Sermons 2023

Christmass 2023 by Fr Jack

 

St John's Gospel 1.1-14

 

One of my favourite sillinesses is the idea of being ‘damning with faint praise’. I don’t know why the idea appeals to me so much. I suppose it’s mischievous?

Think Dame Maggie Smith’s character in Downton. It’s naughty, but not outright rude.

 

But beware, we can do the same, at Christmas. And not in a cleverly written TV drama way. Just a missing out kind of way.

 

Ahhhh. Baby Jesus, how sweet. In our rush to be with Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem, we can sometimes be in danger of neutralising the thunderous reality of the Incarnation. The Word made flesh. God made man. We turn the wildness of Grace, of God, into a pleasant fairy story for children. At least in our language and imagination (if not actually) we tame Aslan the lion.

 

Perhaps we do so to dodge the bullet of who Jesus really is. If we tame Him, ‘ahhh Baby Jesus’, we don’t have to be changed by Him. We don’t have to change the way we think of God, ourselves or each other. It seems safer, perhaps, that way.

 

Remember that moment in The Chronicles of Narnia? 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." Said Mrs Beaver.

"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”...

"Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

 

It is the King of Kings who rests in this feeding trough. The light of the world, that no darkness can overcome, as St John tells us again this Christmas morning.

 

And so when we make Jesus toothless, in the way we relate to Him, in our imagination and language, not only do we deceive ourselves, we also ignore the fact that the world needs Him so badly. 

War in the land of His birth today, and so many other places. 

Exploitation of human beings in every corner of the world. 

Hunger and death for many from the simplest of things - no clean water, no basic healthcare. So much prosperity and so much lack. The beautiful gift of a planet, that we continue to plunder and strangle.

 

We do not need a safe and silent Saviour. Which is lucky really, because we haven’t got one. He isn’t safe or silent. It is us that need to hear His voice and respond with courage and steadfastness. Because however dark the ‘darkness’ is, it will ‘not overcome’. However long the night, the Dawn - Christ the Morning Star - has risen. Hope is not a fairy story, hope is not naive or wishful. It is real and beautiful. ‘Full of grace and truth’.

 

Irish poet Seamus Heaney had a complex relationship with faith, but these words from his work the ‘Cure at Troy’ thunder with clarity and force. Like the angels song over the hills above Bethlehem:

 

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured …

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.

 

And hope and history rhyme.

 

Today: Heaven and earth; hope and history; humanity and divinity, dance in a longed for embrace that changes the world.

 

This is that moment, that blessing, and promise.

 

An invitation to a life-changing adventure. That begins again in the frail flesh of this Holy Child, given to us today, and every day of the coming year, in simple bread and humble wine, in our prayers and song, words and worship, in all to whom God gives us in life. Christ the Lord, not tamed, but full of grace and truth. O come, let us adore Him.

Christmas, Midnight Mass, 24th December 2023 by Fr Edwin

Isaiah 9.2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2.11-14
Luke 2.1-20

 

‘Come, they told me… A new-born King to see… Our finest gifts we bring… To lay before the King…’

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Earlier this year I was in Bethlehem for a few days, as part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and on our first night in the city, my partner and I popped into the Church of the Nativity. It’s a fantastically imposing building, dating mostly from the 6th century, and in the gloom of the Bethlehem night we crossed this vast ancient building to queue up to get into the grotto underneath the church, which marks the very place of Christ’s birth. Remarkably, the queue—normally hours long—was very short, just us and a group of pilgrims from Mexico, who gallantly let us go first. We stooped and descended the steps down into this dimly lit chamber, where we were completely alone: just us, a few flickering candles, the whiff of incense, and the star marking the spot on the ground where, on another Bethlehem night, the saviour of the world was born. 

 

We knelt and kissed the site that had been kissed by hundreds of millions of Christians in the two thousand years since that night, and for a second, it all became staggeringly real. The Christ I’d seen in Christmas cards, or Nativity plays, or Bible illustrations, the Christ whose Incarnation I’d read about, studied, preached about, the Christ I’d spent my life pondering and following as if he were more of a doctrine than a person, suddenly became flesh and blood before me, suddenly became real. A human baby, the most ordinary, extraordinary thing in the world, looking up at me. It was less a moment of mystery and awe, as it was a moment of recognition, like encountering for the first time someone you know to be an old friend, nostalgic for this place where I’d never been before. It caught my breath.

 

And then the second was over, and the pilgrim group we’d queued with swept in, loads of them. We squeezed to the back of the grotto as they went through the motions we’d just been through ourselves, and chatted and whispered and took photos and bumped into each other, before eventually the entire group gathered and knelt in homage before the star. We knelt with them and prayed in this beautiful silence. I wanted it to last forever, but clearly my prayer was not answered, because immediately one of the group started singing. Now I can’t think of any song that would appropriately capture the eternal majesty and profundity of this moment, but for me at least it certainly wouldn’t be the Little Drummer Boy. In Spanish.

 

There we were, at the site where heaven touched earth, surrounded by 22 middle-aged Mexican ladies in matching pilgrim baseball caps singing an endless round of pa-rum-pum-pum-pum (rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum).

 

And yet, somehow, this was precisely the right song. If you don’t know it, the song imagines a little boy arriving at the stable and encountering the birth of Jesus. With no great presents to offer, no power or wealth, he offers the one gift in his possession: he plays his little drum, and makes the baby smile. It’s sweet, if a little twee, and like me, you might be tempted to turn your nose up a little, remembering David Bowie and Bing Crosby crooning around a piano, but actually, somewhere in there, resides a really important message.

 

First, it reminds us that when confronted with the mystery of Christ’s birth, our hands are empty. There is nothing we can do, nothing we can buy, nothing we can give that will earn the incredible gift of God’s only Son come to save the world. The gift of Christ is entirely free, freely and equally offered to all. All our striving and earning, all our perceived importance or prestige, all the myths we tell ourselves about our righteousness and worthiness, crumble into nothing when faced with the magnitude of God’s love, revealed in the lowliness of this baby. Christmas is our annual reminder to recognise our unworthiness, our sinfulness, our general grubbiness, to come with humility and penitence to the manger, and to receive with thanksgiving the greatest gift of all.

 

But the song doesn’t stop there, and nor should we. Because whilst this gift, the gift of our salvation in Christ, is free, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make demands on our lives. As unworthy as we are, as empty as our hands are, we still need to offer whatever we have in thanksgiving. That means, like the Magi, our gold (or its modern contactless equivalent), our devotion and service like Mary and Joseph, but most of all, like the fictional Little Drummer Boy, it means our worship. The only fitting response to the gift of Christ, to an encounter with the King of the World, is worship. To kneel in adoration and wonder, and to sing and rejoice and drum out our praises to the saviour of the world; in joy and thanksgiving to offer our whole lives to the one who offers us his whole life.

 

But our worship doesn’t stop when we leave church. Worshipping God isn’t just about Alleluias, or Glo-o-o-o-ooorias, or even pa-rum-pum-pum-pums. Worshipping God means giving our hearts so fully to him that we can’t help but participate in his life, his activity. From the manger to the cross, Christ’s own life is lived in perpetual worship of the Father. His teaching, his charity, his acts of service, are all lived expressions of his adoration of God, and our worship needs to follow suit. Our worship can’t keep us forever kneeling at the manger, but must, like the shepherds and the wise men, return us to our lives forever changed, shaping them after the pattern of the Christ child. 

 

The Church of the Nativity is governed by what is called the ‘Status Quo’, the fraught and fragile agreement between the major Christian denominations about the management of the most holy sites in the Holy Land, a system that sometimes spills over into fistfights if the Roman Mass lasts a few minutes too long, or the Orthodox priests use the wrong door. And, of course, Bethlehem itself sits in one of the most sadly and fiercely contested places on earth, a land whose inexorable sorrow, and pain, and injustice, and hatred are played out on our screens every day. 

 

What I wanted to do in that little grotto, that place of miracle, was to shut all that out, but I couldn’t. Because Christ chose to be born into a world of such suspicion and fear and hate, and to redeem it. My worship of the Christ child could never just be about me and him, but joined me to all he came to save, joined me to the world beyond those sacred walls. 

 

And so with us, in this place, on this night, in the simple gifts of bread and wine, we will again encounter the Word made flesh; Christ born in our midst once more. And as we kneel and worship him, we know that our worship doesn’t stop here. Christ invites us to get up and follow him out into the world he came to save, to journey into the darkness of the night, to whisper to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the broken-hearted the good news of his birth.

 

Advent IV

The BVM by Fr Jack

 

2 Samuel 7. 1-11, 16

St Paul to the Romans 16. 25-27

Saint Luke 1. 26-38

 

Today’s  first two readings unveil something of the movement of the Old Testament prophecies and the lines of the kings all leading to the coming of the Messiah. And it all crescendoes with the Annunciation Gospel.

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary. So called because as her cousin Elizabeth instructs us a few verses on from today’s Gospel, ‘all generations’ are to call her blessed. Of all the women who have ever been born, she is the one in billions that God chose to bear the Saviour. 

 

And she didn’t go to the ‘right schools’, come from the ‘right postcode’, have the ‘right job’. She was a terrified teenage peasant girl. And Gabriel explains what’s going to happen, and Mary gives her consent. What a moment of power and decisiveness from this young woman. ‘Yes, let it be.’ Just as John Lennon would sing 20 centuries later. ‘Let it be’ unto me as you have said. Salvation happens as God intend because this young woman says, ‘yes’.

 

Clearly in the Church’s history lots of men have made Mary weird. We’ve made her a doll, we’ve made her a demi-god, we’ve made her an object of bizarrely pseudo-sexual fantasies because of her virginity. 

 

She has been made lots of things that she isn’t. But that shouldn’t stop us listening to her and befriending her for who she IS.

 

Last Sunday we noticed the juxtaposition of St John Baptist not being worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals at one end of St John the Evangelist’s Gospel, and Jesus taking off the sandals and washing the feet of His disciples at the other end.

 

Today we have Mary giving her consent and bringing Salvation into the world at the beginning of the story, and at the other end, there she stands with the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross. Mary stands, St John tells us. This is quite deliberate. To stand like that in Greek is to stand firm, to stand with faith and purpose. Mary stands by her Lord and only son, as He gives His life for the world, and her heart is broken. This woman is astounding. She will be there too with the Apostles to receive the tongues of fire - the Holy Spirit - at Pentecost just as St Luke tells us.

 

Whenever The Blessed Virgin pops up there is a word or a phrase that carries so much more weight that it appears. She at the cross. ’Do whatever He tells you’ she says to us, and the servants at the wedding at Cana as Jesus turns water into wine. Her Magnificat, borrowing words form Hannah when Samuel is born centuries before. Revolutionary words. Or that little phrase after the Finding of the adolescent Jesus in the Temple: ‘But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’. Such an unnecessary detail in narrative terms. But St Luke never does anything by accident, his construction and symbology is meticulous. It is there for a reason, and says so much. 

 

But so many in the church today are still stuck behind plastic statues or misplaced hangups. 

 

Isn’t Mary a distraction from Jesus? We don’t need her? But there she is. Mary is part of God’s gracious plan and abundant gift. God never seems to ask what is necessary, rather what is loving and true and good. 

    And in terms of focusing too much on Mary. If we really listen to her, then every time we look to her we will find ourselves following her gaze, her pointing hand, away from herself, to Jesus. 

 

There was a time in the 1970s when a certain type of scholarship was obsessed with the virgin birth - trying to avoid it or explain it away. I have never understood that. Perhaps because I grew up an atheist, but the problem surely is God? The bold assertion of the Christian faith is God…(dot dot dot). Not God did this or God did that? God is God. Nothing is impossible for God. The virgin birth is not about Mary, it is about God, doing impossible and wonderful things, fulfilling ancient prophecies and pointing the way. In the phrase ‘God was born of the Blessed Virgin’ the sticky bit is the first word, ‘God’, once you’re willing to go with God, then all other bets are off, surely?

 

Today we teeter on the edge of the great feast of Christ’s birth hanging like a bauble between two branches of the Christmas tree - one branch is the immensity and mystery of God. God’s transcendent unknowable, unspeakable being, outside time and space. The other is this amazing young woman and the tiny baby - the Word made flesh in fragile, human form - that she carries in her womb. 

 

May we go like her, in her footsteps of purpose and courage, with her as our friend, into Christmas and the year ahead.

Carol Service 2023 by Fr Jack

 

This is the moment where I get grumpy and say ‘throw out your tinsel!’ Turn off Alexa playing Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Xmas is you’ on an endless, Dante-esque infernal loop. Or perhaps it’s Shakin’ Stevens for those a little further up the Christmas tree. And for those at the top, perhaps you’ve been playing every back edition of Carols from Kings, back to when Adam himself sang ‘When Adam Lay Y Bounden’… turn it all off!

 

Well, not so actually. Genuinely not so. 

 

Instead the Church, here and in every corner of the world says: ‘Rejoice!’ 

Tonight, the Christian tradition says: anything we can do to celebrate will not be enough. There is no joy, no delight, no celebration - no amount of tinsel or mince pies or Mariah Carey (well, maybe…) - that can suffice.

 

We do it every year, the only mistake we make is to get used to Christmas. To think the limits of our ability to celebrate, is the limit of that which we celebrate.

 

Not so. It is a matter of more, not less.

 

What’s your tingle moment? Is it walking the dog on Christmas night while everyone else is diagnosing themselves with gout on the sofa, and marvelling - there in the night - at the stillness? 

Is it making your Christmas Communion, here or another church - and hearing ‘in the beginning was the Word…full of grace and truth’?

Is it the mood on St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day, when (even if your Christmas Day has been a bit rubbish for one reason or another) the world seems in a beautiful trance?

 

What is your tingle moment? Hold on to it this year whenever it happens, and mutter a small prayer of thanks to God. 

 

And hold on to that moment, not just because it is lovely, but because it may be the most honest and real thing you will do this Christmas. To tingle.

 

Because that tingle, should actually be multiplied, amplified, and stretched to a life long joy, an overwhelming ecstasy at what we celebrate.

 

English priest-poet Richard Crashaw wrote nearly four hundred years ago:

 

‘Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut up in a span!
Summer in winter, day in night!
Heaven in earth, and God in man!
Great little One! whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth’. 

 

God in Christ, come to be one of us, for us, and with us. God become like us, so that we may be made one with God. It is very much a matter of more, not less.

 

The true peace that is more than simply the absence of war.

The love that is more - beyond all boundaries of class or creed. (Charities of firms/schools: that’s one of the reasons why it is so wonderful to celebrate x/y tonight. That live out this mission of love beyond boundaries, of service to our local community/global family)

 

Tonight’s music and readings, these carols and anthems, that point us to mysteries and love so much more than the words that carry them.

 

The simple bread and wine of your Christmas Communion that despite their appearance are angels’ food, heaven’s banquet.

 

This Christmas, I want to invite you to go deep into the realities of these days and tingle with more, not less.

Advent III, 17th December 2023 by Fr Jack

 

Isaiah 6. 1-4, 8-11;

1 Thessalonians 5. 16-24;

St John 1. 6-8, 19-28

 

The message today might be ‘know your place’. Know your place! But I suspect I mean that not quite in the way that it sounds. Let me explain.

 

It’s as if St John Baptist had been reading St Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian Church today. ‘Do not quench the spirit’. He certainly doesn’t. He throws his prophecy right into the faces of the religious elite. They: tidy, metropolitan and urbane. He: wild haired, clothed in scraps of animal hide and breath stinking of locusts. He who is somewhat morose (he calls them a ‘brood of vipers’ after all!), and certainly direct and unpolished. I know who I would rather chat to at a Christmas drinks party. But how wrong I am. It is the wild man of the wilderness who has it right, of course!

 

They ask him: ‘are you the one we’ve been waiting for?’. How tempting to say ‘yes’, and start a nice little cult, gather influence, comfort, wealth. Plenty of religions have started that way. But not ours. John says ‘no’. The dialogue fizzes back and forth, with all the pace and intensity of a TV courtroom drama. ‘No’, says John. He doesn’t even say ‘but I know the guy who is, and for a consultancy fee I’ll set up a meeting’. He says no, and points away from himself to Jesus. ‘Know your place’.

 

He says that he is not worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandal. Here in the first chapter of St John’s Gospel, St John Baptist is unworthy to untie his shoe; and then, in the final chapters of this Gospel, hours before His death, Jesus will kneel and un-shoe and wash dirty feet at the Last Supper. 

 

Our God stoops, to untie His disciples’ sandals. He stoops to be born in poverty and obscurity. Jesus takes His place amongst the lowly. 

But back to today and The Baptist’s humility  - that is to say his accuracy that the other St John lays before us in his Gospel. Like Isaiah saying ‘send me!’ this morning in the Old Testament lesson. This is no bid for promotion, no attention-seeking publicity drive, this is simply letting you be you and God be God, and saying ‘yes’ to God in what God has asked. That’s what Isaiah and St John and St Paul - and Jesus - do.

 

One of my favourite modern Spiritual writers is a Belgian Cistercian abbot called Andre Louf. In his little book on humility he says that humility is not false, not performative belly-aching. Nor is it self-dislike or a lack of self esteem. Christian humility is simply seeing me, God and the world as they actually are. Humility is honesty, accuracy. Humility is seeing me, God and the world as they really are, and living that way. 

Today, St John the Baptist, Isaiah before him, and St Paul’s wisdom and genuine hopefulness all express that same truthful, realistic spirit.

 

After all, being a Christian is not a matter of accepting a lot of ridiculous but pleasant fantasies. It is not a matter of choosing the world, the me, the God that I want to be the case. 

It is about trying to live as real-ly as possible, as accurately and truthfully as possible in the world, in the me, with the God who is.

 

That is St John’s wild and wonderful wisdom for us as we journey through Advent. Make this holy time one of humility - of truthfulness and accuracy - in every good way. Make it a time of unmasking and resetting. Of humility - in the footsteps of John the Baptist, and the Spirit of the stable, of Jesus who stoops to serve.

 

You see it is about ‘knowing our place’.

 

As I finish, may I share a wondering that flows from this idea?

 

I wonder if a lot of people in our churches think that the real Christians are elsewhere, other people, certainly not me.

The real church is those other people who are more committed, more knowledgeable, more holy. Not me. I’m fringe, I’m a passenger.

Knowing our place is also knowing that we’re it

There is no other actual church, real Christians elsewhere. There’s just us - you and me.

 

The people who give generously of their time, talents and money - it’s not other people, it’s us. The people who believe, who pray, who fed by the grace of the Sacraments journey through life from font to grave. That is us. 

 

The people who invite others to receive the great gifts of faith. That’s us. There are no mythical other ‘super-Christians’. There’s you and me, taking our place in this great adventure.

 

John the Baptist - the wild man of the desert - knows what he is, and what he is not, and calls us to know our place too.

 

Advent Sunday, 3rd December 2023 by Fr Edwin 

Isaiah 64.1–9

1 Corinthians 1.3–9
Mark 13.24–37

 

I would like you to do me a favour and, for the next few minutes, keep your eyes closed. Don’t worry, I’m not going to pinch your wallet. Now cast your minds back to the last time you played hide-and-seek. You’ve picked a fantastic place, the wardrobe, say, and one by one you can hear the others getting found. You’ve won for certain, but they still need to find you. In a gap in the wardrobe you can hear footsteps approaching, and you close your eyes and hold your breath, waiting. In a second the door will burst open and light and laughter will pour in, but for now, you’re just waiting.

 

Now imagine it’s a loved one’s birthday and you’re throwing a surprise party. You and twenty others are crammed into the sitting room, crouched down in the dark, waiting as you hear the key turn in the latch, and see a hand reach towards the light switch.

 

Now imagine it’s Christmas, and your best friend finds you and tells you they have a surprise for you. They tell you to close your eyes tight, stretch out your hands and wait. Wait. Wait.

 

What are you feeling? What’s your face doing? Are you desperately and unsuccessfully trying not to giggle?

 

Joyful expectation. ‘Tis the season. Today we enter the season of Advent, the time when we sit in the darkness of the night and train our eyes on the horizon, waiting for the dawn. We know it will come, we know the joys the day will bring and the light that will cast out every memory of this time of darkness and cold. We know we haven’t warranted the rising of the sun, we know that it shines on the righteous and unrighteous alike, we know all this, but for now we sit in the darkness, suppressing a giggle, waiting for the light to burst in.

 

But it’s been about twenty minutes and the wardrobe door is yet to burst open. What’s going on? Weren’t those footsteps, you heard? You’re cold, you’re aching, you’re alone. No one has found you, and the smile that recently ached your face now slowly fades. Maybe they’ve given up, you think. Maybe I was too well hidden, irretrievably lost. Maybe they never had any intention of looking for me, this was just some mean joke. The time ticks by. The game’s not so fun anymore. Now that the expected moment is no longer immediate, you start looking around at the oppressive gloom of the space in which you’ve wedged yourself and you can’t see a thing. You’re so tired. The night seems endless. Do we keep awake? Do we give up? Do we lose hope? Why are we waiting?

 

In the darkness of our world today, it is easy to lose hope. Even though we know that the dawn will come, sometimes it can feel like we are lost and alone, that the darkness is just too powerful, that the night will never end. But these weeks remind us that the darkness of Advent, just like the light of Christmas, is a gift, a gift that we can use to understand ourselves, our world and our sorrows. 

 

When Christ in our Gospel today commands us to keep awake, he is inviting us not simply to sit idly and wait, but to transform our whole lives in readiness for him. To be awake not just in the darkness, but to be awake to the darkness, to see it and to transform it. Christ invites us to let our eyes get used to the dark. To keep one eye on the horizon, but use the other to look around us, see the faces of those who dwell in darkness, who believe the dawn will never come. Look at the places obscured by pain. See the gloom of selfishness in ourselves. The creeping shadows of wickedness, of man at war with man, of cruelty. And in so doing, he invites us to understand what our role in this is, what we can do to transform it, to wake it up to the coming light of Christ.

 

This darkness is a gift. It stops us from taking the light for granted, from getting complacent, from guessing the punchline. It makes us take a long hard look at ourselves, and ask, ‘Why would someone come and find me?’ It cuts through the holly and the ivy, the John Lewis ads, even Shakin’ Stevens, and adds a minor chord into the festive jingles. The darkness of our sinful world reminds us that as we wait for this miraculous baby to be born, that we wait too for him to be killed for our sins. We can’t have the manger without the cross.

 

And yet, and yet, in all this, the darkness of Advent is not a sombre time. We are not just looking for the darkness, but looking through the darkness for the flickers of light amid the gloom, for the outline of love through the smog of hate and fear, for the stories of heroism and grace in the face of war and terror, for the places where the glow of joy is at its very dimmest yet persists. In Advent, we keep awake to look for the sparks of hope, which doggedly refuse to be snuffed out, and which, with the life-giving breath of the Spirit, we can fan into the flames of faith and joy. For, as we will be reminded in the coming weeks, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. 

 

In Christ, God has gifted us hope, and it’s now up to us to pass that gift on to all around us. To pass on to our despairing world the hope that was realised in the manger, that was opened up to us in the empty tomb and that will be concluded on the last day. The hope that the world can change, that light can shine in the darkest despair, that our sins will be forgiven. The hope that we will see ‘“the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory’ (Mk 13.26) and that, as we crouch in the darkness, we will be found, because we have been found.

 

And, just as our Gospel teaches us that we can never know at what hour the Son of Man will come, so we can never afford to be asleep when he does. This period of waiting cannot be inactive, we have to ready ourselves and the world. To be awake to the myriad ways in which Christ the Word dwells among us right now—as we just saw enacted in our Gospel procession—in opportunities to serve and care for him in our neighbour, share our hope with all we meet in word and act, spread the light of Christ to those in death’s dark vale. In our words and our actions, we have to point to a world which is worth the wait, and which is breaking into our world, here and now.

 

So, as we look out into the darkness of Advent, Christ tells us not to lose hope, or faith, or consciousness. The dawn will come, and we must be ready. Be ready for a world transformed. Be ready for the healing of our pain. Be ready for the casting out of darkness. Be ready to see Christ’s face in those we would least expect. Be ready for the dazzling light that will burst in. Be ready to rejoice in our new life without forgetting what we have learned in this time of darkness. Be ready to be found. 

 

Because, ready or not, here he comes.

Christ the King, 26th November 2023 by Fr Jack

 

Ezekiel 34. 11-16;

Psalm 95. 1-7;

Ephesians 1. 15-23;

St Matthew 25. 31-46

 

Today is the third of our themed Sundays - Peace two weeks ago, Mercy and Judgement last week, today: Welcome and Mission (which happen to be our parish Mission Action Plan themes for this year: Welcome and Mission).

 

The three themed Sundays have coincided in the Lectionary (the readings set for each day) with a trio of teachings by Jesus in St Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew has lined up three images of Judgement from Jesus:

1. The wise and foolish virgins: be ready. 

2. Last week, the parable of the talents: don’t bury your love, your faith: generously share and multiply them.

3. Today, the sheep and the goats, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner - corporal works of mercy. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.

 

Looking carefully we see that these three teachings work in harmony, together revealing different aspects, different angles on what Jesus wants us to know.

 

And today’s Gospel, providentially, couldn’t be better suited to our theme of Welcome and Mission. 

Who are we seeking to welcome?

Christ himself.

I was hungry. I was naked, He says. Christ is every single person who lives/works/studies or spends their time in this parish that we serve. They are all Jesus, and we want them to be welcomed and at home in our midst. 

 

And what is the Mission that we seek to fulfil?

Well, to serve Jesus in all the people of our parish neighbourhood - through practical help, spiritual wellbeing, community, humanity in all its glorious technicolour. All the desperate needs that Jesus lists in today’s Gospel, and the more nuanced ones, perhaps. We aren’t alone in this Mission, we work with friends, neighbours, community partners. 

 

It isn’t brain surgery. Sometimes Jesus speaks in riddles, sometimes mature theology needs careful handling. Sometimes Jesus simply means exactly what He says.

 

In a Benedictine Monastery, the porter or doorkeeper nun or monk is told in The Rule of St Benedict to greet every visitor as if s/he were Christ. When the doorbell goes, or the phone, or the email, they (we) are to say to ourselves ‘Dominus est’ - it is the Lord, and answer with that intention.

 

If HM King Charles, or some other famous person came into church today and joined us for the Eucharist, I’m pretty sure all of us (me included) would be keeping a beady eye on him - just to see what he did, to watch him react. Perhaps I’m just nosey! I can’t help it. 

 

If Christ our King sat in the pew next to you and lost his way in the hymn book or Sunday Sheet - we would be on it like a flash. If Jesus came in late, we would show Him where to pick up in the Confession or whatever, and make room for Him in our pew. Let’s also do that for Christ in one another. The same for chatting to Jesus over coffee, or inviting Jesus to things coming up in church. It is a mindset of attentiveness and care. We are very good at it here at St Giles’ I think, but we can always polish up and be better, we’re never perfect.

