Friday 25 December Christmas Day by Alex Norris
Today’s readings neatly give us the prophecy of the birth of Christ, and
then some explanation around Jesus and what he represents, and then
the account of his Birth.
Because there was no place for them in the inn…..
Last week a parishioner, sent me a cartoon on WhatsApp a couple of
weeks ago, wishing me a Merry Christmas, the cartoon depicted Mary
and Joseph outside the Inn talking with the innkeeper, and Joseph is
asking whether Mary could come in and make a conference call, to
which the Inn Keeper had answered, sorry there is no Zoom at the
A truly authentic reflection of the Nativity in 2020 methinks.
These are some of the most famous words from the whole nativity
account (Not the Zoom one, the Luke words!) more commonly phrased
as ‘no room at the inn’ used in everyday language. We all know what it
means, and where it comes from.
And I think they will resonate with us all more this year than probably any
other in recent memory.
For many of us this Christmas, myself included; we are not allowed to
visit others: friends, families: Several weeks ago, before the latest
restrictions, I had booked to go away for a weekend, and had booked to
stay at a hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon en route.
When we got there, it was closed. It was late at night, over two hours
driving from home.
The hotel had been forced to close because Stratford had been moved
into tier three (unbeknown to me) and they forgot to cancel my booking,
and tell me not to go to the hotel.
There we were, with literally no room at the Inn. I did say to the security
guard that this was quite festive, but I don’t think he got my sense of
We had nowhere to sleep, and no alternatives in the locale, we couldn’t
even stay in the car park.
I remember thinking at the time, this was giving me an inkling of what
Joseph must have felt, and I didn’t have a heavily pregnant wife with me
at the time, and all the other issues that were at play in the Nativity
I am sure many of you here have also had similar experiences, that help
give a little more understanding to this side of the Christmas story, when
things don’t go to plan, and you have to improvise at the last moment.
Like most of us here, we are all precluded from travelling and seeing
loved ones, changing all of our Christmas plans, because of the current
Not being welcome at the places we habitually have gone to for many
years gives you the strangest feeling, albeit for reasons that are out of
our hands. For those who live alone, and are now having to stay at home
on their own this Christmas, this is particularly sad, and I ask that we
specifically remember these people in our prayers.
It’s a difficult Christmas. So was that first Christmas.
Mary and Joseph, had been ordered, along with everyone else, to take
part in a census, which meant the heavily pregnant Mary and Joseph
had to travel to another region, on the back of a Donkey for around 70
miles. The Nazareth branch of Addison Lee had yet to be set up, so this
was the best you got.
Then besides that, uncertainty about where you could stay, no
booking.com for Joseph in those days, you just had to take your chances
that you could get accommodation when you arrived, and for Mary and
Joseph, the gamble did not pay off.
If you take a step back and look at the whole Christmas account, and
then think that God had literally every option open to Him, the child could
have been born to royalty in a palace, or Jesus could have come to earth
as a man, on clouds, but no: God chose, two normal people, not even
yet married, to give birth to a baby, in near squalid circumstances.
Many think this is the miracle of Christmas, I think there was another
miracle, that this account has stood the test of the time and that all these
years later, we are still coming together, even in times such as this, to
recount the story and celebrate this most wonderful, yet humble of births.
We may be in dark times at the moment, but they will come to an end.
When there is darkness, we all need a light to guide us, and today we
celebrate that light, the Light of Christ, which shines in the darkness, and
the darkness will never overcome it.
Whatever you have been given for Christmas, the greatest gift of them
all is here with us this year, as he has been in all years, Jesus.
Things are different this year, but the story remains the same, and just
because its different, it also doesn’t mean that we cannot celebrate.
May I wish you, and especially remembering those that cannot be with
you, a Merry Christmas and every blessing for the Christmas Season.
Sunday 20 December Advent 4 (Mary) by Alex Norris
This Sunday marks the last Sunday of Advent as we come to the end of
the Advent Season, and in a few days time celebrate the birth of Christ.
Traditionally this Sunday the church turns its focus to Mary, the mother of
Jesus. You will see a notable Marian theme in today's service, with the
music, and readings that we are having today.
We hear the Magnificat, which is Mary’s hymn of praise to the Lord.
(This is also in Luke’s Gospel and comes shortly after the Gospel
reading). Also we hear an Ave Maria (many versions have been written
over the years) and the words are from the Hail Mary, the famous prayer:
Hail Mary, full of Grace the lord is with thee, blessed are thou amongst
women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary mother of
God, prayer for us sinners and now and at the hour of death.
In today’s Gospel we recall the annunciation where Mary learns of God's
plan for her, and her reaction is simply, ‘let it be to me according to your
This really is quite ground-breaking stuff. We are always in danger of
judging this reading and miraculous events by today's standards, where
there is a much greater equality between men and women. We have to
remember that during the days in which these events were taking place,
the role of women was very much different, with them being regarded
more as property than people, and with no real equality in their place in
God had chosen an unknown, normal woman, from nowhere special to
be the mother of His child. An event that would immortalise her in
history. An event that is remembered the world over annually by billions
of people. The church teaches us about the virgin birth, it is enshrined in
our creeds and Gospels, and our reading today, used in many carol
services across the land, and reminds us of how these events unfolded
all those years ago.
But, we don’t just have the one miraculous conception, we get two for
the price of one! With also Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, who
would prepare the way for Jesus. She had been barren for years, and
unable to conceive a child, something that she and her husband
Zechariah really wanted, and even though in mature years, she
conceived a child, through the Holy Spirit and Mary learnt of this when
Elizabeth was in her sixth month, as Luke’s account tells us.
Could you imagine what this would be like? There you are at home (I
presume) do nothing in particular where an Angel pays you a visit, not
exactly a normal event, and then not just any angel, but an Archangel, in
angelic terms, one of the divisional directors, with a direct line to the
CEO. What would that visit be like? The anthem we hear today, Gabriel's
message, which is a Basque Folk Carol puts it far more eloquently than I
The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
"All hail", said he, "thou lowly maiden Mary,
most highly favoured lady." Gloria.
However it happened, how would you react?
Laughter? What me, are you having a laugh?
Denial? This isn’t happening…….
Probably disbelief, only to be told that your relative Elizabeth (probably
her cousin, or Kinswoman, depending on translations) had already
miraculously conceived. Mary would not know this because It was
tradition at this time that when a woman became pregnant that she
would seclude herself from normal life and nurture the child she was to
bear. No ante-natal classes for a calm and positive birth going on here.
Imagine isolating from your whole support network, when pregnant, at a
time when giving birth and subsequent survival of Mother and Child was
far more of a lottery then than it is today, and must have been a
frightening prospect for any mother to be.
As an interesting side point, because Elizabeth and Mary were related,
so would Jesus and John the Baptist, however apart from Chapter one
of Luke it is mentioned nowhere else in Luke’s Gospel or any of the
The words that have remained with me from all of this are the simple
words Mary said to the Angel Gabriel: “I am the Lord’s servant, may your
word to me be fulfilled.” Other translations say ‘let it be to me according
to your word’.
Here we can see this normal woman handing over her destiny, her
biology, to God.
I always think that these events, coupled with the resurrection, always
help underpin the role that women had in the early church. The Virgin
Birth, critical for Jesus to be in the world, women who helped fund Jesus
from their private means, and then women who when Jesus was
arrested, remained firm, even when his male disciples are said to have
fled, and who accompanied him to the foot of the cross and were the first
witnesses to the resurrection on that first morning.
And all at a time, where women's rights were virtually non-existent, and
where women held no positions of authority.
I would argue that all of these women, in their hearts (feeling called to
support and help Jesus and his fledgling cause at that time) were letting
God act through them, as was His wish, for His ends. I have to say, in
writing that sentence, it seemed odd calling God He, when I look at the
fuller context. However that is for another sermon, or three!
As we look back on Advent in this most strangest of years, and then look
ahead to Christ’s birth, being celebrated anew, in that stable, in a foreign
land, to an unmarried couple, I would suggest we all reflect on those
simple words of Mary; ‘let it be to me according to your word’.
What does that mean to you?
What do you feel God calls you to do for His church?
When I was in my initial stages of discernment for the Priesthood, my
parish priest said these very words to me, suggesting that if it is God’s
wish for you to be a Priest in the church of God, then you should let it be
so. Only God really knows, and I needed to discern that, under the
guidance of the church.
We all have been given a lot to think about this Christmas, with the
goings on in the world, and the un-natural circumstances we find
ourselves in, and everything that brings with it.
Next week we celebrate Jesus coming among us, at a time when he is
well needed. That light in the darkness. Maybe as we reflect on this
miraculous birth, and think of what God asked of Mary at that time we
should ask ourselves of what God is asking of us today.
Sunday 6 December Advent 2 by Katharine Rumens
If you want to get shouted at by radical thinkers, you could always go to Speakers’ Corner. Marx, Lenin, and Donald Soper have all exercised their right there, in their time, to the freedom of speech. Stanley Green paraded his message, he didn’t shout about it. Until his death in 1993 he patrolled that spiritual wilderness that is Oxford Street. We have all seen – or ourselves in our hippie days, been – strange looking individuals who disconcert sections of society. The unconventional, the rebels, the anarchists who don’t want to, or can’t fit in – whatever that means. These people on the fringes make us vigilant because they don’t look like we think we look, and they probably don’t think as we think we think. Keep watch, keep awake….you never know.
Stanley Green issued his warning for 25 years. His placard (now on display in the Museum of London) recommended Protein Wisdom: less lust and sitting. Described as the most famous, non-famous person in London, he believed that if we dampened our libidos – and did less sitting down - we would be kinder. When I was in fashion I was often in Oxford Street and would see Mr Green out in all weathers. I never wanted to get too close to him, or make eye contact, or buy a pamphlet for 7p. It is on record that Londoners developed an affection for him, but I didn’t test those bonds of affection by engaging in conversation. I might never have got away from him. Best to avoid.
Today we meet John the Baptist in the wilderness. A poet, and David’s university chaplain described him like this:
Coming out of nowhere Best to avoid. With his crazy hair, freakish clothes,
He has the appearance of a deviant.
You expect things to be different in the wilderness – but perhaps not that different.
The desert waits Ready for those who come Who come obedient to the Spirit’s leading: Or who are driven, Because they will not come any other way.
The desert always waits, Ready to let us know who we are – The place of self-discovery.
The desert, the wilderness, the mysterious elsewhere, affords no hiding place, no refuge. It is a place of desolation and liberation, harsh light and sudden shadow, scorching heat and biting cold. The desert as both place and experience becomes associated with journeying; with testing, with seeking another country.
Today’s gospel takes us back to the opening verses of Mark’s gospel. It looks simple enough, ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ A story – even a gospel, has to begin somewhere.
Evangelion: good news/gospel was the word used for imperial proclamations. Rome has spoken – good news. Good news meant the announcement of the birth of a new emperor, important events in the emperor’s life – his birthday and so on – or news of his victory in battle. And with good Roman roads made straight Roman good news can be carried efficiently to the corners of the empire.
Mark uses the word subversively. It is good news of a Jewish child born in a time and place of Roman occupation who will be crucified as a criminal under that same regime.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, yet it is the emperor, or Caesar who was described as ‘Son of God’ and such titles were to be found on Roman coins, Mark is throwing down a challenge. It is Jesus, not Caesar who is good news and he who it is who is the Son of God.
The author is telling us the good news – not of the Roman kind – of Jesus Christ. But does not tell us about Jesus, he starts by telling us about John..
We are so used to the story we do not realise the oddity of the opening lines.
Welcome John the Baptist.
His technique is to startle and confront,
All carefully positioned plans be throws in the air
To bring down a new order, Plotting out in the debris
A path we had not designed for ourselves,
Laid in a different direction from our own choosing.
Milton puts it like this: Paradise Regained 1: 18
Now had the great Proclaimer, with a voice
More awful that this sound of trumpet, cried
Repentance, and heaven’s kingdom nigh at hand
To all baptized.
John the Baptist, the great Proclaimer.
He is a disrupter, a distraction, Luring us out from our city, out from security
To find ourselves suddenly off-schedule, Called back, back by him to an ancient track. Via water and the wilderness,
Into an unchartered land of promise, of encounter
Which is not yet ours, Drawn to a meeting with the stranger
We have longed for. Says the poet.
We are often reminded that the word repent – means to regret, to express sorrow, to change from wrong doing, to turn from, to turn towards. John and Jesus lived in a world which was controlled by small powerful groups of elites. These people, naturally, had developed strategies to keep themselves in control, and it often kept them rich. The people who came to be baptized came from all Judea and Jerusalem – the traditional centres of the most devout Jews, and wealthy elites. It is these people too John invites to repent, to change from doing wrong and also to look for a better way. It wasn’t just the bored, the desperate and the ignored.
Whoever you were, you wouldn’t go out into the wilderness if you were out and out happy with how things were going for you.
But none of this is quite as we predicted,
It is not him, though we had found him compelling.
He has mangled our certainties, Twisted everything into a future we cannot control, After him We must wait for another, even more dangerous.
Repent, turn and prepare to meet your God.
Sunday 22 November The Feast of Christ the King by Alex Norris
It’s one of the most expensive television productions ever made, coming
in at around one million pounds an episode, with the fourth series just
released, and thousands of households motoring their way through the
box sets. It’s about a family, human beings like any of us, but a family
that’s under more scrutiny than probably any other on the planet, their
every move, decision, fashion statement, wedding, baptism, going to
church, or not going to church, you name it. Anything, and it gets colum
inches, and also a whole series on Netflix.
Yes, you’ve guessed it…..the Crown. It had critical acclaim, on-going
debates about how accurate it is to the ‘real thing’, and questions of how
all this ‘inside goss’ is even ascertained by Peter Morgan, surely it has to
be made up? Did such and such really happen like that?
The fascination with the UK Monarchy is a global phenomenon, driven
by the enduring and impeccable service by the longest reigning
monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who at a young age on a radio broadcast
said “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or
short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great
imperial family to which we all belong’.
Even some republicans would admit that as monarchs go, we are very
lucky in the UK to have the Queen, despite their disagreement with the
In other countries, such as the USA, the Royals are viewed as being
above celebrity, in their own genre, and when they visit the states, they
draw huge crowds, as they do on many of their tours.
Whatever your own personal views of the Monarchy, it would be hard to
deny that there is an enduring fascination and unquenchable appetite for
our Monarchy, and this interest does not seem to be waning, as backed
up by the approval ratings for the Monarchy, especially the Queen,
which most politicians could only dream of.
Today, the church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King. Today we
reflect on Christ, and his Kingdom. However, this is a different kind of
authority and king. Unlike the monarchies in the world today, which have
huge reserves of wealth, and assets and seemingly lavish lifestyles,
Christ was born in a stable, and died the death of a common criminal,
and spent his life being regarded by many as nothing more than a
political outcast. No articles in Hello! Magazine for Mary, Joseph, and
the new baby Jesus and what their house looks like.
Just as we all live in a Kingdom, the United Kingdom, so there is another
Kingdom. God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom that He wants to see here on
earth, ‘thy will be done, on earth as in heaven’, as we say in the Lord’s
prayer. Jesus’ ‘kingliness’ is above anything to be seen here on earth,
and we are all subject, including the Monarch and the Royal Family to
this, as our reading from Matthew’s Gospel said. After Jesus had died
and risen again, as witnessed by Mary on that first Sunday morning, he
then, “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all
rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that
is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come’, as we heard
in our reading from Ephesians this morning. Never to be bettered. Not
then, not now, not ever. To be a Christian is to strive to further God’s
Kingdom. Today is a very timely reminder of this responsibility that we all
have. So how do we do this?
Our Gospel reading from Matthew gives us a good guide, and uses
some principles several times over to demonstrate some of the core
values of what should be done. They are all practical, and relevant
today, for all of us. Jesus said, “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I
was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and
you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick
and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me”.
And what was also important was that this was done for everyone from
the least of us up, if we forget the least in our community then we are
forgetting God, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the
least of these, you did not do it to me.” And this is important, its easy to
be good to those for whom its convenient to help, but what about those
for whom it is more challenging, more difficult, inconvenient?
I am sure if a good friend of yours asked if we would do those things for
them, we would unflinchingly say we would, of course I would feed,
clothe, visit you in prison. (as an aside it reminds me of that famous
quote, that if you are in prison a good friend will come and bail you out;
your best friend will be in the cell next door!) However, in a society that
needs to be more tolerant, and caring and forgiving, we all need to strive
to do these things for everyone. As a community, how do we achieve
A recent article gives some heartening news (and don’t we need some
good news at the moment!) The financial value of the services and
support that Church of England buildings provide, and the health and
wellbeing they create, has been calculated at £12.4bn a year. To give
that some context, in 2018 total charitable giving in the UK was around
The figure comes from an independent study that was commissioned by
the National Churches Trust and carried out by State of Life, an
organisation which measures social value. 7bn of this alone was through
its contribution through food banks. I was hungry and we fed you. If you
like figures, here are a couple more, the C of E provides 8000
foodbanks, 5000 lunch clubs, 2400 night shelters….the list goes on. And
this is the work we all need to keep on supporting. It is practical, and
Christ centred, and makes a good response to the demands raised in
our Gospel reading this morning.
As we give thanks for Christ’s Kingship, and work to further His
Kingdom, here on earth, we have a lot to be thankful for, but there is also
a lot more to be done, this work will never be done, until He comes again
in glory, and, as our reading from Ephesians finished saying, ‘has put all
things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the
church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all’. And this
is an important point to finish on; our church is US, yes we have the
buildings, the structure, the governance, the land, but above all of this
stands a church which IS the body of Christ, a body, of which we are all
a part, in which we do our own bit, to further the cause.
Today is also known as ‘Stir Up’ Sunday, which comes from the Collect
for the day which starts, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of
thy faithful people", and is an essential British Christmas tradition which
is said to have been introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, where the
Christmas Pudding should be made in preparation for Christmas.
Who will you be making yours for?
Sunday 15 November 2nd before Advent 2020 by Katharine Rumens
The Duke says he is going away. Angelo – his special adviser - is left in charge of Vienna, which has become corrupt and slack. Except the Duke doesn’t go away all together, he skulks around dressed as a friar and – when he makes his undisguised return in Act 5 forgives everyone and announces four weddings. Measure for Measure one of Shakespeare’s Cripplegate plays in which all are rewarded according to their merits when the master returns.
Not much weeping and gnashing of teeth there.
Mr and Mrs Darling come to say goodnight to their children Wendy, John and Michael, before they go off to the opera (I think this is more or less right). Good night children – but the window. Do stay at home Mr and Mrs Darling. Stay with your family don’t leave them with that open window. Peter Pan will climb in and magic them away. They will not sleep safely in their beds tonight –because you have gone away.
God created a garden and peoples it with Adam and Eve. God absented himself from the narrative and the newly created people find they are on their own, unequipped to manage the seduction of power. When the deed is done and it is evening then God can be heard walking in the garden. God is back in the narrative and God called out – where are you? I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid said the man.
