Saturday, 1 December 2012

Hope - like light in the darkness

The clicking the picture will take you to Simon's Advent blog - 5 Minutes' Space - with access to sermons, thoughts, prayers and resources for the first week of Advent...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Five Minutes Space

Each year Simon keeps an Advent blog which he tries to update daily with thoughts, prayers and readings. 

The idea is that they should help us create five minutes' space in our day to help us to slow, to reflect, and to focus in hope on God and to help us get the most out of the Advent season. Why not go and take a look... Click on the screenshot below...

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Christ is King

Today, the Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the church year. Over the year we have recalled the promise of Christ’s coming, his birth, life and ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today also marks the end of our annual training programme on how to be Christian disciples.

The conversation between the Pilate and Jesus revolves around the issue of kingship, with Pilate determined to discover whether Jesus poses a real political threat or not, and Jesus determined to redefine the notion of ‘kingdom’ and kingship.’ Again Jesus reminds Pilate that it is he who defines Jesus in political terms. “You say that I am a king.’ Even though Jesus was not a problem for Pilate - he believed he held Jesus’ life in the balance - Pilate was determined to get to the bottom of this and so should we - what does it mean for Christ to be King?

Christ’s kingship is God given and has a universal and personal reign. Universally Christ is king of all creation. When God sent his son, he did so to complete the work he began when he said. ‘Let there be light!’ Christ’s life, death and resurrection are about God taking all that it means to be created, broken, hurting, incomplete even sinful, to heart, and on the cross’s eternal embrace, to allow the eternal effect of sin and death to die with his Son. Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates everything into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present.

Personally, Christ is King of our hearts. As Christ dies, the eternal affects of sin and death are annihilated. With his cry of ‘It is finished!’ Christ is not defeated, but victorious! Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates everything into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present. Christ is King in me, for just as he took sin and brokenness to his heart, so I must take Christ’s kingship to heart. Christ is King in me through faith in him. The liberation beginning to be experienced in creation, can be experienced in my life, in yours only when we pay due respect to the king, when we listen to his words, and as loyal subjects, carry out his will.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who lay ourselves open completely to the will of God, we need to become a trusting people, we need to ask him to help us to become a faithful praying people. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows even Jesus found it hard - Gethsemene still rings with Jesus’ ‘Father if it is possible, take this cup from me!’ Yet when we do, even our deaths become resurrections and the problems and worries that might keep us awake at night pale into insignificance. It’s not that they disappear, but that we entrust them and ourselves to the will of God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who are filled to overflowing with the love of God. Just as God’s love for creation overflowed into the coming of Christ, so our love of God should overflow into our relationships with others. The hallmark of the Christian community in Paul’s day, back as the church was beginning, was the way that Christian’s loved one another. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the well where Jesus encountered the Syrophonecian woman still stings with Jesus’, ‘Is it right that the children’s food is thrown to the dogs?’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Jesus, even the most deepseated difference with our neighbours, friends or family pale into insignificance when we see all people made in the image of God and loved by God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who know that we are loved personally by God. If you were the only person on earth, God’s love is so great for you, Christ would have come - did come - just to restore the relationship between God and you.

Hear Jesus’ words in 3:16 from God’s point of view - God so loved N so much that he sent his only son so that if they believe in me, they would not perish but have eternal life. God calls us to love ourselves too - he does. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the seashore is still lapped with Jesus’ words to Simon and his response, ‘Do you love me... you know that I love you.’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Peter, our self-worth is restored. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Friends, today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today marks our renewed recommitment to be Christian disciples, seeking Christ’s kingship, the love of our redeemer, brother and lord, in our lives, in our loves, in our world.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Statement from The Bishop of St. Albans following the vote at General Synod

The Bishop of St Albans the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith issued a statement issued on 20th November 2012. The Bishop of Hertford and the Bishop of Bedford have associated themselves with it:

After many years of discussion and debate the General Synod of the Church of England today rejected the legislation which provided for the ordination of women as bishops. A two-thirds majority was required in all three Houses of Synod. Whilst the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy achieved the necessary two-thirds majority, the motion was lost by a few votes in the House of Laity. I have always been a supporter of women bishops’ legislation and I share in the disappointment of the many outstanding women priests who play such a valuable role in the mission and ministry of our diocese

I recognise that a significant minority of people in the Diocese of St Albans have theological objections to the proposals which were being debated. I have always tried to keep in close contact with them and to support them. Nevertheless I know that the vast majority of people in the diocese were in favour of this development and for them today’s vote will be a cause for deep sadness.   We need time to reflect on what has happened. In the meantime, I urge everyone to double their efforts to love and serve their communities, offering their pain and frustration to God. No one has any cause for rejoicing; all are aware that the pain felt will affect the whole church. I was grateful for the grace shown when the result was announced to the General Synod in silence.

 It is a bishop’s task to unite all those in his care and I call on all the people of the diocese that I lead to continue in the service of their communities, loving them as Christ loved us, sacrificing their pain to that task. As we double our efforts to reach out to the most needy, we will discover the future to which God is calling us.

We have more listening and more work to do to achieve the end result which so many believe is the right way forward both inside and beyond our church.

†Alan St Albans

Text taken from a statement on the St Albans Diocese website, available to read here

Monday, 19 November 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

Not many of my lessons at secondary school stick in my mind but one does... We were waiting for a Maths lesson to begin and our teacher was running seriously late. It’s fair to say we were being a little ‘boisterous’ to say the least and certainly not waiting well with our books out, pens at the ready.  Instead the class ‘Joker’ was up to all sorts of no good at the front of the class - which was hugely entertaining at the time.

In the midst of the mayhem that our class room was becoming, in came one of the English teachers who was teaching in a nearby classroom. He had a reputation of having a formidable temper. Purple with rage with thin pursed lips he burst into the room and yelled above the noise, ‘What are you waiting for?’

The collective nature of our activity and noise merged us as if into one being - a creature oozing the hormone-laden scent of deodorant and bravado - and we responded as with one voice, “CHRISTMAS!” This earned us collective laughter and a detention, but the question remains - what are we waiting for as 2012 draws to a conclusion?

Many are waiting for a better time when jobs and income will be more secure. Many are waiting for war in far-away lands to end so that loved ones can return. Many are waiting for the arrival of a baby or someone they love to get well or to die peacefully. Many are waiting to win the lottery. Many are waiting for nations and Governments to act on a plethora of international issues like working to prevent the impact of Climate Change or Peak Oil or poverty in developing nations.  Many are waiting for things in some unnamed general sense to be better, like they were before. Many are waiting. Many are waiting...

Even as we stand in the queue at the Post Office waiting is not a passive thing - we wonder when it’s our turn, we look at the posters around us, we plan our day, what we will eat, how we will make that awkward phone-call....

But waiting is an active thing.  The same is true of the season of Advent. It is the time that the Church sets aside to wait actively and attentively for the God who promises for generations in the story of what we call the Old Testament in the Bible, to come among us in person. He comes to right wrongs, to restore justice, and to renew our relationships with each other and with Him.  It sounds good doesn’t it and it buys right into the hopes and longings of many of us right at the moment.

But as December rolls on and our hopes are raised and our longings met we discover that God Almighty is delayed in coming in person and He sends a baby instead.

All too often this baby is portrayed in many a Christmas card scene as ‘little Jesus meek and mild’ and yet we forget at our peril, that this baby, this Jesus comes to fulfil God’s hopes...  and ours. This Jesus - healer of the broken, crosser of barriers, welcomer of the outsider, forgiver of willfulness, lover of the loveless, table turner, water walker, crucified, dead, buried... and raised...