 

But the best way to be better at welcoming Christ in our midst - for the Christ in me to meet the Christ in you - and to serve Christ as a church community, and all the many, many individual ministries in your lives that you all have, and that we your church are proud of, and want to celebrate in you (and that’s very important), the best way to welcome and serve Christ is not by will power. Certainly not by guilt or social pressure. It is simply finding that we are doing it instinctively, like a real dancer, who cannot but dance in life. And the instinct of holiness happens when we find that we are simply recognising Jesus everywhere, responding to Christ in everything. It surpasses will or obligation, and becomes ‘life’. The dance that just wells up in us. That’s the best of all.

 

And how, how do we go about acquiring this instinct of holiness - as a community and as members of it, as we seek to welcome and live out our mission?

 

Well, remember in St Luke’s Gospel, after the Resurrection, Cleopas and another are walking to Emmaus. Jesus joins them and they speak deeply and wonderfully, but they don’t recognise Him. And then they reach the inn for the night and Jesus makes to travel on (they nearly miss realising it was Him all along), but they ask this stranger to stay. And they dine together, and Jesus takes bread, blesses it and gives it to them, and they recognise Him in the breaking of the bread. So says St Luke.

 

This is one of those moments when Jesus means exactly what He said. We gather, all over the world, we gather to meet Jesus in Holy Communion, to recognise Him here, and to take His body into ours, so that we become what we eat, the Body of Christ. And having recognised Him here, and Him having made His home in our souls and bodies - with Spiritual selves renewed and recharged, Sunday by Sunday - we go out to recognise Him in the people and events of our everyday in work, home, college, community - in loved one and stranger. The more we are united with Christ here, the more we are united with Christ in everything else.

 

Our welcome, our mission, are not guilt-driven or SMART targets. They are God’s presence in each of us, and in everything that God has made. The more we live like that, the more we will recognise Christ everywhere and find ourselves dancing.

2nd Before Advent, 19th November 2023 by Fr Jack

 

Zephaniah 1. 7, 12-18    

Psalm 90 1-12       

1 Thessalonians 5. 1-11

St Matthew 25:14-30

 

We’re having themes in these Sundays running to Advent.

Last Sunday - Peace.

Today’s theme is mercy and judgement.

 

We have been asked to tackle big theological themes like this by a member of our congregation, who said something like - ‘what do all these things actually mean?’ A very good question.

 

If you want to re-read Fr Edwin’s excellent homily on the theological substance of peace, do go to the sermons page on our website.

 

So to mercy and judgement.

If you’re anything like me, your mind skips ‘mercy’ and goes straight to ‘judgement’. And I find myself picturing an angry judge. Condemnation. Those are the images of judgement we have often grown up with. Angry headmasters. Judgment = punishment.

 

When we hear of the landlord in today’s Gospel parable, and those closing words ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ it simply reinforces all those tendencies in us.

    But the trouble is, we’re starting from an imbalanced place, and all these tendencies simply inflate an already off-kilter view. It’s easily done, but it needs rebalancing using the rest of Scripture and Jesus’ preaching.

 

I’m going to suggest a little of that now.

 

So, firstly, today’s parable comes in St Matthew’s Gospel. Almost all the brimstone comes from St Matthew, and it’s always reserved for the religious elite. It is to them that these words are addressed: not you, particularly, but me. Do not cling to your gifts, or status, or place in the community of faith - use it all for the glory of God and the furtherance of The Faith. Don’t bury what you have been given (not money, of course, but gifts, love, talents) spend them! That’s today’s parable. How easy it is to become fat and complacent (even in the C of E - shock horror). Jesus shakes the likes of me down from our ivory towers.

 

Secondly, if Jesus’ image of the judgement of God - which we will all face (not just the clergy, thankfully) at the end of time is NOT a finger wagging, red-faced Victorian judge, what is it? What did Jesus think the judgement would look like? That’s the question to ask, surely!? So we go back to the archetypes of judgement in the Old Testament; that’s the Bible Jesus knew and constantly quoted. 

 

We find Solomon, who’s judgement was the wise and loving revealing of the truth behind a situation. Remember the two women both claiming to be the mother of the child - his judgement was to uncover the truth and lay it bear. 

There are others too: Deborah, the judge and prophetess who presides from under her date palm over 40 years of peace and prosperity. But Solomon is the archetype. Judgement is to unmask, uncloak, face the truth. 

And that’s why it terrifies us. When I am criticised all I want is the chance to explain myself, i.e. recloak myself in a costume of my own devising. My elder brother was the master of explaining his way out of various situations as a teenager. 

    But we find that God’s justice is not about wit, power, wealth, or smooth words, or any other means of self protection we reach for - it is simply to reveal what is. There’s something of that in the Prophet Zephaniah this morning. He lists all the things that were the absolute securities and goals of living in his day, and he reminds us that God’s justice cuts through all that; empties all our worldly armouries, and will reveal the truth.

 

That friends, is what I expect to happen when I meet God on the Last Day - that for the first time, I will see God, myself and all of it, truthfully. All that, (to borrow St Paul’s language today), all that I have tried (knowingly or otherwise) to keep in the night, will be brought in to the day. 

Just as the psalmist says today - ‘our secret selves brought into the light of God’s countenance’. That is Christian judgement. 

 

I expect it will be deeply uncomfortable, the truth usually is. But God’s love is also the same as God’s justice. It isn’t a matter of condemnation and then slowly making back the ground. It is all in one. Because God has no sides, no moods, no compartments (unlike us), God is just God. God’s justice, love, mercy and everything else is all one and always. God is what philosophers call a ‘simple being’ (and that is a technical term) - one whose nature is complete and whole, unlike us! 

 

So, I expect to be not only uncomfortably revealed, but also overwhelmingly, truly, loved. 

Mercy and justice, is our theme today - and they are one and the same, and that’s what we find in the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church, when we receive them as a whole.

 

It is one of those moments of God’s otherness, and we realise that we only ever glimpse parts of this picture. In this life, when we use words like justice and mercy, we only ever use them incompletely. But God’s mercy and justice are whole and utter. I’m not dodging St Matthew’s bullet - there is no room for complacency or cowardice, especially for the likes of me - but, friends, judgement and mercy are very good news.

 

To end, St Paul to the early church in Corinth:

‘When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see as in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.’

Requiem Mass for All Souls' Day (transferred to 5th November, 4pm)

by Fr Edwin

 

1 Peter 1. 3-9
John 6. 37-40

 

One of the greatest books ever written (discuss), and certainly the greatest book about the Christian life ever written (also discuss), is The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, former worshipper here at St Giles’. The book is one great allegory of the Christian life: the protagonist Christian sets out from his home in the City of Destruction on a journey towards the Celestial City, meeting various personified vices and virtues en route, like Mr Worldly Wiseman, the Giant of Despair, the marsh of Despond(ency), Old Mr Honest and young Miss Mercy. 

 

At the end of the book, Mr Valiant-for-Truth, a friend made along the way, waits on the nearside of the river that guards the Celestial City: the river, death; the Celestial City, heaven. On receiving his summons, he confidently declares that he is ‘going to [his] Father’s’, and wades out into the waters of death, exclaiming as he goes: ‘Death, where is thy sting? … Grave, where is thy victory?’

 

For some centuries now, Mr Valiant-for-Truth’s journey across the river has captivated readers, standing as a sort of ‘ideal’ in terms of how the Christian should face death. The words he speaks—‘Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?’—come from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he explains Christ’s triumph over the power of death, and reassures his readers that they can face death with the same apparent breezy confidence as Mr Valiant-for-Truth, trusting in the resurrection that will be theirs. Death no longer has power over us. Death is swallowed up in victory. Death has lost its sting.

 

The trouble, for those of us who have lost loved ones, is that no one seems to have told our hearts. For all our faith, for all our hope, for all our knowledge of what Christ has won for us, the sting of death is still very real indeed; the victory of the grave seems so sure; the power of death seems unstoppable, mechanical, irrevocable. Characters like Mr Valiant-for Truth might seem to mock us with their bluff headmasterly confidence: phlegmatic, dry-eyed, stiff-upper-lipped. Because for us, for those who mourn, death hasn’t lost its sting. So how do we reconcile this? How do we reconcile sure and certain hope in the resurrection, with the anguish and sorrow of death?

 

All of us who enjoy trivia will know that the shortest verse in the Bible is ‘Jesus wept’ (Jn 11:35). It comes in John’s Gospel, as Jesus, far from dry-eyed, weeps at the death of his beloved friend, Lazarus. Someone quizzed me on this verse a while ago: why did Christ weep, when he knew that he would, moments later, raise Lazarus from the dead? We concluded that, despite his perfect faith in the resurrection, Jesus here fully acknowledges and enters into the agonising reality of death. Lazarus will be raised, yes, but for the time being, he is dead, and Jesus weeps, for him and for all human beings down the ages that have known the absolute reality of death.

 

Here Jesus unites within himself these two seemingly disparate truths: of hope, and loss; of faith, and pain; of victory, and defeat. He knows his resurrection will deliver us from the ultimate power of death, but he knows too that it will not deliver us from facing its present reality. Instead, he promises us that we will not face it alone. He weeps with us. 

Jesus, carrying the lantern of hope, journeys fully into the darkness of pain, sorrow and death, and lights a way for us to follow. As we hear read on Christmas night: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’ (Jn 1:5) The darkness remains darkness, but it is no longer total. The sting of death is still agonising, but it is no longer final. The grave still claims daily victories, but it has lost the war.

 

‘Death, where is thy sting? … Grave, where is thy victory?’ Despite how he has been interpreted, Mr Valiant-for-Truth is not, I suspect, meant to be an ‘ideal’, or even the embodiment of the Christian life. Instead, I think, that’s the purpose of the whole book. John Bunyan does not tell us that we will not suffer: in fact, the opposite. The book shows us that the Christian life has its fair share of trials, of fear and pain and grief and despair. And at times these things will seem insurmountable and crushing. But, he tells us, they will not win.

 

As Jesus says in the beautiful words of our Gospel today: ‘this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.’ (Jn 6.39)  It is God’s will that nothing will be lost. Not one tear, not one laugh, not one moment of sorrow or joy, not one memory will be lost. All will be swept up in the joy of the kingdom, where all God’s children reside. On the last day, when the story is ended and the journey complete, he will reach out and gather in his arms each and every one of us, wipe away our tears and bring us home. We too will cross the river, hand-in-hand with Christ.

 

‘When the day that [Mr Valiant-for-Truth] must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which as he went, he said, “Death, where is thy sting?” And as he went down deeper, he said, “Grave, where is thy victory?”

 

So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.’ 

 

May it be so for us, and for all whom we have loved, and lost, and remember this night. Amen.

All Saints

transferred to 5th November 10am Parish Eucharist

by Fr Jack

 

Revelation 7.9-end

Psalm 34.1-10

1 John 3.1-3

St Matthew 5.1-12

 

'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, 'I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

 

‘Who are you?’. Questions of identity are tricky ones. And don’t we just know it nowadays? 

In debates raging in the press and social media, in the explosion of ‘self-help’ sections of book shops and podcasts - now a multi billion industry. Me-shaped fads thinly veiled as a array of ‘spiritualities’ for sale. Such things and plenty more besides would indicate that people’s identities are no more secure now than when Lewis Carol wrote of the Caterpillar and Alice in her adventures in Wonderland. The simple question ‘who are you?’, when properly heard, is one that cuts right to the heart of the human condition. ‘who are you?’

 

This glorious Feast of All Ss is able to speak Truth in the face of a potentially individualistic, angry or commercial quagmire.

This glorious Feast and the readings from Scripture we have just heard give us the questions we could be asking. 

 

Blessed are the meek - better translated not as mild and gentle but ‘landless’, those without property and therefore status, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn. Those who come for Wednesday Evening Prayer here in St Giles', or perhaps pray it using the free smart 'phone app at home (I really recommend that), will know that the Beautitudes are at the heart of Evening Prayer most Wednesday's of the year. It's usually the beginning of my day off each week, Wednesday evening, and I really feel the gift of being grounded back in these words, struck and held by them. They are truly profound, in every sense.

 

But nonetheless, I often wonder why people didn’t say to Our Lord - are you joking? blessed are those who mourn? blessed are those with no land of their own to live on and work  - the meek? blessed are the poor in spirit? These sayings of Jesus are not a list of prizes given in this life but the unapologetic statements of our hope - the hope of the Second Coming when this earth will fall away and rise renewed: Jesus’ Kingship of the universe consummated. 

And it is this hope, the hope that underpins the Christian faith, the hope that we pray for everyday when we pray ‘Our Father…your Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ that answers the caterpillar’s question ‘who are you?’

 

The answer is that we are saints. We are citizens of heaven. Imposters in this troubled world of fear, grief and poverty - our true home, our true identity is as citizens of heaven, subjects of another greater kingdom.

 

The people sitting next to us in the pews may appear normal, but when they take off their spectacles and unbutton their shirts they reveal (not a large red S like superman), but the Cross of the Risen Jesus. And that is true for all of us. Our reading from the Apocalypse paints the image of our destiny of life in God in the company of the Saints. And this is no fantasy, we are not in Wonderland with Alice now, this is the history for which Jesus tells us we are bound if we seek life in Him. We are citizens of heaven.

We stand right now, and especially when at the Eucharist, amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ - all those who have ever lived, are living, and will one day be born on earth - because all of us are alive in the body of the Risen Jesus - the communion of Saints.

 

And here, finally, comes the tricky bit. We are citizens of heaven. We will come this morning before the Lord Jesus upon His altar-throne surrounded (as He is right now in heaven) by throngs of saints and angels. They are our family, our companions along the way and fellow citizens. The tricky bit is that we must start acting like it. 

 

We are called to be holy, because God is holy. If we are to be who we really are, then we are to truly live like children of God and citizens of His heavenly kingdom.

I don’t know about you, but I know that I am not going to heaven like 'this'. If I am bound for the Kingdom of God, a pretty substantial change is going to happen at some point. My life is well beyond a quick lick of paint and a squirt of febreeze. The Christian faith, after all, is all about being transformed. ‘We shall not all die, but we shall be changed’, writes St Paul.

 

The world expects us to be sensible, cautious in loving and in being loved, safe and calculated in the way we give ourselves to God and each other. Practical. Realistic. And yet we are not children of the world, we are citizens of heaven. 

 

Human beings share 40% of their DNA with bananas apparently - but I have to tell you that if you tried to peel me you would get a pretty ugly result. You may be 50% banana, you may be all sorts of labels and identities - but you are none of these things more than you are a citizen of the Father’s Kingdom with the saints and angels. That’s why in being landless (meek) or poor in spirit or mournful or any of the other things Jesus lists you ARE blessed, because you will be: when you take up real, eternal life in Him.

This life is but the first note of the first bar of the overture of the Opera that God has written out for all of us before time began. 

 

We are citizens of the Father’s Heavenly Kingdom with saints and angels.

If we allow this aspect of the mystery of our faith to really change the way we live, to really be the place we find our identity, to really form the way we think about ourselves, our lives and each other. Even just today, and then one day at a time, asking God to reveal to us our real life - then we may find that who we are (just as the caterpillar asks), who we are, how we live, love and worship is more glorious, more exciting and more real than we could ever have imagined.

October 22nd — Twentieth Sunday after Trinity — Fr Edwin

Exodus 33.12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1.1-10
Matthew 22.15-22

 

 

There’s a programme on the radio called ‘The Reunion’, where those involved in a particular moment in history (like the people involved in the Good Friday Agreement, or the Tiananmen Square protests) are brought back together to discuss it. And last year I heard one about ‘Occupy London’ (you’ll no doubt remember the tents pitched outside St Paul’s), the movement to protest the worst excesses of deregulated capitalism after the financial crash.

 

The programme played an interview from the time with Giles Fraser, who quit his rôle as Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s over the Chapter’s handling of the event, in which he said, ‘If you look [in the Bible] you will see that issues of economic justice are the number one moral issue in the Bible—more than our obsession with sex and all those sorts of things—that is what the Bible regularly goes on about.’

 

Now that really struck me, because I don’t think I’d thought about that in such bald terms. But he’s quite right: the main social and moral issue that the prophets, apostles, and Christ himself go on about, is money, is property.

 

Christ is frequently absolutist about this, about the evils of money: ‘You cannot serve both God and wealth’ (Lk. 16:13; Mt. 6:24); ‘Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor’ (Mt. 19:21); ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ (Mt. 19:24) 

 

These phrases are rightly discomfiting. We should be made to feel deeply uncomfortable by them, and we shouldn’t try to soften or nuance what Christ is trying to say here. Money is very dangerous, and we must never forget that. Its use and enjoyment corrupt our desires. Its accumulation damages our ability to love and share. And the power it inevitably gives us distances us from God. It is dangerous. And like all dangerous things, we should use it very, very carefully.

 

But, of course, we need it. We need money. So how do we get by as Christians in a ‘monetary’ world? Well, I think that’s where today’s Gospel comes in. In it, the Pharisees (the religious authorities who were against paying the tax to Caesar) and the Herodians (the servants of the king who were in favour of the tax) team up to try to trick Jesus into getting into trouble with one side or the other. Jesus’ famous response of ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ is not some sneaky wordplay to get Jesus out of a tight corner. Rather, I think, by this deliberate bit of rhetoric Jesus rather deftly challenges us to consider how we can use and possess money, without being corrupted by it.

 

So, what does that mean? Well, I think the key to understanding this text is to recognise that ‘the things that are the emperor’s’ and ‘the things that are God’s’ are not two separate things, as if Caesar is over here, and God over there. Because what belongs to God is everything. ‘The things that are the emperor’s’ also necessarily belong to God.

 

That means that we can’t use this passage as a proof text for separating faith from the world, faith from economics, faith from politics. Some people might wish to do that: whether because they want to indulge in greed and power without those pesky Christians coming along and pricking their consciences; or because they wish to retreat to a pure world of religious virtue, that refuses to be tainted by the sins of worldly affairs.

 

But we as Christians in the world don’t have the luxury of such purism. We can’t turn our back on the world any more than we could turn our back on God. We live in the emperor’s world and must deal in the ‘things that are the emperor’s’. But if the things that are the emperor’s are really God’s things, then we as Christians must work out how we can use these things to serve their rightful owner. How the ‘things’ of the world—money, property, power—can be used to serve God, and not ourselves.

 

This text, therefore, reminds us of what Jesus says of his followers in John’s Gospel: that we are ‘in’ the world, but not ‘of the world’ (Jn. 17:14-19). ‘In’ but not ‘of’. We are citizens of heaven, who temporarily reside in the world. 

 

And as long as we reside in the world, we must participate responsibly and righteously within it: contributing to the public services we receive; participating in its political governance; working for the economic welfare of all its members. 

 

But we must do so without ever compromising our citizenship of heaven. The seeming pragmatism of this Gospel passage in no way undermines the absolutism of Christ’s teaching about wealth and power. Christ was well aware of the corruption and inequality at the heart of the Roman Empire, and here he isn’t telling his followers to collude with such sinfulness in order to have an easier life. He doesn’t simply tell his followers to pay the tax or not. Instead, he’s reminding them and us where our allegiance ultimately lies, and challenging us to work out how to engage with the systems and structures of this world, how to cooperate with and confront and use and transform and, when necessary, defy them in order to fulfil the purposes of God. 

 

So, I think what this passage teaches us, is that we must learn to live, and to live committedly, in this world, without forfeiting our citizenship of heaven. We must learn to handle the dangerous goods of money and power without ever being corrupted or possessed by them. We must remember that the things of this world, the things that are the emperor’s, the things that we might think of as rightly ‘ours’, are really the things that are God’s: to be used, and not to be loved; to be shared, and not to be accumulated; to be given to the emperor, but only so that they can be given to God.

 

To Whom be all praise and glory, now and forever. Amen.

 

Request from Fr Jack:

 

To preach for St Luke and St Giles this year.

We ask you not only for who you are, and your depth of faith and experience, but also as a doctor – like our dear St Luke!

 

SERMON FOR ST. LUKE by Dr Ros Davies

 Sunday 15th October 2023

 

Luke is the Patron Saint of Physicians, and traditionally, this next Wednesday, October 18th, is his Saint’s Day.

 

Luke the Evangelist, the New Testament gospel writer and author of the Acts of the Apostles, was also a physician. He is referred to by Paul in the Epistle to Colossians 4:14 as ‘my dear friend Luke the doctor’. He is considered to be one of the most highly educated New Testament authors – with an “outstanding command of Greek language and familiar with ancient classical and Hellenistic Greek authors”. Generally, he is thought to have been born of a Greek family, a Gentile by birth, from Antioch in Ancient Syria. But others question this: was he in fact a Hellenic Jew who himself was born a slave and educated by his master?

 

At the beginning of his Gospel, Luke excludes himself from those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’s ministry. He makes it very clear that his account draws from the testimony of eyewitnesses and ‘servants of the word’, including the preaching and oral accounts of the apostles. His account includes many healing miracles, including 6 miracles not found in the other two synoptic gospels, and 18 parables including the story of the Good Samaritan. 

 

Why am I standing her? Not because I have an outstanding command of Greek language or am familiar with ancient classical and Hellenistic Greek literature, but because I have also been a physician. 

I have been a consultant neuro-otologist for 28 years, working at Queen Square in the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. I saw people with vertigo and balance problems. I was a “dizzy doc”. The patients were mainly younger and many of them had had their symptoms for a while. Unsurprisingly, some had developed anxiety and phobias and these additional symptoms needed to be identified and disentangled from the symptoms of vertigo and unsteadiness. Sometimes they also had hearing loss or migraine.

 

Some years into my consultancy I had a similar episode to that of many of my patients. I had an episode of vertigo. It was totally alarming, and I will briefly recount how it felt to be so disoriented.

 

Simon and I had gone ‘up north’ to stay with my parents for a couple of days. My father was coming toward the end of his life, and we wanted to spend some time with them. On the Sunday morning we were getting ready to go to church, the same church where I was christened and later confirmed. We were eating breakfast and as I leant forward to take a spoonful of cereal, I had the distinct impression that the bowl was coming up towards me. I felt strangely disoriented and realised that I was going to start spinning, but although I held onto the table, the disorientation persisted. At this point I knew I wasn’t going to make it to church, and I left my mother and Simon to go together.

 

I knew I had to get off the chair or I would fall off. Having managed to get down and lie on the ground, the room really started to spin, and I literally didn’t know if I was head up or down, but just glad to know that I was on the floor and couldn’t fall anywhere else. I kept completely still. I remembered a quote from one of the most highly respected neurologists of the 20th Century, WB Matthews, who memorably said that “headache is in one’s being, but dizziness is translation to another sphere. 

 

It was translation to another sphere, total disorientation. I started to feel nauseous, and I knew I had to get to the bathroom, only 10 yards away. It was one of the most challenging journeys I have made, I didn’t know how to crawl, or whether I was moving forwards, backwards or sideways. Somehow, I made it in adequate time.  

 

I was dizzy and unsteady for the next week, slowly recovering to normal. At least I realised that the problem was likely to be coming from my inner ear. From clinical experience too I knew that I was very likely to get better, and if it took a while, there were things that could be done to speed up my recovery. However, the initial symptoms were so alarming that without much imagination, I could full well understand that dizzy patients could have worried about having a brain tumour or be fearful that recovery would not be possible. In other words, the effects of something so severe could have an emotional and psychological impact. If in some, these secondary symptoms had become quite severe, and the person was fearful of leaving the house or moving through crowded places, they would become significantly disabled. 

 

Why am I recounting this story? In Luke’s gospel there are many miraculous healings, 6 of them unique to Luke. It is possible in the 21st century, to see some of these first century healings as healing of a person who had had a minor illness and had developed disabling psychological symptoms, recovering due to faith and a complete belief in Jesus. I have seen a couple of young people who were wheeled into clinic, unable to stand without falling. With experience and using the results of our investigations, including testing of the balance system, we were able to reassure both people that there was no brain disease, and to counsel them and start planning their recovery programme. This programme involved what is called the “Multi-Disciplinary Team” and included physiotherapists and behavioural psychologists in our department, and onward referral to a specialist rehabilitation unit if needed. One particularly memorable patient was the young woman who had been wheeled into clinic, whom I saw 6 months later, walking very slowly around the garden in the middle of Queen Square. We had a long chat and she told me that she ‘was learning how to walk again’ and she was ‘like a baby’. In her hospital notes, she was described as having had a “dissociative syndrome”. Was that outcome – that ‘healing’ - the result of medical knowledge, loving care and commitment from a range of expert professionals, or was it a miracle?

 

At this point I stand back. CS Lewis suggests in his book on miracles, that whether we can accept an event as a miracle, depends on the philosophical views we hold i.e., our view on the supernatural. In my vastly oversimplified understanding of ‘natural law’ and ‘the supernatural’, if ‘naturalism’ (i.e. all can be explained by natural science as being understandable in terms of space and time) is true, then we do know in advance that miracles are impossible. They cannot be measured in space and time.  

However, the supernatural is of another dimension, some events occur according to the laws of nature, and others according to a separate set of principles external to known nature.  My belief is that some things cannot be explained by rational thought, that there is Divine Mystery

 

 

I like what I read in Luke. He clearly respected women: - the Visitation of Elisabeth by Mary in Chapter 2 is an inspired description of the meeting of the two women, both pregnant in extra-ordinary circumstances, who pay a crucial part in the transition from the Old to the New Testament. He chose, uniquely amongst the synoptic gospel authors, to include the parable of the Good Samaritan, which shows compassion overriding religious law. He was angry with all systems, religious or political, that came between God and ‘the poor of the earth’.

 

As a doctor and a Christian, I can identify with these values. I can also feel comfortable with a gospel that challenges a belief of doctors that the world of natural science can explain all but fails to consider another dimension where belief and faith raise the possibility of miracles.

October 8th         18th Sunday after Trinity by Fr Jack

Exodus 20. 1-4, 7-9, 12-20;        

Psalm 19;         

Philippians 3. 4b-14;      

St Matthew 21. 33-46

 

Today is our harvest festival. The key to today for us might be this: Gratitude and generosity in every direction: God to us, us to God, us to each other.

 

Gratitude and generosity in every direction

God to us, us to God, us to each other.

 

It is not by accident that we Christians gather to give thanks as the core of our lives.

The Eucharist each Sunday is the first and last thing we do each week. Eucharist meanings thanksgiving. It is very simple and very profound.

Yes, I am hinting that when you’re away, try and get to a local church, or early church if you’re out for the day. Or come midweek. We make Eucharist - thanksgiving - the pattern of our lives, on purpose. The structure holds us if we let it, and the Eucharist feeds and forms us.