I was afraid said the man, you’ve come back.
For it is as if, come listen to my story said Jesus. Life’s not fair – as if the disciples hadn’t worked that one out for themselves.
What does the man expect? Before going away on a journey – and he could be gone some time, he doles out chunks of money. He gave no instructions. Is he always surprising his household with his unpredictable random acts? He must be a tricky man to work for. But then slaves never had much say in how they were treated. Nor did people who lived under an occupying power.
Matthew is relating the last days of Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus has predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. The chief priests and Pharisees are itching to arrest him. The next chapter is the account of the last supper, the arrest and trial. According to Matthew, the talents is the last parable Jesus tells.
And it keeps us guessing. We are told not to be too bothered by the earning power of a talent, the size of the hole, the type of spade the servant used. Or whether Jesus approves of earning interest when it seems that two of the slaves immediately made for the trading floor. The slaves had not earned their one, two, or ten talents. They have been given them.
The slave with the one talent tries to turn the gift into a possession to keep. He is the focus of the story and Jesus’s hearers would have been very sympathetic, surely he is the one who will be commended on his responsible behavior. In the ancient world, underground was the only safe hiding place. The historian Josephus remarks how people buried their treasure against the ill fortunes of war. Surely this slave is the Cinderella of the story and the other two, the Ugly Sisters.
Yet, that is not how it is in the Kingdom of God. The one who is unable to live freely, who plays it safe is burying himself, burying himself alive. He doesn’t want to lose anything and ends up losing everything.
The other two get it that gifts are for giving away.
The parable can be read as a clear judgement against those who think that they deserve what they get as well as those who do not know how precious is the gift that they have been given. None of us deserves what we get. Our gifts are connected – they are given so that we use them in service one to another.
God’s saints are those who take the life they have been given and transform it, and in doing so transform the people around them. Nelson Mandela challengingly wrote, ‘we ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.’ Don’t bury your talent.
Get down to the trading floor. Go squander what you’ve been given. What comes easily to you. Even in a pandemic. Do not bury the love of God in you – you will end up destitute and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The second Sunday before Advent and it’s this energetic wake up stuff, be on the alert, watch out, be prepared. Like some manly Scouting rallying cry. I can’t be doing with the anxiety and agitation; the fear of missing out when it matters most of all. We are surviving a pandemic and that can be exhausting, the days are short, the days are grey, the days are wet. Hibernation in the form of hygge offers comfort and candlelight; hot chocolate, wrapping up in a rug and wearing big wooly socks. And time to think – and pray and prepare.
I’m not talking about making preparations like stocking up on wrapping paper – or even toilet paper. Love came down at Christmas. We are preparing to receive love. A theologian writes, ‘Why should the ‘good news’ of the love of God be so alarming? Watch out the master is returning.
Perhaps because so few of us actually know how to be loved, she writes. We know how to be pampered, or indulge ourselves, or to whine about being misunderstood. But to be loved with God’s total, consuming, transforming and utterly perceptive love? Are we ready for that? As Advent approaches, we are given time to prepare with hot chocolate and wooly socks.
And if you are taken aback with the assertion that few of us actually know how to be loved, I recommend words from the Dali Lama’s Millennium message – approach love and cooking with reckless abandon. Don’t bury it.
Sunday 8 November 3rd Sunday before Advent - Remembrance Sunday by Alex Norris
Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel today finishes with the words ‘For you know neither the day nor the hour’. I find this an interesting choice for our reading today, as today, when we approach eleven o’clock this morning, on Remembrance Sunday, and then as a nation on Armistice day next week, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour; we know exactly the time and hour and the day that something so significant not only for our country, but also the wider world, finally arrived. Peace. The cessation of mass slaughter and suffering on a scale that is hard to imagine.
An indelible time and date stamped on the consciousness of this nation.
Matthew, of course was talking about the arrival of something different, Christ’s second coming, the time, day or month of which we do not know, using the image of preparedness at a wedding. Just as in Matthew’s story you could not predict the arrival of the Bridegroom for his wedding, we cannot predict the arrival of Christ,
so, we must be prepared, unlike the five ‘foolish’ bridesmaids.
As many of you may remember, a few weeks back I mentioned my strange experience at Gatwick Airport, where their PA system announced the observance of 2 minutes silence for the fallen, on Armistice day.
The only problem being it was in the middle of October, weeks away from when the announcement should have been made.
You could say that, nobody knew neither the day or the hour of this particular call to remembrance, as it was put upon all of us at Gatwick, without warning, out of context and as a total surprise.
Despite the wrong timing, the sentiment still remained. You could not help but think of the fallen, the thousands of soldiers who had their lives taken, many at far too young an age to be anywhere near a battlefield, let alone dying on it.
It is good that, as a nation we come together to remember the fallen and give thanks for all they have sacrificed for us, and for the freedoms that we are currently able to enjoy. (Our current Lockdown gives us all an inkling of what it would be like to live in a country where your liberties are restricted, and should make us all the more
grateful, when we think what things could have been like if our enemies had prevailed).
Similarly it is good that we come together on a Sunday (either physically or digitally) to remember the sacrifice that Christ made for all of us, for all of our sins.
Remembering is a powerful thing.
However, I don’t think we should limit it just to the prescribed times.
Just as there are those who are living with the loss of loved ones through war in this country today, from more recent conflicts, who we also remember today, there will be those who will die in future conflicts, those who will be terribly injured, at a time or an hour that they do not know.
This suffering does not fit into a neat little time slot, it's unpredictable, ongoing and present all around us. Just think of the contestant on Strictly Come Dancing JJ Chalmers, a former Marine terribly injured in Afghanistan.
He has said he is in pain every day from his injuries and is used to it. I suspect he remembers every day the colleagues he lost, and the explosion that so badly injured him.
Christ’s sacrifice is the same. It is remembered by Christians all over the world, all of the time, keeping us in a state preparedness for His coming. Maybe we need to think more often of those who have given so much for our freedom, and not just today.
War is a failure of politics. Our first reading describes the attributes of Wisdom. What a juxtaposition it poses for what we are remembering today; events that couldn’t be further from what Wisdom stands for.
As Christians we await the coming of Christ and we all work to further his Kingdom, a place of love, fairness and peace. As 11.11.11 approached all those years ago, the country looked forward to the world becoming more loving, fair and being at peace.
This timeframe was defined by the politicians and Army Generals, giving us a clear and memorable time for us all to remember. However, the coming of Christ will not be predictable, or determined by humanity. It is something that we will await, longingly, when all wars will end, and suffering and for good.
It will happen, just as that unexpected call to remembrance I experienced a few weeks ago surprised me, we just don’t know when.
As the country stops to remember the fallen, especially at this difficult time for our nation, let us give thanks for all those who have made, and continue to make, the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
May they rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.
Sunday 25 October Last after Trinity by Alex Norris
‘Love thy neighbour’
There is a lot of neighbourly chat in our readings this morning, including the
famous commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
And this got me thinking.
Who is our neighbour? Who is your neighbour?
When I think of who my neighbour is, I think of my neighbour in the flat next
door to me at home. He has now moved on, but I will never forget him. Why?
It was a fairly normal weekday several years ago when I had come home from work, remember when you could do that? And there was a letter from the Gym which is within the complex in which I live. It had said that they had not got the complete payment details for the direct debit and I needed to go down and see them.
At that time I was not a member of the gym, how did they get my details? All
very strange? Was it fraud, someone using my bank details?
Having sat down and seen the form, it was indeed in the name of Alex Norris, but the bank details were not mine, nor the Signature or the handwriting. Even more curious!
Then I checked the address on the form and it was the flat next door to mine.Surely my neighbour could not have got the identical name to me. Think of the odds of that, surely I'd have better chances of winning the lottery.
Anyhow, to cut a long story short, my new neighbour indeed had the identical name to me, we were both Alexander F Norris and incidentally our mothers are both J. Norris. He is the Creative Director of Comedy Central TV, and no longer my neighbour. Go check him out!
The reason that I mention all of this, is because for the first time I really got to think about who my neighbour was. I must admit meeting someone with the identical name to you is strange and you feel like you have a link to them, that you should know them better. So when the Bible says that you should treat your neighbour as yourself, in the case of Alex Norris it had quite a special meaning for me.
As our Gospel reading highlighted this morning, the love of God and neighbour is the basis for all the laws, this is the foundation, hence these being the greatest commandment for us, as we said earlier on in our service today. This message is reiterated in Leviticus, virtually word for word, and in one way or another all of our readings today focus on caring for one another.
So who is our neighbour? In this context, everyone we come into contact with,not just the person you really like a few doors down, or that neighbour who has similar tastes to you, the same sense of humour, a person you see
eye-to-eye with, but the others, those neighbours that make a load of noise at 2am, the neighbour who is completely different to you, but also wider still,
anyone you come into contact with, wherever, whenever. This is not just about where you live.
As with many of these commandments, they are very easy to say, to talk about and extol the virtues of, but in practice things can be a lot more difficult. Let's be honest, and I’ll say it here first, there are people who irritate us, annoy and frustrate us, obviously nobody in this building (!) but jokes aside, we will all come across people that just rub us up the wrong way. Then there are those who do things to us which hurt us, upset us.
This level of forgiveness has been taken by some to unimaginable levels; how about when your ‘neighbour’ is the man at your front door with a shot gun.This was the case for Kent Whitaker.
It was a chilly night in December 2003 when Kent Whitaker and his family werereturning home from a family dinner celebrating the upcoming graduation of his eldest son, Bart, from college. As they opened their front door, they were met by a masked gunman. The gunman opened fire, killing the youngest Whitaker son, Kevin, and his mother, Patricia. Kent and his son Bart were also shot, but they survived.
What does one say to this? Surely thoughts of revenge would flood through
your mind. This man had lost his wife and one of his Sons. In being asked about the experience he said, ‘“My heart told me that I wanted whoever was
responsible to come to Christ and repent for this awful act,” he wrote. “At that moment I felt myself completely forgiving him. This forgiveness astounded me, because earlier I had experienced feelings of incredible sadness and intense anger -- even the desire to kill the person responsible with my own hands. Little did I realize just how important my decision to forgive would be in the coming months.”
And this is something that I think we can all overlook when considering how
we treat our neighbour, especially when forgiving them for something as
utterly horrific as this. We are always in danger of just focussing on that other person, if we forgive them, then they will feel better, it will help them, as we should not be making other people feel bad.
But, what we hear here is even more astounding, and that is that the effect
that forgiveness has on the forgiver. Just as you would like to be forgiven for
what we do wrong, we should forgive others. Because by having this mutual
respect it reflects the love that God has for all of us, irrespective of what we
have done. It's really quite powerful stuff. Kent Whittaker has written a book
about the whole experience, ‘Murder by family’. In researching this story, I was amazed to find that this was not a one off case, there are numerous examples of people who have had loved ones murdered who have forgiven their murderers. Reading some of the accounts was really quite moving.
So, in reflecting on how we treat our neighbour, the theme of forgiveness is
something which is central in all of this. Forgiveness is such a powerful
concept. As our reading in Leviticus clarifies, ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people….’ Quite a tall order, but as some of our Christian sisters and brothers have shown, they have been able to find the means to forgive in the darkest of times.
Fortunately, situations such as the one I have cited this morning are very rare,and this call is rarely made, but I think it serves us well for when we are
thinking about how we should treat others.
It is my prayer for all of us that we can find the strength to be able to treat
others as we would like to have them treat us, and to find the means to forgive in the most trying of circumstances.
Sharing the Love of God, just as he shared his love with us, through Jesus, who through his love, he sent to die for all of our sins is what it means to be a Christian. If you find yourself doing anything that breaks this commandment of love, then stop and think of Kent Whittaker and the numerous others who have dug deep to forgive, to do the right thing, to enable us all to be true to our faith. And please don't think that I stand here before you as some paradigm of excellence in this department, I find it difficult and challenging,but in the long run, living in this way will serve us all, and God, well.
In the words of Robert Muller, “To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form
of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.”
Sunday 18 October, Trinity 19 - Feast of St Luke by Alex Norris
As some of you might know I have just been away on holiday. Part of my
journey was through Gatwick Airport, which in these Covid times is a very
different experience to the usual hustle and bustle of a major London airport.
Travelling late at night through the South terminal the most curious thing
happened. At Around 9.30pm the P.A system started booming words along the lines of, ‘In a few minutes we will be remembering Armistice Day, and all those who have died serving our country. On the 11th hour of the 11th day…… then those moving words of Laurence Binyan, ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old’ and then the bongs of Big Ben rang out across the terminal,and then silence…...two minutes of it. Our shuttle train had not arrived, and there we stood. Then after two minutes there was a further announcement thanking us and then just to cap it off, Elgar’s stunning Nimrod from his Enigma Variations, gently wafted through the building.
It was a strangely moving experience, especially looking at the deserted
terminal, the closed businesses, cordoned off areas that clearly had not been used in months, combined with the memory of fallen soldiers, and the sacrifice that had been made for our freedom.
Then the thought of Covid, and all those who have died this year in our current battle, not against a warring state, but a virus.
My second thought was; there’s a sermon in this somewhere!
Then the train turned up. It had seemed as if I was meant to have just stood on that platform in quiet contemplation before the next stage of our travels
Today’s readings also involve a lot of travel, be it Phrygia and Galatia, Mysia, Troas, or travelling in pairs, visiting houses, and obviously not in London with our Tier 2 lockdown. There is a common theme in both of our New Testament readings from both Acts and Luke’s Gospel; and that’s of going out and spreading the Good News, evangelizing, travelling light, and basically being itinerant and spreading this news far and wide. The book of Acts was also written by Luke the Evangelist, whose Feast we celebrate today. And the way it relates to his Gospel is that Acts starts off where Luke’s Gospel ended, with Christ’s Ascension, a kind of Biblical sequel.
Those seventy who have been sent out to proclaim the Good News would be happening upon people and giving them a message, a message that they
would not have heard before.
It’s a message of love, hope, of resurrection, all new thinking at this time. This message is alluded to in our Old Testament readings, as Isaiah says, ‘He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped..’ and our Psalm this morning also gives us all further hope, ‘The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground…’ So our readings this morning have presented us with the Christian model of spreading the Good News far and wide, travelling all over to do this, and then presenting its message; which is one of hope, love and salvation.
What must it have been like to have been visited by one of the seventy? I
suspect a little like my experience in Gatwick Airport; there you are, stood
quietly minding your own business, with your mind on other, probably more
mundane things, then suddenly this message is foisted upon you, and just as the message of Remembrance rained down from above at Gatwick, and
instigated the emotions we all must feel on the 11.11.11, so too must those
evangelists have brought a message, so powerful to those who were not
expecting it, with all the emotions that this Good News holds.
Of course, not everyone is receptive to a salvation-based sales pitch, anyone who has cold-called, pitching their companies services will know this, there are many who just put the phone down, give an excuse and so on.
Whether being an evangelist, or a cold-caller, the advice in Acts rings true, ‘I
am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves’, You are going out,
either physically or telephonically into a world that may not be that receptive
to what you have to say, or to what you believe.
We are all here, because we have heard the Good News, and it has struck a
chord with us, we have acted on it, to be here, together as a Christian
community to listen to the Good News, and to strive to better understand it,
and model the lives we lead on this message. However, it does not stop there, we too need to spread that message far and wide, for others to see, so they can experience its life changing meaning.
In reflecting on this, I had wondered what Luke, who was a Physician, would be saying today, as we continue to live through this pandemic? He surely would not be recommending travelling around, going into people's houses; what would Boris think? What would Luke be saying? What would he be expecting the church to be doing in this most unique situation? Whatever his answer would be, I would hope that it would involve the church in being a reassuring presence for all in these uncertain times.
A church that by its teaching and example gives hope and support to all, and
ultimately a message that shows victory over death, and a God that loves us
all, whoever we are, whatever we have done. In short: A message of Hope.
And in talking about the church, we must not think of this most wonderful
building that we are so privileged to come into every week to praise God, but
remember that the church is us. All of us, here together.
Being here together, despite all the rules and restrictions that are currently in
force, is church. As Christians, it's what we do. As I say this, I am conscious of those who are with us digitally. For me, you also are here, present with us,
through your thoughts and prayers and intentions which come from your being able to see and hear our worship this morning. All of us here, physically or otherwise make up the church, and make it here, today, with all that is going on. And this is important: Our message and our example are needed as much today, with all the lack of hope, loneliness, poverty and worry in our society, as it was back in the time of Jesus. Remember in Jesus’ time, they too were used to avoiding infection. Leprosy was prevalent, incurable, not really understood, and social distancing was taken to a whole new level for those who suffered, being assigned to colonies far away from other communities, so in some ways times are not that different, their own version of a Tier One lockdown.
I would like to think that THIS St Luke’s day, here in 2020, leaves us with a clear message, one of hope, of love and salvation, and one that the church, that WE need to spread far and wide.
Just as that voice boomed at me and everyone else in the miles of corridors at an eerie South Terminal of Gatwick Airport, so should our message boom in these unprecedented and for many, frightening and worrying times, here in the Barbican, the City of London and Beyond.
As the Psalmist wrote, say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do
not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible
recompense. He will come and save you.’
Sunday 27 September Trinity 16 by John Hicks
(Alex celebrated his first Holy Communion following his priesting on 20 September)
+In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Greetings from the people of St Barnabas, Pimlico Road. They especially send hearty good wishes to you Alex as you celebrate Holy Communion for the first time as a priest in the Holy Church of God.
Some months ago, Alex phoned me and asked if knew of anybody who could preach for his first Mass? He said he needed someone good! I can even picture where I was. I thought momentarily who? Well, the
penny eventually dropped. Needless to say here I am. I have known Alex for over 15 years, and as you have come to know Alex these past 15 months, and I am sure you know you have certainly gained someone with a sense of humour.
When I began reflecting on writing a sermon for today two things crossed my mind.
Firstly, I wonder what Jesus would say about Alex as he walked this long journey towards serving him in his capacity as an ordained minister?
Secondly, what would I say? Today feels a little like I am the best man at a wedding, preparing a best man’s speech, sharpening my pencil before bringing out the stories of old.
Alex, will I am sure, be pleased to know that I will stick to the first question. Mostly.
It’s a question Jesus has asked of Alex and all of us as we walk towards him, wittingly or unwittingly. Today’s gospel story actually starts a few verses earlier – John says, ‘Jesus found Philip’.
Today’s story of Alex’s life unfolds a little more. There has been much in Alex’s back story too. His entrepreneurial skills and business development,
meeting and marrying the love of his life, Keri, and as I found out just last weekend, dragging his parents around churches as a little boy and… I can't leave this one out Alex, using a frisbee as a halo!
‘Jesus found Philip’. Jesus found Alex. Jesus saw Nathaniel walking towards him just as he saw Alex walking towards him.
