Sunday 31 July Trinity 7 by Paula Hollingsworth, Chaplain at St Paul’s Cathedral
Hosea 11: 1 – 11; Colossians 3:1 – 11, Luke 12:13 – 21
A few months ago, I was in the privileged position of buying my own house (not in London I hasten to add!) and in recent months I have been spending yet more swathes of money doing it up so that I can rent it out and be able to make some income.
So how relevant these words of Jesus are to me ‘Take care, be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’.
How insidious greed is. We don’t notice it creeping over us, but how easily we can find ourselves in its thrall – wanting more, expecting more, dependent on having more – and how empty that can make us feel.
Today if the feast day of the Catholic saint Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius founded the Jesuits and has always been an incredibly important figure in the Catholic Church. In the Anglican church the Retreat movement, and many forms of prayer and teaching have their roots in Ignatius’ teaching.
Ignatius was born in 1491 into a noble Spanish family. As a young man, humanly speaking he had everything. He was lively and imaginative, popular with his many friends. He was wealthy. He was a knight, and a leader, so received much adulation.
When he was about 21, he was wounded in battle, and received a bullet in his thigh and was laid up in bed for months on end. He was bored. He was being looked after in a castle where there was nothing to read except the Bible and the lives of the saints, which he dismissed. Ignatius had been brought up on tales of the knights, of chivalry, of damsels in distress being rescued, of honour. Having a vivid imagination Ignatius tried to lose himself in daydreams from these well-known stories – with himself as the chivalrous knight. But when he came back to reality, these dreams just left him feeling emptier.
So, he started to read the Bible and the lives of the Saints, and again his imagination soon came into play, and he imagined himself into the Bible stories, and imagined what Jesus would say to him if he had been there by the Sea of Galilee – and he imagined the conversations he would have with the Saints. And this time when he came back to the reality of the situation he was in, stuck in bed, unable to walk, he felt strengthened, and encouraged and hopeful. Because he discovered that Jesus meets the real needs of our reality, not the needs that the world tells us that we have.
‘Take care, be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’.
When you stop, as Ignatius was forced to do, and face the reality of life and death, then you realise that your possessions, your position in society, your bank balance – none of these will mean anything when you come to die and meet your Masker. In fact, the opposite, they so easily act as a smokescreen and prevent us from seeing what we really need.
As medical science develops there grows the ever-increasing danger in the West that we look upon life as a right, and not as a gift.
If we see life as a right, our focus will be to seek to make that life better for ourselves from the perspective of that human life.
If we see our life as a right, we get caught up with the materialistic frenzy of wanting more things, more comfort, more money. We get caught up with the death denying culture of hallowing youth and youthful looks, of denying aging.
But if I look upon my life as a gift rather than as my right, I look upon it from a different perspective.
If life is a gift, then there is a giver who has given it to me
If life is a gift, then that tells me that both giving and receiving are what is required of me as I receive and value this gift of life
If life is a gift, then I cannot hold into it as if it were a right
If life is a gift, I must be ready to give it back when that is required of me
We all know from our experience that when life is fragile, when we can make no assumptions or claims upon it, though that may be the hardest of times, it is when we know life to be the most precious.
What does it mean to you that your life is a gift from God?
‘Seek the things that are above’ wrote St Paul, ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on this earth’. Only Jesus can give you the hope, the forgiveness, the strength and the love that when we face reality, we know are the things that we really need. And nothing and nobody can take those things away from us.
In any country, civil war is the most unutterable waste of life and human tragedy. In the 1860’s, in America, these words were found on the body of a young confederate soldier. As he faced death, he realised the gifts he had been given as part of his life gifts were valuable gifts from God that he had not recognised before:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do great things,
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy,
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
I was given Life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I had hoped for,
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.
Sunday 26 April Tinity 2 by Fr Jack Noble
2 Kings 2.1-2,6-14 Galatians 5.13-25 St Luke 9. 51-62
Today’s portion of St Luke’s Gospel is dizzying, and not easy hearing. St Luke is turning up the heat as Jesus travels towards Jerusalem, towards the climax of His ministry, towards His passion and death. And as he turns up the heat Jesus disturbs us, but that is rarely a bad thing. You’ll have heard it said that Jesus ‘comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable’. Scholars have sweated over this section of St Luke’s Gospel, looking for some over-arching shape to make sense of it all, with little success. There are two direct parallels with what Jesus says today and events in the story of Elijah and Elisha. Jesus appears to be drawing the Old Covenant in and saying ‘yes, and I demand more’. But even that doesn’t explain everything. It occurs to me though, that we might helpfully think of concentric rings. And wherever we start Jesus helps us to come one ring in, like working one’s way around a Labyrinth.
The Samaritans. Despised outsiders. They are semitic, but they look to Mount Gerizim, not the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. Ss James and John whom Jesus has nicknamed ‘Boanerges’ (‘sons of thunder’) live up to their reputation. ‘Shall we blast these unbelieving Samaritans?’ Jesus rebukes them.
That’s the outer circle, not punished, not despised, Jesus has gone to them on purpose. Indeed ,the next story St Luke presents to us, quite deliberately, is that of the Good Samaritan. That’s the outer circle.
One step in, people Jesus meets along the road who ask to follow Him. He invites them to do so, but takes them one ring in by telling them that His is not the path to commercial success or easy family life, ‘nowhere to lay [your] head’.
And then there’s the inner circle - to those seriously committed to Him, He delivers stark images of leaving the dead to bury their dead and never looking back. Wherever we have got to with our Spiritual maturity, at whatever age or stage of life, Jesus loves us just as we are, but is always inviting us deeper.
On this side of death, our pilgrimage is never done. And the extraordinary thing about this spiritual growth is that it doesn’t require good health or wealth or anything else. Whoever and however we are, this is a pilgrimage we are on. Some of the most active Spiritual journeyers I have ever met have been bed-bound in a care-home, but growing in Spirit day by day. Whichever ring we’re on as we meet Jesus today, He is nudging us onwards, inwards.
And so to St Paul today. Perhaps it’s just me, but whenever St Paul lists (and he does often - he loves a list!), whenever St Paul lists sins and virtues, I only ever really hear the sins. And when that list of sins includes sexual sins they jump off the page in neon lights and they are the only thing that really sticks in my mind. Perhaps it is just me? Although I suspect not.
That says more about us than St Paul or the Gospel I suspect.
St Paul begins by speaking about the freedom we have in Christ. He speaks of the primary call to love - nothing can ever trump that.
But let’s be honest, other stuff trumps it all the time in the way we actually live. Our baptism may make us subjects of God’s heavenly kingdom; but we are still subject to the human condition. Honesty about that is one of the most refreshing and life-giving aspects of our Christian Tradition. We don’t pretend, or seek, to be anything other than human. God made us to be so, nothing else. And God even hallowed our humanity by becoming one of us in Jesus. This flesh is fraught, but holy.
And St Paul does not underline those headline-grabbing cassock-twitching sexual sins, they sit equally with jealousy, anger, causing factions. That would bring many up short, I think, to realise that ‘envy’ or ‘discord’ are just as much not of the Gospel, as the things we have been obsessed with for years.
That isn’t to say these things don’t matter. Look again at that list, we all know all their capacity to poison people and relationships. We know the capacity of people to do harm to people - and this list is a helpful reminder.
And now look further down, we know the capacity of human beings to do, even falteringly, exactly what we were made to do - which is love God with everything we’ve got and love thy neighbour as thyself. Just as we began this Eucharist, just as St Paul writes. And when we can channel love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness’ and rest, that is exactly what we do.
