One Holocaust, or many? #DontStandBy #HMD2016 #KS2

Holocaust Memorial Day IMG_0231Today I have lead an ‘Act of Worship’ in the Church of England VA Junior School of the parish I serve.  It has to be based on the Christian faith, but today’s brief is to link Holocaust Memorial Day  with the theme of responsibility for the wider community.(UNCRC: Article 38 – Every child has the right to be protected and cared for in countries affected by war)

Building on the fact that a colleague used the story of the Good Samaritan last week, I will be using the following material, which others may find thought provoking, or helpful to reflect on today.

Excerpt from the story of Corrie ten Boom, the daughter of a watchmaker in Holland. Here is what she says about life after the Nazi’s invaded Holland:

The true horror of occupation came over us only slowly. During the first year of German rule there were only minor attacks on Jews in Holland. A rock through the window of a Jewish-owned store. An ugly word scrawled on the wall of a synagogue. It was as though they were trying us, testing the temper of the country. How many Dutchmen would go along with them?

And the answer to our shame was many…

On our daily walk Father and I saw the symptoms spread. A sign on a shop window: JEWS WILL NOT BE SERVED. At the entrance to a public park: NO JEWS. On the door of the library. In front of restaurants, theatres, even the concert hall…

One noon as Father and I followed our familiar route, the sidewalks were bright with yellow stars sewn to coats and jacket fronts. Men, women and children wore the six-pointed star with the word “Jood” (“Jew”) in the centre. We were surprised, as we walked, at how many of the people we had passed each day were Jews…

Worst were the disappearances… We never knew whether these people had been spirited away by the Gestapo or gone into hiding before this could happen. Certainly public arrests with no attempt to conceal what was happening, were becoming more frequent…

It was [on] a drizzly November morning in 1941… that I saw a group of four German soldiers coming down the [street]. One of the soldiers un-strapped his gun and with the butt banged on the door [of our Jewish neighbours house.]… The door opened…and all four pushed inside…

[Later my sister Betsie and I saw] Mr Weil [our elderly neighbour], backing out of his shop, the muzzle of a gun pressed against his stomach. When he prodded Mr Weil a short way down the [street], the soldier went back… and slammed the door…

A window over [Mr Weil’s] head opened and a small shower of clothes rained down on him – pyjamas, clothes, underwear. Slowly, mechanically,… He stooped and began to gather up his clothing. Betsie and I ran across the street to help him… “You must come inside!” I said, snatching socks and handkerchiefs from the [street]. “Quick, with us!”

Corrie ten Boom, ‘The Hiding Place’ p67-71 (Hodder and Stoughton, 1971)

 

 

The greatest commandment: Mark 12:28-31

Listen and watch very carefully the story this lady is telling: (this is the official video for HMD2016 https://youtu.be/_mk6xNumdgc

Jesus, you asked us not to stand by
when we see people who are suffering and in need.
Help us to show that we are willing to share responsibility
for caring for those who have nothing,
wherever they have come from,
and whatever their nationality or faith.
Amen.

[My husband is a secondary school teacher who will be using different material on the #HMD2016 theme in an assembly tomorrow. It can be found here.]

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Luke 4:14-21 Fasten your eyes on Jesus

“The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Jesus.”

It was 1981. We were on holiday & my Dad was buying ice-cream at a rather nice village shop at the back gates to Balmoral. As we waited, a Land Rover sped out the gates from t’big house driven by a striking blond. It accelerated, rather alarmingly, spraying gravel behind it as it turned away from the public roads up an estate track. Later that day, as the press got overly excited by Prince Charles’s first official post-wedding photoshoot with his wife Diana, we guessed that the blond in question had feared that the silver car parked by the gate to the house contained less welcome photographers. At twelve, as I avidly watched the TV coverage, it felt like I’d come within touching distance of possibly the most famous woman in the world. My adult mind sees it rather differently, and with not a little sadness.

In our gospel today, the local boy from down-town Nazareth has returned. He’d been hitting the headlines of local gossip since he’d encountered his cousin John busy baptising the repentant in the River Jordan; the little altercation between the two and the ensuing direct message from God, had caused quite a stir, which at least had filled the ‘gossip columns’ when he vanished completely for more than a month. But, he had returned, the same, but different. No longer helping his father in the carpentry workshop, he was now occupied helping the local Jewish leaders fill their preaching rotas. You can imagine therefore that there was quite a crowd at the synagogue that day – curiosity has ever been the filler of pews, just as it has become a pay-packet to the paparazzi!