All too often we inadvertently switch this idea around so that we are in the active position of seeking and finding. Today’s gospel reminds us this is not so. Christ seeks each one of us out. We did not decide for God. God decided for us.
The narrative that runs throughout the Bible is of a God who constantly seeks out his people. When we refer back to the Genesis reading, Jacob falls asleep and God enters his dreams. We too need to fall asleep and
allow God to enter into our subconscious. Though I wouldn’t recommend a stone pillow for a good night’s sleep.
Let us never think that we chose God: he has chosen us! And in the case of Alex, God has chosen him to serve here at St Giles in a particular way and at a specific time.
Whilst we walk towards the Lord, he already knows what we are thinking, the evasive tactics we may have used: be it ambivalence, distractedness or plain stubbornness of not wanting to let go of controlling earthy matters, when we already know God is the one in control.
This is important because the knowledge that God has sought us out, rather than vice versa, is crucial in keeping us humble before God. Even our own faith is not our own decision.
What did Philip go and do? He went and told his brother Nathanael about Jesus. This is what Alex has been called to do in his ministry. But it is also what we have all been called to do. To share our experiences of faith with others. One aspect of being a disciple of Jesus is really quite simple – we go and tell others about him!
Some of you might be thinking… that’s not very Anglican! Do we really have to? Yes, of course we do. But maybe not always in the way we think we do.
Jesus looked at Nathanael and knew him. Others look at us and see what? A good person, a kind person, a holy person, a person of compassion? All these and myriad other ways.
Our lives are to mirror the one whom we follow. When Alex was ordained last weekend by the Bishop of Stepney he had swear oaths and committed himself fully to serving Christ in this world - in this age – in this place. Just as Nathanael responded to Jesus.
Today is just another part of his story, a story that keeps being written day by day for each one of us. What we do, and say, and are, recording a life-long
biography that each one of us carries with us.
All too often, we think we can’t tell other people about Jesus because we don’t know enough or we don’t know our Bibles well enough…but none of that matters. We don’t need to be theologians to be effective. We just
need to be passionate for Jesus, and He will do the rest.
So, we have three actions - firstly, to be a follower of Jesus means to be found by him. Secondly, to be a follower of Jesus means to tell others about him. And thirdly, to be a follower of Jesus means keeping on going.
Keep on going despite the things that trip us up along the way. Especially in this age, when we have been pushed out of our comfort zones and pushed into places we might not want to go, and into doing things we would rather not do. This is so biblical. God’s people throughout history have faced great challenges.So too do we. So too does Alex.
But that is not where Nathanael’s story ends. I often wondered about the significance of sitting under the fig-tree. Well, it is a symbol of living in the peace and blessing, which an obedient relationship with God provides.
So, in this passage, Jesus is perceiving in Nathanael the obedience of a well lived Jewish life. He says, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ meaning that Nathanael has known the peace and blessing of
God on his life. So has Alex, and I hope we too can see this in him, and in ourselves.
In a relationship with Jesus there is even more for Nathanael to receive: far more than obedience to the Jewish law could ever give him. Jesus says to him: ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ I think Jesus is commending him for having been an obedient Jew - but he is also calling Nathanael into a
deeper place of peace and blessing through a relationship with him.
As Christians, we know that peace and blessing can only derive from our relationship with God. The more we allow Jesus to be the centre of our lives, the more we know peace in our hearts.
Finally, I commend we continue to pray for and with Alex as he embarks on this next chapter of his good life in Christ. Remembering that Jesus finds us too, he commends us to share our life stories and faith in God with others - and to keep on going - for God sees greater things in all of our lives.
Sunday 20 September Trinity 15 by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 20: 1 – 16
Last term our zoom Sunday Club read this story of the labourers in the vineyard. Alex or I film an introduction for them, and I thought I would talk about fair shares as a way into the story. And what it might feel like if things are not fair.
I sat there with a collection of bananas and apples and told them about my sister and brother. Dividing things fairly three ways as children was always tricky. Someone was bound to be a banana short and protest or sulk. ‘That’s not fair!’
On Sunday afternoon I met one of our children in the park. She told me that my quandary about apples and bananas made no difference to her, she didn’t like either. She preferred mangoes and strawberries. And she was an only child so not that practiced in squabbling and sharing or feeling short-changed.
She had a point – you’ve got to care about what is being divided and distributed before you can engage with the outcome. If you don’t feel you are missing out you’re not going to be bothered.
Travelling in Greece early in the morning we would pass young men, thin men, ragged men squatting by the roadside waiting to be hired for a day’s work in the fields. Immigrants said my companion.
When they were building Moor House at the end of Fore St men in steel-capped boots and hard hats used to gather on the corner first thing in the morning. Also waiting for a day’s casual work. For some reason that didn’t bother me nearly as much as those squatting by the roadside in Greece.
Hanging around waiting to be hired lacks dignity. It’s where today’s story of the labourers begins. Those who wait to be chosen.
The story is not to be recommended as an exercise in labour relations – the same pay for a cushy hour in the cool of the evening as for a whole day in the heat. Amazingly, those who have been hanging around all day are regarded as equal to those who have toiled and sweated since the morning.
There right result to the story should be strikes, go slows, riots, boycotts. It’s hard to know where to begin to sort out the ensuing chaos. The Kingdom of God sets out to startle.
Grace is freely given. There is no reward for good work or perseverance or even for being ordained.
This afternoon six deacons – including Alex are to be ordained priest. Priests are ordained to lead God’s people in the offering of praise and proclamation of the gospel. They share with the Bishop in the oversight of the Church, delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being. And so on….
Should we be bothered that there are no priests per se in the New Testament as specifically referring to Christian ministers, though we find the word priests referring to the Christian body as a whole: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood. 1 Peter 2:9. You might like to ask Alex and me what on earth we think we are about.
Today’s story: the royal priesthood at work in the vineyard and pay day will prove a severe disappointment for some.
How satisfying it must have been to be in church on a Sunday morning to gaze upwards to a Doom painting painted on a wall of the church and see the priests and prelates of the church being pitchforked by devils into hell. The Kingdom of God sets out to startle: the imbalance between those dressed in fine robes who lord it over those in their homespun will be redressed. Look up and laugh when the priest berates you. God’s ways are not our ways, or even the ways of the Church of England.
Deacons, priests, bishops, whatever. The implication for Matthew’s community and for us is that there are no grades of discipleship. Matthew, the only writer who records this story of unequal pay for his community emerging within Judaism. Perhaps they weren’t quite getting it. They needed to be told the acts and teachings of Jesus that would spur their faith. Worship needed directions and guidance given for the varied daily lives of the followers. Perhaps there was a smug element that Matthew needed to challenge: there may have been some among them who had actually known Jesus. Those confidently anticipating a very just reward for themselves. The gospel provides a document for as a commentary says, ‘leaders of limited ability and understanding’ to guide the worship, teaching, life and witness of the church. Matthew a handbook to hit over the head with all those who protested ‘not fair’
God asks, ‘Are you envious because I am generous? Spiritual selfishness is not something that’s terribly comfortable to explore.
Am I not more deserving of God’s love and approval than those who only grace the church door for a carol service or a friend’s wedding. Those we would see as God’s fair-weather friends.
What counts according to the gospel story is not when you came, but the fact that you’ve come at all. Welcome.
Welcome to this ancient parish church, this place of prayer on the occasion of Sophie and Ben’s wedding. I do not say, if it weren’t for us, God’s real friends, keeping the place going, there would be no church for you to turn up to on a fancy occasion when it suited you.
We believe in a generous God. To the wedding guests I say, welcome. All are welcome. Perhaps, just perhaps when you are in search of solace or space you will find your way into a church. Or that something today assures you that you have spent your time well and one day you will come back to find out more.
Sunday 13 September Trinity 14 by Katharine Rumens
Gen 50: 15 – 21; Matthew 18: 21 - 35
As some of you know my holiday reading this year was not the most intellectually demanding as it included Jeffery Archer and Georgette Heyer.
Both authors go in for good titles: The Prodigal Daughter, Kane and Abel, The sins of the Father from Archer. That man knows his bible, Cain and Abel – Genesis has only just got going when Cain murders his brother. The prodigal - one of the greatest stories about the forgiven repentant; think Rembrandt. ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
On the other hand, Sylvester the Wicked Uncle, Black Sheep, Envious Casca – are Heyer’s less biblical titles. They contain plot lines of sensational misunderstanding, wrongdoing and forgiveness, turning points in the narrative that bring the right people together in the right place at the right time.
Can you ever forgive me he murmured as he held her against his manly chest? Oh Graham, she sighed, a tear rolling down her delicate cheek. Of course I forgive you, it was silly of me to get so het up about your running off with the dairy maid – when it was me you loved all along…… No wrongdoing, no forgiveness no new beginning, no story.
I’m so sorry, forgive me. Easy words to say. Whether it is because we have accidently brushed against somebody on the escalator or had a serious disagreement and badly hurt someone.
Each time we gather we pray: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgive our weak and deliberate offences just as we must forgive others when they hurt us. We pray that we may be forgiven as we forgive others.
What’s the limit to our forgiving? Peter poses the question. Jesus, what is your take on pay back time? Today’s stories illustrate that God’s ways are not our ways.
Lamech – descendent of Cain – wanted his pound of flesh. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech is seventy-seven-fold Gen 4: 24. Later we read of Moses ruling to contain revenge – an eye for an eye, no more no less. Exodus 21: 2. Jesus preaches unlimited forgiveness.
Peter probably thought he was making a generous offer by suggesting forgiving seven times; rabbinical tradition limited forgiveness to three times for the same offence. Seven would symbolize fullness. A good number you would have thought.
How many times are we lied to, cheated, stolen from before we say enough. Three times, seven times? There are families worn down by the daughter who won’t stop drinking and families destroyed by parents who gamble. Friday was the anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers – lives were destroyed and revenge plotted. God’s ways are not our ways.
If I had been one of Joseph’s brothers, I’d have pushed him into that pit. The favourite son, indulged with a fancy coat. Unwisely he tells his brothers his dreams of his future greatness.
They do realise that their behavior in selling him to traders was an awful thing to do. It was completely out of proportion to do that even to an aggravating younger brother.
Joseph’s treatment of his brothers is not straightforward – when they arrive in Egypt he recognizes them and accuses them of being spies. He demands Benjamin be brought to Egypt while his brothers are held in prison. He hid their money in the sacks of grain – and had a field day.. and so on. In the end, Joseph made himself known to his brothers and told them not to be distressed. God had needed him in Egypt.
In today’s first reading we see that the brothers cannot believe in Joseph’s forgiveness. They had been living safely and comfortably in Egypt for some time, under Joseph’s influential protection, yet they don’t quite trust him and expected his protection to be withdrawn on their father’s death.
Joseph knows that the Egyptians might have starved had it not been for his organization and oversight, he does not bear a grudge. They are forgiven – end of. The book of Genesis: from fratricide to reconciliation.
Peter wants to know about the limit of forgiveness. I feel that this is the question of one sinned against rather than sinning. Someone has been giving Peter a hard time.
It would seem contrary to good sense to offer unlimited forgiveness. What kind of community would be sustained on the presumption that forgiveness is always to be offered? ‘Don’t worry about it. These things happen. They’re awfully easy going at that church. We never bother with the confession on Sunday mornings.’ In the dark film Breaking the Waves Lars von Trier depicts a Free Scottish Presbyterian Calvinist church that is seemingly sustained on the presumption that forgiveness is never offered. The elders sit deliberating in the church in their Sunday best, and the young woman is excommunicated. It is a shockingly unattractive portrayal of Christianity.
Forgive is perhaps not an easy word to say.
Jesus tells a story to help Peter understand. The servant who, having been forgiven his debts by his king refuses to forgive a fellow servant his debt. This king is governing by example: so that the slave sees forgiveness in action and learns how to do it so that more than one life could be put straight. But this doesn’t happen. The fellow servant does not see the wider opportunity that forgiveness has given him.
Both Joseph and the forgiven servant find out that what they thought was just between God and themselves turns out to have a knock-on effect for many, many others.
For your sake, Loving Jesus, for the free pardon that I have received by the power of your loving life and saving death, I desire my forgiving of others who have harmed or grieved me to be complete. Keep me so mindful of your mercy that I may forgive without seeking satisfaction and love where love is not returned.
Sunday 30 August Trinity 12 by Alex Norris
I am taking as my starting point this morning, the text from Romans
chapter 12, Verse 16, ‘Live in harmony with each other.’ For those of you
who were here last Sunday and hanging on my every word (!) you will
remember that I talked about how we are all the body of Christ, and with
the right foundations, and by working in harmony with each other we can
help to further the Kingdom of God, which as Christians is something we
should all be striving to do, as the Lord’s prayer reminds us, ‘on earth as
And in doing this, when we fall short we remember that we have the
forgiveness for our sins, through the sacrifice that was made by God’s
only Son, for all of us. For all time. We are fortunate to have all of this
support and help and guidance there for us.
Today’s reading from Romans takes this further and gives us what I
believe to be good instruction on how we can achieve this harmony.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, which is generally held as his
Masterpiece (which scholars believe he wrote whilst staying in Corinth)
gives us, in quite dense copy a series of instructions.
Easy to write, quite easy to read, not so easy to implement in day to day
life. Such as , ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse
them’, or ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give
them something to drink’.
I used to work with an ex-general from the Israel Defence Force. An
amazing guy in many ways, and a very tough businessman, who taught
me a lot many years ago. During the six day war in 1967 he was
commanding the second tank into Egypt, and he came across a very
badly injured enemy soldier lying in the sand in the desert, and by the
looks of him he was not going to survive from his injuries.
So he thought, seeing him in this state, just at a basic human level, got
his water bottle out and leant down to give the soldier some water, just to
give him some comfort, and as he did this, this soldier lunged at him with
his knife with the last dregs of strength that he could muster.
This always stuck with me, and I could not get my mind around the level
of hatred that must have existed for someone to using their last dying
breaths to try and murder someone who was giving you water for your
own benefit, when you knew that you were at the end of your life
anyhow. Quite terrible really. I did not ask what happened next, but could
guess; and my colleague survived to tell the tale all these years on.
If your enemies are thirsty; give them something to drink, Paul says. Try
telling that to my old colleague the General.
Well here was an actual example of enemies doing just that. Striving for
good and harmony looks like it can be a risky business, and in adhering
to the guidance that Paul offers, might really expose us to some risk;
There is seemingly a price to follow these teachings, and ultimately
As our reading from Matthew said, with those very famous words, ‘if any
want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up
their cross and follow me’. What we have here is an image of suffering,
pain, torment and ultimately death. When we talk about crucifixion, we
often think it a special punishment meted out to Jesus, and used
sparingly by the Romans; when in actual fact it was a very common form
of execution, unbelievably brutal, sometimes taking days to kill the
victim, depending on their health. It was so popular that at times the
Romans ran out of crosses and would use the walls of the city instead.
So, in this context, ‘taking up one's cross’ was a big deal, frightening,
and for those hearing this for the first time they would have the most
horrific images in their mind, something, fortunately we have never had
Why are we striving for this? Because of the Kingdom that we can all
help become a reality. As Matthew said earlier, when the Son of Man
comes ‘he will repay everyone for what has been done’.
I don’t think anyone here can help but notice the mass protests that are
currently taking place in the USA, there seems to have been a
momentum reached which I think is going to result in real change. When
I look at this, and the people who have assembled, of all colours and
creeds, I think this is a real drive for the Kingdom, for equality, for fair
treatment of all, human to human.
Will these people be repaid for what they have done in the end-times? If
true peace and equality in society is achieved, then one would hope so.
We all have a role to play in this great performance that humanity is
putting on for God. How do we want the performance to end?
Disappointingly, wishing it had never been watched in the first place (!) a
demonstration of how humanity, grappling with the implications of
free-will, has managed to hear what God says, and through his prophets
and his only Son, who lost his own life in the process, manages to
achieve a world, a kingdom, that would look good in his eyes?
We all need to hear what the readings have said to us today, and
implement them in our lives, and each of us in our small way can help,
individually, as well as corporately to contribute to a better world, a better
society, and ultimately to God’s kingdom.
And take comfort with what Jeremiah said earlier, ‘for I am with you to
save you and deliver you, says the Lord. I will deliver you out of the hand
of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless’.
So what we have all to consider, is how prepared are we to adopt this,
and live our lives in this way? As I mentioned earlier, it's easy to read
about, but to actually do, that’s something quite different. My prayer for
all of us is that we are able to find the conviction in our hearts to live out
our lives in this way and help further the Kingdom for the benefit of all
and ultimately to the greater glory of God.
Sunday 23rd August Trinity 11 by Alex Norris
I am not sure if any of you are regular visitors to Smithfield Meat Market. I am. My morning bike ride from home to church takes me right through it, well it did up until a week ago. Where the road from the Barbican runs down through the middle of the meat market is now closed, and will be by the looks of it for some time. Why? A huge section of the market has collapsed, dumping tonnes of concrete and steel onto the pavement and road. It was a miracle that nobody was killed or injured. I suspect that this was caused by the very hot weather then torrential rain that we have been having recently, and probably a good dose of Concrete Cancer which had weakened the structure. I have a picture of it for anyone who is interested.
How stable was that structure? What are its foundations like? from what is it all made? All the parts of the building that are linked structurally had obviously failed causing a catastrophic failure of the fabric of the building.
All of this imagery got me thinking about this morning's readings, as they too have a lot of imagery related to rock and stone and how things are linked together. We are Hewn from Rock, and should look to this rock as Isaiah tells us. The reading from Romans discusses our bodies, its parts, and how the one body has many parts, that all serve different purposes, and work together as one entity, just as all of us, here today are one body in Christ, each with our own specific gifts, that together makes us who we are, and together work as one entity to serve God.
Then finally our Gospel reading has the famous sentence, “Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”. The image that we get here is of solid foundations, rock, resilience to the forces that will try to prevail against it. Unlike good old Smithfield, the church has been far more solidly constructed and founded.
So where does this leave all of us? I think there are a couple of key elements that we can draw from this morning’s readings;
It strikes me that for any of us, we all need to be properly grounded, in our relationships and friendships, as well as with our faith. From this platform we are enabled to function and live our lives. Without proper foundations and footing we will fail, just as that portion of Smithfield market did last week.
We are all different, we are all gifted with different talents. Just take a look around this morning, we have those for example who can perform music, and then those who can probably not play or sing a note. Think of all the different things we do throughout the week, through our work or hobbies, or we did in our past careers. It's just wonderful, it's what makes us all unique. We are not automatons created to mindlessly perform tasks, we all have the freedom to be who we want to be and do what we want to do, what our abilities enable us to do. Sadly, I know this is not the case everywhere.
Being part of the body of Christ, which is the church, we all need to work together, just as the parts of the body work together. When there is a lack of harmony in the body, and one part starts working against another, then the body will fail to function properly, and in the worst case will cease to function at all. It is the same with the community of Christ. If we all work together, all strive for the Kingdom that God wants for all of us, then we can genuinely achieve this goal. Where there is greed, selfishness, lack of care for others; this works against the overall goal that we are striving for, slowing us down, and making it all the more difficult.
