Wednesday, 4 November 2015

8th November - Remembrance Sunday

Just a quick reminder about Sunday's worship. As it is Remembrance Sunday, across the parish we welcome you to join us for:

8.00am Said Eucharist (readings for Kingdom 2) at St Peter's Mill End

10.00am Remembrance Sunday service at St Peter's Mill End

10.00am Remembrance Sunday service at St Thomas' West Hyde

10.00am Remembrance Sunday service at St John's Heronsgate.

6.00pm Hewitt's Requiem Eucharist led by the Chiltern Hundreds Bach Choir and the Chorleywood Chamber Orchestra.


All are welcome to any of these acts of worship.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Art of Ai Weiwei and Edith Cavell

High in the Troƶdos Montains on the beautiful island of Cyprus nestles the Kykkos monastery. The monastery is famous because the first President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III started his ecclesiastical career there as a monk in 1926, and his tomb lies reasonably close by.

But the other reason that the monastery is famous is because it is custodian of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The icon is rarely looked at, and the majority of the time it is hidden away behind a solid silver covering which in turn is an accurate representation (it is said) of what lies beneath.  The icon is worth a mention today because tradition says was written by St Luke.

St Luke, who many know as a doctor from what little we know of him in the New Testament, tradition says was also the first icon writer. In both what he wrote in the Gospel that bears his name and his second book, Acts, and in the icons he traditionally has attributed to him, Luke’s purpose is clearly to paint picture of what God has done in and through Jesus.

Art is a very subjective thing. Many of us like this or that picture because it is beautiful, but for many of the greatest artists, art is not about beauty but about stirring something within us, eliciting a response, drawing us into a conversation about ourselves, our culture, our world and it’s values. I was at the Royal Academy of Friday to see the Ai Weiwei exhibition there. One piece, simply called ‘Straight’ commemorates an earthquake in his native China where 5000 women, men and children all died because of the flimsy nature of many buildings. The artwork is a 90 tonne carpet of steel rods of varying heights made of the buildings that were destroyed plus the names of the dead written in Cantonese on large panels. Some might argue that it’s not traditionally beautiful, but it is deeply moving and even though steel is strong, it reminds us of life’s fragility.


Jesus said, ‘…Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you…’ Since His birth, the ministry of Jesus has been about bringing the authority, power, presence and love of God near to the unlikely and to the often supposedly undeserving, and seeing lives transformed, reordered, and healed.  But what is clear from what we hear this morning - that task was never destined to be his alone, but something he called others to share in too.

Last week the church and our nation remembered the life of Edith Cavell a British nurse and committed Anglican Christian, who during WW1 helped care for both German and Allied casualties alike, but who was ultimately shot for aiding nearly 200 Allied troops to escape occupied Belgium. She understood the duel call in this morning’s Gospel to heal the sick but also to see the nearness of the kingdom of God to all when she said, ‘…Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone…’ - a rejection of patriotic hatred which so often can fuel war, instead her compassionate faith shining through.  She was given a State funeral and was subsequently buried outside Norwich Cathedral in 1919.

As we remember St Luke today, and seek healing in our own lives, how do we share that which we have received with others and our wider community?  How are we to record, write and paint the life of Christ in our own lives so that others, as Luke says, ‘… may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed…’?

Monday, 21 September 2015

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Bread of Life

I’ve sat at the bedside of two people this week faced with real trauma and ultimately tragedy; two people who in reality are having to come to terms with their own mortality. And sometimes sat at bedsides like these or I contemplate the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and I wonder where God is, because I struggle to hear Him, I wonder where he is and why He’s not stepped up.  At bedsides like these, sometimes leaving everything up to God seems naive, if not ridiculous. We have had enough of silly God talk. We just know too much for it to be true.

Perhaps this is what happened to the crowd with Jesus; they knew too much for Jesus’ words to ring true. Jesus said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  They object. They murmur among themselves. These are the insiders, the ones who know the history -- they know how God does things and how things should be done. They also know Jesus' origins. They know he comes from Nazareth.  They also know their scripture. "The bread from heaven was the manna fed to our ancestors back in the time of Moses," they correctly point out. And these Judeans know the law. "The Lord God said, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods.’" They know it all.

Again, I find that the crowd speaks for me. For when I am in need or distress, when I am hurt or afraid, I want to see a God who shows in strength and through miracle, I want to call upon a God who answers clearly and quickly, and I want to rely on a God who is there, really there, when you need him.

Little wonder, then, that the people in the crowd – and perhaps we – are put off, offended, angered even, by Jesus’ suggestion that he, a man just as they are, is the answer to their deepest longings and greatest needs.

And why wouldn't we be?  Who ever heard of a God having anything to do with the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, the hurting, the broken the dirty? Gods are made for greatness, not grime; they supposed to reside up in the clouds, not down here with the commoners. I mean, who ever heard of a God who is willing to suffer the pains and problems, the indecencies and embarrassments of human life? It’s down right laughable. No wonder the crowd grumbles against Jesus’ words, for such words seem to make fun of their understanding of God’s majesty and, even worse, to mock their own deep need for a God who transcends the very life which is causing them so much difficulty.  No wonder they’re upset.

