10 November - Remembrance Sunday by Katharine Rumens
Job 19: 23 – 27a
Today we mark the 100th anniversary of the first Armistice Day’s service which was held in Buckingham Palace on 11 November 1919. That ‘war to end all wars’ was too raw and too significant to forget. Communities knew they needed to come together to mark their loss. The first service incorporated a ‘respectful silence’ which became the 2 minutes’ silence. As we held a two-minute silence at the All Souls’ Service last Sunday afternoon. A designated period of silence – along with candles, flowers, some words and music is one of the recognized ways we continue to commemorate the dead – both in secular and sacred observations.
Silence speaks to us; silence does not grow old; silence does not fall out of fashion.; silence holds its own. On the other hand, in a shared silence we don’t have a clue what anyone else is thinking. However appropriate or inappropriate our thoughts, our silence is private to us even when we are surrounded by many other people.
And on this silent Sunday we have a reading from the book of Job. Job suffering the loss of family, health and possessions who is given sound advice by these three comforters: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. They could not resist the opportunity to tell him that deep down it was all his own fault. Three friends who are unable to keep silent. Who are unable to enter into their friend’s suffering.
Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! he cries 19.21 And there is no pity, just dollops and dollops of helpful suggestions. Job wants a written record of his plight: ‘O, that my words were written down.’ The book of Job is pretty wordy anyway being 42 chapters long; we find references to words becoming a theme in his story. ‘How forceful are honest words’ he says 6.25; and in a later chapter when his friends speak, he asks, ‘have windy words no limit? 16.3. I presume a modern rendering of this would be, ‘O do shut up Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, shut up the lot of you.’ As those bullied down the ages Job continues, ‘How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words?’ 19.2.
We take the written word for granted: just put it in an e mail we say. Some of us can’t even function without a written shopping list or leaving ourselves post it notes. We don’t find Job’s cry unusual or that interesting, ‘O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved in a rock forever.’ We have to appreciate that in that society it was rare for words to be written down. Most words were spoken, and, although the oral culture was reliable as a means of transmission and remembrance, there was not the permanence or the potency of the written word.
It helps us understand the depth of Job’s desire to record his words for posterity. Set this down, set this down, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’. We can probably only hear these words against Handel’s sublime music – as xyz sang it before the gospel. A theologian sternly tells that we cannot be as sure as Handel was that it is God who is the Redeemer and suggests the redeemer figure is more prosaic. He writes, strictly speaking, your redeemer was a near relative who was obliged to come to your defence. They would come and stand by you to act as vindicator or avenger if some grave injustice had been done to you. In the book of Ruth, it is her cousin Boaz who is her redeemer. Job longs for a go-between, an umpire, to plead his case before God.
Stern theologians or otherwise, Job’s defiant hope rings through the centuries as a bold affirmation of confidence that God transcends circumstances.
And written words for today? Do Kiplings words ‘The glorious dead’ on the Cenotaph grow old, perhaps unlike ‘Known unto God’ on the thousands upon thousands of memorials to those teenagers and young, young men whose bodies could not be identified on the battlefield.
Around us photographs first exhibited in Mont-Ormel Normandy over the summer. Mont Ormel was the location of a bloody engagement in the final stages of the Battle of Falaise in the Normandy Campaign in 1944. The photographer, Gabrielle Crawford, lives in Normandy and first of all grew interested in local war memorials before travelling more widely to document them. I was just passing in my car, I saw an angel’s wing on something round the back of the library, or behind the factory or in front of the supermarket. Memorials that no longer have the significance they once had when they were erected and the deaths they commemorated so recent.
Gabrielle writes: I deliberately chose not to photograph names, if possible, feeling that no life lost should receive more prominence that another. These dramatic monuments were often paid for by small communities – who had lost entire families. The family story would be forgotten, the village story would be forgotten unless in those words from Job, it were engraved in rock forever. The dead were not brought home, the bereaved needed a place to visit where they could grieve, be silent, place flowers and weep. Families gave sacrificially, they sold what they had left: jewellery, bicycles – anything of value to pay the sculptors.
Around us engraved in rock and carved in stone, granite, marble, cast in cement, iron and bronze the living memory of war; memories of the families of the nations divided and torn apart by the ravages of war in the past - as in the present, today.
Sunday 3 November - All Souls by Katharine Rumens
Next Saturday it’s the Lord Mayor’s Show with floats, bands, horses, members of the armed forces and young cadets on parade. In stately splendour the Lord Mayor’s Coach will be brought out for its annual journey through the City. People travel from all over to line the streets, wave flags and cheer. Its’s exciting – and here at St Giles’, it’s right on our doorstep and hard to miss. The day will end with more excitement and fireworks on the Thames. The day after, Remembrance Sunday, the mood will change to the formality and solemnity of the National Service of Remembrance held at the Cenotaph. A service to honour the sacrifice of the armed services, and the civilian servicemen and women involved in two World Wars and later conflicts. Wreaths will be laid and the last post played.
We will hear those evocative words by Laurence Binyon read out – as they will be at church services throughout the country, ‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.’
This weekend is different. The Lord Mayor had not climbed into his coach and ridden through the City, people are not lining the streets – it’s quiet out there – a normal Sunday evening in early November. It’s the feast of All Souls – not just some souls, but All Souls as this morning we celebrated All Saints – every last one of them.
At the going down of the sun we have come to name some of those who have died whose lives touched our own in love. By the light of candles, the names of the dead will be read out – in darkness. Darkness slows us down: this is private time for private sadness. Among the dead we will name Andy who used to sell the Big Issue outside Waitrose. Many of us will have seen the flowers and read the tributes left at the pillar where he used to stand. He always said hello, he would help us with change if we didn’t have the right coin for a trolley. Although we may not have realised it at the time, he mattered to us. When he died the stories came together of the acts of generosity and kindness that he had shown over the years. He was held in love and affection by the community. Yes, it is right that we name him this afternoon.
We know grief needs time, that loss can be unbearable, and it catches us out. We wake up in the morning knowing that for some reason things are not as they should be, and then we remember – you have died, and our world has changed and we have to find our new place in it. And we don’t want to.
You wouldn’t think that a play about a young father trying to make sense of his wife’s sudden death and his rebuilding his own and his son’s lives would be a sell-out show. It was hard to get tickets for ‘Grief is the thing with feathers’ on at the Barbican earlier in the year. Surely it would be too depressing – a young woman dead and her family in a mess. That’s not entertainment.
We watch as her distraught husband comes to terms with her death. The surreal element is that a crow comes to look after the family. I leave you to imagine what that black crow might represent. It will only go away when the family is strong enough to survive on their own.
The play is a profound meditation on the difficulty of writing – or even speaking - about love and death.
Sunday 3rd November - All Saint’s Day by Alex Norris.
Luke 6: 20-31 / Daniel and Ephesians
This morning’s readings at a first glance seem completely unrelated, with Daniel and his vision of great beasts rising up from the earth, to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which he describes the salvation that is to be sought through the knowledge of our Lord, to our Gospel reading, in which Jesus mentions four of the 8 beatitudes and then four ‘woes’. How does this relate to All Saint’s Day?
As many of you might know we are currently in the season of remembrance, with All Hallow’s eve, All Souls Day and All Saint’s day. For the Anglican church this season continues until Remembrance Sunday when we remember all of those who have died as a result of war and conflict.
The Christian celebration of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven, the "Church triumphant", and the living, the "Church militant" here on earth.
Here, today at St Giles we are celebrating the lives of the saints this morning and then remembering those who have gone before us later this afternoon. And I believe that our readings today help us understand these two acts of remembrance.
The UK has recently had its first saint canonised in 40 years, the great Cardinal Newman. He was a brilliant theologian and also a notable poet among other things.
But why do we have saints? For centuries, Christians have looked to the saints as God's intermediaries, praying to them for protection, comfort, inspiration, and miracles. People have called on saints to defend everyone and as patrons of everything from childbirth to whale conservation. Newman will now be included in this group, and petitioned in prayer for protection and comfort and so on.
So, where does this leave us?
Our old testament reading today gives us quite a simple, yet powerful message. In Ephesians; Paul gives thanks and praise for the life of Christ and the Saints. Having the acknowledgement of what Christ did for all of us, and all the life and example of the saints, helps to equip us, and we are assured of our inheritance until we acquire it for ourselves.
So, we should give thanks to Christ and remember the Saints. Praise and Thanksgiving should be at the heart of our remembrance.
Daniel further contributes to this. The Holy ones of the most high will possess the Kingdom of God for ever and ever. Could the Holy ones of the most high be referring to the Saints?
I believe that the Saints give us the example of a Holy and True life, to which we can all aspire. The vast majority of us will not match it, but just occasionally that devout person does, and then they too are open to being canonised (created a saint).