Through Christ, God has given us the chance to overcome these shortcomings to forgive us for when we do fall short of what is expected of all of us, to help with the big push towards the Kingdom. With our different talents, our firm foundations and collective aim to drive toward a society that is fair and just for all, as Christians we really are able to make a difference.
I know there has been a lot in the news about the many refugees risking literally everything to cross the channel to the UK because of the fine weather we have been having these past few weeks, and the very calm seas, giving a false perception that it is safe to cross. All caused by a combination of war, unmerciless criminals and the natural danger of the English Channel, coupled with international law and politics. You may have read about a 16yr old Sudanese boy washed up on the beaches of Calais this past week. If you remember a little boy was washed up on the shores of Bodrum turkey, just three years of age. There were cries of ‘never again’, ‘what have we become to allow this to happen’; it was all short lived. That was 5yrs ago this September and look at where we are today.
Such crises as these are a failure of humanity. Why are the wars still raging, why are people being slaughtered en masse, driving others to risk drowning than staying another day in their home country? I know this is very much ‘on topic’, distressing, violent and an abhorrent example of what happens when there is dissonance among the parts of the body; and sadly it's the poor, innocent and vulnerable who are the worst affected.
If we take one thing away from this morning’s scripture readings it should be that we have to strive for the kingdom, at all costs, whatever it takes, to effect real change and see the just Kingdom that God has for all of us, ‘his will be done, here on earth as in heaven’. We have the means to do it, the talents, the grounding and awesome power, by virtue of being part of the body of Christ.
The rest of it is down to us. Amen.
Sunday 16 August Trinity 10 by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 15: 21 -28
Usually at this time of year you can see a few young women with a parent or parents in toe purposefully marching next door to the head teacher’s study. These are the daughters who didn’t get the predicted grades and their university career is in jeopardy. I understand that a parental complaint is this. We paid good money for you to teach our daughter so that she would get into the university of her choice. She did not get three A*s. This means you are in breach of contract. What are you going to do about it? And by the way, we are lawyers.
This year pupils, teachers and parent are taking up arms against the government and algorithms.
We may have greater compassion for the parents of a very sick child, who the doctors say needs palliative care not more invasive surgery. And the parents can’t accept that. They crowd fund for legal assistance to overturn the medical decision and pursue the miracle cure. There is the hope that if they can take the child to another country for surgical techniques which don’t exist here, their child may live – or survive a bit longer. Tabloids headlines scream at us about heartbreak, not giving up and I’d do anything for my child, while microphones are thrust at parents and relatives wild with worry. We can’t let our baby die.
Parents fighting for their children’s survival. Parents protecting their young.
Enter the Canaanite woman – described as the most uppity woman in the New Testament and by some as the one of the most remarkable stories in the gospels.
To understand her significance, we need to look back to the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel and the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah. The genealogy contains the names of four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. 2 Canaanites, one Moabite and one wife of Uriah the Hittite.
All peoples considered the most abhorrent of the idolatrous Gentiles who polluted the holy land with their idolatry and evil.
Tamar the only daughter of King David who was raped by one of her brothers. Rahab, identified as a prostitute in Jericho who helped the Israelites capture the city by hiding two men sent to spy out the land. These are the Canaanite foremothers of the unnamed woman who comes out and starts shouting at Jesus in today’s gospel. Well, with foremothers like those, what can you expect?
The story reflects the local tension between Jews and Gentiles in the borderlands between Galilee and Phoenicia – an area into which both Jews and Gentiles wanted to expand. Jewish nationalism was directed at the Romans as an occupying power but also at the pagans in their land. It would be the Messiah’s job to clear it all up. Till that happened the atmosphere was toxic.
A Canaanite women came out and started shouting. Had she heard about this miracle worker, left her tormented daughter and driven by desperation gone searching for him over in Galilee? Had she glimpsed him in the distance? What was to distinguish this dusty traveler as the one worth shouting at? Like Rahab she acts with initiative and resolution.
The disciples are having none of it. ‘Send her away.’ Whatever it was: were they fed up? Thirsty and hungry? Just bossily officious? Tired of having to share their friend with so much riff raff? They lacked the discrimination as to what was significant. As we lack the discrimination as to what is significant when we are not paying attention.
‘Have mercy on me, Lord Son of David.’ She addresses Jesus as Son of David –identifying him as the enemy. She is a new Rahab – her words echo those in Joshua 2: 9 – 11. ‘I know that the Lord has given you the land.’ As Rahab she confesses the true God.
Like Rahab who asks the two spies to swear by Lord that they will deal kindly with her family and receives mercy, the woman receives mercy for which she has asked. Rahab and her family are saved. The daughter will be healed.
But before that can happen, she has to deal with what seems to be brush off by Jesus. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ Which is a bit much when you consider the lost sheep in his own family tree.
And this exchange about dogs and crumbs from the table that we try to fathom. Scholarship is much more interested in this exchange than it is in the daughter. The Jews are the children; her people are the dogs – some consider it a racist slur. The Jews may be the superior race in these parts but even the underclass have rights.
The woman persuades Jesus that he can act compassionately to her without distracting from his mission to Israel. She secures an exception that can set a precedent. As Rahab had secured and exception in the sparing of her family.
An encounter that marks the expansion of Jesus’ ministry and raises the possibility that Jesus didn’t understand himself totally. His mission expanded later to include all people as in the great commission, ‘Go therefor and make disciples of all nations. ‘
Perhaps the message is that all downtrodden people, all uppity women should take note. They should argue with conviction – even if it seems presumptuous. Sometimes humility is not in order and being uppity is. This woman, this unknown Canaanite woman, not only becomes for us Gentiles the forerunner of our faith, but her reply to Jesus teaches us how to speak. It is on her – with her rock-solid belief ….that our faith is built.
Sunday 9 August Trinity 9 by Katharine Rumens
Not waving but drowning. This week we have the uneasy juxtaposition of sundrenched crowded beaches with children and adults happily splashing and swimming in the sea. On the other hand, in the same news headlines, dangerously overcrowded inflatable boats with the desperate; migrants exploited by people smugglers who assured them that now is the ideal time to set off to cross one of the most dangerous and busy shipping lanes in the world while seas are calm and before border restrictions apply. The migrants have journeyed from the poorest and most chaotic parts of the world: entire families from Yemen, Eritrea, Chad, Egypt, Sudan and Iraq. These travellers have already weathered much hardship and many storms.
Then we sit on our sofas eating toast and watching ordinary women and men saving lives at sea. The programme titles: a race against time, I think we’re going to need a bigger boat indicate the urgency of the task and the perpetual danger of the sea. Of course those who show exceptional courage and the selfless giving of their time are not ordinary at all; they set out in lifeboats every day of the year answering calls around the clock and in all weathers. And without them many would be lost at sea.
‘Oh hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea’ as Robin sang in the first hymn. It was written from personal experience by William Whiting, who felt he had been spared by God when a violent storm nearly claimed the ship he was travelling on. He was a headmaster and wrote the hymn for a pupil who was about to travel to the United States. The child had told Whiting of his overwhelming fear of the ocean voyage ahead of him.
Fear of the sea is of all time and in all places. The image of the storm loses none of its power.
We are an island race – our mythologies and superstitions surrounded us before the bible got to these shores. Traditionally fishermen never learnt to swim; it’s bad luck to whistle on board. In the depths of the sea lurk creatures and places that spark the imagination of musicians, poets, writers, artists. And then there are the obsessive quests to locate the briny places of legend, such as Atlantis, or to prove the existence of supernatural forces in the Bermuda Triangle. And that’s before we get onto the scriptures – especially the psalms.
The travel writer Paul Theroux wrote, ‘The sea is a solace. It contains all life, but it was a way out of England. For sailors and explorers, it was the way to the grave, seaward, out there, off shore.
For those who sit and gaze at the sea: those people are looking in the direction of death.’
Way out of England, way into England – it can still be a way to the grave.
So sang the psalmist, ‘Some went out on the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity.’ Psalm 107: 23–26
Big seas can do bad things to small boats. In the Hebrew Scriptures the sea is the primal image of all that is malign and menacing – all that continues to resist the purposes of God.
Again, the Psalmist: 89.9 ‘You rule the raging of the sea. You crushed Rahab like a carcass.’ Rahab the sea monster better known as Leviathan. Leviathan, the twisting serpent that is in the sea.
Leviathan must be vanquished. A theologian puts it like this, ‘The New Testament is the story of how that victory was gained when, one Friday, someone stepped into Leviathan’s jaws.’ Jesus’s Good Friday victory over Leviathan is anticipated in today’s gospel story of his coming to his terrified friends walking on the water. In the cross, death will be overcome- that is where this is leading.
Chapter 14 of Matthew’s gospel marks a change of pace. Jesus’ s ministry is about to come into the full public gaze, as it begins to worry both Herod and the Pharisees. After the feeding of the 5000 Jesus takes time out and goes off to pray. He sends the disciples out in a boat – just another day at the office for them. Evening came and the boat is in trouble – and presumably it has been in trouble all night. As it does, life had lurched out of control in spite of their knowledge and experience.
Early in the morning Jesus came walking towards them on the lake. Presumably they were frightened and exhausted anyway, this can’t be real, ‘It’s a ghost.’ Before them the God of heaven and earth who has the power to walk on or through the waves. In the creation myths God wrestled with the waters of chaos and in the Exodus story God went ahead of his people to lead them through the sea to freedom.
Immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Jesus identifies himself as God – here is the great I am. Peter clambers out of the boat so he too confronts Leviathan. And he is gathered up and rescued by forgiving love.
I’m not sure I am that bothered by what did or did not happen the other side of a storm 2000 years ago by the Sea of Galilee, it is the message that is true. Christ’s words still have extraordinary power to bring a great calm in times of turmoil and chaos. Peace be still. Do not be afraid. I am.
Sunday 2 August Trinity 8 by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 14: 13 – 21
When the offertory is brought forward, we will hear Penny sing Mollie’s favourite hymn – one of the ones she chose for her funeral. ‘Let us break bread together on our knees. When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me’ At the top of the hymn it simply says in small print: Unknown. The author is unknown.
In this community Mollie was not unknown. She had lived within a mile of her
birthplace for almost all of her 98 years. Go up and down Whitecross Street and discover how many people knew her. We will tell each other our stories about Mollie in the days and weeks ahead, and we will laugh. For years Dorothy gave her a lift to church. On Sunday the lift was broken; Dorothy was concerned how Mollie would get back up the stairs afterwards. She watched her at the foot of the stairs bracing herself to start climbing. It was her sheer determination, her will power that got her back up those stairs. As we know she had a will of iron – and it was generally advisable to fit in with her plans. The kindest and most generous heart ever, although she spoke her mind loudly and clearly. Dorothy told me of her first Sunday at St Giles’ in 1989; she was washing cups in the vestry. She got it wrong; she heard this loud voice say, ‘That one doesn’t go up there.’ David and Beryl cared for her selflessly, accompanying her to doctor’s appointments, on shopping trips, lunch and days out. And in these last years the hours in A & E waiting for her to be admitted – whatever the time of day or night it was. And Anne and other have also played their part, doing washing, visiting and so on/ We were her family.
We broke bread together with her, we shared wine together, we praised God together as followers of Christ with our faces to the rising sun.
Thank you, Mollie, for choosing this hymn, with its verse about bread because it ties in with what I wanted to say about Loaf Mass, Lammas Day which was yesterday 1 August. One of the half quarter days; we are half way between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. Lammas Day was included in the church calendar right up until the ASB in 1980. That’s a long time …. to go on about Loaf Masses and bread in a post-agricultural economy.
It was traditionally one of the oldest points of contact between the agricultural world and the church when a loaf baked with flour from newly harvested corn would be brought into church and blessed. A book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the Lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the harvested grain. Charms and prayers, what’s the difference? Birthday cake candles or votive stands: candles for wishes or prayers. Who can tell? Fingers crossed and all that.
In the gospel readings these past three weeks we have been with Matthew out in the fields or in the kitchen making bread. At least for us it is a change of scene, we have not been hot and sweaty and exhausted working all hours to get the harvest in. We hear the tax collector narrate the stories that the carpenter told about other people’s way of life. It’ not ours either; for us it is a bit of a change to hear everyday stories of farming folk on a Sunday morning in church in 2020.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread says God to Adam. Today a miraculous feeding of bread for the hungry.
It helps to look back to the preceding verses to what happened before that first sentence, ‘When Jesus heard that Herod heard that Herod had beheaded John the Baptist’,. There has been a banquet (according to Mark’s account although Matthew omits these catering details). Herod had given a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.
John is now dead. His disciples have been to tell Jesus what has happened. Jesus goes off by himself – which is what many of us need to do when we get bad news, or sad news. The crowds won’t leave him alone. They wait for him on the shore and Jesus had compassion for them. Jesus had compassion for these people waiting on the margins, peripheral people in a peripheral place.
Two feasts: Herod in his palace – his seat of power- feeding his courtiers and officers. Jesus in a deserted place – on the edge- feeding those who couldn’t give him a moment’s peace when he needed it yet Jesus had compassion on them. Herod – presumably does not have compassion on the courtiers etc who he feeds. He can’t afford to have compassion on them – they are dispensable. Jesus provides food for those without food solely because they are hungry. Herod provides food for those who are not without food as a demonstration of his power. Jesus feeds the five thousand because he has compassion for them. His feeding, therefore, is an alternative politics to the politics of envy and greed that the Herods of this world practise. Watch out, there is no such thing as a free lunch with Herod. On the other hand, Jesus provides freely because the people, and we are hungry. It is a powerful alternative.
Jesus in the deserted place as Moses before him who fed the complaining people in the wilderness. God in Christ Jesus feeds the people in the deserted place, the spiritual wilderness. As Matthew tells it, food and scripture are inseparable. Five loaves – five books of Moses – 2 fish are the law and the prophets. As we cannot strictly separate body and soul, so we cannot separate scripture from bread and fish, or coffee and cake. Mollie was a great provider of cake – with special attention given to the children. Thank you Mollie for opening the scriptures to us in your own unique way, and for feeding us.
Sunday 26 July Trinity 7 by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 - 52
We have parable writers among us. Over these past weeks they’ve written the parable of the potatoes; the bluebell; the rat and the crow and the parable of the dodgy lift. We don’t have to go far to be reminded that parables belong to the everyday, its delights and frustrations and anyone can tell one. Our writers draw their conclusions: Good Things can come from Bad Times. Or, as I have previously quoted, ‘Don’t be afraid to begin a project at an apparently unpropitious moment. Welcome helpers who may have their own reasons for working with you.’ Parables require time to go away and think.
Parables remind us that the gospel is angular – we stumble across God’s wisdom almost by accident – because who would look for truths in examples as ordinary and yet exotic as mustard seeds, a lump of dough, treasure in a field, a single pearl, a net of fish. Or potatoes and a lift that isn’t working. Apparently, Jesus found nothing odd about holding up as a mirror to God’s ways a mixed bag of people and situations - especially as many parables produce more confusion than understanding. Have you understood all this? They answered ‘Yes.’
When we say Jesus spoke in parables, we assume we know exactly what we mean. He told stories, didn’t he? Furthermore, he not only spoke in parables, he thought in parables and acted in parables. One theologian describes him as an ambulatory parable in and of himself – he walked on water, cursed fig trees and planted coins in fishes’ mouths. Here is our God who behaves in this way, what on earth do we make of it all.
At school assembly last year, I was telling the story of the woman in her kitchen. (There are so few female images of God). She took yeast and three measures of flour- enough make 100 loaves as Sarah had done for the unknown visitors. (Another theologian writing in 2002 can’t allow that. A woman is making bread for her family – fine but this quantity of flour would require a man’s strength. This is a baker – that is a man, at work.) Or a strong woman as Sarah. This is catering on a frankly ridiculous scale. Back to school assembly - I had enough flour for just one loaf and sifted it and the salt and yeast into a bowl then started to add the water to mix the dough using my hands. Yuk said the children. People get their hands dirty in the parables: a farmer planting seeds, a woman making bread, a man hiding treasure, a merchant handling money and fishermen catching fish. All these one liners with a twist to them making mincemeat of people’s religious expectations.
I was bored by the end of a two year course on Spiritual Direction. We had met on Thursday evenings with only instant coffee and nasty biscuits to keep us going. I was not in the friendliest frame of mind by the final session when we had to take in an object that spoke of our time together. A bible, a pebble, a piece of embroidery and a postcard of Durer’s praying hands were set out on a table. It was the stuff in which we are supposed to find parables, meaning, sign posts to the kingdom.
I took in a paper bag from the local chip shop. That was my Thursday-evening treat on the way home – a bag of chips. I could see that some of the group thought this was rather poor show and the facilitators were more enthusiastic about pebbles and postcards than they managed to be about paper bags from the chip shop.
The wisdom of God is made manifest in engagement with the world. By being hands on with the everyday. And the wisdom of God is working through all created life not just pebbles and postcards and sunsets.
The theologian Brandon Scott invites us to look over the fence more closely at the farmer planting weeds – mustard seeds - and to peer into the kitchen where God is at work. No efficient farmer wanting to get a good return on his land plants weeds; similarly, yeast may make bread rise, but it is a fungus. Are those bubbles of air making the dough rise, or is it fermentation – that is corruption working its way into the flour? It’s impossible to tell. The kingdom is free to appear under its own guise – even the guise of corruption. That needs thinking about. Scott is a theologian who makes us think.
Can we expect the new creation to disorder our worlds and the world? God’s mighty acts are among the insignificant yet seeds from the mustard bush get everywhere, bread rises because the yeast works through all the mixture.
Don’t discount small things until you know what they are capable of. Don’t think about big things as though they can never have small beginnings.
Jesus asked, ‘Have you understood all this? They answered ‘Yes.’ I bet they didn’t really have a clue. Like us, they needed to go away and think about it.
Sunday 19 July Trinity 6 by Alex Norris
Something I have become quite used to hearing about at St Giles is all of the gardening activity that seems to go on, be it in the Rector’s garden, window boxes;you name it, and someone somewhere is growing something in it. St Giles is quite the horticulturalist's paradise, and quite fitting that we have some involvement with the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.
Garden and agricultural imagery is something that is used a lot in the Bible. The Garden of Eden and the eating of the tree of Knowledge, or in the Book of Revelation the tree, with its leaves for the healing of the nations, and its twelve types of fruit. Plants, and growing things, trees, fruit, are all things that we can easily identify with. This imagery has stood the test of time, and remains accessible for all of us. Over the past centuries, the same principals still stand, growing plants for food to eat, making sure we do not cultivate weeds. Jesus refers to this kind of imagery in many of His parables, and uses it to help get the message across.
