifying. If social media was around at that time Mary was going to be exposed to trolling and shaming because she has transgressed the norms of society and Law of Moses: unmarried and pregnant.


This passage of St Luke’s gospel (1.26-38) is one that could easily be brushed aside with a flippant, ‘yeah, heard this one before’. It’s good carol service fodder.


But it repays deep attention for these is so much going on here, as our parish Lectio Divina group discovered last week. Slowly chewing over its words brings out many deep insights.


It is clear that this reading speaks on different levels. There is the perplexity and response of Mary which mirrors the response any one of us could make to the call of God, and it maps how we might reflect on the dark times we are currently in. In short it offers hope, Christian hope.


There were five things that really struck me in this reading. They all begin with ‘p’ – I like the alliteration! - and can be remembered on the fingers of one hand.


1.      perplexity

2.      pondering

3.      power

4.      presence

5.      possibility



Mary’s response to the angel is perplexity (1.29a). It’s little wonder. What she is being asked comes out of a ‘clear blue sky’. She is perplexed by it. The call of God is often perplexing.


Perplexity is an appropriate word for our times. Everything is perplexing. Why is such and such allowed in this Tier and not that? I have waited since March to see my family and/or friends and now I can’t it is so perplexing for us.



Mary’s response to perplexity is not panic (another word beginning with ‘p’) but pondering (1.29b). Mary is a great exemplar of pondering in response to major events: ‘she pondered all these things in her heart’ (Luke 2.51). Another word for pondering is prayer.


The point of prayer in perplexity is not simply a desperate plea to be lifted out of perplexity, although that is a legitimate prayer, it is also a ‘casting our cares upon God’. It is resting, nestling in the One to of whom we say ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble’ (Psalm 46.1)


Out of her pondering Mary trusts the call, perplexing though it is. In prayer we entrust ourselves to God’s care and mercy.



This is the hinge that swings us from our perplexity. God promises presence (not presents!).


As he promised in the first reading from the Second Book of Samuel God promises to rest, to nestle amongst his people. This presence is not restricted to a house of cedar but is conceived in Mary’s womb and available to all humanity. That is incarnation. Nestled in her womb God could not be closer to Mary.


And, remember too, in another classic reading from a carol service, the (same) angel promises that the child to be born will be named ‘Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”’ (Matthew 1.23).


God is with us in adversity. God, in Christ, is with us in these dark, desolate times.



Mary is told that the power of the Most High will overshadow her and we see the power of Mary to embrace what God asks of her. She is not a victim of God or of circumstance, she is an empowered woman defying convention to honour God’s call. How impressive!


This power, what the gospel calls dunamis, from which we get the word ‘dynamic’, this power is God’s power to change and transform. Mary the simple girl of Nazareth is transformed into the Bearer, the Mother of God.


When  God is present power is bestowed such that we can become the person calls us to be. And it is this power that makes all things possible.



How can this be? This is God’s power. The creative power of God that brought life into being, and you and me into existence, makes all things possible. What is desolate becomes inhabited, what is empty is filled, Mary is told to look at Elizabeth’s life, and we look at Mary’s life.


The human body, the body of this woman, receives and gives a home to the full presence of God, the creator, the maker of possibilities.


Perplexity then is a feature of human existence: don’t we know that at the moment? We can’t eradicate it, but it can be transformed. After Mary’s example, we begin in pondering and prayer. And the presence of Christ unleashes the power of the Most High to make new possibility of who we are and who we can be.


Receiving this presence, power and possibility is open to us daily in the Eucharist, where Christ comes to dwell in our own bodies in bread and wine. That sends us out to proclaim God’s presence in the world and assure all people that we are not alone, because of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God is with us.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Incarnation: not a 'big idea'

Preached at the Community Carol Service at Croydon Minster 13.12.20 . See Luke 1.26-38

‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14)




The Incarnation is what you could call Christianity’s ‘Big Idea’.


The ‘Big Idea’ is actually not an idea at all. It is not an idea, if that’s something dreamed up in the human mind, the Incarnation’s origins are deep in the generative will of God.


And it is not a ‘thought’ that only exists in the mind: it is utterly embodied. So, it is not a thought or idea at all! It’s entirely reliant on human bodies.