As we wait for things to get better. As 2012 rolls into 2013. Why not gives this Jesus a chance to fulfil your hopes and dreams... Meek and mild, as if...

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Seeing the Sights

I love going away on holiday and when I do I love to go and visit some of the sights. One of the best places I have ever visited is Chicago. It is beautiful - right on the banks of Lake Michigan. It has loads of really amazing buildings - some quite old by American standards with nice bricks and stone and carving; some really new with smoked glass and chromed steel. Some of the most successful companies in America have been and are based there.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem doing a bit of sightseeing. The disciples are amazed at some of the things they see. They are particularly taken with the size of the Temple - they notice how big the stones used to make it were. Jesus warns the disciples that one day these great buildings will be destroyed. That’s sad, especially if they were as amazing as the ones in Chicago are. Jesus’ point though is: these buildings might be used by companies who make all sorts of amazing things that we might really want, that help make life good - PS3, drums, trainers - but if we have the best trainers, a fantastic drumkit and a new PS3 and don’t trust in God and listen to Jesus then we have missed what life is all about.

So where do place our trust? What do we hope for? What makes life good for us? Lower taxes? A new car?? Aromatherapy???

Back in Jesus’ day, people were pretty anxious. They were people living in an occupied land, kept ‘secure’ by foreign soldiers. They longed for freedom. There was also a strong feeling that they were living in ‘the end times’ the end of the world was near. The metallic taste of fear was in the air. There were sections of Jewish society that played on that fear - the tax collectors who helped to finance the political status quo - the all encompassing influence of one nation, Italy and the Roman system of government - oh and line their own pockets too! Another such section of society was the Temple. Instead of being a place where God was worshiped, and people were liberated to live for him - they were being crushed by the weight of the letter of the law, and being tithed financially dry. This suited the religious leaders - it kept them in jobs, in the lifestyle they loved, and in the respect of the masses.

Jesus deplored this. It stood rank and file against the coming kingdom of his God and father, with it’s inverted values that benefitted the many not the few. Whilst the Temple and the rest of Roman influenced society was an amazing structure, there was a time coming when God would tear it down and raise it to the ground. This, along with the persecution of Jesus’ followers would lead ultimately to his return.

Jesus is unnervingly specific in his predictions - in the future, disciples could expect to face famines and earthquakes, wars, the break up of families and community strife. This is just part of the process of freeing that the Son of Man will himself complete.

Yet this is an unnervingly contemporary gospel. We too live in anxious times. Whilst our land may not be occupied, in many places we are the occupier albeit in the name of peacekeeping. Yet we are occupied, or at least our political leaders are pre-occupied with the very real threat of Islamic terrorism. With that threat and nuclear programmers being developed if not in Iran then certainly in North Korea then we maybe also feeling a bit apocalyptic. There are also those in our society who play on our fears - offering us loans we cannot repay, health remedies that may not work, legal advice to sue when what happened was a genuine accident - and the all encompassing influence of one nation America, her MacDonalds culture and ‘democracy at all costs.’

An anxious people look for surety in all sorts of places and some find it in religion. But if the church is ever a place where people are drawn in and all your gifts, talents, time and money are used up here, then it makes us no better than the Temple enforcing the unenforceable.

The church should be a place where we are encouraged, where we meet with God and are empowered by him , where we are sent out to face earthquakes, wars, family break up, community strife.

It is here where we learn what suffering means - or put a better way, where life is headed. Jesus doesn’t try to down -play or explain the sufferings he talks of - except that we see later that he himself would walk the same road, being rejected by the same institutions of power and influence, taking suffering to it’s conclusion. And yet his death marks the death of those who play on our fears - the Temple curtain tears in two. Not one stone will be left one on another.

We have no way of knowing whether any of what Jesus talks of here will happen. Except... the things Jesus predicted happening to him happened. Except... men and women around our world have been and will suffer in exactly the sorts of way that Jesus suggests.

Go on - place your faith in the institutions of power; see if that massage helps long term not just for you but for others; long for the Iraqi or Afghani 'peacekeeping' missions to end or the war in Syria to cease or even for David Cameron to resign - or place your trust in a God who made the world, loves it, suffers, dies and rises again in it, and who is freeing it’s anxious people from fear one at a time.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Love is a verb

Norma Jean Mortenson spent much of her childhood in foster homes. In one of those foster homes, when she was eight years old, one of the boarders raped her and gave her a nickel. He said, 'Here, Honey. Take this and don't ever tell anyone what I did to you.' When little Norma Jean went to her foster mother to tell her what had happened she was beaten badly for saying bad things.

Norma Jean turned into a very pretty young girl and people began to notice. Boys whistled at her and she began to enjoy that, but she always wished they would notice she was a person too--not just a body--or a pretty face--but a person. She went to Hollywood and took a new name-- Marilyn Monroe and the publicity people told her, 'We are going to create a modern sex symbol out of you.' And this was her reaction, 'A symbol? Aren't symbols things people hit together?' They said, 'Honey, it doesn't matter, because we are going to make you the most smoldering sex symbol that ever hit the celluloid.'  She was an overnight smash success, but she kept asking, 'Did you also notice I am a person? Would you please notice?' Then she was cast in the dumb blonde roles.

Everyone hated Marilyn Monroe. She would keep her crews waiting two hours on the set. She was regarded as a selfish prima donna. What they didn't know was that she was in her dressing room being sick because she was so terrified. She kept saying, 'Will someone please notice I am a person. Please.' They didn't notice. They wouldn't take her seriously.
"She went through three marriages--always pleading, 'Take me seriously as a person.' Everyone kept saying, 'But you are a sex symbol. You can't be other than that.'

"Marilyn kept saying 'I want to be a person. I want to be a serious actress.'
"And so on that Saturday night, at the age of 35 when all beautiful women are supposed to be on the arm of a handsome escort, Marilyn Monroe took her own life. She killed herself.  When her maid found her body the next morning, she noticed the telephone was off the hook. It was dangling there beside her. Later investigation revealed that in the last moments of her life she had called a Hollywood actor and told him she had taken enough sleeping pills to kill herself. He answered with the words 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!' That was the last word she heard. She dropped the phone--left it dangling.

'What really killed Marilyn Monroe, love goddess who never found any love?' She died because she never got through to anyone who understood or cared.

In his encounter with the scribe in this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us also of the all transforming importance of love, but that love is not just an emotion, but a verb. 
In replying to the question about what the most important of the 613 commands and 365 prohobitions of the Old Testament Jesus quotes from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That call to love God with all that you are is a declaration of faith in the God who loved us first. It is still said by faithful Jews each day. God’s love for us is unconditional, unmerited and undeserved. He just loves, not because of what we have done or who we are, but because of who He is. It is the underpinning of everything.

“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.

The order in which Jesus quotes these it seems is crucial. It is not possible to love God and not love our neighbour and a good litmus test of us knowing that we are loved by God and loving Him in return is practically displaying that in loving others. If we leave church and do not display love to others in action, we have failed as his disciples. For love is not about how we feel but about how others feel because they are loved by God through us and a sharing of what ourselves have received through the outpouring of God’s love for us all through Christ on the cross. The second command is the fulfillment of the first and we are called to follow that love...

[Here I encouraged the church to respond to the need for help that we need as we seek to set up the Food Bank]

Love is a verb - love is a person in Jesus Christ in and through you.

Thursday, 25 October 2012


November is a month that forces us to remember - foiled treason plots, the tragedy of war and the holy men and women of God.

Perhaps this November, more than some others, will force us to remember better times,  especially against the backdrop of high unemployment, of continuing recession, of yet another month where there is more month than money... 