The first discussion I had over coffee last Sunday (and wasn’t it lovely to be back!) concerned knowing when your carrots had grown. How could you tell? An interesting question, to which I had no answer! I am sure that there is a parable there as well. The parable of the carrot grower?
Today’s parable uses imagery that should sit very well with the community here at St Giles. Woe betide the person who puts weeds into the Rector’s garden, with all the lovely plants that have lovingly been grown there. For a green fingered community such as ours, the parable should be very accessible for all of us to understand without too much trouble. When I think of weeds, choking plants in the garden, think of the never ending battle that gardeners have keeping them at bay. Ironically the use of weedkillers in agriculture is causing a huge amount of harm to the planet, and probably far more than the weeds that they are used for killing. But some things have not changed, and battling with weeds is clearly one of them.
Even back in Jesus’ time, weeds were just as bad a thing. Mention them in any context, and they have negative connotations. Quite apt therefore for being related to evil doers. There they are among us, drawing on us, draining us, being parasitic,however it is only in the end that they (like the weeds from the fully grown field) can be separated from everything else and then disposed of.
The message from Jesus is very simple, and he lays out the end times (or
eschatology) quite clearly. At the end of time, all those who are evildoers, or the cause of evil will be weeded out from the good (just as the weeds are taken from the garden) and they shall be thrown into the furnace of fire. I suppose the best imagery we have for that is Hell. Where there will be the weeping and gnashing of teeth. (I love that expression).
The corollary of this is simple, lead a good life and don’t do anything evil or cause evil and you too will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of the father. But is it as simple as that? We all do things that we shouldn’t, make mistakes, errors of judgment. I know I certainly do. Christ has given each and every one of us the means for forgiveness and absolution for our sins, as He knows as well as all of us, that we all have the capacity to Sin. It's part of the human condition. This capacity for Sin is called Original Sin, and it dates back to Adam and Eve and the Genesis account, where they ate of the tree of life, going against the instructions of God. And where have we ended up…..In a garden, with a tree and fruit that should not have been
eaten! For some, the idea of Original Sin is a difficult doctrine to accept, because of the implication that we are all in some way tarnished at birth for Sins we have yet to commit.
This aside, If we strive to live good lives, and seek forgiveness for the wrong that we do, then we can all look forward to the joys of God’s kingdom and In doing this as a community, we help goodness grow around us.
For goodness to flourish in our communities, it needs nurturing and caring for and feeding, just like a plant needs watering, fertilising and plenty of light. But, with this care and attention, the results will be worthwhile and rewarding.
Sunday 12 July Trinity 5 by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 13: 1 – 9, 18 – 23
I sort of begin to get it. The ministry of Jesus the storyteller is during a pandemic – except that one had been going on for nearly 100 years. The disease of the Roman occupation. We count lock down in days, weeks or months. We, who were born free, are sensitive to the loss of our freedoms and can be frustrated by restrictions. Jesus the storyteller speaking to great crowds who longed for the new normal when the Romans had been conquered and their country was theirs again.
As we know from our experience anxious people can’t concentrate. Exhausted people switch off. Fearful people need to be comforted. Frustrated people erupt when provoked. Lockdown has taught us that we need to be especially careful of one another.
But stories still work in such a situation. Enter the storyteller and a story about the random nature of the Kingdom of God. And he’s given his hearers something to laugh at – and remember. We may be more open to God when we have to think and puzzle about what is going on. Peter Hall said this about Judi Dench: “Like all great actors she has an ability to be comic – she can make the audience laugh in order to make them understand”. Laughter in a pandemic. What did the Romans make of that?
Such great crowds gathered round Jesus that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. Who is the one at sea here? Jesus in a boat or the crowds on the beach? Listen.
The story – like the boat that bobs here and there on the waves – sometimes nearer the shore and sometimes further out – the sower who went out to sow is a story we think we grasp and then we don’t. Look, it’s not where we thought it was – it was over there a moment ago. Now, it’s here. A sower went out sow…and as he sowed some seed fell on the path
Parables work slowly. They were not instant and open to all who heard them – hence the explanation – today’s gospel in two parts: the narrative in verses 1 to 9 and the explanation for just the disciples in verses 18 – 23. The crowds remain all at sea. No-one bothers to interpret the parable for them.
We are rightly proud of our vegetables in window boxes and tomato plants in grow bags, all this planting and growing as never before – but it is not our livelihood. We are not anxious about the harvest for our survival. Jesus’ hearers were farming people. You never got far from the land in Galilee. Soil and seed and seasons were the stuff of everyone’s lives – as drought was the stuff of their starvation – as flood and drought still claim lives in farming communities today. It’s not all in the past tense.
And soil and seed and seasons is where God is at home. Time and time again the bible brings us down to earth. It’s where the story began: God the gardener in the garden of Eden. The first human being is not called sky, or wind, or ocean (as celebrities name their children today) but soil. Adam. From soil comes life. The lament of the liberated children of Israel for the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they grew in Egypt, or Ahab nicking Naboth’s vineyard to make a vegetable garden are among the many stories of life on the farm. Farming was central to people’s survival and thus central to their understanding of God. God who created soil in his image. ‘You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it,’ as we said just now. The psalmist dances through the agricultural year.
That’s why this story of the sower who went out to sow goes against the grain at many levels. God the familiar, God of soil and seed is proving unpredictable.
No-one in their right mind would set out to scatter seed on barren ground and among thorn bushes. We can’t guess the ending so we’d better listen.
It’s an uneven story because farming is an uneven way of life. Look with pity on the poor farmer. The taxation system devoured so much of any profit like the birds and rocks and thorns in the story. It was a constant battle to stay out of debt.
And the parable ends with a final flourish – seed that fell on good soil produced grain a hundredfold – an exaggeration that is mind-blowingly daft. I expect the crowd had a good laugh at the absurdity. That’s the trouble with carpenters, they forget their roots. Jesus has forgotten he is a son of Adam.
All this happens is springtime – the time of the resurrection. The beginning of the seasons of promise: spring and summer
There is failure: the birds, rocks and thistles – it’s not deliberate. It’s just how it is. Like the past six months – not what we would have wished for, not a raging success for most of us. Sickness and death, operations and plans postponed, jobs in jeopardy, businesses going bust. And still Covid 19 is with us.
Jesus tells a story of the kingdom in which there is failure, miracle and normality. In the end, the harvest is ordinary and every day. The Kingdom of God does not need perfection; the Kingdom of God does not need wall-to-wall success.
Sunday 5 July Trinity 4 by Alex Norris
So. Here we are then. Back in church. For many of us our Spiritual
Home. Probably like many of you I have been reflecting on what this
building means to me. I have certainly missed not being here,
worshipping together - corporately, and receiving Holy Communion, that
all-important sacrament that brings us all together.
The church closure that we have all experienced this year is the first time
something like this has ever happened in the best part of 800 years of
Church of England history. I think it will take us all time to fully
comprehend what has happened, but as I stand here today, and we
gather together, we can begin that long journey of starting getting back
to some sense of normality, here at St Giles.
For many of us, being stopped from entering into this special place has
been a huge burden for us all to carry, but carry it we all have. Whilst
being able to worship together virtually, as we have been doing on-line
for some months now. This has been vital for ensuring the continuity of
our worshipping lives together. However it is not a complete substitute.
At the heart of our worship are the sacraments, such as the Holy
Eucharist that we will be celebrating this morning.
We have to be physically present, here, together to receive the
sacraments of bread and wine; the body and blood of Christ. A
Sacrament is a physical outward sign of inward grace. It can’t be
emailed to you or viewed on the internet. It is wonderful to have so many
here this morning, and I look forward to more of us being able to return
to St Giles as and when it is prudent to do so. We should all especially
think of those who are still shielding at this time.
As I wrote this sermon for recording last week, there had been an
emerging story in the news of a terrorist attack in Reading, where
several people have been stabbed and killed in a park there, with
numerous others injured. Since then we have gone through the sadly
well trodden path of learning more about what has happened, and more
about the person who has committed this atrocity, and the stories about
those who have been killed. Inevitably these will be lovely, decent
people, with families, who had just been out for the afternoon with their
friends, and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is of course not an isolated story; bad things are happening to good
people all over the world, seemingly all of the time, and this raises a
If God loves His Creation and all that is within it, why does let bad things
happen. Some have raised this question about Coronavirus, which has
been killing many thousands of people all over the world. Why would
God allow it?
Quite naturally, when we experience our own pain and suffering we look
for answers; Why? Why me? What have I done to deserve this?
Some people will turn to God, relying on their faith in God, to get them
through it, to give them strength, whilst others turn away from God and
distance themselves from Him.
If we can continue to turn to God during our trials and tribulations, we will
see the Love of God manifested in Jesus, and through his Disciples, to
the whole world.
As we heard in our Gospel reading this morning, we are given some
advice by Jesus; ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am
gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my
yoke is easy, and my burden is light’.
However this isn’t a ‘quick fix’. Following our Lord is not without its
challenges and does not guarantee there being no more pain and
suffering or injustice. This is why, when we do take up Jesus’ yoke, life
will still be burdensome, but in the end there will be rest.
By giving us this rest, we will be able to get on with our lives, and in
doing this we should strive to do the will of God. His teachings give us
the means to do this.
What is clear is that there is still a yoke and burden to carry, and even
though this may be light, we carry this trusting in ‘Lord’s heart of Lord’s
heart of gentleness, meekness, and humility as we carry it in Him and
with Him’, and this requires Faith.
That said, this is very easy to say. The challenges and burdens that
some carry are far greater than others, and for some must be
unbearable, and I am amazed at the strength of faith shown by many,
despite their circumstances, and these people should be an inspiration
to us all.
As one reflection on this reading points out, ‘Amidst suffering and pain,
we should follow the Lord and take the yoke and importantly learn from
Him. When we follow the Lord, life will be lighter as God lives in us’.
Sunday 28 June Trinity 3 by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 10: 40 - 42
Joan Chittister – an American Benedictine is described as one of the most influential religious and social leaders of our time. She is the only nun I have ever met who shops at Harrods. But this is a sermon about hospitality and welcoming the stranger – not shopping.
Hospitality is a central characteristic of the Benedictines life. Perhaps that says something about those drawn to Benedictine spirituality. ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me said Jesus to his disciples’. You can find yourself staying in a Benedictine community today with others who seem as equally strange as you.
Chittister comments: of all the questions to be asked about the nearly 1500 year old Rule of St Benedict…one of the most pointed must surely be why one of the great spiritual documents of the Western world would have in it a whole chapter on how to answer the door….. She continues, ‘The way we answer the door is the way we deal with the world…The chapter on the porter of the monastery is the chapter on how to receive the Christ in the other always. It is Benedict’s theology of surprise’…..Some of us discover the dimensions and demands of that surprise when we answer the door to the uninvited, the unexpected and possibly the unwelcome. How to receive Christ in the other: whoever welcomes you welcomes me said Jesus.
Rabbi Lionel Blue learnt to welcome from his grannie – who had next to nothing – but who stood outside the door on the Sabbath inviting the poor and the hungry to share her cabbage borscht and roast lung. He said, ‘Nearly all my religious attitudes stem from her.’
He used to do place-of-worship crawl – he said the sermons were of interest, but they were the recipe for godliness, not the dish. That comes afterwards: at St Giles’ we call it coffee. This is when our visitors know that they are really wanted for themselves and we are pleased to see them. Sodom and Gomorrrah were destroyed because of the lack of hospitality to strangers.
The film Babette’s Feast can be read as a parable by those who are searching how to embody in life the faith we profess in words, and the story is told through hospitality. Babette arrives in an austere pleasure denying community – they would describe themselves as devoutly religious and God-fearing. She wins the lottery and spends all the money on ingredients and wine for her feast. The neighbours are invited and sit eating in disapproving silence until, after a bit, the outsider comments on the delicious food. Then the diners begin to smile, and enjoy the exquisite dishes and the wines. The ungracious community is transformed and finally Babette – the Christ figure, is made welcome by the two grudging sisters she has been living with for fourteen years.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2) Amen
Sunday 21 June Trinity 2 by Alex Norris
‘The Student is not above the teacher’.
I wonder how many teachers would agree with that, or students for that
At the moment, many of us will be listening to ‘the experts’, those who
know their subject inside out. Epidemiologists, Scientists, public health
experts, biologists, microbiologists….you name it, there is an expert for
everything. Anytime there is a major disaster an expert, or pundit will be
made available who can advise the masses on what is going on, on all
manner of subjects and situations.
We can learn from the experts. This is how it has been for our whole
lives, the teachers at school, for those that went into higher education,
the lecturers, and then in the workplace, a similar structure exists. There
is this hierarchy of knowledge, and especially at the moment, during
these unprecedented times, we turn to those who ‘know’ to find out
what's going on, and what we should be doing. Daily briefings from
No.10, the never ending news cycle with their interviewees, it's available
to us all of the time, day and night.
However, there is a different hierarchy, a bigger hierarchy, that puts all of
this into perspective. God the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit.
‘Do not be afraid of them’
Jesus is clear, at the end of the day, when all is said and done,
everything will be made known, there will be no secrets, so what we are
whispered can be shouted from the rooftops. We need to respect the
power and knowledge of God, which surpasses anything that we can
find here on earth. Because of this, we should remain loyal to God, and
his Son, as each one of us is known unto God, and each one of us is
valuable to God; I love the expression, ‘even the very hairs of your head
are all numbered’, I suspect that this number will vary massively from
person to person, but it makes it so personal for each of us.
Expert or not, we all have a lot to learn from God, through Jesus. Whilst
we are being inundated with opinion and quite often important advice, for
our own well-being at the moment, this is only temporary. What we are
all going through with this pandemic, as unsettling and inconvenient as it is, is only temporary.
God's teachings, and our relationship with him are eternal, and God will
always be there for us, everything else around us will not. We
sometimes need to be reminded of this.
Near the end of the reading there is seemingly a very incongruous
statement from Jesus; ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace
to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword’.
He then goes on to describe the division that he intends to cause.
Contrary to your initial understanding of this sentence, it is not violent at
all. There is a lot of commentary around these verses, but I think this
explains it neatly; The metaphor of the sword describes how unbelievers
may respond to the Gospel, not how we communicate it. Jesus is
describing the impact of the Gospel on those who hear it, and he uses a
family metaphor as this would be accessible to those who were listening
to him at this time.
For me, it is clear that Jesus is the teacher above all teachers, and that
we should listen to what he has to say, and value this above all else.
In a world that is so troubled, especially with what we have been seeing
in the United States, it is clear that we still have a lot to learn, and whilst
there is violence and terror in the world, along with all the experts who
can help us understand it more deeply, let’s remember the teachings of
Jesus, the wish for his Kingdom, here on earth, as in heaven.
As verse 31 says, ‘don’t be afraid’.
Sunday 14 June Trinity 1 by Katharine Rumens
Exodus 19: 2 – 8a; Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8
We know that we are an inventive and resourceful lot and many of you are happy to contribute to the weekly letter, including the sequence of parables.
This week we have a poem: the parable of the bluebells written by Caroline. She says, ‘The parable element here is to do with timing. Don’t be afraid to begin a project at an apparently unpropitious moment. Welcome helpers who may have their own reasons for working with you.’
Today’s readings – Moses and Jesus and their badly or well-timed projects and their helpers.
Moses’ helpers didn’t need a reason to be chosen to come on board. They are elders and born to it. In that inhospitable desert terrain at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses couldn’t pick and choose, he was presented with his companions. At best they are a reluctant bunch of nomadic wanderers – they’ve complained, they’ve grumbled, they’ve been ready to stone him. Still, God is faithful and if they will obey God, God offers the people the possibility of becoming a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. If….
Jesus also had to deal with a group of people who were pretty assorted, a theologian observes that Jesus built conflict and potential disaster into his inner circle: all those clashing personalities and expectations. Today’s account of the summoning of the twelve is too good an opportunity not to quote from the St Paul’s lecture by Helen Bond and Joan Taylor on Jesus’s female disciples. No women’s names appear in that list of 12 men, although we know there were women in the Jesus movement.
The 12 tribes of Israel: by the time of Jesus there were 2 tribes left - 10 had been wiped out by the Assyrians. In Jesus Israel will be restored: hence the 12 ness – and maleness. Bond and Taylor argue that these were not the only disciples. In Matthew’s gospel they are sent to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Mark’s gospel is more specific about how they are sent: two by two. Like animals into the ark – female and male.
What is the point of bothering of including female followers? Picture the scene, the disciples are in the marketplace surrounded by a crowd. In that time and place, a woman in the crowd could not have come up to a male disciple – women did not speak to men they were not related to. Who is going to minister to them? A woman asking for healing - this can only be done by another woman. It is she who will lay on hands and anoint with oil. Women spread the word to other women, and they followed Jesus. Not just the 12 but 12 plus.
Moses and his awkward squad, Jesus and his 12 plus, ourselves – inventive, resourceful even in a pandemic, with our own reasons for being part of the church community. May we too be borne on eagles’ wings.
7 June Trinity Sunday by Alex Norris
As we think of God, this Trinity Sunday, we marvel at the sacred mystery of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, we do so in unprecedented times. Clergy are now allowed back into their churches, and soon, so will all the faithful, as we continue the process of returning to some sense of normal. In coming back to our church building, I have reflected on how the church has been here for us all, and remains here for us all.
On Trinity Sunday, we have come to the end of an amazing journey, from God sending Christ for all of us, through the miracle of the Nativity, then learning from his teachings, parables and sermons, and all that he did in his earthly ministry. We then went through the emotional rollercoaster of Holy Week, and Christ's betrayal, Crucifixion and victory over death with His resurrection. Christ has now returned to his father, through the mystery of his ascension, but we have not been left alone, asThe Holy Spirit remains with us, to be with us, to guide and to counsel us. We are not left alone.
Our Gospel reading today reiterates the message of God’s continual assurance andpresence through the Trinity, and the great commission that Christ gave to His Disciples then, and this instruction still stands today, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Similarly, the Old Testament reading from Isaiah gives comparable assurances, first,through a series of questions, we are shown the power of God over all the nations,culminating with this conclusion, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth...He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless”.
Whilst the world is battling Covid-19, with the nations waging their own war against this virus, with varying successes, Trinity Sunday provides us with a timely reminder that we are not alone, that God is with us always, that we will be strengthened by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But not only this, but that this should be shared among all the nations, as a message of hope, optimism, and strength.
Even though we are not able to worship God corporately, and access to our church buildings is regulated, God’s church here on earth is very much alive and thriving, reaching out to many millions of people. We are not cut off from the presence of God, God is with us wherever we may be, in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and through this sacred mystery of the trinity, God will be here with us, whatever our situation, until the end of time.