Incarnation, not ideas about God and who Jesus Christ is, but the en-fleshed, embodied presence of God, is at the very heart of Christmas. It is the generator of Catholic Christian faith.[1]


Incarnation is the proposition that God has taken human flesh, caro in Latin, meaning ‘flesh’: from which we get the word ‘carnal’, things of the flesh; and ‘carnival’, a festival of eating flesh before the Lenten fast and ‘incarnation’ the en-fleshing of the Word of God.


Jesus Christ assumes human identity in the flesh, in person, whilst at the same time losing nothing of his divinity.


The Incarnation is the decisive hinge of the story of salvation, but it has a long back story.


That back story is what we have heard tonight. Quietly yet insistently declared through the prophets we hear of the one who will be born in Bethlehem as Micah declared; the one who will fill the world with splendour as Haggai announced; the one who springs from the line of Jesse; and as we heard the text set by Handel, ‘for, unto us a child is born’.


And tonight’s gospel is the hinge of the story of the New Creation. It begins with a woman’s ‘yes’. Through the angel Mary says, ‘Yes! Let it be to me according to your word.’ (Luke 1.38). This woman is indispensable to the Incarnation because her body is integral to it all. That is why Christmas features birth in all its blood and bodies and beauty.


It is Mary’s body, in her womb, that gives Jesus Christ his DNA, chromosomes and life blood. This is very fleshly.


The Eucharistic Prayer for the Annunciation puts it like this:


We give you thanks and praise

that the Virgin Mary heard with faith the message of the angel,

and by the power of your Holy Spirit

conceived and bore the Word made flesh.

From the warmth of her womb

to the stillness of the grave

he shared our life in human form.


Et verbum caro factum est habitavit in nobis: ‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ as St John puts it.


Christ comes down to us to raise us to the ways of heaven in human flesh: may we, like Mary, say ‘yes’ this this Christmas, and every day of our lives, so that God is not an idea but our life, our hope, our salvation.


[1] But, you might say, what about the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension? Sadly countless men and women have died hideously agonising deaths at the hands of oppressive regimes, even, like Jesus, by crucifixion. Others in the Scriptures were raised from the dead, for example, the son of the Widow of Nain (Luke 7.11-17) or Lazarus (John 11:38-53). Even ascension into heaven had happened before, notably the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). But that’s not the point. The significance of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension is not whether or not they happened uniquely to Jesus Christ, but because he is the Incarnate Son of God.

Monday, 7 December 2020

A Sermon for the Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception of Mary


First preached as a sermon at St Michael & All Angels, Croydon, with members of the Cells of the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham in Croydon (St Alban’s, South Norwood, St Michael’s, Croydon & Croydon Minster). Readings: Genesis 3.9-15,20; Ephesians 1.3-6,11-12; Luke 1.26-38. 8th December 2019.




The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a great gift to the Church and, indeed, to all humanity. It is the most optimistic of dogmas, because it says that by God’s grace human beings can be freed from the grip of sin, through our sharing in the life of the Word Made Flesh: Jesus Christ - Son of God, Son of Mary - the incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended Lord. This possibility of God’s grace first moved as Mary was conceived and knit together in the womb of her mother St Anne.


Our gospel reading today is St Luke’s account of the Annunciation, which is not to be confused with the Immaculate Conception of Mary, although it often is: the Annunciation is about Christ being incarnate within the womb of Mary, the unborn Saviour, the Word Made Flesh, resting in the immaculate shrine that is Mary’s body. And you will recall that when the pregnant Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy as the Mother of the Lord entered into her presence (Luke 1.39-45). That dance of the unborn John the Baptist echoes the unrestrained dance of David before the Ark of the Covenant in the Second Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 6, esp 6.14). David danced before the presence of God in the Ark of the Covenant; John dances before the presence of God, in Christ, in the shrine of Mary’s body.


The Immaculate Conception of Mary is about preparing the shrine in which the Christ will gestate and from which he will be born; for which all generations will call her blessed (Luke 1.48).


For some the Immaculate Conception makes them queasy. Isn’t it too much about Mary? Doesn’t it make out that somehow she’s not quite human, just a bit too perfect? Isn’t it all a bit Roman Catholic?


Too much about Mary? On one level it’s nothing to do with Mary! It’s about God’s grace, of which she is described as being full of: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’, the archangel’s greeting. On another level it is everything to do with Mary; she is the person, the woman, chosen to be the mother of the Saviour.