The reason we remember and make memories at all is because they are central to to what it means to be human. Being human involves being in relationship with others - with those whom we love, with those whom we work, with those whom we live with whether locally, nationally or internationally and forging a future together as families, communities, as nations, as a world.

Yet our relationships can be strained because of all sorts of factors - pressure of work, time and distance but not least of all the austere place we find ourselves in as a nation at the moment.

 Did you know that 1 in 5 parents skip meals to feed their children or that some 13 million people in the UK live below the poverty line?

To play our part seeing our communities transformed by the love of Christ in responding to that need locally, we are working with other churches to see a foodbank open to serve the people of Mill End and Maple Cross. We are working in partnership with the Trussell Trust ( who are the UK’s leading providor of support to setting up foodbanks to support local people who are, in many cases, one paycheque away from a crisis.

We would like you to play a part in realising this vision. In time this will include helping to collect food from local supermarkets as people come to do their weekly shop, helping sort the food in date order in the storage space we have identified, and welcoming those who need an emergency food parcel at the bank in both communities and so on.
This November, as we begin to focus our attention towards the season of Advent, and long for the coming of God in love and justice to transform His world, I hope and pray that you will join me in being the embodiment of that hope, that love, that justice through the opening of the Food Bank in the coming weeks.

As it’s doors open, I also hope and pray that the memories that are shared this Advent season when it comes, are hope filled ones, where it’s seen and felt that God’s church made a difference, and showed the love and care of God Himself to those in very real need.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Mill End/Maple Cross Foodbank

Did you know that 1 in 5 parents skip meals to feed their children or that some 13 million people in the UK live below the poverty line? 

To play our part seeing our communities transformed by the love of Christ in responding to that need locally, we are working with other churches to see a foodbank open to serve the people of Mill End and Maple Cross. We are working in partnership with the Trussell Trust (the UK leader in providing the expertise in helping local groups and churches start and run foodbanks) to support local people who are, in many cases, one paycheque away from a crisis.
 We would like you to play a part in realising this vision. This could, in time, be by helping collect food from local supermarkets, welcoming those who need an emergency food parcel, or sorting the stored food by date.

At this stage we are looking for some financial support to see the love of Christ transform this community. There will be buckets at the back of all three churches until 28th October - anything you are willing to give will make a huge difference in seeing this vision become reality.

More information on why food banks matter featured in a recent BBC report which you can read here.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Harvest Festivals 2012

Harvest Festivals

Come and join us for worship at
Maple Cross School 
7th October 
10.30 am 


St Thomas' Church, West Hyde
7th October 
6.00 pm


St Peter’s Church, Mill End
14th October
10.45 am

All Welcome

Harvest is a traditional time to become aware again of the good things that we have. This year we are financially supporting the Bishop of St Albans Harvest Appeal which is seeking to raise money for, and awareness of, the work of Christian Aid in the Dominican Republic.

Many people in the UK will think of the Dominican Republic as a luxury holiday destination, but there is great poverty and great inequality in the country - two out of five people are classed as ‘poor’; one out of five are classed as ‘extremely poor’ and one in five adults cannot read or write and one in ten people do not have access to clean water or adequate sanitation.

A little goes a long way:
£2.50 could pay for seeds to set up a kitchen garden

£25.00 could pay for a gardening tool kit

£93.00 could pay for aday of emergency practise drills for a whole community
£293.00 could pay for a workshop for a whole community on preparing for natural disasters

We're also supporting locally the work of the Catholic Worker Farm in West Hyde again with our perishable and non perishable produce.

The farm are in particular need of any of the following:

Tins of chopped tomatoes
Home made Jam
Home made
Chutney Cooking oil
Toilet paper
Porridge oats
Dried Beans
Cous cous

Many thanks in advance for your generosity.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Back to Church Sunday 2012

This Sunday is Back to Church Sunday. All of us were new to church once. We hope that many people will be inviting and be invited to give church another go.

Research says that many people who no longer go to church, would come back if they were asked.

Church is great - nowhere else would you get such a diverse group of people together for the same reason. It's not a place for the holy and good, who have their lives sorted and are on their way to heaven. It's a place for those who are in need - messed up, broken, people as well as those who are more sorted - all on a journey of discovery, a realisation that life is far more than we make it to be, that it's full of mystery, wonder and love. Christian people know that as God.

Here are a couple of videos. In one below, Archbishop Rowan reminds us why B2CS is a good thing and then the one above, well, talks about what church really is... (it's a bit American, sorry for those of you who aren't)

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Harvest Festival 2012

Bishop's Harvest Appeal 
Harvest is a traditional time to become aware again of the good things that we have. When belts are tight for most of us, it's a good time for us to be reminded that we still need to thank God for what we have and to support those with less than us.

In Harvesttide this year we are financially supporting the Bishop of St Albans Harvest Appeal which seeking to raise money for, and awareness of, the work of Christian Aid in the Dominican Republic.

The Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic shares – not always comfortably – the island of Hispaniola with the French-speaking and much poorer country of Haiti. Its economy depends on the tourist trade and on foreign businesses operating in its Free Trade Zones.

Many people in the UK will think of the Dominican Republic as a luxury holiday destination, but there is great poverty and great inequality in the country:
 - Two out of five people are classed as ‘poor’; one out of five are classed as ‘extremely poor’
 - The richest 10 per cent own twice as much of the country’s wealth than the poorest 50 per cent.
 - One in five adults cannot read or write.
 - One in ten people do not have access to clean water or adequate sanitation.

The fact is that there are now more poor people living in middle-income countries – almost three-quarters of them – than there are in low-income countries. That is why it is vital to challenge ideas of poor countries and rich countries and to support poor people wherever they are.

‘The image we have is the opposite of what we are. It’s like a slap in the face to the poor.’
So says, Melba Neris, a church member who volunteers in a local school run by a Christian Aid project in a poor community in the capital, Santa Domingo. She says: ‘I feel powerless when I hear we’re described as a middle-income country. It’s true, but I am powerless to change it. We had the first university, the first cathedral [in the Americas] here, but we are the last in everything... Inequality produces so much violence. I hope for a better life for these children.’

Inequality may dominate the development landscape in Dominican Republic, but through amazing projects, communities and individuals, there is hope.

A little goes a long way:

£2.50 could pay for seeds to set up a kitchen garden
£25.00 could pay for a gardening tool kit
£93.00 could pay for aday of emergency practise drills for a whole community
£293.00 could pay for a workshop for a whole community on preparing for natural disasters

We're also supporting locally the work of the Catholic Worker Farm in West Hyde again with our perishable and non perishable produce.

The farm is there to support and accommodate destitute women (whom we call 'Guests'). These are vulnerable homeless women and children disentitled to benefits or work permits, literally "street homeless", where together with others at the farm they try to live each day by the love and values of Jesus Christ. The Farm seeks, with our help to provide a safe, warm bed in our home, access to shower, clothes washing and cooking facilities, help with acquiring solicitors and medical care, English lessons, Citizenship Classes and Counselling, support with finding voluntary work and most importantly to provide a supportive, loving environment within which our Guests can recover and work towards self sufficiency.

The farm are in particular need of any of the following:
Tins of chopped tomatoes
Home made Jam
Home made Chutney
Cooking oil
Toilet paper
Porridge oats
Dried Beans
Cous cous

I hope you will join me in giving generously to both causes in living out God’s love this Harvest.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Perfect Storm

We heard this week that we are in the fifth year of recession and that is beginning to really bite for many of us. Against that backdrop, Oxfam released a report called ‘The Perfect Storm’ which shockingly demonstrates that there are now 3.6 million households in the “squeezed middle” on the cliff edge of very real poverty but they’re not in inner city Birmingham or in the high rise blocks of the Gorballs or Peckham.  These are people who live in our streets, they are many of our next door neighbours, they might be in the pew next to you today.  How did we, in Britain, end up here?