 

This mention of structure that helps us live out gratitude and generosity leads neatly to the 10 commandments.

A picture of warring tribes, God’s fledging people in those early books of the Hebrew Bible. God gives structure, not to rule or oppress, but to provide the nursery, the greenhouse in which ancient Israel could flourish - structures that hold and heal and provide good soil for life!

 

But, the structure is not GOD. St Paul wants us to understand this in today’s second reading. Don’t mistake the point of all this. God is not a legal code, God is not a book, God is not a set of values, God is a person. It’s about God and us. What God has done in Jesus, what God does today (right now!) in the Holy Spirit, where God is leading us, home, to the Father’s house.

 

And we go with generosity and gratitude. A Eucharistic people at this banquet, living together towards heaven’s banquet.

Gratitude and generosity in every direction

God to us, us to God, us to each other.

 

And it’s here that today’s Gospel comes in as a good warning, not only for the scribes and pharisees that Jesus is chastising but all of us. The scribes and pharisees are the ultimate health warning of what forgetting grace, gratitude and generosity looks like. 

 

The land they have seized and squandered, the abuse they have perpetrated is not really financial or agricultural mismanagement; Jesus is condemning their mismanagement of the Covenant. God entrusted the people and the Jewish law (the 10 commandments and all the rest) to their care. And instead of stewarding it in God’s way, they have run it their own way, making it about their prejudices and preoccupations.

 

They have ended up (probably actually with the best of intentions, poor loves) worshipping codes and systems, and forgotten that it is all about God and people. Perhaps they didn’t realise, who knows(?), but that is what has happened.

 

We’re pretty good at not doing that in our time. But perhaps our modern day equivalent is the worship of comfort or convenience instead? Or making our faith comfy and on our terms? Gratitude and generosity might find themselves slipping down such a list of priorities. Or perhaps its values? There was a lot of talk a few years ago about ‘Christian values’, as if people of other faiths or no faith were incapable of being good people with good values and strong moral beliefs and actions. No, we don’t worship values, we don’t have that monopoly. We seek to worship a person. The Christian faith is a relationship, not a set of instructions. Our faith is all about God and people. Our behaviour, our world view, our life, springs forth from a living relationship that we inherit, share, and seek to discover in this glorious mystery we call faith.

 

Our generosity and gratitude then, helped as it is by structures that hold us and nourish us, is actually a love affair we are invited to live out, not a code of conduct. It is much more radical and lovely and potentially life-changing than that.  

 

Harvest is the perfect time of year to recommit ourselves to this pattern of living out our baptism. A Eucharistic people, discovering a relationship with God, other and self that is found in gratitude and generosity. It is a life-changing call if we embrace it, and the only thing worth embracing. ‘The harvest is rich’, so let us go into the harvest of life at God’s side.

October 1st         17th Sunday after Trinity by Fr Jack

Exodus 17. 1-7

Psalm 78. 1-4, 12-16

Philippians 2. 1-13

S. Matthew 21. 23-32

 

Today we begin a new season of art here in St Giles’. For a little while we are to be the home of Orfeo Tagiuri’s set of Stations of the Cross.

 

Stations sprung up as a means of Christians (who couldn’t get the Holy Land and walk the actual streets of Jerusalem thanks to British Airways) making that journey of imagination and heart closer to home.

 

It is a journey of the heart and of the will. 

Hold on to that - heart and will.

 

Because the readings set for today also illuminate something core to who we are in heart and will, alongside these moving Stations.

 

The Stations of the Cross are deeply human. They show the pathetic depths of the condemned man. They show the empathy of bystanders like the women. They show the shallow insecurity of leaders like Pilate. This moment, this ever so human drama of Christ’s condemnation and death is at the heart of human history. It is an archetype, echoed in art, music, theatre, and the lives of real human beings in every age. At the heart of God’s story of salvation, at the heart of history, are these hours in a street in Jerusalem.

 

There is that conversation between God and humanity - the best and the worst, just like in Jesus’ walk through Jerusalem - in today’s readings too. Moses has brought the people from slavery in Egypt, and what do they do? Complain. Isn’t that just us? In response to this amazing planet and all its gifts - what do we do? Exploit and destroy it. In response to God’s love in Christ, who by His death and resurrection from the dead has taken the power of death and sin and darkness away forever - what do we so often do? Ignore it, or make it as small and meaningless as possible.

 

Likewise, the two sons in Jesus’ parable today - the one who says he will and doesn’t, the one who says he won’t and does. Isn’t that just us to a tee? It reminds me of St Paul’s lament in his Letter to the Romans - ‘I know what I should do, and I do the opposite’.

 

The readings set for today leave us in no doubt that God gets the human condition. God is not surprised, nor is God’s love impeded by our frailty. Indeed, it is to those very depths of frailty and stupidity and down-right awfulness that Jesus goes on the way to Calvary in the Stations of the Cross.

 

So what are we to do with this picture of God’s love and our lack, given us here in the Stations and in today’s readings? Give up? By no means.

 

Because the road ahead for us is also in today’s Scriptures, and it is (like the Stations) a journey of heart and will. It is all about unity, 'one-ness', if you like.

 

Picture a lovely old radio with big fat dials, and a strip, lit up, with a fat red arrow that moves along the frequencies. (I hope the relevance of this will become clear…) One of my favourite writers on prayer says that prayer is simply a matter of tuning the radio of your heart and will to the frequency of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in each and every one of us, in constant loving communion with the Father and the Son. That constant unity of being, between us and God is always there, through the Spirit. We just need to tune in to it, and then we will be praying. Prayer isn’t something we do, it doesn’t require our initiative, it simply requires us to join in with the fundamental reality that is always going on - God and us.

 

True prayer is participated in by ever increasing unity of our mind and God, our heart and God. It takes a lifetime’s attentiveness. It is the easiest thing in the world and we are always doing it, but it takes a lifetime to barely begin. It is a matter of bringing our heart and will and finding them increasingly lost, at unity, one-ness, in God. Tuning in.

Stations is a journey of heart and will.

The Christian life is a journey of heart and will, of moment by moment and decade by decade finding our heart and will increasingly at one with God’s (however falteringly) through tuning in, through prayer, through Sacrament, through Scripture, our relationships and all the ways God reveals God’s self.

 

Back, briefly, to today’s readings. We hear a similar reality in St Paul’s Letter to the Phillippians. St Paul’s beautiful Christ hymn describes Jesus’ self-emptying offering - his uniting of himself with humanity in all our frailty - becoming the means of His glorification. Our becoming one with our true selves and God is a path of letting go and letting God.

 

It is just like the night before all this drama, shown us in the Stations. When Christ is alone in Gethsemane and prays, ‘take this cup away from me, but not my will, but thine be done’ (St Luke 22.42). The death of Jesus is not a vengeful God lusting after blood. These Stations show us God Himself (God come to be with us in Jesus) offering Himself to the depths of humanity’s darkness, so that He might bring the resurrection light from the very bowels of hell, to the farthest reaches of the universe. And what gives Jesus, even in His human fear, the strength to do just this, is the uniting of His will, with the will of the Father. He does not obey as a reluctant teenager (although God knows we so often do!), he unites, he gives away, his heart and his will, and finds the real thing, at one with God’s heart and God’s will.

 

Today’s readings and these moving Stations of the Cross invite us to bring our hearts and wills and let go and let God. Together they reveal this core of our Christian life. Try it this week, here in church, at home, we always leave 5 mins silence after the Gospel and before Communion in our midweek Eucharists here at St Giles’ for just this. To tune in the radio that is us, into God’s presence in our midst and find true life and purpose as a result.

September 24th, Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity by Fr Edwin

Exodus 16.2-15 
Psalm 105.1-6,37-45
Philippians 1.21-30
Matthew 20.1-16

 

In the Book of Revelation (4.6-8; cf. Ezekiel 1.4-14), St John describes the four living creatures that surround the throne of God as a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle. Since the early Church, Christians have mapped these creatures onto the four canonical Gospels, through which God in Christ reveals his glory to the world. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Lion, ox, man, eagle. I’m not going to be so mean as to ask who is sufficiently confident to name all four, so I’ll tell you that the lion corresponds to St Mark, the ox to St Luke, the man to St Matthew, and the eagle to St John, the last of which you can see represented in the beautiful window behind me.

 

Now there is a reason behind each of these, and St Matthew—whose feast we celebrated on Thursday—is depicted as the human because, according to St Jerome, his Gospel emphasises the humanity of Christ. But I would argue that another reason might be that St Matthew’s is in some ways the most human of the Gospels, in his ability to penetrate deep into the heart of the way human beings think and work. This year in the lectionary we have been working our way through the Gospel according to Matthew, and it won’t have escaped your notice that in the last few weeks we have been hearing passages that are very human indeed: parables and teachings that dig down into human psychology, morality and justice, and explore how human justice interacts with God’s justice. Today’s is no exception.

 

Today we hear about workers in a vineyard, some of whom have laboured for 12 hours, some for 1 hour, but all of whom receive the same daily wage. This parable I believe is deliberately challenging and provocative. What is going on here? Is this really justice, as we know it? And perhaps most interestingly, who do we side with?

 

You may remember that last week we heard from Matthew the story of the unmerciful servant, who is shown mercy, but cannot show mercy in turn. And I think in many ways, today’s Gospel is simply a reframing of last week’s story. This parable again deals with the complicated problem of getting what we’re owed, but this time Matthew cleverly approaches the question from a very different angle. Whereas last week we were unlikely to sympathise with the hypocritical servant, this week we would struggle not to sympathise with the labourers, who feel themselves to be cheated.

 

Fundamentally, I think what we see in this passage is the clash between human justice and God’s justice. The very human genius of Matthew is that he explores this clash by allowing us to read this parable in two different ways.

 

If we read this parable in terms of human justice, within our usual framework of fairness and entitlement, then it is a parable of God’s meanness, God’s stinginess. If the landowner is willing to pay a day’s rate for an hour’s work, then it is unjust of him to pay the same sum for twelve times as much work. He is being unfair.

 

If, however, we read it in terms of God’s justice, within the framework of mercy and grace, then it is a parable of God’s generosity. All are fairly paid and justly treated, and all are shown generosity in proportion to their need, and not to what they think they deserve. ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?’ I’m giving you what you need, and I am giving them what they need. He is being radically fair.

 

What this parable is doing therefore, just like last week’s parable, is encouraging us to stop thinking about what we deserve or are entitled to. We need to understand that anything we receive from God is not reward or payment, but grace. Just as God generously refuses to hold us to what we owe him, so we must let go of the temptation to believe that God owes us something. Regardless of how hard we have worked, regardless of how pure and spotless our lives are, regardless of how long we have laboured in God’s vineyard, we cannot put God in our debt. In fact, we are so far in God’s debt, that to insist on getting what we deserve would be very foolish indeed. God doesn’t owe us anything, so anything we receive from him must be gracious gift. And if we, undeserving as we are, still receive such grace, then we cannot begrudge the same grace being shown to others. Indeed it is those that society might deem to be the most ‘undeserving’ that God is most desperate to include in his grace. 

 

This parable has huge significance for the Church, therefore, particularly for us at St Giles’, whose Mission Action Plan this year centres around ‘welcome’. We must be more like the landowner: still urgently seeking to include those left behind, even at the eleventh hour. But that welcome cannot be from a place of superiority—do come in, but don’t sit in my pew—but with the humility that comes from recognising that the latecomer is as beloved and as worthy and as unworthy as those that came at dawn, that their voice, their work, their contribution is vital to our work together in the vineyard, that they—and not our wages—are what we truly need.

 

Christ, in this parable, encourages us to overcome our inclination towards entitlement and superiority, reminding us that he has given us just what we need, even though we weren’t worthy of it. And in so doing, he teaches us here that human justice is radically different from God’s justice. Because human justice is about giving us what we deserve. God’s justice is about giving us what we need. 

 

Or to put all of that another way:

 

We do not get what we deserve; thank God.

September 17th, Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity by Fr Edwin

Exodus 14.19-31
Romans 14.1-12
Matthew 18.21-35

 

 

Why do we do good?

 

My parents have just got a new dog. I should explain to residents of the Barbican that a ‘dog’ is a four-legged mammal that lives everywhere in the world except for here. This dog is an eight-week-old cockapoo puppy called ‘Bobby’ and as far as I can tell from pictures, she is a) made entirely of fluff, b) certifiably insane, and c) already more beloved by my mother than my sister and I ever were.

 

But in bringing Bobby home, my parents have inadvertently subscribed to that bizarre and highly judgemental section of society known as ‘dog-owners’, all of whom have strongly held and oft-vocalised opinions precisely on how dogs should be raised and trained. And the central question in all of that is: to get your dog to do what you want, should the emphasis be on punishing bad behaviour or rewarding good behaviour? Will Bobby finally return from chasing squirrels because she knows she’ll get a lovely treat, or because she knows she’ll get told off if she doesn’t?

 

(I should add at this point that the clergy team at St Giles’ Cripplegate in no way advocate being nasty to dogs and that no puppies were harmed in the making of this sermon.)

 

Now, of course, all of this ‘system’ is one that is based fundamentally on consequences: bad behaviour leads to bad consequences, and good behaviour to good consequences. This system makes sense; it is, after all, the system on which much of criminal justice, moral philosophy and ancient religion was founded. But our readings today hint at a different system, a system that seems to invert the tidy world of consequences and comeuppance. 

 

So to go back to the question with which I started: why do we do good? Is it out of fear of the God who can punish and condemn us? Is it out of hope of reward from the God who can bless and save us? Or is there something else?

 

Well, this is a really important question, and to use a technical term, it relates to what the Church calls ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect contrition’. Imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins and resolve to do better because of the consequences for ourselves: fear of punishment, guilt and condemnation for doing bad, or hope of reward and favour for doing good. Perfect contrition, on the other hand, is when we are sorry for our sins and resolve to do better, not because of our fear or hope of consequences, but solely out of our love for God.

 

Now that might seem a bit like theological hair-splitting—what does it matter, if the end product is the same?—but it’s hugely important, because it gets to the heart of our relationship with God in Christ. Because through Christ’s death and resurrection, God has permitted us to move out of a relationship with him based on fear, and into one based on love and gratitude. Our relationship with God is not defined by future consequences, but by what God has already done for us. That is to say, the religious or moral activity of our lives is not the cause of God’s love or mercy or favour or forgiveness to us, rather the activity of our lives is always in response to what God has already done for us as our loving Father. We love God, not so that he will show us his favour, but in thanksgiving that he already has. God gives us a new ‘system’.

 

I think this is something of what Jesus is articulating in our Gospel reading today. In it, he tells the parable of the unmerciful servant who, despite having been forgiven an eye-wateringly high debt, is unwilling to forgive the comparatively paltry debt that he himself is owed. The story ends with the servant’s debt being restored. Now this might strike us as a little odd. If this is a parable about our sins being forgiven, how can they be un-forgiven? Or is God’s forgiveness conditional?

 

Well, I think what is going on here is that in this story, Jesus is holding up before us these two systems, these two ways: the way of fear, and debt, and consequence; and the way of love, and gratitude, and generosity. And he asks us to consider, really consider what each of these ways looks like.

 

The servant, despite having been shown such love and generosity by the king, refuses to accept that way himself, refuses to choose the way of love. And so the story explains what it would look like if we were to live by the system of debt and consequence: just as he demands fear and repayment from his own debtor, so he invites that fate upon himself too and his own debt is restored. He cannot freely receive if he will not freely give (cf. Mt. 10.8). Jesus here shows what the way of fear and debt looks like, what it would look like if we made God in our selfish image, what it would look like if we truly got what we deserved.

 

In contrast, he holds before us the way of love. He uses this parable to emphasise just how much has already been done for us—just how much we have already been extravagantly loved and forgiven by God, like the king in the story—and how powerless we are to earn or repay this. And he shows us that, because we are powerless to earn it, our sole response to such extravagant love is gratitude. And if we are indeed truly grateful, if the enormity of God’s love and forgiveness has truly touched our hearts, then we cannot help but show the same extravagant love to God and to others in turn.

 

In this parable, Christ invites us to cease living by the world’s standards of entitlement, of tit-for-tat, of debt, because such a way leads only to death. Instead, he invites us to embrace the way of life, the life of love and generosity and abundance, which is the very life of God.

 

But such a life is not easy. This life demands difficult questions of ourselves that go against the grain of our instincts for self-preservation, for entitlement, for ‘getting what we deserve’. Such a life demands we look again at our wealth and possessions, seeing them not as something to which we’re entitled as a consequence of our own work, but as something on loan to us by God’s generous grace. Such a life demands we shelve our judgemental instincts, and instead generously bear with the perceived faults and flaws of our neighbours, knowing that God bears with ours, as in our reading from Romans: ‘God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement…?’ Such a life demands we forgive those who wrong us, seventy-seven times and more, knowing that God has forgiven us infinitely more. Such a life is not easy, but it is the only ‘life that really is life’ (1 Tim. 6.19).

 

What would it look like in our society, in the Church, here at St Giles’, if we could truly live this life? If we could truly forgive the trespasses of others, as ours have been forgiven? If we could lay down the debts we think we’re owed or the little annoyances that irk us, and instead love one another with the reckless generosity that God has shown us?

 

So, why do we do good? Not because we’ll get a treat if we do, or scolded if we don’t. We do good because goodness and love and kindness and generosity are the currency of God’s life, in which we—through our redemption in Christ—now share, the atmosphere in which we now live, the air we now breathe. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We love because we are loved. 

 

And when we fail at this—which we will—when we fail to love as we ought, and forgive as we ought, and be kind to one another as we ought, then we know God’s love for us won’t suddenly stop. We know we can return to the God who forgives us, who has forgiven us. We know we can pick ourselves up and carry on; free from fear, free from debt, free to live God’s life of outrageously extravagant grace and mercy and love.

 

Thanks be to God.

September 10th Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

by Fr Jack

 

Exodus 12. 1-14        

St Paul to the Romans 13. 8-14.   

St Matthew 18. 15-20

 

Today’s Gospel, a collection of Jesus’ sayings, all with complex edges to them, any of which I’d be happy to chat through. But fundamentally they are about how we live together, and that’s what I’m going to run with today. 

 

Can you imagine hauling the person sat behind you in church today, before the congregation now, to accuse them? No, nor can I!

But perhaps that’s because we are missing the point. What if Christians lived together with such love and belonging, that such a thing would be a healthy moment of mutual trust - not weird or inappropriate?

 

We, after all, live along way downstream (in intellectual history terms) of individualism and consumerism. We have been trained for generations to value autonomy and protection from one another.

What if humanity coexisted, instead, with the intimacy of lovers, as leaves on a tree, sharing life and being? Perhaps today’s Gospel encourages us to try thinking like that instead.

 

That would make sense, because in Jesus’ time it was very different. The very building blocks of identity, and fundamental assumptions about humanity - who we are, how we live, how the world is - were fundamentally communal. Ours are fundamentally individual. So no wonder todays Gospel sounds strange to us. Perhaps it would do us no harm to step out of our own heads for a while, and into those of the Gospel times? 

 

Because maybe community isn’t the collection of consenting and autonomous individuals? Perhaps community is who we are, and our individuality is a gift of that community? The other way round, you see? A Trinitarian pattern, perhaps.

 

Look at the first reading, too: The Exodus. 

Ritual and community are built-in to God and us - they are elements of the universe, just as much as those on the periodic table. When God delivers Israel, it is done in an utterly communal way. Enshrined in ritual, which is surely the ultimate expression of human commonality. 

 

This is echoed too in St Paul’s epistle - look again -  he recounts the commandments of how we are to live together, in the light. Rather than hide in the lonely atomised darkness of an individualistic world view where there is only competition and exploitation.

 

It’s a favourite Church primary school assembly when teaching about why you can’t be a Christian on your own, not coming to church. Take a coal out of the fire and however hot it will quickly cool. Heap the coals together and they will keep each other warm.

 

Today’s Gospel (for all its thorns and puzzles), speaks as a symptom, of this much greater reality, of who we are and who we are called to become: The Body of Christ. 

 

By providence this resonates with our new Mission Action Plan (MAP) from the Church Council for the year ahead. It is very simple, two things. Welcome and the northern part of our parish.

 

Welcome. We want to embed a Spirit of welcome in everything we do. From the moment any of us, lifer or newcomer, walks in - how do we embody a genuine welcome? How do we relate to the people around us during worship, how do we share tea and coffee afterwards, how do we serve our neighbourhood in such a way that everyone actually experiences being at home? And however good we are at it (and we are in so many ways) we can always be better.

 

And then there’s the second part of our MAP. In October we are starting a new church - on Sunday afternoons, once a month on the second Sunday, in our primary school. We are re-founding St Luke’s Church, closed all those years ago. It’s called ‘Little St Luke’s’. I really hope some people here will want to join the party and help set up this new part of our church community.

 

To finish, a story, which I hope gathers these threads together. The threads of our radical and fundamental commonality revealed in the Gospel, and of our ambitions here in welcome and serving the whole of our Parish - North and South.

 

There was a little monastery, and it was dying. The monks had got old and fed up, no one new wanted to join the monastery and they had forgotten why they had in the first place. Petty power-struggles and small stuff like that so easily became their daily bread.

    One of the monks heard about a holy hermit in the woods some way away. Let’s call him… Giles. So with nothing to lose he set off one morning to hermit Giles. After a few days wandering through the woods, he found his hut. The monk asked Giles for help, advice, anything, to get the monastery to grow, to improve somehow

    The hermit whispered just five words in the monk’s ear, and told him to do the same to each of the brethren when he got back. In the days that followed, life blossomed in the monastery. They went to prayers and the Eucharist with a spring in their step; they served and helped one another in the refectory, library and kitchen garden with enthusiasm and love, and the whole spirit of the place changed. Visitors returned, and some became new members of the monastic community. The hermit and his words passed into history.

    One day some years later, a new young monk from the now thriving monastery came across the hermit’s hut by chance. They struck up a conversation, everything unfolded, and the story was rediscovered. The young monk was told what the hermit had whispered all those years ago, five simple words that had changed everything, ’The Lord is among you’.

August 27th 12th Sunday after Trinity

Professor Anne Grebby, Artist 

(Anne's work from her residency at Chichester Cathedral have been in St Giles' all summer)

 

It’s a great privilege to see my Triptych,  ‘Enfleshed Word’  here in Saint Giles and to be invited to talk to you about it.

I painted it during my 4-month residency this year in the chapel of Saint John the Baptist, at Chichester Cathedral.

It explores invisible occurrences beneath surface  ‘appearances.’  Many new insights and  associations emerged from viewers’ responses’, some of which I’ll be sharing with you today. 

I’ll be prioritizing ‘meaning’ whilst throwing in a few details about the way that painting processes are influenced by the content itself. 

 

From the very first stages, I wanted to emphasize Christ’s humanity, recalling the physical bond between Jesus and his cousin John, which was evidenced when John’s embryo leapt in the womb of his  mother, Elizabeth, on his first encounter with the unborn Jesus.

Here, depicted in the painting, at the pivotal moment of baptism, the water of the River Jordan surrounds them, just as the amniotic fluid held them, before birth -  each suspended in his respective mother’s womb.  

 

As John’s cupped hands pour the baptismal water onto Jesus’ head the vertical cluster of paint-lines touches and holds the two men together. Embedded in the sky above, one heart beats for both men. Two hearts beat as one. 

 

This is a poignant moment. The line of falling water splits the painting in two. We  know that when this connective instant ceases, the men will part, and, in time, each will go to his separate cruel death. 

I wanted to appeal to our human sensibilities and to emphasize  the tactile to provoke a visceral response. Many viewers have responded with emotion to the tenderness emanating from this portrayal of Jesus. The one who gives is the one receiving the gift of baptism. 

‘Touch’ predominates throughout the work. The river touches Christ’s immersed body and, he, who has no sin and therefore no need of baptism, purifies the world… and us, as he touches the water.

Jesus feels and hears the air move as a wing of the descending dove brushes against his cheek. 

With this light non-touch, evoking the barely perceptible sound of air ‘brushing ’Jesus’ head,  I’m trying to imagine the invisible  breath of God’.

 

But we can’t avoid imminence of death. Jesus’ head appearing above the water hints at the beheading of John. I painted a threatening blood-red sky, pierced by stark white clouds to emphasize the solemnity of this event. I wanted it to frame the ‘Ruagh’ of God’s voice.

 

God addresses Jesus as ‘Thou’ (recorded in both Mark and Lukes account) ‘Thou art my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’, it’s an intimate declaration, it confirms for Jesus the I-Thou, father-son relationship. 

 

The act of Baptism is consecrated through the experience of this holy point of contact made between the finite and the infinite, an affirmation of Jesus as both Son of Man and the Son of God.

Jesus’ thoughts may have run close to Teilhard de Chardin’s words: 

“Lord it is you, who through the imperceptible of sense-beauty, penetrated my heart in order to make life flow out into yourself. You came down to me by means of a tiny scrap of created reality; and then suddenly, you unfurled your immensity before my eyes and displayed yourself to me as UNIVERSAL BEING.”

 

But Jesus, the man without sin, has no need of baptism. Instead, the water of the river Jordan is cleansed by him and so are we.( recalling Paul’s words ): “We, being many may be one in Christ”.

As the painting developed, and went through many changes, I began to learn more about the undercurrent of this narrative. I decided to retain an openness, to leave space for the imagination of the viewer too :- 

 

for example: The fact that none of the illustrative narrative devices complete themselves is intentional: 

I let the space behind John’s hands imply that his body exists. Jesus’ face looks almost photographic to suggest a contemporary context. 

A single dove’s wing functions as a vehicle of directional movement. I allow the cloud to be cut off by the canvas edge, implying that it extends beyond the painting, entering our world and time.

I place great importance on the difference between  surface qualities across the whole canvas. 

The marks describing the skin of Jesus’ face and John’s hands are finely modelled, painted with thin oil glazes. Beeswax mixed with resin and thick oil paint gives structure to the Dove’s wing and density to the cloud formation. 

The weight, marks, and implied movement of paint surfaces draws attention to specific areas and directs the viewer’s eyes around the canvas surface. 

However, I don’t intend this work to be contained within itself, rather I’m aiming to open up connections and diverse experiences of reality in us by prompting new depths and dimensions of thought.  

I use recognisable and familiar images to hold our attention, allowing a space for us to project thought beyond the seen. This method allows the viewer to become immersed in the invisible through attention to the visible. 

Extending this approach to the side panels, I visualize them as margins to the large painting, with notational drawings containing the image archive  which developed alongside the baptism narrative.

Each of these six smaller canvases explores the presence of the Holy Spirit evidenced through matter. 