We are not only remembering the Saints, but also those who have gone before us; loved ones, not those who will achieve sainthood, but those whom we loved, and miss and want to remember.
The Blessings and Woes, as listed in our Gospel reading today give all of us a guide on how we should live our lives, but also comfort to those who find themselves in distress, the Poor, the hungry, and then to those who weep...for you will mourn and laugh. What a powerful image that is to give to someone who is grieving for a loved one. This speaks directly to those who will be remembering loved ones at All Soul’s services across the land today.
Luke also provides warnings, or Woes in our Gospel reading, which we should all heed as we live our lives; it says to those who are rich that you have already had your consolation, and that those who have eaten, that you will be hungry again, and then interestingly it reverses the blessing of comfort when we mourn, to say that those who are laughing will mourn and weep.
At a time when we remember the dead, it is easy to get depressed and lose any sense of hope, especially when we think of those who have died in war and conflict, and the unimaginable suffering that was endured by millions across the globe.
The church triumphant, with its company of Angels and Saints helps give us some sense of perspective. Jesus saved all of us, not just the saintly. We all, because of Christ have a right to be hopeful, not only of our own salvation, but of the salvation of those whom we see no longer.
The beatitudes, upon which Luke draws for the first part of the reading that we heard this morning were initially spoken by Christ in his Sermon on the mount. They are given in full in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. When everyone had sat down Christ began to speak, and he gave the blessings or Beatitudes to those gathered around him. This text is inextricably linked to our Gospel reading today, and in this season of remembrance, I believe some of the other beatitudes not mentioned in our reading from Luke offer us all comfort.
When I was at primary school, too many years ago to mention (!) we had the most wonderful, yet terrifying headmistress. The teachers, pupils and parents alike were terrified of her! I have a distinct recollection of being made to learn the Beatitudes ‘parrot fashion’ and then stand up with other class members and recite them, and woe betide that pupil that did not know them. Having this enforced exercise imposed on me drove me away from the beauty of these words. I still come out in a sweat now if asked to read them out, as I can still picture my dear old headmistress monitoring us over her glasses as we recited them. It is so easy to become familiar with a text, and let that familiarity distance you from the depth of meaning and beauty that the words convey. I encourage all of us to revisit these very familiar texts afresh to experience the beauty and meaning of these words again.
As we give thanks for the saints who have died in the faith, and look to remember our loved ones who have gone before us, I still draw comfort from the Beatitudes ...despite what I said earlier. Here are three of the blessings which I think are especially relevant for today.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…
Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God…
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Beatitudes help us to understand that we are blessed, even when we are feeling anything but blessed. They give us comfort, and also the assurance that God is there for us, whatever the situation, whatever our own circumstances may happen to be; Poverty, Hunger, Persecution, Grief...
I hope that I have been able to show that the three seemingly disconnected texts that we have had as our readings this morning from Daniel, Paul’s letter Ephesians and Luke's Gospel, are strongly related, and read together as we have done this morning, help to give us a different perspective in this season of Hallowtide.
As we come to the end of the triduum, or three days of remembrance and start to turn our hearts and minds to the coming of Christ, and the season of Advent, with the hope and light that this gives us, let us all go forth together, knowing what has gone before, sure in what is to come, and certain in the salvation secured for all of us by Christ’s victory over death.
May they rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen
Sunday 27 October - Last Sunday after Trinity by Katharine Rumens
Luke 18: 9 – 14
All these Sundays after Trinity – they go on and on and on. This is the last Sunday in ordinary time when we wear ordinary green vestments and sing ordinary hymns. During these past months that ordinariness has been compounded by ordinary events: we have been on our ordinary summer holidays, started the ordinary academic and legal new year, heard yet more ordinary debates in parliament. There has been an ordinary wedding, ordinary Saturday discussion groups, an ordinary ordination, an ordinary parish week end, an ordinary funeral or two, ordinary PCC meetings – all so very, very ordinary. We would all be bored to sobs if this were to go on much longer.
As we snuggle into wintertime with hot chocolate and cosiness we look forward to a change of tempo and the Kingdom Season which begins next week. Sundays, instead of being forever the Sunday after, will be before – looking ahead to Advent which is not ordinary at all – it’s a bit special.
The difficulty with this is that while occasionally we can indulge in the special, exciting, bigger, better sensational events, we still need to do ordinary things like the washing, shopping for food and waiting for the bus. We all have long periods of ordinariness and there is a richness, a depth of potential experience in the here and now which we need to encounter rather than feel cross about. I have always felt an element of doubt at George Herbert trotting out a hymn with the line: ‘a servant who sweeps a room, as for thy laws and makes that and the action fine.’ I don’t think Herbert did much sweeping – but we get his point.
Today’s ordinary story is about two ordinary men going up to the temple to pray: an ordinary Pharisee and an ordinary tax collector. This is our final chance to grasp the spirituality of ordinariness before the year changes.
Jesus told them a story about some who were completely pleased with themselves over their moral performance and who looked down their noses at the common people. We’re good at this:
We can often feel pleased with ourselves, that why we find the sketch of three men standing in a line funny. Ronnie Barker in the middle says, ‘I look up to him – John Cleese – because he is upper class, but I look down on him – Ronnie Corbett – because he is lower class. To which Corbett replies, ‘I know my place.’
Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. We never did like the Pharisees, they are out to get Jesus whereas tax collectors are merely scum who colluded with the Romans and extorted money from their own relatives. Let’s not get any fixed ideas here, ‘A Pope and a pimp went into St Peter’s to pray,’ or ‘A loan shark and a single parent on benefits sat in the church saying their prayers.’ Let us not automatically assume that the pope or the loan shark were self-righteous, so also we should not immediately assume that the Pharisee was.
We knew it was going to be an ordinary story about an everyday occurrence.
The Pharisee got ready to perform his prayers – he needs his boasting to be heard by others, it would be such a waste if his audience couldn’t make out what he was saying, ‘Oh God, I thank you that I am not like other people – crooks, swindlers, arms dealers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe all my income – that is 10% gross not net’. Did you get that God?
Meanwhile the tax collector slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, and said, ‘God give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’ Which God found more pleasing – as God found Abel’s gift more pleasing than Cain’s. Who can fathom who or what will please God?
Jesus commented, ‘This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God.’ Outward conformity is useless if it excludes humility and compassion. The thing about Jesus is that time and time again he opens the way to this God of surprises. If God really is as Jesus tells us in his stories – then we all have a chance. We learn to trust and be in the presence of God as we really are, without putting on a performance. Because nothing else will do.
Be warned: if pride stirs in your heart and makes you imagine that you are holier, wiser, better and more virtuous than others, or if you find yourself metaphorically standing in your bowler hat looking down on trilbies and flat caps, and hold exaggerated opinions of your own goodness; or if you are suffering from smugness and walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you are content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.’
Simply being myself – this is just not exciting when I am bombarded with advertising telling me I could be more popular, fitter and more fulfilled. But being true to myself is the one and only place to be. So often we miss glimpses of God’s glory not because they are not there but simply because we fail to notice them. We make up our minds that God won’t be found in this kind of situation or with that kind of person – certainly not in a Pharisee and a tax collector - and so we fail to look, and go on our way unchanged holding out for real excitement just around the corner.
Before we leave the long line of Sundays after Trinity behind us for another year, let us not forget the lessons to be learnt from ordinary time. Jesus told ordinary stories which point us to the extraordinary nature of God. So, let’s carry on making cheese on toast for supper, time, praying for our indecisive decision makers and returning our library books. As we sang: before thy throne we sinners bend, grace, pardon, life to us extend. As we are. No more, no less.
Sunday 13 October - Trinity 17 by Katharine Rumens
2 Kings 5: 1 – 3, 7 – 15 and Luke 17: 11 – 19
We have an agenda and there is a room full of people who have volunteered to sit on the committee. Some had an early start to get there, others have spent a considerable amount of time talking to the lawyers, the fund managers and the accountant so that as trustees we comply with charity law. It’s not our money, but we are giving our time and we all care that the funds at our disposal are used well. £10,000 here, £5,000 there – we have quite a lot to spend.
For three or four years we piloted a scheme for young people in tertiary education but have since stopped it. As chair, I was trying to say something diplomatic about one of the reasons why we had decided not to continue the scheme. A fellow trustee put if more succinctly. They didn’t say thank you. Very few could be bothered to send a letter, and e mail or even a text.
And we got a bit fed up with that. Clearly, we were showing ourselves of an age when childhood Christmases and birthdays were followed by desultory thank you letter writing sessions at a big table in a cold room. We had to do it, why can’t they – this pampered generation with a heightened sense of entitlement who lack the good manners to say either please or thank you.
Which raises the different matter of expecting to be thanked. It wasn’t our own money that made these grants possible, it was only our time and skills. Not such a big deal: perhaps we were the ones being old-fashioned and unreasonable.
