Sermons 2021 

17th October 2021 Trinity  20  Dedication Festival by Alex Norris

 

Our readings this morning from Genesis, Peter and John are specially

set for a church's Dedication Festival when we remember the

consecration of this church, and also St Luke’s, which is now home to

LSO on Old Street. The main themes that came to mind from our

readings were: Place, being somewhere, and that somewhere meaning

something, and also Faith, having belief, but without the evidence that

you would normally need. I firmly believe you need these two things for a

consecration, ie the place and the faith in what you are doing.

 

Actually, to be accurate in my title, which lists the churches I am curate

of there is St Bartholomew Moor Lane and St Alphage London Wall and

St Luke Old Street with St Mary Charterhouse and St Paul Clerkenwell

as well as St Giles.

 

I have been told apart from St Giles and St Luke’s the other churches

were permanently redesigned by the Luftwaffe in the second world war,

so there is no building to physically visit, and not to bother

.

Why are these places special?

 

Why are they dedicated to Saints? And Why specifically St Giles and St

Luke?

 

I suspect the stories of the lives of both St Giles and also St Luke have

been told in this church annually since the churches were consecrated.

Their lives are well known to us, St Luke, the more famous of the two,

the physician, author of the third Gospel (count out!) and also the Acts of

the Apostles. Then we have St Giles, who was the patron saint of

Blacksmiths and Lepers, and with the church's location, here by the

cripples gate in the city wall (Not exactly the most PC terminology) it

seems to me a very logical association.

 

And I think this is my first point. The dedication helps with our

understanding of the place. Just think of the space that we are in.

● All of the communions that have celebrated in and around here

● All of the funerals conducted in and around here

● All of the Baptisms celebrated in and around there

● All of the Weddings conducted in and around here

● And let’s not forget all of the books sold more latterly in and around

there! and the cups of coffee and cakes eaten there!

 

All of that witness and history. Those generations of faithful who have

gone before us. All of the now unmarked graves around us, of those

who will have been grieved in this space. More cheerily, all of the

Christmas and Easter celebrations that will have taken place.

 

The walls are literally oozing with history. Every stone has a story to tell,

and every time we come to church we write another chapter of this

never-ending book, this testimony of faith in Jesus, God’s only Son.

 

So when we celebrate our dedication, I think it reminds us of our

dedication to keeping our own faith. One of the many joys of being a

priest is that I get to talk to people about what they do, or do not believe.

It's very interesting, a massive privilege, and sometimes very

challenging, and what I find amazing is how different people’s faiths

actually are, but despite that we all come together, here as a community

to worship, and literally break bread together and celebrate the

sacraments together.

 

In order to do this, we need somewhere to do it. We could go to Cote

and do it, or Iskele, or stand on the Podium and do it, but to me that

would not be sacred, and I am not allowed to do that canonically, anyhow

 

We need our place, and this is it.

 

When I meet visitors here, they will often say, isn’t this a wonderful

church, so beautiful, so much history, all the luminaries….oh look! Two

pipe organs and so on, and yes, they are right. That is the place.

 

However, there is one other thing you need to make the place relevant,

and that is the community, that body of Christ, which is actually the

church.

 

We are the church. This is our dedicated space, and you need both. St

Luke’s is no longer consecrated, it’s a venue, a concert hall, with no

community. That is not a church. Its church shaped, it carries the name,

but it is not consecrated. I remember talking to Mollie Munn, our last

surviving parishioner from St Luke’s and she could remember when St

Luke’s was closed in the 60s. She remembers all the content being

literally carried down the road.

 

The Organ is from St Luke’s, as is that Altar and the Font.

 

So having a dedication to a space is a special, and very powerful thing.

Consecration doesn’t fade or ‘go off’ over time. This church was

consecrated in around 1090. It is as consecrated today as then, it shines

brightly with the image of St Giles. We carry the memory of St Luke, the

building, which is now de-consecrated. That witness carries on in this

space too. His dedication lives here now too. It’s all very powerful stuff.

 

Finally, Angels. I love Angels. They are God’s messengers and just as

Jacob saw them in his dream (as we heard in our reading from Genesis)

famously known as Jacob’s ladder, so we can see them here (point to

the Altar). I could talk endlessly about Angels, their purpose, meaning,

what they do and where they are, or whether they are; but that aside, I

believe the faithful host of Angels is with us when we celebrate

communion, in this place. As Jacob said, through his experience of the

Angels in his dream, ‘The Lord is in this place’ and I would say the same

of here (point).

 

As we come into this space, here together, let’s think of the Archangels,

of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, the heavenly host, as they with Luke

and Giles and all the saints, witness to our life faith here in St Giles.

Amen.

Sunday 29 September Trinity 17 by Fr Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London

 

Numbers 11.4-6,10-16,24-29; James 5.13-20; Mark 9.38-50

Mark 9:49 For everyone will be salted with fire.

 

I always think of S Giles as a rather jolly place. But quite a lot of the people associated with the church are really quite dour. I knew about John Milton: Paradise Lost is wonderful, but certainly a serious book. So also is the Pilgrim’s Progress of John Bunyan. And I also knew about Oliver Cromwell and his association with the church. I'm sure he could be jolly, but he has hardly gone down in history as a barrel of laughs. Then I looked up a few other people associated with St. Giles. Lancelot Andrews was great and holy, but serious, and of course John Foxe, whose Book of Martyrs was such an important part of the polemic of the Reformation had a very serious matter in hand. I had not heard however of John Field, who was Fr Alex’s predecessor as curate here and became a leading Puritan who was sent to prison for opposing the Book of Common Prayer as too popish.

 

So in some ways St Giles is a centre of the seriousness of religion. I am sure those who I have mentioned would have pointed to today's gospel with its strong call to take seriously the commandments of the faith. If your eye causes it causes you to sin pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sit and cut it off. Everyone will be salted with fire.

 

How do we approach the seriousness of the faith? We tend to play down the calls to take our faith with grave seriousness. Surely the God of love is not a God who salts us with fire, but whose infinite mercy reaches out to us and to others with salvation? Fire and brimstone salting with fire – that is surely not for us? But it is what Jesus seems to be saying? How do we approach this stuff, and what does it mean for us? I guess we would not want our new Rector to be a fire and brimstone preacher? But should we? Is it just for long ago that Everyone will be salted with fire?

 

What we cannot get away from is that salvation is a matter quite literally of life and death; it is what is says on the tin: salvation. We are born; we live; we die. Without salvation our state is desperate; our existence meaningless. And more than that, we are fallen. The doctrine of the fall and of original sin is obvious to us all. Left to ourselves we are selfish, murderous, warlike and dire. Our hands, feet, eyes lead us into sin all the time. Just look at how long it took us to take the internet and turn that into a cesspit of evil and then try to say that the fall is not a grim reality. It is only after all what S John says: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Whoops, your Puritan past is getting to me and I am becoming all fire and brimstone.

 

But while the message of today’s readings is that we should be taking it all seriously, there is something else. Salvation is so necessary, so serious, so important, that God offers it both to and through the church.

 

The disciples saw someone who was not one of them casting out devils, and the Lord said “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” The power of the Lord is not constrained by His church. Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp when the Spirit of the Lord fell on the prophets whom Moses and Aaron had gathered at the Tent of Meeting. Joshua wanted to stop them, but Moses recognised that grace is not constrained: we must do what the Lord has told us. We will be salted with fire; if your hand causes you to sin cut it off; but that does not stop the Lord using the hands of others, the feet of others to do His work. Anyone who gives one of the followers of the Lord a cup of water in your need will not lose their reward.

 

There is a powerful example of this principle in a prayer found on a scrap of paper in Ravensburg concentration camp after its liberation.

 

“O Lord, remember,

not only the men and women of good will,

but also those of ill will. 

But do not remember all the suffering

they have inflicted on us; 

remember the fruits we have borne,

thanks to this suffering: 

our comradeship, our loyalty,

our humility,

our courage, our generosity,

the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this,

and when they come to judgement,

let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.”

 

To which one can only apply the words of the letter of S James: The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Even those who are evil will be salted by fire; and that purgation may in God’s grace lead the tax gatherers and sinners into heaven before the righteous.

 

Salvation is too serious a business for us to ignore the fact that we need it, but God is the one who is getting on with the act of salvation, and we simply cooperate with His grace. The serious thing is that He is working in our church so that we may be the means through which He saves the world. He works through our worship and study and prayer; it will partly be through all our activities; the book fairs and concerts, the music and the arts; it will partly be through our chaplaincy to school and Barbican Centre, to the homeless and those in need round about. And that means we take all that gravely seriously. But He also works through the way in which people touch the church for good and for ill. And above all it will be through Christ working in us to deepen us in holiness and service of Him. So to His worship and service let us once again now turn.

Sunday 29 August Trinity 13 by Paula Hollinsworth

Chaplain, St Paul’s Cathedral

 

Deuteronomy 4: 1 -2, 6 – 9; James 1: 17 – end;

Mark 7:1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23

 

How hard, how agonising, has been the news from Afghanistan this week!

What will life be like for women, men and children there after the last planes leave and they are left behind?

 

Our hearts bleed particularly for those who have worked for western forces or for the old political regime, and for women and girls who have experienced 20 years of opportunities for work and education which they expect to be denied them now.

 

Soon the Taliban will have fully occupied the land and it is hard to find hope, hard to see the Kingdom of God in what is happening there.

 

I don’t have any answers, but I want to offer a reflection, which began for me with the realisation that our first reading today, from Deuteronomy, is about an occupation by force of a land, an occupation that we are invited to see as an act of God, inviting our support for the occupiers. How are we to make sense of that?

 

I find it helpful sometimes to look at the whole sweep on the Biblical story, which I see as a development in people’s understanding of who God is and how we are to live as his people. The Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament are set against the backdrop of waxing and waning Middle Eastern Empires where violence is the expected norm of life for most people.

 

After the stories of creation, the Biblical story focuses on one man, Abraham, whom God, or Yahweh as he is called in the Hebrew, has called and chosen. Most people at this time believe that there are many gods, who need to be placated and cajoled by the people – Yahweh claims to be the only God, and a God who wants to form a relationship with people – that was a unique understanding at the time, something completely new.

 

Abraham becomes a family and them a nation – a people whom Yahweh or God cared for and chose – again a radical understanding, that a god might care for his people.

 

Eventually this people end up as slaves in Egypt, they cry to God – and he hears and responds to their distress and rescues them – the idea that God would intervene for his people is a very new understanding.

 

Within the understanding of the time, Yahweh needs to be seen as more powerful than other gods – so he enables his people to win victories, to conquer the land of Canaan and to kill their enemies.

 

Before that Yahweh had led his people through the wilderness – and given them the 10 commandments – that their God cares about how they live in relationship to each other and about their morals and values is again a new understanding.

 

And so, in our first reading the questions are asked:

‘What other nation has a God so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?’

 

At this time there is no understanding of life after death – reward and punishment have to be in this life only 

 

Theological questions arise – God rewards the good in this life and punishes the bad seems to be the established teaching – but that doesn’t match with people’s experience – that simplistic understanding questioned in Psalms and book of Job. There are many questions in the Old Testament – why? How long? Is that fair? It is through asking questions that over the centuries people’s understanding changes.

 

As they settle in their land, the people ask - are they going to have a king? God is their king. But they want a king to be like other nations

 

And these kings of Israel – they so often become corrupted and fail to follow God – the country is divided by civil war and taken over by emerging empires Assyria and Babylon, and people begin to ask ‘Is God still on our side? Are we still his chosen people when we do so much that is wrong and are so punished?’

 

New understanding begins to emerge – a righteous few who do remain faithful to God amidst all the upheavals, a righteous remnant, God will stay faithful to them – lots of our well-loved Advent Biblical readings are about God’s promises to this faithful remnant - and that he would find a way to save them, and in time there grew the understanding of the promised Messiah

 

Jesus came talking about the Kingdom, it was no longer a physical kingdom like the land of Israel, but a spiritual kingdom – a kingdom not just for this world, but also for world to come; a kingdom not just for one people group, but that all people are chosen and called. And though some texts in the past had spoken as God as a loving God, Jesus came to show us by word and action that God is love – love that is self-sacrificial, that puts the other first. Our epistle and Gospel readings today call upon us to open our hearts to God’s self-giving love to us, so that we are transformed inwardly and live out that love in the world.

 

How has the Church fared over 2000 years of history seeking to follow and live out Jesus’ message? There have been periods of great corruption, inquisition and greed, but we are still here…

 

Some of the understandings that you and I might see today as Gospel values, such as gender and racial equality, have only been really realised in the last few decades in the Western Church. Many of us feel that parts of our society are ahead of the church as an institution in our understanding of justice in the way that we treat other people and our environment. There is so much we still need to understand about who God is and how we are to live as his people.

 

But we are still here, the faithful remnant perhaps. We need to keep asking questions so that our understanding can continue to grow and develop. We need to stay faithful and to keep on loving. And to pray, as generations before us have prayed: Lord have mercy. Thy Kingdom come.

 

For there is still part of the Biblical story, which is not yet complete.

 

The Biblical story began in Genesis with creation, and ends at the end of the book of Revelation with re - creation – the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, the promise that death will be no more, that mourning and crying and pain will come to an end.

 

For the people of Afghanistan, and for ourselves, let us not give up hope as we pray ‘Lord have mercy’.

 

We are called to continue to stay loving and faithful; and to pray for others and ourselves:  ‘Thy Kingdom come’.