Jesus says to them, "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me”  The crowd knew some things, but their knowing was limited, and they let it close their ears, shut their hearts, and limit their vision. They were unable to hear and know what God was trying to show them. They had made up their minds and did not want to be confronted with what Jesus tried to teach them.

So when are we like the crowd? What issues reveal that we know too much about the Jesus of our traditions and not enough about the living Word God speaks to us now? When do we allow our knowledge of the history of the past to close our eyes to the working of God in the present? When are we looking and listening with open hearts? When are we willing to be drawn to the Bread of life, rather than put our trust in what we know - the ordinary things of life?

And yet we are bold enough, audacious enough, perhaps even foolish enough, to confess that God does use such ordinary things, such common elements, to achieve His will and to bring to the world His saving love because Jesus, who was common, ordinary, mortal like you and me, is yet also uncommon, divine, and the very Son of God. This is the claim Jesus makes in today’s gospel, the claim which offended the crowd who followed him then, the claim which still offends any who take it seriously today. For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we seek God in justice and righteousness – which is, after all, what we all expect form a God – we find God (or rather He finds us) in forgiveness and mercy.

This is the claim and promise Jesus makes today: that God became incarnate; became just like us to love us to the life of heaven.  The God who does not spurn the ordinary and common but rather who seeks such things such as these to achieve His will: this is the promise that rests in this bread and this wine. For as God does not spurn the ordinariness of bread, or wine, so we also know that God does not spurn us as all too ordinary people. And so in the bread and wine we find God’s promise to take hold of us as we are and to make us His own, to fill us afresh and in so doing to use each of us to accomplish His will and work in His world, because it is precisely here at the Eucharist where God speaks to us most clearly of forgiveness and acceptance, of wholeness and of life, and it is given to each of us in a form we not only can hear, but also see, taste, touch, but also hold in our hands. 

The good news is that when we are looking for a God to speak up or to act. When the prospect of leaving everything up to God seems naive and when God talk seems trite or ridiculous, the Jesus who inhabited a life like that, a life like ours, this Jesus is placed almost unnoticed into our hands - that have been clasped in prayer or wiped a tear, or mopped a brow - in the ordinariness of a piece of bread.  And in that moment we know again that when we think we have had enough, or can no longer trust this Jesus - He is there, right here. He has not left us, let go of us or abandoned us - but in eating this bread and drinking this wine, Jesus inhabits our ordinariness with the love and life of heaven itself. When you look at it this way, it is a wonder that we aren’t so drawn to the bread of Life in this Sacrament that we double back in line for our Communion in order to get seconds.


I am indebted to some thinking by David Lose for some ideas in this sermon

Monday, 20 July 2015

The R and R of the Gospel

A new report revealed how embedded working long hours is in British culture. More people than ever here are working over 48 hours a week and apparently one in 25 men are working over 60 hours a week. This doesn’t fare well when comparing with our nearest neighbour - France - where workers work on average only 35 hours a week without significantly affecting productivity.

Working out what your usual working week’s total hours looks like is something worth doing. I was shocked to discover that on average I’m notching up at least 60 hours each week. It’s no wonder that so many of us a tired

In this culture of overwork is it any wonder that so many of us treasure our leisure? Leisure as an industry is a relatively new thing. Whilst I love my holidays as much as the next person I often wonder at what point we became the L’Orel generation, where we deserve our times of re-creation which have to be bigger and glitzier than the last one, rather than simply acknowledging that we all need rest.

Scripture says nothing about our modern day understanding of leisure as an industry, but has much to say about rest and recreation and the need for it to ensure human flourishing. Here meet Mark’s Jesus who is immediately moving from ministering in one place with one set of people to galavanting to another encounter. Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s Gospel is exhausting! Here Jesus acknowledges that and calls his disciples to take some time out, to rest and be renewed. 

‘… Jesus said, come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while…’ Mark draws a really interesting parallel between Jesus’ call to rest and the frenetic activity of the crowds. Stopping and changing our routines can have a profound affect on us and our lifestyles.

In 2005, a TV series set at Worth Abbey was broadcast. ‘The Monestary’ followed the journey of 5 lay people entering monastic life for a period and tv cameras would follow the impact it would make. The 5 had to participate in monastic life to the full and the pattern of prayer, work and rest which was profoundly transforming - many of them discovering faith, spirituality and vocation. At the start, the new arrivals were sceptical and discipline did not come easily - two of them were reprimanded for leaving the monastery "looking for virgins and cigarettes”.  By the end, they all conceded that the experience had made a profound impression on them.

We may not all feel called to a monastic vocation, but the rest that lies at the heart of monastic life can be transformative physically but also emotionally and spiritually. Jesus recognised the need to get away from it all - because only by being away can we truly attentive to the voice and presence of God; to physically be made new, because we can only give to others out of the resources we have. Rest is a spiritual as well as a physical and emotional requirement - as essential to our wellbeing as eating and drinking.