But then, as today’s gospel shows it is only foreigners who turn round to say thank you. – not people like you and me. The other nine, where are they indeed?
Jesus was in the territory between Samaria and Galilee, a route normally avoided by faithful Jews who shunned the Samaritans. It does not take much stretch of the imagination to identify these familiar enmities and fears in the world today. Thank goodness for the neighbour who buys the field in the middle of the village that had been earmarked as a site for travelers. I think it would be better to build a hostel for the homeless in Islington rather than on this estate – we are listed, you know. And so on.
In both this story about the one who returned to thank Jesus and the first reading about Naaman, commander of the king of Aram, human need overcomes political and religious division and prejudice.
Naaman – this is a story that has everything. Naaman is a thoroughly likeable man: he gets on with his wife, his slaves and his king. He’s a bit of rarity in the Hebrew Scriptures – he seems to have an unusual gift for friendship – there aren’t many of them about. His servants even like him enough to be a bit cheeky – verse 13 ‘if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it.’ If they hadn’t liked him the servant wouldn’t have risked such impertinence for fear of the consequences. ‘Off with his head and all that.’
However, at the same time, Naaman is a little too aware of his position and he does like to be treated with respect. Another throw back to a please and thank you culture where the deserving poor received and the undeserving did not.
As you will have noticed some of the verses in the story have been left out. Verses 4 – 6 includes a shopping list of silver, gold and garments for the king of Israel. Six thousand shekels of gold seems vulgarly excessive.
With a screech of brakes Naaman with his horses and chariots comes to a halt outside Elisha’s hut. It’s not a good day to visit Elisha – he’s in a bit of a sulk and sends a message to Naaman rather than coming to greet his visitor in person. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect our prophets to have good manners or even be nice people.
There are no incantations, incense or ritual. The prophet could at least have come out and touched Naaman’s leprous hand. Take a running jump Naaman, go wash in the Jordan seven times. It is a big ask of the wrong kind. It is degrading for an army commander to wash himself in an enemy river. Naaman is not impressed – the more expensive and elaborate the remedy, the greater its effectiveness. How dull to realise a sore throat can be cured by gargling with saltwater when a stack of patent medicines looks so much more important.
And at the end of this pantomime of a story, Naaman does what he was told to do and is cured. He returns humbly and gratefully to the man of God. There is no sign of a lingering resentment at the way he has been treated. He accepts the implicit rebuke and recognizes what it means. ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except Israel.’
What now his standing in his household? Naaman with his fancy gifts and horses and chariots, his status and his wealth – publicly making a simple yet profound statement of faith.
We are not given the Samaritan’s words to Jesus. Luke tells us that he praised God with a loud voice and thanked him and Jesus said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ Jesus gives the man back power over his own life – a life of belonging in community, being treated as an equal, of being restored to human relationship. He is no longer seen to be contaminated and an object of revulsion. It is a new beginning.
Faithful action can be very simple. Saying it how it is, noticing what is happening and stopping to say thank you to God
29 September Michael and All Angels by Katharine Rumens
Genesis 28: 10 – 17, John 1: 47 – end
You can hear some surprising stuff on the radio. Last week there was an item referring to faith tradition in the 2011 census in which the majority of the population identified as nones. I wasn’t expecting this – then I realized these nones were not those who lived the religious life in convents but those who had no religious affiliation whatsoever. None of that. The census revealed that although people say they are not religious they were superstitious. Why else is the right foot on the statue of David Hume in Edinburgh as worn and polished as that on the statue of St Peter in Rome? The faithful coming to honour their saint of aetheism as of their theism. The other belief among all those nones is in angels. In a recent poll, one in ten Britons claimed to have experienced the presence of an angel, and one in three believed they have a guardian angel: a surprising story in a skeptical age.
Yet, perhaps this is not such a surprising story in a church congregation. If we open are to the thin places and times when heaven seems very present.
The author Peter Stanford is doing the lunchtime lecture at St Paul’s on Advent Sunday. He asks what are angels? They make many appearances in the bible, sometimes they bring comfort but more often arriving with challenging or mysterious messages from God. Like, in all the joyful familiarity of the birth narratives these supposedly friendly messengers seek to reassure, ‘Do not be afraid’ they say. Because the challenging and the mysterious frightens us. Are angels part of the poetry of religion – and thus merely a poetic expression, he asks, or are they real, a manifestation of divine concern?
Angels glide in and out of the biblical stories and today are centre stage. It is an angelic time of year and it is no co-incidence that the seasons are shifting. Last weekend was the autumn equinox, today is the Feast of Michael and All Angels. The mornings are getting darker and the evenings longer. It will be time to stock up on hot chocolate, find the winter bedding and put away the summer clothes. We need shafts of light – angelic interventions – at the prospect of the darkness ahead.
Michaelmas – the beginning of autumn and a quarter day. Quarter days could be a deeply unsettling time in households and communities – they could spell disaster. The days when servants were hired (though not that we’d noticed at Downton Abbey), rents were due and leases begun. You could be evicted and out of work on the same day. Not just the changing seasons but your changing fortunes. Oh yes, the light is going.
Over the next weeks candles will burn in the shadows of the church as they have done for hundreds of years, at All Souls and then as Christmas approaches at the carol services. Glimpses of light in the darkness. Once we’ve reached Epiphany and Candlemas, we don’t seem that bothered by darkness and light any more – for by then we are watching the evening sky and feeling triumphant because it is still light at 5.30pm. Today traditionally we pray to Michael angel of light and our protector in the coming months of darkness. May he help and defend us on earth. A lot hangs on today.
A theologian would challenge the nones and their belief in cosy angels. She puts it like this, ‘angels are at God’s command and are more often messengers and strengtheners for an uncomfortable task than the feel-good comforters of popular culture.
Forget droopy sentimental marble angels who weep over the dead in graveyards. Think the Epstein sculpture of Michael at Coventry Cathedral. Dressed in armour with wings outspread, upright and strong he stands victorious over the fallen Satan. Or think of Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the north. 20 metres tall with a massive wingspan – conceived to serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears. These bright birds of God are not feathered friends to chat to over a cup of tea when you feel like it.
Just south of Constantinople is a great shrine called the Michaelion which was built by the Emperor Constantine on a previous religious site devoted to healing. The shrine was to commemorate his military victory over "diabolic" opponents. Constantine attributed his success to Michael. As a result of Constantine’s various victories Michael was seen as head of the heavenly hosts, hence a sword-wielding Archangel, and given the honorary title of Saint.
Today’s readings are of two much earlier encounters with angels by very different people: Jacob and Nathanael.
A theologian describes Jacob as one of the bible’s less pleasant characters – even though he is a crucial figure in the story of God’s salvation. You don’t have to be a nice person to find yourself on God’s side. Jacob thrived on deceit and it seems he couldn’t tell the truth when he tried.
A familiar characteristic among our leaders with which we are wearily familiar. The inability to tell the truth.
Jacob was running away from his family, having deceived his father and snatched his brother’ birthright from him. You would have thought that Jacob was about to get his comeuppance, instead of which, he dreamt of angels.
Nathanael, on the other hand, an Israelite in whom there is no deceit, was coming towards Jesus.
Jacob knew little of about God; only after his dream was he open to the thin place, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it’. In contrast, Nathanael realised that God was present, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God!’ He is the first person in the gospel to be described as believing and represents those who were the first to believe.
The story is one of faith, of someone who from his sheltered place under the fig tree came forth to a new presence and new awareness of possibilities. In Johannine terms, it is a story of moving from darkness to light.
And as the seasons change and we move from light to darkness may we be guarded by the angels of God in our waking and in our sleeping.
8 September, Trinity 12 by Katharine Rumens
Luke 14: 25 -33
I am told that reading novels broadens the mind, and as a result of holiday reading I now know more about the Doukhobors. They are a sect of dissenters from the Russian Orthodox church who in 17th and 18th century rejected the clergy and formal rituals. Having fled from Russia most of them now live in western Canada. They are known for their radical pacifism.
In the novel a photographer arrives at a settlement to document daily life. These people are weird, he will get good pictures and a fat fee. When he arrived, one of their wooden buildings was on fire and a group of around a hundred men, women and children stood watching the blaze with apparent satisfaction. He enquired about the burning building. It was the schoolhouse. “We pass on our knowledge to our children, they said. We don’t need books. God tells us what to say.” During his visit he found other settlements in the foothills and witnessed several privately-owned dwellings being put to the torch. “But why do you burn your own houses?” he asked. The people looked at each other, smiled and spoke as though they were teaching a child. Worldly goods mean nothing to us, they explained. We remind ourselves of that now and again.”
Before he left those mysterious valleys the photographer, who had gone looking for sensational shots to delight his editor, decided that he would destroy any pictures he had taken that might have the remotest chance of holding up the Doukhobors to ridicule.