If you combine rising unemployment with declining incomes, with increased living costs and cuts in public services and benefits reform we end up in a perfect storm of the very real risk increased poverty in a developed nation such as ours with people living metaphorically and literally on the bread line.

In the current economic climate many of are forced to really focus on what matters - on what goes into our shopping trollies, in how we spend our spare time, on where (if at all) we holiday, where our charitable giving goes (it at all) and so on - what is essential in our lives, what sustains us day by day.

The bottom line is, we all need to eat. WIthout food we die. We need food every day ideally to sustain us, to make us live. But if I eat today, chances are I’ll be hungry again tomorrow.
Jesus describes himself as the bread of life. There is something wonderfully evocative about Jesus’ use of that expression. Bread is one of the staples. It’s cheap, filling, sustaining and generally readily available. Yet Jesus says that if you eat this bread, your hunger will be permanently satisfied. But this is not a quick fix for hungry recession gripped households.

Last week a British ticket holder claimed a stake on the latest and largest Euro Millions Jackpot of £148 Million. A staggering amount of money, but stop yourself before you utter the words, ‘that would be the answer to all my problems.’ The internet is littered with stories of lottery millionaires who have won a bank breaking sum thinking that they have somehow made it and then they blow it - fritter it all away, houses repossessed and a rags to riches to rags stories to live out.
 In the news in recent times has been the story of Hans Kristien and Eva Rausing - he was born in to the Tetra-pak dynasty, his own father reputed to be worth an eye watering $10 Billion, and yet even in that context their lives are littered with lies and drug abuse.

The hungry long to be fed and not be hungry again. The wealthy long for love, that money cannot buy. But beneath even those there is a deep, all too often unspoken longing in all of us - to be free from anxiety, to love and be loved by others, for a respect that crosses the boundaries of age, gender, class, religion, sexuality and race... And not just in the now, but to see our lives, our communities our culture our world transformed in the what is yet to come. 

Jesus is not espousing some Martin Luther King Jr utopian dream of liberty and justice for all. This is no political manifesto or UN food program.  Linking the crowd’s knowledge of God giving the Israelites bread-like manna from heaven to feed them in one particular time of hunger and need, so Jesus identifies the ‘bread’ that God offers with himself. He comes down from God and offers the life of God, eternal life, to all people always, through ultimately giving up his own life on the cross and His resurrection.

Whoever eats this bread, takes the life of God Himself into their own lives. This is what Jesus was driving at as He describes Himself as the Bread of Life.  It’s not about us trying to live God’s way for we prove again and again that we just can’t.  Only when God dwells in us, only when the life of God lies at the source of our drives, motives and decisions do we discover that our life is being transformed into a life lived for God according to His priorities, His hopes, His dreams and His eternal love. It’s not about us living His way but about us living life with His life within us. The Greek word that the New Testament uses to describe what’s on offer here is Zöe - with God life, a life with God, a life together, a life lived in a partnership of love.

Unfortunately, this Zöe - this with God life, is not available if we try to live a certain way. It’s not about being good person. It’s not about being kind or gentle. It’s not about being self giving or charitable. This sort of life, that all of us long for deep down, is not something we can strive for and possess. We cannot earn it. We do not deserve it.  It is a gift received through a personal relationship with the giver - with God in Christ.

As we hear Jesus talk about the Bread of Life, our minds are transported to the Upper Room in Jerusalem where bread was broken and wine shared by Jesus and His disciples as a way to remember His presence with us and the eternal life on offer to us all afresh through his death and resurrection. In the Eucharist which we will share in in a few moments, as we share the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation, we take into ourselves God’s Zöe, God’s life and presence, His power to convert and transform our motives and drives, and to feed and to satisfy our innermost longings, hopes, desires and dreams.  Because that’s what’s on offer in Jesus Christ the Bread of Life.

Think for a moment about what goes into your life. What really matters? What makes you? What drives you? What do you hope for and dream of for you, your family, your neighbourhood?  In Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life we are not just offered the chance to live a better life - but the chance to live God’s life, God’s Zöe, eternal life with Him every day. In Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life we are not just offered the chance to be a better person, but to be more like Jesus - imitating Him, living and loving as He did. In Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life we are not just offered rules in life to live by, eternal dos and don’t’s - but an invitation to find deep meaning and purpose, acceptance, respect and real love - real fulfilling relationship with God. If that’s you, then come, because Jesus says to you, ‘I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty...'

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Nothing Draws a Crowd like a Crowd!

They say nothing draws a crowd like a crowd... I bet you, if I stood out in the street with a few of you looking up at the sky pointing at and talking about something 'up there', people would begin to stop and look, wondering what was going on.

Similarly people are drawn to good news. Whilst many 'rubber neck' at a car accident on the motorway, we are repulsed by it. We actually don't like bad news.  When something good is going on in a community, news travels and people want to discover the truth of the claims they have heard.

As we read the Gospels, the good news of all that God is doing in Jesus travels, and people come in their droves to make up their own minds.  Are the miracles, the healing, the teaching that people have heard about all that they are cracked up to be? Come and see...

The same is also true as we read the stories of the earliest church in the Acts of the Apostles.  People are drawn to what God is doing in and through the lives of ordinary people - and the church grew because through them, others encountered God for themselves and were encouraged to follow and find out more.

God is still doing good things in and through His church and through the ordinary people who make up our congregations week by week. But as our Bishop Paul Bayes said recently,

"...We know there are at least 3 million people in England who would come back to church if they had an invitation. And we know there are hundreds of thousands of Christians who want to invite their friends."

On 30th September this year, we join many other parishes in the Church of England in inviting people back to join us for worship.

Back to Church Sunday has grown beyond all expectations since the first day in Greater Manchester in 2004. It is now the largest single local-church invitational initiative in the world, taking place in churches across denominations worldwide.
Seeking to unlock the potential in personal invitation, Back to Church Sunday is an opportunity to act together each year and take the simplest and shortest step in evangelism; inviting someone we already know to our church.  Back to Church Sunday has, and continues to have, a significant impact. Not only does it see tens of thousands of people come back to church on one Sunday in September, but it also sees many becoming regular attenders and active members of their local churches.

To make this work we need you! Soon in our churches will be some invitation cards. We ask you to think and pray about one person or one family that you would like to invite back on 30th September. Then in early September, take an invitation card, fill it in by hand, and take it round to the house of the person you'd like to invite. Ring their doorbell and as k whether you can come in for coffee.

Over your chat, tell them about the service on 30th September and ask them to come with you to church on that day. 'It's going to be good. I am going. Please will you come with me.'  Arrange to meet them at their home and come to church with them. Sit with them during the service and introduce them to others at the end of the service over some refreshments. It's really that simple. No scary bits. No complicated theology. Just the simple invitation to come with you to discover or rediscover Jesus for themselves.

In case you doubt how how worthwhile this is, here are some good news stories from across the church following Back to Church Sunday 2011:
'...I was thanked for sending the invite and told, “I have wanted to come back for some time and this just gave me the nudge I needed....'

Most noticeable was the increased number of children, which changed the atmosphere of the church.

'...She wouldn't let me not come!  I really enjoyed it.  Now that I'm back I will keep on coming”- the comment from the neighbour of a church member. The church member was 90, so no-one is too old to make a difference to someone else...'

