Friday, April 18, 2014


Matthew 21:1-13
21 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
 and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[e] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

What I'm about to say is a sad reflection on the churches I attended earlier in my Christian life. But I have to confess that I reached my fifties - even completing my training as a Lay Minister - without having more than a vague idea of what Palm Sunday is really  about.

I knew the Bible story, of course: Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the crowds scattering palm fronds along the road and shouting 'Hosanna'. And I knew that by coming Jerusalem he was effectively sealing his own fate. But I never had a chance to think about what those events really meant for Jesus, for the Church, and for me.

Part of the problem was that the churches I went to wanted to safeguard a very supernatural view of OT prophecy. When we read a prophecy like Zechariah’s…

Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King comes unto you: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon a donkey…

...we wanted to be swept off our feet by its accuracy as a prediction of the future. We were closed to the idea that Jesus might have been savvy enough to read the OT for himself and deliberately model his actions on them – and in the process we closed our ears to the message Jesus wanted people to hear.
Prophecy is certainly God-breathed, but its relationship to Jesus' earthly ministry was nonetheless bi-directional in nature. In other words, the Old Testament prophets were inspired to reveal something of how God's plan would unfold. But when Jesus came he understood the old writings in a unique way, and he modelled his teaching and actions on them. And what becomes clear when we look at Jesus’ words and actions is the astonishing clarity, and  the penetrating wit and intelligence, with which he communicated his agenda—by drawing on the stories and symbols and imagery in which his Hebrew listeners had been immersed since birth.

And what is startlingly clear from the story of the 'triumphal entry' to Jerusalem is that Jesus was setting up a crisis in the lives of all who saw and heard him – especially the self-styled men in authority.

First, everyone would have recognised the message wrapped up in the donkey procession: Jesus was declaring himself as a scriptural king, entering to take possession of the city that was his by right. It was a brilliant, subversive statement about the illegitimacy of the political and religious elite who governed the holy city.

But then, what was his first action after the triumphal entry? No one could fail to grasp the point of his physical and verbal assault on the corrupt Temple establishment. The overturning of the tables is an integral part of the Palm Sunday story. It’s almost always left out of our seasonal pattern of readings. But to separate the two halves of the story is to miss the meaning of the whole narrative.

Jesus is presenting the leaders and people with a stark two-way choice: Accept me or kill me. And in that ultra-sensitive political environment, we can be sure there was no third alternative. In short, he was challenging the political and religious establishment head-on. And as I’m sure he expected, the authorities clung to their rarefied, privileged status. They inevitably took what seemed the easy way out and sought his death.

In so doing, they sidelined themselves from God’s plan for humanity. But unwittingly, they also aided and abetted Jesus’ master plan. For in the years following his death, we see the Temple itself – the supreme pre-Christian symbol of God’s presence in the world – become an irrelevance. The vessel for God’s presence on earth is no longer to be seen as a building of wood, metal and stone, but a living body: initially Jesus’ own, then after Pentecost the entire spirit-filled people of Christ.
Stepping forward two thousand years to the present day, Jesus presents the world with the same two-way choice.  In five days’ time, on Good Friday, we mournfully reflect on the consequence for Jesus: his agonising death on the Cross. Then, two days later, we celebrate the victory and vindication of those who made and who continue to make the right choice – accepting Jesus as king and joining him in his exaltation to eternal life. 

And the deep message of Palm Sunday is a challenge to accept him as king. For let us make no mistake, the choice confronting the world now is as stark as that which faced the people of Jesus’ own time. Now, as then, he comes to us as our rightful king, and no less a king for all that he presents himself in humility. And the choice is the same: to accept him as king, or to be accessories in his unjust suffering and death.

This year, as every year, we’re likely to see new faces in church over Easter. For some of those new faces, this will be a one-off event; others may start to come regularly. And all will receive a warm welcome. But let us not forget what is going on in the lives of these visitors. They are being brought to a place in their lives where the road ahead of them divides. There is no third way ahead: they are faced with a choice of accepting the rule of Christ or rejecting him.