These strange people with their strange ways left a lasting impression on the wealthy, successful outsider.
Worldly goods mean nothing to us…… said and acted upon by the sect as a spiritual discipline. Not to be confused with those whose homes and possessions are destroyed by hurricane, war or forest fire. The woman who lifts up her hands in despair saying – “We have nothing, no home, no beds, no plates, no chairs. Nothing is left.”
These verses in today’s gospel from Luke in which Jesus speaks to the travelling crowds. So therefore, none of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.
And more than that: unless they hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself, they cannot be his disciples. This is tricky teaching for the preacher – I offer two theologians to help us out. The first is that the idea of hating someone meant ‘love less than’ rather than ‘positively loathe’. And the second is St Bonaventure who suggests that the extreme language of hating family and life is an example of Jewish hyperbole. Jesus uses it to emphasise that all other allegiances must take their place under a more fundamental obedience to him. He certainly gets the attention of the crowd.
There are many more shades of grey than a choice of black or white.
As the French Watchmaker Robert Hubert was blamed – and executed, although innocent – for starting the Fire of London, Nero also needed a scapegoat for the fire which in 64 CE burnt for a week and destroyed half of Rome. Tacitus tells us that already – 30 years after the death of Jesus, the Christians were already detested for their outrageous practices. They incurred the resentment of their pagan neighbours on the grounds that their religion made them anti-social and different.
On the other hand, no group could have been stand-out different – the empire had a cosmopolitan population – where there were foreigners there would be foreign religions. It was Roman policy to tolerate foreign religions provided they did not cause a breach of the peace or interfere with the official cult. 18 July 64 CE changed all that for one of them.
The Christians found themselves in a precarious situation and the cost of discipleship suddenly much higher. How much is the estimate now to build a tower or wage war? The price has just shot up. Christianity was now regarded as an illegal religion. If they Christians were to survive, they had to avoid being noticed by the civil authorities and at the same time retain the goodwill of their neighbours. Most neighbours considered Christianity to be a barbarous superstition and associated with all manner of depravities. Indeed, the church’s whole being expressed a new social order that was at odds with Rome: for example, in the refusal of her members to sacrifice to images of the Emperor, or to shed blood in the service of imperial conquest.
Jesus speaking to the crowd, the author of Luke writing to Theophilus who held high office in the Roman government. The author begins the gospel “I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus so that you make know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”
A gospel directed primarily to the outside world to supply high ranking officials with the truth about this movement. Christianity was politically innocent but called for another way of being. A way of life in which we accept with gratitude the gifts of God, but do not come to love the gifts more than the giver.
Let us pray for ourselves at this time, and for God’s holy church and give thanks for all people of faith and goodwill. For the gospel of Luke written to make known the truth about Jesus the Christ to those who walked the corridors of power. For those who in these days challenge our political leaders with the truth, that we may live out the gospel of love and compassion in a world in which it is acceptable to resort to lies and misrepresentation.
Sunday 1 September Trinity 11, Patronal Festival of St Giles by Katharine Rumens
Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14
It was a really big do in January 2009: ecumenical vespers at St Paul without the Walls in Rome, celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI for the feast of the conversion of St Paul.
We turned up in our coach – and everyone else turned up in theirs - to join the hundreds of people crowding round the west doors of the church. Our advantage was that we were from London and we are not phased by large gatherings of people. We have sharp elbows and technique and know that while everyone else hangs around waiting to go through the door we funnel our way in from the sides. A group from Wesley’s Chapel got seats in the nave, some of us from St Giles had good visibility standing at the barriers in the south aisle. Comparing notes afterwards, our lot hadn’t missed out – we hadn’t been shoved to the back unable to see what was going on. As we turned to leave, I saw a group who had been standing behind us in the shadows with their backs to the walls. I doubt if they got a good look at the Pope as we did. Humble folk, village folk, devout Roman Catholics who hold the Pope in their prayers and not a sharp elbow among them.
“You have still to learn,” said Jasper Milvais the up and coming journalist in the novel ‘New Grubb’ Street “that modesty helps a man in no department of modern life.”
There are all sorts of rules so that we know our place. Modern day Emily Posts advise putting intellectuals opposite each other at a dinner party so that they can start some debates across the table (should they feel the need). Whereas the host (female or male) should always sit nearest the kitchen, and the most helpful member of the party should be next to the host. Business lunches are where guests are more likely to be seated in order of importance: visiting foreign dignitaries, guests with military or government rank, guests with a distinguished career …and the rest.
You can’t really have a distinguished career as a saint. Rowan Williams said – perhaps provocatively – (Jesus Christ the Unanswered Questions St Paul’s March 2019) that “God and the world do not occupy the same space.” Perhaps we should aspire to not even making it onto such guest lists, after all the modest can’t be relied upon to be good conversationalists.
St Giles’ is known neither for his regard for etiquette nor his distinguished rank. Our patron saint. Here we sit among the famous, St Paul, St Bartholomew, St Mary – and even the less obscure like Vedast or Clement. Known saints up there in the premier league.
We are St Giles’ people – he was probably an Athenian who for some reason ended up in France and lived as a hermit in a forest. Any mention of a forest should make us wary – forests, those necessary places of transformation where boundaries become blurred. Places where we get lost and encounter that which is different, or strange; where anything can happen. Perhaps Giles found freedom, transformation and the nearer love of God in his forest.
He lived in chosen solitude with a hart – (what the animal represents, I leave you to speculate – it has the making of a legend of chivalry: hart = damsel?) The king’s huntsmen came out one day - as forest stories tend to go – and an arrow was shot at the hart. St Giles’ reacted quickly, put out his hand and saved the life of the animal.
In one version of the story, the king was so impressed by Giles’ holiness that he created a monastery and made Giles the abbot. Is holiness in isolation a waste of holiness? Did the king think that more people should experience his holiness? We are not told if Giles was consulted about leaving his home to do his earthly king’s bidding. What if he hated it – and spent the remainder of his life sorting out complaints about the mice, who was going to mend the window in the chapel and who didn’t want to sit next to whom at mealtimes?
What are we to make of this? A church dedicated to a man of silence and serenity is in the middle of the City, where office blocks cut out the sunrise and sunset and there is no depth of silence. Does the example of Giles influence the story of the place and ourselves - the community that worships there?
We can read him as a bit of a Cinderella figure, she hanging around to be rescued and he waiting to have recognition bestowed upon him. Rather than being a natural leader out at the front of the crowd.
Is that another reason why we should keep ourselves below the salt? A saint who – you have to admit – comes across as impossibly modest and doesn’t even have a special collect of his own. But then as Rowan Williams says, God and the world do not occupy the same space.
A saint who is hard to pin down, who is a shadowy figure, who took the life that had been given to him and used it for the glory of God.
And these are our saints, from the flaky to the fabulous, from those whose stories have become lost in history to those whose lives are documented in scripture. May we too have the grace to follow the saints in holy living wherever we find ourselves.
Sunday 11 August Trinity 8 by Alex Norris
Genesis 15. 1-6
Hebrews 11. 1-3, 8-16
Luke 12. 32-40
Our readings this morning have covered three very big topics; Descendancy, the idea of heirs and continuity, Faith and what this means along with the idea of hope and conviction and finally expectation of the second coming of Christ; that idea of the Rapture, or End Times, or for those who love a long word, Eschatology…. I think that these themes work very well together and support each other and help us gain a contemporary understanding of what the meaning of the second coming is all about, and more importantly, what its implications are for us.
The closing sentence of Luke says it all, ‘You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’. Because of the uncertainty of the timing of this event, the implication is simple, we should be prepared for this to happen at any time and live our lives accordingly.
This reminded me of when I was house sitting many years ago.
I agreed to house sit, look after the dog, and keep the place in order and clean etc… The family were coming back on an agreed date, let’s for the purposes of today say Sunday the 18th August. So I thought, right then, I’ll feed the dog, and put my feet up and watch TV for two weeks, and then on the 17th, clean the place top to bottom, have a straighten up and then everything would be pristine for their arrival on the 18th. And then what happened…….
Yep, you guessed it, on the 17th they turned up, having got their dates mixed up, and there was I, in their house, that looked like a tip explaining away what had gone on, or not as the case may be. To their credit, they found the funny side of it all; I felt rather humiliated.
Lesson learnt! What happens when you know the timetable? You behave accordingly. This was my very own real-life instance of the master coming in the middle of the night, but in this case the slave was not very blessed, as he was expecting him the following morning. Oops!
Drawing these three readings together, it is clear that we (all of whom are God’s people) need to have faith that Christ will come again. As Hebrews tells us quite succinctly, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, even if we do not exactly know what this would really mean. There is a lot of coverage of this in literature and art, with hellfire and brimstone imagery, with the dead rising from their graves and the sun and moon going dark…all rather terrifying. Whether we get to see this in our lives or the next generation does only God knows, it is something that either we, or our descendants one day will get to see, and we have to have hope in this. As our liturgy says, Christ is Risen and Christ will come again…. It is the completion of his work with us.
