Monday, 2 December 2013

I remember going round a local shopping centre a couple of years back. The tinsel was out, the fake Christmas trees were up. Spray snow adorned shop windows. On advertising boards was the slogan:

love life. love gifts. love christmas.
love life. love style. love christmas.
Christmas, it’s in the bag.

It got me thinking - when does Christmas start?

For our department stores it seems to get earlier each year - this year I started to see ‘Christmas stuff’ out on shelves and the off Christmas tune being played in the late Summer. We start to see Christmas ads on the TV in mid Autumn.  Our retailers are out of step with their customers, because for many, the season starts on December 1st.

It’s at the beginning of December that the decorations come out of the attic and many start writing cards and family newsletters. Let’s not let the High Street set the pace.

For the Church, our preparations begin on Advent Sunday - this year 1st December. That’s when we light the first candle on the Advent Wreath and when we start to think about Jesus Christ's (from where Christmas get’s it’s name) first coming - His birth in Bethlehem - but also His return.

Advent Sunday marks the start of our preparations for Christmas - a celebration that continues right through December and January until the Feast of Candlemas - at the beginning of February!

Christmas doesn’t start in the Autumn. It isn’t in the bag. It begins and ends with Christ. But many forget that.

According to recent research just 12% of our nation know the Nativity story in any detail and more that one third of our children do not know whose birth we are celebrating. 51% say that the birth of Jesus is not relevant to their Christmas celebrations.

We need to revisit what we are doing on 25th December 2013.  We need to remember that Christmas begins with Christ.

Each one of you are a jigsaw piece that can help make this picture clearer.  Why not take the time and trouble to make sure that your neighbours, family and friends are not some of those statistics above.  Why not invite them to our Advent course looking at the Christmas story afresh or to a Christmas service to help them to get it all into place. So yes, do

love life. love gifts. love christmas.
love life. love style. love christmas.
Christmas, it’s in the bag.

but let’s help each other remember that

Christmas begins with Christ.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

Are we in the end times?  When we hear about natural disasters, like that which has devastated the Philippines in recent days, our minds might be taken back to passages like this morning’s Gospel reading.  I am sure that there will be street corner preachers still who will tell us that if we stop long enough to listen.

Looking more closely at this morning’s Gospel reading, I not sure that’s what Jesus meant.  You see He flatly refuses to answer his disciples questions for clarity and timescales after He refers to a coming time when the Temple will be razed to the ground.

Herod’s newly rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem was the enormously impressive focal point of the religion of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the centre, the Holy of Holies, and so the Temple enshrined the sacred commandments of God and was the place where the presence of God was focused. It was to the Temple in Jerusalem that the pilgrims journeyed for the religious festivals. In post-exilic times, the Temple was presented as the place of true worship of God. In this context it was natural for pilgrims to admire the beauty of the building dedicated to God, and to look for spiritual leadership there. As God was eternal, so was this holy place.

But Jesus’ actions in cleansing the Temple (19.45-46) had challenged the power of the temple authorities. He had had arguments with different factions among the temple leadership and, in this context, predicted that the Temple itself would be destroyed. Jesus was talking particularly about the fall of Jerusalem, after a lengthy and indeterminate period of time, rather than the end of all things.

Instead of answering his disciples questions about dates and times, Jesus mentions other scenarios where other things are razed to the ground - his disciples’ beliefs, political ideologies and nation states, even their own relationships will be fractured and destroyed.

This starts to sound like an unnervingly contemporary gospel reading.  If something as eternal as God’s Temple will crumble and fall, what else will? The occupying Romans forces that filled the land in Jesus’ day? The corrupt tax system that kept the poorest poor and the richest rich?  David Cameron’s coalition Government? The United Nations? The NHS?  Jesus is questioning the permanence of power and ultimately asking each one of us, that when it comes to it, when our world is shaken, where we each place our trust?

We have seen in recent years ourselves, that institutions that we thought were effectively eternal can come crashing down with disastrous concequences.  We were just as naive to assume that the banking sector was somehow immune to the rise and fall of markets and the corrupt dealings of broken people and look what has happened since.

The devastation in the Philippines is not a sign of the end of the world, or of the judgement of God, although it will feel like it to the millions caught up in it.  Our hearts go out to them in love and compassion as the world which they now has come crashing down.  Their plight is a sign, a reminder, to all of us of the transience of all things.  Our hearts go out to them beating with a simple common humanity - giving what we can and praying.

When our lives our shaken who do we trust? Our politicians? The banks? Our religious leaders?  When grief or illness, knock us flat; when others shun us or  tell lies about us; when institutions fail us where are we?

Instead of timetables to destruction, Jesus talks to us about trusting in him. In the face of tragedy and transience the heart of God continues to beat with an eternal love for humanity.

Jesus talks about a series of terrible events – wars, famines, earthquakes and plagues, the destruction of powerful institutions, not to mention changes in the pattern of the natural world and the fracture of relationships. Any one of these events would be enough to fill us mind with worry - never mind to experience any of them. But Jesus also speaks of a God who loves, and goes on loving in the midst of it all, a God will keep us safe for ever.