Sunday 31 May Pentecost by Katharine Rumens
Today is the Feast of Pentecost: the gift of the Holy Spirit is not designed to fill us with religious feelings, or give us unshakeable certainty, or enable us to impress others with our religiosity ...the gift is given primarily to allow the disciples and us to do what Jesus told us to do – which is to be his witnesses in Jerusalem in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
We are back in the glory of our church. I love this space. Others have been critical: John Betjeman couldn’t stand the Victorian stone cladding and thus had no affection for St Giles’ inside or out. A N Wilson in his 1983 book on Milton wrote, “In the middle of the Barbican stands St Giles’ doggedly, bombed and repaired, the last imaginable little memory of that vanished City that Shakespeare knew. It is a bleak church, with little atmosphere.”
So there is no hope for the Holy Spirit, rushing, burning, wind and flame of Pentecost being felt here. Was Wilson right and the church he dismissed in 1983 our experience of St Giles’ today? Here prayer is no longer valid.
In a socially-distancing conversation I asked one of you what made a church holy. You said, because it’s consecrated – it is set aside as water is at baptism, bread and wine at the Eucharist. Blessed in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. A blessing that is held in the memory of the stones and that perhaps we sense as we step into a church.
A novelist who names neither God nor the Holy Spirit puts it like this, ‘Buildings are not beautiful because of their shapes or patterns, the bricks or stones that make them. What are transfixing are the ideas and dreams and longing they encase. They stand as memorials to the lives of the people who made them, who raised the money to raise the walls, who buried the men who fell from the scaffolding…The hope at the centre of my life is expressed in the church spire directing us to look beyond the everyday. To stop and think, to look outside ourselves.
Christians, Muslims, Jews and all faith groups have been locked out of their places of worship for so many weeks. We open for private prayer this week. And when we are able to worship here again together, will we find it has become that bleak church with little atmosphere? The Holy Spirit having faded away though disuse in spite of the candle continuously burning above the aumbry?
The disciples had been living for weeks with anxiety, fear, sadness and disappointment. And had recently witnessed a second finality, first the crucifixion, then the Ascension. At Pentecost they discovered through earthquake, wind and fire that they are not on their own, the Spirit of God is with them.
The Lord is here
His Spirit is with us
In you, in me, in our homes and in this consecrated building, I am confident that His Spirit is with us. Amen
Sunday 24 May Easter 7 by Katharine Rumens
Acts 1: 6 – 14
As a member of PCC said at a zoom meeting recently, we are in betwixt and between times – as we are liturgically today… between Ascension Day and Pentecost.
Betwixt and between times are confusing, we stand on the edge and look back to the world as it was and forward to the unknown - the new normal. We are told it has the potential to be exciting: the spiritual writer Richard Rohr describes this liminal space as an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. We have left one stage of life but not yet entered the next – it allows for something genuinely new to happen, because we are receptive and teachable.
Perhaps that gives us an insight into how the disciples were feeling – they also were living through betwixt and between times. Those opening verses of Acts – today’s first reading portrays a group of people bewildered by recent events: the terror of Good Friday. The fear, and the guilt of failing as friends. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there were then rumours that Jesus was alive – oh yes, it’s all most confusing.
Did the disciples think things would settle down and continue as they had hoped? Surely now Jesus will take over Israel, and that they will be part of the new ruling party.
But it’s not like this – they will have to carry on without him- it is not for you to know. Not yet. In the betwixt and between they have learnt two things: to stick together and to be faithful in prayer.
At the PCC zoom meeting I asked what we thought we were learning in this strange time and what do we see as beneficial to take into our new normal world.
We said, coffee time, Sunday worship and companionship shape our week. Next week Sundays may just seem a little more normal as we will return to church to film. Bread has not been broken there since 16 March. Since then I have presided at my dining room table – where food is shared, minutes recorded at meetings and cake eaten.
Many of you know this room well, for conversations, meetings and especially for gathering after church in the summer, parties and PCC suppers.
Domestic space is holy. The Gospels are full of Jesus spending time with people in their homes – there are more accounts of the incarnate God in private homes than there are in temples and synagogues. What is clear from the scriptures, is that God is present and active in upper rooms, around dining tables and in living rooms – today as much as once upon a time in Palestine.
In sharing services online from my home, you have all been invited into this downstairs room. A young man reported that he found the intimacy of being invited into the Archbishop’s kitchen to share worship on Easter Day – even virtually- a turning point in his journey of faith.
In these betwixt and between times, may we find our way through the new normal. And may we be receptive and teachable.
Sunday 17 May Easter 6 by Katharine Rumens
Acts 17: 22 – 31 John 14: 15 – 21
Mary Lennox, Harry Potter, Peter Pan. All children liberated from the expectations and limitations of those who have parents. Children who found themselves, thus unimpeded on the threshold of adventures - because they were orphans and there were no parents to get in the way. They were not like other, ordinary children to whom such adventures did not happen.
In life and in adulthood, I don’t know if Marilyn Munroe, Malcolm X or John Lennon attributed their being exceptional people to the fact that they too were orphans.
Sit in the café at Coram Fields and see the names of orphans from life and literature named from floor to ceiling on the walls around you. Go into the museum and see the display of tokens of the mothers who, two hundred years ago, gave up their babies to the Foundling Hospital
The heart-shaped disc token for an unknown child engraved with the words “You have my Heart though we must Part.” The button, the scrap of fabric, the nut – other tokens left with the child so that one day, perhaps one day the mother and child could meet again. Tokens that speak of a sort of death, of heartbreak, desperation and poverty. In spite of the hall of fame in the café, the reality of being orphaned, was and still can be tragic.
The bible references to orphans are those of the helpless and destitute: the psalmist is beset by the wicked and deceitful who ask that the Psalmist’s children be orphans and his wife a widow. By night the orphans shelter in ruins and by day they wander about and beg. Yet, from the beginning their parlous state is recognized in law, and along with the alien and widow, they are to be left part of the harvest. They are not to go hungry.
I will not leave you orphaned said Jesus – he anticipates that the disciples will be bereft at his leaving them – which is the root of the word orphan. The bereaved ones. In that culture he may as well have said, the bottom will not fall out of your world. You won’t be a non-person. They are not to be left like that for long….in a little while – just wait, hang on there, then they will be drawn into the fire of God’s love with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
John’s gospel opens with the well-loved words and the promise of God being with us and among us however bewildering and strange our world. In the beginning was the Word …and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ God is here. We are coming to the end of the 40 days of Easter; Thursday is Ascension Day. We wait with the disciples for the promise of another Advocate, a Comforter, to dwell with us forever.
Comforter, Intercessor, Counsellor – the Paraclete. A comfort to us who at this time may be feeling orphaned or bereaved, frightened and anxious. Let us remember the words of Jesus as we survive this pandemic: ‘I will not leave you orphaned.’ We are not abandoned to shelter on our own in the ruins.
Sunday 10 May Easter 5 by Katharine Rumens
Acts 7: 55 – end John 14: 1 – 14
We probably need no introduction to our own dwelling places right now. Stay home, save lives, protect the NHS. The housebound haven’t set foot outside their front door in weeks. Kitchen tables become school and work desks, we are told to separate our space if possible and not let work and life merge into one. Divide the day, establish a routine, keep rest and work apart. It’s easy for her I hear you muttering from your sofas – clergy are used to working from home, they only have to shut the study door to have the luxury of rattling around in all the other rooms of their mansions.
Many must be feeling very ambivalent about their dwelling places as lockdown continues. Especially if your dwelling place is unsafe, overcrowded or has only ever been the place you have returned to sleep. Some people have lifestyles that mean they are never at home. Interpret that as you will.
In today’s gospel, the disciples are worried – do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus’ friends are anxious even when he is among them. This is the man they have walked, eaten, laughed with, listened to and watched transform people’s lives. At this point he’d confused them by insisting on washing their feet; then they sit down to supper. Round the table Jesus speaks to them, afterwards they will go across the Kidron Valley to the garden. These chapters of John’s gospel are known as the final discourse – Jesus taking his leave - if only the disciples could grasp what he is saying.
Not just them though: are we really not able to call this world ‘home’? We who set so much store by our bricks and mortar and now Zoom meetings give us the chance gleefully to peer into other people’s living spaces. Fancy having those curtains, has he read any of those books? I would say we’re pretty hung up on our homes and the sense of permanent protection that we yearn for.
Yet the author of the book of Hebrews soberingly writes, ‘Here we have no lasting city’. (13.14) Get over it, you can’t take it with you. Stephen dies a horrible death with his eyes fixed on the heavenly vision. Jesus holds before us a picture of God’s many dwelling place to which we are all invited. God’s house is not for members only.
In response to Thomas’s question, ‘How do we know the way?’ Jesus replies that he is the way – as Christians were once known as those who belonged to ‘the way.’ For Stephen and all those who have been martyred for their faith the way of the cross Is one of suffering.
Those who walk the way of Jesus must do his work as we prayed in the Collect: grant that by your grace going before us you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect.
Faith is not constrained by lockdown – the way lies before us.
Sunday 3 May Easter 4 by Katharine Rumens
John 10: 1- 10
During the week we held a funeral outside the west door as we also did last month for Keith. I conduct a short service by the hearse including Psalm 23, the commendation and the committal. Such occasions are in their way (you may say) satisfactory. Psalm 23 – the set psalm for today, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you – the Lord who is my shepherd, are with me.’ Words that continue to console. It was used for the first time at funerals in the 1928 prayer book – we have moved to the cities but we look back to the fields and the way of life of our forebears and this image of God and Jesus for comfort.
Jesus as the good shepherd is one of the earliest recorded images of him. 3rd and 4th century depictions on catacomb murals, sarcophagi and grave slabs show a stocky man with a huge sheep – more a small horse – on his shoulders. A common prayer in the early Church was the one made for the deceased, that they should be led to heaven ‘borne on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd’. We have been carried from the earliest times.
26 April Easter 3 by Katharine Rumens
Luke 24 13-35
The Road to Emmaus. The road to recovery.
We know from our weekly Zoom time that we have competitive walkers among us. In pacing your flats, some of you are wearing out your carpets, others stride round the gardens, some circle the church. I am told the number of steps really matters, it is a serious business. If you don’t clock up the necessary distance - why bother? It’s just a waste of time.
Today’s gospel – two walkers on the road from Jerusalem joined by a third who they don’t recognise. Are they running away? Guilty by association. Best make themselves scarce and come back when it’s quietened down again.
Solvitur Ambulando –it is solved by walking is attributed to St Augustine. He is not alone – the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor "passionately believed that walking constituted the sovereign remedy for every mental travail". That’s why it’s worth bothering with even if our number of steps is pretty rubbish some days. Moreover, walking therapy makes all sorts of claims like reducing blood pressure, improving strategic thinking, enhancing creativity, and reducing depression.
It well might be solved by walking – but these two on the road to Emmaus have a lot on their minds. It is still the first day of the week – they had eaten with him on the night before he died and then run away when things got out of hand. Jesus had been put to death and now there were rumours that the tomb was empty and that he had, in fact, risen from the dead as he told them he would. Yes, they have a lot on their minds, there was a lot to try and make sense of. Was there nothing to show for the past three years? Has it all been a waste of time. “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” Hope crashing down because of the crucifixion and it all ending in failure. The Romans are still in charge, God’s people are still oppressed and seemingly far from being redeemed.
When the teaching was over they had to begin working it out for themselves. On the road Jesus joined the walkers who find themselves telling him everything he already knew. When they got to the village, they invited him in, and at table he took bread, blessed and broke it. As the host would do.
Then just when they thought they caught a glimpse of how it all could be for evermore, he vanished. There was nothing they could do but hurry back to the starting place – Jerusalem - and talk some more.
By the time Luke’s gospel was written, the church’s common meal was in some unique sense thought to be the meeting place between the believer and the Lord of life.
Right now, we are only allowed to break our daily bread with those in the same house or flat. The churches remain shut, we are not allowed to share in the physical breaking and eating of bread on Sunday mornings. May we glimpse in our changed world that breaking bread – even in a remote form - is still the meeting place between ourselves and the risen Lord.
Sunday 19 April Easter 2 by Katharine Rumens
John 20:19-to the end
We are being told that when all this is over – when we are well again - we will have to reinvent ourselves, reinvent our communities, our economies – perhaps our churches too. When I hear our leaders telling us about reinvention I am not sure if it is a threat – things will not be the same again –and adjusting to the new reality will cause great hardship, or it is the promise of new exciting horizons: we have the chance of a new beginning unencumbered by what weighed us down in the past.
Our new reinvented selves, we who are followers of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and for ever.
Telling the gospel afresh in each generation means that theologians stray into reinvention to get our attention like the ‘fresh paraphrase’ that brings the text alive? In this case bible stories are told as mini-blockbusters – perhaps with matching merchandise on sale in the foyer afterwards
On the other hand, a Professor of New Testament Language and Literature recommends ‘The Word on the Street’ which helped him discover angry and sad voices in passages of the Bible that had left him indifferent, and made him laugh at other passages so familiar that he had never see the healthy irreverence, humour and irony they expressed.
Rob Lacey tells today’s gospel very briefly like this:
Trouble is, Tom missed it all. He comes back, but Jesus is gone; the guys as high as kites. He’s dubious: I’m not Mr Gullible. I want proof.
I’m not sure if I am ready for a mini-blockbuster or for hearing Thomas the disciple called Tom. This would put him among the Jims, Andy, Pete, Phil and Jack and the rest of a crowd probably more at home flogging fish down at the harbour rather than standing over us in stained glass or painted by the great masters.
Did anyone ever dare call Thomas Aquinas Tom? Or Thomas Beckett, or Thomas Merton?
Thomas one of the twelve who was not with the others when Jesus came on the first day of the week. Thomas who was not shown Jesus’s hands and his side. Thomas who did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit on that occasion. It’s lonely being Thomas at this point in the story – kept in the dark for a week. It’s a road of faith he has to take by himself in his own time. Then he will believe. Thomas’s scepticism is probably more useful to us than the disciples’ faith – even if we never venture into the familiarity of calling him Tom.
Thomas stands as a representative of those removed by decades from Christianity’s foundational events…as he stands for you and me. And so let us look with kindness upon the story – as this one told for children.
One of Jesus’ close friends was missing – a man called Thomas. He had gone to Golgotha, wanting to see the place where Jesus had died.
Another week passed. Thomas was still sunk in grief. Every day he went to Golgotha – the pain of losing Jesus was unbearable – almost like the pain of crucifixion. We manage grief at our own speed. That is why Thomas wasn’t there – and how can you touch the very life of God. Thomas didn’t try. He simply answered ‘My Lord and my God’ who is the same yesterday, today and for ever.
Sunday 12 April Easter Day by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 28: 1 – 10
They tell the story differently – the gospel writers. Mark narrates that as the women entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe. Luke enlarges on that and writes of two men in dazzling clothes. Matthew includes an earthquake and it is not just a young man, or two men in dazzling robes but an angel of the lord descending from heaven.
He does not want us to miss the significance of this encounter and what it means in terms of a new world order. Matthew – author of the book of dreams and angels, and of cosmic upheaval here announcing that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Joseph dreams back in the beginning, an angel tells him a child is to be born, and again an angelic dream to ensure the child’s safety in Egypt. As day was dawning an angel of the Lord descended from heaven – not in the familiar darkness of the Christmas story, but in the unfamiliar darkness of the tomb.
Confronted by the blinding light of this fearsome angel from heaven, the guards who had been posted to ensure that nothing would happen to Jesus’ body were so frightened that they shook and became like dead men. Those who thought they were alive are now like the dead, the one thought to be dead is now alive.
Those who thought they were alive now discover that what they took for life is death. What we thought we valued like new clothes, fine dining, a fancy holiday and a fast car are not life-giving in the way that the love of friends and family is. The blessing of good health, the blessing of birdsong and the blessing of the coming of spring. These are life-giving; stuff and yet more stuff is not.
Lawrence was a deacon in the church of Rome in the middle of 3rd century in charge of the holy things – the chalices, candlesticks and the treasury. The prefect of Rome heard about this wealth and asked Lawrence to place it before him. Lawrence promised to bring forth all ‘the precious possessions of Christ.’ He gathered the poor, the disfigured and the destitute and presented them, ‘There are the church’s riches, take them.’ This is our wealth.
May Easter, this year in a climate of anxiety and uncertainty, bring us alive. May the resurrection of Jesus Christ create in us a life freed from the death that can grip our everyday lives. Do not be afraid said the angel. Jesus has been raised from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee. The risen Jesus is ahead of us and we must set out after him.
5 April Palm Sunday by Katharine Rumens
It shouldn’t happen like this. It should happen with the arrival of the horse box and the bells ringing. It should happen outside in the sunshine by the west door, trumpets and drums and excitement, the organ playing triumphantly as we then move with the donkeys into church. Palm branches decorating the pillars, babies in buggies, curious children, regular members of the congregation, and those who have come for the first time waiting to see what will happen next. The readings, the singing, the sending out of those processing on to St Paul’s. Then when the bustle of the crowd is over: the sounds of voices and music has receded, the drum beat grown fainter as the procession moved away through the City to the Cathedral.
Then the Eucharist quietly continues in St Giles’ in the spring sunshine.
It shouldn’t happen like this – we are learning to navigate the new normal. We begin holy week not out on the streets but from behind the closed doors of our homes. For us too this is a first time and we are waiting to see what will happen next. We are apprehensive, we can be easily frightened, we just don’t know how long it will all go on for. Or if we too or those we care about dearly become ill.
It shouldn’t happen like this. A king making a triumphal entrance wants pomp and splendour - nothing but the best. Victors in battle do not ride into their capital cities on asses, they ride on magnificent horses.
How can we look up to you Jesus if you ride a donkey like the peasants do? How do we know that you really are someone special? You are worth following? It’s all most confusing. Of course, the whole city in turmoil was saying ‘Who is this’. They didn’t all get it in spite of the words of the prophet Zechariah.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Should aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo your kings come to you;
Triumphant and victorious is he,
Humble and riding on a donkey,
On a colt the foal of a donkey.
It should happen like this if only they’d thought about it.
During Lent members of the congregation are invited by Katharine to preach a sermon entitled 'God at Work.'
As the church was closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic before this series was complete this is the last one this year.
Sunday 15 March Lent 3 by Tim Passey
‘Where do you want to be in five years time?’
How many of us go through life with a really clear plan for what we want to achieve?
Does anyone else think this interview question prospective employers often ask is a bit, well, uninspired. I mean, it’s great to have ambition, but how do you know what the future holds or what God’s plans are for you?
When Katharine asked me to give a God at Work sermon, I was slightly apprehensive. But I said yes.
Mostly I say yes. I’m a seize-the-day sort of person.
However, I don’t much like talking about myself. I’m not an extrovert. I prefer my own company. Despite that, I am a team player. And because I do mostly say ‘yes’, I often find I’m the one picking up the dropped ball at work; the one who steps in at the last moment when the team hasn’t got its act together.
I sometimes think I spend half of my working life making stuff up. This is one of the challenges that comes with working in a consulting environment in a niche area. I work in strategy in a narrow part of the commercial healthcare sector. You hope that you ultimately deliver solutions on the slightly less wrong side of the no-right-or-wrong answers equation. I suppose though I must be adding value somewhere.
