Monday, 11 March 2019

Jodie, The Colour Purple and the Protection of God

They dyed their hair purple and hung purple ribbons around the area using her favourite colour. Her peers instead of a minute’s silence had a minute of applause. Closer to our home, some built a circle of stones - the traditional tracking symbol for a Scout to know that someone being tracked has gone home, but also the traditional Scouting way of remembering one of their own who has died. All of this done to remember Jodie Chesney, who was stabbed to death in Romford - the fifth teenager to die in the capital this year. How can this be?

Calls to build a wall continue to spout from the office of the president in the White House whilst concerns, ramped up by certain sections of the British press continue to ask popular but unpalatable questions about immigration, crime and employment.

Despite all the political wooing of North Korea in recent months, there seems to be renewed construction underway at a rocket launch site, amid mounting fears of an imminent ICBM test.

All of these questions of safety and security, of national identity, of ethnicity and cultural heritage, are all in the mind of the community that the Psalmist was part of. Midrash tradition says that Psalm 91 was written by Moses on the day that the tabernacle for the ark of the covenant was completed and was recited by him as he made his way up Mount Saini to protect him from angels of destruction. The psalm is said today in the Jewish community before sleep and during the burial of the dead.

It is known as the Soldiers Psalm or Prayer and bandanas or badges with it imprinted are often given to US troops and verses of this psalm are quoted by the devil to Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading as Jesus deals with temptation.

In the face of personal, national and international fear and uncertainty, in a time when we might want to be lifted out of a situation that it out of our control; when we wish we could escape a scenario that is not of our making or that is not going our way; when we fear for our lives or the lives of those we love; the opening verses of the psalm present us with an image not of a mother hen and with us her chicks nestled beneath her, but of  God as the Almighty, as a fortress or refuge. God like a massive bird of prey, powerful and yet intimate images of protection. God’s angelic wings will be a sure protection in the face of all attack. No evil will affect us or even come close to the places where we dwell but not just us, but all those who dwell with us in our tent. God will protect families and communities.

If these words were said by Moses as he climbed the mountain and recited by the people of Israel as they pilgrimaged through the wilderness, these were words said by a people on the move. So when the devil quotes verses 11 and 12, ‘... For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone…’ to Jesus he was meaning that God will surely protect Jesus if He jumped, but the original context was about avoiding the rocks and stones that littered the desert as the people walked. God has such a close eye on us that He won’t let us stumble on a stone, He will not let us trip and if something blocks our way - he will bear us up, lifting us up over it. The psalmist acknowledges that things will block our way, that our path through life will not always be easy, sometimes the road will be hard and dangerous. It doesn’t say that God will make the road of life smooth for the faithful. Bad and difficult things will come, but we encounter them with His protection. In those situations, if we call to God, He will answer, He will protect, He will deliver.

But, notice that the psalm is not a litmus test of faith. Being able to tread on adders, lions and serpents is not a sign of God’s favour. Sometimes we will step on an adder as it were, a lion will leap out at us unprepared - tragedy and danger will come even to those who love God. But, God is there. Talk of long life is, therefore, is not about avoiding tragic death because of our faith,  rather it is a metaphor for God’s blessing, of his favour, of His presence and love.

God says he will do all of this for those who love Him and for their communities. These words, therefore, are very contemporary and ones of all-encompassing hope to the tense streets of our capital, to communities frightened about their identity because of the presence of others, but also to those of us concerned about what a nationalist politics might bring to the international stage or how we might walk forward when confronted by personal tragedy or illness and to all of us who keep this holy season as a time dedicated to deepening our love of the One who watches over us: keep walking; keep loving and trusting God. He is there.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

We've gone purple!

The site's colouring has gone purple as we are now in the season of Advent. Purple is both a royal and a penetential colour reminding of the twin focusses of the season.

Full details of our Christmas services have been added on a tab of there own but here they are together.

Looking ahead to January, our next 'Big Think' is on 13th, when we welcome Gavin Shuker MP to share with us how his faith affects and influences his political decision making. Poster below.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Some upcoming events and services - December

As we make our way into December and the Advent season there are some special services and events that we'd love to welcome you to join us at:

The next 'Big Think is on 9th December. This is the third of these new evening gatherings which have been a chance to have our thinking stretched.

