During Lent members of the congregation are invited by Katharine to preach a sermon entitled 'God at Work'
Sunday 17 March Lent 2 'God at Work' by Ros Freeman
Six years ago, I stood here exploring “God at Work” in my capacity as an NHS consultant at the National Hospital in Queen Square. I was a hearing and balance neurologist and had been running dizzy clinics for 25 years. I had also been Clinical Lead for 5 years and had had to manage a change that I was very reluctant to deliver. This was to move the department where it had grown and evolved over 60 years, decanting it to a nearby hospital before a further move to a new build. I had a couple of big operations during those years, and like many doctors, had gone back to work too early. I was exhausted, and very relieved to be nearing 60. This is not to say I hadn’t had an exciting career, with challenging clinical, research and teaching work. My particular research interest was the link between dizziness and migraine, and vestibular migraine is now an established disorder. On the strength of this I had travelled to New Zealand and had given talks in Padua, Poland, Paris and Luxembourg as well as presenting at other research meetings. I was extremely fortunate.
Then I stopped.
I had the opportunity to be with my father for the few months he had left to live, and the privilege to be with him when he died. I regarded that as providence, I would say it was in God’s timing.
I had known for some time that I wanted to study theology, When I mentioned this at St Giles, three different people, including Katharine, quite independently said” you must do Ben Quash’s MA in ‘Christianity and the Arts’ at Kings”. In my family, my sister was the artistic one, and I wondered if the art might be just a bridge too far.
In September a year later, I was sitting in the sunshine on the wall just in front of the National Gallery, drinking from my thermos of coffee. I had deliberately arrived early for the first seminar in the module: ‘Art as a Theological Medium’. It felt wonderful and continued to be so. Half of our classes were in the Renaissance Rooms at the National Gallery and were taught by expert art historians. What was there not to like? Even the 5000-word essays were enjoyable.
The seminars opened my mind. Coming from a medical background, I was on the back foot as far as art history was concerned; the philosophy reading for the module ‘The Idea of Beauty’ included thinkers from Plato to Rowan Williams, and all was new. I had always enjoyed reading the Bible, but ‘Interpreting the Bible’, or hermeneutics as I discovered it’s called, particularly when taught by an ardent feminist, was definitely mind opening. The provocative text in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians ‘If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off’ took on a different layer of meaning.
I was apprehensive about the module on altarpieces. Growing up in the Methodist church I was familiar with a Holy Table for communion and I knew what an altar was, but the sheer beauty of some of the art associated with Renaissance altarpieces was a revelation. I became a fan of Fra Angelico, the Dominican friar considered to be a direct conduit of divine inspiration. For me, art became accessible through the story of the painting, as well as through the subject of the painting.
I realised that my understanding of the Eucharist was limited, and I learnt more about the sacrament, the liturgy and its symbolism. The particular altarpiece that highlighted the all-important link from the Passover Feast of the Hebrew Bible to the Last Supper of the New Testament, was Dirk Bouts’s ‘Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament’ from the mid-15th century, and found in the Church of St Peter in Leuven, Belgium. The central panel of the triptych shows the scene of the Last Supper with Christ blessing the bread and wine, thereby initiating the rite of the Eucharist. There is a smaller painting on a side panel showing the Jewish Feast of the Passover, with a lamb sacrificed for the meal in the centre of the table. I included this altarpiece in my module essay, and I see that I wrote ‘The metaphor of Christ as the sacrificial lamb suggests a pre-figuring of the sacrificial Christ’. The place of the ‘Agnus Dei’ in the Eucharistic service made more sense. I had to work hard to write in the language of art historians. Writing a medical report was a much easier task.
The biggest challenge was the 15,000-word dissertation. My supervisor, Ben Quash, gave me a lot of latitude, allowing me to bring in some of the neuroscience of the human senses that I have as a special sense neurologist. The inspiration came from reading St Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ where he uses the language of the senses of vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell:
‘You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.’