Most of those who came back are now still coming, some weekly!

'The increase was about 50% or more on the usual congregation. One lady reported she did not like church but 'really enjoyed this.'

One man said, “If church is as good as this every week than I’ll be back.” He has been every Sunday since.

There is now a buzz about the simplicity of inviting others to come Back to Church. It has been great to see people praying for and inviting their friends and neighbours.

For one person, the invitation was something they had been waiting for.

One lady who came on Back to Church Sunday has remained with us all year and has become more involved in the life of the church.

Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd - please pray for one person/one family, invite them personally, come with them, help them meet others, because as you do, you are helping them meet with God Himself!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Adopted - like a locket returned...

Susan Gamble was shopping at an Internet auction when she saw a U.S. Army Air Corps locket. Since her boyfriend collected World War I memorabilia, the locket caught her attention. The locket was from the WWII period, but it was gold and the bid was only three dollars, so she took a chance. She won.

A couple of weeks later, the locket arrived at Susan's Pennsylvania home. When she examined the locket she found an added bonus that wasn't mentioned in the Internet auction. The sixty-year-old locket contained two photographs: one of an attractive young woman and the other of a man in uniform. The photos appeared to be original to the locket.

Excited over her purchase, she showed it to her father who immediately asked her, "When did Grandma give you this?"  She answered, "Grandma didn't give it to me. I bought it off the Internet from an estate sale in Georgia."  As he pointed to the photographs, her father said, "Well, that is your grandmother, but that's not your grandfather!"

Susan's grandmother Elaine lived in Oklahoma. Susan and her father already had a trip planned to visit, so they took the locket with them. Elaine Gamble was shocked to see it. It was hers.

Elaine was nineteen in 1942 when she gave the locket to her fiance, Charles. His parents flew in from Colorado for the Saturday wedding. But Charles didn't attend. He left Elaine standing alone at the altar. A few days later he called. He was obviously drunk and then a woman came on the line to tell Elaine that she had stolen Charles. Elaine said, "I told her she could have him." It was her last contact with him until the arrival of the locket.

Susan graciously returned the locket to her grandmother. She has no idea who the seller was, but she described the whole ordeal by saying, "It's just beyond belief."

According to tradition, the letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome, about 62AD. Paul addresses hostility, division, and self-interest more than any other topic in the letter, so perhaps his primary concern was not about what to believe as a Christian, but but how to live as one.

In the section we hear today, Paul goes back to basics. He reminds the Ephesian Christians and us that God, in and through Jesus Christ: has chosen us to be His people, we are adopted, we are redeemed, our sins are forgiven, He makes known His plans for us and all creation, He offers us His inheritance and marks us as holy by the presence of His very self in the Holy Spirit. This all encompassing passage should leave us in no doubt that becoming a Christian is not about assenting to the virgin birth or Christ’s resurrection like it was some sort of political slogan. Becoming a Christian is about acknowledging the lengths that God goes to be in relationship with us are enormous. There were no lengths, no costs that God would not bear, no amount of time used that God would not go to to express His love for us and for us to love Him too.  Being Christian is living and loving in the light of these actions of a loving God.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that we are "destined for adoption." He uses that phrase quite deliberately because it describes the intimate love of God the Father, who aches with love.  He recognizes that His family is not complete.  He already has children but there are others still missing out from experiencing the love and care not just of any family but His family. Adoption is about bringing together a disperate family of ages, genders, races and sexes, all bound together, all encompassed by His love. Story: Martina and Richard...

Adoption here is a belief that we are supposed to belong to God and God will reclaim us. Just as the locket made its way back to the rightful owner through a series of unbelievable events, we discover our destiny as we make our way back to God through Jesus Christ in the unusual way of his death and resurrection. It sounds beyond belief, but it is really grace -- we are forgiven and brought back to God and this is what Paul means as he writes to the Ephesians and us using this phrase ‘in Christ.’

As adopted children ‘in Christ’, every experience is reframed, from our most bracing joys and cherished achievements to our besetting temptations, our most anguished regrets, and our most wounding losses. "In Christ" we are joined to the power and presence of God Himself and no longer have to make our way in the world alone without hope or meaning. "In Christ" we are knit to others who will cry over our dead with us even as they help us sing hymns of resurrection. At the same time, being "in Christ" is no sentimental togetherness. You’ve heard the expression ‘blood is thicker than water’ to describe family ties - Christ’s blood shed on the cross is eternally thicker, for through it, we are bound together with each other and with Him.  But like all family relationships this means sticking with each other, supporting one another in love through the good and not so good alike.

Do you know where your life is going?  Where you are headed? Do you know where you come from? Where you roots lie?  Friends we live in an age where many of us can’t easily answer those questions because of uncertainty at work, because our relationships are stretched, because we live in what many call a mobile population, because we may not know even the next generation up in our own families.  Many of us are looking to connect ourselves to the past - look at the rise in interest in genealogy - where do I come from? Even our family histories become something to study - what did you do during the war Grandad, it’s for my history homework...

Many of us are are looking to connect ourselves to the future - look at the rise in self help books and life and career coaching where is my life going? But at the moment it might be more pressing and fundamental than that.

Paul remind the Ephesians and us this morning that our lives past, present and future fluctuate and change but they only begin to truly make sense when see life not as about assenting to particular political slogans, or about decisions that may or may not affect our present, or even something we do alone, but life is something to be lived and loved because of a God who loves us no matter what, searches us out no matter where we’ve been or where we are and brings us back home.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Healing is God's Business

This morning we meet Jairus, a senior figure in the Synagogue.  He comes and kneels before Jesus and begs him to heal his daughter.  This is a man, by the sheer nature of his position in Jewish society will have had everything he ever wanted and the rest was at his fingertips.  We can only make assumptions about his thinking, but chances are - his daughter fell ill, so he will have tried the local quacks, they also will have prayed and nothing seems to have worked.  He will have heard about Jesus - who would not have heard about this man?  For Jairus, this is the family's last resort.  A man of position of humbles himself and begs Jesus desperately for healing because he know he can.

Sheila, the mother of a school friend of mine, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.  Following her diagnosis she tried conventional medicine; she tried complementary medicine - both to no avail.  She refused to accept her situation; she believed that she could not die.  In complete desperation she turned to a form of spiritualism - and spent thousands of pounds on a healer who told her that she would be healed.  Sadly , Sheila was not and she later died bitter and deluded.  Jesus saw the same ‘I have tried everything’ sort of desperation in Jairus’ eyes.

This story is interrupted, rather rudely by another.  You begin to get a sense of what being Jesus in the crowd must have been like - as requests for teaching and healing come one after another - people vie for his attention.  Jesus stops the crowd, someone has been healed, he feels power go out of him.  The woman in question was, like Jairus,  desperate.  Having been hemorrhaging for 12 years - she was ritually, religiously unclean, a social outcast.  She couldn’t ask Jesus for healing, she could not speak to him, she could not even look at him, but she knew that Jesus could heal her.  She is so desperate that she risks making Jesus unclean by touching him.  We can only make assumptions about her thinking, but chances are - she fell ill, so he will have tried the local quacks, they will have prayed and nothing seems to have worked.  She will have heard about Jesus - who would not have heard about this man?  For this woman, Jesus is the her last resort.  A woman, a social outcast risks touching Jesus, longing for healing because she know he can.

Mother Teresa was once asked by a reporter, “What’s the worst illness you’ve ever seen.” Mother Teresa didn’t have to think for even a moment. The reporter thought she would say AIDS or leprosy. But she said, “The worst disease is that of being unwanted.”  Jesus crosses the same social and religious boundaries and shows that this woman is not only wanted, but she is loved, forgiven and healed.