A passage from Isaiah was a perfectly appropriate second reading for the day, and the congregation sat watching, in rapt expectation of his wisdom. What they got was… possibly the shortest sermon in history! At least, that’s how some of the more tabloid orientated theological interpreters have styled it.

Hearing Jesus say “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” probably didn’t seem like a history-making moment to those in the synagogue that day, but Luke by basing the rest of his Gospel on Jesus’ fulfilment of this prophesy, tells us that this is deeply significant, and therefore we need to sit down and fasten our eyes on trying to discover exactly what Jesus was doing and saying here.

Firstly, after his baptism and desert temptations, Jesus seems quite comfortable in his own skin; he knows who he is, and he knows what he’s here for. In the tension of the moment, he exudes a quiet confidence. Otherwise he wouldn’t be saying that he was the fulfilment of this famous, much longed-after prophesy. He’s going to fulfil it in a way the Jews aren’t expecting, but he’s certainly no Jonah in the sense that he’s not tried to get as far away as possible from doing what God has tasked him with. As he’s been touring the familiar countryside of his youth and now to his home town, it is worth noting that he’s chosen to bring his message first to the people who have un-knowingly nurtured it over the his silent years of preparation.

There’s two things that this can be telling us, two thousand years on. Part of it is that we need to be looking carefully among those we encounter day by day and week by week, and asking ourselves, what might God be trying to tell us through them, either through the way they act, or what they say? The second part is possibly more difficult; we need to be prepared to be recognised as fulfilling what God is calling us to be and do, in our own home, around the village, and in the communities in which we are known and respected. It won’t always be easy, but if we are looking with anticipation at what Jesus is saying to us, we need to be prepared to act on what we think the answer is.

The second important thing to note about Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth, is what words he chooses to highlight from the Jewish scriptures, to succinctly define what it is he came to earth to do. He obviously feels that his Father God has called him most particularly to “proclaim good news to the poor”, to announce pardon to “prisoners and the recovery of sight to the blind, and set the oppressed free”. Those witnessing this rising star of the Jewish faith, steeped as they were in a yearning for freedom from Roman authority and the right to self-rule, largely heard this as the start of an uprising against oppression, and perhaps with a certain pride that it was a local boy that was going to finally make a difference.

Yet, we know from the rest of Luke’s Gospel and on into the Acts of the Apostles, that Jesus’ message was not in fact the one that many Jews wanted to hear – it was not a message of punishment to Gentile oppressors, but part of a larger picture and a wider interpretation of the prophesy in Isaiah, that Israel was called to act with justice, mercy and love as a light to all nations in their own age, and in the years to come.

Jesus, the Messiah, was the announcer of good news to not only the financially poor, but also the inadequate, those who feel their life is a failure, who see no value in themselves. The freedom of prisoners wasn’t an amnesty to those who have committed crimes, but the offer of release for those imprisoned by guilt, anxiety, fear, and the pressure to be someone other than as God made them. Whilst Jesus did indeed come as a healer to the physical ailments of many, he was also speaking to those who have lost their moral and spiritual direction and cannot see clearly the positive use they can put their God-given gifts and talent to. The freedom which he offered was in fact from the oppression of a narrowness of thought that offers only the quickest solution or fix, whether that be to an addiction, or to an economic, political or spiritual problem.

Today, as we sit with the Nazarene community and listen to the words that Jesus carefully chose to reveal his mission, we have to accept the challenge that in seeking to both recognise Jesus in our midst, and be his followers, we too are called to live out this prophesy just as much as he did. We mustn’t be frightened by tabloid headline creators into believing that someone is always after us for the wrong reasons, that speed is of the essence, that people respond to threats, that we can’t change the world.

In Jesus, we see God’s Son baptised and affirmed, spiritually strong enough to withstand all temptation, moving among his own people with a message that challenges preconceptions, and expects positive social and societal consequences. Yet, as we accept the presence of Jesus, the baptism in which he shared, the spiritual strength from which he drew, we have also to accept that through him we are also God’s children, and so with him we are called to seek love, freedom, healing and justice in our own lives, in the lives of the people we love most, and in the life of the community around us. Just as in Jesus time, this may happen in a way we hadn’t anticipated, and it may be a message that people initially struggle to accept, but it is the message and the mission we are called to share if our attention is fixed on Jesus.