I chose to write about Vision and the Mind’s Eye, relating the sensory aesthetic of the medieval metaphysicians, such as St Augustine, to current understanding of the visual sense system. It was a bold choice, and I remain challenged by the notion of ‘The Spiritual Senses’ and how they fit with our knowledge of the human bodily senses.
I have found it hard to discern how God has been at Work in these last few years. But maybe those conversations pointing me towards the course at King’s and the paintings in the National Gallery show the way that God is quietly at work all the time. And so, I was able to replenish my reserves and my mind was opened up to human creativity as part of the glory of his Creation. I feel sure that God wants us to enjoy his Creation, and in the words of our first hymn:
‘Ponder anew all the Almighty can do, he who with love doth befriend you.’
Sunday 10 March Lent 1 'God at Work' by Dave Archer
Northern Rock. Northern Rock. Such a strong name for a company, you could truly bank on it. And many did.
Yet 11 years ago, a few hundred yards from this church, queues formed on Moorgate outside our local branch. These were worried savers, hoping to withdraw their savings before the last of the cash ran out. Not in my lifetime, and maybe yours, had such sights been seen in London. The northern rock was turning to sand.
Elsewhere, household names like Bradford and Bingley, the Royal Bank Of Scotland and HBOS all lurched towards bankruptcy.
For 17 years I have worked in the banking industry, before and after these events. For much of this time, my role has been to help pension funds and insurance companies, so they can pay the money they have promised to their customers.
More precisely, I create, price and manage financial contracts, linked to bundles of unusual things – Chinese stocks, American debt, the price of wheat, even the price of cattle.
I was easily drawn to this world. It’s full of smart, straight-talking people from around the world. It’s also full of maths, my favourite subject, played out in real time. Market news demands immediate calculations and immediate decisions. The chatter on the trading floor around me literally ebbs and flows as updates come in.
And at the weekend, I’m the father of three, rather spirited children. You’ve probably heard them – they do like the microphone. And I’m also a St Giles Sunday Club leader.
This morning I am going to talk to you a little about banking and how these events shook my world. I will also tell you how my Christian faith helps me understand my purpose.
For most of us, our working life is a significant part of what defines us. For some it’s the 9-to-5. For me, it is often closer to the 8-to-8; perhaps for some of you listening, it’s even more.
Before the crisis of 2008, that dinner party question “and what do you do?” needed little thought. “I work in trading”. This usually led to an open discussion of this frantic world.
After 2008, I never dodged the question, though my honest answer would be met with sympathy at best, more often disdain or suspicion.
When the thing that you do, the thing that you enjoy, and the thing that puts a roof over your head and feeds your family, is called into question, this has a deep effect on your self-confidence.
Many of you here today might be doctors, or architects, actors and more, providing a very tangible output, an output which leaves society in no doubt what role you serve. If you could come to my trading floor and watch me, like many of my colleagues, sat behind computer screens, pouring over spreadsheets and news websites- I couldn’t fault you for wondering what value I am bringing.
Though I make this point. Banking is important to us all. It is the business of money. If you need a home, banks lend you money. If you have spare money, banks will put your money to work. If your business needs money to expand, then you may need a bank. Your business then creates jobs, and we should all then be better off. If you travel abroad, banking technology means you can buy a beer in Majorca or a fondue in the Alps, all with the tap of your bankcard.
Yet 11 years ago it lost that trust, trust that is hard-won and easily lost.
How then, as a Christian, have I been able to find support and guidance for what I do..?
One of the great things about being a Sunday Club leader is having to delve into the bible stories I was taught as a child, and to understand more deeply the many different layers of meaning. This has helped me grow stronger in my faith and give me direction, and I am thankful for this role at St Giles.
One thing I’ve learnt is the Bible does not shy away from discussing money. In fact, quite the opposite.
Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Importantly, he did not write that money itself was the root of evil. Working with money is not a sin – though we should be careful.
Jesus too was happy to address the subject.
At Sunday Club recently, the children studied the Parable of the Talents from Matthew.