Sunday 22 August Trinity 12 by George Bush

Rector of St Mary-le-Bow  

 

Bread of Heaven

 

Queen Marie Antoinette the hated anti- heroine of the French Revolution is famous for her disdain, and for saying of the poor in their hunger and lack of bread, ‘let them eat cake.’ It is in fact probably wrongly attributed to the Queen, but it is a cruel and indifferent assault on those who have little. By ‘cake’ was meant ‘brioche’ which, with added egg, was only available to the pampered and the rich. Bread has been the touchstone of countless rebellions and revolutions – its price or scarcity the root of protest. And as a staple - few of us will not eat some form of bread each day – it is both a metaphor of God’s care for us and it has been transformed into a sacramental sign.

 

We have just heard from St John’s Gospel – the only one of the four Gospels in which there is no narrative of the bread and wine at the last supper, which in the other three Gospels was clearly the Passover meal. Instead in John we get the washing of the feet of the disciples; but we also get this self-description of Jesus as the ‘Bread of Heaven’. The Passover is the annual Jewish commemoration of the flight of the Hebrew people from their slavery in Egypt. There would have been many things on the table in front of Jesus and his friends to remind them of the bitterness of slavery and especially of course a slaughtered lamb to recall the blood which was smeared on their doors to alert the angel of the Lord in striking down the first born of the Egyptians only. But there would also have been bread – without the leaven added, like the bread we use at Mass today; bread that the fleeing Hebrews had had to grab before they had the chance properly to prepare it – bread for a journey as it were.

 

Later of course in their wilderness wanderings after their escape through the Red Sea, the Hebrews were sustained by Manna (literally ‘what is it’) which appeared daily as a fine coating on the ground which the people could collect, grind and turn into cakes; it was said to taste like wafers made with honey. And lest they found the diet intolerable the Lord showered quail upon them – a little seven-inch bird with enough meat on two breasts for one person. As such the story of manna and quail has been in Christian tradition a type of the Eucharist; the food that God gives by way of reassurance for a journey without end.

 

Some have taken this with peculiar literalness and have attempted to survive on the elements of the eucharist (eating nothing but the bread and the wine)– and should have been unsurprised to be struck down with a nasty dose of scurvy. But the notion was well intentioned – Christians are called to acknowledge the presence of Jesus in bread and wine as a token of his pledge that he will indeed be with us for ever. Not the pledge of a written contract, a designed covenant; but of one who is known in the things we rely upon for life – food and drink. As one theologian has written, ‘We should never be afraid of our needs’. In a sense they describe God’s love.

 

And the absence of bread is often enough a shorthand for hunger which drew forth from Jesus’ miracles of feeding which themselves suggested the messianic banquet which was the sign that God’s love would be brought to completion. This eucharist is more than halfway there.

 

Seemingly only 7 out of 10 American Roman Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Eucharist – which has led the bishops of that Church to begin a major teaching drive to assert that truth (and incidentally to wallop the very devout President Biden who almost certainly believes the truth). I dread to think how a similar survey in the Church of England would run. Most apparently believe the consecrated bread and wine is merely a symbol of Christ’s presence with us; eschewing the logical view of one theologian favoured by me that the symbol must participate in the reality is symbolises. Nothing is just a symbol of something else surely? If it fails as a symbol it can only be a fantasy. Or as Queen Elizabeth the First succinctly proposed (though I acknowledge she may not have meant by this quite what I conclude she meant). ‘Twas God the Word that spake it, He took the Bread and brake it: And what that Word did make it, That I believe and take it’.

Sunday 15th August Trinity 11 by Alex Norris

 

In our reading from Ephesians this morning we are warned to ‘be careful

then how we live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of

the time, because the days are evil’.

 

I found it curious that the days should be counted as evil. How could a

unit of time be counted as something good or bad? It’s just 24hrs, a

quick spin of planet earth.

 

It strikes me that it’s not the actual day, but what can take place during

this time that can be evil. Time carries on regardless, the time

continuum, plodding along second by second, unstoppable, irreversible,

possibly travelable, but that opens up a whole new can of quantum

worms, and not for now, or yesterday, but possibly tomorrow.

 

How do we fill our days? Are we people of leisure? Do we work long

hours, or have a healthy work life balance, or have we done our time and

now spend our times retired?

 

One expression I hate is ‘killing time’, used when people are waiting for

something to happen and trying to make the time pass.

 

Something I have come to value is how we look at time, how much each

of us has. Having spent time with people who are coming to the end of

their lives, something that has always come up has been time.

 

I have always had the opinion that what is unique about time is that none

of us here knows how much of it we have, we might have an

approximate idea, nothing concrete. It’s the beauty of life, but the

corollary of this is that every minute is precious, to be valued, because of

this uncertainty.

 

If we look at it in monetary terms, it’s like having a wallet that you have

all your money in, but you cannot ever know how much cash is in there,

and you never know if your next tenner you take out of it will be your last,

how do you value each tenner?

 

Because of this, our advice from Paul is simple, don’t waste your days.

‘Make the most of time’ says Paul. Salient advice.

 

This does not mean we must work ourselves flat out, or exercise all the

time, or be doing something all of the time; there is immense value to

resting, to relaxing, unwinding.

 

One of the biggest casualties of the Sunday Trading laws is that it has

removed that opportunity for families to rest on the weekend. Those

families who work in hospitality have to treat Sundays as any other

working day, and because all of the shops are now open, they have

become a recreational activity for everyone else.

Whereas we might have said, ‘I’m going shopping’ and when asked what

for, ‘well I need to get X,Y and Z’ now it’s more, ‘nothing really, just going

to have a look round’ and in my mind this change in attitude has driven

the credit card debt in this country to extraordinary proportions; currently

£195Bn.

 

So, when we are considering our days and how we spend our time,

having down time is to be valued and cherished. It seems all the harder

to carve out this time, but that aside, it still remains important for us. We

have to look after ourselves. As many of you will know, we have a parish

retreat this September, just for a few days, when we can relax, do

nothing in particular, worship together, read books, snooze, whatever!

 

This is making the most of time, helping to restore ourselves physically if

not spiritually, all good stuff.

 

The concept of time is really complex, and especially when discussed in

relation to God. God is infinite, without time, unchanging, eternal, no

beginning and no end. Our world is finite, it has a beginning and will

have an end, and looking at the news, unless some drastic action is

taken it may be sooner than we all think. God created time, and us within

it. He sent his son, who in his short life (I am sure) did not waste a day.

Jesus would retire to the mountains, seek solace, just as we all like to, to

refresh ourselves and rest. Jesus was fully human, so he experienced

fatigue and exhaustion just like any of us, so his example is authentic for

all of us.

 

All of this does raise question as to what counts as wasting our days? In

short, doing evil, not living up to our values. Spending time being

dishonest, committing evil acts, all things to be avoided. Why spend time

doing bad things, when we can do good instead? It sounds simplistic,

but focussing on living well, and making most of the time we have, and

living to the greater glory of God, which as Christians we all strive to do

is central to our witness as Christians.

 

So when we come to think of how we spend our days, such as what we

will be doing this afternoon after church, I would suggest that it’s not so

much a quantitative argument but a qualitative one; in simple terms, our

time is not our own, it’s God’ and only God knows how much he is giving

to us, so however much we have, we need to make it count. Every

second of it.

 

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to hear the hilarious Leslie Nielsen

at the Oxford Union, and he was talking about his life when he was not

filming Police Squad or The Naked Gun films, and he said he would do

nothing, but the only problem with doing nothing is that you don’t know

when you’ve finished!

 

May we all value our days and the times we have had and the time we

have and cherish it, and use it wisely for all the wonderful things that we

can do. As the great C. S Lewis said, ‘The future is something which

everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever one

does, whoever one is’.

 

So let us not waste a minute.                    Amen

Sunday 8th August Trinity 10 by Alex Norris

 

I have chosen as my text this morning, a sentence from our reading from

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, a seemingly quite innocuous instruction

for us all to live by; and simple enough to understand, ‘Putting away

falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are

members of one another.

 

Do we always tell the truth? Do we always tell the truth to our

neighbours, which basically means anyone that we come across? As

Oscar Wilde said, ‘The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never

simple’. As Pontius Pilate said, ‘what is truth?’

 

There seem to be more questions than answers around all of this.

 

If of course we don’t always tell the truth, then this would imply that we

sometimes lie. But are all lies as bad as each other. You may have heard

the term ‘white lie’, it’s like an innocent lie, trivial, usually told to avoid

hurting someone’s feelings, ‘this meal is delicious’, ‘I just love that outfit’,

‘you preach a good sermon vicar!’. I am sure we are all guilty of that

(well not the Sermon one I hope).

 

It all seems to get rather complex and tricky, and a bit of moral maze.

Paul, alas leaves us in a bit of a quandary with this as he doesn’t then

unpack this anymore, as if it is an absolute, as the other examples he

gives, such as thieves giving up stealing etc…

 

So where do we draw the line?

 

Many people comment on the world of politics and politicians and their

relationship with the truth, recently in the press there has been

discussion around Boris Johnson, and I quote, ‘History tells us that

Johnson is not the first PM to have a causal relationship with the

empirical world’, the author of the book ‘Born Liars’, Ian Leslie, said it

was more accurate to accuse Johnson of a “kind of slipperiness” than of

actual lying. So here we go into even further distinctions.

 

When do we lie? Leslie says that lying requires intent, he says. “It’s what

the Jesuits call equivocation.” So, we really need to be meaning to

mislead someone, be it lying in court, or to a loved one. Wherever we

look there seems to be the risk of lies, ‘Fake News’ a relatively new term,

used heavily by Donald Trump, who himself has been accused of lying

about pretty much everything. And then there is misleading Advertising

and so on.

 

So, let’s go back to Pontius Pilate's Questions, ‘what is truth?’, this is in

response to Jesus’ claim that he is "witness to the truth". More on that

later.

 

Do we know what the truth is? Is it objective? Is what I think the truth is

the same as what you think the truth is? If we get it wrong, albeit

accidentally are we lying, or just mistaken, or both? I seem to be creating

even more questions as I go along here.

 

I think we all would agree that we need truth, so we can function as a

community. If everyone was lying all of the time, we would never

manage to arrange or sort anything, or function. Additionally, if we

always told the `100% truth all of the time, so back to our, ‘yes the meal

is lovely thanks’ or ‘ that’s a lovely outfit’ etc… then we would also be in

trouble. So it strikes me that you need balance in life as to how you

juggle this very complex aspect of our social existence. We do not get

much help from our text this morning, and if we look at the example of

Jesus, then he is never described as lying in any of the Gospel

accounts.

 

So, what should we do?

 

It is clear to me that telling the truth is an essential part of our lives and

witnesses as Christians, it is demanded by society, but that there are

shades to this statement, it’s not binary.

 

It is my belief that we all have our own tolerances around this, and that

we individually know when what we are doing is acceptable or not, and I

suspect that this is what most of us do at the moment, so maybe not

being completely truthful to not hurt the feelings of someone you care

about would probably not cause you angst, but telling a complete untruth

to someone, such as in a court of law would probably set the alarm bells

ringing.

 

And this is where I bring in Lie Detectors. These machines detect

physiological changes in the human body. When we lie, we start to

sweat more, our heart may beat more quickly, and we may breathe more

quickly, three key areas that are affected by lying.

 

I would argue that the lies we tell that cause this reaction within us, are

the ones are own bodies are indicating that we should not be telling. I

would suspect that not being completely truthful about that present you

receive which you really do not like would not factor in this, but more

importantly, would not be something Paul would have had in mind when

he wrote these words in his letter to the Ephesians.

 

God is truth (this of course answers Pilate’s question earlier) and

anything contrary to truth is against God. However, I think our friend

Luther gives us some good, well-balanced advice, which I hope you find

as useful as I did when I came upon it.

 

Luther defended "a good hearty lie for the sake of the good and for the

Christian Church, a lie in case of necessity, a useful lie." Such lies, he

said, "would not be against God."            Amen.

Sunday 1 August Trinity 9 by Alex Norris 

 

What’s your favourite meal, whether at home or in a restaurant?

Hopefully you are picturing that meal now. For me, it would have to

involve a Fillet Steak, French fries, not chips, those lovely narrow ones,

creamed spinach, then a Tiramisu, and if we are talking about starters,

then, shamefully, Foie Gras would have to be the dish, or failing that

Steak Tartare with an egg on top, and plenty of Lea and Perrins…

 

If there are any Vegetarians or Vegans amongst us please accept my

apologies!

 

Whatever the meal you have thought of, I think we would all agree, that

we can eat it, with friends, or alone, at home, in a restaurant, and be

guaranteed that the next day, you will be hungry again. Food only

satisfies us for so long, irrespective of how much you eat or what you

eat. It can be recreational, eating out in restaurants, it can be your

profession, creating wonderful dishes, or it can be purely functional,

providing you with energy to keep you running for the next few hours.

 

Our readings today also talk about food, and you might now be seeing a

theme around food in our readings, and there is more to come over the

next few weeks.

 

In our reading from Exodus, we hear how the Israelites were fed whilst in

the wilderness, as they had nothing to eat in the desert. God provided

food at the start of the day (Manna from heaven) which came down over

night, and then Quails in the evening. Again, this food would satisfy

hunger and give the Israelites the energy and means to survive their

lengthy ordeal in the desert, without God’s help they would have all

surely perished in the sands.

 

Our New Testament readings move us from considering the physical to

thinking about the spiritual, and in our Gospel reading, the theme of food

remains, but draws an important comparison. The Gospel refers back to

the food that God gave to the Israelites in the wilderness, and makes the

distinction that this food perishes. (You may remember that the Manna

could be gathered up and eaten but if stored overnight it would be full of

maggots and have to be thrown away by morning). Then Jesus tells us

about a different food, also from God, ‘it is my Father who gives you the

true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down

from heaven and gives life to the world’.

 

This bread is different, it feeds us spiritually, As Jesus says, ‘Whoever

comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never

be thirsty’. This of course is not physical food, this is Christ himself, who

came to live among us and die for all of our sins. No wonder the

Disciples said, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.