Then, as Jesus prepares to go to Jairus’s house just as he is told that his daughter is dead and to let Jesus get on.  Jesus is not to deterred.  You can only imagine what would have been going through Jairus’s mind - why did he take so long with this woman when he could have been at his daughter’s bedside?  Nevertheless Jesus goes to the house, and goes to where Jairus’s daughter was.  He touches her gently, taking her by the hand and tells her to get up, raising her from the dead to the bewilderment and astonishment of those in the room.

Paul Brand, a doctor in India, touched a young leper and said, “My son, you are going to get better.” The young man sobbed and sobbed.  Paul said, “You don’t understand. You’re going to get better. We’ve discovered some new medications for leprosy and I’ve found the right one for you.” The young man sobbed all the more. His sister finally said to Dr. Brand, “He isn’t sobbing because of what you told him. He’s sobbing because ever since he got leprosy nobody has touched him.”

Jesus knows how oppressive illness is.  He has seen families who believe they are beyond hope.  He has sat and talked with those who society or religion say are unclean, to be avoided, ostracized - the outsider.  He has seen desperation in countless eyes.  These healings are not dependent on the faith of the individuals involved.  They depend only on the touch of the love of God, in his Son, Jesus.
The issue of healing is an emotive one especially when it does not seem to happen.  We assume at our peril that if after prayer we do not get better, that prayer has failed.  Look at that women, she had waited for twelve years to finally be free of her condition.  I say that, not to duck the difficult issue, but because our instant world expects instant results.  It expects God to act just like that ‘click!’  God does not answer to our beck and call, but according to his loving and gracious will.  Like Jairus and this woman, God only gets called in as a last resort, but all too often gets all the blame and none of the praise!

Healing is God’s business.  Jairus and the woman hoped that Jesus would and could act in love and compassion.  This is often how we react - we ask Jesus - politely because we are Anglicans whether he would mind awfully healing so and so...  we come to Jesus as our last resort or as a fail-safe to the work of doctors.  Yet as 21 century Christians, we know how Jesus responds to requests for healing in the gospels.  No one is turned away.

In desperation, many people are looking for meaning, for peace in our world, and for healing.   Christ offers that touch of healing still - as Christians, do we seek it as our last resort? Because we make it as our first port of call.  Other people heard of Jesus’ ministry as stories like this morning were told as gospel, as good news.  We can only do the same, if we have experienced it for ourselves.  Amen.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

(Extra)Ordinary Time

We have entered what the Church of England calls Ordinary time, what in the recent past used to be known as the Sundays after Trinity or after Pentecost. Our churches are decked in glorious green for weeks and weeks and we hear again, as the Scriptures are read, some of the amazing teaching and healing ministry of Jesus.

The green symbolizes, growth, like grass on the hillsides; the living presence of God amongst us. As we explore Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry afresh we discover that this is far from ordinary time, for all time in the presence of God is extraordinary.

As July flows and then ebbs, our minds begin to turn to holidays, to rest and recreation whether at home or abroad. Being renewed as people and filled afresh with memories.

The word holiday, comes from the words ‘holy day’, a principal feast day in the life of the church. A day which, in worship, helps to recall and share in the life and love of God in and through Jesus Christ. This time of year, during (Extra)Ordinary time, we remember that any time with God makes that day a holy day, a holiday as, primarily through our worship, we find ourselves renewed in the love and life of God.

You will be well aware that back in January we began a process to prayerfully discern together, a new pattern of worship for the parish which meets our needs and that can be provided mostly by me, so that we can worship together and have time together as church.

After your suggestions were made, the PCC spent two meetings looking carefully and prayerfully at this and has now made a decision on a pattern which we will roll out as of September and trial for a period of 6 months.  The pattern looks like this:
This process has required the graciousness, compromise and trust of each other - including me. It will continue to need those things as we begin this new chapter in our worshipping life. It will also continue to need the gifts and skills of many including familiar faces who have supported and encouraged us in worship over the years.

At the end of the Eucharist at this time of year we pray:

Almighty God,
we thank you for feeding us
with the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ.
Through him we offer you our souls and bodies
to be a living sacrifice.
Send us out
in the power of your Spirit
to live and work
to your praise and glory. Amen.

Our worship is extraordinary time set apart for us to be with each other and with God. It is the
time and place where we are resourced by Christ, and sent out by Him, to live for Him and to love for Him in the communities in which He sets us. It is time set aside in the week for us to be filled afresh with His presence, during which we are called, by His grace at work in us, to allow all our days to be holy, holidays as we are renewed by His presence amongst us and filled with His love.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Wild Mustard and the Leveson Enquiry

It has been fanscinating watching the Leveson enquiry unfold. Hearing politician and journalist alike forced to talked about the all too powerful relationship, sometimes unhealthy link between politicians and the media. It has been very sobering to hear former and current Prime Ministers and significant journalists admit that they flirted with one another and opened all sorts of unwritten rules and how the media would stop at nothing to get the story for us to rubberneck at.  Leveson has shown us what we hadn’t seen, or did not want to see about all these relationships.  The enquiry has, I hope, reminded us that the electorate still have the power. Despite the agricultural imagery, i was shocked to discover my friends, that these parables have more in common with political intregue than growing potatoes with my children in our garden.

Jesus is the master of using images from the world around him to make his point. In a post-industrial age, these parables can seem rather quaint and whimsical, but they used the language and images of a local and agricultural world. Jesus says that the Kingdom is like a man scattering seed. Now I don't know whether I am reading the passage wrongly, but in my mind at least there is definitely a difference between scattering and sowing. Sowing to me implies a careful, deliberate, placing of a seed or seeds in soil that has been prepared. It is about maximising the potential yield of an expensive commodity - the seed.

Jesus here though tells us that the man scatters the seed on the ground. He goes to bed and wakes up in the morning to find the seed sprouting. The man is clearly astonished. He does not understand the biology of what has gone on - he doesn't understand how these seeds have grown.

Then we seems to get a bit of a gardening textbook, '...The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come...’ The man scattering seed may not understand how the seed grows but he does know when to harvest - only when the grain is ripe and full.

What is Jesus trying to say? Jesus talks of God's Kingdom - God had been worshiped as king by Jews for millennia. Talk of a coming Kingdom would normally carry with it images of political and military power. Yet Jesus seems to say that God's kingdom comes with no pomp or power. Rather it appears, almost surprisingly, as if from nothing - something as insignificant as some seeds scattered randomly on the ground. The when the kingdom starts to grow - the outcome, the results are visible and tangible for all to see.

Jesus goes on... the kingdom is like a mustard seed - the smallest of seeds which grows into a bush big enough for the birds to nest in. Mustard seeds are not the smallest seed nor do they grow to be the biggest trees. Jesus isn’t being literal here, but he is trying to make a point, the question is what?

The parable is probably loaded with symbolic imagery - the birds nesting in the tree might symbolise a powerful nation gathering other people under it's sway - as in Daniel 4:10-12.  There will come a time, says Jesus, when the nations will gather under the wing of a renewed Israel.

Alternatively, there is the ‘traditional’ interpretation which says something like - Jesus' ministry doesn't seem to amount to much at this stage, but looking at his ministry with a God’s eye view of history, there will be a time when it will have a huge universal following.

Another alternative - Jesus could be referring to what we would call wild mustard. This is a persistent weed that is almost impossible to eradicate once it has infested a field. It is not a tree, but at it’s most dynamic, it is a small shrub. The parable takes on a new meaning because all of a sudden Jesus is talking about politics.