Three slaves are given coins to look after by their master. The first invested his money wisely and doubled his money. The second slave did likewise. The third slave, given less than the other two, was scared of his master and what might happen if the money was lost. So he dug a hole in the ground. When the master found out, he shouted at him: “Evil and lazy slave.. You should have deposited my money with the bankers. At least I would have earned some interest!”
On a spiritual level, this is an instruction to do our best with what we’ve got. On a practical level, he’s giving banking a minor endorsement – and a bigger thumbs up to taking a risk and putting money to work.
So what is it like in banking today, as a worshipping Christian? When I joined banking in the early noughties, the diversity agenda was just beginning.
Diversity is now central to my company’s culture. Being open about your faith once meant standing out, and not always in a good way. Now, such differences are celebrated. Christians talk more openly. A rising tide has lifted all boats. My observance of lent, and the many pancakes I ate with my children on Tuesday are common knowledge.
To close then. If your job, if your choice of career is challenged the way mine has been and still is, I hope you look to your Christian faith for support. And we’re always looking for more help in Sunday Club. Amen
Sunday 3 March 1 Before Lent Transfiguration by Katharine Rumens
Luke 9: 28 - 36
It’s just possible that Methodist do not have a sense of humour, and I shall come badly unstuck on Saturday morning when I lead the first Lent session on The Sacred Art of Joking. I have planned a soft introduction because you never know who’ll be there, there may be new faces and people who are not used to our ways. Why did the plank of wood complain of having nothing to do? It was bored. Or, Why do birds fly south in winter? Because it is too far to walk.
It never occurs to us that we do not have a sense of humour and it would be impertinent or hurtful to have it pointed out to us. We may find DIY challenging - me, I can’t put a shelf - and I am not afraid to say so. I’ve never played golf, or bridge, or polo - but I am happy to share my failings. But to own up never to see the funny side of things - that is such a solecism in our culture that it’s hilarious.
The author James Cary is a sit com writer who also happens to be a Christian and member of General Synod. It is a funny choice of a book to read together in Lent, a time of solemnity and spiritual examination when we are not expected to burst into gales of laughter - or even supressed sniggers.
A colleague of Cary’s writes in the forward: These are strange times. Institutions are crumbling, and methods of communication multiplying and updating continually. Religious views can be broadcast more easily than ever before, but then so too can anyone’s offence. Censorious religion and popular humour have not always been comfortable bedfellows. But comedy is all about truth, and Christianity is supposed to be too.
Cary explains why Christianity - as revealing the truth - can and should provide the ultimate context for being able to laugh. Assuming that we haven’t got completely the wrong end of the stick, as people of faith we should be able to laugh long and loud, but we either don’t or don’t like to, or have forgotten how to.
We are told Jesus was capable of anger, and also of grief. ‘Jesus wept’ at the news of the death of his friend Lazarus. We see anger and tears, but there is no verse in the bible that tells us that Jesus laughed. Cary asks us to consider the idea that Jesus and his circle of friends spent months together on the road. There must have been teasing and in-jokes. A times they must have got the giggles and ended up rolling around on the floor with mirth.
Jesus’ ministry is full of encounters, stories, events that are funny. If we know our bibles well, our trouble is that we are too familiar with the stories. We are no longer surprised. The inherent comedy of the subversion of the natural world has dissipated. Perhaps even our failure to find a story funny is itself funny. We don’t get it, but then, all too often we don’t get it. We fail to appreciate the absurdities and incongruities found throughout Scripture.
Today’s gospel is the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus and his climbing companions go up the mountain to pray. Peter’s reaction - let’s make three dwellings - is nothing new. There are no surprises here because the befuddlement of those who accompanied Jesus’ on his ministry - of healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, even raising the dead is often comic.
Cary considers the story. ‘Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah.’ And - what do we think of this? It has to be surprising: Moses had died centuries earlier in the desert and Elijah was last seen being carried up to heaven by a whirlwind.
Cary suggests that this encounter is like accompanying the current monarch of England into a secret chamber beneath Trafalgar Square (an exclusive destination only for the few as, in the tradition of Moses, mountains are exclusively holy and not for the common woman or man.)