The first panel echoes the shared heartbeat of the central canvas. Two heads open, book-like, revealing parallel inner workings. I wanted it to celebrate the inherent spiritual potentiality of every human being…

 

Secondly the spirit of creativity, opens our eyes, to perceive outer world impulses, transmitted via the senses to the brain and powered by creativity, unlocking  unexperienced levels of reality…resulting in being, as we heard Paul describe, ’transformed by the renewing of your mind’.

Thirdly, the Spirit in the seed promises regeneration. The seedling is temporarily held in a containing timeframe, surrounded by a murmuration of words.

On the  top right panel, we look down into an architectural burial place, dust seeps from each individual coffin. It is the beginning of mass resurrection, the circularity of life and death.

 

Moving down: Spirit in matter. The cellular structures in coral, suggest parallel growth systems in the natural world…universality. 

 

Finally, Spirit in the world shows the world paired down to a fragile, embryonic state… eroded, but still held in a sacred place, ready for restoration and rebirth.  

And  this is where we are, temporarily anchored in our time on earth, baptised and reborn in Christ to be the adopted children of God.

                              ***

My experience of  both painting and showing this Triptych, ‘Enfleshed Word’, (with literally thousands of people responding, many offering highly perceptive comments), convinces me that when content and context merge, Art can function as a much-needed spiritual sounding board in the world.

Finally, Teilhard de Chardin establishes the greatness of  God’s creativity :                                                                 

‘Your hands are not like our human hands,                   

which touch the material world now here, now there. 

Your hands plunge into all the fine detail of what is real               

and handle it all at once, its past, its present.                              

You touch us all at the same moment                                             

through the power of all that is most immense,               

and most personal, within us and around us.’

 

 

August 13th 

Tenth Sunday after Trinity by Fr Jack - notes from a discursive sermon
Genesis 37. 1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105
St Paul to the Romans 10. 5-15
St Matthew 14. 22-33

 

How to live like a Christian? is a question for today.

Thoughts? 

From your own life or others who inspire you?

And from the readings today?

 

some intial thoughts:

1st reading:

What are you seeking? 

The Novice vows in a monastery; 'what do you seek?' - 'I seek God.'

 

Life with meaning and purpose.

Language of politics, secular language cannot bear the weight of what we have come to expect of it.

Goodness. Truth. Beauty. Discovery, vocation, redemption, the human condition. Take the wonder and beauty out of life, and you have not much left. And secular languages - politics, personal public life denuded of spiritual values and purposes - and you have little.

 

Like astronaut food that may contain all the elements you technically need vs. Real cooking. 

 

2nd reading:

Some have read this to mean, you have to say these words to be saved: like a magic spell or something. 'The sinners prayer' - stadiums full of people recting these words as if that's all you need to do.

 

This is not a Christian approach. What St Paul is getting at is relationship. How to live like a Christian? How to step into the promise of eternal life? (Not race, or caste - Jew or Gentile) but relationship with Christ. 

Relationship in this life so that death is a door one passes through, but our relationship begun now, just continues on. 

 

Prayer. Eucharist. Bible. Friendship

Can you be a Xian and not go to Church? 

Sort of. Not just belief in your head, but taking Jesus up on His invitation - church, Eucharist, fellowship, communion in every sense.

 

Gospel:

Storms of life. 

No one said they wouldn’t happen, but He’s with us.

He says ‘come’, ‘do not be afraid’.

 

How to live like a Christian - one who is growing in relationship with God through Jesus. Not one who is never afraid, but one to whom Jesus says ‘be not afraid’ - being a Christian is one who’s eyes are not fixed on me, defined by my behaviour, or virtues. But one whose eyes are on Him, defined by His invitation: come. Be not afraid. The one who is with US through the storms of life, no matter what. 

 

How to live like a Christian?

It’s all about Him, not us. And that is very good news.

Service of Installation of the new Master Barber 2023

St Lawrence's Day - Fr Jack, Honorary Chaplain

 

A spirit of generosity is what threads through this liturgy. The hymns are joyful and generous. Joy and praise are things we give away, they require open hearts. 

It goes both ways too: in our prayers we trust in God’s generosity. 

 

In the second lesson, Jesus sends out his Disciples to share the Good News, and to generously give away the life of the Kingdom of Heaven: in healing and restoration, even resurrection itself. 

The first - healing and restoration - are perfect for our Company of course. The latter - resurrection - isn’t bad, we have to admit, as the back up when our efforts haven’t proved so effective. 

 

These signs of Christ’s Kingdom are first to God’s ancient chosen people, Israel, as our reading says, but soon this message will spread throughout the whole Roman world. 

Today’s is a Spirit of generosity and abundance. 

 

This is very appropriate for our Company, which i think is characterised by generosity and abundance. 

In our common life - and the pattern for this laid down in the Master’s reading of psalm 133: that rallying cry of a first line to unity and brotherhood, sisterhood, family. 

In our charitable endeavours, in our support of medicine and surgery, in our life as part of the Livery of this City, in our common life, feasting, conversation and friendship. 

 

I know the Master wants to make a special focus of philanthropy this year. 

Generosity, is a seam that runs through humanity at its best, it casts out fear and meanness, and brings life and hope. 

Generosity itself is a means of healing and wholeness, and so easily becomes a crescendoing virtuous cycle. 

 

In my day to day life and ministry - be it talking to the great and the good (that’s all of you, obviously) or with folk at bus stops and in the shops - I speak to a lot of people who are finding life, frankly, bewildering at the moment. 

 

News media, social trends and changes, the political farmyard of recent years, what feel like huge changes in society and how we’re expected the think and speak. It’s all accompanied by polarisation and a dearth of decent public debate. 

 

Bewilderment, insecurity, and so often their bigger, uglier brothers fear and anger seem to be swirling all around us. 

 

Without care, we get used to this way of being with each other, and come to be defined by it. I fear for wider society.

 

Companies like ours can show a different way: 

 

-we are bound together by a history that has seen all this before. We can provide the long view. 

-we are bound together by hope in the spirit of unity - within our company and for the whole human family. We are better together, even when it’s uncomfortable.

-we are defined by generosity and hospitality. 

Anchored, as we are, in the foreknowledge of God, and confident in the generosity of our calling. 

 

Jesus sends us out to bring healing and the signs of His Kingdom, just as He sent the 12 (just 12. There are many more than 12 of us!) 

 

I have been privileged to speak with so many of you, and you have generously shared your passions and interests, your work and ministries. All the amazing ways in which we as individuals and as a company live out our calling. We who chose, together, to live out a vision of generosity and open hearted humanity.

 

To say all of this is not naive, it is hopeful. All the difference in the world.

I pray that it’s with this generous confidence and hope that our new Master and our Company begin another year.

Transfiguration by Fr Jack
How to read The Bible?
St Luke 9.28 - 36

 

Some sermon notes:

 

Each Sunday in August we’re taking a theme. Today’s is ‘How to read the Bible’ It is also the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Let’s put those two together and see what happens…

 

What can the Transfiguration teach us about how to the read the Bible? 

 

To do so with openness to awe. It’s real.

 

To read the Old and New Testaments together, they illuminate each other. Moses and Elijah representing the Old Covenant understand who Jesus is. Who God is. O and N, illuminate each other.

 

To read the Bible through Jesus’ and with Jesus.

 

Tricky OT stories only make sense when read through Jesus. No this bloodshed or genocide (in the Old Testament) is not the answer - in Jesus God gives His own blood to bring peace and reconciliation.

In the Transfiguration, in Jesus, all those OT prophecies (pillars of fire, hopes and dreams) have been pointing to this. Jesus goes from the mount of Transfiguration to Jerusalem to complete His ministry through death and resurrection.

 

What can the Transfiguration teach us about how to the read the Bible? 

With the Holy Spirit. According to the ancient Frs and Mthrs of the Church, the cloud that enfolds them all on Mount Tabor is the Holy Spirit. They are in God.

The Transfiguration also points towards God the Father. This is a Trinitarian encounter too. So is every time we read the Bible.

So we should look for the movements of the Trinity within the Scriptures, and in our every day lives.

 

How to read the Bible? Take it with you.

S. Peter says they should stay on Mount Tabor, build booths! Nope.

They are not to remain on the hilltop of revelation and loveliness. Formed by this gift they are to go back down into the valley.

Life, our spiritual life, the Bible, all our life, is not idyllic mountaintop experiences - we have to take it with us (not stay and build booths) back down into the valley of real life. Take the Bible with you into the week, Sunday by Sunday.

 

We are to read the Bible with others - company of Apostles.

Jesus didn’t found a religion, He had one, he founded a church - a Body. We do this - faith, life - together. That’s the pattern Jesus gave us for a reason. So we gather in the Liturgy day by day and week by week to are the Scriptures together, outloud in the Eucharist. Come to Weds 12.30-1.00 Bible Study! We receive the Scriptures together.

 

In the Transfiguration we learn to be willing to be changed. Open. Open to awe. 

What do I mean?

Open to yourself, your emotions and experience (whilst not imaging that you’re the centre of the universe, this is a story we join, we don’t own it, it holds us) and thereby being open to God. connect. This awe isn’t far away it is deeply within us and closer than our own heartbeat.

 

The Eastern Orthodox Tradition of the Church tells us that the Transfiguration reveals Christ’s divinity. Tick. Also His perfect humanity. Yup. And is also a prefiguring of the transfiguration of the whole cosmos. The whole cosmos will be swept up into glory and a means and source of glorious dazzling light. Will be in God, and God in us. That is our destiny. It’s with this Spirit of confidence that we meet Jesus in Word and Sacrament.

 

How to the read the Bible? 

As people of openness and awe, who bring our humanity, our intellect, our emotions and history and experiences with us, who take this moment - this Jesus and the story that envelopes our lives into our every day - a people who know where this is all headed: glory. To Him be glory and honour, dominion and worship now and unto the ages of ages.

July 30th Eigth Sunday after Trinity by Mthr Katy Hacker Hughes, Priest Pastor, St Marylebone

It is really lovely to be with you this morning, and thank you to Fr Jack for the invitation. Some of you may know that your previous Rector and I trained for the ministry together, had a lot of fun together, and I attended her induction what must be about 25 years ago?

Fast forward to 2019 when I met your present Rector. Fr Jack and I shared an office down in the Crypt at St Marylebone Parish Church. We also had a whole lot of fun together, and it was excellent to attend his induction last year. Fr Jack was an excellent colleague and friend to have during stressful times, not least the pandemic and an enormous building project. I hope he might agree with me that we learned a lot from each other, and at times kept each other sane. 

So. It’s good to be here. But why? Why are we here? Why aren’t we at the Columbia Road flower market, or having overpriced brunch somewhere, or looking at art? Because together we are in search of something that cannot be bought, something for which there is no app or website or feature in the Sunday supplements. Together, we are seeking the Kingdom of Heaven. We’re on pilgrimage to an elusive and mysterious reality which it is really difficult to describe.  What is it like? According to what we read today, it is like a seed, a pearl, a piece of yeast and treasure that is both old and new. They are evocative images but need some unpacking.  

Looking at the week that has passed, I think we find help from some holy friends who have shared this invitation to the Kingdom of Heaven. Each week, the Church celebrates and commemorates saints and holy ones, and their stories and their insights can be a real help to us in our personal pilgrimage. 

So lets have a look. On Tuesday was the feast of St James the Apostle. Born in Palestine, living a quiet outdoor life as a fisherman on the beautiful Sea of Galilee in partnership with his father and brother, with Simon Peter and Andrew nearby. Each day he was looking for the biggest juiciest haul of fish that could be sold. But one day, Jesus came walking by the lake. He called James and the other fishermen to follow him. To fish for people. To leave a settled life with a regular income, for what? For something of extraordinary value and importance. Like the pearl of great price. So the Kingdom of Heaven is sometimes about change and risk, following a call, giving up something for something far far greater. 

And then on Wednesday, we celebrated Anne and Joachim, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Nothing is mentioned in scripture about Anne and Joachim, all we have is apocryphal tradition, including interestingly in Islamic sources. But through their care and prayers Mary grew into Our Lady, who with immense faith and courage bore Jesus our saviour into the world, stood by when he was crucified, and was part of the birth of the church at Pentecost. So Mary’s mother, Holy Annie, Jesus’ granny, was indeed part of the mystery of incarnation and redemption, going right back down the generations. Never underestimate the witness and influence you have on the younger generation. Pray for those at the beginning of their lives, and for those yet to be born in this community. Have a long term vision. Plant a seed that bears great fruit as Anne and Joachim did. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a seed; tiny but its growth and influence are indescribable.  

On Thursday we remembered Brooke Foss Westcott, the great Victorian Christian, Bishop and Teacher of the Faith. Not only did he establish the best ever training establishment for the clergy, he was a great scholar, and prepared a new standard edition of the Greek New Testament. But he was also known as the ‘miner’s bishop’, and is remembered fondly in the North East today for his work in reconciling striking miners and pit owners and so bringing to an end the 1892 Coal Strike.  

Westcott was one of those great Anglicans who managed to hold together a passion for the pursuit of truth through scholarship, and the pursuit of justice by social engagement. Justice for ones neighbour was just as important as the uncovering of ancient texts. The Kingdom of Heaven is bringing out of a treasure chest what is ancient and what is new. 

 

Finally, yesterday we celebrated Mary, Martha and Lazarus, companions of our Lord. Through welcome, friendship and hospitality, they provided a place for Jesus to be. They listened to him, they fed him, believed in him, gave him love.  And the fruit of that love was great faith and resurrection. How powerful loving hospitality is! The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. This may seem unremarkable, but three measures is actually a bushel. According to someone called the Bread Monk, enough to make 52 loaves. And so the kingdom of heaven is like a woman who wants to do more than just feed her family, she wants to feed the village.   

 

So here we are, contemplating the Kingdom of Heaven. And we can add to the variety of descriptions we’ve just heard, that it is both already and not yet. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Kingdom of Heaven is inaugurated but the Kingdom is not here in its fullness yet. God reigns in eternity, but we are confined to time, to our world where sin and evil often get the upper hand.  God’s kingdom will culminate when Jesus returns at the end of time and we will finally see everything from the perspective of eternal life. And so we carry on praying ‘your kingdom come’. And if we choose to come to church, to be part of the community of faith, we are heralds of that kingdom in our community. So when we take risks for God, when we plant a seed of faith, when we engage with the needs of our society, when we practice outrageous hospitality, we are part of the kingdom of heaven breaking in, coming near. I pray those blessings on you at St Giles: the blessings of the pearl, the seed, the yeast and the treasure. 

 

Now to him to is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.                    

July 23rd Seventh Sunday after Trinity by Fr David Twomey, Chaplain, Manchester Airport

Genesis 28:10-19a

 

Whenever I introduce myself as an Airport Chaplain, there are usually say one of three responses:

“What?” – expressing incomprehension that such a ministry exists.

“Wow…” – a mystical, glamourous reaction, as though I am associated with jetting off on holidays.

“Right!” - taking the opportunity to talk about car parking, escalators or the latest round of building works.

 

Perhaps such diversity is only natural.  After all, Manchester Airport is the size of a small town, with 20,000 regular parishioners (staff), who work in shops, restaurants, office blocks, workshops … and with some 25 million+ extra folk passing through for good measure. There will inevitably be different experiences and reactions.

And in this big and busy place, a team of chaplains in clerical collars, yarmulkes, headscarves or turbans, daily don their high vis jackets and walk together into break rooms, watch towers and train stations. 

 

Journeys are the very stuff of life. 

Our Old Testament reading today bears witness to that reality.  

Perhaps we can trace the journey of Jacob and find in it our own journey too…

  • Jacob travels
  • Jacob sleeps
  • Jacob dreams
  • Jacob recognises

 

  1. Jacob travels

As this passage begins, think of what lies behind. Jacob has left the mother he loves, the father he deceived, the brother whose inheritance he stole. Note that he travels from ‘Beersheba to Haran’- a small detail, but an important one. Jacob is making the journey of his ancestors Abraham and Sarah, but in reverse and on his own. Genesis here hammers home the point that Jacob has been left on the edge, exiled. He’s going the wrong way.

Travelling is not always easy or exciting. When our journeys go wrong, there are those who walk with us on the way.

I spent the evening of Father’s Day in a Border Force custody suite, as the two (very lovely) officers interviewed a teenage mum from Romania. As complex safeguarding referrals were begun and next steps decided, we waited together in the family room. A veritable ikonostasis of Disney characters still adorn the walls… for the time being at any rate.

Throughout the interview, her two year-old son pushed a toy tractor under my chair. It was, apparently, the height of hilarity to watch me retrieve it. A sober, serious conversation thus gradually became punctuated with laughter. 

It was Kingdom moment, even at 11:00 at night…

 

Jacob travels... and we journey with faith, hope and love renewed.

 

  1. Jacob sleeps

In his fear and distress, Jacob creates a makeshift pillow of stone.

The Airport is a temporary home to regular and occasional rough sleepers. Often, they’re not who or what you might expect; many are working full time jobs, just dealing with relationship breakdowns or financial worries. 

The Rough Sleepers Outreach starts at about 6:00 in the morning during the week. It’s eye opening to see where people bed down, hidden from public view. We go round and check on their welfare, connecting people to charities and councils. The ‘on hold’ music for the local authorities in Greater Manchester is alarmingly familiar listening.

Sometimes there are Good News stories as accommodation is arranged. There are genuine smiles as we hand out bus tickets, sandwiches, food for the dog.

And yet, I still cringe with embarrassment at the memory of waking a young man, only to discover he was travelling Business Class to Amsterdam later that day…

It goes to show you never can tell.

 

Jacob sleeps… and we strive for justice and peace restored.

 

  1. Jacob dreams

Jacob sees a vision of angels, he hears the voice of the God who blesses, the God who promises.  A scared refugee carries dreams in his soul. God stands beside a lonely homeless man.

Life, faith, dreams; each can feel fractured and incomplete. And yet, there are still moments when heaven touches earth, if only we are able to notice it. 

As I celebrated the Eucharist of Ascension Day, we were accompanied by many people of faith quietly and respectfully offering their own prayers too. At one point, we had Christians, Muslims and Jews all worshipping together in one place, albeit awkwardly. We looked in different directions, we heard different stories, we used different words.

Yet afterwards, those present said how special it had felt, almost Pentecost-like. Here was a vision of heaven, a sharing in God’s dream for his creation, that his people worship in spirit and in truth and in unity.

That dream didn’t quite come true in the Terminal 1 Prayer Room. But it felt like we made a small beginning.

 

Jacob dreams… and we yearn to see glimmers of grace and glory revealed.

 

  1. Jacob recognises

As his eyes open, Jacob cries out:

“Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it”

Life so often brings unexpected encounters and uncomfortable realisations 

The airport remains a continual surprise to me. I hope it always does.

I never expected to be blessed by the Syrian Patriarch or that he’d give me flowers for my wife.

I never expected to find myself arriving on the 3 a.m. bus.

I never expected to see broken bones or bloodied bodies.

And in this surprising place, people still want to discuss faith and prayer, make their confessions, talk about life, the universe and everything. Say one for me, Father. Have a word, will you?

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.

An ordinary encounter can so easily turn into something deeper. 

Walking through the terminal recently, I got chatting to a member of staff. As she turned to go, she smiled and quietly mentioned that her mum had died recently. Before I could really respond, she left, gathered up amidst the crowds.

I hadn't had chance to ask her name, but maybe it was enough to just tell someone. Maybe I didn’t need to say anything. The Lord is with us even in the depths of the grave, the heights of heaven, the wings of the morning.

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it…

 

Jacob recognises... and we hope to find blessing in unspectacular places, unexpected times, surprising people.

 

God’s greatest gift to us in life and faith is often:

The what moments- when we can only fall silent in our unknowing.

The wow moments, when our hearts are humbled by wonder.

The right moments, when our anger at injustice turns to action.

 

In all these, even if we cannot adequately articulate how or why, we simply affirm:

Surely the Lord is in this place…

Surely the Lord is in this place…

Surely the Lord is in this place 

…. Even if we never realised it until now.

July 16th Sixth Sunday after Trinity by Fr Jack

Genesis 25. 19-34
Psalm 119. 105-112
St Paul to the Romans 8. 1-11
St Matthew 13. 1-9, 18-23

 

It’s all very tactile and natural today, as it has been for a couple of weeks in the Lectionary, and well it should be. We are people of the Incarnation!

We are fleshy beasts, and that is how we are made to do life, with each other and God - with all our faculties.

 

So with St Paul today - he writes that God gives ‘life to our mortal bodies’ through the Holy Spirit. Our flesh is not just a holiday home, it is integral to our being. We’re back to the resurrection of the body as we said the other week. Christ - all of Christ, body and Spirit - was raised from the dead and so will we be; mysterious as it is.

 

But St Paul also seems to have it ‘in’ for the ‘flesh’. What the Apostle means by flesh is also what he (and St John) call the ‘world’. It’s all bundled in together: the world and the flesh is all that belongs to corruption and death, exploitation and earthly power, degradation and abuse. All that comes from and feeds fear. The Spirit on the other hand, St Paul tells us elsewhere, is ‘love, joy, peace, forebearance, goodness, soundness of mind, gentleness’, and all those things which are God in us and us being our true, heavenly selves. Spirit and flesh, although those words have been misused, that’s what we and Scripture mean.

 

And St Paul is spot on - we live in the midst of ‘Spirit’ and ‘flesh’. We see this tussle in the story of Jacob and Esau, too. The soap opera continues from last week. Soon Jacob will trick his dying father and steal his brother’s birthright. I red Jewish commentaries on this saga, especially by the late great Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs, and to be honest was none the wiser. I wonder if the wisdom of these Scriptures is that they recognise and reflect the truth that the human story is a messy one. ’Twas ever thus. Spirit and flesh are in fact in constant conversation. Our conversion of life is not a switch, once flicked, but always a pilgrimage three steps forward two steps back. By grace we draw on the Spirit and seek to be less and less enslaved to the corrosive ways of the ‘flesh’.

 

We are called to be plants growing in the soil of the Spirit, and not of the flesh. Did you spot my neat Segway there into the Gospel? 

    Because the earthy physicality St Paul’s words, and of Jacob’s lentil stew and hairy old Esau, continue with Jesus’ earthy parable. Now we’re in the fields. Jesus is preaching to us. It is foolish of me to say another word, as if I can add to God’s own sermon!?

But perhaps I might ask….

What helps you have deep roots? What might help you? Can I suggest reading the Bible - perhaps these readings on the Sunday sheet midweek and pondering them? Might I suggest Midweek worship here or nearer home or work? Here our worship is deliberately spread across the week and the day to make it possible for as many people as possible. What might help you have deep roots, in rich well-mulched Spiritual soil? 

 

And what fruits can we aspire to? 

One fruity question might be - when was the last time you invited a colleague or friend or loved one to church? It’s not sinister sales tactics, it’s sharing a gift, rejoicing in something lovely.

 

And then what chokes?

 

If there’s too many questions now, feel free to let your mind follow one and tune out my wittering. Whatever helps put some good manure on your Spiritual greenery!

 

But you may notice that Jesus doesn’t speak in terms of flat-out rejection of the Kingdom of Heaven, rather this is a choking. Much less remarkable, much more effective. So what chokes? what keeps something of you, some part of your life, some aspect of your faith, in thorns? Or in stoney dryness rather than rich mulchy soil?

July 9th Fifth Sunday after Trinity by Fr Jack

Genesis 24. 34-38, 42-49, 58-67
St Paul to the Romans 7. 15-25a
St Matthew 11. 16-19, 25-30

 

St Paul says it all, so does Jesus, unsurprisingly - the world is a mess. We are like squabbling children - war in Europe. Lamentable leadership here and elsewhere. Not seeing wood for trees - literally in case of ecological crisis.

 

It is also on a deeply personal level that St Paul speaks for us. ‘I know what is right, but I do the other’. Haven’t we all done exactly that? 

 

Then there’s the amazing love story of Isaac and Rebekah. You can just picture them - Isaac with Peter O’Toole’s piercing blue eyes, or perhaps Omar Sharif with his spectacular 'tasche. Rebekah’s perfect sun-kissed skin. It’s made for Hollywood. A true love is this story. 

 

And Love is the fabric of it all. Even of Jesus’ sharp wake up call. St Paul’s wisdom and honesty. It all comes from and feeds back into the love that holds and permeates and flows from this great sweep of Scripture. Scripture, like life, life like Scripture, is a love story, through and through.

 

But it isn’t a Hollywood love story. Isaac is not blonde blue eyed Peter O’Toole…

 

This love story, in both life and Scripture,  is a real love story not fairy tale. Jesus is admitting failure in His ministry today. He tells us all the things He has done, healings, miracles, sermons, reconciling the worst-of-the-worst with God and society. And still they reject Him.

 

In the end that failure will be to the very depths of the cross. And that ultimate, pathetic failure will be the means of his triumph and our liberation, in this topsy turvey Kingdom of God.

 

Life is not a fairy tale for Jesus. And neither for St Paul. He tells us so tenderly and honestly that the human condition is not sorted out by will power, or black and white ‘this’ and ‘thats’. Instead, in the face of all our nonsense - it is all a matter of God’s grace. There’s that topsy Turvey Kingdom again…

 

And lest you should think Isaac and Rebekah escape, we just have to follow the line of their family and we come to one of my favourite little dramas in these pages. So Isaac and Rebekah have their baby boy Jacob. He is also called ‘Israel’ - Jacob personifies the people of God. And Jacob falls in love with Rachel. He works for Rachel’s father Laban seven years to earn her hand in marriage. She is apparently very beautiful (she’d have to be!). But on the wedding night, Laban (Jacob’s nearly father in law) swaps our Rachel for her ugly older sister, Leah. Leah becomes the mother of some of Jacob’s children (remember that generation with include Joseph and all the dramas with his brothers over some overstated haberdashery.) But Jacob won’t settle for this, so works seven more years to finally win the hand of the gorgeous Rachel. What a mess. In coming days we may year words from General Synod talking about ‘Biblical Marriage’ - this story is not alone in raising a rather curious eyebrow to such sweeping simplicity. 

 

Anyway, its a fabulous drama. It is also the content of the best wedding sermon I’ve ever heard - we all marry the person of our dreams (Rachel) but actually wake up one day married to Leah. That is to say - love (be it sacramental marriage or any other kind of love, friendship, in church and community) is not a fairytale. The challenge is to love the people that we find set before us each day, not those we have in our own heads, or once knew. It’s a beautiful and challenging reality, certainly not easy or a flippant point, arising from this bizarre Biblical family nightmare.

 

St Paul today bids us be real and honest with ourselves and others. Jesus speaks that way, certainly. And Isaac and Rebekah’s love story lead to another messier picture, out of which God creates and shepherds His chosen people from slavery.