As we say ‘amen’ before receiving Holy Communion today, we are saying ‘yes’,’amen’, to the God of love who for love’s sake gives His own life to you, just as you are, today in this Eucharist. Then we take His life into our bodies, we do so in the trust that we are not perfect, not finished, and not our own makers. We aren’t even supposed to be. But, like all those He spoke to on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus isn’t finished with us yet, thank God.
Sunday 19 June Trinity1 by Fr Jack Noble
1 Kings 19.1-15a Galatians 3.23-end St Luke 8. 26-39
Today’s readings are all linked to separation.
It’s a fundamental point of shared DNA, and divergence, in Jewish and Christian theology.
In the Genesis account God creates by separating. Chaos becomes category, order; and that is a creative act. Light and darkness, water and land. It’s a principle that runs right through. The children of Abraham are set apart as the Chosen People in order to fulfil God’s purposes of blessing all of creation (Genesis 22.18). It’s all about order and category. That’s what Elijah is so worked up about today in the First Book of Kings: God’s chosen people are transgressing that order - they are using the altars and holy places for other things, they aren’t keeping the Law, which is their proper role in the divine economy.
It is exactly this order that is transfigured in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians today. He names all the fundamental separations and with a flick of his stylus, sweeps them up into unity. ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ by baptism. These separations have been the building blocks of life for thousands of years. The laws of the Old Testament are so sensible for a fledging human society, a tribe almost perpetually at war. Respecting parents, not murdering, not fighting over your neighbour’s ox and ass, not eating foodstuffs that quickly become toxic in a desert climate, having ordered ways of approaching life, death, the feasts and fasts of the year, a political hierarchy - all these things are necessary if a human community is not going to self destruct before it gets off the ground? It is indeed a great gift that the people receive in the Law of Moses. And now, are these life-giving separations and Hebrew categories of life swept aside by St Paul? Not quite.
We know that in St Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 5) Jesus says that neither ‘jot nor tittle’ will be taken from the Law until He comes again. He ‘has not come to abolish the Law, but fulfil it’, He says. And this is exactly what Paul is really leading us to. The Law is not an end in itself, separation does not hold sway in heaven.
No, as we learnt last Sunday - heaven is the eternal dance of the Trinity - diversity in unity, perfection of love. A dance into which we are invited. Not law and separation, but perfect unity, completeness of life and being. And that is the life that Jesus came to give ‘in all its fullness’ (S. John 10.10). That is the life that we have already begun (however falteringly on this side of death) by virtue of our baptism. That is what St Paul means. We are already subjects of another Kingdom, dwellers on another shore, and one where the promises begun by God with Abraham, and sealed in Christ’s resurrection, are fulfilled not by order and separation, but glorious creative completeness in Jesus.
Today’s readings highlight this difference in philosophy, if you like, between the Hebrew and Christian dispensations. The one doesn’t contradict the other, it doesn’t undermine it, it simply brings it into a greater light in the wake of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
So briefly to Jesus doing exactly this in today’s Gospel.
I said about the Law very sensibly banning pork and shellfish because how quickly they become unsafe. Well, already our ears are pricked that today’s events begin in the unclean arena of a swineherd. And here is a demoniac who is the fringes of society - repulsive, scary. Jesus intervenes and the man is restored. And when he asks to follow Jesus, Jesus sends him home, a place he hasn’t been for years. He sends him home to proclaim the Good News there. A completeness and restoration that was impossible before.
And the people? The people ask Jesus to leave. They can’t cope - this Jesus is all too much.
I suspect that is true of all of us in some ways. We are presented with a God who seeks to make whole, who seeks to draw all things into His glorious life, who by our Baptism has made each and every one of us children of this covenant and bearers of this message.
But, it can be deeply disturbing to our fearful instincts that seek order and safety by separation, compartmentalisation. Today’s readings challenge us to look again at the bits of ourselves and the human family that we have done this to, and ask Jesus to heal us, so that we too, like the demoniac (as St Luke so charmingly puts it) ‘might be found sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in [our] right mind’.
Sunday 12 June The Feast of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity by Fr Jack Noble
Proverbs 8.1-4,22-31, Romans 5.1-5, St John 16.12-15
Words of The Rev. Dr Martin Luther King: ‘There is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential character that ever came in this world. But never feel that that tree is a meaningless drama that took place on the stages of history. Oh no, it is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power-drunk generation that love is the only way. It is an eternal reminder to a generation depending on [wealth, on inequality], a generation depending on physical violence that love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.’
One only needs to flick on the news to see how much we need these words today.
There is the little tree in the centre of our East Window. And we shall be there again, on that little hill, in a few moments time as Jesus’ Body is broken again, as His Blood is shed again for us in this Eucharist.
But it is those last words I want to draw out today: ‘that love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.’
This great feast of the Most Holy Trinity is not an exercise in mental gymnastics.
This great feast is about Love. God’s love.
The Doctrine of the Trinity means that you cannot take the name of Christian unless you believe that there was never a time when love was not:
Before all things, was the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Never were they not.
So, before all things there was not just love, but loving relationship;
and being swept up into this perfect union of love - the dance of the Trinity - is the destiny of all that has been and will be created.
This belief is unique to the Christian faith, no one else seeks to see the universe through the fact that before all things were, and after all things have ceased to be, there is loving relationship. This changes everything: who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going. Let me explain.
This perfect love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit; this love was so full, and perfect and life-giving that it overflowed, spilling out into the creation that by that overflowing came to be.
Bishop Rowan Williams suggests we should understand the origins of the universe, the big bang, and all the rest as ‘A dance that got out of hand’. A dance of perfect love that has overspilled (‘got out of hand’) and we are that overspill. What a way to think of the universe!
To my mind, this Christian understanding of creation holds our current best scientific theories of the origins of the universe rather well.
This is the Trinity we find in the universe.
This is the Trinity we find like a golden thread woven into today’s readings and throughout the Scriptures.
This is the Trinity we meet in liturgy of the Eucharist: the Presence of the Son, by the power of the Spirit, fulfilling the Father’s love.
Today’s great feast encourages us to discover again that who God reveals God’s self to be really matters. It is a mystery beyond the wit of humanity, but it changes everything. As Dr King said, ‘love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe’.
What might it mean for you and I to live that truth?
Something to ponder as we begin the long green season of Sundays after Trinity.
What might it mean for us to live and worship and build our lives, as if the universe and all that is in it really is a dance of love - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - that has got out of hand in a divinely marvellous way?
Glory, majesty, might and power be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. Amen.
29 May Sunday after Ascension by Fr Jack Noble
Ezekiel 36.24-28, Acts 16. 16-34, St John 17. 20-26
‘I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of
flesh.’ Words from our first reading, from the Prophecy of Ezekiel, five or
six centuries before Christ.
Hearts. Heart break. Heart surgery. Apart from pink fluffy Valentines
hearts (which bring their own brand of awful) things spoken of relating
to the heart are often serious.
At the heart of the Eucharist is the Sursum Corda. The Latin is literally,
‘hearts up!’. It’s slightly less muscular in English ‘Lift up your hearts’.
And those words are traditionally sung. I was so thrilled to discover
upon coming here that so much of our worship is sung - hymns,
prayers, the Gloria and Holy, Holy, Holy and Lamb of God. The great
North African St Augustine of Hippo says, ‘The one who sings, prays
twice’. Prayer that is sung, is somehow deeper, more lasting, more
transformative. It ascends to the Throne of Grace differently and
plunges into the depths of our hearts with more staying power,
Time and again I have seen young people learn to worship through
sung liturgy (rather than just said) with much better chance of
remembering and holding onto the meaning and experience of worship
for life. St Augustine’s phrase, ‘the one who sings, prays twice’, seems
to be true in lots of ways.