And in such a location watching the monarch speak to Alfred the Great and Henry V. It’s so incongruous and stupefying that it’s funny.
I’ve never thought of the encounter like this before. At one level it is absurd.
Let’s have a good last laugh before knuckling down to the business of Lent. Moses and his shining face, the face of Jesus changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Encounters with the God of transformation.
A theologian suggests that in Lent we aim for small transformations that take us out of our needy, greedy selves. To try to live in a way that helps us get over ourselves. Perhaps this is the best contemporary phrase for what the Christian spiritual tradition calls ‘mortification.’
A fortnight ago I spoke about Andrew Nunn’s inspired idea that we do Lent together. Small transformations that we all do for one week. On today’s Sunday sheet is Mona’s suggestion for this week: Neglected friends and family - get in touch with someone with whom your last contact was a hurried note on a Christmas card….the ‘let’s be in touch in the New Year’ message. Next Sunday - in case the weekly challenge takes planning Cyril suggests buying only what you absolutely need.
Further suggestions by Louise Watson, John Marshall and Mark include:
Being in bed by 11.00pm and banning phones and using the internet in the bedroom. A week without television. A brisk 10 (or 15) minute walk each day. A week without biscuits, cake or chocolate and my favourite: singing for 15 minutes a day.
Psalm 2 says that He who sits in heaven laughs, the Lord has them - the nations, the peoples, the kings of the earth - in derision. That’s you and me. God is laughing at us. All things considered, that seems a highly appropriate response to our pomposity and self-importance, to our being up ourselves.
When we have travelled Lent together - alert to incongruity, allowing ourselves to be surprised - we will arrive at Risus Paschalis - the Easter laugh, but more about that later….like on 21 April.
ster laugh, but more about that later….like on 21 April.
Sunday 17 February - 3 Before Lent by Katharine Rumens
Luke 6: 17 – 26
In the film, few people are taking notice of the colourful wayside preacher. There are several also at it waving their arms about trying to get the attention of the crowd. The people jostle and market traders haggle. ‘A friend shall lose his friend’s hammer and the young shall not know the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before about 8 o’clock.’ Brian perched with his gourd among the preachers speaks more concisely. He is on the run from the Romans at the time and in no mood for a meditative stream of consciousness, or drivel. So, the crowd follow him - Brian has something comprehensible to say about not passing judgement on others and lilies of the field and birds of the air.
All this took place in Judea about 33 CE some days, or weeks, after the teaching in the desert one Saturday afternoon about tea time. We laugh at the blessing of the cheesemakers, the Greek who will inherit the earth, and the skirmish at the back of the crowd. Over 30 years ago when some Christians protested against the Life of Brian there was still sufficient common knowledge of the New Testament to find the film funny - or shocking. The film is now unfunny to generations unfamiliar with their bibles.
Today’s reference to the cheesemakers in Luke’s gospel takes place on the plain. There are two gospel accounts: Matthew and Luke - Mark doesn’t bother with it - the two accounts are similar but different. Matthew’s teaching is up the mountain, today we won’t get puffed out joining in with Luke’s friends down on the flat. Luke’s version is much shorter - and we find the sayings of Jesus scattered throughout his gospel, whereas in Matthew’s gospel all the sayings are in this one place.
We know them as the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain - but they are not sermons with a beginning, a middle and an end. The teaching does not follow the rules of preaching - even in the Rabbinic tradition. These verses are more a list - of loosely connected sayings like Monty Python’s parody, ‘A friend shall lose his friend’s hammer….’ Other people’s free association is hard to listen to. There is no narrative. We do not know when and where the speaker will end up.
Not so much sermons, but more likely that they were anthologies of Jesus’ most important sayings. Also, he may have said them more than once to more than one group of people.
The location is symbolic. Matthew sees Jesus as Moses up the mountain, giving rather than receiving the law. Luke refers to Exodus 19.24 when Moses comes down from the mountain and reveals the Law to the people of God. ‘Go down the mountain said God.’ Go down from the holy place which only the priests who have consecrated themselves may approach.