 

The greatest and truest gifts can come in the strangest wrapping. Our strongest experiences of Gods love (certainly speaking for myself) can come through the most crushing sense of weakness. It is sometimes when I feel most fallen and unworthy that I am most alive to God’s grace and mercy.

 

It just depends on how we let God show God’s self in it. 

 

Do we allow the mess of our human condition to curate deadness in us?

 

Or do we push it away and pretend it isn’t there? 

 

Or do we allow God, through this love story we call real life, to invite us to new life, new love, new insight, and above all - new gratitude for God’s endless mercy and creative love?

 

As Christians we are called to see us, God and the world, not in black and white, but in colour. 

July 2nd Fourth Sunday after Trinity by Fr Jack

Genesis 22. 1-14
Psalm 13
St Paul to the Romans 6. 12-23
St Matthew 10. 40-42

 

It’s this time of year, around the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul that most new deacons and priests are ordained. The Feast of these two great Apostolic parents of the Church is the time for ordaining those who follow in their steps.

 

When I was ordained priest (my anniversary was actually last Sunday) I suddenly became hyper-aware of my hands. What my hands were doing. I had learnt the manual actions of celebrating the Eucharist, and suddenly doing it everyday there was the extraordinary reality of holding the Bread of Heaven, holding the Body and Blood of Christ. When I was cleaning out the bin, or typing on my ‘phone, I was struck by what my hands had done earlier that morning, and now doing this or that.

 

That’s what popped into my head when I meditated on St Paul’s epistle today. ‘Do not let sin reign in your mortal body’. If you’ve cared for a child or an elderly person you have probably, like me, had moments of marvelling at the beauty of them. I will never forget meeting my baby niece for the first time. Her hands and little face. Likewise, I’ll never forget how beautiful my grandmother’s skin was, so thin and frail, but beautiful as I anointed her as she prepared to die. But at the same time, cleaning the nappies of young and old - and many of us have done a lot of that too! - is less poetic, less beautiful.

 

Sometimes our bodies let us down, sometimes they are ugly in their painfulness, when they fail us, when they trap us in compulsions like mistreating ourselves or others through objectification, ab-use, or dislike.

 

It’s all there in St Paul’s letter - not to let our bodies become slaves to these realities. Our bodies bring us so much that is beautiful, and so much that is not. 

 

It is no accident that we are embodied. God made us so, in our glorious technicolour diversity. God does not have a narrow mind - like the rest of us, with all our California photo shoot nonsense - about what is beautiful. God marvels in the beauty of all of humanity. Our bodies are holy, because God has made them. 

    Indeed, even in heaven we will have our bodies - we profess belief in the resurrection of the body. Glorious, like the Risen Jesus, mysteriously different from before, but really Him and really us. The Incarnation changes everything. The Risen Jesus still eats and drinks. Our bodies are here to stay, because they are holy.

 

But, as we have said, and as St Paul says, they are a mixed bag. They can become slaves to sin, or we can live as slaves to righteousness. We are called to recognise the holiness of our bodies and live up to that. In the way we relate to the bodies of the people we share our lives with. The way we receive the labour of those who make the things we use, who care for and build the places we live and work in. The labour of those who farm and make our food and clothes and technology and everything else. The way we view the bodies of those we are encouraged to think less, or think more of - those we might objectify, or dismiss. The way we thank God for our own bodies, and don’t allow socially inherited nonsense to make us feel anything less than beautiful in God’s eyes.

 

We decide, and ask God’s help to follow through, we decide to make our bodies slaves of truth, goodness and beauty, not sin and death.

 

So much of our faith is a matter of realising and living up to that which is already the case:

  • Jesus has already lived and died and risen again - but that is consummated in us at our Baptism. 
  • Jesus has already given His body on the cross, and poured out His blood, but we participate in that in every Eucharist. 
  • We are the Body of Christ, but we make it so by sharing the Body of Christ. 
  • We have been saved by grace, but we accept that by our living relationship with God.

 

So with this, our flesh is holy - but we acknowledge and live up to that by living out our worship in the world, our lives flowing out from here each week, and back into here the next Sunday or midweek. 

 

In today’s first lesson, thousands of years before Jesus, God gives us an image of what God will do in Christ. The terrible reality of human sacrifice is put before us. Surely this is the depths of awfulness? In reality of course we still sacrifice the beautiful bodies of other humans all the time - in war, in unjust economic structures, in social mores that destroy people. This horrific image of Abraham reaching to kill Isaac is actually all round us. 

But, God’s story is different. The body of Isaac is never destined for death, because God will come and become one of us and put Himself there instead. Abraham took it as a test in faith. That’s often what this story is called. But it is just as much a promise from God, that this will not, must not be so. This drama full of tension, full of horror, it is only resolved in the person of Jesus who is both Abraham and Isaac - God and Son of God - who gives His body to put sin and death behind us forever. Just as He says from the cross ‘it is finished’, it is done. 

 

We just have to live that way. To live out the truth that God puts within us.

3rd Sunday after Trinity by Fr Jack

Genesis 21. 8-21

Psalm 86. 1-10, 16-17

Romans 6. 1b-11

Matthew 10. 24-39

 

If ever we were in doubt that the Scriptures are the human story - just look at today’s first reading. The Bible holds and reflects our humanity in our meandering journey with God. Here we have exploitation and division, exile and prejudice. And it’s mixed in with love and desire, with family and destiny. 

 

If that depressed you, then turn to St Paul in the second reading. He gives us hope amongst all this alloyed, clay-footed reality, that sin and death will not have the final word. Through our baptism, despite their continued power in us, such darkness is ultimately bankrupt. Hopeful, but complex.

 

It is no more straightforward as we get to the Gospel set for today.

 

Picture the cosy scene of the Waltons saying goodnight to each other, and Jesus comes in with a rather large rhetorical chain saw - well a ‘sword’ actually, and destroys the nuclear family.

 

St Matthew crams an extraordinary richness of Jesus’ sayings into these few lines. Look again. I have always found great comfort and clarity in that line ‘there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed’. God does see. Just as St Paul says - it will be alright in the end. 

 

There’s the clear priority setting Jesus seeks us to make, too. Of seeing the world through God’s eyes: don’t live by other, human standards, but make your plumb line the things of God. And all of these challenging, stretching calls from the Lord come from the bedrock that is God’s love for us. He knows when every sparrow lives or dies, and we are more valuable than they. Every ‘hair of your head’. What an amazing thing for God to say to us.

 

And then comes the sword, and that families will be destroyed. 

 

And then those extraordinary words that echo down there millennia: ‘Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’. Let’s take these one step at a time.

 

The first thing we have to understand is that the nuclear family of post-war TV shows or whatever version of family life we have grown up with is not universal. In the ancient Semitic world of Jesus and the Roman Empire a number of different understandings of family are operating, none of which are ours. Jesus is deconstructing them. 

The Jewish religious and social exclusivity of families being of a line of pharisees or levites, where your blood is God-given status. The Roman understanding where the whole social fabric was made up of units of families. The importance of dynasty and family unit in the Roman world is just one of the reasons why the early Christian advocation of celibacy was so scandalous. Christians grouped together in church congregations without marrying and having kids in the ‘normal’ Roman way, and it appalled and threatened the Roman equilibrium.

 

Anyway, Jesus is deconstructing the ways in which human beings consider ourselves. 

I am loyal to my tribe - wrong. 

I have responsibilities here, but not there. Wrong. Even the sparrows are beloved and noticed - never mind the people outside of my narrowly walled world. 

The building of a dynasty, or the protection of a caste identity is a God-given way to build a healthy society, and the way to secure one’s future - wrong.

 

Today we see Jesus freeing us from a whole web of unconscious, small minded lies about our humanity. He is already beginning to reveal that which has been hidden. 

He is freeing us so that we will be free to find love in and through Him alone. He is not telling us to mistreat our loved ones, He is inviting us to love them through love of Him. Our love does not compete, it mustn’t be in compartments. Our love for God will charge and change and transfigure our ability to love others. It takes time and patience. But by making love of God the channel through which all our other loving flows we will find our love less and less inclined to the strangleholds of fear on the one hand or possessiveness on the other.

 

One of the bizarre and wondrous things about our Christian faith is that it is full of paradoxes. That’s one of the reasons why we spend every day of a whole lifetime living into our faith, discovering and growing into mystery and truth. 

Like love God to love others. Jesus’ final line today shows this too. Don’t cling to a smaller version of life for fear of losing it, because (like gripping a butterfly caught in your hand for fear of losing it) you will kill that which you are seeking to save. 

 

I think this actually feeds beautifully back to what we have been considering. To try to love others is best discovered by loving God. To love our loved ones, is not to turn them into an idol. Christ’s sword cuts away that within us that seeks to control or possess, or grabbed through fear.

 

Today’s Scriptures are not for the faint hearted, but they speak - of course they do - into heart of what it means to be human. They call us to practically go into the week ahead seeking to calibrate our lives into the mystery of faith, the paradox-ridden freedom of life really lived with Jesus.

2nd Sunday after Trinity by Fr Jack

Genesis 18. 1-15, 

Psalm 116. 10-17, 

Romans 5. 1-8

St Matthew 9. 35-10.8

 

I think it’s with a knowing wink that St Matthew writes the Gospel today. 

On one level it’s an obvious one. The harvest - the whole human family, so confused and in need of what only Christ can give us. The hope of the Kingdom, the knowledge that life does have meaning and purpose, a relationship with God that is not a comfort blanket for the naive, but a deep belonging in mystery and truth. St Matthew is not hiding anything - Jesus sent them out. He calls, feeds and sends us out today. He does, every Sunday and every day.

 

But the wink I’m talking about is the list of the Apostles. Look again. Apart from Judas for obvious reasons, it's all just how they are related, except Matthew himself, who he says of himself: ‘Matthew the tax collector’. We know that tax collectors were fraternisers with the Roman occupying forces, and usually brutally corrupt and exploitative. It is not without purpose that Matthew, years later, lists himself thus. I like to think that it’s with a knowing smile that he writes those words for us.

 

Matthew, who caused scandal after Jesus calls him and goes to his house to eat - Rabbi Jesus eating in a ritually unclean house, with sinners of this particularly horrid and cruel type.

 

Jesus sits and eats with them. Sharing meals is one of those most primeval and powerful human things. It is personal, its sacred. It is no accident that God institutes the Passover with a meal at its heart, and Jesus institutes the new Passover, in His death, and gives us the Eucharistic meal as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Then, now and the hereafter, God works through meals at every level. And He sits and eats with sinners. Just as St Paul says today - ‘while we were still sinners’, like us.

 

As Christians we should eat on purpose. We share this Bread and Wine, and we are what we eat and eat what we are: the Body of Christ. St Paul says in his letter to St Timothy that we should have 'a little wine for our stomach’s sake’ (1.Tim 5.23). Never let it be said that we don’t do as the Bible says! Our eating with people we love is holy too. As Christians we are called to rejoice in food and each other, whether we usually eat alone or with others - we are never actually alone. Never. 

    We are called to eat sustainably and well. We are called to resist making food fake, factory produced or simply fuel for other things. Our meals are holy. Saying a simple grace of ‘thank you’ before and/or after every meal is the least we can do to reflect this. It takes perseverance to build such a habit, but it’s a good one to build.

The readings today remind us of all this: that we are called as sinners in Jesus company, and we are called, fed and sent no matter how unworthy we feel, no matter how small we think our faith is, no matter how marginal we see ourselves. Jesus does not.

 

We are also reminded today of the quality of this calling and feeding and sending. God offers us hospitality and holy feasting in the Eucharist at the heart of life’s rhythm week by week. And calls us to replicate this Eucharistic/thankful/open-hearted pattern in the way we eat and live the rest of the week. And God gives us a vision of another meal - the heavenly banquet of saints and angels - and invites us to live towards it.

 

It is on one level, very simple, but it is also utterly life-changing.

 

It certainly changed Abraham and Sarah’s life. It’s with them in today’s first reading that I’ll finish.

 

Talking of God’s hospitality and manner with us, I love God saying ‘yes you did laugh’! To Sarah at the end. It’s so intimate and real!

 

But before then, under the oaks of Mamre Abraham offers hospitality to three angels, Christians have interpreted this as a foreshadowing of the Trinity in Scripture. The great icon of Andre Rublev - the icons of icons shows this. 

 

And there at the table, are the one in three. A sacrifice is offered, and new life is given in the promise of a child. Abraham thinks he is offering something, but as ever with God we get so much more in return! The icon is full of symbolism. The tree - a place of safety and rest in the heat of the day, is also of course the tree at the centre of the Garden of Eden, and the tree on which Christ was crucified. This meal happens in the shadow of all that. The house - the Father’s mansion with many rooms, the goal of all our journeying through life, the door stands always open. And the tower and window from which the Father always seeks the return of His prodigal children, us. 

 

In this image (about which there is much more to say!) and in the Eucharist, and in our lives as people invited to do life with God and others at tables of various kinds - in all these things there is so much richness to be explored. So much to give thanks for.

 

But most of all, most of all, the four sides of this altar table, with the Three sat round and the fourth side open, waiting for you and me.

Sunday After Ascension, 21st May

by Fr Jack

 

Acts of the Apostles 1. 6-14

Psalm 68. 1-10, 32-35

1 St Peter 4. 12-14; 5. 6-11

St John 17. 1-11

 

How many taps has a Methodist bathtub? Three. A hot, a cold, and a strangely warm…

 

On Wednesday we’ll celebrate our parish’s curate John Wesley having his heart ‘strangely warmed’ (as he wrote) by God in the back room of a pub a 100 yards from this church. It was the beginning of an extraordinary ministry. That same intimacy and immediacy is found in today’s Epistle of St Peter - classic Peter: full on and now. I say all that because intimacy, personal connection is at the heart of today’s Gospel.

 

But first the Ascension. 40 days after Easter, Christ has gone before us home to heaven. We are unique amongst world religions in celebrating that the God who beckons us home to heaven is not simply being kind or generous to us mortals, but is one of us - a human being just like us. Jesus, the God-human.

    It is radical and it changes everything to say that a human reigns now in heaven. It changes everything about our world view, our religious philosophy and the technicality of our theology, but also everything about how we see ourselves and others and the world around us.

 

This is a gift of the Ascension. Jesus’s wounds (and the dust on His feet !) find their eternal home in heaven, not wiped away, but glorified. Unravel the implications of this, and it changes everything about how we live with our humanity and its frailty in ourselves and others, how we relate to all created things; how we live and worship, how we think and pray. All things become heavenly and holy now Jesus’ bones and sinew, His spit and toe nails, even His wounds are at home in heavenly glory.

 

Today’s feast is universal in its implications, and utterly personal and intimate.

 

And that’s the other thing I wanted to ponder together this morning. Every Wednesday in term time there is a Bible Study in the Rectory. It’s ever so simple - just 30 mins 1230 - 1.00, all are welcome, the door is on the latch, just come on in. Bring your lunch if you like. There’s tea and coffee on tap. We simply read through the Gospel for the coming Sunday and chew it over together. No learning necessary, you need nothing but yourself. Do come if you’d like, or direct friends/neighbours/colleagues.

 

Anyway, the thing that struck a couple of us this week in this passage is the personal nature of it. One of us said, this isn’t Jesus coming to an exalted throne with all his Ps and Qs - paying homage and begging favours. This is intimate and personal between Jesus and the Father. Here we are invited (through St John and the Apostles) into Jesus’ personal relationship with the Father - indeed, that is exactly Jesus’ and St John’s intention in sharing these chapters of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse with us. 

Today’s Gospel is just a short snippet of this long meandering, circling, layering intimate unfolding of Jesus and the Father and the Spirit’s moments in these chapters.

 

We are being invited, through these ancient and living words, to join them. To join this intimate being of God. That’s the headline today.

It is the quality of Jesus’ relationship that comes through. We human beings, even in our ordinary lives, are being invited to share this quality of relationship with God.

 

Jesus models this for us. Look again at this passage, what aspects of the quality of Jesus relating jumps out? As you do - do speak up if you’d like, anyone, if something jumps out.

 

What qualities of Jesus’ relationship with God, what qualities of Jesus’ way of praying here - this intimacy we have been invited to participate in, jump out? 

 

As you look, which might you try? What might you give a go in the silence after Holy Communion? Or in your private prayer times this week at home or in church or on the bus or wherever you pray?

 

You may or may not feel like a fool or a fraud doing it at first, but we’re all different. Give it a go - exploring new ways of praying can seem strange at first but is rarely fruitless. I’d be delighted to chat any of this over with anyone if that would be helpful.

 

Any thoughts, springing from the gift of ? Not to worry if not yet - explore it this week. [potential starters: intimacy, glory, self gift, community, purpose, unity, meandering]

 

This Sunday is all about substance. The human substance of Jesus’ person goes home to heaven - his wounds even, his passions and personality, and the pink bits of his finger tips, all of it. Jesus shows us that our humanity will and does belong in heaven, because He has led the way for us there. 

    And then there’s the substance, the quality, of Jesus prayer and relationship with God. This too we are being invited into, and to explore and own the same quality. What a precious gift.

Sunday 7th May, Fifth Sunday of Easter - BCP Choral Evensong

by Fr Jack

 

If there is a thread that ties together our worship this evening and the events of this weekend, I think it may be this:

 

The vocation of things to point beyond themselves.

 

And that to be an exercise in truth telling. 

That to be a God given, truth revealing, calling.

 

Zechariah in today's First Lesson. Zerrubabel is building the house. But as ever it is not simple bricks and mortar - it is the children of Israel. The dwelling of God. The destination of all over covenanting: God and humanity reconciled and full of delight.

 

Zerrubabel’s house points beyond itself to a greater calling.

 

Then flip to the last book of the Bible - Revelation. And St John, who doesn’t hold back from the turmoil of the human condition and the end of the world - here gives us a vision of the world that is to come: the one that was always meant and always going to be. Just us and God. And no sorrow or enmity. No want of peace or love. But, at last, the real you and the real me and the real us lost in wonder, love and praise. 

 

But this is no floaty , nicey nicey. This is the heavenly citizenship that you and I, by Baptism, are called to live in now. This world points to that world. Our flaws are calls to prayer. Our hungers are calls to break bread in Eucharist, and share our bread with others. This world’s disasters point beyond death to resurrection hope. Beyond calamity to our true home beyond. Beyond humanity’s awfulness to our capacity to give of our selves in amazing love, sacrifice .

 

This world and Revelation point beyond themselves to a truer understanding of our purpose and identity. 

 

It is obviously also true of the coronation this weekend. Charles’ Kingdoms, from England to Fiji and back, the ritual of his coronation place him above us. There’s little doubt left in the ceremonial about that! but, lest earthly kings should misunderstand, the ritual also clearly humiliates our King too. It puts him squarely in the place of a child of God - one who also will be judged. One who has been given the role of a shepherd, and who will answer to Jesus the Good Shepherd for it.

 

In all the ritual of the coronation, it points beyond itself, beyond this kingdom, to a true king, a true kingdom, one where justice and love, where belonging and unity are not marred by human failings, but held in glorious completeness. 

 

The Christian nature of our monarchy rescues us from making this all about us. It points beyond itself, to a greater hope than you or I could otherwise construct. 

 

So too even with the Resurrection of Christ that we celebrate this Eastertide. It points beyond itself.

 

Christ’s resurrection from the dead is good news for Jesus. But because that resurrection points beyond itself, it is good news for US. By his death and resurrection death has had his teeth taken out, the sting from his tail removed. Death is now no longer a full stop, but a gate that leads to the next great adventure in the company of Jesus.

 

So where are we at the end of all this?

 

Our call to join in with these pointings - to join in with living into the Kingdom that is to come, the great embrace and humanity and God in Zechariah. The great story that crescendoes in Revelation and its glorious wonderful hope. To live into a life that has put death in its place, and love reigns instead.

 

The question is, what/who does your life point to, beyond itself?

Sunday 30th April, Fourth Sunday of Easter

by Fr Jack

 

1 St Peter 2.19-end    Psalm 23    Acts 2.42-end    St John 10.1-10

 

What defines the Body of Christ? Our Church Council (the PCC) have begun to explore our Way of Life here at St Giles’. It’s an annual process for what the C of E calls our ‘Mission Action Plan’. But fundamentally it’s deeper: Who are we? What is our DNA? How are we called by God to live that out? 

 

The Diocese of London structure for this Way of Life discussion is to ask: 1. How do we stay with God? (Our spiritual heart). 2. How do we share the journey with others? 3. Serving our world. It asks ‘What are our postures, patterns, practices?’

 

This Fourth Sunday of Easter (last year it fell on 8th May) was the day I was installed here as Rector. Frankly, I am as amazed as you are that the building is standing, and we’re all still here!

 

But this first anniversary and the Church Council soul-searching couldn’t fit better with the readings the Lectionary gives us for today.  Today’s Scriptures give us a wonderful insight into what defines us - our DNA, and how we are called to live that out. I wonder if we might explore these a little together, and see what sticks? What leaps out at you from these readings, for us?

 

If you’re brave enough, as we meander through, please stick up a paw and tell us what’s hit you in a few words.

 

Acts Chapter 2.

They’re devoted to apostolic teaching and fellowship. We belong to this faith that we profess in the Creed in a moment. It isn’t just a collection of ideas. We didn’t make it up. We have inherited this family story of the Church across time and space to which we belong. We pray. We share the Eucharist. 

 

Signs and wonders are less common than in the Apostolic age, that makes sense. But miracles of different kinds are actually all around us - here and elsewhere in our lives - if we only cared to notice. Every Sunday and midweek we share in the miracle of Holy Communion for a start.

 

The generosity and sharing that characterises the Early Church should definitely inspire us. And even they (a small increasingly persecuted church) are typified by gladness, sincere hearts, hospitality and praise. What a great charter for us - here in church - and how we Christians are known out there?

 

And the Lord added to their number. No fearful headlines about church decline here. No panic about institutions and middle management - They did their thing and God did God’s. 

 

What sticks with you in all that?

 

So to St Peter’s Epistle. 

Not an obvious reading to see our DNA in perhaps? But look again. Well, we are Jesus’ sheep - that’s in today’s Gospel too. 

 

But in the first instance St Peter wants to tell us that our earthly conceptions of justice, of how life should be can’t be our way of life. Christ committed no sin, and yet suffers for the salvation of all. Lots of people think that good people should be rich, healthy and happy, and bad people shouldn’t; and people get really cross when that doesn’t happen. We Christians are being given a different DNA, a different world view. St Peter tells us that Jesus has not given hope for humanity by administering a crypto-legal system of reward and punishment. Instead, He has gone sacrificially to the very depths of human despair and cruelty and futility. He has gone there (to death and hell itself and all that those represent) and bought His light there. Christ has not categorised reality, but has redeemed it.

 

We too are called to sacrificial living. A way that does not fuel the baser human inclinations to categorise or condemn, or pretend that the world should be this or that. Instead, we are called to live in and live for a universe transformed. Where perfect justice is perfect love.

 

By this, including by sacrifice, we discover the core strand of the Christian DNA in today’s readings: joy. Not simple happiness; not the plastic grins of cheesy Christian awfulness. I mean real joy, found through real, complex humanity. That is what God made us for - life in abundance/all its fullness.

 

The wonderful gift of Acts and St Peter is that these are real people. It wasn’t easy for them, it isn’t for us. 

 

People often read the Bible as if these people are other people. People often sit in the pews thinking that all the other people here are the real Christians - I’m just on the fringes. Well, in my experience, everybody is thinking that of everybody else!

 

I want to say to every single person here: you are no less at the heart of the Church than anyone else. You are not on the fringes - we are it. We are the core: the heart of Jesus here. If it sounds unlikely - then keep reading on in Acts, and read back at St Peter’s blunders. We are all Jesus’s stray sheep.

 

If you’re already dashing for the door thinking ‘I didn’t sign up for that!’, then before you do… the good news is: just like for the Apostles, we are not in charge. 

    In a few weeks time we will celebrate Pentecost - the gift of the Spirit to us the Church until Jesus comes again. Everything we do is the power of God in us. We just need to join in with the movements of the Spirit in our hearts, in our lives, and in our church and wider community.

 

Our Spiritual DNA - our Way of Life - in today’s Scriptures is a vision of belonging, of love and of joy. Of complex humanity and sacrifice. Of everyday miracles. Of generosity, and worship, of Eucharist. All we have to do is ask God’s Holy Spirit to do Her thing, and join in.

Easter 3

by Fr Jack

 

We are all foreigners. ‘Aliens’ as the OT so often calls them. Exiles.

Today we are reminded that we are foreigners travelling home, and that our identity, our security, does not come from earthly ties, but the bonds of grace, our citizenship of another Kingdom.

 

We’re not in heaven yet: war, sickness, natural disaster, the injustice we feel at how things are. Our wrangling with these things - the very problem of evil itself - our inability to reconcile a good God and a sad world is the most prominent symptom of our exile. We are not in heaven yet, and our world never lets us forget that.

 

St Peter calls his hearers ones in time of exile in his epistle today. The trappings of security - in this case religious ethnicity and trappings are not solid ground. Don’t take refuge in them, like inadequate half-way houses along the exile route, never hoping for better. But as foreigners seek a better, more real way. 

 

I suspect all of us at times have settled for cardboard security rather than daring to hope that more is possible. Each of our stories will be different. Here we see a whole crowd being told: don’t settle for convenient half truths. In this case it is religious certainty that comes from being able to make offerings of silver and gold, of killing the odd animal, and you know you can be right with God. 

    Christianity too has more than its fair share of peddling religious certainty that satisfies our need for black and white truth. It may be hard, even oppressive (the slavery of the law, as St Paul calls it), but we like legal codes, however oppressive, as long as we know where we stand. 

    But here (like St Paul who calls us to live by grace not by law) St Peter calls us to see that love is our calling: ‘deeply, from the heart’ he wonderfully says. That Christ’s Resurrection has changed the world. The old ways of appeasing an angry-seeming God are gone. The perfect lamb (St Peter writes) has broken that cycle, the perfect sacrifice - God Himself in fact - has dismantled that way of God and humanity. 

    Blood and shame and death and guilt have been replaced by ‘glory’ and ‘faith’ and ‘hope' in God. Holy fear - awe and love. It’s all there in today’s epistle.

 

So, we are told, however much we may find simple comfort in ghastly half truths (and let’s not forget that we humans try that all the time!), we are being invited to open our eyes to uncomfortable levels of mystery, love and glory. So when we cry for blood - we are missing the point. When we build walls for us or God - we are falling short. When those old instincts creep back in - shame, separation and all the rest: remember the lamb - on the front of St Giles’ altar - that has made all those things nothing-worth. This passover Lamb, Christ our Passover, that we eat hidden in Bread and Wine. A newer, greater, harder reality is here.

 

It is this New Covenant in Christ’s blood, new world, that St Peter speaks of in the Acts of the Apostles today too.