We are holding Christingle services both before and after Christmas, full details below. If you want to find out more about what Christingle is then click here.

We are also holding a couple of seasonal community events - both of which are important fun(d)raisers! Come and join us!

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Many Opportunities This Autumn!

There are some really exciting things beginning in the Autumn across the parish!  Some of those have already been added to the site.

If you would like to know more about Christianity or seek to grow in faith the Pilgrim Course and The Big Think start in October - see the new tabs on the site for some more details. It would be great to see you!

As we move into the Autumn, we will ready ourselves for Harvest - details of what we are doing and when can be found on the Harvest Thanksgiving tab, but we will be financially supporting the 'Give Peas A Chance' Appeal this year and there are more details there.

Before all of that, marking the start of the academic year we invite school children and their families to come to church with their school bags, pencil cases and indeed brief cases and have them blessed. There are three occasions when we will do this and in so doing, ask God to be with us as we work and study together.

Usually once a quarter the gents of the parish get together for a curry and a beer. If you'd like to join us, please contact the parish office!

Monday, 18 June 2018

Lunch and Fun!

Why not join us for a Bring and Share lunch and an afternoon of games (weather permitting!), conversion and fun!

It would be wonderful to see you! Details on the poster below.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

People Are Not Things And Other Sabbath Infrigements

The text, (after a fashion) of what I preached based on Mark 2:23-3:6)...


I remember hearing on the radio once a report about an Orthodox Jewish couple, who were suing their neighbours because they were effectively housebound for 25 hours once a week, as the automatic lights that come on when they opened the door to their apartment, infringe Sabbath laws. Surely this is the sort of simple dispute that could and should be rectified through talking...

The passage we hear as this morning’s Gospel is immediately proceed by the story of the healing of the paralysed man and a question about the keeping of the tradition of fasting raised by John the Baptist’s disciples. But today’s passage whilst, touching on similar issues (healing and the keeping of the law) also raises some important questions about how we use time.

We tell ourselves we are busier than ever - the average working week is 43.6 hours, with one in twenty five (largely men) working over 60 hours. Saturday is full for those with children of sporting activities and other pastimes and Sunday therefore is very often the only day a family will actually get together. We are constantly available with email pouring in on our phones, which sit charging by our beds, and we feel guilty if we’ve not sent that last email at 11pm. We have created and perpetuate a culture that says we are constantly available and it’s making us ill - 12.5 million work days were lost to stress related illness last year. Yet we also believe we deserve what our parents and grandparents never had and were only ever the most extravagant luxuries anyway - we travel further on more holidays than ever before: over 20 years we have taken double the number of foreign holidays - and we work harder to pay for them. And so the cycle continues but very often only with the help of grandparents doing childcare in their supposedly work-free retirement years… There are still only 24 hours in a day and usually 5 days in a working week…

Then [Jesus] said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath… The Sabbath has been key to Jewish life and worship for generations. The idea that we need, or our own psychological and emotional well being, some down time, lack of activity, some rest, makes common never mind religious sense and Sabbath observance goes back into the earliest days of Judaism in the creation stories where God ‘rested’ and enjoyed creation on the seventh day. The Talmud (the teaching documents that Jews use to help interpret the Old Testament law) then lays out 39 different forms of work that can’t be done on the Sabbath - this includes reaping. But is plucking heads of grain really reaping? The pharisees seem to think so, so Jesus tells this story about David and his companions eating the bread of the presence to ask a question of the Pharisees - you know what Scripture says, but do you understand it? Of course the Pharisees, who were schooled in the scripture and interpretation of the law will have known that particular story of David, but what is missed here, perhaps by us, is that they were allowed to eat the bread because the High Priest determined that they were holy. How far do you take a literal interpretation of the Law, Jesus asks?

There is no prohibition to healing on the Sabbath in the Old testament or  the Talmud. The nearest equivalent would be a refraining from ‘putting the finishing touches to an object’ or ‘untying an animal’ but this would degrade the disabled man into a thing - and maybe that’s what Jesus is both angry and grieving about - the Pharisees neither saw this man as someone who’s life would be transformed by this healing and seeing him restored to his family, nor did they see the healing as an act of worship, instead they only saw Jesus ‘working’ and the man as bait for a trap.