In the midst of trauma, turmoil and tragedy, God says ‘not a hair of your head will perish’. 

then invite people to touch their own hair for a moment (on their head or arm) and experience what a fragile thing one hair is, yet it is a sign of the attention of love that God gives us. I then prayed:

Heavenly Father,
when we consider the times in which we live 
and the events that occur, 
it is easy to be anxious or in despair. 
Thank you for the assurance of your presence and peace, 
even at those times when there is chaos and discord.
Enable us to see the world through your eyes, 
where, as a Sovereign Lord, 
you are firmly in control of all events,
and there is a purpose and a plan to all things.
This we ask in Jesus’ precious name. 

Amen.

I couldn't help but think of this song too...

Monday, 4 November 2013

We Will Remember Them...


Details of our acts of Remembrance this coming Remembrance Sunday

8.00 am Said Eucharist at St Peter's Church Mill End

10.15am Remembrance Sunday Service at St John's Heronsgate

10.15am Remembrance Sunday Service at St Thomas' West Hyde

10.15am Remembrance Sunday Service at St Peter's Church Mill End

All Welcome.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

We Plough The Fields and Scatter...


We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
Chorus All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.
He only is the maker of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower, He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey Him, by Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children, He gives our daily bread.
Chorus All good gifts around us...
We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, and food;
Accept the gifts we offer, for all Thy love imparts,
But what Thou most desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.
Chorus All good gifts around us...

This is one of the most well known Harvest hymns and conjures images of an agricultural landscape in rural chocolate box England.  It's wonderful rousing tune captures the essence of a typical Harvest Festival celebration. Yet as we sing it every year, I am left wondering how much of our contemporary world it really captures?

The farming community in our nation is struggling in many ways to keep the business side of life alive, never mind preserving a way of life that has been the back bone of our national economy for centuries.  With the very real threat of global warming, a global marketplace and countries continually plagued with famine and drought, whilst we should be very thankful for all that God gives to ensure that Creation continues to produce it's goodness, I am regularly struck by the injustice of it all.

This is in part why at Harvest Festival this year, we are particularly supporting those for whom the wayside flower is not brightly painted, and the evening stars light shines ever dimly, thankful that from our abundance we can give generously and thankfully.

There are three parts to our Harvest Appeal:

1.  Perishable produce that is brought to our worship will be mostly given to support our brothers and sisters in faith, living and working at the Catholic Worker Farm.  The work that Scott and Maria and their family do there to be generously hospitable to people (especially women) in very real need is astonishing and a lesson in humility to us. You can find out more of what they do at http://thecatholicworkerfarm.org

2.  Non-perishable produce will be shared between the Farm and the Rickmanasworth Foodbank (http://rickmansworth.foodbank.org.uk) which we helped establish and continue to help run with ecumeical colleagues and others from within the wider community. We're especially after:

UHT milk
Sugar (500 gms)
Cartons of fruit juice
soups
Pasta sauces
Tinned sponge puddings
Tinned tomatoes
Cereals
Rice pudding (tinned)
Tea bags/instant coffee
Instant mashed potato
Rice/pasta
Tinned meat/fish
Jams
Biscuits/snack bars
Any toiletries will be given to the Foodbank to as one off treats.


3.  We're also asking people to give financially. This year the Bishop's Harvest Appeal is supporting the work that Christian Aid does with honey farmers in Ethiopia setting up co-operatives to improve honey production and share equipment, tools and skills.  The spin off of this work is about sustainable incomes, care for the land, feeding the hungry and about building community. read the information sheets in church or have a look at www.harvestappeal.org to download more information.

These projects are good news to the communities they serve and buy very much into the call in our Diocesan 'Living God's Love' initiative to see communities transformed locally and globally.

Harvest is about being thankful for all that God gives us. I hope and pray that this Harvest we can be thankful together with those who need support through our foodbanks, the family at the Catholic Worker Farm and the farmers and bee keepers of Ethiopia.

Let's together sweeten the lives of many more families, to see communities locally and in Ethiopia transformed this Harvest.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Under the Tree

'Girl Under Tree' by Kirsten Nolte
http://www.artbykiki.com

Some research was done in the US into the nature and location of accidents  20% of all fatal accidents occur in cars. 17% of all fatal accidents occur at home. 14% of all fatal accidents occur to pedestrians. 16% of all fatal accidents happen in planes, trains, or boats. Only .001% of all deaths occur in church and these are related to previous physical disorders. So the safest place to be anytime is in church. So welcome back! It could save your life!

This morning we hear Jesus having a bit of backwards and forwards with a man called Nathanael.  We know very little about Nathanael in real terms. Was he a close follower of Jesus or is it more likely that he was an outsider?  We just don’t know - what we come to discover throughout the story of Jesus’ life contained in the Bible - is that Jesus is ready to speak about to, and reveal to anyone, the love of God, it didn’t matter who you are: rich or poor, faithful or uncertain, male or female, Jewish or not. 