‘… and He had compassion for them... And wherever he went … they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed…’

Gerrard Machin was knocked down on his was to get his paper and spent nine weeks in hospital. He eventually died as a result of his injuries. Brian Williamson knew that he had done a terrible thing having knocked Gerrard down. But as he stood beside the side of the road, Gerrard’s wife put her arm round Brian and sought to reassure him.  When she learned that the CPS sought to charge Brian with death by dangerous driving, she wrote to them: you think "that I may be disappointed with your decision regarding the charge against Brian Williamson. I assume this to mean that you expect me to have wished for a harsher charge to have been brought against him… nothing could be further from the truth. I have never for a single second had any sort of angry or vengeful thoughts against this young man." She went on to describe her husband as "the most compassionate human being I have ever known" and to say, "with complete confidence", that he would have felt the same.

Our natural response to the person who had inadvertently killed our spouse may not naturally be compassion, but Jesus saw the need of people and reached out to them in just the same way.  Despite His own need for time away, He offered them that for which they really longed - not just the chance for them to listen to him and receive in their heads as it were - but to offer them their hearts desire, what they really needed - healing and hope.

What is Jesus asking us? We can fill our lives with work and with leisure time but what is it that we really need to feel happy, fulfilled and to lead lives that make a difference in the world?

So how do we respond to this Jesus? We should come to church, and encourage others too also because this Jesus still meets our needs: people who are sick still want to be healed. People who are hungry still want to be fed. And those needs are still very prevalent in our communities. One of the ways we can respond to Jesus is with our time - helping those needs to be met - to ensure that our churches our open every day (and to ensure that people know that) to offer stillness and sanctuary to people in our communities who lead frenetic lives; but we can also as I’ve said before give our time to our serve at our food banks, to help at Play and Praise, to drive people to and from our worship in our cars, letter writing project or just a listening ear...

But in addition there are some less tangible needs in evidence as well. There is a clear difference between what people want and what we actually need. Jesus reaches out to us still in compassion - us as people who Mark describes as lost and listless like sheep without a shepherd.  How do we work out that into our own lives? How do we make space to be guided and led by Jesus still? How do we make time to listen for His voice? Do we make space in our schedules to call out to Him? Are we open to Him leading us? 

But also how do we also make what we do as church communities places where we allow this Jesus to change our lives and lifestyles to live abundantly and to allow ourselves and others to strive for lives where that ‘something more’ what we all want in life, that we fill with other stuff?

Monday, 6 July 2015

Sent Out For Service

And so a new chapter opens up amongst us today. And what an exciting day - a day in which we begin to see the fulfilment of a vocational journey that began in another place at another time amongst different people.

I know Jairo you have found being here amongst us, serving and helping us serve the four communities of West Hyde, Maple Cross, Mill End and Heronsgate challenging at times - not least of all in that you have been thrown rather in at the deep end in terms of our worshipping style and the number of services - but as you now have the authority from Christ through His church to bless in His name, I want to tell you how much we have been blessed by you already in your developing gifts and skills in ministry.

I know also that as wear your stole in the priestly position now, you have already in these last weeks been aware of the burden of priestly responsibility that you now carry - but remember this ministry is Jesus’ which with us you are called to share, and as He said in Matthew 11 - ‘His yoke is easy and His burden is light’ because we bear it together.  All us know what learning a new skill is like whether that’s riding a bike, solving algebra, driving a car, or some new skill to enable us to carry out a task at work.  We are aware of the new skills that you are exercising for the first time today - and we are seeking to support you in encouraging you and continuing to pray for you.

Jesus has just made two trips across Lake Galilee to the eastern shore, to a strongly Gentile area, to what today is the city of Jerash, north of the Jordan. These territories would be places of suspicion for faithful Jews as they were regions of multiple languages, cultures and religions. Whilst there he heals a man posessed by demons who he into a large heard of swine who then kill themselves and someone’s life and livelihood. Then on a second trip Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter and the woman suffering from continuous haemorrhages. He then returns home.

‘…He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority…’ Jesus sends out the disciples to experience and exercise everything he has taught them.

I heard recently that in Japan, many schools don’t employ cleaners in the same way that our schools do. In many places the children are given the responsibility to clean their classroom and one other place in school. At the end of term there is a bigger spring clean for which students have responsibility. In some cases, once a year, a school will also have a ‘community clean’ which takes the same ideas out into the local neighbourhood. The thinking is that it helps teach a sense of corporate responsibility and teamwork.

Jesus wanted to teach his disciples that their ministry is an extension of His. To enable that He gave them corporate responsibility for it. The priestly ministry which you begin to exercise today Jairo is only worth anything if you begin to exercise it. But take heart because your ministry is not yours or even mine or the Bishop’s but one that Christ extends to you and us - and he sends us out into our communities to exercise it together to His praise and glory.

‘…He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics…’ Take few things with you to clutter your life and to have your hands and your heart free to serve God and others says Jesus.