The final question is, therefore, when he does come, what is it that He would want to see?
When I am thinking about this I sometimes think about when we have friends around to dinner. I know when they are arriving (which is a help) and that we will want the flat to be tidy and presentable and welcoming for my guests. It looks as if we have made an effort and are expecting them. Similarly, the way we are conducting ourselves and what we have prepared is also befitting for the guest.
I think it is the same for all of us in respect of Christ. We need to live our lives having faith and hope that He will be coming again, and that when he does, what He sees you would approve of. This raises the question; How are we living our lives, do we think we are living our lives in a truly Christian way?
As the Christian community around the world awaits the coming of Christ, we do so in perilous times. I was recently reading about the 10 most dangerous countries in the world in which it is to be a practicing Christian. It is estimated that 11 Christians are killed daily for their faith. The most dangerous Country currently is North Korea, the government offers rewards for those who ‘shop’ Christians to the authorities. Nothing must get in the way of the idolisation of the Kim family, this is then followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran and finally India. My reason for mentioning this is that the Christian community is facing a significant threat, coupled with the growing secularization throughout the world. We find ourselves in challenging times. Will our descendants be as if we looked toward heaven and counted the stars, as God promised Abram? Only time will tell. We need to hold on to the hope that God will care for us, forgive us for our wrong doing and ensure that our worldwide community, and the whole of humanity gets to see the second coming of our Lord.
My final point concerns what we do value in this world. Jesus was clear that what we have in this life is nothing in comparison to what we will have in the next life, ‘where no thief comes near and no moth destroys’. Things of this world ultimately degrade and tarnish, nothing stays new and pristine forever. I also think we get some idea of how we should conduct ourselves as we await the second coming of Jesus. ‘Sell your possessions and give alms’.
I always find this difficult reading, as I have possessions and things I value, through sentimentality etc.…. and ultimately, I would not wish to dispose of, however noble the cause. When it comes to giving alms, whatever we do, we can always do more, but where do we draw the line with this? Ultimately if we give everything we have away, we too make ourselves poor, and then this would only exacerbate the problem. As an interesting side point, the Benedictine Nuns in West Malling Kent, make a vow not to poverty, but to stability.
This directly deals with this issue, as they are able to live modest lives, but also are able to look after themselves, giving stability and longevity to their order.
My understanding is that we should ensure we know what our priorities are, and where the important things lie, ‘for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.
As we await the only event that would overshadow any world event since the resurrection of our Lord, we need to keep ourselves in check, ensure that we live life as God would want us to, so if we are here to witness the son of Man coming at that unexpected hour, we know that we can bear witness to a life that is befitting of his love and compassion.
Wednesday 7 August Royal College of Organists
Summer School - Evensong at St Giles’ by Alex Norris
Matthew 7: 24 - 27
‘And the wise man built his house on Rock’ This evening we have had two very different and contrasting readings; Firstly in Genesis with family life being done the ‘Old Testament way’, with the power and might of God being made clear for all to see with Sarah, a lady of advanced years laughing at the prospect of being a mother again, doubting the fact that nothing is impossible for God. A great example of humour in the Bible! This is could be paralleled to how you may laugh when shown a piece of organ music in some obscene key, with a nasty time signature and tricky registration requirements, and being expected to sight read it off the cuff.
And secondly, in stark contrast to this, the famous reading from the Gospel of Matthew with the wise and foolish men who built their respective properties with varying success against the elements. In reflecting on this famous text, I wondered what relevance this could have to a congregation of organists. As an aside I also wondered what the collective would be for such a group. A quick look online came up with some rather humourous terms, and also some that are unrepeatable in a place such as this!
We have all heard the stories, seen the footage on You Tube, the brave organist embarking on playing Jerusalem, or some other well-known wedding piece and the performance utterly falling to pieces….the congregation are laughing, the vicar is not looking at all happy and thousands of people are watching this via the internet.
When any of us start learning a musical instrument, how many times have you been told to practice your scales or arpeggios, or have a good understanding of music theory, before you start playing the ‘fancy repertoire’? Any good musician will have a good foundation upon which they have then built their repertoire. And I assume that this is what you have all been taught, and have to do when you sit your exams. It’s all for a very good reason, to give you stability as a musician, and also ensure that you can perform as well as possible, and not be that organist who has achieved infamy for demolishing Widor’s Toccata.
Whatever we do in life, we need to have a good foundation for it. And this also extends to our relationship with God. Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like the wise man”. What Jesus is teaching us that if we listen, and act on it; we will be equipped for all that life has in store for us. The importance here is that we act and don’t just listen. Actions are, after all, are louder than words.
So next time you sit at the console and start working your way through your scales, give a thought to the man who built wisely. We are all able to endure the things that life will throw at us by listening to Jesus’ teaching, taking it to heart, and living it out in our lives, and you may even be a better musician.
Sunday 4 August Trinity 7 by Katharine Rumens
Ecclesiastes 1 and Luke 12: 13 – 21
The deceased had asked for a passage from Ecclesiastes to be read at his funeral. The neighbour planning the service was not sure which bit he wanted. I confidently strode in, I’m sure it’s Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8 – a time to be born and a time to die and so on. After all, it’s a popular reading and the deceased was quite conventional. He enjoyed City Living and had served as Chief Commoner. He seemed at home with all the traditions and peculiarities: white tie with decorations, black tie, lounge suit. Loving cup, rose bowl, silent ceremonies and silent toasts. The processing, the robes, the badges and beadles, rubbing shoulders with the powerful and the old school tie.
It was not to be Ecclesiastes 3 but rather Chapter 1: Vanity, vanity says the Teacher, vanity of vanity. All is vanity and a chasing after wind.
It’s hard to know what frame of mind Douglas was in when he planned his funeral. Did drawing nearer to his death put things into perspective? We get to a point of realizing that we have been drawn to distractions and the trivial has taken up so much of our time.
Many visitors are fascinated by the modest memorial in the corner to Thomas Stagg Attorney at Law Vestry Clerk of this Parish from 8th day of March 1731 to the 19th day of February 1772 on which day he died in the 76th year of his Age. That is all. It is a poignant epitaph. All is vanity and chasing after wind.
These verses from Ecclesiastes form one of the five readings at the Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot, one of the Three Festival Pigrimages that you took to the Temple. Harvest Festival – marking the end of the harvest time.
All is safely gathered in and what do we have to show for it? Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon in his old age. Solomon in all his glory, the great builder of the Temple decorated with the finest gold and silk. Famed for his wisdom and his material wealth. He had filled barns; he had needed stores for all his goods. Was the man disillusioned in older age that now he sought to show the emptiness of worldly pursuits and the storing up of treasures for ourselves.
Barns filled to overflowing with purposeless repetition – get up, go to work, do work, come home, have something to eat, go to bed, get up, go to work….
Ecclesiastes is there to halt our various and futile attempts to make something of our lives without God, it reminds us to give our full attention to God and what God does to make something of us.
We cannot find meaning in our lives on our own.
Thomas Stagg, one of the thousands upon thousands of people who have made their prayers in this church down the ages as John Bunyan – buttoned up in marble at the back. Frank maintained that Bunyan occasionally attended this church (I need to talk to him about that) and used to preach once or twice a year at the Nonconformist chapel in Monkwell Square after his release from Bedford Gaol. By this time, he was in enormous demand as a preacher as one imprisoned for his beliefs and because of the success of Pilgrim’s Progress. He was known to love the recognition that came to him later in life. Bunyan locked up for 12 years with his bible and his vivid imagination.
Christian and Hopeful presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is fair kept, called Vanity Fair. …the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity, and also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity. P109
Therefore, at this fair are all such merchandise sold – as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, counties, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts – wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones and what not.
And, moreover, at this fair there are at all times to be seen jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.
Beelzebub took him from street to street and showed him all the kingdoms of the world…..but he had no mind to the merchandise, and therefore left the town. Undistracted by vanity, Christian continues his progress through trials and tribulations to the gates of the Celestial City.
That’s all it took: a bible and a vivid imagination – Bunyan the Puritan. A good man, a truthful man, honest, making shoe laces in prison, hard-working and dutiful.
Unlike others of you, I do not read Financial Times – I get my information from a column called, ‘In the City’, the purpose of which is to draw attention to current vanity and greed.
Banker culture was an undisputed major factor in the global financial crisis. But almost twelve years on from the start of the credit crunch, which heralded the biggest economic shock since the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, that toxic culture is back. Every month brings fresh evidence of unchanged greed and entitlement, as if to prove the past is a foreign country.