Jesus sees Nathanael sitting under a fig tree. Such trees could be tall and obviously provided fruit. They also acted as shade from the blazing sun. The spreading branches and thick leaves were an ideal place of shade and shelter. It was a common occurrence for a person to sit in the shade of a fig tree to reflect, to think and to wrestle with the issues of life. John in his writing makes us aware that Jesus makes reference to the fact that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree. These may be a clear indication that Nathanael was troubled. Is he seeking guidance? Was he feeling a bit lost?  Was Nathanael wrestling with who this man Jesus really was?  Somehow in the conversation that Jesus has with him, the penny drops and the light of faith comes on for Nathanael.

I’d like to think that Nathanael was pondering the big stuff of life under the fig tree that day and I warm to him because he wrestled with life and faith.  Is it because of this honest wrestling, this element of doubt that Jesus is able to say that Nathanael is a true son of Israel.

As I made way to church on a Sunday in another parish, I would sometimes encounter a neighbour either tending his garden or loading his golf clubs into the boot of his car. ‘Off to church?’ he’d ask.  ‘Yes,’ I’d reply, ‘Cutting the grass/Off to the course?’ I’d ask in reply. ‘Yes, and you can worship God in the garden or on the golf course as much as you can in church’ he said.  ‘Yes, but do you?’ I asked back...

Yes, Jesus does come to meet us where we are, whether in church or on the golf course.  Wherever He meets us our lives are never all sewn up.  As we sit here this morning, we bring with us all sorts of things playing on our minds, things troubling us, causing us grief. We may be here not really sure what we believe about Jesus or what he taught or anything else for that matter. We may be concerned about the health of a loved one, the future of a job, how we’ll put food on the table this week. These worries can bring us down and often we may feel that church is the last place we want to be, coming burdened with all of this.  But far from it.

The Eucharist that we share in this morning is sometimes called the Mass.  That name in turn comes from the Latin word ‘Missa’, which means ‘I send.‘  As Jesus meets us here as we are, with our joys and sorrows and offers forgiveness, healing and hope, speaking to us in the words of the scriptures and offering us himself in bread and wine as food for the journey of life, He sends us out into life - equipped for the week and for whatever is thrown at us.  The more worries and stressed we are about life, the more I am convinced that we need this service.

The thing is, no one is judging you as you come here.  The church is not made up of the good, holy and the true, but broken and failing people, lovely as they are - in fact far from it.

When I was a Curate I remember going to a meeting in a local school whose head teacher was a keen Baptist. In the course of the meeting he was verbally assaulted by someone who accused him and all religious types of going to church because they thought they were better than everyone else. To which he calmly replied, with great dignity, “the reason, sir, that I am a Christian is that I know that I as much a sinner as the next man.”  And this Jesus meets us where we are, sinners, under the metaphorical fig tree and here in this Eucahrist - and from here He sends us out resourced, renewed, forgiven and restored.

Under that tree, Jesus reveals to Nathanael greater insight as to who He is. No longer is a ladder needed between heaven and earth with angelic messengers traveling to and fro. Now the Messiah Himself is the meeting point of our questioning human need and divine blessing. 

Our places of meeting, our church buildings can be places for us to sit and shelter from the pressures of every day living. They can offer that space and safety to consider the questions of life. Jesus is happy to engage with all, those who are sitting under a fig tree or in a church or where ever. 

You may be feeling like Nathanael with doubt and questions whether you are here for the first time or if you are regular member of the congregation. Are you seeking to connect with the Jesus who is the meeting point of our human need and the divine blessing of God?

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Money, money, money...


Here's the text of last Sunday's sermon...

Money – most of us think it’s the key to everything. Success, happiness, a stress free life, but if we’re not careful it can also open the door to ruin, deception, corruption and greed. Jesus has much to say to us about our attitude towards wealth and stewardship – 19 of His 38 recorded parables are on the misuse of money and possessions, its an issue of fundamental importance to the Kingdom. Its not that Jesus is against us owning things - its just that He is against things owning us.

This morning’s Gospel contains probably one of the most difficult of Jesus’ parables to understand. At first sight it looks as if Jesus is condoning corrupt practices, but when we look a bit closer we realize He’s not, and what is actually being applauded is the steward’s change in attitude.

This parable takes full account of the commercial practices of the day – when many of the estates and businesses were owned by absentee landlords and looked after by stewards whose job it was to provide a reasonable return for the owner. In this case it was a business where merchants received goods on credit, and since Jewish Law prevents the claiming of interest from fellow Jews, the profit from such a transaction were in commodities like wheat and oil.

Although the steward was entrusted with the estate - given latitude to do with the owners resources as he wished and to profit from the way he invested his master’s wealth – he owned nothing of what he managed. But one of the surprising things about this story is that the hero seems to be a crook – a crook who has been found out.
The owner had received complaints that his steward was squandering away his property – so he called him to account and when he was found wanting, promptly told him that he was heading for the high jump.

Here the Hebrew word used for “squandering’ is the same as that used in the story of the Prodigal Son – to describe self indulgence - when the younger son wasted away his inheritance. Jesus’ parable shows us what happens if we fail to use our resources in the right way before God.

Like the steward, we have free access to use and profit from the gifts and resources God provides for this world, but own nothing of what we manage and like the steward we too fall far short of what is required.