Jesus and His followers sang the traditional prayers and chants and
hymns and psalms. Ever since human beings gathered together in
societies and turned our eyes to our Maker, we (it seems) have made
music in order to do so.
All these things, help us and God to get into our hearts. And there, from
stone to flesh, God can transform us, and bring us to life. Remember
that bit in Narnia when all the people who have been turned to stone by
Jadis, the White Witch, are restored to fleshy life?
In today’s reading from the adventurous Acts of the Apostles Ss Paul
and Silas are imprisoned, but their imprisonment is transformed by God
to become a means of the jailer’s liberation and that of his whole
household. Stone to flesh. The jailer opens and lifts up his heart.
Indeed, the Sursum Corda, ‘lift up your hearts’ is in all the earliest
surviving rites of the Church. We know it was standard in the Eucharist
by the 3rd Century, which would indicate that it was in use for quite
sometime before then. Perhaps in those early oral days of the Church,
even in Paul and Silas and the jailer’s day, when they gathered for the
Eucharist as Paul tells us they did right from the beginning of the Jesus
Movement in his first epistle to the Corinthians (chapter 11). Maybe the
Jailer, in being baptized and joining the Christian community, gathered
the next Sunday at the Eucharist and sang these words of the heart, as
we will this morning. ‘Lift up your hearts, We lift them up to the Lord.’
Stone to flesh.
A final world on Jesus in today’s Gospel. We’re used to a beginning,
middle and end. But these words of St John, as is typical, don’t lay out
an argument: beginning, middle and end. Instead, they represent a
common convention that is sort of a helter-skelter structure of words
and ideas. The text has Jesus circling again and again, repeating and
building as he goes. The meaning emerges, not in a logical sequence,
but out of this weaving and counter weaving of circling words and
ideas. Standard stuff in Jesus’ time and culture.
I say all that this morning because that is a lot more like how
transformation of the heart actually happens. We rarely live like
computers that are programmed in sequence. We meander and circle,
we are formed bit and bit, through illumination, through relationship,
through absorption, through self, other and the Holy Spirit. Jesus prays
today that we may be ‘one’, that we may be alive ‘in Him’, and see His
‘glory’. That is a lifelong journey of our hearts being turned from stone
to flesh, a lifelong pilgrimage, on the road together, meandering and
circling, with each other and God.
Hold your hand against your chest. Feel your heartbeat. Jesus, the
Divine Logos, the creator of all things, has a heart that beats just like
that. A human heart that is now in heaven, ascended, glorified, but
beating just the same as yours and mine. We lift up our hearts in the
Eucharist, just as every Christian has done since the Ascension of
Jesus 20 centuries ago, so that our hearts and His heart might become
more and more one; indistinguishable. Joined, fleshy not stony, in the
heart of God. Where Christ who is our Head and Heart has gone, let us
follow, with hearts to heaven and voices raised. Alleluia
Thirsday May 26 May Ascension Day, by Fr Jack Noble
Holy Communion (BCP) in the presence of the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks, 5.30pm
Welcome. On behalf of St Giles’ and the venerable Tim and David, members both of your illustrious company and this holy house of prayer.
Christ has gone up!
Where He is gone, we may follow. Alleluia. Today, our Jesus reigns from heaven and has opened the way for us to be with Him there. That really says it all.
‘Ye men of Galilee’, Viri Galilee as the Latin Introit for today begins - why are you standing there gawping, you are (the angels tell us) looking in the wrong place.
Ascension Day calls us to re-examine our assumptions. Are we looking in the wrong place?
Where is God? where are we headed? what is life all about?
Ascension Day reminds us of radical realities of the Christian tradition.
That Christ has risen from the dead, and death has no more power of us. We know it in our heads, we know it’s Christian teaching. But do we really live it? Live as if it is really the case?
Ascension Day reminds us that, because we will follow where Christ has opened the way, we and all creation are destined for life forever in God. How much of our lives do we spend trying to secure some other future for ourselves? Looking in wrong direction for security, status, meaning. How often do we disregard other people, ourselves, and other aspects of God’s beloved creation as if we/they were less than destined for glory, for that is what we are. Do we really live like that?
Ascension Day reminds us that everything we are about now, and the way we look at and live in the world has to reflect these truths. Any parts of us and the way we share life that don’t, are nonsense or lies, and are to be dispensed with. It is as simple as that. Let Ascension Day realign you, and disturb your unchallenged assumptions.
‘Ye men of Galilee’, where are you looking? Make sure it’s in the right direction. To Jesus, who is all in all. To Jesus who comes to us now hidden in bread and wine and makes His home in us, His flesh in ours. To Jesus who commands us to love as He loves. To Jesus, who bids us peace from wounded and glorified hands.
Because if we do look in the right direction, to Him, then we might find something really worth looking at.
22nd May Easter 6 by Fr Jack Noble
Ezekiel 37. 1-14, Acts 16. 9-15, Saint John 14. 23-29
Sir we would see Jesus
All three readings feel like a foreshadowing of Pentecost. (See window) There’s the Holy Ghost - above the Lord and between the instruments of His Passion in our sublime East Window.
This Thursday, of course, marks 40 days since Easter - the Ascension of Jesus, home to heaven. Where he has gone, we will follow. There is a BCP Holy Communion service at 5.30pm here - all are welcome. The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks will also be here, out in force; well, out in their surplices anyway.
Then 10 days after the Ascension. So Sunday week, we mark not only HM’s Jubilee but also the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s readings collectively foreshadow that gift of the Spirit, it seems to me.
Dry bones in Ezekiel’s prophecy. Gods people, dry, brought to life by His Spirit.
In the Acts of the Apostles. Lydia the dye seller. Business woman, head of her household; Lydia is fab. The Spirit led St Paul to her, and prepares the way. Her heart is opened by the Spirit to the Gospel.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about God making His home in us. The Holy Spirit of God dwells within us. Bringing us to life and leading us to God. If only we would recognise the Spirit’s presence.
So I have two questions for us to ponder today.
When was the last time you noticed an encounter the Holy Spirit, and what did you do about it?
When was the last time you noticed an encounter the Holy Spirit, and what did you do about it?
As you ponder those questions, with dry bones and Lydia and the words of Jesus on your mind, let me add a bit of context to my asking. Hopefully that will be helpful.
It may be that you have never felt like you’ve met the Holy Spirit and have no idea what I’m talking about.
On Tuesday we celebrate John Wesley’s heart being strangely warmed - a great moment of grace-full encounter on Aldersgate St. But not everyone has an experience like that.
It may be that the beauty of nature is your lens on these things - your place of encountering God’s Spirit.
As Christians, of course, all our sacramental worship is charismatic. We gather here trusting that God does something by God’s Spirit - here, now. Alex will shortly say ‘send down your Holy Spirit that this bread and wine may be for us His Body and His Blood’. We mean that.
Perhaps it’s the words of the Bible, when they leap off the page. Or in silent prayer.
Perhaps it’s in human love. When it’s good, and when it’s hard. The stamina needed when caring for a sick loved one. These, in good times and bad, can be works of the Spirit.
Art, music, the written or performed word. Creative gifts of the Spirit.
Hope. Sometimes it’s all we have. That is the Spirit, the comforter, Scripture says. Not as in ‘there, there’ comforter, but ‘com fortis’, the Strengthener. Scripture also calls Her the ‘Advocate’, the one who stands alongside. Paracletos - the One called to be alongside.