Fr Phil Sumner who is a parish priest in Oldham has taken up fasting during the Muslim festival of Ramadan for the 10th year. It might seem odd for a Roman Catholic to observe a Muslim fast but as he said recently - fasting for him highlights our culture's obsession with consumption and struggles with obesity, it offers and identification and understanding of other faith traditions, but it also points to a long tradition of fasting within Christianity which reminds us of our ultimate reliance on God.

Jesus sends His disciples out with very little.  The resources for ministry for them are meagre but they are more than enough.  I know Jairo in many ways you feel underprepared for the task that Christ calls us to - but Christ sends us because we have all that we need. As we travel light together we, like those first disciples, are called to rely on each other and God for the task He calls us together to.

’… As you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them…’  The offer of the ministry of blessing that Jairo begins exercising today can be accepted but it can also be rejected.

Rob recently gave in to his children’s pleading and bought them a kitten. They were delighted with Theodore as you can imagine. But the family have now acquired another pet as Theodore brought in a tiny bedraggled baby House Martin one day, so the family have decided to hand rear that too. Advice that the family received was they should have left the bird outside again because often adult birds are not far away - but they didn't want to leave it on the ground in case Theodore finished the job next time!

The disciples are sent out to a ministry of teaching and healing by Jesus, as together with Jairo we are still - but it’s a message and ministry that people are free to accept or reject.  It’s easy to get discouraged when people chose not to listen to the good things of Jesus, they did it to Him and His disciples, they will do it to us. Jesus encourages us still to just keep going, to persevere, keep loving, encouraging, and praying for the people we live and work and learn amongst because people do ultimately want to be fed by what God offers us all still.

What is Jesus saying to us this morning? Whilst Jairo’s ministry changes today - the priestly ministry of the whole church remains the same - we are called to work and worship together, to make known the kindgom’s nearness together. We might feel underprepared, under equipped, unworthy, but Christ sends us anyway, as we are called to rely on each other and on God for the resources we need. When the disciples did that, scripture tell us elsewhere, they returned rejoicing seeing God at work in people’s lives - we should expect to see the same thing.

How do we respond? Do we heave a sigh of relief - we have two priests now, the church no longer needs me - or do we heed the call of Christ to be sent with Jairo, our Readers, indeed the whole church back into our communities to make know together the love of God in Christ? Do we rely on the theologically articulate to tell others of the works of God - or do we trust that the knowledge and experience we each have of what God is doing in our lives will be enough? Will we sit back and leave all of this 'church stuff' to the professionals - priests and readers - or will we allow God to use even us to persevere in sharing His love with those whom we encounter?

Sunday, 28 June 2015

What's In A Name?

What do our names mean?

Simon - He who hears

Jairo - Hebrew - Shines

Isaac - he will laugh - son of Abraham and Sarah

Peter - the rock

Jesus - from Joshua - God will help or save

Doesn’t stop there. Our surnames say something about us too. Mason worked with stone. Carpenter with wood etc. Or remember our love of genealogy? My paternal Grandmother's family - a member of the Wills family - can be traced back to Exeter.

We discover things about people in other ways - by their actions and ways of life.

We all have passions - things we will stand up and be counted for - things that matter intrinsically to us. Those of you who know me will know I can be evangelical about progressive rock music, PNE, films, malt - the list goes on.

When Jesus says (in Matthew 16:13-19) to his friends - 'Who do people say that I am?' He’s not asking about what his name means or where he comes from or even the things that people in the crowds are passionate about. He’s wanting to go a bit deeper.  He’s been teaching and healing amongst many people for a while by this point - this question is therefore a bit of customer feedback - will the crowds back his vision of God and His coming Kingdom or not?

In a week of horrendous tragedy in Tunisia, Syria, France and of course in Charleston in the USA or when confronted by racial hatred on our own doorstep in Luton again this weekend many preachers, many people of faith and none will wonder what on earth you can say in response. Yet respond we must - because at the end of the day - who will we back? How will we each respond to the forces hatred, evil and division in our world?

Jesus’ question - 'Who do people say that I am?' is one of enormous vulnerability. What if people hadn’t got it? What if they had misunderstood? It’s a question of risk, rejection and heartache

His question isn’t just about identifying him with a place or a people - it’s about a bigger vision of love and life and God and His kingdom.  He’s asking us on what we will wager our lives. It’s a question about who we are and who we wish to become with his love in us - guiding us.

St Peter, who the church remembers today got it - you are the Christ - the Son of the Living God. But I’m not sure he really know what he was saying. All I suspect he got, is what I get and you get - there is something going on in and with this Jesus that transforms my life and my world and somehow the hopes of all of us and our broken broken humanity are being healed and restored in Him.

We all, with Isaac as we baptise him today, need to answer Jesus’ question this week of all weeks - and on into the week after and the rest of our lives: who do you say that I am? - because how we answer it says much about us; how we respond says much about our vision for the world - saying yes to Jesus is saying yes to loving our neighbour, feeding the hungry, caring for the outcast, welcoming the stranger and ultimately standing with and in the love that God has for the world and against the forces of evil and hatred.