Exhibit one (of six). Two senior managers at xyz bank were being measured for suits costing upwards of £1,200 two weeks ago as 18,000 colleagues were losing their jobs. Xyz bank CEO – ironically named Christian – Christian Sewing, assured the world this incident ‘in no way corresponds with our values’. Really? Surely says the columnist it demonstrates those values perfectly. Just like the £50m – plus in golden handshakes to top executives since 2018.
All this barn building around us and we sit here in relative medieval simplicity among it all. The consequence of God’s reaction to the barn builder – ‘You fool!’ would have appealed no end to the Puritans. We know that we are pretty foolish to get too attached to this world and our possessions and the stuff money can buy. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control were not on sale in Vanity Fair, nor are they commodities that can be put into barns.
14 June Trinity 4 by Katharine Rumens
Luke 10: 25 – 37
It isn't hard to see why the show was such a critical and audience success the first time around, and even three years down the line, the piece feels like a hot take on what could easily have become a tiring classic. One view of Jesus Christ Superstar which some of us saw during the week.
A tiring classic. We might not agree that Jesus’ ministry, his arrest, trial and execution is a tiring classic, or the telling of that story – however whacky, however mediocre, could ever be just another tiring classic.
How about this for a hot take on the story we know as the Good Samaritan. There was once a priest and a Levite and rabbi. This is a standard opening for a joke – a priest, a Levite and a rabbi. But the story teller doesn’t tell it this way, he subverts the plot before the story begins. In this new order he says – A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The story has already gone wrong.
People are not going to get ready to laugh at a joke about the butcher, the baker and the Japanese tourist; they are waiting for the familiar opener of a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker.
So we have a story teller who is no good – he doesn’t stick to the rules; he can’t tell jokes like other people. This is no hot take – this is a complete and utter flop. This story teller is so no good that he has aroused the interest of those in authority. Why else put the story teller to death?
The groundlings – who are never in authority - love a good story.
It begins with the lawyer’s question: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life? Lawyers – they trip you up with their questions. Who is my neighbour indeed?
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho – 12 miles or so – along the steep descent through the mountains, winding along the course of a wadi – it was a notorious haunt of robbers until quite recent times. What an idiot mutter the groundlings. He’s asking for trouble.
The groundlings love a bit of violence and so it is very satisfying when the man gets beaten up. Serves him right. Then by chance - More than one lone traveller had decided to dice with death that day.
The priest and the Levite pass the man by. They knew what was what – this was not health and safety gone mad – there was a clear commandment to help any neighbour who was in danger – usually interpreted as a fellow Jew (that is: one of us). But on the other hand, if the victim were already dead – which is how thing seemed to be in this case – both priest and Levite had done the right thing. They could not incur ritual defilement by touching or even approaching the corpse – it would prevent them from fulfilling their duties in the temple or collecting their tithes. It would rob them of any respect. The groundlings agree: The priest and the Levite had no choice. They are holy men.
Enter the Samaritan. There was age-old hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans, who were a separate religious sect with a temple of their own. It was no big deal the Samaritan coming away from Jerusalem – it is not his holy city. Then the Samaritan saw the man and was moved with pity.
Although it can come as a nasty shock when it happens, we need an element of surprise to jostle us out of our familiar patterns. In such as state we can take in something new – like, in this case, the grim possibility of admitting that something good can come out of Samaria.
That scum can be moved with pity – this is disconcerting. I may have been made curious about people I despise, I demonise. I may have to change my mind. The groundlings are not too sure how they feel about all this.
What is worse is that there is no satisfactory conclusion to the story. We are never told what happened. Perhaps the groundlings went away completely fed up having been cheated out of a good ending.
What about the Samaritan and the man left for dead? Was it like this?
On the day the Samaritan came back to pay the innkeeper and find out about the man he had cared for. Was it a joyful reunion as the prodigal with his father? An emotional embrace as of a friendship forged in extreme circumstances? Is this the happy ending the groundlings would prefer?
The man had made a good recovery. He had been treated well by the innkeeper, he would soon be well enough to continue on his way to Jericho.
The innkeeper called to him across the courtyard. Hey, your friend has turned up – he has come back to pay in full as he said he would. And the Samaritan came across the courtyard to meet the man he last saw as a bloody bundle in the road. The man looked at him as said: I spit on your grave – or from the bottom of my heart I thank you, or shrugged his shoulders and said ‘whatever’ before going back to his beer.
There are those above the groundlings up there in the gallery. They sit back in the shadows watching the storyteller closely and listening intently. They are the elders of the people, the chief priests and scribes. They take note and they understand completely. They know who it is lying in the road beaten up and left for dead: this is Israel: victim of the Jewish Roman wars.
The priest and the Levite represent themselves – those who chose to ignore the misery and need around them. The one who was not hidebound by rules was able to show compassion and respond to the one who needed help.
That was insulting enough and it got worse: it is this outsider who promised to return and repay Israel’s debt in full. The storyteller is talking about himself.
The whole performance must be stopped.
We never know the ending of the story – we only know how the story ended for one person. An ending orchestrated by those in the shadows biding their time. For the story teller it will end in death. A story being told in Jesus Christ Superstar to two thousand people a night on the other side of the lake.
16 June Trinity Sunday by Katharine Rumens
Proverbs 8: 1- 4
Church services can be annoying, perhaps even those leading church services can be very annoying people indeed: our mannerisms, our choice of trainers, a shaggy beard or dangly earrings can all become distracting to others. A friend had to sit getting increasingly annoyed as the service went on and on – nearly two hours of it. A discreet exit was not possible as she was a long way from the door and hemmed in on all sides. So, she just got crosser and was crossness itself by the time she phoned me.
It was their tone of voice she said – the (female) clergy put on these churchy tones, the equivalent of whale music to talk about God. She couldn’t stand it. She wanted to shout at them – use your normal voice, speak as you usually do. We – members of the congregation – we don’t’ talk soppy when we come into church, stop it, stop using that caring voice that you might use at the bedside of a sick person or to a distressed child.
As Henry Scott Holland in his famous monograph about the dead urged the living: Speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone.
On Trinity Sunday we try to talk about God, and I will try to talk about God without undue piety or by putting difference in my tone. It would suggest that we find talking about God difficult and God matters difficult, and an easy way round that it to adopt a holy voice.
In comparison, the Wisdom of God raises her voice. On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads. Wisdom is standing at all the busiest and most noticeable points of the city and shouting. Wisdom is at Waterloo Station in the rush hour, at Canary Wharf, watching the Changing of the Guard and queuing for Centre Court. And despite the cacophony she can be heard.
No softly spoken murmurs of sincerity. Let everyone with ears listen.
From very early on in the life of the Church, Christians read the figure of ‘Wisdom’ as a reference to Jesus. They assumed that God had already shown, in hints, characters and patterns of relating what he would reveal in full in Jesus. The signs are there well before the introduction of John the Baptist.
Wisdom is a good introduction to what Christians were claiming about Jesus. As put into words in the Nicene Creed: we believe and declare that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both divine and human. God, of the being of the Father, the only Son from before time began: human from the being of his mother, born in the world.
The doctrine of the Trinity was formulated by the church and it is the conclusion about God that Christians were driven to by their experience of mission and worship. One and one and one equals one. There was no more adequate explanation of their encounter with God in Christ by his Spirit.
That’s what putting faith into action does for you. We cannot shore up experience with reason – it is unreasonable.
Can wisdom help us with this conundrum of one plus one plus one equaling one? Wisdom the shouty one. Wisdom is not gracefully dancing among the rolling hills, or in siting looking pensive in the peace of the countryside. She is shouting to us here and now in the frenzy of where we have chosen to live. The author of Proverbs teaches us that to follow the way of wisdom is to live in the world as our maker intended. Proverbs is a pretty practical manual. The assumption is that if we try hard to find the right way, day by day, and follow the teaching of the wise we will actually be doing what we were created to do, and in doing that we will make the world a better place for ourselves and for others.
The shouty one can be heard beyond the closed doors of privilege. God’s wisdom is not reserved for the few – or the seemingly many who were educated at Eton. Wisdom was present as God created the world, and she saw it unfolding. She draws u more deeply into the mystery of God’s love.
This time next week some of you will be back here at St Giles’ and some of us will be in St Peter’s Chapel at Bradwell-on-Sea – it is among the oldest intact churches in the country.
A place of prayer where the wind blows, and the skylarks sing. When we there last year the warden, Tim, told us a story about Douglas Adams – author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. His family were members of the Othona Community and as a child, Douglas and his sister would have gone to services in the chapel. As the evening sun streams through the west window the light shines on the east wall. The window is six panes wide and seven panes high so there are 42 squares of light projected above the altar.
The giant computer called Deep Thought, spent exactly 7.5m years pondering on Life, the Universe and Everything till finally and solemnly announcing that the Ultimate Answer is . . . "Forty-two". The answer is 42, as for Christians the answer is 3.