Not a waver of a magic wand, sadly, but One who is with us, no matter what.
Perhaps you have encountered the Spirit, as Jesus was driven by the Spirit, in the dryness and wilderness of prayer un-met. Of the lonely desert. That too, can be a presence experienced through absence.
Perhaps your life in the Spirit resonates loudest in your skill at professional life. Some talent or expertise.
Whatever it is, and I hope that long list was helpful, sorry if it wasn’t,
ask yourself this week: where might I notice God’s Holy Spirit at work? And what (apart from thanking God) will I do in response?
Try asking those questions with God a couple of times in the days of this week and see what happens.
When have I noticed an encounter with the Holy Spirit, and what shall I do about it?
15th Mary Easter 5 by Fr Jack Noble
Baruch 3. 9-15, 32-44; Acts 11. 1-18; Saint John 13. 31-35
Sir we would see Jesus
It seems a life time ago since Maundy Thursday. I suspect that’s true for lots of us, perhaps especially for me. Quite a lot has happened since then!
But there we are this morning. St John takes us back to Maundy
Thursday in his Gospel. to the Last Supper and Jesus saying to His disciples, to us:
‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
That, Jesus tells us, is our DNA, our hallmark. Whatever else defines us - Jesus makes it clear that love, is to crown them all.
It sounds very nice, but when you actually start to put it in practice it gets tricky. When our desires and assumptions and life crowds back in, and have to be put in their place by love, it can be deeply uncomfortable. I suspect it is a lifelong challenge for all of us.
It certainly was a challenge for the Early Church.
So, to today’s second reading from the Acts of the Apostles. St Peter’s vision upturns the whole approach of the religious people. No longer is our hallmark, our DNA, Levitical codes, food laws and the rest. The Jews had defined themselves utterly as the people of the Law. And now, as St Peter reveals, their identity and purpose is in tatters.
Law is no longer the ground of our hope. Thanks to what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and in the hours that followed on Calvary and from the empty tomb. Not legal code, but Love is become purpose, promise and fulfilment. Love alone.
These Eastertide movements today in the readings cut right to the quick of the most fundamental human questions: ‘why are we here?’ ‘what am I for?’
Baruch asked these questions, six centuries before Christ, in the age of the Prophets. His heartfelt plea in this morning’s first reading is effectively asking, How shall we live? Where can we turn for meaning? Where is our hope?
Together, today’s readings are telling us, do not look for truth, hope and meaning in religious legal codes anymore, or in the silly meanderings so common to our species, (and the ancient Israel of Baruch was no exception); instead look to Christ’s gift and command of love.
That’s where we are pointed today on this 5th Sunday of Easter.
And that is the perfect place to be. We have been with Jesus from the upper room, to the cross, and from the cross to His emptying of hell and breaking of death, His walking out of the tomb, and now our eyes are turned to His ascension just 10 days ahead of us, and to heaven, where He is gone before so that we may follow.
In this paschal mystery, this drama, of Christ’s life, death and
resurrection we see the source and pattern of our loving, this is the code of our DNA, if you like, the stamp that makes our hallmark.
This is what love looks like.
It looks like a life given away for love’s sake.
It looks weak and pathetic, but in fact it is stronger than death.
It looks like a Jesus the gardener who calls us by name in the first light of an eternal morning.
It looks like each other gathered here, now, with God.
It looks like liturgy and music, like His Body and Blood hidden in bread and wine, and taken into our bodies.
It looks like the waters of Baptism.
It looks like all the brilliance of human endeavours and relationships and vocations of all kinds, and every stage of life.
It’s not a matter of legal codes, says St Peter. Baruch asks, Where should we be looking then?
Love has so many faces. And at the heart of them all is Christ, the paschal mystery of Easter, and this love feast, given at the Last Supper and week by week, that nourishes our souls and bodies so we can recognise and enflesh the reality that God puts before us in every other tiny part of our lives. Love, alone: our DNA, hallmark, purpose, meaning and destiny.
15 April Good Friday Reflections by Alex Norris
Darkness 1: Betrayal
Darkness 2: Denial
Darkness 3: Death Betrayal
The story of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus for ‘30 pieces of silver’ is synonymous with the Passion story of Christ. Judas, a dishonest member of Jesus’ disciples, who used to steal from the common purse, was given the opportunity to betray Jesus into the hands of the authorities for what has been estimated at a round two and half thousand pounds in today’s money.
Since these events, the term ‘Judas’ has been levied against people who have betrayed others, and I have always thought it a very severe name to give someone. To be labelled as a traitor or betrayer is just terrible.
With all that is going on in the Ukraine at the moment, the theme of betrayal and treachery is not far from our minds at the moment, with all that we are seeing in the news and in the papers.
Dishonesty, murder, betrayal, its all going on just a short haul flight away from us here in England.
I suspect the theme of betrayal is more real to many of us this Good Friday than ever before. Being betrayed, in whatever way, hurts. It upsets us. It breaks that most valuable of bonds between people; Trust.
There is however one bond of trust that will never be broken, and that's the bond of trust between us and Jesus. Jesus will never betray us. He has never betrayed us.
In these dark times, when things may look so bleak we must remember the sacrifice that Jesus has made for all of us, and this despite his own betrayal by Judas, and complete denial by Peter. Whereas we may let Jesus down in our own lives, by not living our lives in the way we should on occasion, it still stands that Jesus continues to walk with each and everyone of us, every day of our lives, whatever the circumstances. Amen.
Peter’s denial of Christ three times after the Cock crows is one of the enduring themes of the passion narrative. I think because he makes such a fuss around not betraying Jesus, he gets singled out in scripture when, like all the other disciples he denies Christ. The others do a runner, abandoning Christ, Peter, though, is present, but when challenged by a servant girl (in these times, a person of very low standing in society) he makes his denials, which have gone down in history.
Have you ever wrongfully denied something or someone? We know it’s wrong, but in many cases it's to save embarrassment or retribution, it’s a self-preservation technique. Ultimately, it’s human. Very human.
We wouldn’t need law courts or lawyers for all those ‘who dunnit’ cases. Agatha Christie would have had very little to write about.
Denying a crime or a person that you may have previously said you would stand by is dishonest and hurtful.
Peter’s Denial was all the more hurtful for him, as well as Jesus, as there had been discussion about his not denying Jesus under any circumstances. However, when it was clear that being associated with Christ would probably mean flogging and crucifixion, which was common in these days, and everyone had seen its brutality, it's unsurprising that Peter made his denials. However, with Christ, there is forgiveness; not just for Peter, upon whom Jesus founded the church, but for all of us. Jesus forgives all of our sins, not only when we have falsely denied, but when we have done those other things, which we have done wrong.
As we remember Christ hanging on that cross, let us think of all those things that we need his forgiveness for, large or small and give thanks for all that he does for us.
Death is something sadly that is probably on many of our minds, more than usual at the moment. With the aftermath of the Pandemic and all that is going on in the Ukraine, the loss of life is everywhere, in the press, on the news, online. We seemingly cannot get away from it. It is also on such a scale that we end up diminishing the tragedy of the loss of individual lives, as literally thousands are dying in the Ukraine, unnecessarily because of the actions of Russia.
And today, this Good Friday, we remember Christ’s own death on the cross. The end of such brutal treatment by the Roman authorities see’s Christ’s torn body taken and put into a freshly hewn tomb, awaiting the miracle of Easter Day.