Of course, everyone travels at their own pace, and some who walk away from Jesus this year may embrace him next year or next decade. But let us think solemnly of the crisis of identity that looms over everyone of those visitors. And let us commit ourselves to two goals:

1.          To reaffirm our own acceptance of Christ as Lord and King.

2.          To live up to his teaching, so that no one hovering on the brink of turning to Christ may be put off at the last minute by our un-Christ-like behaviour.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


I’m hiding something in my pocket as a visual aid for what I have to say. It’s only small, and you may find it rather surprising, but it’s particularly apt for today: the twelfth and final day of Christmas and the Eve of Epiphany. Epiphany, remember, is when we remember the Three Wise Men and their gifts, and when we celebrate the truth that Jesus is God in human form.

I'll reveal my secret object in a minute or two, but first let me run through three things that you may wrongly be expecting me to bring out.

Firstly, I won’t be holding up a lump of gold. Of course, that would have been a great visual aid. Gold was and still is the gift of kings. And when the Wise Men held out their gift of gold to Baby Jesus, they were saying something very special: “However tiny you are, and however wrong a place this filthy stable is for you to be, you are a true king, and you are worthy to receive this gift of kings.”

Second, I’m not carrying any myrrh. That too would have been a brilliant visual aid and a fragrant one as well. Myrrh is an aromatic potion that was used to prevent the spread of infection and mask the smell of death and decay. And by presenting Jesus with myrrh they were symbolically anointing him for death and burial.

And finally, it’s not frankincense. That would have been another great visual aid, because for thousands of years and in many different cultures across the globe, incense has been the traditional offering to a deity. And in presenting the infant king with such a gift, the Wise Men were saying, “You are are not just a king; you are God himself come to earth in human form.”

So, if it’s not gold, myrrh or frankincense, what have I got in my pockitses? Well, today we do celebrate the visit of the Wise Men. And tomorrow is Epiphany, when we celebrate the central truth of Christmas – the truth to which their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh bear witness: the truth that Jesus is God come to earth to live and die as one of us. But the real message comes down to this: The party’s over. It’s time to take down the decorations, vacuum up the pine needles, consign the turkey leftovers to the freezer or better still the dustbin, and let the Baby Jesus grow up into a man. And here at last is the little epiphany – the word means revelation – that I promised earlier 

Speaker holds up a chocolate egg (I bought 15 Cadbury's Crème Eggs from the supermarket at 3 for £1).

A friend of mine has been complaining bitterly that Easter eggs are already in some of the shops. Actually, I think that’s quite helpful symbolism. Of course, there’s nothing exclusively Christian about chocolate eggs, but they do symbolise new life. And they do help us remember that once Christmas is over, Easter is (theologically as well as on the calendar) just around the corner. And as Christmas makes way for Epiphany, this is the point where we have to leave our mental pictures of Baby Jesus behind and focus afresh on the grown-up God-Man who died to bring us new life.

There are enough of these in a bowl at the back for each of the children to take one, and perhaps a few left over for grown-ups. And as you eat them, please remember the truth they represent: that the Christmas story ends with Easter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


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This year, for the first time in many years, Kate and I have had the joy of taking a toddler out shopping in the run-up to Christmas. And mostly it really has been a joy – there’s nothing in the world quite as photogenic as a two year old with her eyes wide with fascination at all the festive shapes and colours and lights of a shopping mall in full seasonal swing. On the other hand, it’s not so nice seeing their excitement and expectations manipulated to fever pitch when Christmas is still two months away. It makes for a very long autumn!

At last, thankfully, we’ve arrived at the First Sunday of Advent. That doesn’t help to offset the sheer tackiness of the commercial build up to Christmas - indeed to our granddaughter it's mostly about opening the windows on her chocolate Advent calendar. But, let me hasten to add, her calendar has a Nativity theme - not Santa Claus, not Walt Disney, not The Simpsons, but Jesus. And the start of Advent does give us as Christians the moment to assert some kind of ownership of the season: To visibly and publicly prepare for our own Christmas, and to remind the world that Jesus is the Reason for the Season. Jesus, not Santa Claus, not Walt Disney, not Coca-Cola or John Lewis, not the winter solstice, and certainly not the corporate profit and loss account.

So, Advent has officially begun. But what does that mean for us? By the time I’d been a regular churchgoer for a few months, Christmas and Easter and Pentecost and even Lent all meant something to me. But it was years before I cottoned on to the meaning of Advent. Of course I knew it was a time of looking forward to Christmas, but it’s also a time of looking backward. In fact, if we really want to get the full flavour of Advent we have to do one of those double-takes so beloved of cartoon artists: Forward-Backward-Forward is how it goes. Confused? Let me enlarge on that.