After we had been told the story we watched the evening sun light up the wall with renewed interest. Really the number doesn’t matter, what is amazing is the strength of the light as it falls on the rough stone wall in that holy place.
One and one and one equals one. Trinity is about the limits of language to express our worship. The only appropriate response is to join the angels’ cry: Holy, holy, holy, but not in a soppy voice.
Sunday 26 May, 6 Sunday of Easter by Katharine Rumens
Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14
Ezekiel makes it look so easy – God commands and Ezekiel prophesies and hey presto – stuff happens; result. What was hopeless and dead springs up and comes to life again. Those dry bones live. Good work Ezekiel. The people thought God had forgotten them, but God will put his spirit within the people, and they will live.
Somehow, miraculously, there will be new life.
Ezekiel’s vison in our first reading is of a reunified transformed people. There is a depressing resonance between the people before their transformation and ourselves living through times of change and uncertainty. This poor old knackered country as a journalist described it. Put Ezekiel in Number 10, give us strong, stable leadership. Inspire us with visions that it will all be all right. God be gracious to us and bless us – in our days.
Take a look around you Ezekiel. It feels right now as if the Palace of Westminster is strewn with dried bones. Corridors of power are lined with them; they spill over the benches of both houses. Bones as far as the eye can see – very dry bones. We are in need of visionaries to enliven us again, we are in need of prayer and discernment.
It is wise to pay attention to the questions in the Bible that often cut to the heart of things: ‘Can these bones live?’ Can they? When we know the Prime Minister’s departure will not ensure the stability and certainty the country needs. We are warned that if we think Teresa May’s time in Downing Street ended in tears, wait until we’ve seen this summer’s Tory leadership contest. Her replacement will inherit many challenges: succeeding with Brexit where she failed, managing The Union, China, Social care, the housing shortage. The list of tasks to be tackled is daunting.
These bones will live even though we are not too sure how that will happen.
I don’t know what the turnout was in this part of the City on Thursday – it’s always lower at European than General Elections. A lot of our friends and neighbours came to the church to vote, some stopped to chat, to browse or buy books. We ate cake with the polling clerks and had a sociable day. Yet one woman despaired, ‘I don’t know where to begin,’ when she was confronted by the bewildering voting paper listing 11 candidates and 12 independents. ‘The booths aren’t that private,’ said one man. You can hear the next voter huffing and puffing through all the choices. We are not familiar with voting papers as long as our arm and a political world seemingly in chaos.
In the same week that one of you tells me a story from your childhood of the unexplained and never talked about visitors who came to stay the night and were gone in the morning. Later you learnt that your father was part of a chain of people who brought Jews out of Germany. This same week, The Guardian warns us that The Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage is predicted to top the poll. Age old prejudices have raised their heads like racism and anti-Semitism. The Party victors use their podiums and dispatch boxes to amplify their bigotry, giving confidence to people to spread their poison.
Can these bones live? Yes, because God is holy and brings life to dust and bones. When even we who live privileged lives of plenty are made anxious and uncertain about the future. And our children’s future.
Back in the beginning on the seventh day the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground – from the dust, that’s all. And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2: 7. We are but dust without the breath of God to inspire us.
Can these bones live?
The hand of the Lord came upon Ezekiel and set him down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. The prophet was all alone in this dramatic paradise lost.
It’s a powerful image to recall when our world falls apart. A death, a loss, an unwelcome change of circumstances. We respond variously, but two of the most common responses are denial and despair. Denial – just ignore it and it will go away – like those e mails we delete before reading. Or we distract ourselves. We go shopping, we get away from it all and go on holiday. And despair, we become paralysed by the catastrophe – there’s nothing we can do, we may as well give up.
The prophet was alone – ‘O Lord God, you know.’
Ezekiel lived in a tough world: 6th Century BCE. Babylon has invaded Israel. It was all over for God’s people. In this his third vision Ezekiel saw that the Jewish exile would come to an end, a new city and new Temple would be built, and the Israelites would be gathered and blessed as never before.
And the people lamented, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost’. They were incapable of change or growth because they did not believe in the possibility of life. God will open their graves and bring them back from exile.
‘O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.’ God can and does recall us to life, even when we are not sure how on earth that is going to happen.
Sunday 5 May Easter 3 by Doris Barrera
Just two weeks ago we were rejoicing in the celebration of Easter. For many Christians around the world, this is the most important day of the Christian year, the day when we rejoice in the resurrection of Christ
However, this year the world awoke to the news of the Easter massacre in Siri Lanka, and here, the Anglican Franciscan community, of which I am a member, was mourning the death of our beloved Brother Kentigern who died on Holy Saturday.
The Gospels tell us the narrative of the Christ’s resurrection and what happen next with each Gospel writer recording his own relevant details.
Luke tells us that on the same afternoon of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Cleophas and another person, perhaps his wife, on the road to Emmaus. They invited Jesus to stay with them in their home but they were only able to recognise Jesus when He broke bread with them. (Luke 24:1)
John tells us that Jesus appeared to the disciples that evening when they had gathered together with locked doors for fear of the Jews (Luke 20:19-25)
In the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1Cor 15:5-6) hel tells us that Jesus appeared to more than “five hundred brothers and sisters at one time” but his account dos not tell us the place of this appearance, or when it happened. From other accounts, we gather that this appearance probably happened much later, not around Jerusalem but a hundred miles to the north, near the sea of Galilee.
The Acts of the Apostles (Acts1:3) tells us that over a period of 40 days, Jesus appeared several times “showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs”
We don’t know how long it took between the appearances around Jerusalem and the one in Galilee. Jesus, the one who the disciples had followed and believed in, was dead.
Perhaps their faith grew dim, as the disciples seemed to have returned to their old lives, to go back to their old jobs, perhaps to their families and friends...we don’t know…Peter said, I am going fishing” and the rest followed…
I do not know about you, but I can identify with Peter.
From today’s Gospel reading I would like to reflect not only on this appearance of Jesus, but on what happened after breakfast between Jesus and the disciples on the seashore.
I like to see this conversation between Jesus and Peter as rather intimate but with perhaps a sense of doubt. Peter, the disciple that Jesus loved was questioned by Jesus. At first sight I read this passage as if Jesus had some doubts about Peter’s true love for him.
Was Jesus not sure about Peter’s feelings for Him? I don’t think so.
Jesus asks Peter 3 times: “Do you love me?”, and Peter’s first two answers were “Yes, Lord you know that I love you. Was Jesus really unable to understand Peter’s answers?
When Jesus asked him for the third time: Do you love me, of course Peter felt hurt, and probably, I would have felt the same as someone who is not naturally patient!
For those like me who are exploring a vocation to be ordained into the Church of England, this journey is not easy, and often I find myself asking these 3 questions.
When I reflect on this passage, I feel more and more that I am being questioned by Jesus.
During our lives, we all sometimes cannot see the love of God. When life does not go according with our plans, things seem to begin to go wrong, or we feel that God has forgotten us.
In my life I have been through many difficulties, and many times when I have been in pain I have been unable to sense God’s love for me..
For a while I have felt completely abandoned, but people around me have sustained my faith, and I have realised that God has always been with me because I can feel His presence through other people.
Now that I have begun the process of exploring my vocation, I try to give my life to God and allow Him to determine my future.This decision has not been easy.
This morning I would like us to reflect upon of our own doubts of the love of God in our lives, to understand that we are allowed to doubt and can question ourselves when something challenges our faith.
When Peter denied Jesus three times, I believe Peter was frightened of what would happen to him if he were found to be one of Jesus’ followers. In that distressful moment I think Peter felt abandoned, completely alone and out of fear found no other answer but to deny his own love for Jesus.
Then we come back to Jesus’ question: ‘Do you love me?” He was no longer under threat but mourning, perhaps feeling ashamed or that he has been a traitor.
When we feel like Peter, let us remember and trust that the love of God is bigger than our own fears and shame.
During Lent members of the congregation are invited by Katharine to preach a sermon entitled 'God at Work'
Sunday 7 April - Lent 5 ‘God at Work’ by Lewis Slater
We all have the tendency to find ourselves rather uninteresting or not particularly well-rounded. That’s what I immediately thought when I was asked to do one of the ‘God at Work’ sermons. I thought: I’m a fifth generation Londoner; my life is quite uneventful; and Harris Westminster Sixth Form - where I’m studying - is practically a second home.
But we all have a story, and I can trace mine back on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family; half migrated from Ireland (we don’t know exactly why) but the timing would suggest fleeing famine and protestant persecution. The other half - the Sabiri’s - can be traced back to Iran and moved and settled across Europe before making their home here in London.
As Roman Catholics (which both sides were) Britain was still not overly hospitable to them. Many would have worshiped in secret – as ‘crypto-Catholics’ - while the others subsequently became Anglicans through converting or marrying into Church of England families. On the other hand, I wonder what those journeys here were like; from the choppiness of the Irish sea, to the blazing heat of the Mediterranean.