Fields were generally owned by the wealthy and the poor worked on them for the benefit of the wealthy. It was hot, hard, demanding and poorly paid. The workers did not benefit from the fruit of their labours. If wild mustard stated to grown in your field you would need to get rid of it as it is a persistent weed and will take over if left unchecked. It will threaten the livelihood of the wealthy landowner who only make their money from the poorly paid field hand.

The Kingdom of God is like persistent wild mustard. It is so persistent, so virulent that it will grown to become something that in reality it cannot be - a huge tree offering shelter.
The kingdom of God is powerfully coming, but almost as if from nothing and largely unseen until it has taken a hold. As it does so, it will turn on it's head the usual enconomy of power in the world. It will work against the wealthy and powerful to the benefit of the poor - it will do the seemingly impossible. It will begin small, but will ultimately draw all people in.

How does this impact us here, today? These parables have more in common with political intregue in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster as the Leveson enquiry unfolds than gardening. It's almost like, whatever we do, almost perhaps in spite of and our faith, God will bring His kingdom to fruition persistently, virulently where He wills it. As He does, he will actively work against those abusing power and liberate those oppressed by ‘the system.’ Or perhaps put another way, we in the church so often try to control God - we say things like ‘we don't do 'that' we're Anglican/traditonal/Broad church/ whatever...’ In the parables this morning, Jesus reminds us that God will quietly and powerfully work amongst us, growing the Kingdom by the power of His Spirit.

This morning Jesus reminds us that God will bring the kingdom and it will grow where we do not want it - like a weed - transforming lives outside the church community, challenge structures and authorities and power in society. Not very seemly at all... The question is, who are we in these stories? Are we the landowner with an infested field - dismayed to see God at work in ways and in places that He shouldn’t be, or are we the liberated farm hands waiting for the harvest, longing for freedom and change? Amen

The Gospel of Avril Grube

Avril Grube claimed that in 1982, when her son Gavin Paros was aged three, his father took him to Hungary for what should have been a weekend away. Her marriage had broken down and, after her son failed to return, she contacted the authorities and made repeated attempts to locate Gavin.

But her younger sister, Beryl Wilson, never gave up hope and continued to search for him. One day she searched for his name on Google and discovered his Facebook page on which he had written his mother's name. It transpired that he had been using the website to try and find his English family following the death of his father. He only replied to his aunt's Facebook message several weeks after she posted it, explaining he rarely checked the website.

This led to eleation for the family and eventually a reunion of mother and son. Avril Grube’s sister later said said, "It was the happiest day of her life when she met her son. She said there were no words to describe it...”

I can only begin to imagine the sheer, overwhelming, life-affirming joy of that mother and son. All of us know how precious relationships are whether friendships or blood ties as they get stretched by work or lack of it, time and distance, the pressure of modern living. People move around much more than they ever used to - it is quite unusual to find parents, grandparents, and other close family living in the same locality. Yet only a couple of generations ago, it was the norm. On the other hand, through media and the internet, we know more about what is happening every second of every day in the once unknown other side of the world. We have never been more close as global citizens, aware of each other’s activity, and yet we have never been further emotionally removed from each other, and craving understand of who we are, where we come from and what makes us the people we are.

This longing for rootedness, for identity, for self-discovery, feels like a very modern predicament in our all too fractured world. Yet St Augustine understood our longing to find our place in the world and within God’s grand scheme of things when he famously said, ‘...Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you...’ The ‘you’ to which he refers is of course God, and today - Trinity Sunday - reminds us the answers to our individual quests for meaning, lie in the duet sung between God and humanity.

At the heart of what we celebrate this Trinity Sunday is the idea that it is love that defines us and makes us what and who we are. Without the questing love of a mother, Avril Grube and Gavin Paros would not have been reunited as mother and son. WIthout the careful shaping love and encouragement of my parents and wider family I would not be the man I am today. Nicodemus recognised the love of God at work in Jesus and came to discover more for himself.

You cannot fully know the love of God, Jesus says to Nicodemus, without being born again, for experiencing God for yourself is like starting life all over again and being born anew. If you want to know your place with God, in life and in God’s presence and plan - in his kingdom, then this must be.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a religious teacher of his day, a learned man, splutters ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus seems caught up on the biology of the image Jesus uses and on the idea that this is something that you might voluntarily choose. And yet the starting again in response to God’s love, that Jesus refers to, is as involuntary as the birth of a baby - we do not choose to be loved by God - he just loves us - unendingly, unconditionally, undeservedly, unreservedly.

At the heart of our world’s fractured relationships is a longing to be loved, to be understood, to be accepted for who we are, and to know that that is ok. At the heart of what we hear with Nicodemus today is that God loves in a sweeping, expansive way, He loves all things and all people - He always has and always will - but that sweeping and expansive love comes personally and intimately to me - and that love will transform my life so that I may be born of he spirit, be born anew and to find myself rooted, a life with an identity and purpose, as St Paul reminds us this morning, as a child of God himself, a brother or sister of Jesus, with God as our Abba, our daddy.

This weekend we have the privilege of celebrating the 60 year reign  of Her Majesty Queen ELizabeth II.  She has been an enduring presence on the national and international stage throughout my life and many if not all of yours. Her’s it the first Diamond Jubilee since Queen Victoria’s and the celebrations of it will probably live in collective memories of years to come.

In her Christmas message of 2000 she told us: For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.  It’s clear, that over the years it has been faith in God that sustains and resources her. It is the example of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to be serve, which underpins the Queen’s continued commitment to the people of this country and the Commonwealth. 

Recently, Archbishop Rowan said of the Queen: “has a profound sense of vocation, not simply stepping into a role exercising function but actually becoming a certain kind of person, which is what vocation is about”.  A hallmark of the the  Queen’s reign has been about her loving service to country and commonwealth alike, part a sense of duty, but also in a sense her vocation as Monarch and as a Christian rises out of a response to the love God has for her.

 The love of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit that we recall this Trinity Sunday is not some sort of test tube love - tried out on Christians first to see if the formula is right and at the correct transforming strength. God’s love is a spontaneous reaction - not a planned campaign. God cannot help himself. It is a love that is utterly transforming, that births us anew by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is a love that defines us, that makes us the people that we and our Father long for us to be - not the glossy media bodies - although I could do with one of those please! - but the sort of people that they long to be in the revealing exclusives - at peace, forgiven, free from guilt and knowing that we are loved. Amen

Who's in and who's out?

We went up to London last weekend to watch the Royal Pageant on the Thames. I went in later than the rest of my family, but when I got near to where I knew they were, I was confronted by by barriers and people in hiviz vests telling me I couldn’t go where I wanted to go. I tried to explain but to no avail. I was shut out, stuck one side of a barrier.  I did eventually manage to meet up with them all but it got me thinking.

Things being cordoned off by a crash barrier or rope boundary and the welcoming space it defines in a queue addresses one of the most important challenges that we face in contemporary society. How are we to live with each other when we constantly define and redefine who is in or who who is out across a wide range of social, political, cultural and economic conditions - your skin colour, religion, income however real or perceived.  With those rope barriers one person places the rope to define a broad and generous space, another draws it in to become much narrower and exclusive. Boundaries are flexible; the wooden post can be pushed out or pulled in at will.

The ongoing global economic crisis demonstrates how brutally the boundaries of austerity are drawn by those with the power to define them. Within the global banking sector certain key players remain secure and protected together behind the rope of government policy everywhere, put in place through policies which ultimately benefit the wealthy 1%. Meanwhile the rest of us, the 99%, are excluded on the other side of the boundary, are suffering a recession due to decisions and risks we did not take. This 'Royal Box' view of privilege and preference sustains so many injustices and inequalities but ultimately makes us ask basic and fundamental questions about 'who's in, who's out?'