Like St Peter, I’m a work in progress. I get it wrong, I muck it up and I bet you do too. But Isaac’s parents and godparents know - we have to start somewhere - for him that’s today as he’s baptised. As  he is - Isaac will through his parents and his Godparents begin saying his yes to Jesus and God’s vision of love for the world. A vision that the disciples saw and experienced and that St Peter named. The question is - will you?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Stilling Life's Storms

Your actions say a lot about you... I remember hearing a report on the radio a number of years ago about an Orthodox Jewish couple, who are suing their neighbours because they were effectively housebound for 25 hours once a week, as the automatic lights that come on when they open the door to their apartment, infringe Sabbath laws. Surely this is the sort of simple dispute that could and should be rectified through talking... Like I said, your actions say a lot about you.

What did the actions in the boat of Jesus say about who he is? What did the actions of the disciples say about who they are?

How Jesus can sleep through a storm is beyond me! I have reasonable sea legs, but sleeping in what would have been a smallish fishing vessel seems a little unlikely. We also need to remember that amongst the dispels were some experienced fishermen so they would have handled all sorts of weather out on the lake before - they were concerned for their safety and that of the boat so it must have been very rough. They wake Jesus and instead of helping steer the boat, or maybe even bail it out, instead he commands the winds and the waves to stop and they obey - this sort of mastery of the elements is something that only a god could do - who is this man?  Prior to this event, the disciples had been experiencing the profoundest mystery - Jesus the teacher, Jesus the healer, Jesus the miracle worker - whilst a man, Jesus also clearly possesses something of the creator God about him. It strikes me that the disciples had every right to be frightened whether Jesus was awake or asleep!

The disciples needed Jesus when faced with danger and the limits of their mortality. They, like so many people cry out to God in Jesus, when in danger. They recognised that the only person or thing that could save them was God. Once awake and all is calm, Jesus asks the disciples why they were frightened and where their faith was? Did they really think that God would let them die like this? Despite all they had already seen and heard - they totally forgot who it was who was in the boat with them.

Your actions define who you are. Jesus’ actions and words reveal him to be the friend of fishermen, but also able to control the physical world for good and the will of God. The disciples’ actions and words reveal their lack of understanding of the great love story of God and humanity running from the moment of creation and reaching it’s high point in Jesus. But despite their fear, their actions and words also reveal a very real understanding that the only person who can help them when confronted with danger, uncertainty and ultimately death is God himself in Jesus.

Your actions define who you are. This is true of us. We say and pray and sing that we are following Jesus, listening to him teach, and trying to live it out, and yet all too often we leave all of that at the church door. As we re-emerge from church into the storm of Monday to Saturday we assume that Jesus is elsewhere, perhaps in still Church - sleeping as it were on the cushion in the boat. We like those disciples forget all too easily that here we have spent quality time with a friend of fishermen but also with creator of the universe with power to control the physical world for good and the will of God. All too easily we forget that from Monday to Saturday we live no differently to anyone else - only calling on God is crisis situations. We all too easily forget Jesus words, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’, ‘I am with you always till the end of time’ and ‘the kingdom of God is among you...’

Your actions define who you are. St Mark’s account of this story tells us that the disciples took Jesus out in the boat just as he was. I guess that means they took Jesus out onto the lake in the boat where he had spent most of the day teaching. But, it’s a strange phrase ‘just as he was.’ Yet Jesus teaches in parables from this boat just as he was, telling stories about birds, seeds and trees and most people went home scratching their heads wondering when they would see a miracle.

The disciples took this man who is God just as he was into the storm and their actions defined who they were in terms of their faith, and his actions revealed that there was more to him that met the eye. But they took him out just as he was nonetheless. Our continued challenge is to do one better than those disciples - to look at this man and nevertheless see God on Sunday and take him out ‘just as he was’ with into a world filled with storms. We need to trust that he is with us always and his kingdom is among us.

Jesus asked his disciples ‘have you still no faith?’ a question he asks us too in times of suffering, turmoil, doubt and darkness. Where is our faith? Either we believe in a God who can act and who can break through and change the present, or we hold on to some sort of myth, but that sort of God makes no difference in our world.

C.S Lewis put that dilemma so eloquently...

‘...I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to...’

The good news of this passage from Mark is not just whether we are willing to acknowledge that the one who can order and reorder the chaotic waves that sometimes seek to crash and crowd our lives and bring us peace and calm. No the promise of this passage is mentioned by Jesus right at the outset - ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ Jesus was there along whether teaching or sleeping but also that he knows that there is something worth crossing the lake for and He needs to get us to it.  Of course, the reality for the disciples, and for us, is that the other side is not all that rosy. It has its own set of challenges -- the disciples have to see Jesus differently, themselves differently. It means living into a new reality. And that takes some getting used to. Because when your location changes so does your perspective and others’ perspective of you. When your location changes, so do you. That’s pretty much how change works.