 

Shortly we will be coming to the altar to share in this bread, a physical

manifestation of what we have been talking about above. Eucharistic

theology gets rather complicated about what exactly is being received,

depending on whether you are Anglican, Catholic, Methodist etc… You may

have heard the terms Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation which are

terms which refer to what happens to the bread and wine on the Altar

when they are consecrated. Whatever the school of thought, I think it

important to remember that when we come to the Altar to receive

communion, we are remembering that Last Supper, where Christ was

with his friends, eating and drinking together, just as we do with others,

whether at home or in a restaurant or outside having a picnic, for that

matter.

 

Jesus’ words of institution give us all pause for thought, as their meaning

is so powerful, and the Last Supper is regarded by some as one of the

most important points in human history.

 

Christ is laying out for us his sacrifice, likening his Body and Blood to

Bread and Wine, such common foodstuffs at this time.

 

As we come to the Altar shortly to receive our communion, I ask that we

all think afresh upon what it is that we are receiving, and what this

means to us, thanking God for all that he has done and continues to do

for us, for the spiritual strength that he gives us, and for all that Jesus,

his Son, has given for us.

 

We should also think about the physical food that we all eat today, and

again, be grateful to God for that. Through the pandemic, in this country

we have had an inkling of what it feels like to have issues obtaining food

and other essentials, down to supply chain issues caused by panic

buying. As Christians we have a duty to care for God’s creation and it is

through His creation that we have this food to eat.

 

I am still saddened that we have to support food banks in this country

because there are those who are going hungry, and missing meals

through financial hardship, when there is enough food in this country for

everyone to eat.

 

Whether through our caring for creation, or supporting Food Banks and

feeding those who are in poverty, these are some ways in which we can

meet our duty as Christians. I have quoted some of these figures before,

but am quoting them again, as I think they need to be said again in this

context.

 

The Church of England as a whole, of which we are just one small part

has provided 8,000 food banks, 5,000 lunch clubs or coffee mornings,

2,700 community cafes, 2,300 breakfast or holiday clubs for children,

19,000 individual projects which all provide food in one form or another

to those who need it. This is tangible practical support for those who

need it in our community.

 

And whilst this is so important and to be applauded, I cannot stress

enough the importance of our Sacramental life as well, of coming here,

to be together, to share in Communion, to share in the bread and wine,

the Body of Blood of Christ, as this, unlike our day-to-day food, will give

us eternal life.

Amen.

Sunday 25 July Trinity 8 by Alex Norris

 

This morning’s readings are jam packed full of rich imagery, the Gospel

reading alone gives us two miracles for the price of one, not only do we

hear the famous account of the feeding of the five thousand from just a

few loaves and fish, but we also hear of Jesus walking on the water; two

of the most iconic miracles in the Bible.

 

One theme that I think runs through our readings is that of fellowship,

that coming together, just as we have this morning, to be together. Both

of the miracles in the Gospel reading came about because of Jesus’

popularity, drawing people from afar to come and see him, to hear him,

to just be in his presence. If you remember from last week's readings,

people were straining to merely touch the fringe of his cloak so that they

may be healed. Jesus was more than just a good orator, a great

presence (very human attributes) he was more than this, he was divine,

and this enabled him to affect people in ways that mere mortals simply

were not able to do.

 

I suppose the only way we can relate to this today is to think of one of

the megastars of our time, or royalty.

 

When one of these people are out and about they are heavily guarded,

with crowd management measures in place to ensure nobody gets hurt.

If it is at a concert such as in Hyde Park or the O2, the catering is laid on

for all of those present, so everyone can enjoy themselves.

 

Jesus did not have this support, all he could realistically do when being

threatened by a crowd was to steal himself away to safety. But there we

have it, in current parlance Christ was a superstar of his time, someone

people craved to see for themselves, had to see for themselves.

Both of these miracles we hear of this morning are as a consequence of

this popularity, not something that caused the popularity. And in thinking

more widely of Jesus’s actions, especially concerning his miracles, they

more often than not come about through a third party, in the case of the

feeding of the five thousand, the crowd who had gathered needed

feeding, and this was the only practical way of doing that; his walking on

water was a consequence of Jesus taking himself off away from the

crowds, then coming to his disciples on the lake.

 

Interestingly there are two distinct miracles which involve the feeding of

the multitude, and between these two separate miracles they are

covered in all four Gospels. Some scholars believe that it was more like

15-20,000 people who were fed.

 

What message are we to take from these miracles? I think primarily,

when we consider the feeding miracles we should use this as a means

of understanding that God is compassionate and also able to feed us in

abundance, not just physically, through food and drink, as he does here,

and did in the Old Testament, when the Israelites were in the desert and

God gave them Manna to eat, but also spiritually, through Jesus. This

miracle always reminds me of the line of the Lord’s prayer, ‘give us today

our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, or sins, depending on

which version you are used to. God provides.

 

This morning we will come to the altar to eat the bread, and for those

who wish to, to drink the wine (for the first time in over 16 months)

Jesus, body and blood, shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Christ

continues to feed us, through God’s abundance, and selfless love when

he gave his only son for our sins.

 

When we read of the miracles in the Bible, I know it is easy to get hung

up on the practicalities, of did that really happen? Could that have

happened? Is it just myth or allegory, or some other imagery? Whether it

is walking on water or feeding people, turning water into wine, or Christ’s

own resurrection, as Christians I believe that we should not get hung up

on this level of detail, ultimately these are part of the mystery of God,

and instead of trying to debunk it as nothing more than a clever parlour

trick, to find out how it is done, I think we need to remember the

accounts of these miracles, and more importantly understand what they

really mean for each of us, sat here to today, in the Barbican, with all

that’s going on in the world. What can we draw from this?

 

When I think of Jesus walking on the water, and if you remember in other

accounts he calms the storm, his poor disciples were scared beyond

measure at all that was going on. But as I think of what Jesus did here,

he weathered the storm, against all odds and came to his faithful and

protected them against all peril, and I believe that God will do that for us

too.

 

There is a lot of debate about why can there be evil in the world if there

is an all loving God, and generally when I am asked, its because

someone has endured great suffering or loss, and wants to know how an

loving God could let this happen to them or a loved one, and quite

frankly presenting an academically valid argument (Known as Theodicy)

to satisfy this argument is futile, as once all has been said and done, that

person you are talking to is still hurting, still suffering that loss, and still

feeling abandoned by God.

 

It is my belief that God is always there for us, even when we think he is

not, thinking of the many evil things we see which we cannot

understand. In the end we just have to rely on our faith, having that trust

in him to be there for us all, just as Jesus was for his disciples in the

storm, just as Jesus was for those poor hungry people in the desert, and

just as Jesus was for those numerous people who were ailing, or who

had lost loved ones that he brought back to them.

Amen.

Sunday 11 July Trinity 6

Sea Sunday and Godparent Sunday

Parish Eucharist by Alex Norris

 

‘Repent for the end of the world is nigh’

 

I am sure many here will have the image (in black and white) of the guy

wearing a sandwich board with those immortal words painted on both

sides, stood on a busy New York Street or some such similar place back

in the 1930s.

 

Living in London, we must have at one time, or another seen something

similar, maybe a person stood at Oxford Circus or some such similar

place telling you to repent for your sins, and to follow Jesus.

 

I always remember a guy at Oxford Circus, probably around 2005/6 who

had a very powerful sound system and his strapline (In a heavy

Liverpudlian accent, which I am not even going to attempt!)

 

‘Don't be a sinner, be a winner’

 

He was an interesting fellow, called Phil Howard and I subsequently read

he was served an ASBO by Westminster Council for public nuisance. I

also remember at the time something along the lines that he was a

former Kit Kat salesman from Liverpool, you really couldn’t make it up.

1Here was a man who had felt the call, and decided to act on it in the

most practical way he could think of, whether on Oxford Street or at an

Arsenal match, cursing fans, or outside Wembley Arena telling gig-goers

that "Jesus was the original Manic Street Preacher". He was not afraid to

blast his message at anyone who would listen, whatever the

consequences. In my research of him, some of the quotes from street

vendors and the like were virtually unprintable, let alone quotable in a

Sermon!

 

What he did undoubtedly annoyed many, inspired some and drove

others to derision, but to him, he felt he was following the call of Jesus,

and I suspect he took to heart Jesus’ advice for unwelcoming audiences,

which Phil was more than used to, ‘If any place will not welcome you and

they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your

feet as a testimony against them’. These verses are just prior to this

morning’s reading from Mark’s Gospel.

 

Today’s Gospel reading starts at a rather strange place, ‘King Herod

heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known’. What was the ‘It’ that

was being referred to here? In order to really understand this reading, we

need to know this.

 

In the preceding verses Jesus has instructed his apostles, sending them

out in pairs to go out and teach, to cast out demons, asking for people to

repent and also curing the sick by anointing them with oil, and it was this

call that our Sandwich Board man was observing in his own way.

 

Even though the name of Jesus was becoming known (Jesus was

crucified sometime after John the Baptist was executed) Herod was

convinced that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead, having

had him killed at the behest of Herodias’ Daughter, when asking what

she wanted, saying, ‘The head of John the Baptist’. This famous, yet

gruesome story, called Salome (the daughters name) is featured in the

arts through opera, poetry, plays, music and film and sculpture, to name

a few.

 

In short, according to Mark's Gospel, Herodias bore a grudge against

John for stating that Herod's marriage to her was unlawful, and this was

ultimately the cause of his death.

 

Throughout the New Testament we read of brave people being

persecuted for preaching the Gospel. John the Baptiser was known

because of all that he did, and for standing by his principles, his being

outspoken about Herod’s marriage was the last straw.

 

I thought I would check how many of the apostles were martyred, just to

get a gauge on the risks they ran for their calling, and as you would

expect there is a lot of debate around this. Some say that only one

apostle actually died of old age. Feel free to Google it, it’s not a cheery

read I’m afraid.

 

So, whether in ancient Palestine or on Oxford Circus, people have heard

the call to preach the Good News of the Gospel and respond in the way

that they think is best all over the world, and many have paid the ultimate

price for it, poor old Phil was assaulted many times for what he was

saying, but in comparison to what many of the apostles faced this was

nothing, and I am sure he would say the same.

 

This Sunday is also known as Sea Sunday and Godparent Sunday (in

the Church of England) and in reflecting on this in the light of our Gospel

reading today it further highlights the theme of going out and teaching.

Godparents are charged to pray for their God Children and help them

take their place in the church, it's quite an evangelical role they take on

for the church, helping bring the child up in the faith.

 

Whilst on this Sea Sunday we give thanks for those on the sea and the

all work that they do, the risks that they take, and also remembering the

sacrifice that their families also make, with loved ones away months at a

time, exposed to significant danger. This is supported by various

organisations across the globe who work to teach the Good News to

those whose work involves the sea, a massive, worldwide undertaking.

 

So, as we remember all those who preach and teach the faith, especially

on this Sea Sunday and Godparents Sunday, let us remember those

who have gone before us in the faith preaching the Good News. May we

all respond to this call, in our own lives, and bear witness to the love of

Christ for all.     Amen.

 

Choral Evensong by Alex Norris

 

So, there is the story of the man who fell overboard in the middle of the

ocean, miles from the coast, and was splashing around in the water.

Seeing the commotion, a ferry comes along and tries offers help to the

drowning man, and he says, he does not need any help as God will save

him. A little later a Coastguard Helicopter spots him and comes down

and offers help and again he says, he does not need any help as God

will save him. A little later, as the man is really getting into trouble a

lifeboat sails by and he says that he does not need any help as God

would save him, and alas shortly afterwards he drowns and dies.

 

He then finds himself at the pearly gates and says to God, why didn’t

you save me? And God said, well I sent you a ferry, a helicopter and a

lifeboat and you turned them all down!

 

Today is Sea Sunday, and our second lesson from Romans reminds us

of the large amount of travel Paul did spreading the Gospel. A lot of his

travel was at sea, which was very perilous then, as it is today, and as our little joke reminds us.

 

Paul travelled 10,000 miles by foot, let alone his numerous travels

around the Mediterranean by boat, and during this time he spread the

faith to thousands of people, as he said in our reading earlier, ‘Yea I

have strived to preach the Gospel’.

 

Today, this Sea Sunday, various organisations work to support and share the Gospel with those at Sea, not forgetting the family members who are left on shore worrying about their loved ones whilst they work for weeks on end away from home. But what message are they disseminating? In short, the Good News of the Kingdom; a world of equality, and justice and fairness for all, with God. As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven’.

 

And when I think of this justice that we preach, and the sea, I cannot

help but remember the many migrants who sale across the very sea that

St Paul sailed around, with many sadly not making it, being at the mercy

of unscrupulous people smugglers, who are really the only winners in

this terrible business. The figures are terrible this year to date 827

people have died trying to get to a better, fairer world, a world that they

think they can find in other countries, that’s nearly five people a day,

every day.

 

We are all striving for fairness and justice and as the terrible plight of

these migrants shows us, and so are they; our faith demands we work

tirelessly for the new kingdom of justice and equality. How we solve the

tragedy that is unfolding in the Mediterranean I suspect can only be

achieved by international cooperation, to stop these perilous journeys

being made in the first place, and I believe moves are already being

made to try and resolve this crisis, and punish the people smugglers

more severely.

 

Paul nearly drowned himself, and was lucky to escape from his

incarceration on the sinking boat he was being transported in. We still

have his letters to the various churches he wrote to, and a record of the

example of the extraordinary amount of missional work he did to spread

the faith of Christ. As our freedoms start to be reinstated as the

lockdown ends, and international travel begins again, when making your

plans, remember in your prayers those risking their lives at sea, and

those who work tirelessly to preach the Good News around the Globe.