The unjust steward was too proud to beg and didn’t relish the thought of doing manual work, so he decided on another course of action, to make friends with the people who were in debt to his master. He used this last opportunity as the legal manager of the owner’s business to meet with some of his masters customers, to give them very significant discounts, so that they will show him favour when he is in need. Here Jesus tells us that we have to be alert to the workings of this world and the opportunities we are given, “...For in dealing with their own kind the children of this world are more astute than the children of light...” 

The story also illustrates the wisdom of spending money with an eternity in view using our wealth to help those around us. “...Use worldly wealth to win friends for yourself so that when money is a thing of the past you may be received into an eternal home...”

The biggest thing about handling God’s resources is the attitude of our hearts. It determines how wisely we use what we have been given. When we borrow something from someone, such as a car, we tend to use it more carefully, work harder to look after it, we know it doesn’t belong to us and that we will be accountable for how we use it. Jesus tells us we need to apply that same attitude to all of God’s treasures that we handle.

The steward saw the urgency of the situation and changed his behaviour. Instead of investing in his present situation he started to invest in his future. Jesus also tells us that stewardship is not just about the big picture. If we are faithful with a little God knows we will be faithful with a lot. If we can be trusted with looking after one lost sheep, maybe eventually we will be trusted with caring for a whole flock. Here we have a man who found himself, came to his senses, and changed his direction and life. He didn’t put his head in the sand, but decided to act for his future well-being, he realized he was a slave to the wrong master, “...No servant can serve two masters – you cannot serve God and Money...”

Jesus reminds us that our commitment to God must be greater than any other commitment in our lives. Jesus is looking for single minded people - people totally dedicated to God - whose main purpose in life is to serve Him.

As Christians, our first priority should be using the resources that God gives us, to and through his church in the first instance, but are we? Just over 60% of our expenditure costs go toward my stipend, pension, housing & contributions to my ongoing training and the training of new clergy and us paying our part of the cost of running the diocese. We are not living extravagantly, yet we are struggling to make ends meet and with 2 large restoration projects at St Peter’s and St Thomas’, the possibility of new lighting at St Peter’s, the costs incurred with the arrival of a new Assistant Curate and potentially in time associated costs with providing parish-wide youth work, we need to look carefully at our expenditure. Our issue is not a need to make efficiency savings. The issue is that the money we spend comes from nowhere else but ultimately from us. But these resources are God’s and we should ask Him for them, but we should continue to act wisely with the resources He shares with us.

Where does our confidence for living come from - our bank balance or from God? Has money got greater control over us than we are prepared to admit?

A well known speaker stood up in front of a group of people and held a £50 note in the air, “who would like to have this £50 note?” he said. Hands started to go up, “I will give this to one of you,” he said, “but before I do, I am going to crumple it up”, which he did. “Who wants it now?” Again, hands went up. Then he dropped it on the floor, stamped on it, and made it dirty, “Now who still wants it”, he said, still hands went up. “Today”, he said, “we have learnt a very valuable lesson. No matter what I do to this money, we still want it, because it has not lost any of its value - its still worth £50.”

Many times in our lives we will be dropped, crumpled, ground into the dirt, by the decisions we make, and the situations that come our way. But no matter what happens to us, we will never lose our value in God’s eyes. To Him we are still priceless.