God at Work to me is about God at work, at work, at home, and in everything I do… God at Work in my life. It’s exactly about saying yes, seizing the day, doing my best and having faith that God won’t let me fall down.
Earlier we prayed together in the collect… ‘Give us insight to discern Your will for us’.
We go to God in personal prayer, often when we need direction. But how well do we listen for the answer or recognize His intervention? I know I sometimes hit and hope in prayer and it’s not until later, on reflection that it becomes apparent I owe some thanks.
Some of you will know that I enjoy running ultramarathons. ‘Enjoy’ is probably not the best word. But when 26 miles got boring, I started entering 100km races – that’s about 65 miles in old money. I run on trails in the mountains, often in the rain, the mud, the cold. And for long stretches I’m alone. Running for 24 hours, through the night is mentally as well as physically exhausting. There are times when it would be easier to just give up and hand in my race number. Last year I ran the Jurassic coast from Weymouth to Exmouth. It was midsummer, the shortest night of the year, but even so it was darkest just before the dawn and a real challenge to resist the urge to quit halfway. But these races have an excellent habit of clearing the mind. During them I find some objectivity. And I find God. Maybe it’s because I’m in my element, the great outdoors, I find myself feeling thankful for the ability just to be out there. However self-inflicted, my races serve as a reminder to look for that bit of perspective in everyday life too.
I’ve worked a lot of my career overseas. I spent a decade in Singapore and Hong Kong. It’s lonely starting out in a new market. The culture’s different; in fact, everything’s different. When I first went to Asia, I was also joining a new company, so no-one at international HQ in London knew me; no-one knew my market; no-one understood its challenges. I had to be self-sufficient, resilient and utterly down to earth. Kind of like running an ultramarathon then.
And because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, if things are not done properly or my teams don’t function, I worry. Worry and isolation make a bad combination. One of my human resources colleagues in London would try to reassure me, saying ‘don’t worry so much Tim, you’re just catastrophising’. And it’s true. When you’re isolated you lose perspective. The obstacles get bigger than they really are, just like the race becomes never-ending. Sometimes you need someone to give you a sense check. But you need more than that.
And I recognize now that my relationship with God has changed and grown over time. When I first went overseas to work, I recognize now that God wasn’t a partner. He was still at work in me – I know that – but he wasn’t at my workplace, because I wasn’t inviting Him into my office. I was trying to do everything by myself.
Charis and I married towards the end of my time in Hong Kong. We moved to the UK in 2015. It was a leap of faith to leave a job in a region in which I was now a specialist with no secure prospects. It was around this time too that I realised I needed to just trust God more, to put God first. Taking time to reflect I could look back and see all of the challenges He had got me through… and God wasn’t going to let me down now. We first landed in Manchester because I had an apartment there, but I’d never lived there, so there was none of the comfort and familiarity of ‘coming home’. And, of course, it was Charis’ first time to live in the UK. But we were warmly welcomed at St Ann’s, the parish Church of Manchester City Centre and felt embraced as a part of the Church community for the first time, certainly as a couple.
I’d spent half a year back in the UK consulting and exploring more permanent opportunities. Charis was now back in Hong Kong waiting for her visa to come through, so I was on my own again, travelling to and from Oxford. I’d just led a big pitch opportunity for a client. I was feeling apprehensive, but I was consciously trusting God a lot more. I knew that He hadn’t let us come back to fail. This was in contrast to leaving for Asia a decade earlier. A week before my consultancy expired, the efforts paid off, and I was offered a good position. Ever peripatetic, we relocated to Oxford and I suppose we were settling down although neither Oxford nor the UK quite felt like home.
Well, I’m all for seizing the day and it wasn’t long after that I was approached about an opportunity in the middle east. It wasn’t a region I had any particular interest in, we were sort of settling down and so I went into interviews with a degree of skepticism. Obviously then, four months later, we found ourselves creating another new life in Dubai and I was heading up a new joint venture.
I’m not sure I ever received a clear signal to take that job. But it certainly delivered on the promised challenges, predictable dysfunctional infrastructure and general new market chaos. But again, saying yes to an opportunity served a purpose. We put God first, we committed ourselves to one of Dubai’s two churches, we made friends there and felt a part of that community. And the middle east offered spectacular experiences to offset the traumas of the working day. One long weekend we drove a 1,400-mile road trip across Oman’s deserts to near the Yemeni border to visit the small but quite spectacular area of the Arabian Peninsula that receives the monsoon rains. There we found ourselves the only two Christians among multitudes of holidaying Muslims making their pilgrimage at the tomb of Job. By saying yes to the opportunity, we had added another layer of experience, diversity and insight to life and work.
This move actually set us on a trajectory for a return to the UK with the same company, this time to London and to St Giles, a place where both Charis and I have felt more engaged with the Christian life than probably at any other time. And last Easter I was confirmed at St Paul’s Cathedral. We’ve valued playing our part in the life of the church community, whether that’s stacking crates at the food bank collection or just bringing a bake for Sunday morning coffee.
Today’s readings helped me reflect on my own story; Paul reminds the people of Rome that we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
So back to the question…’Where do you want to be in five years’ time?’
For me, I feel blessed that while I probably do still worry more than I should, I’m glad I’ve never felt the need to worry over this rather mundane question, because as long as I let Him in, God is at Work in my life.
Sunday 8 March – Lent 2 by Gail Beer
Starting nurse training at Barts in 1977 it was a surprise to discover some of my new colleagues, like myself, had been influenced in their choice of profession by Audrey Hepburn in ‘The Nun’s Story’ and Deborah Kerr in the ‘The Black Narcissus’.
I would be Audrey, struggling against the world and myself to do good, healing with a quiet calm, battling irascible surgeons, or Deborah, full of self-doubt, dispensing compassion and comfort. Nursing would make me a good person and I would be doing Christian work. God and Hollywood played a big role in my choice. My declared intention was to train, go down the Congo and deliver babies in Africa. Being a nun was an option! One friend still mockingly refers to me as Sister Perpetua.
We appeared subject to the same rules as nuns, hard work, long hours, no money, a uniform code and, in our case, no men in the nurse’s home. It wasn’t a glamourous life but there were plenty of irascible surgeons.
The real discovery was that I liked caring for people at the end of their life, especially the elderly. Lifesaving surgery and waving goodbye to the gratefully cured wasn’t as satisfying. Delivering a baby is amazing, birth is greeted with great joy but dying, the last thing we do on Earth is met with sadness. Mortality, the thing that makes us human, fearfully hidden. For me looking after people at the end of their lives has been an absolute privilege for which I am grateful and indeed humbled.
From my first ward I found doing the simple but, essential things for patients deeply satisfying; giving a drink, combing hair, getting those pillows comfortable (that really is a tough one). Each patient a person, not a task. I felt privileged that they let me care for them. ‘There are three things a good nurse should possess’ my tutor told me ‘Kindness, Kindness and Kindness’. Often quoted words alongside St David’s ‘do the little things that you have seen me do’.
In the late 70’s and early 80s most of the very elderly had lived through two world wars. I looked after lonely, elderly ladies that never married, elderly men who had been on the western front, younger people who had experienced WW2, refugees, some with their concentration camp numbers on their arms. I still cringe at the memory of trying to wash a tattoo off an inner arm. Many shared big stories but mostly we talked about their loves, family, and often their parents, the everyday mattered most.
On night duty, in the still of the early morning, patients whispered about the things they wished they had done, and guilt and lessons learned too late. Many spoke of their blessings – not the material things but family, friends and life itself. I never met anyone who wished they had been more unkind or more selfish. Many would ask if I believed in God? Did I think there was an afterlife?
Speaking to the chaplaincy became an everyday occurrence and many took comfort from talking to someone, including non-believers. The fear of there being a God was as great as the fear of there not.
It wasn’t all serious, I heard lots of funny stories; the elderly ex Barts nurse who told me how to get my boyfriend into the nurse’s home a la 1932.
The elderly east end lady trapped on a broken bath hoist three foot up in the air. Waiting for the fire brigade to arrive and having discussed the merits of firemen, she disclosed to me that in her head she was only 23 and whilst her body had aged, she had not. I think that’s true of all of us. Her approach to life - forgive people, don’t take things too personally, accept people as they are, acknowledge your own faults (but only sometimes), laugh a lot and have a good time in the Green Man Public House.
Death can bring out the worst in people too, family feuds and resentments were played out on the ward. One middle aged man who I had moved away from the bedside for a quiet word about his behaviour, told me that if ‘Dad didn’t hear the family rowing, he might think he was dying’! We both laughed nervously and then he burst into tears.
During this time, I had a very chatty relationship with God, occasionally went to church, toyed with a more formal approach but was always too busy. My belief was unshakeable.
That changed one glorious summer day at the Royal London. A man in his early 40s came into resus and died. His wife and young children were with him and his wife blamed herself for his sudden death from a brain haemorrhage. As the senior nurse in charge of the hospital I took his wife and her mother to the mortuary to see him; their grief was unbearable.
Later walking across the garden in the glaring sun I cried because he would never see another stunning blue, blue day like this, so why should I. I went and sat in the chapel to talk to God, angry and sad. In all the years of looking after people at the end of life and being amongst so much grief I had never been so affected by a death. Peter, our chaplain, came in and we talked about how I felt about God, why was I angry.
During our subsequent discussions we identified that going to the mortuary daily, sometimes more often, facing death in this mechanical way had become too stressful. I spent a lot of time thinking about my own mortality during this difficult period, but it strengthened my belief and made me more thoughtful and considered about my faith. The death of an unknown man reconnected me with myself and God
In 2008 I left the NHS for a while, burnt out by my role on the board at Barts and the London. Having become institutionalized, I was bereft with no hospital to hide behind. I was also getting divorced, but worst of all God no longer spoke to me. The disconnection was sudden and unexpected, demonstrating to me the brittleness of the relationship. I begged God to speak to me; God did, but I could not hear. In took four years before I heard God again and I realised I could not take my faith for granted. I would have to work harder at it, so here I am today. It’s still ‘work in progress’
To return to the beginning; have I become Audrey or Deborah? Well we are all an Audrey or a Deborah; finding our own way as belief dictates; coping with the highs and lows of life. I have learnt to deal with the everyday and the extraordinary as best I can. Failure is part of the plan; there is more to learn from trying than triumph.
I have come to terms with my own mortality. I, like I suspect many others am afraid when I contemplate the moment of death but trust in God to be with me.
Whatever happens after is unknowable but, I believe that Jesus did die to show us the way and I hope a kind nurse will be at my side when it is my time to leave.
Sunday 1 March – Lent 1 by Kathryn Elsby
We don’t often talk about God in my place of work, and when I mentioned doing something at St Giles’ over the weekend, my colleague Mark was very surprised to discover that I was a Christian and went to church, and thinking about it, I too am surprised. Mark was surprised and possibly alarmed the other day when I told him that he was going to feature in my sermon.
As a child Christianity was an important part of my life, my family went to church, I attended Sunday school, enjoyed reading religious stories and Jesus was frequently mentioned at home. In those days I had no doubt that God was at work everywhere, with Christianity the only true religion. I accepted the line from the Sunday school hymn,
“O soon may the heathen of every tribe and nation Fulfill Thy blessed Word and cast their idols all away”.
My father was in the RAF and until I was six, he was based at RAF Patrington and we lived in Withernsea, a small seaside town on the Yorkshire coast, attending the church of St Matthew. I was able to look at the church from outside last year, and it brought back memories of sitting inside, gazing at the stained-glass windows. At this time, I had a very literal belief and am told that when we visited a local village called Hedon, I misheard the name as heaven and was very disappointed not to see Jesus, God and the heavenly host of angels there.
When my father was posted to Cyprus it was decided that we needed a home in the UK, so my mum and I moved to live near to her parents in the mining village of Blackhall in County Durham. There my family participated actively in the parish life of St Andrews Church, I went to Sunday School, to church services with my family (although I did incur a kneeling ban as I kept fainting on other members of the congregation) My mother helped with numerous church events, my grandma was a stalwart of the Mothers Union, and my grandad ferried goods and people about in his car. I loved reading, and I covered my children’s bible in greasy marks whilst eating my breakfast toast. Amongst my more usual games I played at giving communion to the dog. We had assembly with hymns and prayers every day at my primary school, many of my friends went to church or chapel, the vicar’s daughter was in my class at school, Christianity was a day to day part of my life.
I was confirmed together with the cohort of my Sunday school class. I was disappointed that none of my classmates continued to attend church, but I went to communion most Sundays, and always left the service with a feeling of “the peace of God which passeth all understanding”. I became a Sunday School teacher and loved teaching my class. At thirteen I went on a day retreat to a nunnery and enjoyed the day of silence and prayer. I contemplated becoming a nun, but what with my fainting when kneeling problem and the prospect of giving up my teddy bear, to the relief of my family, I decided that it was not for me.
I continued to enjoy reading, and over the next few years I read many books and realised how narrow our village life was. I learnt of other religions, beliefs and ways of living and my faith that I had felt to be so strong started to crumble. I no longer enjoyed the Sunday school teaching; I saw how petty some church members were. I did not like the restrictions placed on women by the church. I was unable to discuss my loss of faith with anybody; when I declared that I no longer wanted to go to church I think that my family thought I was just being difficult.
At the same time as I left home to start university in London my parents moved away from Blackhall and it was easy for me to make a clean break from the Church. I no longer prayed or read the Bible, I did not think about God, I did not think that I needed him in my life. In this time, I had abandoned God, but he never abandoned me.
As I grew older, I realised that I did still believe in God, but I was not interested in joining a church community. John and I were married in church and were both determined not to break the vows that we had made before God. We did not attend church but named our first child Christopher and had both of our children christened. We sent them to St Paul’s Cathedral school, and we attended the Advent and Palm Sunday services that they participated in. I occasionally popped into the cathedral for a communion service, feeling a connection to God in comfortable anonymity. As a family we often visited churches and cathedrals as tourists, I started to feel the presence of God in these holy places.
Several years ago, Christopher came back to live with us in the Barbican and announced that he had been going to Church in Cambridge and would like to continue doing so here. Where should he go? We suggested that as St Giles was our parish church that this was the natural one to try first. He liked it here and started to attend every Sunday, took confirmation classes and was confirmed. I decided to keep Chris company occasionally, and discovered that I enjoyed the services, found the congregation and clergy kind and welcoming. A year or so later my father was dying of cancer, the best day for me to visit him was Sunday and being unable to come to many services I realised how much I missed coming to St Giles. When I was staying with my parents a day or so before he died, I was at my wits end. On a short walk out by a bleak village green I felt God in the cold wind, he gave me strength to cope, God was at work. I now come here most Sunday mornings when in London. God, Christopher and St Giles Church have been at work restoring my faith.
Sunday 23 February -The last Sunday before Lent
by Katharine Rumens
Exodus 24: 12 – end and Matthew 17: 1 – 9
It will soon be time for the seasonal influx of tourists to go home and those in Venice and Brazil to take off their masks, show their faces and put away their costumes for another year. The two months of Carnival from Christmas to Ash Wednesday are about to end. We can hide behind our masks and dressing up clothes. They are a handy disguise for all types of pretence, games, conspiracies and nastiness. And we call it only a game.
It’s not just allowing our shadow side to come out and play, Carnival serves another purpose. We are mortal creatures, who come into this world and in the natural order of things, depart from it without our consent. The poet Auden wrote that we must eat, drink, defecate, belch and break wind in order to live, and procreate for our species to survive. To us as individuals we need to celebrate the unity of human race as mortal creatures. That we are not alone is a cause for rejoicing – that all of us, irrespective of age, gender, status, talent, are in the same boat. That is worth taking to the streets – and canals – for. We know that one day all masks must fall, all roles must come to an end, all the parts that we play before the world and before ourselves. To see face to face and know fully as we have been fully known.
Two whole months of jokes and parties before we present ourselves unmasked on Ash Wednesday. Quite clearly, in order for us to receive the mark of the cross in ash on our foreheads we have to take our masks off. We will make our confession, hear those ancient words: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. Words that we cannot hide from. Have mercy upon us. Ash Wednesday is a time for us to drop our masquerading and look the 40 days of Lent in the face.
Lent is not tidy. Storms Ciara and Dennis have brought chaos to parts of the country over the last weeks. Cities are in lockdown because of Coronovirus – and thousands infected.
Winter is not leaving without blustery battles that push things over and mess things up. The names of the months tell it how it is: February – the feast of expiation, purification, March – the spirit of war. Lent, if we honesty face its fury, will leave the landscape littered with bits and pieces of ourselves. And by the end? To find ourselves somewhere different from where we started. The promised land of Easter. To have come home.
At this point I have to make a bit of a leap and bring us down to earth with some reference to today’s readings and say – what about Moses? It was tough on him, he never got home…those final verses of Deuteronomy – God showed Moses the whole Land – and let him see it with his eyes, but he was not to cross over there. Moses died in the land of Moab. So near and yet so far. Never has there arisen a prophet in Israel whom the Lord knew face to face. (Deut 34: 10)
Today’s first reading is about one of those face to face encounters on the mountain. My own feeling is that Moses couldn’t wait to get away from the Israelites. ‘Come up to me on the mountain.’ Never was an invitation from God more welcome. The people escaped slavery in Egypt and pretty immediately started complaining. Who did Moses think he was? 17:7 the people quarreled with Moses, Is the Lord among us or not? Is anybody in charge, or are you making it up as you go along? Moses appointed judges over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens in order to create some sort of order and manage disputes.
He was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights – and the people felt neglected and started playing up. When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain they gathered round Aaron and said, ‘Come, make gods for us.’ And the result was the golden calf and the fury of God and Moses.
But what did Moses realistically expect? Docile patience? Obedience? His prolonged absence wasn’t going to change these stiff necked and rebellious tribes into a load of pious, law abiding people.
I think it highly unlikely, but if we are so caught up the cloud of our piety and good works for 40 days and 40 nights this Lent, we too can expect our family and friends to feel neglected. And that when we decide to come back down to earth again we may just find that they have gone elsewhere in search of diversion.
Things are different in Lent, although this year with the lighting project in full swing, we will have to do things more simply. But as usual, we will hear one another’s stories in the God at Work sermons on Sundays, some of us will meet to ponder the psalms on Saturday mornings, and we will travel through the week together with simple disciplines to help us pay attention to the small things. Like greeting someone eg thanking the bus driver, saying good morning to the staff in the tube, or at the reception desk. According to the latest survey by the Office for National Statistics Britons are increasingly ignoring their neighbours and relying on social media for human interaction. We can do things differently in Lent,
This year the theme of Christian Aid’s Count your Blessings challenge is climate change. The themes of awareness, repentance, forgiveness, and so on seem massive, but when it comes down to it it’s much more manageable. In these first days, we are asked to give 20p for every tap in our house.