 

“Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but

God: such alone will shake the gates of hell.”     Amen.

Sunday 13th June 2021 Trinity 2 by Alex Norris

 

Mark 4.26-34

 

So, I have a confession to make....

 

A completely irrational love that I have…

 

Garden Centres…

 

I love garden centres. When I go away, I love to visit them, go to the

coffee shop, look at all the plants and tools and potions and treatments,

the fountains, and pumps and pond equipment, then of course the

tat...all the stuff that you buy that really has no use whatsoever. Of

course, then there are the vintage sweets, fudge, ice cream, you name

it. Just wonderful.

 

However, there is one small problem. I don’t have a garden. I live in a

third floor flat, I don’t even have window boxes, let alone the luxury of a

balcony. Now I know that I am among many green fingered people here,

and I am sure many of you also have a love of Garden Centres. Having

recently visited such a place it got me thinking about our readings today.

 

Today’s readings are all related to growing, cultivation, or the new

creation. Be it the planting of the seeds and how they grow, of trees

bearing fruit, or the old world passing away and the dawn of a new

creation, there is one common theme here; the Kingdom of God.

 

There is the here and now, and then the ‘what is to come’. Today’s

Gospel reading talks about how tiny seeds, which can be seen as

representing the present, relatively small work, when cultivated, can

grow to their full potential; the Kingdom of God.

 

Agricultural themes were very popular with Christ, as they created

images that were really accessible to the listener, as people were far

more connected to agriculture than we are today, as there is a whole

supply chain that separates what we buy from where it comes from. It

might be convenient for us all, but it does remove our understanding of

where things come from, which creates its own problems. That is for

another sermon!

 

You will hear the Kingdom of God talked about a lot in church. The

Lord’s prayer, ‘They Kingdom Come, on earth as in heaven’.

 

What is this Kingdom? What does it mean?

 

The Kingdom is the world that we are all striving for, a world of justice,

and equality, fairness, where there is no more suffering. We pray in

every service that this Kingdom may exist on earth as it does in heaven.

 

Next week is the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the largest

domestic fire tragedy since the second world war. We are four years into

the public inquiry which is painstakingly going through every detail of that

fateful night and what led up to it. One word that I have read many times

by those who were affected by it is ‘Justice’, there is the Justice4Grenfell

group, then also the question, ‘where was God in this that He would

allow children to die in such a horrific way?’ These are huge questions.

 

The government and country need to come to terms with why this fire

happened, what the cause was, why the cladding was used, what

started the fire in the first place, whether the handling of the fire could

have been done better, and of course, this is all done in slow motion, in

a meeting room, not on the night, under immense panic and pressure. I

would ask that you remember all the firemen, and those involved in this

tragedy in your prayers, whatever the outcome, those 72 people cannot

be brought back.

 

In the Kingdom that we all pray for, there would be justice and equality

for all. Grenfell is a tragic reminder of the world that we currently live in.

 

But this new Kingdom IS the Kingdom that we all, as Christians, need to

strive for. This is not just through the miracle of prayer, but also in other

ways.

 

Many people ask what the Church of England actually does to help

‘further the Kingdom’, so here are a few takeaways:

 

We have 16000 churches, which provide 8000 foodbanks, 5000 lunch

clubs, 4000 parent-toddler groups, 2700 community cafes, 2400 night

shelters and 2300 breakfast or holiday clubs, which together create a

value of our churches to society of £12.4 billion pounds.

 

These figures do not mention the thousands who pray for people on a

daily basis, our religious orders, the investments that the Church

manages which enables them to drive an agenda on the boards of some

of the world's biggest boards. Only two weeks ago the church managed

to get two members on the board of Exxon, the oil company, who are

sympathetic to environmental concerns. There are other examples I

could cite, but in short having the means to influence the voting on the

boards of multinationals such as Exxon or Google is another tangible

way in which the church is able to make genuine change in society, and

drive the change to further the Kingdom of God.

 

But it all starts here! With you and me, here today, with our prayer,

celebration of the eucharist, the teaching of the scriptures, of Christ, and

all he stood for. Love.

 

And to carry on the gardening analogy, just as we have our wonderful

Garden Centres to help us nurture and grow our flowers and plants, so

we have our church, with Holy scripture and its teaching to help us grow

our faith, and further the Kingdom.

 

So much has been done, but there is so much more to be done. So

whenever you hear the Kingdom being mentioned, and wonder what it

means and when it is coming, think of those lines from the Lord’s prayer,

‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’.

Sunday 6 June Trinity 1 by Paula Hollingsworth

Chaplain, St Paul’s Cathedral

 

Teach me, my God and King,in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.

 

For 20 years I was a parish priest leading and preaching at most of the services in 3 village churches most Sundays of the year. I would breathe a sigh of relief when I got to this Sunday – the first Sunday after Trinity

 

Not just because Trinity Sunday was behind me – a minefield of a Sunday to preach a sermon

 

But because we are now approaching a whole raft of Sundays after Trinity.

 

All the seasons of the year where we need a special order of service, special extra rubrics and words to remember – the Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter seasons of the year – these are all behind us for a few months. Other than the occasional Saints days, we don’t have the great highs and lows in our liturgy over the weeks ahead

 

But do be reassured, the Church does have a particular name for this season – we call it Ordinary Time

 

But to me this also begs the question – what does it mean to follow Christ in ordinary time?

 

That seems a particular pertinent question to ask this year

 

We have been through the trauma of lockdown, the catastrophe of the virus – and through things may be delayed briefly by the latest variants – in the UK we are approaching life that is normal again – albeit a new normal. For many, the scars and the grief for will not go away – the new normal will be learning to live with the losses and griefs this last year have brought.

 

You here at St Giles’, have had a heightened few weeks as you have prepared for then made the goodbyes to Katherine your rector. You have given her a great send off – now she has moved and you are adjusting to a new ordinary

 

The Church’s occasional offices and special services help people to mark and adjust to the highs and lows of life – marriage a new child, a significant step of faith… funerals and local national times of change, times of loss and grief.

 

But most of our lives are lived in ordinary time, doing routine tasks, ordinary day following ordinary day

 

In our epistle, Paul reminds us that day by day, while our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16) – not because of us, not because of anything that we are doing, but because of God’s grace. Day by day, ordinary day by ordinary day – though we may think nothing is happening, God is at work deep within us

 

And Paul speaks of the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure (2 Corinthians 4:17)  – that both awaits us and yet is a part of us now – eternal life lived in the full radiance of God’s love – and the reminder that we need to look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, what cannot be seen is eternal.

 

I wonder if you recognised the words that I used as my opening prayer:

 

Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.

 

Back in the days when we used to sing hymns – and we will have those days again soon – you may well have sung these words taken from a poem by George Herbert.

 

If anyone has the right to reflect on the ordinary, it is George Herbert

 

He is was born in 1593 into an aristocratic family, a member of Parliament and a close friend of the likes of John Donne and Francis Bacon, he attracted the notice of King James I and a dazzling political life at court beckoned – but he chose to take holy orders and to become the vicar of the quiet and rural village of Bemerton near Salisbury and to spend much of his quiet days writing poetry – his poetry has a strong sense of the metaphysical, or other worldly,  dimension of ordinary material things and mundane tasks

 

He speaks about an early telescope – you might could look at the glass lens, or you could look through it to see the worlds beyond

 

A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.

 

That sense of the world beyond, the eternal glory, which we may not see with our physical eyes, but can be seen or grasped spiritually can transform our mundane, our ordinary days

 

As Herbert continues

 

The servant with this clause  that is, with the understanding of the unseen glory around us

Makes drudgery divine

Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,

makes that and the action fine.

 

George Herbert lived at a time when there was a great interest in alchemy – the idea that somewhere there existed a philosopher’s stone which could turn everything into gold

 

What a picture that gives, Herbert tells us, of the Christian hope:

 

This is the famous stone

That turneth all to gold

For that which God doth touch and own

Cannot for less be told.

 

That which God doth touch and hold, includes you and me. Outwardly our world may often appear to be ordinary and routine, but we are also part of another world, we are part of God’s kingdom, which is both now and not yet, around us but unseen – the gold of the glory of Christ, the King of heaven – urging us, transforming our inner beings, inspiring us with hope.

 

So let us be mindful to look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, what cannot be seen is eternal….the weight of glory beyond all measure.

Sunday 30th May Trinity Sunday by Alex Norris 

 

John 3: 1-17

 

So, there we are, we have made it into Ordinary Time, having been

together, in one way or another through Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter

and finally, last weekend Pentecost. During this time, we have heard the

foretelling of the coming of Christ, then his Birth, moving into his trials in

the desert and passion, death and resurrection, with his leaving us as he

ascended to the Father, and finally the coming of the Holy Spirit.

 

Along with all of the drama of our church's year, we have also waved

goodbye to our beloved Rector Katharine as she moves on to the next

chapter of her life, with all that this will hold for her. In a matter of a few

weeks, Jesus has left us, and then so has our Rector, but we have

received the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.

 

It's been a rather busy time for us, with a lot of comings and goings! And

through all of this we have experienced God as Father, Son and Holy

Spirit; God the Father who created us, God the Son who redeemed us,

and God the Holy Spirit who sustains us. Creator. Redeemer. Sustainer.

On this Trinity Sunday, we again remember the threeness and oneness

of God.

 

The concept of the Trinity was formalised in the council of Nicea in the

year 325. It was in response to a lot of misunderstanding around the

relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There were

numerous heresy’s flying around, and those caught adopting such

heresy met a rather sticky, if not extremely toasty end.

 

This understanding of God as being three entities and one at the same

time has been an educational nightmare for centuries, and various

analogies have been used to try and explain it.

 

If you have ever seen the classic film ‘Nuns on the Run’ where some

bank robbers end up in a nunnery escaping the police, one of the bank

robbers, played by Eric Idle, in order to keep his cover has to go and

lead an RE class on the Trinity, and to help him his partner in crime

explained to him as follows:

 

You've got the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. But the three are

one, like a shamrock, my old priest used to say. "Three leaves, but one

leaf." Now, the Father sent down the Son, who was love, and then when

he went away, he sent down the Holy Spirit, who came down in the form

of a...

 

You told me already - a ghost.

 

No, a dove.

 

The dove was a ghost?

 

No, the ghost was a dove.

 

Let me try and summarize this: God is his son. And his son is God. But

his son moonlights as a Holy Ghost, a Holy Spirit, and a dove. And they

all send each other, even though they're all one and the same thing.

 

You've got it. You really could be a nun!

 

I suggest you watch it to see how well he does in the class.

 

So there you have it, a Shamrock, there is also the Jaffa Cake analogy,

chocolate, sponge and orange, together one jaffa cake, but three

separate things at the same time. These analogies go some way to

explain the mystery of threeness and oneness, but there is a more

important point that I want to draw from this, apart from the fact that

today we remember and celebrate the Holy Trinity, even if we are not

100% certain on exactly how it works.

 

Some of us here today, in our church community, may be feeling a little

more alone and uncertain as we head off into the uncharted waters of

our Interregnum. None of us like uncertainty, so please remember this:

3Whatever the situation, wherever you are, you are not; we are not alone.

Through the threeness of God that we hear mentioned every week in

church, God is always with us. God has not left us, God will not abandon

us. As we journey on together over these next few months we must

remember this.

 

In some ways the Trinity is rather complicated, and for some just a

theological and academic pursuit that tests the old grey cells, but on

another level, an important level, God does three things for us: He

creates, redeems and sustains us. One God, three expressions. If we

can grasp this understanding of God, then this will remove some of the

mystery around our Trinitarian beliefs, which we express in the Nicene

Creed, which as the name suggests came out of the Council of Nicea

(as mentioned earlier) and which we say in one form or another every

Sunday. As a final point I would like to say it is such a privilege to

journey with all of you through this next phase of the long distinguished

history of St Giles, which we are fortunate enough to be sharing together

at this time, and I know, with the support of God we will have nothing that

we should feel anxious about.

 

As the X-Files slogan says, and admittedly being used in a completely

different context: ‘We are not alone!’. Amen.

Sunday 16 May Easter 7

 

John 17: 6 – 19

 

Avoid passing trends. This advice is freely available on line – unless you think going on line is a passing trend that you prefer not to bother with. This is about naming the baby and my search revealed not just any old naming but how to pick the perfect name for your baby.

Perfect name, perfect baby, perfect family, perfect life if you avoid passing trends.

Other tips include: Remember that classic names don't have to be boring – a child with a boring name is not necessarily destined to grow up to bore for Britain.

Or, take a look at your family tree is another suggestion– it’s not clear why. Are these names to avoid or perpetuate?

In the first lockdown between us we generated a weekly newsletter and one week when Richard of Chichester was commemorated in the calendar I invited a former bridegroom to write about his name. He wrote thoughtfully. Growing up he had never liked being called Richard and as an adult he still dislikes his name. I don’t’ know what he would rather have been called, but his not liking his name was not what I had in mind. He was supposed to love being called Richard in all its fullness.  It is assumed that we like our names – otherwise surely we would have done something about them.

Leslie Griffiths’s had a favourite story about his time in Haiti and going to one of the islands on a Sunday for a baptism. He was met by a crowd of people he was to baptise, and as he started baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit he was told that as the minister he also was to choose the candidates’ names. He says it got a bit tricky towards the end when he was running out of ideas for Christian names.

 

We have probably all gone through a phase when we would have preferred to be called something else – something exotic, some passing trend, to signal to ourselves and others that we are interesting people, to add sparkle to our lives. Although, as we are told, classic names don’t have to be boring. Hello to our unboring John, Martin, Thomas, Daniel, Mark and Oliver – and others. Women and their names of course having been lost in history.

 

As for those surnames – Milton, Frobisher, Stagg, Foe, Catesby and Cromwell. Surnames are part of us too, they tell the world who we are.