Go down and be among the people. This is one of the four stories we have of Jesus’s ministry in these Sundays before Lent. Last week Peter, James and John were all at sea trying to do their job - fishing - what they thought they were good at. Next week another boating story when Jesus commands the winds and the waves. The last Sunday before Lent, the account of the transfiguration: Peter James and John are taken up the mountain - only to have to come down to the plain and follow Jesus as he sets his face to Jerusalem
We will arrive at the beginning of Lent having considered the identity of Jesus, who on earth this man was. He who had compassion for the poor, the hungry, the sad and the unpopular. Because perhaps it is then we remember our need for God, then we are open to God’s blessing.
Jesus lived and worked chiefly among the poor. He wanted to give them hope and show them where true hope lay. They felt they could do nothing to make life easier. They were trapped in a world where they could do nothing about drought, disease or plagues of locust. Many were trapped into working for people who didn’t care about them. Others were trapped into going down to the marketplace every day hoping for work. They were all trapped in a land occupied by the Romans. Jesus came among these people - offering them extraordinary hope.
Members of the clergy heard Andrew Nunn the Dean of Southwark speaking about preaching in Lent. What is to be said? This year may be very different, by Mothering Sunday we may have left the EU and find ourselves in a place we haven’t been in for forty years. The days get longer, liturgically we get sadder, and on Sunday mornings at St Giles, members of the congregation will reflect on how they see God at Work in their lives.
The prayers for Ash Wednesday exhort us to a careful keeping of these days so that all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.
Andrew Nunn suggested a crowd approach to Lent and not just wearing a lapel pin and being together on Sundays, or on Saturday mornings for the Lent course. Try this: Don’t give up those comforting glasses of wine by yourself - we’ll all do it together. For one week. Week 1 No alcohol, 2 no meat, 3 no chocolate, 4 no coffee or tea, 5 no cake (except for Sundays which are feast days). Or we could Week 1 Walk each day for 15 minutes, 2 make a donation to charity, 3 contact someone we feel we have neglected, 4 get enough sleep, 5 buy two bunches of daffodils, give one away and keep one. Or we could try both approaches at the same time. Let me know.
Lent - an invitation to step outside our daily routine knowing that others are doing it too. A crowd approach to Lent. A crowd on the level, the flat place.
Sunday 3 February Candlemas or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple by Doris Bararra
As some of you may know, apart from being a Pastoral Assistant in this Parish, I am also a piano teacher. Last week I went to teach my 5 years old pupil. A boy who loves having piano lessons but dislikes very much having to practice! To my surprise, that evening I was greeted with a Chocolate Easter egg. What is going on? We are not even in Lent, far too early to be eating Easter eggs! He told me that he cannot wait for it to be Easter. He knows that the Easter Rabbit is coming and that he will get many Easter eggs.A little boy who is waiting, with the conviction and an innocent faith that he is not waiting in vain, because somehow, he knows that his hope will be fulfilled.
Much can be said about these hopes in Luke’s Gospel reading today, but this morning I would like us to focus, on the three characters, Simeon, Anna and Mary.
Simeon, an old man who was Righteous and devout in the sight of God. He was expecting to see the Messiah who would liberate Israel. An old man waiting to realise, waiting for his people to be finally free. Simeon had been praying, perhaps waiting, perhaps hoping, maybe studying... an endless waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. He was waiting for death too and waiting to see if God kept his promises. But he was faithful to God’s undertaking, that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah.
I wonder whether Simeon expected to see a grown-up man, strong and ready for battle...liberating Israel from its oppressors, like in today’s reading from Malachi. A refiner’s fire...a refiner and purifier of silver.... He will come to ‘purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.’
Luke’s gospel clearly describes Simeon going to the temple, and perhaps on that particular day, he felt moved by the Holy Spirit, and as a result something was revealed in his heart. He held this tiny child, whose parents were so poor that they could only afford to offer “a pair of turtles-doves or two young pigeons” and in that instant and before his very eyes, something amazing was revealed to him. Simeon knew this baby was the Messiah.
