Sunday 26 December Christmas by Rev Paula Hollingsworth Chaplain at St Paul’s Cathedral
For many families, an important aspect of Christmas is roots
Grown up children return to the family home
And if my experiences of my nieces, now in their early 20s, is typical (which I think it is), they are the most conservative members of the family about how things should be done – but we ALWAYS have Yorkshire pudding with Christmas lunch, the youngest child ALWAYS distributes the present (no matter how old that youngest child might be now)
In my experience, again, the older generations look upon this indulgently, glad to have them so happy to be back at home, knowing that come New Year they’ll be off again, out with friends, seeking out new adventures.
Roots and shoots are so important in bringing up and bringing on the next generation
Roots, giving them a sense of belonging, of a safe place to come back to
Shoots, enabling them to become their own people, using their unique skills and talents, having the confidence to venture out and try new things.
Our readings today drew parallels between Samuel, called by God before he was born to be a prophet, who served in the Temple in Jerusalem from a very young age
But even more, it draws parallels between their parents, especially their mothers
Hannah, Samuel’s mother making a new robe each year for her growing boy, but letting him go, letting him grow up in the Temple, in that place where he is called to be.
The Jewish Law required boys from the age of 13 to attend the Temple for Passover – our Gospel reading makes clear that Jesus was only 12 and that he had been coming with his father and mother for some time – showing I believe his parents’ seeking to prepare him for his God given calling. The fact that they didn’t miss him on the way home, assuming he was with others in their Nazareth group, shows that they were bringing him up to be independent and to trust other people.
When Jesus is found, they display the reaction of any human parent – Where have you been? Why didn’t you tell us? We have been SO worried! But Jesus’ answer must have cut them to the core – ‘Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?’ Even before he is 13, Jesus is using the word must – this is what I must do……in my Father’s house – service of God will demand mastery over his commitment to his parents.
And yet after that he went home, and we learn, ‘was obedient to them’ – back to a time of building up roots.
With both a tree and a human being, the deeper, the more sustaining are your roots, the healthier are the shoots that develop, the greater is the growth.
In our lives, as well as in those of children and young people, Christmas is often a time of returning to roots, to traditions, to well-loved and well-worn rituals – both our roots in God and our roots in our families and homes.
But Christmas is followed a few days later by New Year – a time with the potential for new beginnings, for new shoots.
In your life, in your walk with God, what might be the new shoots that God will call you to develop this year?
You may not know what they are yet, so keep developing your roots so that you are ready for the new growth when it comes.
Sunday 19 December Advent 4 (Mary) by Alex Norris
This Sunday marks the last Sunday of Advent as we come to the end of the Advent Season, and in a few days’ time celebrate the birth of Christ. Traditionally this Sunday the church turns its focus to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
In today’s Gospel we recall the annunciation where Mary learns of God's plan for her, and her reaction is simply, ‘let it be to me according to your word’.
This really is quite ground-breaking stuff. We are always in danger of judging these reading and miraculous events by today's standards, where there is a much greater equality between men and women. We have to remember that during the days in which these events were taking place, the role of women was very much different, with them being regarded more as property than people, and with no real equality with their place in society.
God had chosen an unknown woman, from nowhere special to be the mother of His child. An event that would immortalise her in history. An event that is remembered the world over annually by billions of people. But, we don’t just have the one miraculous conception, we get two for the price of one! With also Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for Jesus. She had been barren for years, and unable to conceive a child, something that she and her husband Zechariah really wanted, and even though in mature years, she conceived a child, through the Holy Spirit and Mary learnt of this when Elizabeth was in her sixth month, as Luke’s account tells us.
Could you imagine what this would be like? There you are at home (I presume) do nothing in particular where an Angel pays you a visit, not exactly a normal event, and then not just any angel, but an Archangel, in angelic terms, one of the divisional directors, with a direct line to the CEO. What would that visit be like? The anthem we hear today, Gabriel's message, which is a Basque Folk Carol puts it far more eloquently than I ever could:
The angel Gabriel from heaven came, his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame; "All hail", said he, "thou lowly maiden Mary, most highly favoured lady." Gloria.