The obvious starting point is that we’re looking forward to Christmas. And today, with or without the aid of a chocolate Advent calendar, we start the countdown: 24 days during which we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus – the stupendous event in which the infinite and eternal God broke into our space-time universe.  And Christmas certainly needs preparation.  Firstly, practical preparation. Nobody has found this an easy year financially, but most of us will do what we can to decorate our homes and churches and work places, to send greetings and possibly buy gifts, and maybe to turn up our socializing a notch or two. So a lot of physical preparation is called for. But Christmas also requires spiritual preparation.  That’s a dimension that can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle, but for Christians the build-up to Christmas has always been about spiritual growth.  It’s a time to repent of our past offences and commit ourselves afresh to living as though God really was about to come into our world for the first time.

So the first thing we do in Advent is to look forward to each Christmas and make preparations. But we also have to look backwards – not just to the events of that first Christmas 20 centuries ago, but to the centuries of Jewish dealings with God that led up to it. How can we grasp the life-changing, world-changing impact of Christ’s birth if we don’t reflect on what it meant to his contemporaries? And so, over the next few Sundays we’ll be looking again at the ancient teachings, especially the majestic Old Testament prophecies that foretell and explain the coming of the Messiah. One such passage is the reading from Isaiah we heard earlier (Isaiah 2:1-5). It looks forward to a time scarcely imaginable to the pre-Christian world: where God will once again be present on earth. In that day, his Law and his glory will be revealed not just to a single chosen people but to all the world, and all the world will experience a new era of peace and goodwill to all humanity under the Messiah’s banner.

Sadly though, when we look around the world we don’t see the reign of peace of goodwill. Rather, we see a world characterised by conflict, suffering and greed. And so, it’s not enough to look forward to Christmas, or back to the Nativity and the glorious promises in Scripture. We have to look forward again, not just to next Christmas or to Christmasses future, but to the time known only to the God the Father at which Christ will be sent back into the world to put it right.  And fittingly, Advent has always been a time for thinking about the Second Coming of Christ.

Bible passages about the Second Coming are invariably difficult - full of dense symbolism, and I’m not going to fall into the trap of trying to unpack them in detail. However, I can make two brief points with confidence:

Firstly, the Bible makes clear when Jesus comes again, it will be utterly unexpected – so unexpected that not even Jesus knows when it will happen. And to convey just how unexpected and shocking it will be, he uses some vivid and slightly unsettling illustrations. For example, people don’t expect their houses to be broken into. We normally lock up at night, of course, and most of us insure our possessions, because we don’t take our security for granted. But an actual burglary always comes as a surprise and a shock to the victims. And in our Gospel reading this morning (Matthew 24: 36-44), Jesus says that when he comes again it will be as unexpected and shocking as a thief in the night.

And here’s another thing we can be sure of about the Second Coming: it represents a challenge to the way we live out our faith here and now. Two thousand years ago, Jesus came for the first time, inaugurated a new heavenly kingdom on earth and empowered the Church to carry on his work. We’ve had two thousand years in which to build on the foundations he laid, and in spite of some key advances the world is still a mess. Perhaps we have another two thousand years, or for all we know Christ could come again any day now. And he has promised that he will come not as a vulnerable infant but as a conquering king, to eliminate conflict and suffering from the world and establish his kingly rule forever.

When Christ comes again, whether it’s not for five thousand years or whether it’s tonight, what will he find? All our work will be seen for what it is. How much of it will prove good enough for him to build on? How much will be blown away like chaff?

And so, at Advent we look forward and backward and forward again. We reflect on our past successes and failures, both as individuals and as the church. We look forward to tasting again at Christmas something of the joy and excitement of Christ’s first coming. And we commit ourselves once again to pushing out the boundaries of his kingdom in the light of the glory that will be fully revealed only when he comes again.

As Christmas draws ever nearer, may the excitement and the joy and the peace and the challenge of the season fill our hearts, and may we commit ourselves afresh to doing Christ’s work in the challenging months ahead.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


(Ephesians 1: 11-23)

I wonder how many people here know that Thursday this week (31st October) was Reformation Day. It’s not called that in the Church of England calendar. It’s officially the festival of Martin Luther – the German monk whose protests against the Church of Rome in the 16th century sparked off the Protestant movement. But in the Protestant churches of continental Europe and the USA, Reformation Day is a major event, and in parts of America it offers a lively alternative to the big secular spookfest that is Halloween.