 

These words are from a naming ceremony:

 

Yours is a beautiful name full of history, and a name for you to keep or let go. May you grow up to be proud of it, with humility; a strong and tender bearer of your past; and may you always be open to others with different names and faces and colours and faiths; ready to share and teach, yet also to learn, let go, and grow.

 

Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed, ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.’ So wrote one of the people who had a hand in writing John’s gospel – perhaps she or he were members of a school or group. Today’s gospel is from these distinctive chapters we call the final discourse that we have been reading on these Sundays after Easter. A  different people, a different message.  The Johannine church would have been markedly different from those founded by Paul and his companions with an emphasis on the mystical and indeed the mysterious side of the Christian faith.

Mystical and mysterious, I have made your name known – your name God, God who is revealed as verb: I am who I am. Back in the beginning, Moses – whose name probably means pulled out of the water – is attempting to persuade God he is not up to the task that God has in mind for him. Exodus 3:  13 – 14: ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors has sent me to you, and they ask me, ‘What is his name? what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, I am who I am. The way the truth and the life. That’s me, says God. I am.

Use names with great care, names are precious. Through Moses God instructs the people, ‘You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.’

Names were very important in ancient beliefs. Paul is not pleased with the Athenians; he is deeply distressed to see their city full of idols. He gets into an argument with the Jews and devout persons and they become interested in this proclaimer of foreign divinities and his new teaching. He is invited to speak to the Areopagus, ‘Athenians I see how extremely religious you are, he has noticed an altar to an unknown god. Such altars were an insurance policy against offending gods by not knowing their names.

 

Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed I have made your name known.

Our God is a named God. Our God is a known God. Jesus has revealed God’s name and in doing so something about the nature and character of God. In interceding for us he has opened for us a divine space into which we may also enter. This is not a location above the clouds – forget artists’ impressions of the upward trajectory of Ascension Day with two disappearing feet. This is an inner spiritual place in which those who believe gain increasing knowledge of God and comes finally to God’s holiness.

We come to this knowledge by naming God and by ourselves being known by name. This is the starting point. Now we are known only in part; then we will know fully, even as we have been known.

 

Known unto God by name.

Sunday 9 May Easter 6 by Alex Norris

 

Today’s Gospel reading really spells out Jesus' expectations of all of us;

to love him, and follow his commandments, and in this we hear the well

known commandment to love one another as he has loved us. The final

verse from this reading particularly resonates with me, ‘You did not

choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit,

fruit that will last’. This was the text written around the commemorative

plate that was given to me upon my ordination to the priesthood, here on

this very spot, last September.

 

These words really shift the emphasis of the meaning of this text, from

our choosing to follow Jesus and following his example, to Jesus

choosing us.

 

For me this reading focuses on vocation, and what that means. I would

venture that everyone here today has some kind of vocation; Vocations

are not just a calling to the Priesthood, they are a calling for all kinds of

roles within the church, be it our musicians, churchwardens, PCC

members, readers, intercessors; the list is endless.

 

Many of us experience that sense that God is calling us to his church. I

had this sense for many years and it took twenty-five years for me to

properly listen to it and do something about it.

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you….

 

Something I find very appealing about this reading is the simplicity of

what Jesus says to us all, with the heart of this message being love.

Loving one another, as he loved us; No one has greater love than this, to

lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

 

LOVE. That one powerful, simple, evocative word. Used the world over.

There are endless examples of people who have lived their lives

according to these rules. Loving one another, laying down one’s life for

their friend. Only a couple of weeks ago a young man drowned after

diving into the Thames to save someone who had fallen in. He sadly lost

his life, and not for a friend, but someone they did not even know, a total

stranger. What greater example of love is this?

 

However, sadly there are numerous examples within the history of the

church of horrific behaviour, towards others, those who do not fit in with

the beliefs and understanding of doctrine of the ‘mother church’.

Issues around sexuality, identity, even nuances concerning Holy

Communion and what happens when the bread and wine are blessed

among many others, have caused people with differing views to be

subjected to the most horrific treatment. Not exactly very loving.

 

When we look to follow the life and example of Jesus and his

commandments (which he neatly summarises for us) in loving one

another; this is at the heart of what it is to be a Christian. It’s that simple

really.

 

Or is it?

 

This is, of course easy to say, some people cannot stand their

neighbours (!) and asking us to love them, might be a bridge too far; but

of course, the interpretation of the word ‘Neighbour’ is slightly different

from those who live in the flat or house next to yours.

 

If we look at Luke Chapter 10, where Jesus appointed 72 others and

sent them off into the towns, from this account the term ‘your neighbour’

is basically anyone who crosses your path. So, actually now, this loving

thy neighbour idea is becoming even more difficult! I am sure we all

know people who try our patience, people we do not have time for,

people who annoy or upset us, I am sure we would (well I hope!) not

wish harm on any of them; but loving them, is a whole new ball game.

 

So, what do we do? We are only human, and our patience and tolerance

of others only goes so far. In short, we need God’s help, we cannot do

this on our own. There is also one other aspect to all of this. If we are to

make a go of this important commandment, we need the ability to

forgive.

 

I have preached before about those who have forgiven people who have

committed the most heinous of crimes against them, such as murdering

their family members, and their testimony on the effect that forgiving

them has personally had; setting them free, enabling them to get on with

their lives. I still think on the testimony of those I read when researching

it, and it still moves me. These are obviously extreme examples; but I am

sure we all have our own challenges and situations where forgiveness

has been, or yet still might be the solution.

 

One thing that has come out of the last year or so has been the effect

the pandemic has had on community, neighbours who used not to ever

talk, starting to talk with each other, help out those that have needed it,

truly Christian behaviour. If anything, it has shown that communities

across the land are capable of loving their neighbours, and it should be a

good model for us all. But will it continue post pandemic? Only time will

tell, but I would hope so.

 

All in all, the question I leave for all of us (myself included) is, what is God

calling us to do? Maybe you have thought that God is calling you to the

Priesthood or another role in the church? If you think he is, reflect o it,

pray on it; come and talk with us and we can explain more about how the

process works, and how to discern what God’s will is in your life. It’s a

joyous thing to do.

 

Along with our calling to the church, there God’s calling on all of us to

love our neighbour, and as part of this maybe God is calling you to

forgive a particular person, and with his help, you might be able to do

just that and it could have a really positive effect on your own life, let

alone the person you forgive.

 

Whatever our calling is, as our Gospel reading has laid out for us this

morning, know that God loves us all, and as he loves us, he wants us to

love him. If we can all commit to this, then we will all be the better for it,

and able to live out our lives s as Jesus intended. Amen

Sunday 25 April Easter 4 by Katharine Rumens

 

John 10: 11 – 18

 

I expect she could feel me looking at her. I didn’t want to be there – perhaps she didn’t either.

 

It was 48 hours before we were to be priested and we had been sent off on retreat. I wanted to be Heathrow meeting family and friends. After all, we had waited a long time for this. All those, meetings, discussions, debates, demonstrations, vigils, phone calls, and all that letters writing.

 

But there we were, stuck on retreat with a woman who was telling us how to be shepherds. Then she became aware that I was looking at her, ‘shepherds or shepherdesses,’ she quickly added. It’s obvious when you think about it – women when they are ordained priest become shepherdesses complete with poke bonnets, crinolines and pretty ribbons on their crooks. Oh yes, we were about to tip toe into the Church of England with the feminine flutter of the women’s chorus in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

 

It’s not just a male/female thing – the image of the shepherd, or even shepherdess, our free use of the word ‘pastoral’ as in pastoral care all take us back to models of leadership and being together that are not always that helpful.

 

It says in the ordination service, ‘Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent.’ It’s easy for us shepherding types to get carried away by a sense of our own superiority, especially when we know sheep are not given to depth of thought and easily take flight.

 

We might update our views on shepherds – like those on the telly: energetic young women and men in wax jackets and wellington boots on quad bikes, although in many societies, shepherds are seen as a rough and ready lot of hard drinkers. However, they present, shepherding is necessary for the wellbeing of the flock.

 

And we shepherd one another in our concern and compassion as we travel to new places together.

 

A theologian blames stained glass windows as being responsible for more bad theology than, as he puts it, all the lousy preachers who ever were. He is not a fan of the pastel Jesus in long robe, with a cuddly, co-operative sheep on his shoulders.

 

At least those red pigment scratched figures 3rd and 4th century funerary slabs found in the Roman catacombs show large characterful sheep on the shoulders of burly shepherds. No long robe and no cuddles here, just scratched figures that try to convey the simplicity, the love and the power of the faith.

 

 A common prayer in the early Church was that the deceased should be led to heaven ‘borne on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.’ And even today Psalm 23 with its familiar words ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ is the most popular psalm at funerals. As unlikely as it might seem, shepherds still speak to us.

 

I read the real shepherd is a tough and resourceful character, who can live very simply when necessary. She cannot be afraid of going out in all weathers - in order that the flock, those in her care – as it were – can sleep at night.

 

And who are the hirelings? Our theologian identifies them as the pushy, the greedy, the ambitious. Someone on the make – who will fleet at the first fight.

 

He says, as always, the words and the word pictures of Jesus are not meant to make us religious, but simply to make us happy in our work and at peace with ourselves and with God. Building up the kind of community where everyone, not just the churchwardens and PCC, but everyone has a voice and a place in the process of being the Body of Christ.

 

It is in concern for the welfare of the whole flock – stray sheep and all. In self-emptying love, that is how we lay down our lives.

 

I know my own and my own know me, ‘Says the greatest shepherd of them all.’

 

It’s a good Sunday for our East window, not only because as the spring turns into summer and the sun gets higher, in the early morning light floods into the church bathing us in colour.

 

It’s a good Sunday because in the past days we have commemorated in the church calendar the lives of George – not a shepherd, Alphage – an episcopal shepherd and Anselm – another episcopal shepherd. The crook belongs to Lancelot Andrewes – episcopal shepherd, who we commemorate in September. All depicted in the bottom row of the window.

 

In the ordinal we read that, ‘Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles. They are to gather God’s people and celebrate with them the sacraments of the new covenant.’ Pushy hirelings need not apply. 

 

The PCC learnt more about Alphage Archbishop of Canterbury when the Corporation was developing St Alphage Gardens. Captured by the Danes,   rather than impoverish his people by paying a ransom, he chose execution and was killed nastily and brutally in Greenwich. We thought his chosen martyrdom needed to be named as a timely reminder for the pushy, the greedy and the ambitious of the City. Rather than impoverish his people by allowing the ransom to be paid, he chose death. A shepherd of Christ’s flock.

 

Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury when a stone church was first built on this site in 1099. We are told he really wanted to stay in Bec, France – possibly as a hermit. A reluctant shepherd of his people, yet it is noted that reluctance was common practice in the medieval church as open willingness indicated the hireling’s ambition, greed and pushiness.

 

Risen Christ, faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep: teach us to hear your voice. People of St Giles’ you will not scatter over the next months. Prayerfully together you will discern God’s purpose for you as you choose your next Rector, the one who will come among you as your shepherd or even – in a crinoline as shepherdess.    

Sunday 18 April  Easter 3 by Alex Norris

 

Luke 24: 36 – 48

 

‘The Broiled FIsh’

 

Today is the third Sunday of Easter, and our celebration of the

Resurrection continues, and in our Gospel reading just now we hear

more about the reaction of those closest to Jesus and his resurrection,

and the events immediately after this momentous event.

 

I once heard a story from a Vicar about an undertaker he had met. He

had met this person, I assume in relation to a funeral, and after the initial

niceties the undertaker said, would you like to see my Death Certificate?

Taken aback, the vicar said, go on then. And lo and behold this person

produced his very own, bona fide Death Certificate. How did you get one

of these? said the vicar, and the undertaker then explained what had

happened.

 

In short, he had a very rare condition, something like catalepsy which

means your vital statistics drop to such low levels that you appear to be

medically dead.

 

Something like this had happened here with the undertaker; and when

he came round, he was in the morgue, and upon waking up; the poor

morgue assistant nearly keeled over from shock, and had to be sat down

and made a cup of tea, if not something stronger.

 

Why do I cite this story? First, this is not a case of resurrection, the

undertaker had not died, but to all those around him it appeared as if he

had. But second, if you do come back from the dead, it is terrifying for

those around you (and probably yourself as well!) Disbelief and a whole

host of other emotions must flood around your system, like that poor

mortician. I want to explore resurrection and its impact on others, in the

light of our reading this morning.

 

When Christ stood among the disciples, his friends, people he knew very

well. Luke said, ‘They were startled and terrified, and thought that they

were seeing a ghost’. Does anyone blame them?! I would. Just think

how that poor mortician needed looking after. How can we further prove

this to not be the case that he was a Ghost?

 

We have already had Thomas indulged and satisfied, but seemingly the

doubt continues. I always think Thomas gets a lot more flack for doubt

than he deserves in the Gospel accounts.

 

It's quite clear there was a lot of doubt, and fright among all of the

disciples. Then comes the clincher…

 

And he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a

piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Our reading from Luke this morning continues to reiterate Jesus’

resurrection; not as some metaphorical, allegorical expression, but as a

truly physical event.

 

A friend of mine was preaching this text a few years ago, and the

weekend before the other priest in the church had preached that the

resurrection was only allegorical, and not a physical occurrence.

 

He said to me, what am I meant to do with this reading, Jesus eats, that

is not an allegory, that is absolute physical corroboration of the

resurrection!

 

I am going to directly contradict last week’s sermon…..What shall I do…..’contradict’, I said!

 

Christ’s eating of the broiled fished shows us, the reader, and those

present, the truth of the resurrection. This was not a situation like the

one of our undertaker friend earlier, and just a medical anomaly, or some

poetical account of Christ’s death and legacy, this is the awesome and

terrifying power of God. Here, laid bare before us.