Do we value God as much as He values us? Does God take first place in our hearts? Do we serve God or money? We are all guilty of squandering the wealth we’ve been entrusted with. The question is what are we going to do about it? Are we going to wait till the last minute, like the unjust steward, or change now?
Jesus calls us to use our gifts and resources wisely – and in a way that will honour God and ourselves. To invest in the ways that will lead us to Him and eternal life. Its God who puts the money and resources in our hands – so lets make sure we use them for His glory.

~~~

As a footnote, as a die hard prog fan, all this talk of cash made me think of this...


Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Parable of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Job, Lost House...


It doesn’t happen very often thankfully, but once in a while some of our neighbours go away. It’s a nice house, big garden, swimming pool. Perhaps I should clarify... When the neighbours go away they leave their teenage children. Now a bit of basic maths for you - teenagers + empty house + swimming pool X alcohol, music and summer nights = PAAAARTY! Now this doesn’t happen very often but there have been a handful of times when I have grumbled like the old man I am becoming... There will be this sort of partying in heaven says Jesus when one who was lost to God returns...

I hate losing things. I live by a very special filing system which is far from infalible! When things are lost, it induces a sense of blind panic in me and utter relief on recovering the item in question. Jesus tells stories this morning that I think I can identify with - losing things. Important things...

These stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin are preludes to perhaps Jesus’ greatest story of loss and recovery. You know the one. It tells of a lad who loses himself; of an older brother who loses his temper and sense of values and of a good father that never loses hope... a Heavenly Father that trusts that things that once were lost, people who once were lost can still be found... Recognise it yet?


In the story of the lost sheep, it is clear that all 100 sheep are owned by the shepherd. As the flock makes it’s way across the barren wilderness the shepherd notices that one sheep is missing. He leaves the 99, taking an enormous risk in trusting they will be safe, and makes his way in search of the one.

But we all too easily miss the scandal. Jesus has been openly criticised for spending time with sinners by the scribes and pharisees. They loved God and lived in hope of the coming Messiah. Their job was to interpret the Law of Moses for keeping it would prepare the way for His coming. They criticised Jesus because in him they saw one of their own and yet here he is fraternising with sinners like leather tanners, tax collectors women and shepherds. But the scandal deepens... ‘Which one of you,’ says Jesus referring to the Pharisees, has one hundred sheep...’ Jesus is inviting them to identify with a shepherd, a sinner!

Jesus carries on speaking to the scribes and pharisees, ‘... Or what woman...’ Jesus now calls them to identify themselves with a woman, any woman, about whom they prayed each day, ‘Thank you Lord of the Universe, that you did not make me a woman...’ But this woman knows the value of what she is searching for - a silver coin. She lights a lamp and sweeps in the darkness and dirt to find her life and livelihood.

I am often asked things like - I have lost my job, please pray for me. My wife has cancer and I am frightened of losing her, please pray. I have lost my faith - if there is a God pray for me. I feel so lost and afraid please pray for me. I have lost my house please pray... In the stories that we hear Jesus tell today, we have an assurance that he is never indifferent to these contemporary pleas in their lostness.

Jesus doesn’t so much as teach about the scope of God’s love reaching out to those traditionally outside it’s orbit, namely to tax collector and shepherd, rather he gets the pharisees to empathise with the lost, and to ram the point home - Jesus models it by eating and speaking with them at table.

Friends, God is a God who doesn’t sit distant from us and condemn us, but when we are a long way from him, he comes to us. He sits and shares food and conversation with us. When we are lost he hunts us out. He searches high and low in the darkest and most unlikely corners of the universe til he finds us. How does that sort of seaching love make us feel? If someone goes out of their way to see me, to speak to me, I want to make sure that I stop what I am doing, face them and give them my full attention. So it with Jesus. God loves the world, love me so much that he sends me Jesus... God loves me so much that he went out of his way to search me out... I should give him my full attention.

One of the most wonderful experiences we had in New Zealand was stopping by the side of the road, and as we stopped watching a shepherd and his dog herd the sheep. The dog did not run barking after the sheep, but rather as the sheep wandered off, the dogs watched intellegently and intently, then they ran like hell to get in front of the sheep and they lay down across the path the sheep were wandering so when the sheep did wander that way they were gently turned back onto the right path. We are called to a double repentance, a double determinedness to live God’s way - by listening to Jesus, for that sends heaven partying, and the experience of being found by God’s never ending love for us in and through him.

Jesus invited the Pharisee and scribes to identify with his search for those who are lost and his joy and finding those who are currently unaware of God’s love for them. What would church be like if we did the same - going out of our way to meet with and share God’s love with those who are currently unaware of His it where they are? For that’s what Jesus does. He doesn’t ask us to go to him. He comes to us. This is what he calls us His church to do - to emulate his example and the example of his Father. If we are to be a church at all - this must lie at the heart of what flows out of our meeting with Jesus as sinners around this table sharing bread and wine. To go out of our way to meet people where they are to talk with them, to help them to listen to Jesus and to encounter his love for them, returning rejoicing.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be like the pharisees - already aware of how they think God wants them to look - with the clothes of righteousness and an air of supercilious faith. Rather Jesus asks go with others just as you are, to be with him and to be found by him, to spend time with him, to listen to each other and especially to Him, and to rejoice with the whole of heaven as we seek to discover anew what it means to be loved by Him.

The challenge for our mission to care for the lost, all those we encounter in our daily lives and all those we seek to bring back to the sheepfold on Back to Church Sunday, but not just then. For seeking out the lost does not in the least need any book to be burnt, It does not ask us to rebuke, to admonish or even look down upon anyone, for that was not the way of Christ. It calls us to this: First, think and pray; Second, run like hell; and third, be found lying about.For the lost, it is a precious and costly gift to be found at the right time in the right place. “Rejoice with me,” says Jesus, “for I have found . . . that which was lost.” Amen.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Foundations Course