And on this key question our politicians consistently fail us. They crave our votes but dance to the tune of big money. Power seduces. Status corrupts. Wealth separates and entices. The Leveson Enquiry hows just how different life is behind the gilded rope of power and what people will do for the chance to step across it to join the exclusive VIP club, or keep 'undesirables' out and 'in their place'.

Whilst the Diamond Jubilee celebrations have been wonderful in my opinion, we can’t help but notice the contrast between the monarchy and the costs of the celebrations and the story this week about the unemployed who were bussed to London to man those barriers in hivis vests for little cash, sleeping under London Bridge.  And we are left wondering why the boundary rope never seems to be where it ought to be?

In such a divisive and unfair world as this where shall we turn for wisdom, solace and hope? Who will set the boundary rope in favour of the powerless, the marginalised and excluded ones who always and inevitably bear the cost of injustice in every age? Who will bring them in to a sheltered and hospitable place? And who dares to define a conceptual space which includes everyone within a visionary paradigm of parity of esteem and then sets out to make it a reality amongst us?

The Bible's answer to these questions is God.

We hear today Jesus challenging his own family and the teaching and traditions of his day as he explores the inevitable consequences of redrawing the 'whose in, whose out' boundaries.  As He does, Jesus is not disowning his family but moving the rope barrier which defines the basis upon which we should understand our commitment to love and be loved. In his hands no one is left standing outside the rope.

And so Jesus shows us again what a life living in and out His love looks like. For Jesus, it is the love of God alone that defines what it means to be human. Again and again He teaches and tells that God loves - the socially respectable and the prostitute, the tax collector and the poor man.  He reminds us today that no one is left out and no one is excluded from the Kingdom of God.

Are we Jesus’ mother or brothers?  It sounds so simple - we just need to do the will of God and we are welcomed.  But to do God’s will means to love God with all that we are, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to forgive our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to give to those who ask of us and so on. It’s demanding and radical.

Those who welcome God's radical love find themselves changed and transformed by it. Jesus demonstrates again and again how such love is profoundly subversive and upsets of the status quo of human relationships - here today as we share this Eucharist we are remembering that the love of God welcomes and embraces all of us who seek to live His love, and He calls us family.

So potent is the vision in practice that God's presence will inevitably lead to a shake up within each one of us that dares to follow Jesus because one way or another we are all guilty of placing the boundary rope in the wrong place and of drawing it in too tightly.

The impoverished carpenter from Nazareth has other ideas and invites poor and rich alike to sit with him and us, to leave the questions of 'who's in, who's out' behind, and together remake the human family in ways that are just, loving and fair. Amen.

Living in the Power of the Spirit

So I've got a bit  behind posting here - here come a few...


There are many great stories that climax with the death or departure of the hero, but the last sections are often taken up with who will be the hero’s successor.  A good contemporary example for me, would be that of Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films.  Another good example is that of Bilbo in Tolkein’s The Hobbit and at the beginning of his Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  It is this ancient motif that is told again and again in the stories of history.  It’s there in Homer’s writings, it’s also there in the Hebrew scriptures.  It’s characterised by situations where the end of one story becomes the beginning of another.  Thus the hand over from Elijah to Elisha, may be the end of Elijah’s story but it is only the beginning of the 2nd book of Kings where Elisha picks up Elijah’s cloak from where it had fallen as his master was taken away into heaven.

Pentecost feels rather like this.  This is the climax of the whole of the story of the life of Christ, stretching back to where he left the Father’s side to dwell amongst us as a human being.  His birth and life, his arrest and death, his resurrection and his appearances have all led up to his ascension, taking our humanity to be in the presence of God the Father for all eternity.  From on high he pours out on his followers the farewell gift of his successor - the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  And so the tragic climax of the story of Jesus becomes the hope-filled story of the beginning of the church as the Holy Spirit guides his people to God.  Today is filled with a sense of climax and also of new beginnings.  Today we hear the risen and ascended Christ speak with us and he is with us, his disciples still today, by the Holy Spirit who will continue his work.

The Holy Spirit has featured as the active presence of God in the world since the very beginning.  The Spirit hovered over the waters at the moment of creation.  The spirit, the breath of life, was breathed into Adam by God.  And later it was the same Spirit that confirmed Jesus in his role as Messiah as he was baptized by John.  And of course perhaps most famously, here today the Spirit comes in power to the disciples in the Upper room  The Spirit is given many names or titles in the Scriptures.  He is the Paraclete - literally someone called in to come alongside people and help.  He is the Comforter, someone called in to reassure and provide new strength.  He is the Advocate, someone called in to speak for those on trial either in their defense or to intercede with the judge on their behalf.

I passionately believe that the coming of the Holy Spirit that we recall today is not just a historical event.  There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit came on those first disciples of Jesus empowering and equipping them to do extra-ordinary things some of which are recorded for us in the book of Acts.  Pentecost is not just a historic memorial in the same way that Jesus’ charge to generations of disciples ‘to do this in remembrance of me’ has made the Last Supper such a crucial and intimate part of meeting Christ for ourselves today.  So this major day in our calendar reminds us of the times when we each intimately meet the power behind creation itself, and the change that he brings into our lives.

Post-Pentecost, in may senses the church has tried to restrain and sanitize the Holy Spirit, shoe-horning him into rites of passage liturgies like baptisms. confirmations and ordinations, telling the assembled that his presence has transformed lives.  The Celtic Christians didn’t try to push the Spirit liturgically around.  They had enormous respect for him.  They saw the holy spirit, not as the peaceful gentle dove that so often comes to our minds, rather they imagined the Spirit more like the wild goose - dangerous and beautiful, flying only where it wants, not to be restrained or captured.

For many Christians, maybe some of us, the Holy Spirit is at worst just a mention in the liturgy, and at best the transforming power of God but somehow in the past.   Today, I am reminded that he is a living and transforming reality, calling and drawing the world to God.

The coming of the spirit on those first disciples of Jesus transformed their lives and revolutionized their faith.  From a group of followers came a group of leaders of the church by the Spirit.  From a group of listeners and learners came speakers and evangelists and teachers by the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has transformed lives here is similar but maybe not as dramatic ways and you will have your own stories to tell.  I have spoken to a few people in recent weeks who attend very infrequently and they talked openly about how welcome they felt as they came here and of something intangible and indefinable but noticeable amongst us.

The Holy Spirit did not run out on that first Pentecost.  Jesus promised that the spirit would witness to Him, testifying to him and all that he had done said and taught, but the Spirit as Comforter would also stir the disciples to testify to what they themselves have seen and heard.  As Paraclete, he will do for the disciples all that Jesus has done, not condemning the world but offering it salvation through them, calling people to examine their actions and lives and have them judged and transformed according to God’s standards.  The Holy Spirit does not just transform bread and wine into the body and blood of christ at the Eucharist - he changes lives today.

So where does it leave us as churches this Pentecost?  It seems to me that we have a simple choice to make - either we are still excited enough by what God the Holy Spirit did amongst us and is still doing amongst us to allow ourselves to be like the first disciples, empowered by the Spirit, or we’re not.  I believe that God has made that choice for us.  As a church we are equipped and empowered by the Spirit with renewed vision, purpose and faith.  We are ready to write a new page of the history of God’s church here in the communities of West Hyde and Maple Cross, Heronsgate and Mill End.  God’s new mission for the disciples’ began outside the door of the upper room.  So does ours.  Amen.