Death has a finality to it, and we may be considering our own mortality, with all that we are seeing in the news, if only from the point of view that we are lucky to not be at risk of being shot or caught up in a missile attack.
However, as Christians, death is not the end. It is not something to be frightened of, which I know is easy to say.
Through his resurrection, Christ gives us all victory over death.
As we mark Christ’s brutal death today, and the darkness that this brings on the world, especially the world that we find ourselves in today, which has a greater sadness and darkness than usual, let us not forget why this has happened. Unlike the senseless deaths in the Ukraine, Christ’s death, also an innocent person, also put to death by a brutal regime, is a death for a reason. It’s a death that is to be overcome, not for selfish gains, but for the whole of humanity. It is a source of hope and joy, emotions that we may think are currently in short supply. It’s also a source of optimism, which I always think is an important part of the Christian faith.
So, as we think of Christ’s body being laid to rest, let us remember what is to come, not only for Christ, but because of this, what is to come for all of us. We give thanks for the eternal life that we receive through Christ. Amen.
14 April Maundy Thursday 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.
If there are any Vegetarians or Vegans amongst us please accept my apologies!
Whatever the meal you have thought of, I think we would all agree that we can eat it with friends, as we have done this evening, or alone, at home, in a restaurant, and be guaranteed that the next day, you will be hungry again. Food only satisfies us for only 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.
In the reading from Exodus, which is set for this evening, we hear about food being used for a sacrifice, which was common in these times; the use of the blood on the door lintels to ensure the Angel of Death did not come visiting. This was the authentic Sacrificial lamb.
The New Testament reading set for today moves us from considering the physical to thinking about the spiritual, where it recounts the Last Supper, where Jesus feeds us with the bread and wine.
This bread is different, it feeds us spiritually, as you remember Jesus also said, ‘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.
Shortly we will be coming to the altar to share in this bread, a physical manifestation of what we have been talking about above. Eucharistic theology gets rather complicated about what exactly is being received, depending on whether you are Anglican, Catholic, Methodist etc…
You may have heard the terms Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation which are terms which refer to what happens to the bread and wine on the Altar when they are consecrated.
Whatever the school of thought, I think it important to remember that when we come to the Altar to receive communion, we are remembering that Last Supper, where Christ was with his friends, eating and drinking together, just as we do with others, whether at home or in a restaurant or outside having a picnic, for that matter.
Jesus’ words of institution, which took place on this Maundy Thursday all those years go in that upper room 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 events 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.
On Easter Sunday you will be able to receive Communion again in both kinds (The bread and wine) and for those who are not comfortable doing so, there is no issue with this, the church is very clear that receiving just the bread is a valid reception of Communion.
Finally, we should also think about the physical food that we all eat, and again be grateful to God for that. 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. Amen.
Sunday 10th April Palm Sunday by Alex Norris
Palm Sunday heralds Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, on nothing other than the back of a Donkey.
I wish our arrangements for procuring a Donkey for today had been as simple as Christ’s, as alas our experience was a little more complex.
But that aside, wasn’t Charlie a star, and I hope Charlie is able to make it up the front steps of St Paul’s without much of a to do. Today’s Gospel account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem raises again that all important question around kingship and leadership. Here we have a person, entering a city, in a time of political turmoil, and despite all the cheers, and palm waving, was to see things turn on a sixpence, and those cheers and waiving of palms, would turn to shouts and insults and the waiving of fists, leading to his Passion and Death.
Leadership is a subject which is very much in the news at the moment. We have the leadership challenge of Imran Khan in Pakistan.
Then there is the general election in France where there is a slim chance that the far-right leader Marie Le-Pen may take office. We have the heroic behaviour of President Zelensky, who, despite all the odds, continues to lead his country and hold his own against Russia. Then we have Vladimir Putin, and his leadership of Russia. Nearer to home, we have the controversy around our own Prime Minister, concerns for the Queen’s health. The list goes on.
All of these people are leaders, whether you rate them or not, whether you think they should not be in office, or whether they should be on trial at The Hague, here, now today, they are in power, with all the trappings that provides, leading in the way that they feel is best, whether that serves their country’s needs, their own needs or both.
Then we have Christ, the son of a carpenter, from humble beginnings, a known political radical, and outcast in many ways, with a small but mostly loyal band of followers and a loyal following of women who financially supported him. Christ was soon to learn about betrayal as his Disciples would flee from him, ‘when the hour has come’ however we should remember that the woman would stay and watch him die, as he was publicly humiliated on the Cross.
We also should not forget the flogging that would take place first; this killed many people, as it was just too much for the body to take. Christ, being around 30 years of age and in good shape, could withstand it, hence he made it all the way to Cross, the journey to which we will follow through the drama of Holy Week.
There is an interesting phrase right at the end of this morning’s Gospel reading which I think is particularly relevant today; Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
The Pharisees were troubled by all the adulation that was being given to this so-called King, and wanted it hushed up, they were not comfortable with what Christ represented, and the movement he stood for, and wanted it silenced.
We hear of people being silenced all the time, under harsh regimes, it’s going on in Russia. I wonder whether the stones in Red Square are currently crying out? Jesus, despite the modesty of his circumstances represents Kingship, not the kind of kingship we see here on earth, with palaces, wealth, and armies to protect them, this is of another realm. This is a king from another Kingdom. God’s Kingdom.
As we pray, ‘thy Kingdom come’ in the Lord’s Prayer, we are all working to further this Kingdom. It’s not a geographical area, with borders and armies and the like, it’s a way of life, a set of values, a way to live our lives, not only for ourselves, but also in relation to others.
This kingdom stands against everything that is happening in the Ukraine, Syria, and other war-torn regions of our war-torn world. It stands for love, equality, fairness, looking after one another, loving one’s neighbour.
This is God’s Kingdom. How far we seem to have fallen from this ideal, when we look at the news, and all that is going on in the World. So, when we wave our palms and sing our hymns and celebrate this most unusual and modest, yet powerful and radical of Kings coming among us, let's remember the kingdom that he stands for, the Kingdom that is in heaven.
So when we pray the Lord’s prayer, as we will do later in the service, remember that we are praying for His Kingdom to come, as soon as it can, as the world is crying out for this Kingdom to be here on earth, as it is in heaven. Blessed is he, who comes in the name of the Lord. Alleluia!
Sunday 3 April Lent 5 - Passion Sunday by Alex Norris
This Sunday heralds the start of Passiontide. Traditionally these final two weeks of Lent are used as an immediate preparation for the sorrowful events of the Easter drama. It is a period of time to focus more and more on the Passion and death of Jesus and so accompany him on his journey to Calvary.
It seems quite timely to think of Jesus (an innocent person) and his brutal death, as we continue to witness the horrors of what is going on in the Ukraine, with the deaths of scores of civilians and military, which sadly I suspect will continue to occur right through Holy Week into Easter and probably beyond.
As we move through these last stages of Lent and into Holy Week, our focus switches towards Christ’s passion and death, as we await his Resurrection.
Today’s Gospel Reading describes when Jesus had dinner with his friend Lazarus, who he had raised from the dead, whilst at Martha and Mary’s house, six days before the Passover.
We are not sure who else was there, but we do know that Judas Iscariot was present, and that he was shortly going to betray Jesus, helping us with the timeline of this event.
We hear of Jesus having his feet anointed with Costly perfume, called Nard. As Judas points out, this perfume was extremely expensive, and cost around 300 denarii which to contextualise this was around a year's wages at the time.
Currently the world’s most expensive perfume is called Shumukh and costs a staggering $1,290,000 dollars. However, when you look at it, the diamonds encrusting the bottle increase the cost somewhat.