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Soul Food

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Lapwing on an island, Colebrook Lake North, Moor Green Lakes, Berkshire, 22nd January 2015

It is a long time (like years and years) since I spent all morning finishing a book (what I’d call a rollicking good read – ‘Unseen Things Above’ by Catherine Fox).

We didn’t eat brunch until after 11am (with experimental homemade hashbrowns), listened to almost every ball of Test Match Special (hypnotic, even when South Africa are having a run-feast and England are dropping catches), and I ignored the chores and the phone.

Himself was recovering from a lurgy, but at the end of the afternoon we took a long dusk walk at Moor Green Lakes.  There was a group of Lapwing on one of the islands chattering gently among themselves – not the full “pee-wit” sound of their summer-time displays, but somehow a less strident conversation – a sound from my childhood when there was regularly a flock up on the old aerodrome at Stoney Cross in the New Forest where I learnt to ride a bike. An earthy smell assailed us, crossed with lines of wood-smoke from the houses up on the hill.

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A grainy, long-exposure shot of the moon across Colebrook Lake, late dusk, Moor Green, 22nd Jan 2015

We walked the nearly complete gravel workings nearby as the light faded and the seagulls lifted and circled above our heads, and watched Roe Deer move through the rough grass after they’d crossed the path, and presumably the river, behind us. Then, barely able to see the path ahead, we retraced our steps past Colebrook Lake as the geese came in skeins across the moonlight to roost.

We returned home to a slow-cooked, pot-roast rabbit I’d had the sense to put in the oven before we left, and then munched our way through a little of the post-Christmas chocolate bonanza in front of a rugby match!

It was a day to fill the soul, to remind myself what it means to relax in the company of my closest friend, to re-charge the batteries, to know that God created a world that can fill the senses he gave us, if only we can give him the time to make the most of it.

To God, be the glory.

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Crawshaw built Solo for sale

Sail Number: 4134P1090803w

Wooden, Crawshaw built
Fast boat
Proctor mast
2 sails including Solo B
Trolley, but no road trailer
New wheels fitted
Cover sound but faded
£1500 ono

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Ashore at Hawley Lake STC
Not sailed past season
Rear side deck varnish needs attention

History:
won 2011 HLSTC Youth Regatta

Owner now gone to university

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Please comment on this blog post to express your interest; blog owner will reply by email.

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Have we found Jesus this Christmas? Luke 2:41-52

 

Well I could swear it’s only two days since we were propelled by the glory of God with a group of shepherds to a manger, where we encountered a tiny baby and recognised that this child was the Lord of the world, God made man, the Saviour of all mankind. It was his mother Mary that first made all these connections: the arrival of the shepherds and the announcement of the angel they bore witness to, confirmed for her that her child who had come into being through such extraordinary circumstances, was indeed incredibly special: destined to complete God’s purpose in ways she couldn’t fully comprehend. It was these things she turned over in her mind, cogitating on their significance, treasuring the pieces like a jigsaw made of precious stones.

Yet, here we are, twelve years on in the life of that tiny baby, encountering the Holy Family in very different circumstances. Jesus is of an age where we can assume he has had his bar mitzvah and is, in spiritual terms at least, a young man, a Son of the Law (as the Jews call it). He is also incredibly self-aware, and very sure on what he needs to start focusing. Mary adds to the treasure of his birth, through being given the fright of her life when her and Joseph’s instincts as human parents over-ride any of the logical understanding she may have gleaned in her pondering over the intervening years as to her son’s purposes in the world.

“Why were you looking for me? [asks Jesus] It was necessary that I had to be at my Father’s work.”

For someone who came into the world with (among other things) the purpose of showing that people’s proximity to God is not tied to the rituals and religiosity that had become the focus of Jewish life, Jesus seems to have spent a lot of his time at the heart of those traditions in the The Temple, and particularly at significant moments in his life. Simeon and Anna had of course recognised his purpose as the Messiah, when he was presented at the Temple as an infant – something that we shall celebrate at Candlemas. And of course, we remember that in the days leading up to his crucifixion he demonstrates most dramatically against what he has come to know of the corruption surrounding the worship of God at The Temple, throwing out the money-changers. And here he is at an important moment in his young life, sharing for days on end through questions and answers of great wisdom and understanding, in discourse with the elders of the Jewish faith, at the heart of their life of faith. It was where he needed to be so that he could return in his ministry equipped with an understanding of what the Jewish leaders were promoting and prioritising in their faith – for better, or as it turned out, for worse.