 

The Holy Spirit takes centre stage (now Christ has ascended), as The Spirit does today, now. St Peter makes a promise: don’t seek refuge in life in lesser things. No matter how scary or mad it seems - come back to God, be baptized and decide to live in the light, in the Spirit.

 

It won’t be easy - just read on in Acts! It is to say ‘yes’ to living in a universe beyond our control, beyond our smaller self-lies of who or what life is all about. It is to submit to a mystery. It will require you probably at times to believe by bloody mindedness alone - I’m sure we’ve all had those moments! And at times it may glimpse for you true joy.

 

We are foreigners in this life; being foreign is not easy. We may be tempted to become all sorts of other things in order to feel less at sea. Eastertide and today’s Scriptures encourage us not to settle for those. That we are children, inheritors, stewards and sharers of a greater mystery - that in Christ, God has made life stronger than death, reconciliation truer than divisions of every kind, hope more real than cynicism, worship wiser than power, Love, king.

 

And so the Road to Emmaus. Cleopas and his companion (quite possibly his wife) have given up hope. 

(Read this Gospel again at home - it is magical. The layers in this account! Meditate on it daily for a year and you’ll find more and more treasure.)

 

They had given up, and are in an exile of hopelessness. Jesus meets them, and only when they have eyes to see do they recognise His presence. And not in thrones and majesty, but a meal together and broken bread. We do the same now, and every time we gather to Eucharist. 

 

In life the promises of God feel a long way off - for Cleopas and for us. We are sometimes disinclined to give hope, worship, love too much room. 

But, today’s Easter readings reminds us that the signs of God’s Kingdom are actually breaking through all the time. All we need to do is spot them and join in. 

What we do here together, day by day and Sunday by Sunday changes the world! It is the Holy Spirit’s engine of divine life and transformation - we do it for others we will never know, and those close at hand. It is our duty and our joy. It makes who we really are, so that more and more, we will not hope to be less. Alleluia. Christ is risen.

 

 

The Paschal Triduum 2023

sermons by Fr Jack

Easter Day

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

 

In Romania, a country I love and have been blessed to travel a bit in and do churchy stuff there, they are much more civilised than we barbarous western Europeans. Just one of the ways in which they are more civilised than we, is that they don’t bother saying ‘hi’ or ‘good afternoon’ in these holy 50 days of Easter that have begun today, they, in the street, to friends and strangers alike say ‘ Christus anviat!’, and the other person, instead of avoiding all eye contact and humanity (like us in London) or perhaps saying ‘helllo’ back in the shires, the other person says ‘advarat un anviat!’. No ‘hi’, ‘hi’, but ‘Christ is Risen!’ And ‘He is Risen indeed!’. Their whole life is permeated with the light of Easter. And well it should be.

 

The whole universe was changed forever when Christ died and came back from the dead, defeating death, emptying hell, rendering sin and all other separation between us and God and each other ultimately toothless. The universe was changed, and nothing is untouched flora, fauna, animal, vegetable and mineral. Nothing is left unchanged by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. This single flame of the Easter, the Paschal Candle, is a light of a light of a light, that has spread from that little tomb’s open door to the far reaches of the universe. It sweeps us up like a veritable tsunami of love. 

 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

And this year we have been given a new paschal candle stick by our friends at the Barbers’ Company and another trust that helps churches by beautiful things called the Cottam Will Trust. 

It has been made in the same workshop in N. Yorks that made all the rest of our beauotful English Oak furniture, Treske. It has been handmade with love and artisanship.

And so it should be.

What it represents. It should be a focus.

 

The Paschal Candle is lit for the 50 days of Easter, and then on, as a sign of Christ's Resurrection and presence with us at Baptisms and funerals.

 

Large and attention grabbing.

 

Rich in symbolism 

 

Cross, lamb, time (the year), alpha and omega - all are elements of Christ's representaive - the Paschal Candle.

 

In some versions of The Exsultet - the great ancient Easter proclomation - the deacon even sings to thank the mother bee and her colleagues for making this wax that aids our worship.

 

Design our own. Peacock. Phoenix. Empty tombs. White grave clothes. Lamb and flag. Butterfly. All are symbols of the Resurrection! What else? First and last letters of alphabet?

 

Fr Harry Williams of the monastery at Mirfield wrote a wonderful book: True Wilderness. It was the fruit that came out of his poor mental health and a number of break downs. Then, later, he wrote True Resurrection. To be honest, it is not as good. I doesn't come from the same level of costly personal experience. In fact one of his fellow monks scoffed about Fr Harry’s book on the Resurrection: 'Don’t ask Harry about the resurrection! He knows nothing about the resurrection - as far as Harry is concerned the resurrection is drinking champagne is the bath!'

So perhaps draw yourself on your Paschal Candle design drinking champagne in the bath? ...

The Easter Vigil

 

We live in a ritual universe. Our culture - the west today - is an experiment in human history. It is greatest extent to which human beings have attempted, pretended to be free of ritual. And still - sporting events, Coronations, little family rituals. We can’t escape them. But even though we can’t escape them, we pretend they are only frippery or amusement. We permit them, but we don’t need them.

 

I am not so sure. It was studying history that brought my faith to life at University. And I rather think that human history suggests that ritual is not something we do for fun or certain specific social purposes that we have designed. No. 

 

We are ritual beings. 

 

Humans (even in our early evolutionary states perhaps - who knows?), humans make language, we make music, we seek to make meaning - chains of understanding. We make societies and we do ritual. And if ritual is core to our being and purpose, then maybe it is a gift from God, and therefore something God genuinely has in mind for us. Ritual sits with scientific endeavours, the arts, family and community life as a core purpose for us, a core expression of who we are, and who God has made us to be.

 

Jesus Himself, when God came to be with us, was diligent in ritual. He went to Temple and Synagogue. He prayed and sang and processed and did all the ritual acts proper to His Jewish faith. He connected with His story - with God, Himself and other people - through ritual as well as private prayer and Holy writ and the rest.

 

And if there is any service of the Christian year that most loudly shouts of God’s gift to us in our ritual humanity it may be this one. In light and darkness, in song and imagery, in Scripture and Sacrament; water, oil, 'blood and fire’ (Joel 2.30, Acts 2.19) - we bring all of humanity to this feast tonight. 

 

The great story of the universe is laid before us, and we see the golden thread of God’s loving purposes weave through it all. We read what feels like the entire of the Bible by the time we’ve finished! Across time and space that golden thread grows and crescendos until Christ. And by the Holy Spirit, that thread does not stop, but spreads and weaves until - right there! Right here! In the story of Salvation History - there are you and me, gathered this evening to take our place in God’s great story of everything. God has brought us here. And God meets us here exactly as God intends in the ritual being that lies at the heart of things. In these Sacred Mysteries, as Christians have always called the Eucharist.

 

"It means," said Aslan, "that though the [White] Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time.

 

In ritual and mystery of baptism we have died with Christ, and been given a share already in His risen life. When we meet death again, it cannot hold us. It is already behind us. 

In Eucharist, Christ the true Passover lamb, places His life within us, His flesh in our flesh.

 

Thanks be to God for God’s Holy Spirit, who has given us these great gifts (and more) in which God seeks us out and entangles us in grace, entangles us in this story of Love with a capital ‘L’. 

 

With Saints and Angels, with questing faith and unconquerable hope, with love that is as death-defying as it is human and fragile. Let us go into this night together. Meet Jesus here, and go with Him into the great days of Eastertide ahead of us.

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Good Friday, The Three Hours

 

Good Friday I

 

I said on Palm Sunday that the Parish Churches of  England have for centuries been Jerusalem for the People of God. In mind and heart, these lovely stones that we know so well are for us today the walls of The Holy City. The heat of the day, the dust that gets everywhere. The noise and bustle and smells (some good, mostly less so) that fill the narrow toppling streets. Last night we were in Gethsemane. Now we are outside the walls at the Place of the Skull. The rubbish heap: a place in which human lives are discarded along with food and junk and plenty more besides. The lowest of the low are executed by crucifixion. The scourging and the nails of which we have just heard won’t kill Him. Eventually, His ability to support His weight will go, and He’ll likely slump, and crumpled, suffocate to death; but not before He has lost control of His bladder and bowels. 

 

It is not for nothing that St Paul writes to the Phillippian Christians a few years later: ‘He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross’ (Philippians 2.8).

 

Our worship here today can only be too clean, too smart, too ‘nice’. The reality in which we participate is anything but.

 

Our worship, and that of Church of England and other churches today continues the pattern that Egeria wrote of in her diary in the 300s, when she spent Holy Week in Jerusalem. She describes what the Jerusalem Church did, and because of her and those who followed her, ever since, and today in Common Worship, we do likewise. 

 

The worship begins without invitation. No greeting. We began last night, and we will end without dismissal: we will not finish what we do here until Christ is Risen tomorrow night. 

 

The priests prostate - an ancient and solemn position of prayer and abandonment. 

 

When the cross is brought in, the deacon, or me in this case sings ‘the wood of the cross’ and we all sing back ‘come let us worship’. We pause. You may wish to drop to one knee briefly as is traditional. Then the cross comes in further. The same call and response, but one step higher. We drop to one knee, and pause. And a third time, again, as the cross arrives before us, finally fully unveiled. 

This liturgy is deadly theatre. It is ancient and tangible. We sing three times, St Peter denies Him three times. The Risen Jesus will ask him three times, do you love me. Tomorrow night we will follow the flickering flame of eternal life, of the paschal candle into a pitch black church - and three times, rising each times like today, we will sing ‘the light of Christ’. Our Alleluias too, will be sung thrice rising each time. All these layers of meaning and sign. But today their meaning is sad and cruel.

 

Shortly, we will be invited to come up, one by one in a line, and bow or genuflect before the cross and kiss the feet of Jesus. Egeria kissed The Cross in Jerusalem, but soon, as the devotion spread across the world any crucifix became the cross - all crosses joined to the one Cross, on the rubbish dump, stained with blood and sweat, with His urine and faeces. It is an horrific act, to come and kiss this man, this cross.

 

And yet, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, it is by this horror, by the depths of this shame and loneliness and death, that God reaches the depths of human history and experience, and brings His divine light, even there. 

 

As we kiss this cross today, we thank Jesus for His coming to be with us, for His ministry, for His giving of Himself to death, and for His rising again. We show human affection - a simple kiss - towards the one who shows us what love really is.

 

Christ could die because He is a man. But because Christ is God, by dying He abolishes death. He breaks the universal economy of life and death, and makes death a doorway, not a full stop. He does this thing, at the cost of every drop of His blood. 

He does this thing which takes Him to the depths of loneliness and despair - the depths of Hell - for no other reason than the Glory of God and love for that which God has made. The tree of death is become the tree of life for us. O come, let us worship. 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday II

 

Good? Why do we call this day ‘Good’? 

In Germany it is called Green Friday. Because of the green shoots of new life that sprout even from this tree of death, poisoned by false and hard-hearted religiousity from the religious elite, by cowardice and empire from the Romans, and by indifference by so many others. 

 

It is anything but Good. But even here, hope is not lost. 

    St John’s Gospel has Jesus die in triumph - ‘it is accomplished’ ‘it is consummated’. We know what is to come, and what it has cost. 

    St Matthew and St Mark’s Gospels don’t let us forget the cost. They have Jesus’ final cry (quoting the Psalmist) as one of abandonment and fear; of loneliness on a scale that is terrifying: ‘Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachtani’  

    Those two poles of the Gospel (abandonment and triumph) hold us in the truth of this moment.

And they, together, are the sign of why we call this day Good, and why we are here in this Church at all. It is hope.

We do not hope for what we already have, just as St Paul says (Romans 8.24).

We hope for what we do not see and do not have. That is why we call it hope.

 

So what is our hope? Fairy stories for children? Convenient truths? A religious comfort blanket? No. Again as St Paul writes to the Romans, we are ‘saved’ through ‘hope’. This is much too important to be swept aside, cheaply labelled. Hope. Nothing less, and nothing more.

 

And not hope that we will get what we want. Not a hope for the Premium Bonds win that would be so handy. Not hope even for a reversal of the affects of being flesh and blood that ages and decays. Not hope that human beings would be less or more than human.

 

This cross today, this Jesus, stands at the heart of the cosmic drama. Our hope is a cosmic, a universe-shattering hope that love conquers hate, and good overcomes evil. That Life conquers death. Nothing more, and nothing less.

 

Our hope in God is not an air raid shelter that protects us through life. It is a greater thing. 

It’s not always easy to decide who and in what we should place our hope. Sometimes (of course!) we find ourselves hoping for lesser things. But Good Friday, each year, places before us the greater landscape of our hoping. A truer anchor, a deeper rock. And so we wait. We live and we wait. We hope and we live, and we wait this afternoon with Jesus. 

TS Eliot, from East Coker:

 

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

 

 

 

 

Good Friday III

 

Christina Rosetti’s words say so much of my faith. She speaks for me: of my inability to be truly here, as Mary and John, as the centurion, as the penitent thief are here.

 

My heart, however filled today by the great and truth-telling gifts of Scripture and Liturgy and words and music (thank you to all who have given us these gifts today), however filled my heart may be, it feels always outside, a stranger to these events. Like Christina in those final words, I plead with Jesus to do something. To make this real in me, and to make this all alright, to climb down and say it was not like this.

 

But here we are. And what are we to do?

 

I am asking, I think, a question that Christina points us to in her love and confusion and pleading - her wish to love and know and feel - why are we here? What is the meaning of this?

 

In other words: what happens on the cross? 

 

Some will tell you that the universe is like a big law court, and God is judge, and God’s justice requires blood. I am not so sure. That is not the God who reveals God’s self time and again in the Scriptures. That is how humans think, and how humans time and again have painted God.

 

Instead, as ever with the riches of our faith, I suggest that there are numerous threads at work here. That they all carry truth, and all (like a ring of spotlights pointing at the centre spot) illuminate something of what is going on here. Each has something to say that compliments and uncovers the other. All are needed, and none is complete. And even when all put together, we will never have said everything there is to say of the mystery of what God is doing before us today. 

 

Penal Substitution, it is called: the theory of atonement that says God punishes Christ instead of us. It is the least of these lights, and not enough. 

 

Remember Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac - a terrible moment, stopped by God. But now, centuries later, God completes the story, and puts Himself on the altar of sacrifice. 

Christ calls Himself Son of God and Son of Man. That is to say that Christ is of God and of humanity. He shares His nature with God and humanity, just as no parent can give birth to a different species than their own. Christ, Son of God, that is to say, the One who comes from God - the one who shares the being of God - God - places Himself on the cross. 

And in so doing, God completes centuries of sacrifice, centuries of bloodshed and scapegoating, God takes the economy of sacrifice and place’s Himself into the depths of it. And in this act, in this moment, God completes it, and abolishes it. By going to the cross today, God takes away the place of such sacrifice, abolishes blood-justice, abolishes even death itself. By undergoing death, the God-human destroys the very power of death. A promise sealed in the Resurrection. A promise sealed in the death and resurrection of baptism, given to us, as if we had died and risen with Him.

 

There’s more. On the cross God places God’s self in lowest place of our human spite and greed and violence, so that any who find themselves there in life need never feel alone - Christ is there with them.

 

And more, the devil thinks he has gained the soul of a just man who didn’t deserve to die, instead he meets God face to face and is undone. 

 

All these threads (and many more) in which Christians have sought to understand what happened that day. And still we are left reeling. Still we surrender in the face of such mystery, such love, exhausted by its awfulness, and scale, and yet, and yet… 

 

I’m going to stop speaking now, because Christ’s silence on the cross has so much more to say that I can.

 

Maundy Thursday

 

At the heart of love is also betrayal. Judas is here at this feast of love. Tonight, Jesus gives His life as the Passover lamb, He seals His promise with a gift that will last until He comes again: the Eucharist. 

 

Jesus with us now, in Holy Communion, until He comes again

 

He stoops to wash their feet because He loves them in their humanity, just as He loves each and every one of you. And even here, Judas is there.

 

Love and betrayal go together. It is when we dare to love and be loved that we are most vulnerable to hurt. It is when we dare to believe that we are loved (by God, by ourselves, by each other) that the betrayal of human clay feet creep in and the devil whispers that you are un-lovable.

 

How often have we let others make us feel unlovable? 

or let ourselves feel unlovable? It is a lie. We are loved.

How often have we made others feel unlovable. It is a lie. They are loved.

 

We have all done both sides of that coin I suspect.

 

But in this way, and others, love is inextricably linked with grief.

 

So it is tonight.

 

It is right that Judas is here, because that is the truth about love, as we’ve said. But it is also true that Judas does not stop this happening, quite the opposite (by God’s grace). This cannot be stopped. Christ gives Himself, Christ kneels and washes, Christ goes to His death. We know how the story will end, they did not. Christ’s purpose of love - in this Sacred Meal and on Calvary - cannot be halted. Not then, and not now.

 

Be. 

Be loved. 

To know that we are deeply loved is the truest and greatest gift of all.

And our calling is to believe that, to know that. 

 

Shortly, after we have eaten Christ’s Body and drunk His Blood, we will follow him to Gethsemane, over by the font. Then darkness and chaos will overtake us, and we will watch and wait. This liturgy is disturbing and dark - because of the events they participate in, and because our love (like the Apostles) is fraught and fragile.

 

Only God’s love is perfect, and unconditional. 

I often think that every hug we ever receive on earth is imperfect. It’s too short or too long, a hint of discomfort or unreadiness, whatever it is and however lovely, no embrace is perfect. I often think of that as an image of our human loving - it is lovely, but always a mixed bag.

Human love will betray. God’s perfect love will prevail, and hold us in the meanwhile. In time, it will even perfect our human love.

 

And knowing all that, we come, to this feast of love, and hear the New Commandment that gives today its Maundy name.

 

To avoid the grief of our loving is to avoid our humanity. That is not our aim. 

 

But instead we carry our frail humanity, our tired bones, to this table and receive Divine love into our bodies. 

Deep into our souls, and into our lives. This food that is pure love. Into our bodies that are not pure. This Jesus who gives himself to us, who knows that and loves us anyway.

 

To finish. Pries- Poet George Herbert’s words, Love.

 

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

                              Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

                             From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

                             If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

                             Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

                             I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

                             Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

                             Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

                             My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

                             So I did sit and eat.

Palm Sunday Choral Evensong

by Fr Jack

 

The Prophet Isaiah in today’s First Lesson speaks of ‘wild grapes’. He means that to be a bad thing, but of course for us anything that says ‘wild’ in front seems exotic or nice like ‘wild strawberries’ or ‘cave-aged cheddar’ or whatever else ridiculous words M & S or any other supermarkets might attach to things. But for Isaiah to be ‘wild’ means to be one of those grapes that is small and shrivelled and fruitless and useless; and that is not what the Lord intended when He planted His beautiful vineyard. 

    The second vineyard image Holy Scripture gives us tonight, from the Gospel, is of a Landowner who plants his vineyard and leaves it in someone else’s care to go to his other properties, only to come back and find that brigands have beaten up the steward and made ill use of the beautiful intentions of the One who planted the vineyard.

    And here we are teetering on the edge of Holy Week. We’ve been through the season of Lent, we are aware of our frailty: those wonderful words from this evening’s anthem, ‘In the midst of life we are in death’. We are aware of the life and the death that constantly interact even within our own selves, let alone within our communities, within our churches, and across the world. At each of those layers life and death appear to be always wrestling like Jacob and the Angel.

    

So to the donkey. 

 

Where I am stood right now, this morning there was a beautiful donkey, Charlie. And thankfully Charlie left no ‘evidence’ of himself at all - an absolute miracle. He went from here to St Paul’s Cathedral, and of course we hope that he left plenty of evidence of himself up the steps of the great Cathedral mother church of St Paul!

 

Did you know that every donkey in the world has a distinctive mark? 

 

Every donkey in the world has a cross on its back. Sometimes they grow out. Charlie was quite shaggy, so its not also easy to tell, but it’s there. The great medieval legend is that God gave the donkey the cross as his marking, as a thanksgiving for the donkey’s dignity and gift in carrying the saviour of the world into Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. It’s a beautiful legend. 

 

That’s the point in response to all these wild grapes - it’s the donkey’s cross. The donkey does not arrive in Jerusalem with a great long speech, or some fantastic trick to wow the crowds with. The donkey does nothing except carry the Lord. The donkey bears the Lord from point A to point B, and that is what I want us to hold on to as we go into Holy Week together. 

 

As we meditate on the bits of life and death within ourselves, the extent to which we are ‘wild’ or fruitful grapes, the bits of ourselves that we have beaten up the steward of and left behind, and the parts that we have respected as the beautiful gift of God in us and the world around us… our job is not to parachute in and to be God in those situations, our vocation is not to be the showman or the dancer or anything else, our vocation as the baptised people of God is simply to carry Jesus into every situation in which we live. 

 

To bear the saviour of the world and His great love into any and every place we happen to go; because everywhere is Jerusalem, everywhere is the temple of the Spirit, everywhere is the dwelling place of God if only we would recognise God there. Friends, that’s our calling: to recognise our frailty, and not to have to overcome it or be our own saviours or saviours for others, but simply to carry Jesus with us. It is the most important thing we all ever do, and the greatest gift we will give ourselves, each other and the whole world. It is our calling this week.

Palm Sunday Procession and Eucharist

by Fr Jack

 

Today we shout with the crowds: Hosanna! It literally translates as ‘save us’. That surprises many people, who imagine it more to be a call of ‘yippee’ or ‘bally ho!’ Or whatever other ridiculous cries you’d care to imagine. 

No, as we enter this Jerusalem, and stand in the place of the crowds in that Jerusalem we cry ‘save us’! Why? As we clutch our palms of victory, why do we cry ‘save us’?

The palms themselves have rich symbolism. Victory, like the Roman laurel crowns. Martyr saints are often depicted holding palms - a sign of their victory over death.

This victory is not a conquering hero - Caesar or another - entering a vanquished town. Little do they know it, but this victory will be of another order all together.

 

And what about this cry of ‘save us!’? Perhaps on this score too the crowds thought that Jesus would gather a guerrilla army and put the gentile roman thugs to flight?

Here too, the fight was to be of a different kind.

 

We know how this story will go, they did not. But nonetheless we take their places today, here in Jerusalem.

 

The parish church has always been Jerusalem for those keeping HW. English churches are built for it. Some even have Easter sepulchres purpose built by the altar, used only once at this time of year. Today, we have entered Jerusalem.

 

The journey we will go on this week, the liturgies we will live out, have largely come to us through the centuries thanks to one woman. Egeria we call her. Sometimes she’s called Sylvia. She went to Jerusalem in the 300s, and she went through Holy Week and Easter with the Church there, and she kept a diary. Her account of how Christians marked HW, going the journey with Jesus is what formed the liturgies that have become the practice of the church the world over. From the Jerusalem, to every little local Jerusalem, where palms are waved and Hosannas sung, where feet are washed and gardens of agony watched in, where crosses are venerated with a kiss, where Holy Fires and Paschal Candles are lit to illuminate the darkest of nights, and light the way for chant and rejoicing. All thanks to Egeria.

 

So, we will do our part. We will come to Jerusalem and meet Jesus here.

 

And when we do, we know that our hosannas are not for an earthly general, but the one who has saved us from sin and death, who has rescued and restored the beauty of our human calling, who has sealed the promise that Love will win the day, and eternal life, not endless dark death, is our destiny. His victory is of a different kind, it is the victory over separation between us and God, the victory over the lies of hopelessness and meaninglessness.

 

RS Thomas The Kingdom:

 

It’s a long way off but inside it

There are quite different things going on:

Festivals at which the poor man

Is king and the consumptive is

Healed; mirrors in which the blind look

At themselves and love looks at them

Back; and industry is for mending

The bent bones and the minds fractured

By life. It’s a long way off, but to get

There takes no time and admission

Is free, if you will purge yourself

Of desire, and present yourself with

Your need only and the simple offering

Of your faith, green as a leaf.

 

Passion Sunday Sermon

by Luke Seeley,

member of the congregation and Guildhall School of Music and Drama Jazz Student 

 

My mother says that God works in mysterious ways, and that he works through us. When this happens, we don't necessarily know it, or know why, although the people around us might. What is also true is that when this happens, we are improvising, or seemingly so.

I study jazz at guildhall, and Improvising, as you may or may not know, is one of the fundamental, if not the defining characteristic of jazz music. Generally, in a performance, the musicians will begin with some written material, often a song from a musical, called the head, and then they will improvise a new melody over the chord progression of that song. In order to do this, the musicians need to know what jazzers call the ‘language’. The language is basically the notes that you might play on each chord type, often called (when strung together) licks, or phrases, as well as, crucially, are the rules about what phrases you can play over what chords, and what you can't play. The progression and development of jazz improvisation occurs due to people taking these lets call them ‘rules’, and finding ways to expand or manipulate or just straight up break them.

This is basically what happens in the progression of social behaviours and views in life. As you grow up, you learn the rules of engagement and of intervention, when it's appropriate to say or not say something, and when, in particular, it is or isn't appropriate to do something. The context in which I am talking about doing something for now is in the aid of an individual in need, or a cause. By this, I mean that we all know there are people in need in the world, the hungry, the poor, the sick, those affected by war at home, and we all know there are ways in which we might be able to help them, indeed that we probably should help them. But, there are also reasons why we shouldnt engage with these causes, and these reasons often seem great enough to stop us engaging. These reasons are often the social rules that bind us to stay in step with the rest of society in order not to cause unrest. The rules that stop me writing an angry email to the people who run my course lack diversity, or that stop a person publicly speaking out about a controversial political matter. As time passes, people become gradually more open to ignoring these barriers and openly engaging in the causes. By this, those rules slowly disappear.

In jazz there are some clear examples. When charlie parker played the first be bop lines beside dizzy gillespie in 1942, the pre-existing genre said no. The trad and swing world rejected him as his music became less danceable, challenging the listener with the lines he played, and moving the focus to the music itself rather than its function . Also, avante garde recordings of the 1960s have been rejected by the mainstream for their disturbing sounds and themes. One of these is Max Roach’s Freedom Now suite, which was released as a response to the state of the civil rights movement, specifically the Greensboro Sit ins, in 1960. The third track Tryptic features Abbey Lincoln screaming as a shocking musical and spiritual effect. This is shocking and disturbing to listen to even today, so in 1960 it was like music from a different planet. Over time, though, it has become viewed more and more as important and artistically valid, a lot of jazzers now say it's extremely powerful and important.

In the bible, Jesus faces rules and reactions of the similar sentiment, although in his case, the rules he had to overcome are those of Jewish law, for example not working on the sabbath - he breaks that - and not resurrecting people from the dead - we heard in our gospel reading today. By these examples, we can clearly see that the gospel is telling us to act for what we know is right, even (arguably especially) if the rules of our social engagement and culture tell us not to.