However it happened, how would you react?
Fear? Laughter? What me, are you having a laugh?
How? Denial? This isn’t happening…….
Probably disbelief, only to be told that your relative Elizabeth (probably her cousin, or Kinswoman, depending on translations) had already miraculously conceived. Mary would not know this because It was tradition at this time that when a woman became pregnant that she would seclude herself from normal life and nurture the child she was to bear. No ante-natal classes for a calm and positive birth going on here.
Imagine isolating from your whole support network, when pregnant, at a time when giving birth and subsequent survival of Mother and Child was far more of a lottery then than it is today, and must have been a frightening prospect for any mother to be. And of course, currently that is what some parents are having to do because of Covid and the limitations on loved ones being with them, when they are in hospital.
As an interesting side point, because Elizabeth and Mary were related, so would Jesus and John the Baptist, however apart from Chapter one of Luke it is mentioned nowhere else in Luke’s Gospel or any of the other three.
The words that have remained with me from all of this are the simple words Mary said to the Angel Gabriel: “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” Other translations say ‘let it be to me according to your word’.
Here we can see this normal woman handing over her destiny to God.
I always think that these events, coupled with the resurrection, help underpin the role that women had in the early church. The Virgin Birth, critical for Jesus to be in the world, women who helped fund Jesus from their private means, and then women who when Jesus was arrested, remained firm, even when his male disciples are said to have fled, and who accompanied him to the foot of the cross and were the first witnesses to the resurrection on that first morning.
And all at a time, where women's rights were virtually non-existent, and where women held no positions of authority.
I would argue that all of these women, in their hearts (feeling called to support and help Jesus and his fledgling cause at that time) were letting God act through them, as was His wish, for His ends. I have to say, in writing that sentence, it seemed odd calling God He, when I look at the fuller context. However, that is for another sermon!
As we look back on Advent in this most strangest of years, and then look ahead to Christ’s birth, being celebrated anew, in that stable, in a foreign land, to an unmarried couple, I would suggest we all reflect on those simple words of Mary; ‘let it be to me according to your word’.
What does that mean to you?
What do you feel God calls you to do for His church?
We all have been given a lot to think about this Christmas, with the goings on in the world, and the un-natural circumstances we find ourselves in, and everything that brings with it.
Next week we celebrate Jesus coming among us, at a time when he is well needed. That light in the darkness. Maybe as we reflect on this miraculous birth and think of what God asked of Mary at that time we should ask ourselves of what God is asking of us today. Amen.
Sunday 28 November Advent 1 by Alex Norris
Well, I suppose I should start by saying, Happy New Year; Today, apart
from being the First Sunday of Advent, is also the start of the new church
year. Together we have journeyed through the dramatic life of the
churches year together, with the added drama of an interregnum, but
together we have lived out our witness to our faith, and that wonderful
journey continues, as we enter the penitential season of Advent, as we
prepare for the joys of Christmas, hence my wearing purple.
Today’s readings all have a sense of foretelling, if not also a little
foreboding. We hear the prophesy of Jeremiah, starting with those
words, ‘The days are surely coming when I will fulfil the promise I made
to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’
Then we get a slightly more apocalyptic tone in Luke, which I always find
quite uncharacteristic for his Gospel, ‘There will be signs in the sun, the
moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused
by the roaring of the sea and the waves’.
I am sure many of us will have been quite affected about the tragedy in
the English Channel this week where 31 migrants lost their lives after
making a desperate attempt to get to the UK. Our Gospel reading this
morning very much brought this to mind. The ‘distress among the
nations’ which is all too prevalent at the moment, and causing people,
just like you and me, to take massive risks to try and live the life they
want, risking their very existence to achieve it. And as we have seen this
week, and sadly most weeks now, some of these poor people do pay the
ultimate price, never making it to their destination, with the only people
winning, being the unscrupulous people smugglers, which I hope the
countries of the world can come together and stamp on.