Here in the Church of England (and Chichester Diocese in particular) the historical Reformation (with a capital R) has not been seen as quite such an unalloyed blessing. But Anglicans of every persuasion can join together in celebrating the theme of reformation and renewal as ongoing processes in the church and in individual lives. It’s a time to think about the changes God is able to bring about in us through the Gospel and inner work of the Holy Spirit.

This reflection on inner transformation is timely, because it helps prepare us for the deeper meditations of All Saints and All Souls that we have been observing since the beginning of November. Firstly, this is a time when the worldwide church thinks about itself and its place in history. Some find it helpful to meditate on the difference between the church as we see it (sometimes referred to as the Church Militant) - struggling with persecution, apathy and its own internal human failings - and the church as God sees it: the triumphant and resplendent bride of Christ. But more importantly for us here today, the conjoined festivals of All Saints and All Souls provide an opportunity to bring those loved ones who are no longer with us reverently, affectionately and prayerfully to mind.

When St. Paul wrote to reassure and encourage the Christian community he had planted in Ephesus, he addressed both aspects - the struggling church and the problem of human suffering and loss. There’s not time to go through this morning’s entire reading from the letter to the Ephesians, but we can look at the centrepiece of Paul’s exhortation: the concise and eloquent prayer in which he asks God to give his people a deeper understanding of just what they have inherited as members of the Church of Jesus Christ:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know (1) the hope to which he has called you, (2) the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and (3) his incomparably great power for us who believe.” There are three things there that Paul prays for God to implant firmly in people’s minds. Let’s look at each of them in turn and apply them to our own situation.

Firstly, Paul wants us to know the hope to which God has called us. Now "hope" may sound a bit wishy-washy, but that’s just the way we tend to use the word in modern English - for a vague wish that is probably going to end in disappointment: "I hope it doesn’t rain at the weekend," or "I hope your Auntie Mabel isn’t coming for Christmas dinner again." But the word the Bible writers use indicates something quite different: When they talk about hope, they mean a confident expectation based on past experience. And in the case of God, past experience shows that he is unfailingly faithful to his promises in Scripture. God never promises that we will not suffer tragedy or loss, and when it happens, he never promises that it won’t hurt. On the contrary, God himself in the person of Jesus weeps when confronted with the death of his friend Lazarus. And yet God does promise comfort. He does promise that we will eventually come to discern and rejoice in his wisdom. Above all, he promises that all things will work together for good in the lives of those who trust him; he promises that good can ultimately come of tragedy, even as it did for humanity in the aftermath of Jesus’ own suffering and death. So, in summary, Paul wants us to know the confident hope to which God has called us.

Secondly, Paul wants us to know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in us, his holy people. Getting to grips with their inheritance was crucial for the Ephesian Christians he was writing to, because so many of them were Gentiles who had come into the Church with no awareness of the hundreds of years of God’s gracious dealings with the nation of Israel before them. Put simply, they didn’t know God’s track record: all the love he’d shown to his people, the crises he’d faithfully brought them through. And we too, regularly, blind ourselves to God’s track record by ignoring our inheritance as the church. It’s easy to miss the relevance of Christian art, music and  writing to our modern lives. But if we do set aside all that: the stories of saints and martyrs, the poetry and paintings, the music, the philosophical and devotional writings - we cut ourselves off from the testimony our ancestors have left behind to the saving and live-giving activity of God down through the ages. By ignoring the riches of this glorious inheritance, we impoverish and weaken ourselves when it comes to dealing with adversity and loss. But to look on the positive side, we need do no more than scratch the surface of that inheritance to find overwhelming evidence of God’s faithfulness in transforming the direst of situations.

Thirdly and finally, having reminded us of the hope to which we’ve been called and the riches of our inheritance, Paul wants us to know God’s incomparably great power for us who believe. And he goes on to characterise and give the measure of that power. Imagine, he says, the kind of awesome power it took to raise the crucified Jesus from the dead and seat him in Lordship over the universe. That, he says, is the same power God exerts in the lives of those who believe: to renew them, give them new life, reconstruct them when life’s adversity has left them feeling destroyed. If the horrific suffering and death of Jesus - the very creator of the universe - can be the gateway to new life and hope, is there any situation imaginable that can’t be rescued from despair by the working of that same resurrection power?