Mary and Joseph took for granted initially, that Jesus was with them, somewhere among the extended family – perfectly understandable in the culture of the time. They were simply getting on with their own lives. There were then two further days during which they had searched high and low in places so obvious that they are not detailed in scripture. They were probably the places they had stayed overnight, or among relatives who remained permanently in the city. It was only when those places prove fruitless avenues of investigation, that they turn their focus to The Temple, whether in hope or in prayer, we do not know.

There were three days we are told, between Jesus going missing, and him being found safe and well, in The Temple. Three days. Does that remind you of anything?

In his account of the resurrection, Luke will tell of two people, walking the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) sharing their anguish at the time that has elapsed since Jesus’ death, and it is only when a stranger explains that it was necessary for these things to happen, that they recognise the one for whom they search in the last place they would consider looking for him; walking with them on their desolate journey and in the breaking of bread.

I wonder if you have struggled to find Jesus this Christmas. You may have looked for him here in church, among the cribs at the festival, in the words of carols or in the sacraments that we have shared. You may have looked for him in the offering of time, money or gifts that you have provided to others, in the creativity of some craft, or in the silence of a long dark night. I hope that you have encountered him in those places, but you may not have done. That’s OK, don’t panic. You are no worse in your care of Jesus than Mary and Joseph were!

As parents, and parents of the Son of God at that, Mary and Joseph went about the task that God had charged them with. It was probably something of which they were only too well aware as they searched for him – what was God going to do to them if they lost his only Son?! It probably added its own special frisson to their sense of panic. When they find him, he makes it obvious that they should have looked for him where God was at work in his life, as the young Son of God – and at this point, that meant in the Temple. Others could see the reason why he was there, else they would not have commented on his wisdom and understanding.

It may be that as we receive that which others do for us that we find Jesus responding to the needs of our life. If we are the ones constantly busy doing things for God, we can not assume that we will automatically be able to encounter Jesus in what we are doing. It’s not that he’s not there working through us, he is. Jesus will be where he is most needed, but if he’s working through us for others, it may be that they are more likely to recognise him than us.

We may need to look elsewhere, quite possibly for the place in our lives where we see God helping us achieve something new or unexpected, or difficult. In this place there may be a seed of thoughtfulness, perhaps stimulated by scripture, or in prayer and sacrament, but perhaps by some other process of incarnation. Rather than worry and panic when we sense the lack of Jesus’ presence, we need to look for places where we can engage in a questioning of God, the sort of questioning that allows space for answers, for it is there that we may well find him afresh.

Prayer:

Jesus, we recognise that at times we are so busy with our own lives, that we do not notice that you have escaped our attention. Help us to search for you in places where you have the space to make your wisdom and understanding known to us, in the presence of God the Father, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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What will we treasure this Christmas – Luke 2:1-20

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Our Sacristan produced one of the most thought provoking ‘crib’ scenes of our recent Crib Festival at St. Mary’s Old Basing – in part, the inspiration for this sermon.

This is my Christmas sermon for the 8am BCP Holy Communion this morning. There is a strong sense of not saying anything new here, but wanting people to find their own treasure, as I hope you too will find yours to ponder this Christmas:

What is it that brings us to this place this morning, not from sheep off the hillsides, but from warm beds? Perhaps we come from families sleepily athering to the sound of excited children, perhaps we are in transit to a gathering elsewhere in the country, or even here just before returning home to our own company.

Why, on this particular morning, do we all gather in this beautiful barn of a place, connecting a meal shared the night before a man died, with the story of his birth?

Is it the peace among the cacophony of the festive season? Is it because tradition pulls us back to a place and words of comfort; can it be that we come seeking the mysterious place of the divine in our world? Or is it, that here is the space in which we are encountering the Lord of the world in the form of a tiny baby, the treasure to daily ponder in our lives?!

The message that an angel delivered on a Galilean hillside to a group of startled shepherds focused on this baby being the Lord of their very ordinary, everyday lives. There is no mention here of the specific name ‘Jesus’, but the angel is very clear that the new-born in Bethlehem has a specific role to play in all the earth, and that these shepherd outcasts are the first to have the means of recognising both the child, and his importance.