We have just heard the choir singing the anthem, “When to the temple Mary went” by the 16th century composer Johannes Eccard. I am very familiar with this and have sung it for many years at Candlemas services. Its music, harmony, perhaps the way the melody is constructed, I don’t know exactly, but somehow it makes me reflect and listen deeply to Simeon’s words. Many times, tears have come to my eyes and I pray that one day I may have the faith and hope of Simeon. Just to realise how it makes me feel, also makes me wonder at the magnitude of the joy Simeon felt, when finally, his lifelong hopes and the deepest desires of his heart, the promise of his and our God was finally fulfilled in this most unexpected form, the form of a baby.
And we have Anna, an 84-year-old prophet, who lived in the temple worshiping God with fasting and prayers. In that moment something was also revealed to her. But unlike Simeon whose endless waiting and maybe being full of emotion was speechless, Anna was proclaiming to everyone that this little child was the Messiah, the Good News given to us.
And we have Mary, a young mother presenting her baby in the temple, according to the law. And suddenly the prophet Simeon tells her that her baby ‘is the one destined for great things, the falling and rising of many.’ He finishes his sentence with this phrase: ‘and a sword will pierce your own soul too’. And this points us to the season of Lent. From excitement to words of darkness...but a sword will pierce your own soul too. I cannot imagine the distress and probably panic this young mother felt. We are given the impression that she was strong, perhaps not to our modern definition of what strong means, but sufficiently strong in character to have been chosen by God to carry the Messiah in her womb.
As the Christmas season finishes and the season of Lent approaches, I invite us all to think and reflect on the example of Simeon, Anna and the young Mary.
The example of Simeon, who allowed himself to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Let us open our hearts to receive those awaited answers revealed to us, even when the answer is not what we expected.
Let us think about Anna, like her let us proclaim the Good News to all who are looking and waiting for God.
Finally, let us not forget Mary, who in her humility and faith, decided to remain obedient to God’s will and promises.
Sunday 20 January 2 Epiphany by Katharine Rumens
1 Corinthians 12: 1, 4 - 11
The situation is this, the early churches in Jerusalem, Rome and Corinth are growing and gaining in confidence and individual identity. The church in Rome ha
s access to power; some members have real clout not just in Rome but also further afield in the Roman Empire. They have money and are respectable about religion - they do it properly. The church in Jerusalem is too prayerful to be concerned about worldly wealth - they have St Peter’s great, great granddaughter among their members, they walk the Via Dolorosa, can stand at Golgotha and visit the site of the tomb. They are where the Jesus movement got off the ground and are spiritually head and shoulders above everyone else. They can offer the authentic Christian experience. Corinth has neither money nor pedigree, and they don’t really care. Corinth is a centre of world trade, it’s wealthy and knows how to party. It’s a bit of a surprise that there is a growing Christian community there at all. They have neither money nor religious standing. They like feasting and having a good time together. Rome and Jerusalem are of a common mind in their shared disapproval of Corinth. It is lowering the tone of Christianity. They write a letter.
Corinth sends two replies, one to Rome and other to Jerusalem. Both letters say the same thing: Lighten up you lot.
It is hard to comprehend at times that God works in a wild variety of ways, both through partygoers and scholars, through a parish lunch as well as a bible study. Through a hospital visit or just popping next door in for a cup of tea. As irritating as it is, God does not always follow our rules. The point of our faith is to enable us to say, ‘We believe in God revealed in Jesus Christ.’ Paul tells us in the letter to the Corinthians that membership of the church community will be accompanied by very satisfying gifts of power - we all aspire to the utterance of wisdom although we might be more modest in our aspiration than to work miracles. But the individual gifts are not the point. They have become a stumbling block to the shared experience and health of the community.
Today’s reading concerning spiritual gifts - satisfying yes but beware of becoming smug and distancing yourself from your neighbour. Paul warns the Corinthians against an unhealthy obsession with miracles and supernatural gifts. Some viewed their gifts, especially speaking in tongues, as tokens of superior spiritual status, exercised for self-aggrandisement. ‘Look at me and see how much I love God - and how much God loves me.’ Paul is seeking to correct this skewed view and abusive use of the gifts.