The initiative is with God in choosing this particular daughter of Zion. That is why Mary is an exemplar of being a Christian, one who is open to the movements of God’s grace, saying yes, not no. After all, Eve – the mother of all the living, as her name means (Genesis 3.20) - was created without sin, placed in the Garden of Eden and yet, with her husband, said ‘no’ to God and ‘yes’ to the serpent. As we see in statues of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, she tramples down the serpent, reversing the transgression of Eve and bearing in her womb the New Adam.


Doesn’t it make out that somehow Mary’s not quite human, just a bit too perfect? There have been aspects of Marian devotion that have seemed to disconnect Mary from being human. This is often seen in art, but not in the New Testament or in the dogmas of the Church. Jesus was ‘born of a woman, born under the Law’ (Galatians 4.4); scripture and dogma insist on the humanity of Mary (otherwise how would we claim Christ’s humanity as well as his divinity?) Mary was a woman living in a broken world, but one who was freed by grace to act in a different way from Eve so that the bitter reality of human sin could be reversed.


What is more, the Immaculate Conception is not about Mary being conceived in a way that had no human agency. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is not saying that the act of physical love is wrong, dirty or deficient. Anne and Joachim, as husband and wife, conceived their daughter in the way that any one of us is conceived; they slept together, they procreated, or whatever nice way we want to put it. Mary was human in her DNA; a woman in her chromosomes; and a child of God by grace.


Too Roman Catholic? The understanding that Mary, daughter of Anna and Joachim, was immaculately conceived is long held in Christianity, drawing from the gospels, of which more anon, and wider early tradition. Orthodox Christians don’t like defining things, but they still celebrate Mary’s conception as marking out her unique vocation to be the Theotokos, translated literally God-bearer, or Mother of God. Similarly, for Anglicans The Book of Common Prayer (1662) may not use the word ‘Immaculate’ but it still marks in the Calendar the observance of the ‘Conception of the BV Mary’ on 8th December each year, and that predates the Marian Dogma of 1854 in which Pope Pius IX defined the Immaculate Conception.


So there is an ecumenical consensus that Mary matters and that she is a pattern for Grace and Hope in Christ, as the document of that name from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) put it in 2005. That document shows a remarkable convergence of Marian teaching - perhaps ‘more honoured in the breach than the observance’ - between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. We shouldn’t ignore that not all Anglicans would assent to ARCIC, and, we shouldn’t gloss over differences, but we could all agree, I hope, with Pope St John XXIII, that ‘the Madonna is not pleased when she is put above her Son’. ARCIC acknowledges that there are deep and important roots to what we celebrate, today, in the Immaculate Conception of Mary:


In view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One (Luke 1.35), we can affirm together that Christ’s redeeming work reached ‘back’ in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings. This is not contrary to scripture, and can only be understood in the light of scripture. Roman Catholics can recognise this in what is affirmed by the dogma – namely ‘preserved from all stain of original sin’ and ‘from the first moment of her conception.’ (Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ: An Agreed Statement. ARCIC. p. 57-8)


So what? So this teaching is agreed by Anglicans, with Roman Catholics, to be consistent with scripture and understood in the light of scripture. Perhaps then we should ask, ‘so what’? What does this dogma of the Immaculate Conception mean for us today?


The Immaculate Conception of Mary is about salvation, preparation and the human body as the dwelling of the Most High. It tells us that the journey of holiness is precisely to restore in us the image and likeness of Christ.


Mary’s conception, without sin, points to us the possibility of the redemption of human flesh as the dwelling place of God. Indeed in the Mass we receive the Body of Christ into our bodies, such that they become shrines of God’s presence. We are, as it were, a monstrance, a vessel that carries Christ, reveals Christ to the world and imparts Christ’s blessing to all creation.


In this season of Advent may we be prepared to receive Christ afresh in his coming again in glory, as surely as he came into our midst born of Mary, Mother immaculate, Mother of the Saviour, Mother of God. Amen.

'Prepare the Way of the Lord' A Homily for Advent

 A sermon preached at Croydon Minster at the Service of Words and Music for Advent on the Second Sunday of Advent. Gospel Luke 1.5-25




‘Prepare the way of the Lord. ‘


That is the title of this service of words and music for this great season of Advent.


It is also the opening message of St Mark’s gospel when the evangelist has announced ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ (Mark 1.1).