An example of this in my own life has been the work that my mother does. She is a vicar, and her vocation has led her to put the needs of others before her own, so much so

that often either my dad or my sister or I have to tell her to be a little more selfish in order to take care of herself and not go mad.

An example of this vocation outside of her work responsibilities is the help that she gives to a Kurdish Syrian family, made refugees by the war in syria. The dad is partially sighted and the mother struggles with physical health. Also, the parents’ English is not very good. This means the communication between my mum and the parents mostly takes place through the two sons in the family, one of whom is 15, the other 11. This is not an easy environment in which to work, and causes her quite a lot of stress and frustration. It also means she doesn't really get any free time, and that she sees less of her family than she otherwise might, but that's not what matters. What she cares about is that these people need help and that she can help, so she does. I'd argue that in that way she lives by Jesus’ example.

A musician's vocation is also related. As I said earlier, one looks at the rules of the music, particularly those that modern pedagogy imposes, and tries to expand their openness, their inclusivity, and tries to speak up when something is old fashioned or not inclusive. In group improvisation, there is sometimes, when the music is really happening, a sense that something greater is going on than just the notes being played. To a christian musician, it can be explained as the presence of the spirit, like in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, as is often the vibe in jazz improvisation. Spiritual jazz makes up a significant portion of progressive and modern jazz. I believe all jazz and all music and indeed all art is spiritual, whether for the artist or the audience. Like the acts of Jesus in the gospels, it all happens to demonstrate God's glory.

I’d love to talk about parallels between jazz and John's gospel and the work of Jesus all day, but I'm sure we'd all like to get home for lunch, so let me just leave you with this if I may. I believe Jesus sets us an example in the gospel, which is to ignore the barriers that our society puts up, and to act with courage and kindness, in love, whenever, where ever, for whomever.

 

5th March 4pm Choral Evensong Lent 2, by Fr Jack

 

It’s Lent 2, so you’ve already had time to make and break at least 3 Lenten fasts. Booze lasted a few days, but then fell, so that was fine until that bar of chocolate or cheeky cigarette last Saturday night.

 

Or, maybe even better, perhaps you’ve taken something up for Lent: reading the Bible every day. Ten minutes silent prayer each day. Going to church midweek. How are they going?

 

If you’re anything like me you easily get distracted, tempted or just tired. Just like the Israelites in the first lesson - we have everything we need. God has given us everything. And yet we are tired of life’s journey. We’re tired and tiresome.

 

The Exodus journey is all of our journey. Exodus  has always been for Christian and Hebrew the most wonderful image for our life’s pilgrimage home to God. 

 

And it’s that journey Jesus speaks of in the second lesson. The pilgrimage of life. The cost of discipleship. The reality of being a human being who lives for truth, goodness and beauty - doing life God’s way. 

 

The cost is the difference between living, and living a plastic pretend non-life. One is friendship with Jesus, and the way of the cross and the Resurrection. The other is the lies we tell ourselves and others: of ego and fear and inhumanity.

 

And on that pilgrim way we, like the Hebrews, will have troubles. Theirs were snakes. Mine tend to be selfishness, fear, ego, greed. We all have our snakes. Lent is a good time to identify yours.

And just like the Israelites, when those falsehoods assert themselves, we have somewhere to turn, somewhere to look. We look upon the One who has been raised up. The One lifted before our eyes on the cross - who has taken all fear and greed, all ego, and separation and even death itself, and who has born those wounds, and brought them out of darkness and into the light of a new and unending dawn. His wounds, our wounds that Jesus carries, are made glorious in the resurrection light of Easter. 

 

As we journey thought Lent, and through life, just as the first lesson says, we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus. As snakes squirm, when the way is long and hard, to not despair of goodness, truth and beauty, to not give up on being human, of being the people God has called us to be, to take up the cross of life, to fix our eyes on Christ. In scripture and sacrament, in private prayer and shared worship, in Lenten devotions, and every other day of the year, to look upon the One who is lifted up before us, and tread on towards home, and the joy that awaits in the company of the saints.

5th March Lent 2 10am Parish Eucharist

 

St Giles’ has a lovely tradition of God at Work sermons in Lent. A number of ‘ordinary’ (whatever that means!) members of our community are invited to speak about how God is/has been at work in their day to day life. Every Christian has a ministry, of many different shapes and colours and types.

 

Pat kindly agreed to be interviewed by Fr Jack for this week’s God at Work sermon. Here is a transcript:

 

JN: I’d like to start with Sunday school, having seen the children go out this morning to Sunday Club, because you were sent to Sunday school too. Is that right?

 

PS: it is right.

 

JN: can you tell us about it?

 

PS: well it’s a very long time ago. I was seven years old. I was still a Methodist and our parents sent my brother and I to Sunday School every Sunday, and I always thought it was to get rid of us! Because they weren’t churchy. I can remember going to Sunday school and I supposer that was really when I first heard about God. Although I must say as a very little girl I was taught to say my prayers, which I did, every night; my mother was always sat with me. But that was the end of it: we never talked about church, and church didn’t really come into our lives. It has been in our lives, but then no more.

 

JN: I think that experience is very similar for a lot of people in this country, that more children went to Sunday School that grown-ups went to Church. Church was seen as something that children did, and that even families where God wasn’t necessarily a big feature of life, children learnt to say prayers.

 

PS: that’s right.

 

JN: One of the changes, I think, in your life time is that those two first things - Sunday School and daily prayers - have just stopped existing for many people.

 

PS: Yes.

 

JN: So, did you feel like you first knew God through Sunday School? Or did that happen somewhere else?

 

PS: That happened much later on. I never thought about God, really. I just knew He was there, because I was saying these prayers to Him. But I never thought about there being anything after we die. I can remember when my first grandfather died, and I was absolutely shaken. I couldn’t believe that he could die. I knew people did die, but not people in my family. They just didn’t do it. That, I think, was an eye-opener. But no, we just really didn’t think very much about God at all. Which is hard to believe now.

 

JN: Why is that hard to believe now?

 

PS: well, because I and my family, my children, we all know that God is there. And we brought the children up to believe in God and we’ve always taken them to Church. And, yes, and so, God is very much in our lives now.

 

JN: You said when we were speaking a little in preparation for this conversation that you’ve lived very much longer than you expected. 

 

PS: Yes. I’ve lived far too long. And I keep saying to God, not quite every day, but nearly every day: ‘For goodness sake, why am I still here?’. I can’t do anything for anybody, and I just feel a waste of space. 

And then I think, well, what am I doing up here? [preaching this sermon slot today!] So, God clearly has something up His sleeve.

JN: [laughs] well, yes! Maybe there is!

And you’ve spoken to me very generously about the fact that obviously you’re not running marathons or, I don’t know, packing boxes in a warehouse to send somewhere - so those kind of activities have taken less of a place than when you were a busy mum to a family and wife to Keith. And now prayer has a bigger place in your life instead of those things, or alongside those things. Is that…?

 

PS: That’s right. Because physically I really can’t do much, and so when I say to God, you know, ‘what on earth am I doing here?’, I always know: well you can pray. And so that’s what I try and do. I pray, well, just everything.

 

JN: Thank you. Thank you on behalf of all of us doing that, because if this place is going to mean or do anything it’ll be because all the different parts of Body are performing their function, just as St Paul says.

 

PS: Well, I certainly pray for the family of St Giles’ every day. And, well, I just pray for everything I can. And I read the paper - which I suppose is a mistake in some ways - and so my prayer life gets bigger and bigger. You all know what that means!

 

JN: And if you look back upon your many years are there moments or things that you can especially see God at work in, or a sense of vocation?

 

PS: Well, yes, erm, I do remember when God (as they say) hit me. Or I hit God. I have never really decided whether God found me or I found God, but I know one of the two things happened. I was about sixteen and I was away at school, and I was climbing a staircase at school. The staircase was packed, there were girls rushing up and girls rushing down, and I was rushing up and I was stuck against a wall. And all of a sudden I had this very strange feeling. I don’t know what it was, but I just stood there. And I eventually went upstairs; and when I did get upstairs I never felt the same again. I felt different ever since that happened. And then as I’ve grown older, perhaps that was me finding God. And so, you know, I’m a very simple person. That’s all I can tell you, something happened to me, and I’m sure it was God. And I try to life my life according to what I know He would expect me to live. And here I am still struggling on.

 

JN: You once said to me that you’ve never had a Damascus Road experience.

 

PS: Not really.

 

JN: Which is true in the sense that you didn’t fall off a horse, or hear the voice of Jesus saying ‘Pat, Pat why are you on these stairs?’ or anything like that.

 

PS: No.

 

JN: I think that speaks to a lot of our experience: that some of us will have had huge conversion moments, or moments in our life of startling clarity.

 

PS: Yes.

 

JN: Many of us won’t. It’s just that we, sort of, meandered through life and God seemed to be in the mix of it. So thank you for sharing that experience that is at once very simple but also very profound, because I suspect that chimes in different ways with lots of our different experiences. Lots of people come to faith through becoming a parent, or through bereavement, or lots of things - that was just a moment that could easily have been missed if you hadn’t noticed it.

 

PS: And there have been times when I’ve nearly lost it.

 

JN: Yes. How have you held onto it?

 

PS: I don’t know.

The big time when I really thought I had lost it was when Keith died. In such terrible circumstances.

 

JN: Keith died during COVID didn’t he?

 

PS: All by himself. 

Even now, it’s nearly four years on, but I still can’t get it out of my head. And that’s when I very nearly did think, ‘oh well, the whole thing is rubbish’, because if there was a God He would have never let this happen. And there you are. 

He doesn’t let it happen; but it happens in our world. So, I managed to keep hold of it. And, yes, as I say, I keep plodding on.

 

JN: And you had a long and happy marriage with Keith?

 

PS: Oh yes. Very, very long, and - we had our ups and downs, but I think everybody does - but it was very, very happy.

 

JN: And you’ve spoke about how you felt God at work in your married life, when you were working as a team?

 

PS: Yes. We were. When I met Keith I met him in Church, so I knew that he was a Christian, and we began to find that we had a lot in common. We thought the same things, and we were very keen on putting the world to rights. We thought between us that we could do it

 

JN: Did you manage?

 

PS: Yes, we didn’t manage that bit! We’ve always been very close in our Church, I mean Keith has done a great deal in all the churches we have been connected with, and that’s been very many. I think we’ve moved house 14 times in our married life, which, you know, is an awful lot. And each time, wherever we’ve gone, we’ve been very involved with the Church. And so, yes, we’ve had a long and happy life, and we’ve been close to God. Our children have grown. They are very, very precious to us. And we’re just an ordinary family.

 

JN: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. It is hugely enriching for all of us. Thank you.

12 February 2nd Sunday before Lent, by Fr Jack                                             

Genesis 1 1 - 2 3, Romans 8 18-25, St Matthew 6 25-34

 

In the beginning...

 

Our readings today are a radical cry to care for the earth - not simply for our own survival, but because it is holy. It is indeed 'groaning' as St Paul writes, the flowers are clothed by God, as Jesus says. And yet, as Jesus says, because of our insecurity we destroy what we have been given.

 

But most of all I want to turn to Genesis One today and see what happens. What a glorious text!

 

The first thing we have to do is suspend our assumptions. So much of what we assume about Genesis is not actually there - rather it is the spin put on it by commentators in recent centuries: it isn’t in the text, and it isn’t in our ancient Christian tradition. There is much cod-theology and it needs calling out.

 

This risks being quite a stodgy romp through Genesis, apologies. This sermon will appear on our website. It’s a lot to take in aurally.

 

‘In the beginning’ בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

 

The rabbis asked themselves why it starts with a b ‘bet’ rather than a ‘alef’? Because God is the first, God was before, so even this beginning is not the alef, but the bet. Word and number games sparkle in the Scriptures from the very beginning.

 

So, the seven days. Seven is the number of perfection, infinity. That’s why when Jesus says to St Peter that he must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven, it is hyperbolic word game saying ‘you must never stop’ (St Matthew 18.21). So these seven days too are infinite, implying the whole of time taken to create. Indeed, their infinity not only accords with modern scientific projections of an infinite universe, it also suggests that God is still creating, still forming and brining into being - and isn’t that spot on? Every moment is a gift from God, an ongoing creation. All this comes from Genesis, and charges everything with Divine life. As one liturgy has it: not ‘Blessed be God, who made heaven and earth’ but ‘Blessed be God who is making heaven and earth’. 

 

The seven days of creation tell us that we are still being made: through prayer, relationship, through living in our minds and bodies and in God’s world.

 

And of course, this Genesis account is surprisingly like-minded with the best modern conceptions of macro evolution. Far from being a choice between the two. The world has and is coming to be, from a Divine source over an infinite time scale. The big bang and all that follows sits very well with Genesis.

 

In Genesis, too, we find a God who delights in everything that comes to be. And God (who does not need a rest, being God) even creates rest. Not as a means to facilitate more work, but because rest (simply being) is holy and integral to everything. What a wonderful truth, and something we in our culture could do with remembering.

 

Let’s go back and see what some great minds of the Early Church made of Genesis, before plenty of subsequent confusion.

 

Some patristic sources tell us that this is not a literal account not because seven days is too short, but too long. Surely God would create in an instant if that was the idea? Here we find that God is not a big man in the sky who waves a magic wand and makes. We are not God’s Lego set. God separates light and darkness, land and water, and holds them in being. This is a much more orthodox Christian theology: God is not a big magic man. God is the one who sustains, and holds all being in being, in God’s self.

 

All this may sound obvious, but it has huge knock-on implications for our theology of prayer, big questions like suffering, heaven and hell, and what life is for. God holds all things in being in God’s self - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Origen, writing in the early 200s tells us that ‘in the beginning’, ‘beginning’ is not a time, but a person, the source, the beginning: In God were the heavens and earth made. In the life of Father, Son and Holy Spirt, creation came to be.

(Christ the ‘Alpha and Omega’ Rev 1.8 and 22.13)

 

St Basil the Great says that the Genesis account ‘passed over in silence [the making of] many things, such as water, air, and fire, out of which [created beings] are produced’. So here, he is suggesting an evolution of creation, formed out of different combinations of the basic building blocks of matter. All this in the middle 300s!

 

St Clement of Alexandria tells us in the late 100s and early 200s that Genesis is not a technical account of creation, it is a theological meditation on the truth that God is the source of everything. 

This is more significant than it might sound. Lots of early explanations of how we came to be do not assume one God who is the source of all. Often gods turn up later, or parts of the cosmos come in other ways. The Fathers and Mothers of the Church here are telling us that the point of these seven days is not what some mad Southern Baptist might suggest - the point is what they tell us of God and us.

 

Genesis is our creation myth, and by that I mean it is true. I am not going to use words like ‘literal’ or ‘metaphor’ - those words are simply not up to this task. True in the ancient orthodox Christian holding of it: Scripture in relationship with reason and Tradition. Genesis is a radical and life-giving gift.

 

The Genesis story is primordial. In a way, perhaps it is the story in which all other stories, find their story-ness. Just as Christ is the one true human, in which we each day are finding our humanity, and will in the end, find the fullness of life.

 

Sunday is the last and first day of the week. Here, together, the seven days of creation are still unfolding; and God sees that it is good. Let us rest in him, and rejoice. Amen.

 

Some accompanying notes/thoughts from the sermon:

 

Philo Judaeus, a Jewish Writer (20 BC – 50 AD) said:

“And he says that the world was made in six days, not because the Creator stood in need of a length of time (for it is natural that God should do everything at once, not merely by uttering a command, but by even thinking of it); but because the things created required arrangement; and number is akin to arrangement”

 

Philo Judaeus is explaining that the days of Genesis are not 24 hour periods of time, but they are a structure for us to understand the act of creation.

 

Several of the interpretations I used are in this little summary article:

https://publicorthodoxy.org/2018/12/04/genesis-theology/

 

Also important but fell to my editorial pencil is this anecdote on the proper use of the term ‘myth’, and then a related article I have found:

 

The story, as it has been told to me, is that CS Lewis (then still a non-believer) and his friend JRR Tolkien (a devout RC) were walking in Christchurch Meadows debating life, the universe, and everything. Lewis said something like ‘but can’t you see it (the Christian faith) is all a myth?’. ‘Yes’, replies Tolkien, ‘of course it is! It is the one true myth! That’s the whole point!’

 

http://www.transpositions.co.uk/tolkien-lewis-true-myth-of-the-gospel/

 

Also important, but edited out because of length, are the presence of TWO accounts of creation in Genesis: 

Genesis 1 and Genesis 2!

 

https://biologos.org/articles/what-is-the-relationship-between-the-creation-accounts-in-genesis-1-and-2

5 February Choral Evensong for Septuagesima (3rd Sunday before Lent) by Fr Jack

 

Whenever the OT goes smite-y I find my inner eye rolling itself. Here we go - I know what’s coming now. I wonder if that has conditioned me to only see the smite-y bits? But today we are pulled up short by the fabulous social conscience of the OT (and there’s plenty of it if you care to look) - you have sold ‘righteousness for silver, the poor for a pair of shoes.’ Wow. Now there’s a reading for Evensong during London Fashion Week and for the Board of any number of multi national clothes companies to hear.

 

Every evening when we sing or say Magnificat at Prayers we are reminded of why it all gets smite-y in the first place. Our greed and stupidity ruins everything and then we call it God’s fault when disaster happens. 

 

And on the smiting… I was pulled up short by a younger member of the congregation the other day who said that they came to church for smiting. Don’t apologise, or tidy it away, they said. The world is full of violence and injustice, our liturgies especially in the OT Lesson and the recitation of the psalms force us daily to face up to that. We in the West export our poverty and wars and sickness and death into places out of sight and mind so easily. These prayers and scriptures wisely don’t let us off so easily.

 

And again to St Paul’s Letter in the NT.

‘Deceitful lusts’. Here we go… St Paul only ever seems to talk about sodomy and adultery. Or again, is it that those are just the only words I hear? My mind fixes them in foot high neon.

 

Look again. ‘Be kind and tender-hearted’. ‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger’. 'Give no room for the devil' - that surely is the Pauline equivalent of those t shirts a few years ago ‘not today Satan’. Well, quite right too. And what’s more, the sexualisation of everyone around us, objectification and ab-use through pornography and celebrity cultures - everything and everyone being only worth whatever I can use them for in this moment - all these things do diminish us daily. And Paul always lists sexual sins amongst economic and social sins - greed, cheating, anger, lying; they are equally listed as destructive. It’s only my hearing the underlines the one and not the other.

 

Todays readings begin the shake us up as we head towards Lent. Lent: the Springtime of the soul. It is time to put the rubbish out. If your internal cupboards are as full of rubbish and confusion, and things you never should have bought in the first place as mine, then today’s readings are spot on. Holy Scripture’s ancient wisdom is a daily gift for us if we care to attend to it.

 

I’ll leave the last word to the Psalmist:

‘put your trust in the Lord’ and you will find a joy and gladness that exceeds the increase of ‘corn and wine and oil’…

‘stand in awe and sin not, commune with your own heart and in you chamber [in your bed, a place of intimacy and rest] and be still…

 

February 5th: 3rd Sunday before Lent by Fr Jack                                              

Isaiah 58 1-12, 1 Corinthians 2 1-16, St Matthew 5 13-20

 

Last Sunday we kept Candlemas ‘A light to lighten the gentiles… the glory of Israel’. Our preacher, The Revd Steven Cooper of Wesley’s Chapel, sent us out as lights into the world. This Monday, we celebrated the Eucharist in our Parish School, St Luke’s C of E Primary. At the end of the Eucharist a child from each class very carefully carried a candle, leading their class back to lessons.

 

Jesus calls US lights of the world in today’s Gospel. As we are told at Baptism: ’shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father’. We are to give flavour like salt, and light, wherever we are. It is an inspiring mission. Picture the difference between overcooked, watery school dinners veg, and fresh, seasoned, greens full of bite and flavour. It is a wonderful image, to be Christ’s salt and light. 

 And we never do so under our own power, it is by relationship with God, by grace, by prayer, by being plugged in to God that we can be salt and light. If we try to do it by our own power, we will soon be disappointed. By coming back to the bedrock of salt - God at the heart of our lives - we are given the grace to live out our baptism. You can see already that the lectionary is pointing us towards Lent (the springtime of the soul) and the ways in which we might enliven our Spiritual selves for the coming year.

 

And that’s when the poor pharisees come in, in today’s Gospel. I feel sorry for the pharisees. They keep the law, give to the needy, fulfil their role in society with diligence. They’re probably the kind of people who would be excellent members of the Board at work, or Common Councillors. You would definitely trust them to babysit your children or look after your mother, and yet they get such a rough deal!

 

Once again, Jesus confounds our social mores and turns our world view upside down. He is sending us out as salt and light (okay…) but our righteousness is to exceed that of the exceedingly righteous and upstanding pharisees?

Clearly, righteousness cannot mean what we think it means!? We’ll come to that in a moment, but we have to go back to today’s OT lesson first.

 

It’s fabulous, for a start. Don’t fast and then fight. Don’t imagine your depriving yourself of the odd honey cake pleases The Almighty!

The fasting God wants is economic justice, love for strangers, dismantling oppressive structures, and feeding the hungry without pointing any fingers.

 

The pharisees lived in a world with everything in boxes. Isaiah is asking us to live in a world transformed.

 

The Psalmist today bids us delight in the Lord’s commands; and here is that command: Righteousness is found in abundance, not measure. The question is not, ‘what is due here?’ The question is ‘how much can you take?’

 

So now we’ve got somewhere: righteousness cannot mean what many think it means, if the Pharisees haven’t got it. 

 

In St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians today the apostle tells us that we do not live by human wisdom (all those boxes, and sensible social conventions, like the Pharisees, and plenty of people today) but ‘by the Spirit’. The Spirit, which appears as foolishness, is actually real righteous and real judgement. We are told it is the ‘mind of Christ’. In this upside-down world, where the righteous are not righteous, but the loving. The is the law that Jesus says will never pass away. Where those who have much, give it away. Where the law is not a matter of careful prescription but abundance of grace and humanity. Where flavour and light are the yard-sticks we live by. 

 The pharisees worked very hard to do as they had been told. But this Way that Jesus opens up is freely open, and in some ways much harder than following difficult rulesRules are easy, even if they’re difficult, if you know what I mean. At least you know where you stand. With Christ? The life of grace is a glorious, terrifying, love-filled, work of the Spirit. It is a lifetime spent with Jesus in Prayer, Scripture, Sacrament and friendship, digging down into His salt, basking in His light, so that we might be salty and fiery too.

 

The image that comes to mind is a shot of tequila. I don’t know why, I don’t even like tequila. But there is something in the fiery liquid, and the salt (I have no idea what the theological value of the lemon is). We are to be God’s tequila shots.

 

Righteousness (and the Scriptures are talking of salvation itself!) it turns out is not a matter of keeping of the rules, but the quality of our love, of our relationship with God. Today’s Scriptures show us that the quality of our relationship with God will determine everything: it will define our lives, shape our souls, and mould our minds and hearts. Because of our relationship with Jesus, day by day and decade by decade, we are fiery and salty.

29 January Feast of Candlemas by the Revd Steven Cooper, Minster at Wesley’s Chapel

Readings: Malachi 3:1-5, Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40

 

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.

 

Simeon, as a righteous and devout individual—someone who would have been well versed in the Hebrew scriptures—when he came guided by the Spirit to the temple that day, he would doubtless have been reminded of those words of the prophet Malachi.  Words which were written probably in the time following the Exile; when the people of God were beginning to return to the land from which they had been exiled, but still really in a state of disarray, still very much subject to the rule of foreign powers—no longer a people with their own sense of autonomy and control over their affairs that they had once had.  They lived for many years in a state of effective oppression, of injustice, of lacking their own agency.  And so Simeon, by the time Jesus came, had been part of this people awaiting many years the restoration of that which had been lost: the restoration of peace, of justice, of the possibility of the people to live freely.

 

And now, guided by the Spirit, he comes to the temple and he beholds what he clearly sees to be the fulfilment of that promise, captured in those words of the prophet Malachi: “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple… he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”  These words speak of an awesome and transformative power, that Simeon beholds in this child Jesus: the power to turn around all that which has been thrown into disarray over the past years; the power to bring healing and restoration and purity, in a place that has been sullied by violence and oppression.

 

And so Simeon declares: “Master, you are now dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

You are now letting your servant depart in peace.” Simeon has recognized the promise of true peace made real in this child Jesus Christ.  And these words then have echoed through the life of the Church for centuries since: at every service of vespers or evensong we hear these words of the Nunc dimittis recounted, made our own: “Lord let us now depart in peace.”

 

And yet, clearly, we just have to look at a newspaper any day of the week at this time, to see that we do not live in a world of peace.  The violence in Ukraine, most especially, seems to make a mockery of these words.  How do we reconcile this recognition of Simeon some two thousand years ago, declaring peace to have come in the child Jesus, with the fact that our world is so clearly very far from that peace? That power, represented in those words of Malachi, that Simeon saw realised in the child—where is that? How do we recognise that as true? How long must we wait, for the peace that Simeon declared to have arrived?

 

Well, the answer to this is captured, in a sense, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews that we heard.  God indeed sent Christ into the world as one who was to be a bringer of peace; but Jesus did not fulfil that task in himself alone: he started something of which we are a part.  In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Since the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death.”

 

We are the children.  We are the ones who as we come before this table and partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, enter into the Body of Christ.  We become part of Christ’s own work—of peace, of restoration—in the world: that which Simeon beheld and celebrated that day.  We do not look for the day when we may say, “we are now departing in peace.” We are the peace. We are called, as the Body of Christ, to be that peace in the world: to be the light that shines as a light to a world wrapped in darkness and violence, in which peace is longed for.  We, as the Body of Christ, are called to be that light, to be that peace—because the Spirit of God, in Christ, is doing that: is alive in us as Christ’s Body, as Christ’s children as Christ’s family.

 

One of the last times I preached here was on the Sunday immediately following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia last February—now coming up for nearly a year of violence and occupation and miltary barbarity in that nation.  What I recalled back then was that this violence, this intention that is so evil in its character, will not prevail: because God has come into the world in Christ, and is alive in us and in people of good will the world over. 

 

Because of that, the promise of peace is assured: it is being made real, in us, in the world; in all whom the spirit of Christ inhabits.  This violence which the state of Russia under Vladimir Putin is seeking to pursue in Ukraine will not prevail; because ultimately peace is alive, and the promise of restoration is happening, through the people of God, and serves as a light to our world.