The Foundations Course begins on Wednesday this week. We hope that you will be coming to join us! It will be a good evening and hopefully we will make and deepen some friendships and renew and deepen our shared faith.

The course will follow a structure similar to this but timings will of course vary:

7.30pm Tea/Coffee/Cake will be available

7.45pm  The evening begins with an introduction to the course and the evening and then a chance to get to know one another in small groups and share each other's experience. These groups will remain largely the same over the weeks of the course to encourage trust and sharing.

8.15pm - Feedback/Questions from the groups

8.20pm - Discover and Explore - a chance to explore the theme for the evening in some depth

9.05pm - Reflect on the topic, discuss in small group and field any questions.

9.20pm - Looking forward - introduce next week's topic and pray

9.30pm Depart


In preparation for the course please can you think about the following:

1. When you think about God, what do you think? WHat words/images/pictures would you use? Ask a friend or family member too.

2.  How have you learnt what you know about God? Think about childhood experiences as well as more recent years.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Assistant Curate - Guess Who?

As many of you know, our parish has been a training parish for a number of years and you have had the privilege of training many deacons and priests over the years.

Parishes were asked some time ago whether they would like to 'apply' (wrong word but best way to describe it) to have an Assistant Curate as of Petertide (early July) 2014. We applied and the Diocese agreed that we would be a good training parish and that I (and this startles me) would make a great Training Incumbent.

The diocese has 17 ordinands that it hopes to place back within the diocese as of Petertide 2014 and I was emailed in July by the DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands - sort of the HR officer of the diocese) with details of one of those 17.

I met this person a few weeks ago for the best part of a day. We talked and listened to each other. I asked them what they might hope to receive from the parish if they came here and what they might bring in terms of experience and expertise. At the end of the day we prayed that God would clearly guide us in making this important decision.

In short, we got on well and it became clear that there were many common priorities in terms of ministry and mission. Refreshingly there were also many places where we differ too and this person will bring much to challenge and shape the ministry and direction of our parish.

Our candidate joined us for worship on Sunday 8th September with their family to give them a chance to experience the central expression of our life together, our sharing of the Eucharist.  The candidate and their family remain convinced that they would be trained well with us, that they would grow in faith with us and that they could be formed into Christlikeness with us as we journey on with our Lord - and I feel I could work with the candidate as a colleague and they would be great to work with.

We now wait for advice from the Diocese on how we formalise this relationship. Watch this space for more information.

In the meantime I encourage you all to pray for the candidate and their family and for each other as we continue to seek God's wisdom and guidance in this matter.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Our Dream Is To Stand Upright



Some very famous words of Martin Luther King Jnr.’s.  They were spoken passionately by Dr King 50 years ago this week on 28th August 1963.

Dr King gathered with 250, 000 civil rights supporters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, delivered this now very famous speech as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

As you know, and as you can here again the snippet we heard, Dr King looks forward to a day when the racial barriers in America particualrly, will be brought down and there will be a racial equality.  One has to wonder whether his dream remains to be fulfilled.

When I arrived as your parish priest I asked you the dream that you dreamed. We harvested these and realised we shared 3 dreams in common - we need to communicate better within the churches and the wider parish, we hope to renew and review our worship and we want to make and take opportunities to deepen our faith.  Many of you will know these have become the priorities of our Mission Action Plan over the last 2 years and there is much evidence of the success of this work.

What are the dreams of God? The reading we heard from the letter to the Hebrews hints in a not too subtle way, that God’s dreams involve humanity coming into His presence, but not in fear and trembling, but in relationship, in receipt on an inheritance.

The scriptures are clear - God’s dreams involve a relationship with him. The writer and teacher Richard Forster says that those dreams can be summed up as God saying ‘I love you. I want to be with you. WIll you come and be with me?’  Whilst the words to Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading are specific to him they resonate down the annuls of history to us - God knew us even before we knew ourselves. But they’re more than that. God doesn’t just want to be in relationship with us - He wants us to be restored to being the people He created us to be, like Jesus’ actions in this morning’s Gospel reading.

I have a bad back. I think old age has made it worse.  As my kids will tell you, there are occasions when during story times I will find it goes and I have to lie flat on the bedroom floor.  Whilst we were away - it went.  On about the first day, whilst rock pooling, I twisted and readjusted my weight and balance and twang!  THis morning's gospel reading is god news for those of us who suffer with bad backs.

Jesus is in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath when Jesus notices this crippled woman.  But this story is not told in order to discuss healing. Rather this is a story about the role and function of our religious traditions, our claims about what could and should be practiced on the “Sabbath” or who is allowed within the walls of our synagogues and religious communities, and when you boil it down therefore, what God is like.

The story ably demonstrates something that the upcoming Foundations course will explore - what is the nature of God and how do we deepen our faith in Him?

In the first five weeks of the course we will discover more about God using images and understandings from the Bible and how our faith changes throughout our lives.  We’ll look in a bit more detail at the creeds we say on a Sunday morning, why we say them and what they mean.  We’ll discover more about the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Communion - the Eucharist which we are invited to share this morning. We will dive deep into some of the different styles and traditions of prayer, how to use the Psalms in prayer and ponder how (and sometimes if) God answers prayer.  The final week of the first section of the course we’ll think about some of the bigger issues of life and death - what happens when we die, what does resurrection mean, what is life after death and how can we help and support the bereaved.