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”

Perhaps the act of faith is not just the trust that Jesus will still the storm. The act of faith is taking Jesus’ invitation to heart. The act of faith is getting into the boat. The act of faith is believing that another side is not only possible, it is essential.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

It's All About Family

We all have guilty pleasures. One of mine, until recently, was a tv show on Channel 4 called ‘The Island.’ It centres, for the uninitiated, around a group of British men and a group of British women left to fend for themselves on desert islands for a number if weeks.  on their return they really appreciated the creature comforts that we all take for granted - a shower, a bed, regular food etc

We like our homes to be comfortable and have things like the decor that mark them out as ours. Yet we live in the Ikea generation. What that means is ironically that our homes are more and more alike as Ikea’s success has swept the UK. 8 million Billy bookcases have been sold since their launch in 1987. One in five of us sleep on an Ikea mattress; 468 million items of Ikea cookware have been sold in the UK alone along with some 11.6 million meatballs in it’s restaurants. We like our individuality to enable us to blend into the crowd.

In these first few chapters of Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, with Him we have whirled through Galilee -- He has been baptised at the Jordan, the Spirit alights on him and God pronounces Him as His beloved; Jesus’ opening words announce the presence of God’s kingdom and call for a response to this good news; he walks by the sea and summons fishermen to follow, and they leap from their boats in obedient response; in a synagogue he teaches with an astounding authority, but a kind of secrecy enshrouds him which only the demonic seems to recognise; yet a secret power breathes from him that will not be contained, as witnessed by the numerous events of healing that mark his route. After all that Jesus returns home.

When Jesus comes home a crowd gathers - so big and eager for the things of God - that Jesus is so tied up that he cannot eat. His family then come out of the house and try to physically restrain him from ministering. After this comes some parables about the nature of the coming kingdom Jesus proclaims.

Whether his family acted the way they did that day out of love and concern for Jesus or out of embarrassment because he’s being called a devil, we’ll never know. What we do know is that Jesus clearly has a bigger vision of what it means to be family than something simply nuclear.

I’m not a fan of TV soaps, but it does entertain me at how many characters on EasterEnders can be parodied by remembering that no matter what happens to any of them - the only thing that matter is family ties. But our families can be awkward and tricky - relationships that need to be negotiated like an obstacle course - rather than settled into and enjoyed. But as the sayings say - ‘You can chose your friends but you can’t chose your family’ and ‘blood is thicker than water’ - when it comes to it we are bound to these people out of more than shred interests and choice.

Towards the end of this melee of activity and some teaching on the authority under which Jesus acts, Jesus doesn’t just respond to the over-protection or even controlling of his own biological family, but broadens the definition of and opens up God’s family wide to all people.  ‘Your mother and brothers are outside asking for you’ ‘Who are they?’, asks Jesus but those who do the will of God.

Talk of will, in a week infused with allegations of power, bribes, and winning at all costs in athletics and football on the world stage, takes our minds to thoughts of power and how it’s exercised. Jesus talks of the subjugation of the powerful in the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading and in so doing inverts how power is used and exercised in the Kingdom of God.  In the same way so Jesus redefines who’s in and who's out - women, Samaritans, centurions, lepers, the blind and lame are all in. So to our ears at least, to hear Jesus talk of His family not just being those bound to him by blood should come as no surprise.

What might be surprising is how that makes me feel. To now be invited to become Jesus’ brother or His mother welcomes me and you into a very intimate and familial relationship with the Messiah. To be invited into a relationship that invokes of other such relationship memories that centre on time together, shared memories and stories, upon mutual care no questions asked, ultimately upon something that can only be put into one word - love. And for those of us who only dream of a family like that, as ever with Jesus, we’re included.

To be Jesus’ mother or brother’s is not to do with membership - it’s not about surnames or even of Baptism in which we talk of the newly baptised being a new member of the family of the church.  Familial ties here are about doing the will of God.  His will is not about exercising power over someone for you own gain, but for theirs - it’s about rising the lowly, it’s about doing justice and acting mercifully - in Jesus’ words elsewhere - it’s about loving God with every once of our being and loving our neighbour.

What is Jesus saying to us this morning? I guess for me at least, it’s simple - if you Simon, are in my family, how do people know? We’re not bound to Him by a name or a place, so how does how I live demonstrate my desire to follow God’s will - loving Him and others before myself.

What of you? How will what you say or do today and tomorrow demonstrate your family ties with Jesus? How does being invited to be Jesus’ mother or brother make you feel? How will it change your relationship with Him? Will you let it?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Living the Love of God

I’ve mentioned before here, and elsewhere of the value that I place on what some call Social Media - Facebook and Twitter and the like. I find it an invaluable way to keep with people that I know in real time, but also a very effective way to ‘meet’ like-minded people or discover something new from someone with a shared interest.