 

The resurrection is at the heart of the church's teaching, and the truth of

the Gospels, it’s what gives us all hope, the victory over death, the

forgiveness of our sins, that ultimate sacrifice that God made of his only

son for all of us. Even the ‘home team’ had their doubts, and needed

some proof, and they got it. We can read of it, as we have this morning,

but we do not have that luxury of proof, today in front of us.

 

We have faith. Faith is what equips us to deal with this. Faith is what

holds it all together. Jesus knows that those who had not seen him would

need it.

 

Just as Christ had supper with his friends before he died on the Maundy

Thursday, he again eats with his friends after the death and resurrection

he foretold, as a means to make everything clear to them, to remove any

doubt, and probably also calm their nerves, which after the events of the

last few days would have probably been frazzled.

 

Shortly we will be celebrating Holy Communion, and remembering this

sacrifice, the Last Supper, the body and blood of Christ, here, now,

together, using those ancient words that Christ himself used all those

years ago, before he endured the most horrific suffering. This is our

opportunity, to again remind ourselves of what went on through Holy

Week, culminating with the might of Christ’s resurrection.

 

With our faith, and all that the Holy Scriptures tell us, we are given all

that we need to understand these cataclysmic events, which we

remember every year through Holy Week and Easter.

 

As we journey on celebrating Easter together, let us continue to

remember the Resurrection, not as some ambiguous event, or anomaly,

that can be explained away, but for what it actually is, in all its awe and

beauty, and all that it brings for each and every one of us as we live our

lives in the faith of Christ.

Amen

Sunday 10 April  Easter 2 by Katharine Rumens 

 

John 20: 19 – 31

 

It’s one of those Sundays – when preachers have to rewrite their sermon. All those gently nurtured thoughts and insights that we have been collecting over  the past days – the brooding in the bath; the pondering over the washing up; rehearsing the internal monologue on the way to the shops. All abandoned. All change. Prince Philip died in his sleep on Friday morning and his death dominates the news. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.  

 

Whatever else is going on, the story today’s gospel of Thomas hasn’t changed and won’t change. ‘Unless’. ‘Unless I see’. ‘Unless I put my finger, unless I put my hand’. I will not believe. The story of the Royal Family and thereby of the nation has changed. They will have to learn to take their new place in the world. Across continents – those who loved, those who knew, those who met and those who felt they knew the Prince – mourn his death.

 

The story of Thomas, the same yesterday, and today and for ever

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Christ, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Blessed Thomas (Becket) pray for us. So weep the chorus at the end of the play.

 

I was only ever once knowingly in the same space as Prince Philip. It was at an anniversary service commemorating the restoration of All Hallows by the Tower after bomb damage during the second world war. I, being local clergy, and having arrived early was sitting at the front on the left. He being royal, and also having arrived early, was at the front on the right. He sat there acquainting himself with the gift aid envelope in his pew.  I don’t think he’d ever seen one of those before. Probably the gift aid envelopes at Sandringham and Balmoral – are tactfully removed from the pews where the royal family sit.

 

Privilege protects the rich and powerful from some everyday realities – like needing to carry money or picking up a biro and writing your post code. However, privilege doesn’t prevent church attendance, or faithful living, or belief in God.

 

He sought the good of others: our bishop spoke about Prince Philip’s dedication, ‘Dedication’ is a word rooted in classical and biblical language: in this context, to be ‘dedicated’ is to be absolutely removed from other uses, being completely available to God.  Whilst it was the Princess who gave the historic message at the Coronation, the commitment to dedication was also made by Prince Philip.

 

"He consistently put the interests of others ahead of his own and, in so doing, provided an outstanding example of Christian service.’

 

As we prayed in today’s Collect: “open the doors of our hearts, that we may seek the good of others.”

 

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell called the Duke of Edinburgh "a remarkable man who lived a life of service dedicated to his country, to his wife, Queen Elizabeth II and his family." "His faith in Jesus Christ was an important part of his life and one which shaped who he was."

That person, as the press has reminded us, could tell it like it was, be direct, be open, could speak with robust candour, someone who was very much his own man. You don’t have to be shy and retiring to be a Christian.

 

Prince Philip was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, and later upon his marriage received into the Church of England. His was an Ecumenical journey.

 

The creation of the conference centre, St George’s House Windsor with Rev Robert Woods is described as his “late-life religious awakening. St George’s House – somewhere where clergy and people of influence and responsibility come together to explore contemporary issues. It is said it provided the long-needed dimension for which Philip had been searching in his spiritual life.”

 

May he rest in peace at the end of his earthly journey.

 

We don’t really get confused about the story of Thomas, we tend to need to hear the story only once for it to stick, perhaps because his so called failure of discipleship is a bit too much like us for comfort.  This man with his conditional acceptance……Unless

 

The author of John tells us that when Jesus first visited the disciples, Thomas was not there, but he does not tell us why. It is left for us to surmise, or offer what CS Lewis called a supposal.

 

A theologian supposes Thomas had a broken heart, and not an inability to believe. Jesus died leaving Thomas alive but left behind. This is how it feels when someone we love deeply dies and we are left (behind) bereft.

When a heart is broken in pieces there is nothing from within to reach out, so God has to reach in and draw us to herself.

 

Thomas is the only person in the New Testament, other than Jesus himself, to call Jesus God. ‘my Lord and my God’ (the Greek is ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou) —the literal translation: the Lord of me and the God of me is spoken only by Thomas.

 

Having established how unique and inspired Thomas is in his encounter with the risen Christ, in the light of Jesus’ earlier visit to the disciples who had to be convinced that he was not a ghost, we should change the tone of Jesus’ words to Thomas so that his criticisms lose their negative connotations.

 

When he makes his second visit to the disciples, when Thomas was present, after his shalom he turns to Thomas and gently says to him (in effect): ‘It’s alright Thomas, I am here now: as you can see, I am alive.’ And as he had already done with the other disciples, he told Thomas he could reach out and touch him. In fact, the text does not say whether Thomas does or not: his only possible response was to fall on his knees and worship.

 

Thomas was a man of considerable courage whose broken heart was the result of sorrow beyond endurance.

 

His story is good news for people who have lost their faith, or never had faith, or experience a late-life religious awakening; maybe they are suffering from grief, broken relationships, or simply the vicissitudes of everyday life. Like us.

 

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Christ, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Blessed Thomas pray for us.

21 March Passion Sunday by Katharine Rumens

 

I got cold feet on the way to Jerusalem. Try taking your shoes off and walking the canvas labyrinth.  You too might find that the marble floor gives you cold feet. Previously, we’ve had it in the body of the church, and it could only be put down when services and events allowed – like in the first part of Holy Week. The old wooden floor creaked as you walked, but your feet stayed warm.

 

Cold feet for Passion Sunday. Loss of courage or confidence. An onset of uncertainty or fear – perhaps making us too fearful to continue. Turn back Jesus, you don’t have to set in motion the chain of events that will lead to your arrest, that kangaroo court and your execution.  Turn your back on Jerusalem, flee while you still have the chance.

 

On the way to Jerusalem: in the Middle Ages, undertaking a pilgrimage to one, if not more, of the holy sites throughout Christendom was a goal that every person, regardless of social standing, sought to fulfil. It was your great adventure of a lifetime.  Risk and danger at every bend of the way. Many pilgrims died on the journey. Many were attacked, robbed, cheated. Amazingly, many achieved their dream.  In fact, there are surviving accounts of women from England who made multiple trips to Rome, Santiago de Compostela, and even Jerusalem during their lifetime.   

 

For us right now it is a risk-free journey on a labyrinth.  The pavement labyrinth at Chartres between 1215 and 1221 – of which ours is a smaller version- was one of the earliest. It is thought the building of the cathedral was profoundly influenced by the then recent loss of Jerusalem to Muslim forces in 1187. It was no longer possible for European Christians to travel to Jerusalem, and as a result, many began looking for alternative ways of making the journey. The labyrinth was the solution.  Keep on the pavement and get home safely.

 

And the other connection with Jerusalem? Jerusalem had been remodelled by the Romans who divided the city into quadrants. Our labyrinth design is an example of an idealized Jerusalem. So, while Christians had lost the right to visit Jerusalem – or never had the money to go, they could still make pilgrimage to this holy city using the labyrinths in the various cathedrals and churches. 

Matthew Mark and Luke – all have decisive points in Jesus’ ministry when he turns his face to Jerusalem.

 

‘See we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. We are going up to Jerusalem. See we are going up to Jerusalem.’

 

Spiritually and literally Jerusalem took you to another level being nearly 800 m above sea level.

 

Passion Sunday, we are positioning ourselves for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem next week on Palm Sunday.

 

In the verse that comes before today’s gospel: John 12: 19 we read that the religious authorities have failed to rein in Jesus. Are they getting cold feet? You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’ There’s nothing we can do.’

 

The world, that is everyone - is flocking to catch sight of Jesus, hear what he has to say, follow him around.

 

The wider world – Greek and Jew- at on their way to Jesus. Some Greeks came to Philip – on behalf of the Greeks Philip goes and finds the Andrew-  a man with a Greek name that was common among the Jews. Gentiles are asking for Jesus and the world is united in their search. This is a sudden dramatic twist in John’s account of Jesus in which he reveals the universality of his mission.

 

Twists and turns in John’s the story. Surprising encounters are every turn. Like Jesus – a Jewish man - asking the Samaritan woman for water. Or the overturning of the moneychangers’ tables.

 

‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ It is some Greeks who articulate that familiar, ancient aching longing for some hope, for some sign beyond the passing show of things.

 

Was the coming of these Greeks and the asking of their question a sign? It is suggested that Jesus has been waiting for this encounter – it is the turning point that will set his death in motion. The crowd is behind him, fascinated, hanging on his every word, the question is asked, Jesus tells the people he will die – be lifted up high as Moses lifted the snake in the wilderness. After Jesus has said this, ‘he departed and hid from them.’

 

To be lifted up – elevated, promoted, sound glorious. The curious, the seekers after truth, will no longer have to weave their way through the crowd and get access to the man via one of his henchmen. He will be carried on the shoulders of the crowd, be seated on the platform, put on a pedestal, stand in the pulpit. Here is visibility, fame and glory, but Jesus refused the way of domination. Lifted up above all creation: for him it will be the terrible uplifting of the cross and a slow death.

 

Our many deaths: our lives are an amazing mixture of living and dying: a continual process of movement, change, losses and gains. Of twists and turns in the story that is our story.

 

The twists and turns of living through this past year of the pandemic: the anxiety, the fear, illness, death. Getting vaccinated and being looked after by a kind neighbour. The strengthening of friendships, learning our resourcefulness and creativity. Job losses and trying to make ends meet. Otherwise overlooked joys and delights. Our pattern, journey, of living and dying, of death and resurrection, is given meaning by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

And that probably is the best answer to the census question I had to answer, ‘What is the main activity of your organization?’

Sunday 28 February Lent 2 by Katharine Rumens  

 

Genesis 17: 1 – 7 and Mark 8: 31 – end

 

Let me introduce you to a friend of God, Abram, who for 99 years had apparently been happy with his name. God invites – or instructs Abram to walk beside him and be blameless because God is to enter a covenant - a promise – with him. There are to be lots of children – a multitude of nations which of course, doesn’t worry patriarchs one bit; they have wives and concubines to take the life-or-death risk of childbirth and thus people the nations. And because Sarai is to have a child, Abram gets a new name, as will Sarai in a bit.

 

God flinging God’s promises around, last week with Noah. This week with Abram and God asking almost nothing in return. Just walk before me and be blameless, though there is no checking up on how blameless Abraham proves to be.  

 

Jesus is much more exacting in what he demands of the individual. It’s not just a question of walking beside Jesus and being blameless – that is not enough.

 

Jesus and the disciples are ‘on the way’ the term that will come to mean commitment to Christian discipleship in the early church. They leave Caesarea Philippi to make the 100-mile journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will challenge his nation at the centre of its religious activity.

 

Jesus began to teach them, he predicts his condemnation and execution in the hands of a new political coalition that will engineer his murder.

 

We hear Peter’s voice of protest, Peter who in earlier verses had proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. Messiahship means royal triumph and restoration of Israel’s collective honour. Yet Jesus speaks of himself as the Son of Man, the Human One and such a term necessarily means suffering

 

The Human one as a critic of the debt code and the Sabbath – necessarily comes into conflict with the elders and chief priests and scribes. These verses are a discourse of political inevitability.

 

There is no middle ground, no fence to sit on.

 

Jesus turned from the disciples and called the crowd – this is for everyone to hear.

 

Deny yourself

 

Take up your cross

 

Follow me

 

The cross on which dissidents were executed. Crucifixion was a political and military punishment – inflicted on slaves, violent criminals, and unruly elements in rebellious provinces – they must have been very familiar with crucifixion in unruly Judea. Crucifixion of people and their thinking who had to be suppressed.  The public display of a naked victim at a prominent place, at a crossroads, in the theatre, on high ground, at the place of his crime – represented the victim’s uttermost humiliation.

 

Jesus invites the crowd to share the consequences of those who challenged Rome.

 

We are not told what the crowd thought of this.

 

Mark is writing for Christians taken to court in times of persecution: they have to choose – profess Jesus or deny him. One or the other, there is no compromise. This stuff is not about resisting a second slice of cream cake or a doing something slippery with money.

 

Deny yourself is risking one’s own life.

 

A scholar points out that identical rhetoric can be found in speeches by Hellenistic military officers on the eve of battle – exhorting the faltering spirits of nervous soldiers. We find similar rhetoric in Shakespeare: Once more into the breech dear friends…

 

Mark is pointing out the paradox, it is precisely the fear of death – the fear of crucifixion - that keeps Rome in power. Thus, the dominant order stays intact. It is by denying yourself and pursing kingdom values that the powers’ reign of death is shattered.