The course is intended to give an overview of some topics and issues, to give us greater confidence in what our faith is and some tools and resources to discover more. It is about us together, going deeper into God.

This is precisely what Jesus’ hearers on that day in the synagogue realised.  There are depths to this God. There is more to relationship with Him than just following the religious rules.

Jesus healed this woman bent double for 18 years and in so doing she gained new perspective on life and faith. She could see faces rather than feet and she saw God for who He really is in Jesus.  She also will have returned to her family and friends a new woman.  The encounter filled her with joy and she praised God.

The Foundations course will, I believe, offer each of us the same opportunity - to gain new perspectives on who God is, to deepen our faith, to make friendships with others. It will also give us the confidence to look up, to meet people where they are and share with them our perspectives in matters of faith.

LIke that woman, many of us are bent double, unsure, doubting, uncertain - God wants to help us stand up straight, to be sure of His love for us, to be confident in who we are in His sight, and to deepen our faith and trust in Him.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Wish List


Do you have an Amazon wish list? I do, it’s digital list full of books, music and films that I would like to have, to possess and perhaps more so actually have the time to enjoy. I need none of them, but I would still love to have them.  It is part of human nature; to consume. 

RenĂ© Descartes, trying to define what it ultimately means to exist said ‘I think therefore I am.’ In 21st Century Britain our existence seems rest on a different perceived reality - ‘I shop therefore I am’. Western society is built on consumerism.  ‘...My wages are gone within a week of being paid.  I’m not a materialistic person but I do like materialistic things...’

Just like society, prayer can become a wish list.  All that we utter in this divine conversation is a list of things we would like God to sort out.  This is illustrated no better than in the film Bruce Almighty.  God hands over the running of the world to Bruce, who then has to deal with the billions of prayer requests eventually answering all of them with ‘yes!’ with catastrophic results.

However, when the disciples asked how they should pray, Jesus taught them, what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. It’s interesting that we call it that, because what Jesus gives is not His prayer but a corporate one for all His disciples - we say ‘Our Father...’  In some senses though it’s not a prayer at all, but at a structure, an order, a means to affective prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Jesus’ teaching begins with acknowledging God, and His holiness.  This holy God dwells in heaven - he is infinite, mysterious and unknowable as this heaven is beyond the limitations of our earthly experience.  That said, Jesus reminds us that He is not distant or aloof.  If you want to know what God is says Jesus, He is like a tender Father. 

We are invited to address this high and holy God as Abba, Papa, Daddy and it displays a wonderful intimacy with the divine infinite. It’s a word used by children when talking to their fathers.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Next comes a call for God’s Kingdom and for God’s will and purposes to be seen and known and felt.  A kingdom is the place or places where the King dwells and reigns and is to do with territory.  But in God’s case it is also to do with the topography of the human heart and His values, His purposes, His will being exercised everywhere including in our lives, words and actions.

Give us this our daily bread.  We do get a section for our needs, but they are for our needs and not our wants. No holidays or shoes, no films or music but the staple, the vital things in life but not just this day but every day.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Forgiveness is next, and not just ours, but others - two words are used by Jesus: sins and debts. As we ask for forgiveness from God for our sins, we are called to forgive others of what they are indebted to us by. It’s about our freedom and building new communities between us and God and us and each other - where we are no longer beholden to each other.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  Finally there is a call to keep us from temptation, from testing, from trial.  It should take our minds back to the story of the prophet Job and the testing trials he endured which demonstrated his faith and trust in God.  It’s a call to our own holiness.  Not being led into temptation and being delivered from evil are in essence about aligning our will to the will of God.  Jesus’ teaching on prayer begins with recognising God’s holiness, it concludes with us longing for our own.

Having modeled a structure for our praying that begins with God and ends with us being sent out to live holy lives, Jesus then teaches about how to pray.  

What Jesus doesn’t do here is wrestle with what is all too often our experience of prayer - that some prayers remain unanswered. When that happens there are all sorts of temptations to try to explain it away, none of which are entirely satisfactory.  We may hear that God does sometimes refuse our request because it’s not His will - but aren’t health, well-being and peace His will? Sometimes you hear ‘everything happens for a reason’, so are we saying that all sorts of violence, torture and illness are somehow God’s will? No and no.  Prayers are not wishes - to be granted or not. Prayer is something more.

Prayer is relationship.  Those of us who have or have had the privilege of playing a part in bringing up children will know that children understand the word ‘love’ as being spelt ‘T-I-M-E’. How much time do we give to our heavenly Father? On their deathbed no-one ever says, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office’ but more of often people speak of regret at not spending enough time with those they love the most, developing and deepening relationships, sharing love.  Even in those times when our prayer remains unanswered, we are spending time with God, deepening that relationship, discovering that prayer is not about our wills and wants, but about placing ourselves within in His.

Prayer is dialogue.  Jesus does encourage us to be persistent - to spend time asking, to spend time getting to know, and listening and waiting for, the loving will of our Heavenly Father to be revealed, to developing and deepening our relationship with Him.  It’s a dialogue in that sense.  Prayer helps understand His will and purposes for us better, so we can live them.

It is exactly because God is like a tender father, a passionate lover, and a lenient judge, Jesus invites us to pray. Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking, he tells us. If a person will answer the door at midnight when a visitor knocks, how much more will God respond to our prayers? And when a child asks for basic nourishment like a fish or an egg, no parent would ever give him something poisonous like a snake or scorpion. How much more will God give good gifts to his children, says Jesus, who ask.