Having made that wonderful statement, Mark goes on to quote Isaiah to say that a messenger is being sent ‘who will prepare your way’ (1.2) and that a voice will cry out in the wilderness ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’ (1.3).


Advent is a time of preparation, of clearing out distractions, being ready, alert so that the Lord’s way may be prepared.


It calls for you and me to have a posture of preparation. So what’s your Advent posture of preparation?


Is it the preparation of the athlete: on your marks, get set…?


Is it the preparation of the artist: with the canvas tight, with paint on the brush ready to make the first strokes?


Is it the posture of the musician, the violinist with bow poised above the strings, or singer having taken a breath, ready for the conductor’s hands to summons the music from you?


That moment before the starting gun, before the paint is smeared on the canvas, before the conductor’s baton moves – that is Advent, a moment held over these four weeks, and it’s a moment of expectation of what is to come, or rather Who is to come.


We stand, as the poet Malcolm Guite reminds us, between two comings: the coming of Christ as incarnate, Word made flesh, born in Bethlehem and the coming of Christ in glory at the consummation of all things.


Preparation, expectation, attention, waiting, yearning is our response to God’s initiative to come amongst us.


This church of all churches, dedicated as we are to St John the Baptist, should be imbued with Advent character: expectant, attentive, prepared and proclaiming.


John is an intricate and complex character, born of the priestly line, and therefore by heredity a priest, and yet also standing clearly in the tradition of the prophets.


The priest offers sacrifice to God for the people; the prophet represents the voice and vision of God back to the people.


Priesthood and prophecy are not at odds: Isaiah’s own call came in the Temple as the presence of God, in incense, filled the house. Likewise, Jeremiah was a prophet born from a priestly line and yet called to be a prophet too.


‘Prepare the way of the Lord’ is a prophet’s cry; receiving and making present the Lord is the priestly task.


It’s in the Temple that Zechariah encounters Gabriel, the archangel, like the prophets before him, telling him of the birth of the one who will prepare the way of the Lord out in the wilderness. Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth, is John the Baptist’s father. This news struck Zechariah dumb!


After John’s birth Zechariah rejoiced and burst into song.


Usually in the evening at Evensong we hear the Song of Mary and of Simeon, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. Tonight, this service will close with a canticle usually associated with the morning, the Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah, which speaks of preparation and what is to come:


And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation

by the forgiveness of all their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 2.7-10)


May we be prepared to meet the one who comes.







'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God'


A sermon preached at the Parish Eucharist at Croydon Minster on the Second Sunday of Advent. Mark 1.1-8



Where did it start? What are the origins? Where did all this come from? Detecting the beginnings of something is always an intriguing exercise.


Explorers have long sought out the source of great rivers, to discover the beginnings, the very spring from which a trickle becomes a stream, which becomes a mighty river.


Astronomers follow the dream of the ancients to gaze into the heavens to uncover the very beginnings of the universe.


And what of the beginnings of Jesus Christ?


St Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy detailing the generations of ancestors of Jesus, ‘who is called the Messiah’ (cf Matthew 1.1-16), and he then tells us that after his birth in Bethlehem Jesus is visited by the Magi.


St Luke sets out, in his words, an orderly account, ‘from the very first’, and - after telling us of the birth of John the Baptist - takes us to the beginnings of Christ’s earthly life through the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, when the Most High overshadows her to be the Mother of the Lord.


St John in his magisterial opening to his gospel declares: ‘In the beginning was the Word’. He connects who Jesus is with the Creation itself. He echoes the opening of Genesis en archē, ‘in the beginning’. Jesus Christ is the Word who was in the beginning with the Father: he is God and not a creature, begotten, not made.


St Mark does not give us a Nativity account: there is no Bethlehem, no star, no shepherds or wise men: not the beginnings we’re used to!


St Mark simply states, ‘The beginning (archē) of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1.1).


He tells it in punchy form. This is the beginning of the gospel and this gospel of he who is ‘Son of God’.


The Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of Mary comes to fulfil the promise made through the prophets and heralded by John the Baptist preparing the way.


Christ is the source; Christ is the beginning and Christ is the fulfilment. From this beginning, rooted in God’s timeless promise, the gospel unfolds.


This gospel is of liberation from the constraining powers that obscure our vision of God, that impede our growth in holiness embodied and fulfilled in Christ and that draw us into the very presence of the Most Holy Trinity.