This aside, some would say that Judas raises a fair point; surely this perfume could be sold and given to the poor. A year's wages could make quite a difference to a lot of people’s lives, in a time when there was no welfare state in operation to help those in need.
This was also slightly ironic on behalf of Judas as he was a known thief who stole from the common purse, and I suspect the benefit of others would be far from his own intentions.
This remember, was the man who was lining up to receive 30 pieces of silver from the Sanhedrin for Jesus’ betrayal, which he knew would certainly result in Jesus' execution. Interestingly those silver pieces are worth around £150 in today’s money, not exactly a lot of money for the life of Christ.
Then we have two prophetic statements, first that this Nard was to be kept to anoint Jesus’ body, signalling that his death was imminent. Then, ‘you will always have the poor with you’.
I always find this depressing, maybe because it seems to be true, well it has remained true up to now, and I do not see the end of poverty happening in my lifetime.
Poverty in the world has been reducing, however it has slowed in past years, probably not helped by the pandemic. Between 1990 and 2015 the global rate of extreme poverty fell at a rate of about 1 percentage point per year. The latest estimates show that poverty reduction has slowed down in recent years and that global poverty fell from 10.1% to 9.2% between 2015 and 2017 (less than half a percentage point per year). This means 689 million people are still living in extreme poverty in the world today.
I was once preaching, as part of my training and the priest needed to see copy of my sermon, which I was happy to provide. After reading it I was told that I needed to change something, which was pertaining to this statement around the poor always being with us.
I had quoted this as part of my sermon (on a different text to todays) and then used a Christian Aid prayer for the end of poverty. This was not allowed apparently as it would contravene Jesus’ teaching, in that the poor would always be with us, so we could not pray against this. I obliged whilst quietly disagreeing with this, as I am sure God would rejoice if the suffering of Global poverty was eradicated, and I hope that all of us here today would agree with that.
The issue of the super-rich, and their expenditure of vast sums of money, with the focus on Oligarchs has been widely covered in the press. If you just look at expenditure by the super-rich on Yachts, you will see examples such as the ‘Azzam’ yacht, bought at $600, or the world’s most expensive yacht, called ‘History Supreme’, which is worth a staggering $4.8 billion, taking three years to build using 10,000 kilograms of solid gold and platinum.
‘Does anyone really need to spend that amount of money?’, is a question of course which capitalism does not and maybe should not address. People can of course do what they want with their own money.
Of course, how it’s earnt is a discussion for another today, but returning to Mary and Martha’s house, I doubt that expensive Nard was paid for using aggressive tax avoidance schemes, money laundering or fraud, as some people and institutions sadly get involved in; and the costly nard could be used in whatever way suited them.
In a way today’s reading defines the timeline for the upcoming events, and what that outcome would be; It was six days before the Passover, there would shortly be betrayal and then death, with the anointing of Christ’s body using the very same perfume being used on his feet.
Passiontide calls all of the faithful to focus on this final journey that Jesus will endure, reflecting on the world in which we are all living in at this time, with the super-rich on the one hand, millions in poverty on the other, and innocents dying at the hands of ruthless regimes, not just in Ukraine but the world over.
God must hurt at the state of his world today, despite all that he has done for us; paying the ultimate price by the death of his only Son, and saving us from all of our sins. It has to be our prayer that his kingdom will be done here on earth as in heaven, as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, to give justice, fairness and equity and importantly peace to all. Amen.
27 February Sunday before Lent by the Revd Steven Cooper, Minister of Wesley’s Chapel & Leysian Mission
At lunchtime on 24th February, I took a walk, as I often do, from Wesley’s Chapel to the Co-op round the corner on Old Street. This was the day that the sickening and horrific news was emerging that Vladimir Putin was mounting a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Walking via Featherstone Street, just across the road from the Chapel, I turned into quiet, empty backstreet Mallow Street. As I turned the corner, I imagined being suddenly confronted there by a French soldier, wielding a gun, part of an invasion force seeking to take control of the city, intent on killing me, and anyone else should we stand in the way. I imagined that I too was armed with a gun, hastily provided to me, as to many of my fellow citizens, as part of a national effort to defend ourselves from invasion by a hostile power. I imagined what I would do in that moment.
I have never held a gun. I have never—save perhaps, on occasion, in the wryest and most darkly comic of ways—had the slightest imagination that I should ever hold a gun. And certainly, in all seriousness, never have I imagined holding a gun with the intention of shooting another person. And yet, as I pictured, in my mind’s eye, that imaginary confrontation in Mallow Street with a French soldier—who, in this imaginary scenario, in all likelihood has no more desire to be there, taking part in a brutal unprovoked invasion of his next door neighbour, than I have that this be happening—I imagined what I would do. And the truth is this: were this a situation of actual war, and my neighbour were actually going to kill me and destroy our whole way of life and our freedom lest I resist, I have no doubt that I would shoot him, and kill him. And however many of his comrades should come round the corner next.
It feels perverse and surreal to be speaking in this way. This is truly a scenario that I have never imagined before, and it is nightmarish to me to imagine being in that situation. And yet, today I picture it very clearly.
For this is exactly the situation in which thousands or ordinary Ukrainian men and women in Kyiv, a sophisticated modern European city with many similarities to our own, find themselves at this moment, together with their brothers and sisters across Ukraine: men and women who have never held guns, armed as part of a national civil defence effort, now ready to kill—because truly the horror of war has overnight changed their reality, their view of the world has been irrevocably changed, and suddenly they have no other options.
The unimaginable is suddenly the reality.
War is something that really changes how a person views the world. The unimaginable is suddenly real. Some of you here today will have memories of this, even here in London, from decades ago in the 1940s.
In 2014 I had the joy of getting to know a group of Ukrainian young adults, through an international gathering of young adults with the Taizé Community in France; and I have made further Ukrainian friends, through encounters when I have visited Taizé more recently. Spending time with that group of young Ukrainians in 2014 was particularly significant, taking place at the time when Putin was in the process of annexing Crimea from Ukraine. The sense of solidarity with these young people as their nation experienced the horror of this hostile assault was something very beautiful and important.
On Thursday, as Russia mounted its full-scale invasion, I contacted these Ukrainian friends to offer my support and prayers, and to see how they were. One, a woman in her thirties living in Kyiv, a scientist, replied, “Thank you a lot, Steven! Your support is important! All people are worried. Many people are trying to leave the capital… Now I am in Central Ukraine at my parents’ house… From the north, Russians and Belarussians are trying to capture Kyiv… we are being attacked and bombed from all sides… Thanks for your support!”
Another, a young professional in her mid-twenties replied simply, “Thank you, Steven! I’m in Kyiv, trying to calm panic.”
Today, as we approach the beginning of Lent, the Church remembers the Transfiguration of Jesus. This was a moment in which, for the disciples who witnessed it—Peter, James and John—their view of Jesus, of who he is, and of what he means—was irrevocably changed (just as Moses was changed, visibly on his face, following his face-to-face encounter with God as narrated in Exodus 24:29-35). And for those disciples this changed how they then viewed the world too, recognising the reality of a world in which God in Christ is with us: a world in which we can know that, because of the glory and goodness of God present in our world—which they saw in the face of Jesus in his Transfiguration, and which all would come to see in Jesus’ death and through his Resurrection—ultimately evil shall never prevail: goodness and truth and life shall always hold sway over evil and falsehood and destruction. It is no coincidence that the gospel account of the Transfiguration is immediately followed by the account of Jesus casting out a demon, or evil spirit, that had taken hold of a boy.