In conclusion, while nothing can assuage the grief of those who have lost a loved one, we in the worldwide Christian family have this season of reflection every autumn. We try to turn our backs on the cheap, commercial flurry of monster costumes and fireworks, and to focus on the real meaning of death and loss and hope and new life. We give thanks for those we have loved and see no more. We meditate on the hope to which God has called us. We embrace the God’s promises in Scripture and the astonishing faithfulness to which the cultural inheritance of the church bears witness. And we await the reworking in our own lives of the mighty resurrection power that brought Jesus back from the dead to place him in sovereignty over the universe that was created through him. 

This afternoon at 4.00pm, there will be a service here in church at which we remember our departed loved ones by name, and we hope many will come to share the celebration of their memory. But in the meantime, whether you are still grieving the loss of loved ones, or are now at a stage where you can give thanks with peace in your heart for all they meant to you, you can be assured that across the world right at this moment there are millions of Christians standing alongside you in prayer….   

Let’s bow our heads in a prayer of our own….

Saturday, October 19, 2013

THE PUSHY NEIGHBOUR (drama sketch)


 - Narrator (in pulpit)
 - The Father (Zack. Could also be mother, e.g. Rebecca, depending on gender of actor)
 - The Neighbour (David, speaks from offstage. An Eric Idle type, wheedling and a bit nerdy)
 - Several children (mostly non-speaking extras, names intercheangeable)

 - Sleeping bags or duvets on the floor beside the organ or other obstruction.

Scene: A tiny one-bedroom flat. Sleeping bags litter the floor.

Enter the Father, visibly weary as he gently ushers in a number of children. As the Narrator sets the scene, they make their way to the bedding, where the Father starts getting the children into bed.

Narrator:         It is midnight in Zack’s tiny one-bedroom flat, and he and his children are very, very tired. It’s a hard life for a single Dad. He’s been at work all day and half the night, earning money to feed them. And he’s already had a rocket from the child-minder for picking them up so late.

Narrator sinks down into the pulpit. (An older or less flexible person could alternatively turn 180 degrees so that his/her back is to the congregation.)

Father:            [Tiredly] Come on all of you. No, nothing more to eat, Joshua, it’s bedtime now. No, you’ve had a drink, Mary. Oh, Daniel, do you really have to? Go on then, but be very quick.

One of the children goes round the corner for a few seconds while Father gets the rest settled and lies down himself on the inside, right against the organ. The child returns and gets into bed on the outermost side.

Father:            Did you remember to wash your hands… Well done. Be sure to switch the light out. Night night everybody. Sweet dreams. [Children can optionally reply.]

There is silence for a few seconds. Then there is a loud knock on the door. Nobody reacts, and after a few more seconds the knock is repeated. When there is still no answer, the Neighbour shouts out.

Neighbour:      Come on Zachary, I know you’re at home; I saw you come in [Pause]. It’s me, David. You know, your friend from next door [Pause]. Look, I need a favour.

Father:            [In a loud stage whisper] What do you want, David? Look, it’s way after midnight. Why don’t you come back in the morning?

Neighbour:      It’s no good, I can’t wait till morning. I need something now! Go on, mate, it won’t take a minute.

Father:            Come on David, be reasonable. I’ve only just got the children to sleep. You’re going to wake them up in a minute!

A Child:            [Wailing, half asleep] D-a-a-ddy?!

Father:             [To child] Shhhh. It’s OK, Danny, go back to sleep.

Neighbour:      Zachary, are you still there? I need something. My brother’s turned up after a long journey, and I haven’t got any food in the house.

Father:            For goodness sake, keep your voice down. If you pop round first thing in the morning I’ve got some bread and stew you can have. But we’re in bed and I’m trapped on the inside. I couldn’t get up even if I wanted to.

Neighbour:      He hasn’t had anything to eat all day. He’s feeling faint from hunger. Please help us. You’re my only friend in the street.

Father:            [Coming to a decision and getting up onto his knees] No surprises there, if this is how your friends get treated. But I guess you’re not going to be quiet and let me get to sleep until I’ve sorted you out.