John the Baptist’s ministry - of calling hearers to a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins - is a necessary preparation, a preparation for something already begun from the heart of God.


John’s preparation is, in the terms of the prophet Ezekiel, about receiving hearts of flesh in place of hearts of stone (Ezekiel 11.19; 36.26). Repentance is a movement and reorientation of the heart: oh, for warmed hearts ready to receive Jesus Christ and the gospel!


So it begins here and we are invited to begin afresh the journey with hearts and minds renewed and set on the way of Jesus Christ: this is our Advent journey of expectation.



Monday, 30 November 2020

Waking up to the One who comes: An Advent Sunday sermon


‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’




What a desperate plea we hear in the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’.


It echoes our desperate plea now, that God would come and make things right: make things right on the international stage; make things right with the pandemic; make things right in human society; make things right in healing the creation.


That is an Advent plea!


Isaiah’s plea is followed by his reflection on the earth-shaking impact of the word and works of God. For God comes to his creation, shaping and moulding his people to his ways as a potter handles and works the clay, turning them not on a capricious wheel of fortune, but turning them back to him.


That is a Advent response!


The season of Advent echoes the desire that the Lord will come - the ancient Aramaic cry of the Church is, ‘Maranatha’ meaning, ‘Amen. Come Lord Jesus’ – and a commitment on our part to turn our hearts to the Lord again.


In Advent we call to the Lord to come again, as surely as he came in the flesh in his first coming: ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’.


This year we cannot come together on Advent Sunday to sing that and other great Advent hymns. And what will our celebration of Christmas be like?


It is a dark time of the year and we seek the light; it is a dark time for many people – losing jobs, dropping incomes, being ill, feeling lonely, separated from family - and they seek the light.


What does our faith tell us about these times? The words given to us by Isaiah speak powerfully, ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’.


Has God abandoned us to Covid, to Brexit, to populism, to authoritarianism, to anxiety and loneliness?


The story of scripture tells us we are not abandoned, not abandoned to any of these things.


As the psalm says, ‘The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge’


The One Who Comes is with us and as that psalm begins, ‘God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in times of trouble’ (Psalm 46.7)


The gospel tells us that in days of confusion, doubt, fear and darkness we are to stay awake and alert to the ways of the Most High, for it is in those times that we will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’.


Now is the season – Advent – the season to wake up to see the one who comes, to see the heavens torn open, so ‘let every heart prepare a throne and every voice a song’.


Friday, 27 November 2020

'Where is the love?' A sermon for the feast of Christ the King


Here’s a big question: where does power and authority lie?


When you look at the world, our country, our local community, our families, the Church: where does power and authority lie?


The question is a really ‘live’ one when we see the struggle for presidential power and authority over the White House and, recently, in No.10 Downing Street. It plays out at Croydon Council or in the tensions of life with others in families and churches.


The theologian Walter Wink speaks of ‘unmasking the powers’. In other words, in situations where things just don’t feel right, where is power, where is authority? If we can identify that then we can begin to understand a situation better.


That’s where the scriptures come in to help us identify where the power and authority lies.


Over the last few days the pattern of readings at Morning Prayer has taken us through the book of Daniel and the Revelation to John. In dramatic, sometimes outrageous, incomprehensible and alien imagery the question of where power and authority lies is tackled.


These strange and fantastical books are known as ‘apocalyptic’. That’s not to be confused with Hollywood action films or doom and disaster, but ‘apocalyptic’ means ‘unveiling’ or ‘unmasking’.


What they seek to reveal is that earthly powers and authorities are not where sovereignty, ultimate power, ultimate authority lies. Power and authority, they declare, begin and end with God.


Today we celebrate the Kingship of Christ; to celebrate that is to declare that the sovereignty of God is made visible in the face of Jesus Christ.


Yet his ‘kingship is not of this world’. His crown is one of thorns, his throne is a manger and a cross. His kingdom is revealed in service of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the prisoner.


In Revelation the power and authority is revealed to be in the Lamb on the throne. The lamb is weak, frail and vulnerable in the eyes of the world, and this is a sacrificial lamb, one whose life will only make sense in death.


John the Baptist said of Christ, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’. Here is enduring power, ultimate authority, revealed in love.


Love, the King, does not manipulate, oppress, distort, jostle, but feeds the hungry, gives water to the thirsty, clothes the naked, comforts the sick, visits the prisoner: this is the love of the Lamb of God who gives away all earthly power and authority so that he can assume heavenly, cosmic power and authority.