 

Set into a wall to the east of Chartres Cathedral where the ground drops away to the river is a simple metal disk commemorating the French Resistance leader Jean Moulin. The words are his, ‘I did not know it was so simple to do your duty when you are in danger.’

Sunday 21 February by Alex Norris

 

The Baptism of Christ

 

In many of our post-Sunday service Zoom calls we have been having 

recently there has been a lot of discussion around art. Art is something that is entwined with Christianity, and all of the central stories from Holy Scripture have been painted by numerous artists across the many different artistic traditions over the years. And if you are like me, you will like many, and some you will find, let’s say, rather challenging. But that said I like to be challenged by what I see, I don’t always want the artist to be playing to the home crowd, so to speak.

 

The Baptism of Christ is no exception, a quick search online will show

literally hundreds of depictions of John the Baptist pouring the water over

Christ’s head and the Dove ascending and descending above representing the Holy Spirit, which was present at this event, and is present at all Baptisms since.

 

How do you picture that scene? Do you have an image you have made

yourself, using your go to image of Jesus, the River Jordan and John the

Baptist? Who else is there? Angels, as some pictures show? The disciples? How about yourself? If you were there, where would you be standing? Or are you the one painting the picture?

 

I think our understanding of this event can be really personalised and made relevant to us in each of our contexts if we spend some time doing this. Also, we should remember that pictures don’t just arouse emotion, but also enable contemplation.

 

As we make our journey through Lent together, reflecting on the Baptism

of Christ is a good starting point for our journey, as this is where it all began.

 

Water has featured in both of our readings today, but in very different

capacities. In Genesis, and the story of Noah, the waters rose and killed

off everything on the earth and in the sky (I always wonder what happened to all the fish, but that’s for another day!) and then they receded, and Noah came out of the ark, and when he did so God said that he would establish his covenant with him, and ‘that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth’. Looking at climate change today, this may not be as certain as originally thought.

 

Water plays a big role in many of the stories of the Bible, dramatically it

was parted twice; The Red Sea, when God closed it again on the ensuing army and the River Jordan, for the Israelites, and then again for Elisha.

 

Here water has been viewed as something dangerous and obstructive,

which God can govern, and rule and change the behaviour of as required. Water is also cleansing, we use it for washing and cleaning, removing grime and dirt. So, water can support life and end life, and in Baptism water supports our spiritual life. It could be said that water has metaphysical qualities as well! So, when we consider the waters of baptism, to me this is something more genteel, holy, sacred, cleansing.These waters are the waters re-birth, a fresh start.

 

So what happened when Christ was Baptised, it must have been different to when we have been baptised in a font in church?

 

As one scholar notes, ‘In undergoing baptism, the sinless Christ has

identified himself with sinful humanity. The descent of the Spirit inaugurates a ministry which will wash away those sins once and for all.

 

To accomplish this, Jesus has to undergo a further baptism: the Passion

journey in which he bears humanity through the deep waters of death into the light of resurrection.

 

It is from this “baptism” on the cross that the Church receives the gift of

baptism as a sacrament’, which we all receive today.

 

This explanation neatly links Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan to his death on the cross, and glorious resurrection, which we await as we journey through Lent together. In Mark’s reading we see this journey start quite abruptly after his Baptism, with Christ being driven by the spirit into the wilderness to undergo his temptation, as he denies himself.

 

As we ponder Christ’s baptism, and picture that in our minds eye, think

about what this journey of sacrifice means to you. Why not look at some

of the pictures of Christ’s Baptism online, there are some inspiring images to reflect on, as we walk with Jesus through this Lent.

 

As things start to feel more optimistic as the days get longer, let us all 

consider our own Baptisms, and picture the Holy Spirit being there, and

what that would have looked like to us. Would it have been a Dove also?

And as we do this, let’s remember Christ’s own baptism and his being

driven into the wilderness, as we too find ourselves in the wilderness of

Lent, in the knowledge that in the end, these times will pass, with Christ’s victory over Death for all of us

Sunday 14 February Sunday before Lent by Katharine Rumens

 

Mark 9: 2 – 9

 

What do you and I know of mountains? Here in the flat lands – where the best we can do is take the lift to the top of one of the tower blocks, book a ticket on the Millennium wheel, or climb up to the dome of St Paul’s. From there we have all London at our feet and in the far beyond, the landscape stretching for miles in all directions.

 

 When I’m telling the story of Moses and the 10 commandments or the Sermon on the Mount in school assembly, I ask the children to imagine – imagine because like us, that is the only way they can get up mountains from where they live. I tell them high places allow you to look all around, high places enable you to get things in perspective. Traditionally, high places bring us closer to God. And when you come back down the mountain, what had been bothering you is all sorted, you can now have a plan of action.

 

Except, according to scripture, mountains have the touch of death about them. God instructed Moses, ‘any who touch the mountain shall be put to death.’ It’s amazing that Jesus ever had any climbing companions when you consider the risk they were taking.

 

Today’s gospel, Mark Chapter 9. The midpoint in his story. Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain. As in the second half of the gospel the chief priests will bind Jesus and lead him away to Pilate.  The one who leads will become the one who is led.

 

Up the mountain they encounter a sort of salvation history summit conference – Moses and Elijah standing by Jesus. It’s an impressive lineup. A cloud descends and the heavenly voice speaks. A theologian helps me to look at the story in a new way. He suggests being on the top of a mountain is not necessarily a high point in the life of either Moses or Elijah. Moses was gone for so long up Mount Sinai - 40 days and 40 nights – that the people got bored and made the golden calf as distraction therapy. Thus, rejected he had to go up the mountain a second time.  It must have been a long and weary climb. Mountains have not been kind to Moses. Similarly, Elijah was not having the best of times, he was on the run from Jezebel who has vowed to kill him ‘by this time tomorrow.’ He fled to mount Horeb – that is Sinai where in the sheer silence God speaks to him. God instructs Elijah to go down the mountain, and he found Elisha who would continue his work. Well – it’s all you can do really, having once scaled the heights, the only way is down.

 

Moses and Elijah, both going through times of great discouragement in their lives. Both stories are clearly instructive at this midway point in Mark’s narrative. The cross now stands with the law and the prophets, up the mountain the veil between earth and heaven is torn in two, as at the baptism of Jesus and at his death. The revelation of God, as revealed in these past weeks of Epiphany – to the magi and then to Simeon and Anna is revealed on high today.  

 

And we are not to hang on to this revelation of God - life goes on. The magi return by another road, Simeon and Anna – we presume, stay at prayer in the temple. We cannot carve the revelation of God in stone or cast it in concrete. But tangible proof reassures, and Peter speaks for us, ‘Master it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings – or tents’.

 

The disciples will come down to earth after what they have experienced together up on the mountain. They know that somehow, just somehow, without any tangible proof, they are on the right path.  Amen.

Sunday 7 February Second Sunday before Lent by Alex Norris

 

A Perfect Planet’

 

I am not sure if you have been able to see David Attenbrorough’s latest series ‘A Perfect Planet’, in which he explains specific aspects of planet earth, such as the weather, volcanoes, or most recently, humans. This last episode went out on Sunday evening just gone and, along with a panel of experts, discussed the future in the light of what humanity is currently doing to the planet.

 

It was not easy viewing, with distressing images of suffering animals, fish

caught up accidentally in nets and also the impact of climate change on

humanity; nobody escaped, and it was fairly damning, and something that I would recommend everyone to watch (it's on the iPlayer if you want to catch up on it).

 

I also like the name they have given to the series, ‘A Perfect Planet’, as I

believe creation is, and always has been perfect, but is currently being

badly damaged.

 

This viewing really resonated, for me, with today’s Old Testament

reading and Psalm, which are both about creation, as they also relate

the perfection of creation to our part in it.

 

As Proverbs said this morning, about the role of Wisdom in creation, ‘I

was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race’.

 

There is a large quantity of debate about who Wisdom actually is, be it Solomon, The Holy Spirit, but convention has it that Wisdom is referred to as ‘she’, which is quite befitting when considering the creative role of Wisdom in our reading today.

 

What image do you have in your mind's eye when you hear Wisdom being referred to? When I think of Wisdom it invariably involves a sagely old man with a long white beard, like something out of Hogwarts, or an Owl, such as you see in literature or films, or possibly even David Attenborough

himself, because of his decades of knowledge and expertise in his field.

 

Do I regard Great Thunberg in the same light? Probably not,

but should I?

 

She has mobilised tens of thousands of people in this cause, chastised the member nations of the UN, saying she should be in school and not telling the UN that they should be looking after the planet. I suspect all of our images of what we regard as Wisdom probably need updating.

 

In our world today, with all its suffering and imperfection, especially with the pandemic, we might want to question the perfection of our world, especially in the light of what humanity has done to the planet in the last two hundred thousand years. But, with that questioning, we should not forget that God

delights in his creation, and in all of us. Our God is a creative God, he made us, and the world around us.

 

As the well-known Gospel reading from John this morning, used lovingly in carol services across the land reminds us, ‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being’. God made everything. And as he delights in it, so should we. And in doing this, we should respect it.

 

Attenborough doesn’t just give the viewer a diatribe of doom and gloom, he also gives us hope with some of the projects that are being done to counter the effects of the damage we are inflicting on the planet, and these projects are amazing, and already making a difference. It shows that we have the

capacity to repair, and to care, and as Christians, we are all called to love and respect God’s Creation.

 

As we move from the Christmas and Epiphany season towards Lent, I think it gives us all good time for pause and reflection. The creation in which we all live, was not just abandoned by God, as some creative experiment, as the Gospel reading this morning reminds us, ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us’, the Word being God, his only Son.

 

It is really quite dramatic stuff, God, becoming human, and living among us, with all of the risks that this entailed, from a fairly dramatic birth, through to a final humiliation and agonising death, and all for us, God’s creation.

 

And as we come to reflect on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ this Lent, we are also given time to reflect on our own failings and shortcomings.

 

Just as Christ endured the temptation in the desert and denied himself, we too should look at what commitment we will make in our Lenten observance this year.

 

So, when considering giving up cigarettes, not drinking alcohol,or heaven forbid, stopping eating chocolate (all admirable pursuits) maybe we tie in our Lenten observance with our commitment to care for God’s creation, by making changes to our lives to help us to be more environmentally friendly.

 

Proverbs said of the Oceans, ‘...he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command….’ I suspect David Attenborough would say that we are very close to the waters making this transgression, and that now is the time to act, before it is too late.

Sunday 31 January Candlemas by Katharine Rumens

 

Today we mark Candlemas a cross quarter day, the midway point of winter halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  “Down with the rosemary and bays, Down with the mistletoe, Instead of holly, now up-raise The greener box for show.” Says the poet.  

 

Its equivalent in six months’ time is Lammas - the cross-quarter day between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox; the feast of the Transfiguration in the Christians calendar.  The early church knew how to impress itself upon the world.  In the pagan calendar it is Imbolc and traditionally marks the first stirrings of spring. It is time for purification and spring cleaning in anticipation of the year's new life.

 

Whatever calendar we follow, pagan or Christian, the year is on the move. Candlemas refers to the practice of the blessing a whole year’s supply of candles – that light may shine in the darkness of people’s lives. In 542 the Emperor Justinian ordered its observance in Constantinople as a thanksgiving for the cession of plague. These historical details that previously might have been interesting, but not thought of as significant, find a resonance with us right now.

 

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, brackets Candlemas, marks the end of the Christmas cycle. Mary and Joseph go to the Temple to fulfill the necessary religious rituals.  There are two encounters, one with Simeon, described as righteous and devout, the other with Anna, a prophet who never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

 

There is significance is in the meeting of the old dispensation and the new. The elderly man takes the new-born child in his arms and gives thanks. ‘A light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and to the glory of your people Israel.’ This is the Christ, the sun of righteousness, who will shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path.   

 

Simeon sings his song. If we put our ear to the ground and listened would we hear the songs of this place? The songs of thanksgiving and praise down the ages which are held in time and etched into the fabric of this church and the earth beneath our feet. Listen.

 

There is that wonderful account of the Inuit brought back from his travels by Martin Frobisher and paraded through the streets of London. “The captive suffered them to lead him about; he seemed like a man in a trance as if his soul were elsewhere. But all of a sudden, he rose up and began to sing in his own tongue. He looked upwards to the sky, and sang with a great voice, and shortly after that he expired and died. He sings to the world of which he is a part, and from which he was snatched but to which he now returns.” In a strange land he sang his song and died.  

 

We are not told how the song was heard by the traders in Cheapside or the bankers in Lombard Street. Was it one more distraction on a busy day, or did the song of the Inuit inform their own song at their time of death?

 

Simeon, holding the child sings in the Temple. The moment had come for which he had been living.  Praise be to God that I have lived to see this day. God’s promise is fulfilled, and my duty is done. What will it take for us to die in peace? 

 

As we leave these seasons of the incarnation, I return to the Advent exhortation: ‘Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’ Simeon and Anna watched for God’s redemption. The result is that even when God appeared in the most unexpected guise (that of an eight-day-old baby) they were able to recognise him and give thanks for him. That’s what watching and keeping awake does for you.

Sunday 24 January Epiphany 3 by Alex Norris

 

Talking about weddings in this current situation is probably not the most

sensitive thing to do as so many couples have had to drastically alter,

significantly postpone, or cancel their wedding plans because of what is

the Pandemic and National Lockdown that we are all subject to. So, I

continue down this route, holding all those couples in my prayers as they

await the opportunity to make the vows to one another before God.