When I think of why they came here - to lead better, more fulfilling lives for themselves, their children and grandchildren - I can’t help being reminded of all those who make a journey similar, if not the same, today. Picking up and leaving your home with no exact plan upon arrival is precarious, and quite frankly, a frightening prospect.
“Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old” we are told today in Isaiah; we should not look back to the things we cannot change. With that being said, an implied message to look forward and make the best of our future. It only took my family five generations to get someone to stay on at school over the age of sixteen or anticipate going to university; but hard-work and [some] patience are certainly attributes I’ve inherited from them.
I’ve lived in this area - like them - my entire life. I am a somewhat recent alumni from St Luke’s primary school, and I remember coming here. I can vividly picture standing at the foot of the tower and looking up, daunted by this building’s imposing character and atmosphere, surrounded by my peers. I wanted my future to be here and could feel God calling me. But as a child, I couldn’t have put it into words.
I was baptised a Methodist and my family are Methodists - albeit the kind who ‘only do church maybe once a year’. I grew up knowing about church because I had been to a church school, but the first Anglican Eucharist I attended was here last year on Easter Sunday. Before that, I’d looked around a bit and gone to St. Joseph’s.
I felt a deep connection to Catholic spirituality and practice but there were many things I struggled to accept. This happened during Lent last year. Feelings of dislocation and inner-searching are not foreign to this time in the church calendar - they are precisely what it is. London sustained my faith because it showed me that I have options.
I came to St. Giles’ on April first (or April fools) last year. Coming here could be a joke, was my initial take on the whole thing. But as I came in and sat down, there was something deeper which felt like much more of a homecoming. Therefore, contrary to the old saying: ‘All roads DO NOT lead to Rome’. Spiritually, I feel drawn here - much like how I did as a child. Here felt like where I was supposed to be, and it still does.
Now I’m standing up and speaking at sixteen - the youngest to ever take part in a God at Work sermon. I study History, English Literature, Government and Politics and PTE (that’s Philosophy, Theology and Ethics) all in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. I’m a commuter - the ruthless kind that only London can produce. It’s fair to say my life is dominated by exams and whether I’ll make it somewhere in less than half-an-hour.
Harris Westminster is the most diverse place I’ve ever been. Despite being one of the only Anglicans, the sense of Christian companionship is strong; Catholics, Pentecostals, Methodists, Calvinists - you name it, I can pick one out of the crowd. Being open about my faith and coming to church on Sunday mornings is a freedom I couldn’t have had at Central Foundation without facing ridicule.
Church is a huge part of my life - it’s a place I come when I feel the best I’ve ever felt - and also the worst. Church should be a home and refuge for individuals and their faith and thanks to others - all of you in this instance - St. Giles’ for me is exactly that. I am here because the doors are open and anyone who feels called here is welcomed. God’s presence is radiated by the strong faith and openness of this community.
Church also allows me to explore my vocation. Although I’ve been told and I realise that thinking about ordination at sixteen is ridiculous, the call is there and has been for as long as I can remember - only now can I put it into words. Then I realised what I’d been looking for the whole time; coming to St. Giles’ gave me the courage and words to express my calling and allow me to explore it deeper.
From migrating across Europe, to switching to the District line at Bank, the next journey will be like no other for me. I plan to go to University in the north of England to read theology. My whole life has been in London, yet I feel it is time to leave London and make my home somewhere else.
My journey will be reminiscent of those before me; an adventure into the unknown I will leave as a young Christian, exploring my vocation and will maybe one day fulfil what the Sabiri’s never did and become a priest.
God at work in my life has been most visible externally: from looking up at the tower in amazement as a child, or just being greeted with ‘good morning’ on the way in. For “We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road; we are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load.”
Sunday 24 March – Lent 3 'God at Work' by Rachel Free
I thought I might tell you a story. It all began sometime in 2006, in the time when GPS and WIFI started to become common in mobile phones, when Milton court was still part of the Barbican estate and housed the baby clinic, when my children were pre-school age. I often used to push the children in a double buggy over Gilbert bridge and have a great view of St Giles'. Gilbert bridge always gives me the feeling of being in a castle high up above the lake and a feeling of being very luck to actually live here. There is quite a good view of the church and you can see the clock on the tower if you look carefully. I wondered about whether there might be a Sunday school and whether children were there. I already knew Mona from my yoga class and one day I met Mona by chance when I was walking to the office near Holborn tube station. Mona was on her way to a wedding but even so was happy to chat. Of course, Mona welcomed me to come to St Giles'.
In the meantime, my eldest daughter started school and I soon found the responsibility of teaching the children about God and learning their bible stories. Somehow, I had thought that school would take some of that responsibility by having a nativity play and Christmas carols and through morning assembly. It was a surprise to me that all the Christmas songs were things like jingle bells with no mention of the Christian Christmas story, and that there was to be no nativity play. In my own school days, there were hymns every morning in assembly, grace was said before lunch, and the Lord’s prayer at the end of the day. Sunday school was a large highly organized event. Despite that training I quickly realised I didn’t have the resources and support to teach the children. I realised there is even a whole vocabulary the children would miss out on. Words like grace, faith, amen, halleluiah, hallowed and so on are found most in church.
Thankfully God was at work and provided St Giles with its wonderful people to help educate the children
At St Giles' I found that Sunday school was in fact now called Sunday club and that even Sunday club teachers learn a lot. When you teach children things you have to be 100% sure of your facts and understanding because otherwise the children very quickly spot the weaknesses.
Children love to ask questions. Usually the difficult type starting with Why or How. I did find it extremely challenging to know how to answer questions from the children. Here are some examples of questions that have come up.
Why is God so angry?
How did god create the world if there is evolution?
Why does Jesus do miracles?
Why is there a Holy Spirit?
What does omniscient mean?
I used to try to find good answers to these questions which was extremely difficult and quite stressful. An example is an answer I found to the question of God versus Darwin and evolution. I did some research and found out about Professor John Lennox. One of the world’s top mathematicians and a committed Christian. He explains that science is wonderful, but it can’t answer every question and in particular science does not annihilate God. He points out that science depends on faith which means trust. Every single scientist is a believer because in order to do any science you must believe that the universe is rationally intelligent. So, faith is a fundamental requirement in both science and religion.
Imagine me trying to think how to teach children what rational intelligence means. As you can probably tell it was not a workable way forward to find answers to all the children’s questions.
Also imagine my difficulty trying to teach the children the correct pronunciation of words from the bible stories. Often the children have never come across the vocabulary before and it is not phonetic. When it is time for the notices it could be very embarrassing if the pronunciation was wrong. What would the congregation think of the Sunday club teacher!
Fortunately, God was at work. With time I stopped worrying about having a good answer to all the questions. It began to not matter if the pronunciation was wrong. No one seemed to mind too much.
Somehow God is at work to give strength and confidence and the children are like little sponges soaking up how to behave and what values to have from the whole congregation. Sometimes in fact, it is the children that help the grown-ups to learn things by putting new perspectives on situations and stories that we thought we understood. Children bring us out of ourselves, force us into the here and now, bring us joy and remind us about unconditional love.
God is also at work in my office where I work to help clients protect their technology using patents. At present there is a lot of investment being made by governments and business in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and ethics boards are being formed to make decisions about how AI is used and what AI is developed. I studied AI at university and have even been invited to be on one of these ethics’ boards, for the University of Bath. I will need to draw on strength and wisdom and I will need God to be at work to help me.
The power of machine learning to make automated decisions that affect our lives is very strong and sometimes the technology is not easily explainable, contains biases so that the decisions may not be fair, and if it were to cause harm there is often no easy way to tell who is responsible.
It will be future generations who have to decide how best to use and create AI. These future generations include our Sunday club members and so it is wonderful that they are learning at St Giles about values that are important. Values are not something that you can teach simply by rote. They take time to learn through trial and error, through observing others from different walks of life, through role models and from parents and grown-ups in our congregation. In Sunday club we try to learn about loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves. But in the midst of Sunday club itself, learning to share the scissors is normally a more immediate question, or how to help with tidying up and how to be quiet when we say prayers. It seems to me that these little things are all part of the big picture of God being 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.
08.30 Morning Prayer (Monday-Thursday)
The church is normally open from 11.00-16.00 Monday to Friday.
Friday 15 November at 15.00
Bundling of Advent and Christmas leaflets. Please contact Jake in the Parish Office if you can help
Monthly Private Prayer and Reflection
These sessions are held on the first Thursday of the month., from 13.00-13.30.
2019 Future Dates, 4 December.
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 Future Dates,
2019 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30
Tuesday 19 November
also a Q&A with Russell Clynch about the new seating before the main meeting.
Parish Office Opening Hours
Tel: 020 7638 1997