The point is to build a worshipping community together - there among the merchants, the ship owners and tourists. Corinth, the Las Vegas of the early church cannot let its members destroy the sense community.
It is a community that includes people who, strange as it seems - have caught the gift of faith. (No wonder Rome and Jerusalem find that hard to accept.) The community needs to be able to rejoice in all these gifts, to help it grow and it really doesn’t matter who has the power to speak or heal or work miracles - so long as the community as a whole can say - God is love. A theologian writes, ‘To see the Holy Spirit at work, building a people to praise and worship, to recognise this power, that is the true spiritual gift, one that we are all called to exercise.’ Now, here today.
It has not been a good week for those in power now faced with making compromises they have seemed, up till now, unable to contemplate. We heard the anger and watched the shouting and re-iteration of entrenched positions in the debates on our television screens on Tuesday before our MPs filed through the voting lobbies and then we watched them filing through again on Wednesday. Bishops in the House of Lords commented that by the rejection of the Government’s Brexit deal, history has been made - not necessarily as we would wish. Is it something to tell the grandchildren and great grandchildren with pride? I remember the Brexit vote in 2019. As Mollie can remember other political crises like the General Strike of 1926, the Munich Agreement in 1938, the Winter of Discontent 1978-79 as well as the Miners’ Strike 1984- 85.
Our Bishops spoke of a time of uncertainty. They are urging politicians to listen to one another and to find a new way forward - for there to be give and take. A need for compromise. Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed.
Our Bishops reminded us of the resilience of the church in times of turbulence in the country. ‘As a nation we have been through some fairly significant challenges over the centuries.’ Said Christopher Lowson, Bishop of Lincoln. He and Bishop Sarah were among the bishops who voted against the Prime Minister’s deal. Our bishop said, ‘Our churches have a vital, active role to play at the centres of their communities, focussing on strength and unity in a time of uncertainty. Amid the fear and division that the current political situation risks fuelling, I am heartened to see every day in parishes across London people from all sorts of backgrounds, people who live and work together in this great world city, recognising that they have so much more they agree upon than divides them. Our politicians could do well to follow that example.’
‘As a church, we need to pray, to listen, to talk well, be creative. In the coming weeks let us discover how to love our neighbour, even those we disagree with.’
Sunday 6 January Epiphany by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 2: 1 - 12
Supper standards at the Rectory slip during the carol services. Carolled out, I put together mashed potato with protein in some form. Eaten in front of the telly watching mashed potato programmes - the easily digested.
I give that as explanation for why I was watching a programme on the poshest of posh hotels set somewhere where it snows a lot. And being posh, it is, of course, outrageously expensive. You can live there full time in a modest flat for £250,000 a year. We met one woman who has made it her home. She likes it because she can take a walk through the foyer and be greeted by the concierge - it’s like a village, she explained. Obviously, the Grundy element is missing in that particular Ambridge.
It was explained to us in reverential tones that the very wealthy seek experiences. Not some books, a pot of marmalade or a new pair of gloves like the rest of us. We were shown one such experience. For £800 two people - she with her designer handbag - were helicoptered up a mountain with a couple of cooks. Sitting in the snow by themselves they drank champagne and ate hot cheese sauce (sorry fondue). The rest of us might have found contentment climbing a hill with a thermos of soup and some sandwiches in the company of the family, or friends, or the dog.
Pity the rich (and possibly famous) who can never be ordinary. Their wealth restricts their lifestyles. What has money and privilege done to separate them from taking part in the diversity of ordinariness with its frustrations and delights?
Grist to this particular sermon mill was the news that by 1.00pm on Thursday 3 January top bosses had already been paid (assuming they were working a 12-hour day) as much in 2019 as average workers will earn all year. Poor top bosses earning £1,000 an hour. What on earth are they to do with all that wealth? They could always try cheese sauce in the snow, or giving it away, getting rid of it, like the magi - the magic ones.