In Christ the world is not interpreted through earthly powers and authority – that belongs to him – rather it is measured by the power and authority of love.


Love reframes the question: in how we relate globally, nationally, locally, in families and in church. Life in Christ is shaped by love, not vying power and authority.


So with Christ as Sovereign King we look at the world through a different lens: the question now is not ‘where does power and authority lie in the world, the nation, the home, the church’, but in all those places where we find ourselves we ask ‘where do find and unveil the love’?



Monday, 21 September 2020

Being Valued & Labouring in the Vineyard

 A sermon preached at Croydon Minster on Sunday 20 September 2020, gospel reading Matthew 20.1-16, 'The Labourers in the Vineyard', a parable of the kingdom of heaven.



Oscar Wilde famously said that the cynic is the person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.


In that outlook everything can be weighed, measured, assessed, priced. There is no room for value, appreciation, delight, joy.


Lockdown showed us that things we value are infinitely more precious than things we can put a price on: being in church, seeing friends, visiting relatives, getting outside. How do you put a price on those things?


Prices change, but value doesn’t.


When many people today talk about ‘worth’ or value they are thinking about the ‘bottom line’, about a person or a company’s bank balance, and not their worth to the Common Good.


According to Forbes ‘Real Time Net Worth’, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, has a net-worth of $115 billion. He himself would say that his real worth, his real value, is what his Foundation is doing to eradicate malaria globally.


But in a priced obsessed world the tech entrepreneurs, the celebrities, the hedge fund managers, the oligarchs must be the most significant because they top the rich lists. They are first, and the poor are last. That is how it is.




Except that Jesus Christ declares that is not just how it is: the priorities of the kingdom of heaven fly in the face of that, he says, ‘so the last will be first and the first will be last’ (Matthew 20.16).


Jesus proclaims a kingdom that is value obsessed. Each person created in the image and likeness of God is of infinite value.


We see this in the parable. The landowner, who is said to be like the kingdom of heaven, rewards the labourers not on price grounds or daily wage but on the value of the presence they have simply by working in the vineyard.


The first worker is as valuable as the last and they are not measured by price. Their value does not lie in a transaction for their labour or even what they have contributed.


And this gets the grumbles going and that is about a perceived injustice based on price, not on value: the grumblers are talking in totally different terms from the landowner, who asks them ‘are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20.15b)




Many people today feel themselves to be of low worth, not quite making it, not valued.


Low personal self-esteem is a blight of our times. But we cannot just generate esteem for ourselves; it is a vicious cycle and people feel increasingly worthless the more they are told they should value themselves.


But we gain self-esteem when we are held in esteem by others and when they show it. We receive esteem when we are valued and held to be precious, not when a price or measure is put upon us.


In God’s eyes human value and worth cannot be priced and go up and down. For love of us God prices nothing yet spends everything. As St Paul says to those entrusted with the care of the Church: ‘Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained [or ‘purchased’ Greek periepoiēsato] with the blood of his own Son.’




So the parable tells us we are of infinite value to God, who is the source of our life and our esteem. God’s love for you is unlimited, as seen in Christ’s death on the cross. Other people’s opinions, perceived judgements or what we think they think of us, wither away in relation to how we stand before God.


The grumblers are those who measure people by price and time, who say they don’t merit what they have received; the landowner, the kingdom of God, is generous in valuing each one irrespective of when they ‘turn up’.



The Church – established on the Apostles - is Christ’s chosen foretaste of the coming kingdom of heaven and is the crucible in which men, women and children endeavour, by God’s grace, to forge out the life of that kingdom. So it is all the more important for the Church to be a place of value not of price.


That means we seek to shape a culture of abundance and not a culture of scarcity: so that we rejoice in what we have and do not bemoan what we do not have.


This task begins in the human heart and spills out into our corporate life too.


A culture of scarcity is a culture that penny pinches and puts prices on things and people; a culture of abundance values, cherishes, treasures people upon whom no price can be placed.


‘Are you envious because I am generous?’, asks the landowner, the kingdom of Heaven. In fostering a culture of abundance, like the kingdom of heaven, let us make it our business to esteem and value others as God does, to invite them into labouring in the vineyard of God and may we be generous in valuing them such that our hospitality is boundless.