Luke tells us of the coming of Jesus, and that we are to avoid all of the
risks around us, to enable us to witness this Advent of our Lord, with all
the might and turmoil that will bring.
But what is this heralding?
The kingdom of God, that world where there is justice, fairness, no more
Where there is no more need for people to risk their lives in dinghies to
avoid persecution, a world in which those poor migrants in the English
channel in their own way were trying to find a better life, somewhere
better, somewhere fairer.
When Jesus comes, he proclaims the Kingdom for all of us. We are all
awaiting this world that Jesus will come and teach to his disciples over
the following months, as we move from his joyous nativity to his passion,
death and resurrection.
We are fortunate that we are able to count on this expectation being far
exceeded, and unlike those more lucky migrants who successfully make
it to ours, and other countries shores, where I doubt their expectations
are remotely satisfied, with many probably ending up having to work to
pay off huge debts to their smugglers, ending up in slave labour and all
that this entails.
We are very much in a time of darkness in the world, with the concerns
over Covid, and the friction between the nations, and more close to
home the worries about the cost of living, justice in our society and other
major issues of our time.
But we look forward to the light. The theme of light and darkness
dominates the Advent season, as we move from darkness to light, from
the darkness which conceals all of the ills and evils of the world, to the
light which illuminates all and uncovers all, which represents honesty
and safety and assuredness.
As Luke says, ‘you know that the kingdom of God is near…’ and with all
that’s going on in the world, one might believe it to be more relevant than
in previous years when we read the words, ‘and on the earth distress
among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves...now
when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near.’ It gives us a lot to reflect on.
There has been an intentional darkness to what I have said here, but, its
not all doom and gloom. As the church prepares for Christ’s coming in
his Nativity, as we put up our Christmas trees, and light our candles and
sing our carols and spend time together and hopefully have a more
normal Christmas than we did last year.
Yes, we have to think of those who are less fortunate than us, and do all
that we can to help alleviate these problems in our world, which as
Christians we look to do; caring for our neighbour, looking after God’s
creation, and all that this brings. But we also have to look forward, to
anticipate the joys of Christmas, and then celebrate the miracle of the
So, for now we wait, we anticipate, and we prepare ourselves, and as
Luke advises, ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down
with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that
day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon
all who live on the face of the whole earth’. And it is worth remembering,
that this Advent prepares the whole world for Christ’s coming, is
universal, is for everyone, for those poor people desperate to seek a
better life elsewhere, as well as us, safe and sound here in the City of
And finally, these words, these truths, at the heart our faith are eternal,
as Luke reminds us, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will
not pass away’. Creation as we may know it may pass, but these words
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Sunday 21 November Christ the King. The Sunday before Advent by Alex Norris
In all three of our readings this morning, we hear of Kingship in terms that it will never end; ‘His kingship shall never be destroyed’, The famous reading from Revelation, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty, with alpha being the first and omega being the last letters of the Greek Alphabet, with these letters quite often drawn in churches. Then John’s account from Christ’s passion, where he is being questioned by Pilate, and says, ‘My kingdom is not from this world’. Pilate went on to ask him, ‘So you are a king?’ and Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth..’ Christ whilst using Pilate’s words, clearly states his Kingship, in the full knowledge that this will result in his being put to death by the state, as the only authority in that area of the world, at that time was the Emperor, and his rule was brutal and absolute, as those times sadly required.
The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively recent feast that falls on the last Sunday of the church’s year. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his encyclical Quas primas of 1925, in response to growing secularism and nationalism in the face of the rise of fascism in Italy.
Remembering Christ as King at the end of the church's year, just before we move into Advent next Sunday (Sorry to alarm, yes next Sunday!) and we anticipate Christ’s birth, which is important as it galvanises his birth, death and resurrection into our understanding of the ongoing role of Christ in the church, remembering his resurrection and victory over death.