If ever there were a manifestation of something truly demonic at work in the life of our world in the present day, it is surely to be seen in the actions of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Ukraine at this moment. And it will be cast out. Because we live in a world in which Christ is present, in our hearts and lives—and indeed in the lives of people of good will the world over—and in which, through the power of God at work in the world, such evil shall not prevail.
“Your support is important!” my friend affirmed to me. Our world is entirely interconnected. As impotent as we may feel to help in Ukraine at this moment, the very fact that we are people of Christ, who stand for a world in which evil can never be allowed to win, matters. Evil only ever prevails when the world around it succumbs a world view that is cynical and hopeless, in which it is believed that evil can win the day. It is on just such a worldview that Putin has pinned his hopes for victory over Ukraine. But because of Christ, we do not see the world that way. Because of Christ, we see that the world is one in which evil can never win. And because we constitute part of a great multitude of humanity the world over who share that vision, we indeed play our part in making that so. The world will not allow Putin’s evil to win the day, and the world is not that way by accident: and we are part of that—even as heart-breakingly difficult it may feel to us to make a difference in this moment.
So pray, and support Ukraine and Ukrainian people however you can. However small it may seem, it matters. We are part of the Body of Christ, and this we claim and reaffirm as we come to the table of Holy Communion today.
Sunday 20 February by Jim Craig, Chaplain to Guy’s Hospital Medical School and member of the Chaplaincy at Kings College London.
A quote that Jim mentioned in his sermon today that resonated with many of us. The emphasis on the NOW is his.
‘Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly NOW.
Love mercy NOW.
Walk humbly NOW.
You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.’
Rabbinical commentary on Micah 6:8.
Sunday 6 February 4th Sunday Before Lent by Alex Norris
Our reading from Luke’s Gospel this morning tells the story of the
Miraculous Catch of Fish. This is another miracle, similar to the turning
of water into wine at the Wedding at Cana that tells us of God’s unlimited
generosity toward us.
At the wedding we hear about Gallons of water being turned into wine,
and not any old wine, but an excellent wine.
This morning we heard about the catch of fish which was so large that it
nearly broke the nets and sank the boats of those trying to catch them.
This miracle provided Christ with a great image of calling to work with,
where those who had been involved in what must have been a terrifying
hour or so, being told to ‘ not be afraid’ which I always find a fairly
useless request when I am actually terrified, it's like, ‘don’t worry this is
not going to hurt’,
What we see here are two people giving up their way of life, and their
possessions and following Christ, to become ‘fishers of people’.
In this reading we get that distinctive sense of calling with those who
follow Christ. A calling to change your life, give up what you have and go
in a completely different direction.
When you are discerning whether you want to be a Priest, the church
look at ‘your calling’ through a lengthy process of discernment to try and
answer the question of whether God is calling you to be one of his
Priests. A curious process, which the selection process for officers in the
Army is also based on.
Talking about vocation and calling today is very timely as we remember
the Accession of Her Majesty the Queen. This time seventy years ago
today she was at Treetops, a hotel in Kenya, and sadly her father, the
King died, meaning she automatically became Queen. In Kenya they
said that Elizabeth went up the tree a Princess and came down a Queen
(as the accommodation is a series of tree houses). The friends were
laughing and joking with her the one day and curtseying to her the next
as she was monarch.
And from that day on her life changed, tinged with sorrow for the loss of
her father, but also massively under scrutiny across the world, from that
day on to the present day. Today the Queen will spend her time privately
reflecting on this anniversary and also her father.
Many have commented on the Queen’s sense of public duty, and her
rarely putting a foot wrong, her dedicated commitment to what she does,
and that constant she has provided for the county.
Today kicks off her Platinum Jubilee Celebrations in the UK and further
afield, which, in celebrating 70 years on the throne, is one of the longest
reigns in history. (Louis 14th still leads at 72 and a half years). Elizabeth
II, is now the longest-reigning incumbent monarch and the
longest-reigning documented female monarch in history.
As a Princess she had made this public declaration: I declare before you
all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to
your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all
And I don’t think many can doubt her remaining commitment to this.
But what are we called to?
Do we have a sense of calling to some aspect of the life of the church, or
I acted on my calling many years ago, and it has been one of the most
joyous and challenging things I have ever done.
Maybe you have done the same with your profession or some other
aspect of your life.
There was an interesting expression in our reading from Corinthians,
when Paul says, ‘by the grace of God I am what I am…’
And this whole discussion dials directly into who we are, the question of
our very being. We all are who we are. And the song ‘I am what I am’
was sung during the closing ceremony of the London Paralympics, and
what an apt song to sing at that event, with the wonderfully diverse array
of athletes brought together for the ‘greatest show on earth’
It highlights that we are all different, and that is what makes humanity the
amazing thing it is
But despite that difference we are all made in the image of God, each
and every one of us, including the Queen. This makes us all equal in the
eyes of God, and among each other, despite the differences that exist in
So as we celebrate the amazing milestone of the Queen’s public service,
let us think about what it is to which we are called, and what that means
to each of us, here, now and today.
God save the Queen!
Sunday 16 January Epiphany 2 by Alex Norris
I am the son of a professional watercolour artist. My wonderful mother
has painted for decades now and is always working on some project or
another. She can pick up a pencil and sketch out what she wants to draw
and ta daa there it is, then on goes the colour wash, easy as that,
When it comes to me I simply cannot draw. Like many, I had lessons at
school and despite the supposed help with my mother’s genes, I am
hopeless at art.
I appreciate it, and enjoy it, but as to doing it? Not in a million years.
I simply don’t have the gift of being able to draw, despite all the lessons
and time spent, it simply is not going to happen.
Is there something that you have a talent for?
It might be music, I suspect a few of those behind me would say yes to
that, maybe you have a great aptitude for speaking languages, dancing,
cooking, a good head for numbers, sport, great hand / eye coordination,
the variety of gifts that there are is endless.
Whatever your strengths and weaknesses, we all have gifts of one kind
or another, that thing that we can do, we might need to work on the
talent to fully develop it, but that aside, the talent is still there as that
Today’s New Testament readings have the theme of gifts running
through them. Whether it be the gifts that Paul outlines in his letter to the
Corinthians: the Spiritual Gifts that we are given, such as ‘the utterance
of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the
same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of
healing by the one Spirit…’ or the gift of Wine that Jesus gives to the
wedding party at Cana, which was the Jesus’ first miracle that was
recorded in the Gospels, gifts are abound in these texts.
The subject of gifts is a great subject for the Epiphany Season. As we
remembered on Epiphany Sunday, and would have seen with our
Nativity set, the Wise Men brought their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and
Myrrh to the new-born child in the stable.
All three of these gifts are extremely valuable, which makes them
befitting of an earthly King. But this idea of wealth and monarchy is not
the image we should be taking of this particular king.
I am always interested in the way the Wise Men found that particular
stable. If you do some research, there are some quite interesting articles
from reputable sources concerning the Star of Bethlehem and whether it
actually shone as the Gospel account tells us. As one says: Interestingly,
there’s some evidence that a pair of planetary conjunctions… happened
around the historically accepted time frame for the birth of Christ. That
could potentially explain the Star of Bethlehem. The article then goes on
to say how there is also disagreement about this; surprise, surprise!
With all of this said, the Nativity has brought God to us, on human terms,
as a gift for all of humanity. He is among us, or with us, which is what
Emmanuel means, God with us. This was no earthly King.