So soon after his birth, the babe lying in the manger still awaited his formal name. But the angel announces that the baby is ‘saviour, who is Christ, Lord’. The Greek name Jesus would indeed be derived from Hebrew Jeshua word used here: savior; the long preserved Jewish hope for someone who will rescue and save them, overcoming the power of the oppressor – who at this point is one who styles himself Lord: the Emperor Augustus. Before this tiny baby has done anything at all, whilst he is simply lying wrapped in traditional swaddling cloths for warmth, salvation – the process of being saved – has come. God’s visitation to earth has commenced.

Here too is the announcement of a peace greater and more powerful than anything a Roman Emperor could enforce through military might and terror. God’s visitation to earth came “through love not might, through self-sacrifice not military prowess”; for the benefit of the marginal and outcast of society, rather than for the self-aggrandisement of those who “yearned to cling to power”.

This is not a promise of something that will happen in the future, it is not a tale of something that has happened in the past, it is something that is happening now, and if they want to encounter this Lord, this love, this peace, this hope, the shepherds will find him lying in a feeding trough in Bethlehem, the city of the shepherd King in their treasured past, David.

The baby himself, is sketched in, minutely, to the story. Blink, and you could almost miss the fact that the Lord of the world is just where he was promised; in a manger. There is no question but that the angel’s words to the shepherds, as they were to Mary, are true. The promised Saviour, God’s presence in the world, lies there, the focus of so much attention, and yet only given a passing mention. For it is what must be done with this fulfilled promise, this truth, this glorious presence, that is so important.

Mary, recovering as she was from the perfectly natural and exhausting process of childbirth, already had much to ponder. It is in the nature that God has given us, that in periods of exhaustion we have the ability to consider closely, to chew over in our minds, to treasure both the difficult, the understandable and the sometimes extraordinary circumstances which have brought us to a particular point. It is this very gift of comprehension that makes us human, somehow different to other animals; made in the image of God.

When the shepherds told of an angel speaking to them, Mary could empathise with their sense of perplexity, the awe and wonder of the message from God. She could grasp like no other, that however extraordinary that message was, it was delivered with such a sense of peace and hope in God’s very presence, that it was perfectly acceptable to respond with obedience and a commitment to follow through to its fulfilment. Mary could relate to the excitement that propelled the shepherds on a journey that defied common sense, risked their livelihood and their security, and what little position in society they held. It mirrored the original annunciation – a pregnancy bracketed by angels.

Just as the shepherds left so full of the glory they had encountered – the angel and hosts of heaven, their encounter with the message of the tiny baby – so Mary too had much to consider and praise God for.

Here, because of God’s desire to be physically present in the world, and because of Mary’s willingness to be open to that very idea, was the Lord of the world, a tiny baby born from her. Now, through the visit of shepherds, the story they told of God’s glorious presence and the announcement of an angel, she knew even more certainly than perhaps the guesses she had made in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth, that her child was like no other, destined to demonstrate beyond all doubt God’s presence in, and love for, the world. He was ‘Emmanuel’, God with us; the culmination of ancient prophesies and present angels.

She could not have known then, the shocking circumstances in which he would die to make that love fully known, how God’s desire to remain present with each and every person who encounters him would break the very bonds of death itself. But Mary now knew for certain that what she was experiencing was a treasure to be continually turned over in her heart and mind as Jesus grew up and acted to fulfil the promise made to her: that his kingdom will have no end.

We are here because of that promise. That treasure Mary stored must have been shared at some point for it to be made known to us today, so that we too can encounter the Lord of our lives in the baby in the manger and not purely as a crucified man. God desired beyond all else to be present not simply as Lord OF the world, but IN the world. Having arrived here at the manger, let us therefore this morning glorify and praise God for his love to US, and consider carefully the importance of that fact for our lives, and for the world around us.

 

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Refiners Fire – burning away the ‘slag’ (Zeph 3:14-end, Phil 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18)

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All Saints, Minstead (viewed from the south near the final resting place of Conan Doyle) – yes, there are 5 bells in that little tower!

Once upon a time I was the youngest campanologist in the county. We had three bells in All Saints Church, Minstead, but there’s not much that you can do with three – the mathematical patterns that make up a peel of bells, are a little on the short side with three. Five is a much more interesting number, and research showed that we could fit five in the bell frame without the tower itself being shaken to pieces. So two new bells were commissioned, the old ones removed to be retuned, then all five re-hung – all done with one expert and parish people power, including a nine year old ‘doing as she was told, and staying out the way for the dangerous bits’!