I also find these tools invaluable for the ministry and you’ll find me engaging in pastoral and parish work using those media - something I’m speaking about at the Beds and Herts Media Trust annual conference ‘Faith in Social Media’ at the beginning of June. The thing with Twitter is that you are restricted to communicating in only 140 characters. This can be limiting, but most of the time it forces me to think hard how I want to say what I need to in as little space as possible. Why use 50 words when you can use 5.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus seems to be doing the opposite - instead of using 5 words he uses 50. So then I wondered, what would this morning’s Gospel look like as a 140 character tweet? Condensing some of the words a little so ‘you’ becomes the letter ‘u’ and Father becomes ‘Fr.’  and so on - perhaps if Jesus tweeted these verses it might look/sound like this: I have taught my disciples all u lovingly shared w/ me Fr. Keep them safe so that they can B sent into the world u love to love it as u do.

Many of us find it hard to share something of our faith publicly with others at all, never mind in 140 characters. For some faith is something held in private not to be spoken of. For others of us, we might not even be sure where to begin - frightened that if we did talk about our faith with others, we wouldn't  be taken seriously or laughed at. Yet Jesus is clear in these verses in the latter chapters of John’s Gospel as He prepares to leave His disciples and face the horror of the cross - He’s shared with them all they need to know, they have seen the love that God has for people in action in and through Him, they know He is God’s chosen Saviour, but as Jesus withdraws it’s now their turn to take centre stage.

Jesus prays for protection for His disciples: that they may be a lovingly united; as God the Father is to Jesus His son in love and kept safe from the evil one.  Those of us who are parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles will recognise the long term scarring a visit to the playground in those very earliest years of a child’s life can leave, but not on the child but on the parent. With every clamber,every swing, every climb your heart rises higher in the your chest till you can almost feel it like it’s beating in the back of your throat. No don’t climb on that, it’s too dangerous. There is a point where you cannot walk alongside them as they swing on the monkey bars - they have to do it themselves. They have to risk falling. You cannot wrap them up in cotton wool. As Jesus prays for His disciples protection He is not seeking to wrap them in cotton wool, to settle them comfortably behind the door of the church building or to batten down the hatches. Rather He prays for their protection knowing that He will send them, and us out from our places of security into potentially places of emotional, social and maybe even physical danger to make known the love he has for all.

Here's the thing - God loves the world. In the midst of this quite complex prayer, the word ‘world’ gets mentioned 13 times by Jesus and in so doing we are reminded of something - God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.  God loves this world and all that is in it - not as a holy and special place but the broken and all too often painful place that we know well. And yet God loves this world and the disciples of Jesus - rooted in a relationship with Him like the Father and the Son - so that the world may see and know that love for themselves.

Sophie Coles and Dave McDermott grew up yards from each other and went to the same school and the same university and are set to marry 10 years to the day after their first kiss. I heard their story yesterday as it hit the media. The couple were born on the morning 14 March 1989 in Leicester Royal Infirmary possibly in the same ward. It was like they were destined to be together.  We and everything else that is, was destined to be with God, who loved us from the very moment of our existence. We may find it very hard to love our world from time to time - atrocitys in Syria and such like make it very hard - yet God loves us and always has - and those who love Him are sanctified by Him - the same word is translated as hallowed in the Lord’s Prayer - made holy by Him, are sent into the world to serve it as it is - to love as He does, so that the world may be transformed one life at a time. God is setting us apart, yes us, to make Him known, so the question perhaps for each of us is not whether God is whether God will put us to work for Him, but how and where.

What is Jesus saying to us? As he prays for His disciples then, He prays for us too now. Jesus prays that we recognize, that we know, that we feel, that the resurrection we have been celebrationg these weeks of Easter is a way of life, a way of being in life, and not just his localized appearance in a garden, or in a locked room, or on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Why? Because our life here and now depends on it. Jesus wants us to live a life that is alive with resurrection, abundant with it, in fact. Because that’s what grace upon grace is all about.

How is God asking you to make this world, starting with our own community, our own friendship circle, a more loving and trusting place? Will it be through being a good friend to another, or listening to someone else’s struggle, or standing up for someone who is vulnerable, or doing an exceptional job at work, or volunteering to make a difference, or praying for those in need, or inviting someone to church to hear the truth about God’s abundant love for all of us. Who knows? What we do know is that God is at work in us and through us for the sake of this beloved world, and this week we are again invited to take part in God’s unfolding plans for the future.

As this passage shares a portion of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, perhaps we might close with this prayer: Dear God, whose love knows no ending, we know this life is beautiful and difficult and sometimes both at the same time. We do not ask that you take us out of this world, but that you support and protect us while we are in it. We pray that you would set us apart in the truth we have heard here, that your love is for everyone, and we ask that you would send us out from this service to bear witness in word and deed to your grace, goodness and love. May we hear your voice calling us at home and at work, at school, our social settings, and the places we gather and volunteer, that we might feel and share your love. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the one set apart and made holy for us.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Following the God Shepherd - Vicar's/PCC Report to 2015 APCM

We heard this week again of the plight of those fleeing poverty and persecution in countries like Lybia. These people place their lives and livelihoods into the hands of others who they believe and trust will shepherd them to safe pasture. During 2014 3,279 people died trying to enter Europe. Including the estimated 800 who died last week, 1,710 people have died already this year. More than 21,000 have reached the Italian coastline alive in the first few months of this year. The death rate of those who leave home to come to Europe is more than 4 in 100.  These traffickers are far from good - placing their ‘flock’ into small boats in far from safe waters. These shepherds are out to fleece the sheep with no care for their flock whatsoever.