Father begins to pick his way over the children, who begin to stir and sit up and ask questions.

Narrator:         [Drily, after popping up in the pulpit] And so, not for the sake of friendship, but simply to shut the pushy neighbour up and get his family back to sleep, Zack gives in and goes to the door.

All freeze for a few moments, then exeunt.

Sketch to be followed with Bible reading and a brief explanatory talk.



·         - The Judge
·         - The Woman
·         - The Clerk of the Court
·         - Two guards (non-speaking)

Table, chair, carafe, glass, black robe, wig, gavel, whip.


Scene: A courtroom. Table up on chancel steps. A chair behind it facing the congregation. On the table, a flask of water, a glass and a gavel.

Clerk:               All be upstanding for the Judge… etc.

Clerk runs up and down aisle as necessary, continuing to instruct everyone to stand and making sure everyone does so.

Enter Judge at rear of church. He makes his way to the front with a swagger. Sits down on the chair and raps the gavel.

Judge:              Be seated. The Court is now in session.

Waits for everyone to sit, pours a glass of water, takes a swig direct from the carafe, burps loudly, then jadedly sweeps his eyes over the congregation.

Judge:             (Condescendingly) Ah, the usual scruffy rabble, I see. What’s it going to be today? (Imitates whiny voice of a supplicant) “Please, your Honour, me neighbour won’t cut his hedge.” And “Please, your Honour, the…”

Judge is interrupted by a woman shouting from the back row:

Woman:           Please, your Honour, me Landlord’s stolen me goat. I’m just a poor…

Judge cuts her off with a rap of his gavel.

Judge:             Silence in court! So, what have we got on the agenda today?

Woman:          I tell you ‘e’s taken me goat. I’m just a poor widow…

Judge:            (Raps gavel) Silence in court! I won’t warn you again, Madam. (Clearly irritated by now) Can we have the first case, please! Some time before Christmas would be good if you can manage it!

Guards drag someone out of the congregation and frog-march them up to the front… this should be improvised based on those present. The following exchange is just an example.

Clerk:            Your Honour, this [man] was seen during the hours of daylight [wearing an offensive waistcoat calculated to induce eye-strain and nausea on the part of innocent bystanders. It is further alleged that he did....
                       .....occasioning emotional trauma to some of those present].

Judge:          Have you anything to say before sentence is passed? (Leaving no time for an answer) No, I guessed not. (To guards) Take him away and flog him.]

Guards hustle the accused away. Judge picks up the glass and takes a swig, then looks at the contents with disgust.

Judge:           Isn’t there anything stronger in the cupboard?...No?...Hmm, pity! What next?

Woman:        (Still shouting from the back) I was just a week behind with me rent, an’ ‘e took me goat. And now I’ve paid up…

Judge:           (Bangs gavel) Guards, remove that woman from the Court.

Guards go and firmly escort the woman out to the porch. All the time she is protesting:

Woman:        It’s not fair… I demand justice… He took me goat. I’ve paid him now, but he  won’t give it back. And I’m just a poor widow…

The door is shut firmly, and she is cut off. The judge mops his brow with a handkerchief, takes another swig of water and looks scornfully at the contents.

Judge:          Clerk to the Court, are you sure there isn’t anything a little stronger? (Pause) No?... Guards! Take him away and flog him!

The guards frog-march the Clerk away.

Woman:          (Bursting in at the back and shouting) I saw that! What kind of judge are you? You’re supposed to care about justice. I….

Judge:             (Bangs gavel). Silence, woman! Approach the bench. (She does so, and stands with her head bowed at the foot of the steps with her back to the congregation) Justice? Don’t talk to me about justice. My job is to keep the peace, not to worry about what people like you think is fair or unfair. For two pins I’d have you taken out and flogged as well. But I’m sure you’d soon be back shouting the house down. And you’re giving me a headache already. Guards!... Guards!...

After a moment, one of the guards comes running, still carrying a whip.

Judge:              Guard! Go with this woman and find her landlord. Get her goat back. And give him a flogging for the sake of the headache she’s given me. (Bangs gavel. Picks up the carafe and waves it at the congregation) The Court is in recess while I go and find something a little stronger.


To be followed with a reading of the Bible passage and an explanatory talk.