On Monday there was a lecture at St Martin in the Fields. A BBC religious affairs correspondent said afterwards that his questions had been deliberately provocative. He asked if the bishops in the Church of England were a liability – or words to that effect. The vicar said the bishops present an impoverished view of the church. At St Martin’s, he said– which doesn’t just apply to them, we are trying to model communities that reflect the ideals of our faith. What we stand for.
In Lent let us be mindful of modelling what we stand for. Not with our heads in the clouds but with our feet on the ground. Amen.
Sunday 16 February by Alex Norris
Matthew 6: 25-34
This morning’s text covers some fairly significant themes: The pursuit of material gain in relation to how God provides for us AND the relation of our reliance on God to Anxiety and Worry. I also think that the lectionary has placed this reading at an interesting time in the church's year, as we are only a couple of weeks away from the penitential season of Lent.
St Matthew concludes with this advice:
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
This morning, as we near the season Lent, I shall be focussing on Worry.
As William Powell famously said; I highly recommend worrying. It is much more effective than dieting.
A lot has been said about Worry. I hope that my following words will not only bring some theological enlightenment to this sadly common emotion, but I also hope that we can draw some practical advice from St Matthew’s Words.
Worry is an emotion that is an intrinsic part of the human condition. As an entity, it has no respect for age, race, colour, creed or economic circumstance. So, whilst a schoolboy may be worrying about his exam results, it’s a fair bet Her Majesty the Queen may also be worrying about the affairs of state.
Irrespective of who we are, how much money we have or how powerful we are it is a given that we all will have worried at some point in our lives. I suspect that as I stand here before you, we all have worries of our own. I know I certainly do.
I have recently started a new job and have been worrying about how I will fit in with the new team, understand the technology I have never used. Worrying has contributed precisely zero to helping me with any of this.
How does today's reading help us with understanding worry and more importantly how to deal with it? Would it be right for us as Christians just to leave everything up to God, in the hope that it will all come right in the end?
I would suggest that an initial reading of our text from St Matthew hardly provides the practical advice and comfort that a person needs who for example is facing severe economic hardship, or other such imminent calamity.
I believe that St Matthew’s advice is a little more sophisticated than this and that a different reading of the text is needed to glean the advice we need.
The word worry comes from the Greek word merimnao, which literally means drawn in opposite directions or being pulled apart. It’s a destructive word that gives us the image of futility, of doing nothing, of suffering.
There is a distinction that I feel that needs to be made between Worry and Concern.
Concern is where there is a situation and one works to resolve or alleviate it, whereas worrying is fearing about what is going to happen whilst not doing anything about it.
In some schools of thought, Worry is regarded as a sin, because the worrier is abandoning their hope in God, and not trusting in him. As Christians, we believe in an all-loving and benevolent God. Simply put: by worrying we are denying God. This might seem like a very uncompassionate statement to make, but if we put our emotion to one side it can offer some theological clarity to how one should deal with worry.
As a concept worry is time spent in the future. It is easy for us to take on board what may be going to happen tomorrow. It pre-occupies us or draws us apart… today.
We are given some great advice in our reading today, which we would all do well to adopt in our lives. ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow….today's trouble is enough for today.
Or as the expression goes: Do not be afraid of tomorrow; for God is already there.
This though, is probably far easier said than done.
Having concern for things is constructive and leads us to take measures to do all we can to resolve a situation, and where there is nothing more to be done, we need to have the strength of faith to entrust the matter into God's hands.
Worrying does not change anything and in a way, is an expression in our lack of trust in God having things covered. Taking control of a situation before it takes control of us must be better than sitting back, burying one’s head and worrying and hoping it all goes away. And in the instances where that is simply not possible, entrusting it to God is the only constructive thing that one can do. We have to trust in God's plans for us all.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, "There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever."
Slowly changing our attitude to the way we deal with problems will begin to help us free ourselves of the destruction of worry. Leaving tomorrow's problems until tomorrow AND doing all we can out of concern today WHILST entrusting the rest to God is a good start to freeing ourselves from the yoke of worry.
As Jesus asks: Can any one of you, by worrying add a single hour to your life?
With the season of Lent nearly upon us, I know many are turning their thoughts to what is going to be given up or taken up.
There are many admirable things we can do, but maybe we should set ourselves a bigger challenge; To use the period of Lent as a time to start to change our attitude toward worry and to truly reflect on our circumstances differently.
I should be clear here, what I am not saying is that we all simply give up worrying for Lent, as I doubt ceasing worrying can be likened to stopping eating chocolate or giving up drinking for 6 weeks…. it's a far more intrinsic part of our psyche.
However, with prayer, and some time set aside for reflection I think it could help make our lives less stressful, and start to change our way of dealing with issues and problems in our own lives. It would also help us to re-examine our own relationship with God, which as Christians we should be doing during Lent.
God is present with all of us, whatever the situation. Why not try and lay some of our concerns on God. Surely this is one of the purposes of prayer.
I think Mary C Crowley says it best: Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He's going to be up all night anyway.
Maybe it's time for us to do the same.
Today I’d like to finish with a prayer: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Sunday 9 February 3 Before Lent by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 5: 13 -20
When the Worshipful Company of Salters invites you to preach at their annual service held on the second Tuesday after Pentecost – I suggest you do not choose to preach on Matthew 5: 13. You can see their point: a company in existence for over 700 years has potentially heard 700 sermons about being salty. And even salt has its limits. Same old, same old ‘You are the salt of the earth,’ you can see why they are ready for something new. That doesn’t stop the odd rogue preacher telling them that they have to be spicy and add flavour to the world, or that salt is so essential in our diets that the Romans used to be paid in ‘salt money’ ie paid a salary. They – and by now – I have heard it all before, although no-one to my knowledge has spoken about their original proximity to the Worshipful Company of Bakers before the fire of London. Salt for the bread of the world, the Bread of Life.
And all this is very informative – and a bit dull. And although it is contrary to contemporary thinking to make a big thing of salt, at lunches and dinners in the Hall, the salts are prominently placed on the tables. These ornate ciboria of sweet Vendee salt, or pink Himalayan crystals are handed round with a sort of reverence. Our neighbours are not apologetic about salt.
I am less well informed about our other neighbours the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers – they didn’t get their charter till 1484, and lost out on the church candle business at the Reformation. These days they are keener on bees which leaves the way clear for the Tallow Chandlers who were responsible for the street lighting in the City. The nature of salt does not change but the ways of generating artificial light does and the lighting industry is now represented by the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers. Their motto is ’Dominus illuminatio mea et Salus mea’ (The Lord is my light and my help).
We are surrounded by promoters of salt and light in the city. Perhaps we should expect it to be a more Godly place.
Salt and light, salt or light – salt and light function very differently. Salt works when it is not noticed. We’ve cooked something fancy, and it tastes good because salt has enhanced its flavour. We only notice salt in food if there is too much of it. We only notice salt if it is rubbed into the wound because it really hurts. We only notice salt if a path is cleared in the snow. The symbol of salt has a bewildering range of allusions in the bible from Lot’s unfortunate wife to Elijah purifying a poisoned spring with the stuff.
By contrast, light is a more familiar metaphor from the Creator’s ‘Let there be light,’ in Genesis to the city whose light is ‘the glory of God and whose lamp is the Lamb’ in Revelation. Light is the supreme symbol of the divine. If hidden, as Jesus points out, it is of no use to anyone. The teacher tells us we are the light of the world, we are to be visible – registering with those out there as, at night, lamps burning in Jerusalem would make the city visible for miles around. We are not to flee to the safety of invisibility, sometimes it’s so much easier to slip into the shadows and hide. It’s less trouble all round that way.
Tuesday is the 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s – Madib’s - release from Robben Island. He and others did not hide their determination to dismantle the legacy of aparteid by tackling institutionalised racism and by fostering racial reconciliation. That day Mandela was able to walk out of the prison gates and raise his right fist for the first time in 27 years.
We know he was a controversial figure for much of his life. Critics on the right denounced him as a communist terrorist and those on the far-left deemed him too eager to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid's supporters, he gained international acclaim for his activism. His light did shine in the world.
When he was released, he spent the night at Desmond Tutu’s house. ‘When I greeted Archbishop Tutu, I enveloped him in a great hug; here was a man who had inspire an entire nation with his words and with his courage, who had revived the people’s hopes during the darkest of times.’
Light in the darkest times- ‘it was the desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life – sustained it through the winter of imprisonment. That transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving husband to live like a monk.’ Dominus illuminatio mea et Salus mea.
Salt and light. 2 metaphors for the church to be. As salt the church is to be a hidden, but nevertheless vital presence in the world. The symbol of light speaks of the prophetic role of the church. There is no point in her prophets hiding away, no point in her teachers remaining silent, no point to us if we are not seen and heard.
Mandela challenges us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking….We are meant to shine…we were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same……
Sunday 12 January Baptism of Christ 1 Epiphany by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 3: 13 – end
Of all my predecessors, the one I would most like to have tea at the Ritz with is Lancelot Andrewes, Anglican Divine, scholar, linguist, Bishop and Vicar of St Giles’ 1588 – 1604. If his erudition overwhelmed me, we could always discuss sandwich fillings and the decor.
He would be especially useful in preparing today’s sermon as he preached and wrote at length on baptism. Here is the whole Trinity in person, the Son in the water, the Holy Spirit as a dove and God in the voice. The only other time the Trinity appears in the bible – Andrewes reminds us – is at the very beginning, the beginning of creation. There we find God, and the word was God creating, and the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters.’ In the baptism of Christ, we have the new creation.’
The refrain of his sermon to the Court of James 1 in 1615 is that in baptism the ‘Gates of heaven are opened’ ‘And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him.’ In baptism nothing can separate us from the love of God. What follows his baptism is an important stage in Jesus’s setting out on his ministry. After a baptism we might go on to a party, eat nice food and a piece of cake, and back to work on Monday. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus goes straight into the wilderness to understand his vocation before his ministry begins. A question for us about the love of God – those gates opened to heaven – in times of wilderness.
Andrewes wanted to involve the people at every stage of a baptism – although he was a bishop by the time he preached to the Court – he had been among people as a parish priest. The faithful at St Giles’ had helped shape his ministry. Today’s account – Matthew’s – indicates baptism as a private matter - John was the only witness. That’s why Andrewes preferred Luke’s account. ‘Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized.’ His message: Jesus was baptized among the people in the river, not in a basin by himself.’ No special privileges for posh people, no private baptisms in royal chapels.
I don’t know where the font would have been in the church Andrewes knew. In making their improvements, the Victorians placed it between north and south doors, where the organ loft now is. Perhaps the St Luke’s font is in the more original position, to remind us as we come into church of our baptism. Theologically it would make more sense to have the font directly at or by the north door, so we couldn’t miss it. But it be a trip hazard and get in our way and we can’t have that.
A liturgist comments that, ‘Many discussions about baptism ‘policy’ at a local level fail to take into account that baptism is primarily an act of God and a focus for His grace in the future. Jesus did not have to qualify for God’s anointing Spirit. The anointing Spirit was given freely.’
So what do we require locally? What barriers do we put in the way of God’s grace? What qualifications do we require? My Roman Catholic colleague stipulates that one or both of the parents is baptized a Catholic – which, when pressed, he modified to ‘baptised within the Roman Catholic church’ which is more like it. Also, one of the godparents has to be ‘baptised a Catholic’ as he would put it. Baptisms – especially ones with lots of family and friends, happen outside the main Sunday service. So, the family are not made to feel awkward by the Mass.
My Methodist colleague will do 2 for 1 if neither parent is baptised – ie one or both of the parents are baptized with the baby. For her the question is what the impetus is to have the baby baptized when they themselves are not? She feels there is room for exploration and preparation. Baptisms happen in the service on Sunday morning.
I like to think I have a completely open approach – except I don’t. Families we have not met before are invited to come to church on two Sunday mornings before the baptism, and to come back afterwards to the Christingle Service which seems reasonable to me. Common Worship helps me make by point about attendance – I say, that there are words of welcome for everyone to say and we can’t welcome a child we have never met before. Oh yes, I will do the baby…but, and if someone you want to be a godparent is not baptized, they may be sponsor but not a godparent. Baptisms happen on Sunday mornings within the Eucharist even if you do plan to bring 150 guests. I am with Luke here, not in private with Matthew.
It was a Sunday morning and there was a baptism. I was a curate and getting used to the surprising manifestation of the grace of God. The baptism has taken place. The intercessions been offered. We stood for the Peace. All the hand shaking indicated to the baptism party that we had come to the end of the service. They too shook hands and then left. There was a big window onto the street and the clergy could see what was happening. We were singing the offertory hymn and they were having a cigarette before getting into their cars.
On another Sunday morning we were waiting for the baby to arrive with her family and friends. We’d done the visit, filled in the form, the church was set up, but there was no baby, so we had to start the service without them. They didn’t turn up. Perhaps they couldn’t get up in time, suggested my colleague. There was a message during the week, could we do the baptism at their house because it would be easier to video. A few Sundays later they did show up on a Sunday morning and the baby was baptized.
In baptism the gates of heaven are opened and reveal the great mystery that is the grace of God.
Sunday 5 January - Epiphany by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 2: 1 – 12
The God project is hitting the ground – and the visitors have their part to play. On the one hand, the shepherds about their work up on the hillside. They are interrupted by something that frightens them – but not for long. Shepherds are made of sturdy stuff. They are instructed to find the Christ child. They practice their team-building skills – and consult – they said one to another. There is consensus – they will follow these bizarre instructions, no-one has a different idea, no-one says ‘let’s stay here and sleep on it. Better wait for morning.’ They are given the information they need – guesswork is not required - they know their destination. Some of us are happier if we know where we are going, what we are making for. The shepherds followed orders and having seen the child – they made known what had been told them about the child – although no one had suggested they do that. The shepherds followed clear instructions and get where they are supposed to go without mishap.
On the other hand, today’s magi come from the East. Luke’s community could picture a local hillside and put themselves in the story among the shepherds. Matthew’s community are asked to launch themselves into the unknown. The East – the world beyond the Roman Empire, these are visitors from the great gentile beyond. These magi – who in the broader sense of the word could be charlatans and quacks, fairground folk – are not the sort of people who fit easily into holy scripture, or into a known frame of reference.
The travellers saw a star which they knew how to make sense of. Presumably Matthew would allow that there were others who saw the same star, marveled momentarily and went back to eating their supper. ‘Not interested. Too much bother. Leave it to the experts. It’s not for the likes of us.’ The magi have less to go on than the shepherds, they are not told what has happened or where to go. They merely had seen a star at its rising. Matthew implies that the star disappeared after they saw it, and only reappeared after their potentially disastrous visit to Herod. ‘Ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising.’ A lot of this journey is in the dark, this is a far riskier undertaking.
We presume it is their curiosity that motivates them. Why foreigners would want to pay homage to a Jewish king is unexplained. Curiosity seemingly equipped them for their journey and are not afraid of asking for help. ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ They had not done their homework on Herod king of this troublesome region, but their ignorance doesn’t make them cautious or stop them asking.
These enquiries cause a full-scale political crisis – all Herod’s staff are summoned. Rightly so, the birth of Jesus is a threat to worldly thrones and empires. The magi do get to pay homage to the child, they pay attention to a dream that comes upon one or all of them and leave for their country by another road. Mission accomplished.
All they had to go on was a star at the beginning and end of their journey – much of their way was without glittery guidance. Instead it was their initiative, their hunch, their instinct and curiosity that kept them going mile after mile. That, in the end, it would all prove worthwhile. And yet, on the face of it, so very little to go on – and who trusts hunches?
‘Let manger, star and angel choir unhinge us from our sleep and sorrows,’ says the poet. (Vajda) What does it mean to be unhinged by a star?’ It may have something to do with being thrown off-balance, especially when we seem to have lost sight of our star and find ourselves thrown back on our own resources.
At primary school I was on the side of the magi every time – the costumes were so much more interesting than the dressing gowns and tea towels of the shepherds. Crowns and shiny gifts, lengths of old velvet curtain: we could do exotic in Wiltshire. There were those who were different among us, although we did not begin to connect our travellers from the east with the magi of the nativity play and their touch and go journey. Anthony’s family were not like us, his Russian grandmother sat by the fire in the kitchen and drank tea without milk. His father was a furrier. Anthony explained to the class what a furrier was because we didn’t know. Jan’s family had come from Poland. His mother cooked funny food and lots of cabbage. The east was an unknown country that revealed itself in everyday living if only we had recognized it at the time.
There is a search for difference underway in Whitehall. Magi are seen as necessary for new ways of doing things. Star gazers are being invited to apply, described as, ‘Super-talented weirdos.’ The search is on for an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds because, according to a key adviser, it’s time for radical reform. The adviser also requires a personal assistant who will need extreme curiosity and be prepared to give up weekends on a regular basis. The adviser is looking for the brilliant, the troublesome and the innovators.
Fairground folk, not conventional young professionals in suits. This innovative approach may attract annoying people who might not look right or who lack social graces, but if they are loyal and signed up to the project you could not wish for better workers. Time will tell if this wacky approach is worth it.
Magi – a story of travellers who were unhinged by a star and thrown off balance into risky living. A story for all time, a story for now.
Where to visit us:-
St Giles' Cripplegate Church
London EC2Y 8DA
Registered Charity Number 1138077
As we are now in a national lockdown and with a NHS emergency in London there will be no services in church for the time being, but we will be broadcasting a service at 10am on Sundays via our YouTube page here
Sunday 17 January Epiphany 2
Details of Music and Readings here
Please click here if you would like to make a donation.
Join the Virtual Coffee morning at 11am
Click here to join.
08.30 Morning Prayer (Monday to Thursday in the Chancel)
18-25 January - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Ecumenical Service from Wesley’s Chapel
27 January 2021 Home Prayer Group - Lectio Divina 19.30 via Zoom. To join contact Suzanne Royce firstname.lastname@example.org
The church is open for private prayer
The church iremains open from 11.00-16.00 Monday-Friday for private prayer. Please observe social distancing and any other instructions required when visiting the church.
Private Prayer and Reflection on first Thursday of the month
You are invited to join others in church on Thursday 7 January Please bring the monthly prayer sheet here. If you are not able to join us, we hope you will continue to pray with us wherever you are.
Dates for 2021
4 February, 4 March, 1 April, 6 May, 3 June, 1 July, not in August, 2 September, 7 October, 4 November, 2 December.
The monthly sessions on the first Thursday of the month from 13.30-15.30 including tea and cake.- with the current lockdown
Cleaning Angels is suspended until further
Dates in 2021
4 February, 4 March, 1 April, 6 May, 3 June, 1 July, not in August, 2 September, 7 October, 4 November, 2 December.
2021 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30
16 February – Shrove Tuesday Supper*
w/b 3-May Supper*
* in the Rectory at 7.30pm
APCM Sunday 25th. April 2020 incl. PCC Meeting
Parish Office Opening Hours
Tel: 020 7638 1997