Some 4000 women and men are seeking election to the UK Parliament in a few weeks time. Personally speaking I’m finding harder than ever to know who to place my trust in for the good of our community, our nation and on the international stage. We want trustworthy leaders who will work for the good and well being of all. Jesus uses the languagee of shepherding to speak of the nature of God’s leading of us in Him.

In the chapters before this section of St John’s Gospel, Jesus has healed a man born blind, a healing which took place on the Sabbath which again brought him into head on conflict with the religious leaders of His day about the authenticity of His ministry. The healed man is convinced that the healing speaks for itself and validates Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus then goes on to use the language of shepherding to describe his ministry set not in laws and structures but in the love and compassion that God has for all.

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  Just as a faithful shepherd will do anything to protect and keep the sheep in their care, so Jesus will go to the ultimate length, offering His life, for the safety and well being of the flock in His care.

One of the privileges of parish ministry is to be able to offer the care, support, love and compassion of Christ to people of faith and none within our parish boundary. Since last year’s APCM we have conducted 27 baptisms, 9 weddings and 33 funerals which continues the upward trend since 2011/12. Many people have received the love and care of Christ, often unseen, through the work of our Jairo our Curate, our Readers - Anne, Maggie and Helen, Lay Ministry team, and In Touch Bereavement support group in nursing and care homes, visiting the sick and housebound and taking home communions. I am very grateful for their invaluable ministry.

I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.  There is a mutuality in the relationship between Jesus the Shepherd and us the sheep, which mirrors the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son - it’s close, loving, transforming and life-giving. It’s a relationship we are beginning to see deepened in our lives, our relationship, our church communities and across the wider parish.

Since our last APCM we have sought to deepen and forge new transformative relationships - Tanzania project, letter writing project through Maple Cross school, continued close work with St Peter’s school and Maple Cross school through assemblies, church visits, and in St Peter’s case a Spirituality day launching prayer spaces in each classroom and a day on Lent and it’s vitality.

Our relationships with God have been stretched and deepened through Advent and Lent groups which were well received again, in Time to Talk - an opportunity to talk through an issue, to ask a question or to seek prayer once a week across the parish, and through a taster day on the ministry of healing and subsequent Forward in Healing course with a view to offer the ministry of healing prayer across the parish soon.

I am also excited to see groups and activities like the MU, the Food Banks and Play and Praise continue to thrive and make a difference to lives locally as we seek to reach out to others with the love of Jesus. I am v grateful indeed to all those who support and lead that sort of invaluable work.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold… they will listen to my voice. Despite his healings, despite his preaching, despite all that he had already done and planned to do, Jesus isn’t done yet. He still has more sheep to reach, sheep that are not in this fold.

Since our last APCM we’ve had Jairo arrive with us and Helen licensed and what a blessing they are. We’ve had the privilege of Terence, Kate and now Vanessa on placement discovering the nature of parish ministry. To take that experience away and bless others with it.

If Jesus isn’t done yet - if there are others who need to listen to His voice and come into His fold - where does that leave us? Two things - we need to completely renew our Mission Action Plan and listen to each other and God and discern some new priorities in terms of mission and ministry. How can we reach out and speak to others to see them part of the one flock? Jairo will be driving this work with a few others. Please help and support when asked in that work.

Secondly, if we are to take Jesus seriously we need to prayerfully plan that others will come into His fold. What this means I think is we need to stategically plan for growth in our churches and in our outreach over the next 5 years.  We will see home groups launched in a matter of weeks - we are planning to launch 4 or 5 across the parish. These are the best place to form lasting friendships, to ask questions and to grow in faith.  This will also mean looking again at our pattern of worship and styles of worship ensuring that we have a service in each church at the same time each week as parishes with confusing patterns, as we have, are statistically the fastest shrinking. It will mean being bold and intentional in decisions we make - for example Easter Day at St T’s - would like another service like that at St T’s later in the month; also ensuring that Messy church is launched this year. With one person now exploring a vocation - I wonder is God calling any of you to to serve as a Reader or a Priest?  Also we are already in the very early stages of discussion with the Diocese about seeing whether we can see another ordained Self Supporting Minister become a member of staff joining our team. We also need to prayerfully ask and seek to answer - how can we help people learn about Jesus the Good Shepherd and experience His love for themselves? What resources need to be put in place to enable that? Who else can we partner with in our wider community to ensure that happens?

What is Jesus saying to us? If Jesus is not yet done in Mill End and Maple Cross, West Hyde and Heronsgate - are we willing to listen for his voice - not just in helping those outside the fold as He says - but to do so. Will be trust the Good Shepherd to be bold and intentional and go where he leads us?