As part of all this activity I had the opportunity to watch bells being cast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. It was a hot summer’s day, but I was clothed in good 1970s tweed trousers for protection and stood in the corner of the foundry floor as the metal was heated, and the impurities scrapped off the top so that the hot copper alloy could be poured into a hand-crafted bell mould. It was amazing to watch, and a privilege to ring the precisely tuned finished articles; the bells proclaiming peace and thanksgiving in worship, a community rejoicing in fine craftsmanship and singing out a song of praise to God.

“Rejoice”, in Latin “Gaudete”, the opening word of our reading from Philippians, a connection to this week’s lightening of the Advent mood of preparation, our rose candle and our robes. “Rejoice”, in modern parlance is about a sense of joy welling up inside people, fairly private except for the smile to the face; the sort of blooming look that comes with news of a long awaited pregnancy. In St. Paul’s day, “rejoice” was a word used to describe a public celebration, exuberance tempered with the need to be gentle and gracious toward less extrovert souls – more like change ringing when the pattern of notes moves only on command, rather than with every beat of a full peal.

There is a tension here that sits well with this mid-point in our preparations to celebrate the birth of Christ, sat here as we are, surrounded by scenes of his nativity in our Crib Festival. At the time of John the Baptist’s prophetic ministry that we focus on through today’s Gospel, devout Jews were waiting for a “new word from God”, and eager to place their hope in the presence of a fiery young prophet going about the Galilean villages! Might he be the long awaited Messiah?

But John was only tolling a single bell, proclaiming the steady sound of justice and the need for repentance, a wake-up call for those who would go on to hear the message of his cousin Jesus, the thongs of whose sandals he felt unworthy to untie. John would have grown up with the story of his cousin’s nativity just like we have, but as perfectly-tuned to God’s message for his people as any Old Testament prophet, he was well aware that when the Messiah’s mission on earth was made fully known, it would come with the sound of the axe felling the trees that bore no fruit, burning the resulting timber as waste.

John offered on the banks of the Jordon, the baptism of repentance, God’s power like water washing people clean. Yet, here he is proclaiming the baptism of burning fire that the Messiah would bring, drawing out through the power of the Holy Spirit, the impurities hidden within people’s lives. We may struggle to understand the difference, but if we consider for a moment, we’ll recognise that there is a vast difference between wanting to change the destructive habits of our lives and, dare I say it, make sensible New Year’s resolutions, and actually being changed inside of ourselves, so that it is impossible to return to old habits. It is a painful process.

The image of the bell foundry can help us understand what God wants to do here. As the copper and tin is melted in the furnace to temperatures resembling that to be found in a volcano, the impurities known as ‘slag’ rise to the surface – blackened waste material that is scrapped away, the last remnants of which are held back as the bell is cast. Here is a picture of the process of fire and the Holy Spirit at work in our lives that should be as much a part of the work of Christ in our lives as is the baby in the manger. If we are to ring true to his Gospel in our own lives, there will be ‘slag’ in each of us that needs burning to the surface and scraping away. Our hope of a Saviour for the world must come with the realistic expectation that we ourselves may need to be radically changed into what God wants us to be.

Zephaniah’s prophetic psalm of salvation that is this morning’s Old Testament reading [and I do encourage you to read it], is summoning God’s people to sing, shout and joyfully exult because of God’s presence in the midst of them, rejoicing like the clarion call of bells. It was the sort of prophesy that led to the expectation of a heroic Saviour from oppression and suffering. Yet its’ fulfilment came as the baby we now place in our crib scenes, the saving power of whom would be the refiners fire of judgement and justice, drawing us into a greater awareness of his presence, a sense of the calling to what we call holiness.

Church bells gather God’s people into the holiness of our worship of him, whether that is in the form of a peal of bells, the tempered rejoicing of a slowly changing pattern of life, or a single tolled clarion call to hasten into our place before him. They only do so after the refining process of the furnace has removed the impurities so that their call can be clear and true to the tuned pitch required by the master craftsman. God is our master craftsman. If we are to ring out a tuneful call for others to share in our rejoicing this Christmas and on into the future, we must first come into his presence in humility, seeking to understand what it is in our lives that needs to be burnt away.