This year I think this Feast comes at an interesting time for our nation, as there are so many questions being raised around Her Majesty the Queen’s health, why has she cancelled being at this, why is she doing that, oh no, she is using a walking stick, forgetting that she is a 95 yr old human being who still has a gruelling work schedule and the eyes of nearly an entire planet on her every move.
In our country, where the Monarchy has high approval ratings, and a monarch that is globally respected, and the longest serving monarch in human history as a glowing example of monarchy, the benefits it brings and so on. But in the end, this reign will come to an end, a day many of us I am sure would wish not to think about, and something I am not going to dwell on, but in simple terms, our monarchy is a human monarchy, and none of us live forever.
Our own Monarch is the supreme governor of the Church of England, and it is an Anglican Coronation service that will crown our next monarch, however she too is subject to Christ the King, just like her subjects.
With Christ’s kingship, this is not the case, this monarchy is of God, it is infinite, without beginning or end, as infinite as God himself. The feast remembers Christ as King of the universe, I have to admit I often think of Blakes 7 or Star Trek with this style of language, but importantly phrasing it like this gives us an idea of infinity with this kingship being universal.
This kingship is also fundamentally different in the way it came about on earth. Unlike most monarchs, who are borne into great wealth, and affluent lifestyles, with heavy security around them, and huge powers within their realms, Christ the King was born into squalor, as an immigrant in a foriegn land, managed to escape the mass slaughter of Children as a failed attempt to get rid of him. He was a political outcast, associated himself with those many others would have nothing to do with, and finally suffered the humiliating death of a criminal, alongside two other criminals.
Hardly a King of the universe. Sometimes the term used is Backward King, and there is a great children's story around this theme. For all his human frailty, and suffering, this King reigns supreme and all those in authority are subject to his rule. I sometimes think the biggest miracle around Christianity is not the story of the virgin birth, or of this outcast who had a small group of followers within the mighty Roman regime, who put him to death, and the story of his resurrection, the events of which were not even written down at the time, but some years later on, no, I think the biggest miracle is that it has survived until today, and that this Jesus of Nazareth, today has 2.5 billion followers. More than any monarchy or republic.
As we come to celebrate Christ the King, who is the beginning and the end, we have to resist the temptation to think of this Kingship in human terms, such as the earthly monarchies that exist today, with their human fallibilities and finitude, and remember that this is Kingship knows no bounds either in time or in geography, and most importantly that this King is for all of us, for all of time.
So let us give thanks to Pope Pius the eleventh for instituting this great Feast, which gives us all the opportunity to give thanks for Christ the King, and all that he brings to us. Amen.
Sunday 31st October All Soul’s Service at 4pm by Alex Norris
We have come again to the season of remembrance in the church, with
All Soul’s Day, All Saints’ Day and then of course Remembrance Day all
happening in quick succession. As with all these events they are
observed on the nearest Sunday to their actual day, along with the actual
day itself. We also have Hallowe’en, which whilst not a Christian festival
in the sense of trick a treating, carving pumpkins and fancy dress,
traditionally refers to the evening before All Hallows (with Hallows,
meaning Saints) so Hallowe’en is the evening before All Hallows day, or
All Saint’s Day. So tonight is Halloween, Tomorrow is All Saints Day and
the day after is All Souls Day. It all does seem rather complicated,
We celebrated All Saints this morning in our Parish Eucharist, and this
evening, we have come together to remember All Souls; all of those who
have gone before us, our loved ones, those we cared for, and those we
see no longer.
But why here?