A few weeks ago in one of the interviews that Prince Harry undertook in relation to the publication of his autobiography, he spoke of his desire and that of the Duchess of Sussex to be reconciled with the Royal Family; and he said in this interview that he very much hoped that that would come to pass, and more than that, he saw the possibility that that reconciliation could be an inspiration to others: he spoke of his aspiration that it might have a kind of “ripple effect” within the world, if that were to happen.  He acknowledged this might be a lofty ambition.  And yet I think there is something noble in that aspiration, that is evocative of our calling as the people of God in Jesus Christ: we are called, as we come to this table, to allow Christ into our hearts—to think of those candles, that we lit a moment ago, as representing a fire that Christ lights within us, that drives us towards work of restoration and peace and reconciliation in all that we do, wherever the opportunities present themselves.  And we are called to aspire that that, too, may have a kind of ripple effect in our world.

 

This is the way in which the peace that Simeon proclaimed, when he saw Jesus brought into the temple, is being and will be realised in our world.  We are the peace.  We are the ones called, through the inhabitation of Jesus Christ in our own hearts and lives, to become the light that is a light to the world.  And so, as we come before this table, as we receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ today: let us once more welcome Jesus into our hearts, invite Jesus to light that fire within us; to accept the calling upon us to be people of peace, that may spread and bring light to our world.

22 January Epiphany 3 by the Revd Alex Norris

 

Isaiah tells us in our Old Testament reading this morning that, ‘The

people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’, or as Matthew

tells us, for those who have not been walking, and maybe are more

sedentary ‘the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light’. So

whether out and about, or at home with your feet up, we have all seen a

great light.

 

When you think of the concept of light, what images or emotions does it

conjure up for you?

 

I am not sure whether you know what I am referring to if I refer to a

proximity switch; for those who do not know, basically they are a clever

device which enables a switch to be activated if someone comes near it.

They are heavily used in security, so for example, many properties have

floodlights that come on if you go near them, I am sure you have

probably activated one yourself when walking in the dark.

 

Where am I going with all this I hear you ask!?

 

Where I live the landlord has been putting in proximity lights in all the

corridors, so the lights are only on when people are under them, so

when you open your front door you are faced with a completely dark

corridor, until you step out into the corridor when the light above you

miraculously switches on. I have found it really interesting as I go from

initially feeling a little vulnerable and unsure to feeling reassured and

safe when the lighting comes on, and the change of emotions happens

in a heartbeat, such is the power of light.

 

I have compared notes with some of my neighbours who feel the same

about this, some feel very weary when coming out of their flats, and

there has already been the odd theft of deliveries left outside front doors

and other antisocial behaviour. They really do not like the wall of

darkness they face when they step out of their front door or the lift. And

of course, what do we combat darkness with, but light. Whoever we are,

I think we can all agree darkness represents danger, uncertainty, risk. It

encourages robbery and theft, unlawful behaviour, as you can get away

with a lot ‘under the cover of darkness’.

 

In fiction whenever there is something dodgy going on, or when

something bad is obviously going to happen, darkness is used. ‘It was a

dark and stormy night….’

 

Darkness, that most sinister of concepts, yet so common to all of us, and

then light, the simplest of solutions to this problem. They are concepts

we all know, understand and experience every day of our lives.

 

That is what makes it the most brilliantly powerful image numerous

books in the Bible use for describing Christ; ‘the light of the world’. This

light represents honesty, things being uncovered, safety, assurance,

openness and also, I think optimism. And so it should, as Christ has

come among us to save us. Emmanuel or ‘God with us’. As the prologue

of John, which we read at our Carol Service each year reminds us, ‘The

light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’.

 

So the people who have walked (or sat) in darkness have now seen a

great light, and that light has come among us. We must remember that

Isaiah is writing to a destitute people, a time of political turmoil, great

uncertainty, the destruction of the temple, a people without hope, who

needed to hear something remotely positive and Isaiah gives this hope

through his prophecy. And as he did then, I would hope he does today.

 

In the Gospel this morning, Matthew continues to describe more of what

this light will mean for us, he says ‘...for those who sat in the region and

shadow of death, light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to

proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ It was like

a turning point for humanity.

 

Light. Light everywhere.

 

Jesus went on to recruit his first followers, his disciples, and he does this

today, asking us to follow him. To leave what we are doing to follow him.

There should be nothing more important in our lives than Christ, who

teaches us, and ultimately saves us.

 

So I would ask that we all let the light of Christ into our lives, and I pray

that it comes into the wider world, where seemingly darkness abounds

and light is so desperately needed. You cannot fight darkness with

darkness, you need light, and fortunately, through Christ we have that

light, which should give us the confidence we need in life.

 

So as we start to turn our sights toward Lent, and Jesus' time in the

wilderness, a time when we also prepare ourselves through Lent for

Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, we will come to experience

darkness again, especially when Christ dies on the cross. The sacrifice

that is made for all of us, whoever we are, wherever we are. But again,

this darkness has an end. It always will. And when there is darkness in

our lives which sometimes might feel perpetual, remember that there is

always light around the corner. We just need to trust in God that he will

not abandon us; and with Christ we get the proof that he will not do that.

 

So as we come to the Altar this morning to share in the bread and wine

together; the body and blood given for us, by the Christ who came to

dwell among us, for him only to be betrayed and brutally killed by us,

let’s be grateful for all that Christ brings to the world, the light he sheds

among all of us, that light which is so desperately needed in our world

today.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Thursday 19 January, Lunch Time Service at Wesley’s Chapel with our Ecumenical partners from Jewin Welsh Church, St Joseph’s Wesley’s Chapel and Leysian Mission and St Giles’ Cripplegate. Sermon by Richard Brunt, Minister of Jewin Welsh Church.  

 

“And what does the Lord require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?” (Micah 6:8)

 

When I went to China to live and work, I was only able to take a few books with me. I was reading at the time the diaries of Kenneth Williams edited by Russell Davies, and so it was that Kenneth Williams came to China with me.

 

I was working with the Amity Foundation and Keith Riglin, known to many of you, came out to China to visit and gave me recordings from the BBC comedy series ‘Around the Horne’ featuring Kenneth Williams, so there is a generation of Chinese English teachers who know all about Jules and Sandy and Rambling Syd Rumpo.

Christmas and the New Year have come and gone and as usual there have been plenty of opportunities to watch the ‘Carry On’ films.

 

‘Carry on Cleo’ is one of the best known of these films and includes Kenneth Williams playing Julius Caesar as his bodyguard attempts to assassinate him, and declaiming:

Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

‘Infamy’ is defined by Oxford Languages as ‘an evil or wicked act’: "one of history's greatest infamies" and "a day that will live in infamy" are examples given of the use of the word.

 

Christians all over the world join together to pray for Christian unity during this week and next week (18 -25 January). This year the churches of Minneapolis have drawn up the material for the Week of Prayer for Unity, and that in the dark shadow of the infamous murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

 

We are asked to consider how to promote racial justice at all levels of society, and we remember that this year we are also commemorating thirty years since the infamous murder of Stephen Lawrence in London.

 

The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020 brought people out onto the streets during a pandemic; a global wave of solidarity making it impossible to ignore the deadly consequences of institutional racism and the power imbalances that deny human dignity.

 

On 22 April 1993 a teenager was murdered on the streets of London while waiting for a bus. Stephen Lawrence was murdered simply because he was black. His murder revealed the ugliness of racism, and this was compounded by the systemic failures of the police to bring Stephen’s murderers to justice.

 

The theme of the first part of the sixth chapter of the Book of the Prophet Micah is ‘God’s Requirement’. At the beginning of the chapter, God takes his people to court:

Hear what the Lord says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice…for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.

 

In verse 6 there is a change of scene as an unidentified individual chastened by God’s indictment offers a series of responses in order to set things right:

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?

This is followed by God’s reaction in verse 8:

And what does the Lord require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?

In this single sentence the prophet Micah sums up the legal, ethical and spiritual requirements of religion. The words are very similar to those of Isaiah chapter 1, verse 17, ‘Do good; seek justice’ – the overall theme for this Week of Prayer.

These requirements are not abstract. In effect God is saying: ‘It is not what I want, but whom I want, that counts’:

 

The message of Dr Nicola Brady, General Secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is not so much a message about what is wanted but about what kind of people are wanted; a message to us as individuals, churches, communities, nations helping us to recognise where we have gone wrong and to commit ourselves to working together to put things right:

 

As we join with other Christians around the world for this year’s Week of Prayer we pray that our hearts will be open to see and hear the many ways in which racism continues to destroy lives, and to discern the steps we can take as individuals and communities to heal the hurts and build a better future for everyone.

 

“And what does the Lord require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?”

To do justice: God requires justice from all people, all the time, in all spheres of life. This is a central part of the Ecumenical Partnership between Jewin Welsh Church, St. Giles Cripplegate, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and Wesley’s Chapel as we affirm that we will take time to listen, try to understand and respond to each other and to the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of our time and place; that we will value each person, rejoicing in their gifts, and celebrating our rich human diversity; that we will support action for justice and peace initiatives in one another’s churches.

To love kindness: kindness to create in us an attitude and outlook of openness, unity, and love; the necessary conditions for forging the kind of person, church, community or nation that justice then regulates.

To walk humbly: would be better translated as to walk carefully, a theme in W.B. Yeats poignant poem:

 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

 

And so we are sent out to do justice, to love kindness, to walk carefully.

 

In the sending out prayer for this service, a Franciscan Benediction attributed to the earliest followers of St Francis, we ask God to send us out with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

 

We also ask God to send us out with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

 

We come together as a rainbow people, united in the beautiful diversity of God’s creation, woven into the dream of life.

 

In that embroidered cloth, George Floyd was a vulnerable young man, with his heartrending cry to his mother in the moments before his life was taken from him. Stephen Lawrence was a promising young man looking forward to fulfilling his dream of becoming an architect. We unite with their tears and resolve to do better, united by God’s call to do justice, to love kindness and to walk carefully, and in our common plea:

 

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

15th January Epiphany 2 – Sermon at the Baptism of Samuel Robert Percy Gerring, within the Parish Eucharist by the Revd Canon Dr Mark Pryce, Chaplain to the King, Director of Ministry CofE Birminghammarkp@cofebirmingham.com

 

Each of us is created an original; most of us live our lives as photocopies”.[i]

 

These are words of Carlo Acutis, the young Italian recently beatified by the Roman Catholic Church.[ii]

 

Carlo’s message is that each of us is made with a unique combination of gifts and capacities, distinctive qualities and vulnerabilities, a mixture of body, personality and spirit which make you you, and me me, and Samuel Samuel. But the commercial and ideological forces in which we live our lives can leave us as imitations of our true, vibrant selves - as if we can buy our way into being, or work our way into being, style our way into being, compete our way into being.

 

Baptism is the sacrament of life, the celebration of authentic being and of true becoming.

 

In baptism today we join with Daniel and Sean - family, friends and colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ - in welcoming Samuel, this beautiful child, and giving thanks for this wonderful gift of life.

 

I’m sure Daniel has not named him Samuel by accident. The name has powerful theological resonance. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Samuel is one of the greatest prophets, born as God’s extraordinary gift to his mother Hannah, who longed for children but could never conceive. In the ancient story, Hannah prays deep within her heart for a child, such is her incoherent distress in the temple that the clergy think she is drunk, and the child Samuel is God’s response to her anguish and longing: “I name him Samuel” says Hannah “because I asked the Lord for him” (1 Samuel 1:20, 27).

 

In the Scripture story Hannah’s response to God’s gift of life is not to grasp it for herself, but to accept this gift of a child in a spirit of generosity which is open to boundless surprise and delight. Hannah is committed to Samuel as a person who has potential which she as parent cannot predict or control, but to which she is profoundly open as his life unfolds, a unique mystery. And so God calls Samuel to do great things for his people, and in this way he is free to become distinctively himself: “with this child Samuel” God says “I am doing works which will make the ears of Israel tingle” (1 Samuel 3:11).

 

Samuel: God’s gift of Being. Samuel: God’s gift of becoming.

 

So, like Hannah, today we welcome Samuel with joy and gratitude: God’s gift of life. Like Hannah, in baptism we offer Samuel to God with a holy expectation of life lived in all its fulness, the life of Christ living in him and through him.

 

Gathered as those who love him and want the best for him, we acknowledge who Samuel is already: God’s child made in the divine image of Father, Son and Spirit. And through water, holy oil and sacred light, in Baptism we commit to the person Samuel shall become as he grows in the love of his family and of God’s Church.

 

Today, spiritually, Samuel becomes a Diver in the deep waters of baptism through which he swims to cross over into the fulness of life.

 

And as a spiritual diver swimming to the far side of life’s possibilities, Samuel emerges as a Discoverer on the shore of a new world, a world seen and encountered as God’s, full of wonder in exploring the exquisite creativity of God at work in himself and others.

 

And emerging from the waters of baptism, passing through the waters like God’s people Israel (Exodus 14), like God’s Saviour Jesus Christ born son of Mary (Luke 1)[iii], like Peter reborn through Christ’s seeing deep into his heart (Matthew 16: 18) - in baptism Samuel is reborn in God’s sheer delight. For this morning our faith is that in this sacrament the words of profound pleasure God spoke to Jesus at his baptism in the river Jordan - “You are my son, my beloved in whom I delight” - (Mark 1, Matthew 3, Luke 3), God speaks also to Samuel baptised into Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). In this baptism God says “Samuel Gerring, you are my son, my child, my gift, my joy, the one in whom my soul delights”.

 

As God had a purpose for the prophet Samuel, Hannah’s miraculous child, and a purpose for the Lord Jesus, Mary’s miraculous child, and a purpose for the fishermen called by Jesus (John 1: 35-42), today in baptism we are full of trust that God has a purpose for Samuel, Daniel’s child, our nephew, cousin, godchild, child of the church here and everywhere. In baptism we commit ourselves in heart and mind to work in harmony with the power of God in Christ at work in Samuel, that he will flourish as the original God has made him, is making him day by day, saved from the one-dimensional photocopy blandness of the uninspired. In baptism God is calling “Samuel...Samuel...Samuel...”. In baptism our commitment is to help Samuel hear God’s constant call of love, to respond through a life lived to the full “speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).

 

May Samuel, who now follows Christ into the birth-waters of baptism, who emerges as Christ’s to be anointed God’s beloved child, the one in whom God delights, may he be so enlightened with the light of Christ, that he will have the discerning eyes of Christ, the compassionate mind of a Christ, the healing hands of Christ, to become truly and most fully himself through God’s purposes of justice and love in which - by God’s unending grace - he, Samuel, will have a unique share.

 

Amen.

 

[i] From the Apostolic Exhortation of His Holiness Pope Francis I, Christus Vivit (2019), p.106.

[ii] The Blessed Carlo Acutis: born 3rd May 1991; died 12th October 2006; beatified 10th October 2020.

[iii] Compare song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 to Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55.

8 January The Epiphany, The Baptism of the Lord, Roger and Patricia Hall’s 60th Wedding Anniversary blessing

 

 Isaiah 60 1-6, Ephesians 3 1-12, St Matthew 2 1-12

 

Today is all about layers. Picture a Boxing Day trifle - although if you’re still eating yours, I am worried about your food hygiene standards. Or, rather appropriately, picture a wedding cake. It’s all about layers. 

 

Christians always see things in layers. Then, here and now, layered with eternity: past, present and future are not dividing lines - they are interwoven blessings. The Communion of Saints, the Last Supper and the Eucharist. Heaven and Earth. Connected, interwoven layers in life.

We read the Bible in layers. It’s impossible to separate the genres of ancient texts into our modern categories, so we read them in rich, beautiful interwoven layers of biography, poetry, prophecy, myth and history.

 

Today is all about layers. Let me tell you how; and at the end, you may well say ‘so, what? There are all these ‘layers. But instead, today we are being invited to live in layers, as Christians do. To live with one foot in heaven, and one in earth. With a seat in this church, being a seat at the heavenly banquet. To be with the Holy Family and the Magi, and to be in our homes and workplaces, and on the banks of the Jordan River 2000 years ago, and at the wedding at Cana. 

These layers of ‘quick now, here, now, always’ (as T S Eliot puts it) is a way of living with eyes uncovered and hearts and minds open to the love, hope and meaning which is all around us in life, if only we would pay attention to it. Let me explain: it’s all about layers.

 

Epiphany means showing, revelation. The old name for today’s feast is the ‘Manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Gentiles’. Today, embodied in the Magi we non-Jews get our first glimpse of the Christ, and we begin to realise who Jesus is and what this means. 

 

The readings for today are full of it. Isaiah says ‘see’! ‘Lift up your eyes’! God is with us.

 

The letter to the Ephesians is excited to ‘make plain’ what this means: that Christ has come, and this mystery is the love and power of God with us, to unite all people (gentile and Jew): that we might with ‘boldness and confidence’ (as he writes) come home to God, in this life and eternity.

 

But that is just the first layer of this wonderful wedding cake or Boxing Day trifle.

 

Today we also by tradition mark the Baptism of Christ. Three decades after the Magi’s visit Christ is Baptised by St John the Baptist (the clue is in the name), and we hear the voice of God, and see the Holy Spirit (as a dove) revealing who Jesus is

 

Today is also a day when the tradition of the Church often recalls the Wedding Feast at Cana. Christ’s first miracle of providing a shed load of wine for a party. Now that’s an Epiphany we can all get behind. Especially today.

 

These epiphanies are layered up like cake because they are showing the same reality to us. Different places, decades, lots of different people involved. The same epiphany: that God is not a distant stranger. God (in mystery and love) is here and now, because God desires us and invites us to real relationship with God.

 

And so to another layer of our wedding cake. Today we are privileged to celebrate Patricia and Roger’s 60th wedding anniversary. It is an amazing achievement. It is also a great gift, that has given life in family and community, church, work and home, in so many different ways over many years. Thank you, Roger and Patricia for the gift that your marriage has been to all of us who have been blessed by you.

 

And in this way, your marriage is also an epiphany. In ups and downs, in endurance and beauty, good and bad. Your marriage is an icon of God’s love.

 

We can all be inspired by that, whatever our story, in all of the different relationships we have: to be God’s love revealed there.

 

So to the last tier of today’s cake.

 

We began with the revelation of Christ to the Magi (and through them to the whole world). 

 

The Epiphany at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. Who Christ is, and what He has come to do. The Wedding at Cana - God celebrates with us.

 

The revelation of God’s love through Roger and Patricia and their life together.

 

‘See’ cries the prophet Isaiah: all these ways in which Love (with a capital L) reveals the face of God. All these ways in which, as St Paul says, God gives us ‘boldness and confidence’ to do life with God.

 

So, the last layer of today’s cake: at the heart of the Eucharist, Katharine (who many of you will know and love, and who used to be the Rector here - it’s wonderful she can be back with us today), Katharine will ask God’s blessing on Patricia and Roger, and they will reaffirm their vows made 60 years ago.

It is not by accident that this happens at a solemn point in the heart of the Eucharist.

 

The Bible describes heaven as a wedding party - a marriage feast. It also describes Holy Communion as the same: the two are joined, and Jesus invites us to the feast. So as we share in Holy Communion (or a blessing) today, we join the banquet of heaven - the marriage feast with Christ our bridegroom, who has sought us out with God’s passionate love. The same love and union - through thick and thin - that Roger and Patricia have lived out over 60 years.

 

You see how it all goes together? Living in layers, is living alive to the deep things in life. Here, now, always

 

A feast of theological layers, with different flavours, colours and symbols, all pointing to the same truth that God wishes us to know that, as the Marriage Service tells us, ‘God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them’. That life’s purpose and meaning is love, and there is no other. That God, in God’s desire for us, lays out a banquet of life and love for us, every day of our lives and for eternity.

1 January Christmas 2 The Holy Name and Circumcision of Jesus      by Fr Jack Noble  

 

Numbers 6 22-27. Galatians 4 4-7. St Luke 2 15-21

 

The Book of Common Prayer, love it as I do, for its depth and beauty, hallowed by centuries of use, is not short of words. In previous parishes, in using the BCP liturgy given for today I have never said ‘circumcision’ so much in 35 minutes in my life. You know when you say a word so much that it starts to feel odd in one’s mouth. 

And it is odd, isn’t it? That we in our time and place mark this feast of the Circumcision of Jesus.

Well, not so. 

 

As ever, we are being given a helpful aid here by the living tradition of the Church. We are being helped not to lose sight of our Saviour’s Jewishness. Jesus is not a Home Counties Old Etonian type leader. He isn’t even a tall dark and handsome American cowboy type hero. He is the Jewish Messiah, born in Palestine. Born in the lands - as we see when we open our Old Testaments, as we should - of warring tribes, squabbling kings and shouting prophets. It is heady and hot and foreign. But it is not foreign to Jesus: it is home. Those stories of the Old Testament that got Richard Dawkins so frothy, and that make us squirm or scratch our heads - those are the stories Jesus grew up with and in. 

 

In Jesus we have the Lord of Love, and one who belongs to the Law of Moses. Who is faithful to the law, who worships in the Temple, and gathers in the Synagogue. Jesus was not, and is not C of E. Our culture is not His. 

 

In celebrating today’s Jewish observances of His 8th day Circumcision and Naming, we celebrate Christ’s Jewishness, and with it our long story from Moses' blessing, through the annals of the Old Testament; and we celebrate that this great story is one that is still being written. We celebrate that end of God’s story, but it thereby bids us celebrate this end of God’s story - what God is doing now. What God does now in our midst as we hear and live out the Scriptures, what God is doing now in Holy Communion and the other Sacraments of His love, what God does in our daily lives, and our Spiritual journey. 

 

Today’s headline might be: we celebrate a story that began long ago and far away, and that continues today.

 

In all these ways and more, today the Church encourages us to free Jesus from the boxes we might put Him in, to step outside our comfortable world view, and also to rejoice that our lived reality is one infused with Divine life, we are God’s continuing love story being told.

 

And this leads me on to something we might consider briefly together this morning. Lots of people nowadays like to read the Bible in a year. You can buy copies of the Bible cleverly formatted for this, or apps to read or listen to. Most people get behind as the year goes on, but that’s not a problem. If the whole thing seems too much - why not start reading the NT, just a little chunk each day or a couple of times a week. Even just a few sentences at a time - you’ll soon make progress. So on this first day of the year, and presented with such a continuity of Old and New Covenants in today’s feast and readings. It’s probably good to examine our approach to Scripture.

 

Some of Scripture is amongst the most beautiful writing ever known. Some is troubling. What are we to do? The answer I think is listen with confidence. We do not need to fear when Scripture is difficult. 

 

Scripture is the word of God, in the sense that God has always used these Holy and ancient words to speak afresh to each generation. But the only word of God with a capital W is Jesus, the person. Not a book, but a person - God’s Word, made flesh. 

 

But Scripture is rightly at the heart of worship, along with the Sacraments. Jesus quotes the OT all the time, and treats it as Holy words, that speak divine truths. That is not to say God dictated it, it has emerged over centuries. These texts are multi-layered and complex. We dishonour the Bible by treating it as something simple and see-through (as fundamentalists do), and we dishonour it too, by pretending that we have all the answers, and that Holy Scripture is here at our whim and fancy, we being the ones who know better.

 

Instead, might I humbly suggest, inspired by today’s particular celebration of Christ, that we treat Holy Writ as a generous and abundant garden. A garden, full of different plants and fruits - a huge variety of genre, each beautiful in their own way. Exotic, so as not to be easily categorised, but beautiful and nourishing. As we walk through the garden, we are brought to life, to new understanding of ourselves and the world around us by sights and sounds, tastes and textures. 

The garden is enormous, so large that we can never discover its limits, let alone map them. And we are not the gardener, God is. This garden is much bigger than us. We are simply to receive it as a gift and find the truth and beauty in it. Even in the sharp pricks and sour tastes that are part of this garden. 

 

This year, wonder and wander - with an ‘o' and an ‘a' - in the garden of Scripture on Sundays and weekdays, at home and in church. And see what Christ (who is the gardener) desires you to discover. 

 

In all these ways and more, today the Church encourages us to free Jesus from the boxes we might put Him in, to step outside our comfortable world view, and also to rejoice that our lived reality is one infused with Divine life: we are God’s continuing love story being told.

St Giles' Cripplegate Church
Fore Street
London EC2Y 8DA

 

Registered Charity               Number 1138077

Sunday 

8.30- 8.50 Morning Prayer

10.00-11.10 Parish Eucharist with Children's Sunday Club

4.00-4.45 Choral Evensong on 1st Sunday of the month.  

4.00-4.45 Little St Luke's Church at St Luke's CofE Primary School on 2nd Sunday of the month 

4.00-4.20 Evening Prayer

on 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays in the month. 

 

Monday

8.00 - 8.20 Holy Eucharist
8.30 - 8.50 Morning Prayer    
5.30 - 5.50 Evening Prayer
 
Tuesday

8.30 - 8.50 Morning Prayer 

5.30 - 5.50 Evening Prayer

6.00 - 6.20 Holy Eucharist

 
Wednesday
8.30 - 8.50 Morning Prayer 10.00 - 10.20 Holy Eucharist and coffee 
12.30 - 1.00 Bible Study in the Rectory
5.30 - 5.50 Evening Prayer
 
Friday 
8.30 - 8.50 Morning Prayer
12.30 - 12.55 Holy Communion BCP 1662       
5.30 - 5.50 Evening Prayer

 

Wednesday 

24 April                    

Lectio  Divina on Zoom  at 7.30pm.

Please contact Susan Royce for details   susanjroyce@gmail.com

 

2024 Dates for Silent Prayer from 1-1.30 pm and Cleaning Angels from 1.30-3pm with tea and cake, on first Thursday of the month.

You are invited to join others in church on  the first Thursday of the month.

If you are not able to join us, we hope you will continue to pray with us wherever you are.

  • 2 May,
  • 6 June,
  • 4 July
  • not in August
  • 5 September
  • 3 October
  • 7 November
  •  5 December.
     

2024 Dates for Standing Committee Meetings - held in the Rectory at 6.15pm

  • 3rd June
  • 1st July
  • 16th September
  • 4th November

 

2024 Dates for PCC Meetings

(please note the themes for each meeting in Dark Blue) held in the church at 7.30pm but in the Rectory when with Supper 

 

  • 12th May (APCM + PCC)
  • 20th May (Supper) Mission
  • 3rd July 
  • 7th October   Safeguarding

 
Parish Office Hours

For the Parish Administrator 
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 10am-4pm

Phone 07535 442955 or 

tola@stgileschurch.com 
 

For the Bookings and Events Co-ordinator, Buildings Supervisor 

Phone 07766 202731 or 

jake@stgileschurch.com 


Safeguarding is at the heart of our Christian faith. We are all made unique and in the image of God.

‘Jesus came that we might have life and have it in abundance’ John 10 v 10.

St Giles’ works to ensure a safe environment for everyone. Please click the ‘safeguarding' tab on this website for more information.

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