 

Whether it’s a wedding, birthday or celebration of any kind where you

have your guests being catered for, guessing the rate of alcohol

consumption can be very difficult, and the unmentioned nightmare of

running out of drink at such an event looms as some spectre that must

be avoided at all costs, driving many hosts to seriously over order ‘just to

be sure’. Having those conversations of, well half a bottle of wine a head

should be fine,. Shouldn’t it, but then there is auntie Gladys, it just would

not be enough for her, so count her as two….!

 

This must go on in households all over the country, they certainly have in mine. And no, I do not have an auntie Gladys!

 

More importantly I always find it interesting that the focus on such

logistics seems to be far more important than the actual wedding itself.

In our Gospel reading, the writer only gives a slight nod to the actual

ceremony, in as much as ‘there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and

the mother of Jesus was there….’ then we get straight into the business

of the drink running out and Jesus stepping in to save the day. But the

events of this day would go down in history, and are remembered all

these years later.

 

Jesus’ first miracle, which is performed at the Wedding in Cana, as

described by the evangelist John, is probably one of the most famous

miracles of them all, Jesus turns water into wine. And not just some

water, but around 20-30 gallons of it. And not any old wine, we are

talking more a fine wine, so less Blue Nun, and more Pinotage if you get

my drift! Whether you actually believe this event took place as described, or not, the meaning and deep imagery that this event conveys is what we should be taking away from this account.

 

First, some context: Galilee was a wine producing region, and whilst

many residents of Galilee were involved in the production of wine, they

could only afford to drink it on special occasions, it was a luxury.

 

The bridegroom and his family would have saved for a long time to put

on such a feast and running out of wine (as happens at this wedding)

was one of the most powerful ways in which poverty became a cause of

shame. Because not having enough wine for your guests was the most

obvious way of stating that you were poor.

 

Interestingly, the Aramaic word for “wedding feast” has the same roots

as the word for “drink”, so culturally drinking wine and attending a

wedding reception were closely associated, and one could assume that

the provision of wine was expected at such occasions, and that it should

not run out.

 

So, in this case Jesus’s actions quietly helped out his host, restoring

dignity to the household, which was obviously living in the shadow of

scarcity and shame. Because of Jesus’ actions the shortage of wine is

known about by only a few people who were present. In short Jesus’s

discretion saves the bridegroom and his family from public humiliation,

which would have been certain if word had got out.

 

But if that is not enough, the steward has to get involved asking why they had saved the good stuff until the end of the evening, when the guests would not have been so considered in the quality of the wine that they were drinking.

 

Should Jesus have matched the vintage, were the family quietly feeling

upstaged that the wine they have slavishly saved up for was considered

‘plonk’ that should have been guzzled at the latter stages of the feast by

the more hardened and less scrupulous drinkers?

 

Well, we will of course never know.

 

This miracle was not a parlour trick to amaze everyone. As previously

noted, nobody knew what had happened apart from a select few people,

it was far more important than that. We get our first clue in what Jesus

says to Mary when she prompts Jesus to step in. (Did she know that

Jesus was able to do something like this, or was she expecting

something else?)

 

He tells his mother that his hour has not yet come, this shows us the

dependence of his actions on the will of the Father and connecting the

miracle he is about to work with the mystery of the Cross. It also

represents the switch from Jesus’ family life, and being subject to what

his parents asked, to his Public Ministry, which was reliant on God.

 

But there was more; the miracle at Cana represents a far greater work of

transformation.

 

As the eucharistic preface for this season expresses it:

 

In the water made wine, the new creation was revealed at the wedding

feast. Poverty was turned to riches, sorrow into joy.

 

And here we get into the deeper meaning of what was going on here.

 

This new wine, refers to Jesus’ blood which is poured out for all of us,

the redemption of fallen humanity. As our reading from Revelation says,

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the

Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready’ we can see the

use of the matrimonial imagery for something far greater here, the use of

the image of the Lamb, a strongly sacrificial image in this context.

 

In our Genesis reading, bread and wine are also offered, when the kings

gathered and Melchizedek blessed them, and blessed God. So even

from the earliest times, hospitality has been closely associated with God

and the blessing he gives to all of us.

 

As one scholar notes, ‘At Cana, at his last supper, and at each

celebration of the eucharist, Jesus reveals himself in deeds as well as

words.

 

These actions summon us to bear witness to him in our daily, material

relationships, so that the abundant love of God is made known in a world

still held captive by scarcity and shame’.

 

Drawing this conclusion, in our current circumstances is very timely. We

live in a world of scarcity, and one where the few have so much, and the

many have very little. In contrast to the message of scarcity and

embarrassment of not having enough, which is the pretext of the

Wedding at Cana, I wonder whether we should turn this round, and

wonder whether those with too much should feel the shame, especially

when we look at the world around us.

 

Hospitality and care is at the heart of the Christian message, as is justice

and fairness for all. When we next think of the wedding at Cana and the

water being turned into wine, maybe we look to think more deeply about

the message that this miracle is trying to convey.

Sunday 17 January Epiphany 2 by Katharine Rumens  

 

It never happens to Londoners – or certainly not to those of us who dwell in the posh parts like Zone 1. Can anything good come out of the City of London is not a frequent remark. The City of London has substance, significance, eminence, a world-wide reputation, Whereas, meeting local builders working on my house, hearing where I was living, remarked ‘Oh you got away’. Local builders in that city that disdainful youths call Smallisbury.

 

The son of a man from Nazareth – what a joke. A small village in the backwaters of Galilee. A nowhere place up north. Admit it, we know what we know about people in the north – all coal in the bath and not a Clerkenwll hipster or chai latte in sight. Or why I found it hilarious when (at a party in Zone 2) a woman said that she was from the pretty bit of Didcot. We can be dismissive of people’s place of origin or habitation.  And such dismissals obstruct our openness to one another. Today’s gospel reading about son of Joseph the carpenter who was from the pretty bit of Nazareth.

 

The first reading also indicates the surprising nature of the call of God – here  to the boy lying in the temple of the Lord. ‘Samuel, Samuel (wouldn’t it be just wonderful if every now and again we could read in scripture the account of a girl or woman being beckoned in this way by God, but we don’t and we just have to get on with it.) And Eli advises the child to say yes, speak, I am listening. Here I am.

 

The gospel reading is from the last verses of John chapter 1. A chapter that  begins with such profundity: ‘In the beginning was the Word’ and the Word was – guess what - the son of Joseph from Nazareth. It is not supposed to happen this way – the Messiah – him about whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote.

 

I’m with Nathanael here, under my fig tree enjoying the shade on a hot day – the Messiah can’t possibly come from Nazareth. But those who live in the shadows may not be alert to the urgency of the task in hand. Andrew and Simon are followers of John, Jesus walks by. Andrew and Simon leave John and follow Jesus. Come and see. The next day Philip is invited, Follow me – and Philip found Nathanael. Oops.

 

The author of John’s is teaching us something about community. About the people we have to get on with, however different they are from us. Philip and Andrew have Greek names, Simon and Nathanael (which means God has given) are Hebrew names. The first disciples are a mixture.

 

Back under the fig tree the mood is not receptive. Why does Jesus bother with one who is cynically dismissive? Even Matthew was an easier call and he was a tax collector: Jesus went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Yet Nathanael is prepared to reconsider, unlike Jonah, there is a limit to his sulking.

 

As his ancestor Jacob, that cunning thief who stole his brother’s birthright, saw in a dream, A ladder set up on earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it, Nathanael too will see the gates of heaven opened, and he will find himself in the nearer presence of God. You don’t have to be that perfect to see angels – you just need to be ready to see heaven opened.

 

It is always worth taking a closer look when something new invades our experience. It might just be a vision of angels ascending and descending. To follow God is to witness the bridge between the divine and human. And to stop sulking – not that we are.

Sunday 10th January - Baptism of Christ by Alex Norris

 

Today the church celebrates two festivals, the Baptism of Christ, as we

have heard described in our Gospel reading today, but also Plough

Sunday, which of we were in a more rural setting, we would be more

likely to be celebrating, praying for the farmers as they begin to break

the ground and sew the seed for the future harvest. The seed and

ploughs would be blessed. Something that both of these festivals have

in come, is of course new life, whether it is the Baptism of a new child or

the cultivation of new life in our fields; and both of these are essential for

our survival as a species, and as part of God’s creation.

 

Baptism is one of the great sacraments of the church, an outward

physical sign of inward Grace. It is in itself a new life, a new life in Christ,

signified with the blessing of water and then the sprinkling of water on

the head of the child, or depending on tradition, a portion of the floor

would be removed, revealing a large baptismal pool, in which the

candidate would be fully submerged. I am glad we are not doing that

today, in these temperatures!

 

The font we use, is, as it is in most churches at the back of the church.

Ours is at the back in between the two entrances to the church.

 

It came from St Luke’s church, when the church was closed, and used to

be used by the Wesley brothers, so lots of history there.

 

As I mentioned, the font and baptism signifies new life, not just in the

child that’s being baptised, as is our tradition here, but also the font itself

signifies new life.

 

Many fonts are made octagonal in shape, having 8 sides to it. Why?

Well, each side represents a day, with the 8th day being the first day of

the new creation, also the eighth day would traditionally be the day that

circumcision would take place.

 

With the font placed where it is at the back of the church, it also sits

within the design rationale of the church, and this is generally the layout

for all traditional churches.

 

When you come through the doors, your first part of the journey is

Baptism, you then progress down the church through the pews, to where

you receive communion, through to the sanctuary and finally heaven. So

the journey of life is represented here. As with many things to do with the

church, there are always exceptions to this rule, and variants, but I hope

this gives a good idea of how baptism sits within the scheme of things.

 

I do find this journey through the church interesting at this time of the

year, as we still have the nativity scene set up, now with the three kings

present, as it is Epiphany, and at the heart of this, the baby Jesus. As I

stand here on the threshold of the sanctuary of the church, the boundary

between heaven and earth, I have Jesus here (Point to the Nativity) that

new life that came for all of us, being visited by the Magi, with their gifts

for the new-born king.

 

And as with Christ’s baptism, with Plough Sunday, and with Christ’s own

nativity, the theme of new life runs like a seam of gold through all of this.

New life, it's what helps us make sense of death, what preserves our

race, and what is at the core of the meaning of life; Survival.

 

In the current situation that we all find ourselves with the pandemic and

all that this entails, we should take heart at the story of Christ’s baptism,

that new life that has come upon us, and the work that carries on apace

to grow our food, and all that takes place throughout the rural

communities in our land.

 

Too many people are dying at the moment, a hard battle is being fought

to bring this pandemic under control, and with the measures being taken,

we will get there.

 

But whilst all this is going on, and whilst it might seem a dark time that

we are all currently living in, there is light at the end for all of us, whoever

we are, wherever we are.

 

Christ fought with death, and won, for all of us, and as we remember the

life of Christ over the next few months as we move from Christmas and

Epiphany through to Lent and then the joys of Easter, we can experience

that journey that Christ took physically as well as spiritually in his

relatively short life here on earth.

 

The alternative Gospel reading for today is the famous passage about

worry, and how by worrying you do not add to your number of days. For

the farmers, worrying about their crops, what the weather will do, and the

impact on their livelihoods is of course a natural and expected thing to

do. I suspect many will be worrying about what is going on nationally and

for what this year holds.

 

I think that the two Gospel readings for today sit well together, because

as Christ is baptised and clothed with the Holy Spirit, as signified when

the Dove came down as Christ came up from the water, so, as we have

been baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, we too

are clothed with the Holy Spirit.

 

And whilst, I would not stand here and simply say, ‘well because of this,

we all need not worry’ when, I know there are things that I certainly worry

about, I would, say, having this reassurance should at least help us deal

with our worries, whatever they are.

 

As we celebrate Holy Communion today, as we remember the sacrifice

that Christ made for all of us, remember the Crib scene, and picture a

font, and in doing this, remember your own birth, rebirth through

baptism, and also the sacrifice that Christ made for you, for all that you

have done, and as we start the new week in the uncertain world that we

currently find ourselves, remember the certainty of the saving love of

God, his constant presence with us, whatever we are going through.

 

We have been baptised not just with water, but in the name of the

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As John said, he was unworthy to untie the

shoes of the person who was to follow him. Well, that person has now

come and is now here with us, and will always be with us, from this day

on and forevermore.

 

Birth, Baptism, Life; all things we can remain positive and hopeful about,

constants that are around us all. Let is give thanks for our lives, for the

life of Christ, and for all he did for us.

Amen.

Where to visit us:-

St Giles' Cripplegate Church
Fore Street
London EC2Y 8DA

 

Registered Charity               Number 1138077

Services at St Giles’

Sunday 24 October Last of Trinity 

10.00 Parish Eucharist 

For Music and Readings 

 Click here

Sunday 31 October The All Souls’ ​Service at 4pm

If you would like names of the deceased read out during the service please email details to admin@stgileschurch.com

Weekday Services

There will be no Morning Prayer on weekdays during the Interregnum.

 

Wednesdays    

3 November  

Home Prayer Group - Lectio Divina 19.30 via Zoom. To join contact Suzanne Royce   susanjroyce@gmail.com

 

The church is open for private prayer

The church is 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 2 September.

If are not able to join us, we hope you will continue to pray with us wherever you are.

Dates for 2021 

4 November, 2 December. 

 

Cleaning Angels

The monthly sessions on the first Thursday of the month from 13.30-15.00 including tea and cake.

Cleaning Angels  
Dates in 2021   

4 November,

2 December. 

 

2022 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30

Monday 31 January, 

Tuesday 29 March,

Monday 25 July,

Tuesday 20 September

Monday 21 November. 

2022 Annual Parish Church Meeting

Sunday 8 May at 11.30am after the Parish Eucharist.

 

Parish Office Opening Hours

Mon-Fri 11.00-16.00

Tel: 020 7638 1997

admin@stgileschurch.com

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