People have been coming to St Giles to remember their loved ones for
nearly a thousand years now. This church has memorials to people who
have changed the world through their lives in what they achieved
through their work and all that they did. Just as these famous luminaries
changed the world, so have those you have come to remember today
changed your world. I am not standing here before you immune to this
remembrance, I too have lost loved ones who impacted my world and
In this place we are afforded the space and context to be able to pay our
respects in a meaningful way. This does not mean it’s the only way we
can pay respects to a loved one, we may have a family meal on a
notable anniversary, or some similar get-together and this is important,
as is being here, together tonight, it invokes the memory of that person,
and in doing so those we have lost remain alive in our minds, all those
experiences, emotions, memories, staying with us, not lost, but with us.
You cannot kill love. We can die, loved ones can die, but our love for
them will never die. It does not work like that. I think that this is
something that we can cherish.
In this consecrated space, a place that has been made sacred, a place
that has been made special, somewhere that can aptly help us mourn
our loved ones, we remember the example of Christ, God’s only Son.
God is not ignorant of grief, he lost his only son, who was sacrificed for
all of us. A son, killed in such a cruel and public way, for our forgiveness.
For as the faith tells us, he rose again and conquered death.
This conquering of death is what makes our presence here so unique.
Death is not the end. If this was missing, then all we could really do
when mourning our loved ones is to remember what has passed, but
without the comfort of having faith in what lies ahead.
All those who have gone before, our loved ones, are in the loving arms
of God, safe, no longer suffering, and importantly at peace. With this
hope, a hope that Jesus has given to all of us, along with our memories
we have both what has gone before, and what lies ahead, mapped out
from this point in time, here tonight.
Our service today comprises three parts, Grief, Acceptance and then
Remembering with Love. These are three important stages that we may
or may not all go through when we lose a loved one, and that’s fine.
If we are able to Remember with love, those who have gone before,
whilst having faith in the future (of all that God has promised to us) then I
would hope that this would all give us some of the comfort that we all
need at one time or another.
Later in the service we will be lighting a candle in memory of our loved
ones, bringing them up and placing them on the Altar. In doing this, we
can all come together in this special place, and remember and be still
before those we no longer see, whilst we hold them in our hearts and
prayers before God, who made all of us, and sustains all of us, and
ultimately cares for all of us, whoever we are, wherever we are and
importantly for all those whom we love but see no more.
Sunday 31th October All Saints’ Day at the Parish Eucharist by Alex Norris
Today we have come together to remember all of the saints. All Saints
Day was formally established in 609 AD by Pope Boniface IV. As the
great hymn says, ‘For all the saints, from whom their labour’s rest….’
If we are remembering all of the saints, as the day suggests, how many
are we talking about?
50, 100, 1000? In actual fact there are over 10,000 saints, the names
and history of many sadly have been lost over time. If we did know them
all, every day would be a Saints’ Day and equally spreading them out
over the year, we would be remembering around 30 saints a day. We
wouldn’t be able to do anything else. The admin alone would be a
The wonderful thing about the Saints is that they are such a varied group
of people, which is fantastic, because their diversity reflects the diversity
of the faithful, and through that diversity we have Patron Saints for
Did you know there is a Patron Saint for the Internet? St. Isidore of
Seville, which dates back to 600 AD, just a little before Tim Berners-Lee
was even born!
St Balthasar is the Patron Saint of playing card manufacturers, St Drogo
is the Patron Saint of unattractive people, if you can believe it. I’d be
careful who you wish Happy St Drogo’s Day to!
There is literally a saint for everything. But what is a Saint?
We hear a lot in common parlance terms about saints, such as they are
saintly, they have the patience of a Saint and so on, but how do you
become one? Interestingly its not just down to living a certain kind of life,
a life of faith, or good works, it needs once extra thing in the mix.
Without a miracle attributed to you, your aspirations of having a career
as a Saint are dashed.
So, when someone is being considered for being made a Saint (the
process of which is called canonization) there is a lengthy process that
the Catholic church uses for this. The quickest process for this is five
years after a person's death. A notable, and in my opinion, worthy
exception to this rule, which the Pope of the time can make was for
Mother Theresa, who was canonised only two years after her death.