As Christ grew up, he was the son of a humble carpenter, and lived a
very modest life, as the Gospel accounts go on to tell us, as they cover
his life and ministry until his death in his early thirties.
Jesus too had his gifts, just as we do, as Christ is fully human, as we
are; but we never get to know exactly what they are, he might have been
a good artist, or had a talent for speaking other languages, but we will
never know. He was pretty good at walking on water and raising the
dead, but I don’t think those count!
Christ was not to be without controversy from the day of his birth, and
because of this Herod sought to have this stamped on by the slaughter
of the innocents, as an attempt to try and end Christ’s life before it had
How different would things have been if the Wise Men had unwittingly
gone back to Herod and reported Christ’s location to them, after his
seemingly genuine request; maybe all those innocents would not have
been slaughtered after all? And what of Christianity?
As we receive Christ, the light of the world, this gift for all of us and
rejoice at his coming among us, we need to remember all of the risks
that this baby survived, not only his birth in the most unsuitable of
environments, but also the continued attempts on his life that he faced,
until the authorities got him in the end. When talking about gifts there is
the distinction between gifts, as those talents we may have, and then the
physical gifts as the presents we may receive. During this season of
Epiphany the gifts the Wise Men brought to the stable are obviously front
of mind. Whichever gifts we think about during this season on Epiphany,
they all direct to us the abundance of God, and all that he gives to us.
Whatever gifts or talents we have, and all that we receive, we should be
grateful for all that we have and thank God for giving this to us.
As we come to the end of our journey through Epiphany together, and
start to turn our sights toward Lent, we should be thankful for all we
have, for those gifts and their abundance, and remember that as we look
to make the sacrifices we will look to make in Lent (as Christ made
during his forty days in the wilderness) remembering what we do have,
and the ultimately remembering that God sent his only Son down to us
all, who in turn gave his life for all of us. These are undoubtedly the
greatest gifts of all.
Sunday 2 January The Epiphany
by Fr Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London
Wise men Matthew 2:1
The world into which Jesus was born did not draw sharp distinctions, as we do, between science and other forms of knowledge. The word used to describe the visitors from the East, magi, could describe a scientist, an astronomer or an astrologer, an interpreter of dreams or a scholar of ancient texts. The magi of old were seeking to penetrate the secrets of the world, to do what, so far as we know, only human beings in all creation are able to do, and reflect on the universe of which we are part.
The church has encouraged the inquisitiveness of humanity because she has recognised that it is part of our innate desire to seek for God. For to study the creation is to discover something of the Creator.
But of course it is not that simple. To consider the wonders of the universe from the vastness of space and time to the intricacies of the subatomic world is to be moved by the beauty, interconnectedness and delightful symmetry of the universe: but it is not to prove God. The Creator may be inferred from such things, but not disclosed. Today’s feast is a celebration of disclosure: epiphany, showing forth. The epiphany of Jesus Christ is nothing less than the revelation of God to the world. Today we are taught that there is a path to wisdom, wisdom that enables us to share in the Epiphany of God.
First let us note that the Epiphany of Christ, His revelation to the world, is not a secret only for the few. There have been many systems of wisdom which have reserved knowledge to the initiate. Christianity is not one of them, and it has been ridiculed for its vulgar openness. The wise men from the East represent the whole world; one of the reasons for the tradition that there are three of them – the Bible mentions no number – is that they came from the three continents of the world known to the first century West: Asia, Africa and Europe. To underscore the point that this epiphany is not hidden, the church commemorates on this day also two other epiphanies of Christ: when He was Baptised and the voice of the Father witnessed to Him before the crowds, and when He revealed His glory with His first miracle at Cana of Galilee. So this is no hidden wisdom: but it is a deep wisdom. So much of our modern knowledge fails to be wise because it stays on the surface of things and thinks that the whole of the explanation of say a flower is that it is the reproductive organ of a plant. Wise men know that we cannot reduce music to a matter of the stimulus of the brain by waves of sound, and that the natural selection of the need to mate, nurture and protect says little about the nature and purpose of love. To apprehend God we need a wisdom which is aware of the reality of the numinous and honours the experience of awe which permeates our souls when we look on a magnificent natural vista, or read a perfectly balanced but exceedingly complex mathematical equation, or gaze upon the exquisite form of a new born baby’s hand.
Paradoxically because this deep wisdom makes us more human it leads us to God. To see deeper into the world than simply the surface knowledge delivered by science is where we see our humanity flourish and grow. When we are most human then we come closest to God, for He was made man for us, and we are ready to be moved by Him even before we are aware of Him. Thus the wise men were moved by their studies to action. We have seen His star and have come.
But even the deep wisdom is not enough on its own. The magi from the East ask for further knowledge, for the place where the child is to be found is not revealed by the star alone. Human insight is not enough. Herod summons his own wise men, and they have the wisdom to look into the scriptures, in which God reveals Himself to the world. There is a prior epiphany here, for God is not a hidden God. In Bethlehem of Judah the Christ is to be born. So they set off; but Herod is worried. Another failure of wisdom. For one may look deeper than the surface, and one might seek the guidance of God’s Word, but even so be among those who look and look but do not see, who listen but do not hear. God reveals Himself, but plenty reject Him. God allows this because He wants us to love Him, and love cannot be forced. We remain free to reject, and thus the Epiphany is not in fire and lightning, in cloud and the majesty of glory as of old, but of child in the house, and Mary His Mother whose presence emphasises the humanity in which Divinity is revealed.
So they give their gifts: Gold for a Lord among men; Frankincense for God with us; such the knowledge of the scribes might have expected. But in their deep wisdom they were inspired to bring myrrh, in preparation for the death on the cross, foolishness to the Greeks and scandal to the Jews, but the wisdom and the glory of God. He is to bear our sins and satisfy God’s justice in a stupefying act of love in which He enters our death so that we may share His life. Rich gifts, but they received the gift of Christ and returned richer than when they came.
Like the wise men we are called to study the world, to see beyond even the wonder of creation to the wisdom which makes us human. And in that wisdom we are called to hear and see how God has revealed Himself in many epiphanies. Being made wise by grace we offer our gifts, and receive His gift of Himself. It comes most clearly under the forms of Bread and Wine, but is offered also in many and various ways. Now we are asked to return home to tell others of what we have heard and seen. The wonder and the challenge is that He asks you and me to bear Christ with us and to become the means for His epiphany to the world.
Where to visit us:-
St Giles' Cripplegate Church
London EC2Y 8DA
Registered Charity Number 1138077
Sunday 7 August Trinity 8
08.30 Morning Prayer
10.00 Parish Eucharist
16.00 Evening Prayer
Monday-Wednesday and Friday
08.30 Morning Prayer
17.30 Evening Prayer
(some midweek services will be held in the Rectory at the East End of the church)
The next session will be on 7 September
Home Prayer Group - Lectio Divina 19.30 via Zoom. To join contact Susan Royce
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 from 13.00-13.30
You are invited to join others in church on Thursday 7 July.
If you are not able to join us, we hope you will continue to pray with us wherever you are.
Dates in 2022
No session in August, 1 September, 6 October, 3 November, 1 December.
The monthly sessions are on the first Thursday of the month from 13.30-15.00 including tea and cake from 14.30.
Dates in 2022
No session in August, 1 September, 6 October, 3 November, 1 December.
2022 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30
Tuesday 20 September
The Parish Office will be closed 10-25 August
as Jake is away. Please contact Jack if you have an urgent enquiry: email@example.com or 07765 771 547
Parish Office Opening Hours
The Parish Office is open Mon-Fri 11.00-16.00
Tel: 020 7638 1997