If we let them, the gifts - gold, frankincense and myrrh - are strangely unsettling. They were given symbolic meaning in the fourth century - the gold of kingship, the frankincense of divinity and the myrrh of death. "Gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God." There are other ways of looking at these gifts.
Gold - it had been around for several thousand years. Mining it has never been seen as a desirable job and possessing it does not always bring out the best in people. Mining is poorly paid and risky - early death, injury and disease. In the time of King Herod after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea gold was the primary medium of exchange within the Roman Empire and was an important motive in the expansion of the empire. Gold kept King Herod on his throne, symbol of exploitation and military might
Mark Oakley - who used to be a canon at St Paul’s writes, ‘The gold standard - represents our economic interests, and all the values that we see that we live by when we look at our bank statements. For many of us, it represents anxiety and worry.’ And yet for others it symbolises self-indulgence, or fraud and injustice. But it is also food on the table, a roof over our heads and being able to pay the heating bill. And the temptation to think it is always better to have just a little bit more. Gold can weigh heavily in our pockets.
Was the magus glad to put down the gold? Over to you Jesus Christ. Show us what to do with this lot.
Frankincense representing the mystery of the fortune teller’s tent, or the joss sticks of alternative living. TS Eliot writes of ‘an old white horse [that] galloped away in the meadow.’ Superstition making its departure so that we can hear the psalmist sing of smoke, ‘Let my prayer rise before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.’
Again, Mark Oakley offers an interpretation. Beware the smokescreen, the obfuscation of faith by church politics and its lust for power. I am always cheered up by the late Robin Williams’ ‘Ten reasons to be an Episcopalian. ‘Reason 7: ‘You don’t have to check your brains at the door.’ (Reason 9 being ‘You can believe in dinosaurs,’ which isn’t that helpful here.) Piety can curdle and hide fears, prevent our asking the questions that we need to ask to keep our faith alive. We seek transparency because issues are clouded - there has been a cover up. Pope Francis said last week that the credibility of the Catholic Church in the US has been severely damaged by the ongoing child sexual abuse scandal there. We can look at the Church of England and our curdled piety about issues of sexuality. Set down the frankincense. ‘We must do better,’ said the Pope.
Finally, myrrh for the dead - to preserve bodies so that they don’t stink. Myrrh to preserve the status quo. The nine last words of the Church of England ‘We tried that once before and it didn’t work’. All those pillars that hold up the church. We all have a part of us that wants to keep everything exactly as it is - to let ourselves be comforted by the familiar. So we dismiss innovation as change for changes sake and comfort ourselves that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. That was once given to me as a reason why women should not be ordained priest.
The magi left for their own country by another road. Of course, they did, they were travelling light. They had left their burdens behind.
Where to visit us:-
St Giles' Cripplegate Church
London EC2Y 8DA
Registered Charity Number 1138077
Services and church opening hours
08.00 Holy Communion (First Sunday in the month)
16.00 Evening Prayer
Evening Prayer may be cancelled on the Sunday after Christmas and on Easter Day or during August. The service may also be cancelled if no key holder is available or it may take place in the rectory instead.
Sunday 31 March 2019 Annual Parish Meeting in church at 11.30
08.30 Morning Prayer (Monday-Thursday)
Saturday 23 March, Ecumenical Study Group at Wesley's Chapel. Meet at 10.00 for coffee or tea, 10-30-11.30 study period.
Monthly Private Prayer and Reflection
These sessions are held on the first Thursday of the month., from 13.00-13.30.
2019 4 April, 2 May, 6 June and 4 July
These sessions are normally held on the first Thursday of the month from 13.30-15.00. Some gentle cleaning and tea and cakes at the end.
2019 4 April, 2 May, 6 June and 4 July
The church is normally open from 11.00-16.00 Monday to Friday.
2019 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30
Tuesday 19 March Tuesday 30 April* (Supper)
*in the Rectory at 19.30
Parish Office Opening Hours
Tel: 020 7638 1997