When it comes to the miracle or miracles attributed to a person, which is
an essential part of the journey to sainthood, these have to be
Since the 16th century, the Pope's cardinals have been using a so-called
miracle commission. This is a special task force consisting of medical
scientists who investigate whether alleged saints can really cause
miracles. Its like the Vatican having a kind of 'CIA', which investigates
alleged miracles. If they give the thumbs up, then that person is well on
the way to Sainthood.
They also say that some of those who die, who are to become Saints
exude a smell of flowers or roses, known as the ‘Odour of Sanctity’, also
some saint’s bodies do not decay.
This belief is known as incorruptibility, and you can go and see some
saints today who have been dead for many years and their bodies have
remained intact, such as St Vincent De Paul, St. Bernadette, St. John
Vianney and so on.
I appreciate that this sermon has been a little Dan Brown in its content,
but when we want to celebrate All Saints Sunday, I thought we should
have a dalliance into the business of Saints, so we can get a broader
idea of what this world entails.
Here at church, we remember our two patron saints, St Giles and St
Luke. A couple of weeks ago, at our Dedication Festival I talked about
the importance of place, and consecration, and the fact that we have two
Saints dedicated to the church.
Why should we remember them? What do they even do? How should
we remember them?
We do not worship Saints, we venerate them, revere them. They are
believed to be able to intercede for our salvation and help mankind either
through direct communion with God or by personal intervention.
In remembering and venerating all the saints, we are keeping alive an
important link that we have between us and God. When sometimes we
might feel slightly abandoned by God, we always have the faithful
congregation of Saints, who are always there for us, interceding for us.
This is important, as I think it helps us keep the faith, it is also a very
human way to relate to God. These saints were people like you and I,
people of huge faith, and people who God shone down on, but people all
the same. Saint’s are being made all the time, it’s not a process that
finished in the 1600s. There are currently people going through the
Carlo Acutis, who died at 15 in 2006 and was an early adopter of the
internet, was beatified in October 2020, putting him on the path to
sainthood in the Catholic Church. This would make him the first
As you might gather, the business of Saints is a very catholic affair, but
so relevant to our own faith here at St Giles, as we say in the creed, we
are part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Saints therefore
are a very ecumenical presence in the church, as we all have them in
As we remember all the saints, and their stunning diversity, all that they
did in their lives, contributing to society, and now interceding on our
behalf let us give thanks for their faith, so let us pray:
Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have
gone before us. Bless the memories of your saints. May we learn how to
walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
So, I have a confession to make....
A completely irrational love that I have…
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Take up your cross
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
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
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
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
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.
Where to visit us:-
St Giles' Cripplegate Church
London EC2Y 8DA
Registered Charity Number 1138077
Services at St Giles'
Sunday 30 January 2022 Epiphany 4 Presentation in the Temple - Candlemas
There will be no Morning Prayer on weekdays during the Interregnum.
26 January 2022
Home Prayer Group - Lectio Divina 19.30 via Zoom. To join contact Suzanne Royce firstname.lastname@example.org
The church is open for private prayer
The church 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 6 January
If are not able to join us, we hope you will continue to pray with us wherever you are.
Dates in 2022
3 February, 3 March, 7 April, 5 May, 2 June, 7 July, No session in August, 1 September, 6 October, 3 November, 1 December.
The monthly sessions on the first Thursday of the month from 13.30-15.00 including tea and cake from 14.30.
Dates in 2022
3 February, 3 March, 7 April, 5 May, 2 June, 7 July, No session in August, 1 September, 6 October, 3 November, 1 December.
2022 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30
Monday 31 January,
Tuesday 29 March,
Monday 25 July,
Tuesday 20 September
2022 Annual Parish Church Meeting
The date for the APCM has been changed from Sunday 8 May to Sunday 24 April at 11.30am after the Parish Eucharist.
Parish Office Opening Hours
Tel: 020 7638 1997