And at the end we say Amen - literally ‘so be it’ - ‘so be it’ whether God answers, ‘so be it’ however God answers, ‘so be it’ whenever God answers.  Jesus teaches that prayer is ultimately about us having the sort of relationship with God that enables us to trust Him enough to have His way among us for our good and for His glory, and to that we all say Amen.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Prayer for the Royal Baby



God our Creator,
who knows each of us by name
and loves us from all eternity:
we give you thanks for new life and human love.
Bless William and Catherine
as they welcome their son into the world.
Give them patience and wisdom
to cherish and love him as he grows.
Surround the family with the light of hope and the warmth of your love today and always; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Table Manners



Last Sunday afternoon many of us gathered for lunch in the sun or shade depending on your preference. It was a wonderfully relaxed affair including picnic blankets, chatter and games. The social nicities were done away with and a good time was had by all.

I have only had one meal where I have not been sure which set of cutlery or which wine glass to use next. Those sorts of meals are governed by all sorts of unwritten social codes and etiquette. But actually all meals are enjoyed most when diners do things that are expected of them. We teach them to our children - always say please and thank you. Keep your elbows off the table. Eat with your mouth closed and never talk with it full etc...

Martha welcomes Jesus into the home she shares with Mary her sister. Jewish meals, in fact Jewish life was bound by all sorts of social and religious rules. Luke has placed the story in a particular place in his account to alert us to something special about Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is redrawing boundaries between men and woman within Israel – blurring the lines which had been clearly laid down; redefining what it means to belong to God.

The real problem between Martha and Mary wasn’t the workload Martha had in the kitchen. The real problem was that Mary was behaving as if she was a man. In that culture, as in many parts of the world to this day, houses were divided into male ‘space’ and female ‘space’ – and male and female roles were strictly demarcated. Mary had crossed an invisible but very important boundary within the house – and another equally important boundary within her social world.

The public room was where the men would meet; the kitchen, and other quarters never seen by outsiders, belonged to the women. Only outside, where little children would play, and in the marital bedroom, would male and female mix. So for a woman to settle down comfortably among men was bordering on the scandalous. Who did Mary think she was? 

To sit at the feet of a teacher was a decidedly male role. We hear about the Apostle Paul sitting at the feet of Gamaliel in Acts 22. He wasn’t gazing up adoringly and thinking how wonderful the great rabbi was; he was listening and learning, focusing on the teaching of his master and putting things together in his mind. To sit at someone’s feet meant, quite simply, to be their student. And to sit at the feet of a rabbi was what you wanted to do if you wanted to be a rabbi yourself. Mary had the audacity to quietly take her place as a would-be teacher and preacher of the kingdom of God. And what is astonishing is that Jesus completely affirms Mary’s right to do so.

Jesus affirms Mary’s decision to step away from household duties and to sit at his feet and listen to his words of eternal life. She has completely understood what it means to be a disciple. Martha though is jealous - I believe that is why she complains to Jesus. She wants to be where Mary is, but whether she feels more bound by the rules and expectations of others or not, she allows her provision of hospitality to Jesus to be distraction for her from her heart’s desire - to learn from him. That is surely why she invited him into their home in the first place. Jesus, I want to be where Mary is, but I won’t allow myself... 

How often are we like Martha? Full of good intentions? Lord I will pray more, but first I need to... I will spend more time bible reading when I have first done... Jesus again and again when he teaches, says that we need to place God first in our lives. When we do, the rest will follow. If we want to deepen a friendship or strengthen a relationship we need to spend time with, talk to, listen to and give undivided attention to and be with that one person. The same is true with God. How often do we have Jesus to ourselves so to speak, and instead of taking the opportunity to listen and learn from him, to experience the love of God through him, to be a disciple, do we instead confine Jesus to an hour or so of worship on a Sunday morning? He longs to be with us and for us to be with him. Are we willing to put away the distractions of the tv, the computer, and like Mary, to make and take opportunities to meet with Jesus?

Over the course of this encounter, both Martha and St Luke the Gospel writer refer to Jesus as Lord on a number of occasions. This isn’t just more social etiquette. Lord or Adonai, is a respectful title of a distinguished guest, but the title was also used in place of the name of God - YHWH - written in the Old Testament scriptures. The Lord that Martha and Mary initially encountered was Jesus the Rabbi who would teach them about God and His ways. Later they and we are left in no doubt that we are being asked to discover this Lord is the same Lord who brought all things into being. The power of Almighty God, YHWH himself, is at work in and through Jesus of Nazareth. Where are we this morning? Are we hear to learn things about God from a good teacher, or are here to sit at Jesus’ feet and develop a relationship with him. A relationship for which he longs.

Jesus reassured Martha by her name. In Jewish society, what you are called or how you are named sometimes said things about you and your parentage, social standing, and family trade. When God reveals to Moses His name - I am that which I am - on Mount Sinai, God reveals everything conceivable about himself to successive generations. What's in Martha's name? Martha means 'Mistress.’ Our names are deep and precious to us, chosen carefully for us by those who love us. It is the things that are deep and precious in us that define who we are - our moral codes, how we speak or behave speaks volumes about us. To know someone’s name still, is to know something about them and invites them into a relationship with us.

Jesus called Mary and Martha by name into a living relationship with God through Him. It is a relationship that transformed life and death when their Jesus raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. Jesus clearly dearly loved them. Jesus clearly and dearly loves each of us. He longs to go from being our teacher to being our Eternal Friend; from being recognised by us a provider of information about God, to us recognising the power of God at work in Him. 

This same Jesus calls us by name away from our distractions and beckons us over to sit at his feet. He asks for some of our time, not His Sunday time, so we can not only learn about eternal life, but as his disciples, can learn to live it.