Today’s Gospel reading contains depictions of what happens when someone is so bent on keeping the particularity of the law that they are willing to overlook the sheer joy of a healing and restoration. They are compelling depictions of what it means to focus on the exactitude of the letter and to miss the spirit of the law entirely. They are compelling depictions of why “the law” could either be a life-giving source of joy and instruction or a life-demeaning source of judgment and an onerous burden.

But maybe there’s something else going on for us. The Pharisees saw this disabled man as a thing.  How often do we see someone else as a thing? In this case as bait for a trap, instead of fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God and loved by Him? How often do we dehumanise another person as a ‘thing’ as we mumble something under our breath in the queue in the supermarket or as someone cuts into our stopping distance on the motorway?

How often do we quickly criticise someone for what they are doing or not doing - thinking we are in the right after making snap judgements - when all we see is a struggling parent with a boisterous child, an out of work twentysomething standing at the bus stop, someone who has come to our nation seeking work and a better life.  Jesus reminds us with his referencing of the story of David and his companions that there is always a back story to every situation.

It seems to me friends that ultimately the whole of the Law in the Old Testament and supremely Sabbath observance is about living in a way that sees God as a reality in the world, and therefore Jesus being Lord in every situation. The Sabbath in that sense is not a specific day as such, but time, to see a situation or someone or a relationship as God does - as loved, as restored, as renewed - and to go out of our way to make that live - to call someone, to seek forgiveness, to practically help, to affirm someone’s work. But also, in a culture that tells itself how busy it is, to intentionally frame some time in our day our week to stop, to slow, to take in our world and all that is, to enjoy to rest, to be made new.

A Koru in our Parish

A Koru - in Maori culture it symbolises new growth and fresh starts.By Jon Radoff - Own work, CC BY 2.5,
The day is nearly upon us! By the time you read this Sam will have moved in to St Thomas’ House and the days leading to his Ordination are getting fewer. For Sam, I am sure there are a mix of emotions, but maybe for us too. How will it all be?

Just to remind you, Sam will be made Deacon in St Albans Abbey at 11.15am on 1st July. I hope that many of us from across the parish will want to go to both support and welcome Sam as he begins ministry amongst us, and as this chapter that God is writing with us, opens. If you would like to travel to the service on the coach, please sign up on the sheets in each church building.

Sam’s arrival is a source of joy, not least of all for me, but please remember that he does not come as an ‘extra pair of hands’ to ‘help the Vicar’ but to be trained in parish ministry having completed his theological education. This training is the main reason that he is with us and all of us have a part to play in that as he learns the basics of what it means to serve in a parish - baptising infants, burying the dead, visiting the sick and housebound and over time learning how to preach and make known the love of God in Christ.

To enable as many of us to go to the Abbey for the Ordination, there will be no services in the parish on the morning of 1st July but in the evening we will hold a Parish Eucharist at St Peter’s at 6.30pm where Sam will Deacon for the first time, be welcomed and read his license. This will give many of us the chance to rejoice with Sam in worship, and the service will be followed by a reception in the parish hall. Again I am sure that many of you will want to be at that service if you are able to.

In the weeks to come you will notice that the liturgical colour in our church buildings is green. This is because we are entering what the Church of England unimaginatively calls ‘Ordinary time.’ As Sam begins ministry amongst us, I hope you will agree that, as this new chapter opens, no time with God is ordinary - in fact Scripture tells us that when people spend any sort of time with God, things are generally pretty extraordinary!

At this stage the most important thing that each of us can do is to pray and the church calls us to specially in the days leading up to the Feast of St Peter when women and men are ordained to serve the church. These are known as ember days (an interesting article can be read here) from the Anglo Saxon ymbren meaning cycle or season.

Please do pray for Sam in these days. Please pray for Maggie, Helen, Paul, Anne and me. Please pray for each other as this new season begins. That God would do some extraordinary things in our day too.

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.