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Hilltop banquets – an Advent Sermon (Isaiah 25:6-10a and Matthew 15: 29-37)

Our OT reading this morning, sees all the peoples of the world gathered on a mountain top for a great celebratory feast, one at which only the very finest food is served. This abundance of the best is an image of the grace of God who wants to gather everyone to himself, so that they can feast together and with him.

The mountain in question is Jerusalem, Zion, the place that at the time of these prophesies was the ultimate image of God’s peace and presence with his people. Yet, it was also under frequent constant attack due to the disobedience of God’s people, and in a few short years the people of Israel would be in exile in Babylon. The prophesy looks forward to a time when the shroud of death and destruction that must at the time have seemed all-enveloping, would be torn apart so that people could encounter the sort of healing that overcomes the worst that sin and disgrace can do to distance lives and communities from their need for God’s presence. It is a prophesy of hope for which God’s people must wait patiently, and which they must be willing to share – for a mountain-top banquet with God is to be offered to everyone, not simply the Jews; all are called to the feast.

On a mountain top adjacent to the sea of Galilee, an area where both Jew and Gentile lived, we can assume perhaps that representatives of several ethnic and religious groups are gathered at Jesus’ feet in our Gospel reading. Their tears were being wiped away by the power of his healing touch in the lives of those who were brought to him injured, ill or distressed.

But, beyond these miracles, there is something about Jesus that holds thousands with him for three days without a reliable source of food. They may have been attracted to the area for the headline grabbing spectacle of a miracle man, but they seem to recognise in Jesus the possible fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy for which at least some of them will be aware they have waited for generations; the presence of the God of Israel. The banquet he offers on this occasion may only be a few loaves and fishes gleaned from those that had had the foresight to bring sustenance, but as he gives thanks to God and asks his disciples to share it out among the throng, it seems that a little goes a very long way. Yet this initial vision of God’s abundant love, will become a reality only too soon when Jesus is crucified, the temple curtain torn in two and the stone is rolled away; only then will the abundant love of Christ be truly shared among all people by his disciples.

Each year, we are reminded in our Advent preparations of who God’s world is still waiting for. The point of Isaiah’s prophesy, God’s extraordinary birth as an ordinary baby, and Jesus mission of healing and sacrifice, was that God longs to be sat at a banquet with all people. Whilst it is perfectly possible to get the attention of a few through miraculous healings, there are many for whom the needs are more basic: they need to be reminded that they are hungry before they feel faint, and they need to be fed; people live not just by bread and fish, but by their spiritual hunger being met in Christ before they reach crisis point. And it is we, his disciples that are responsible for distributing the nourishment that he provides, in the sure knowledge that there is more than enough to go round.

It is tempting to think of the mountain-top of busyness and banquets that we call Christmas as being a special time for us, God’s faithful disciples, to come close to Jesus, and despair of having enough time and effort in the festivities to share with others who seem to only join us for the spectacle. We need to recognise that Jesus came with compassion for those who are not yet his disciples, seeking to meet their hunger and needs, and asks us to prioritise those over our own. If people are going to be fed spiritually this Christmas they need to be sat at Jesus feet and receive in simple ways the very finest nourishment, so that they do not go away empty. Our role, is make sure that we are aware of the resources both practical and prayerful that we can place at Christ’s disposal, and then be prepared to allow his grace and his blessing to make that a banquet through which all who are gathered can receive their fill.

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St. Mary’s Old Basing is hosting it’s first Crib Festival on 12th and 13th of December where many locals will be displaying treasured crib figures and new creations. The event also features music from our local schools, craft stalls, and our popular book stall and coffee shop.

For a different take on the same Gospel passage, here’s what Rev’d Ally said to the students of Westcott: it’s all about the crumbs

 

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Beware… do not be led astray (Reflections on Mark 13 v1-8 in the light of recent terrorist attrocities)

People around Old Basing and Lychpit started this Prayer Tree at All Hallows, but it remains in church as we know remember in prayer those who have lost their lives in recent terrorist attacks.

People around Old Basing and Lychpit started this Prayer Tree at All Hallows, but it remains in church as we know remember in prayer those who have lost their lives in recent terrorist attacks.

Following the attacks in Paris, this was the most difficult sermon I think I’ve ever (re)written, and then when I’d almost finished, I heard about Thursday’s attacks in Beirut and more recently in Baghdad, which have failed to make the headlines. 

“What large stones?” We love ‘big’ don’t we? The richer nations of the world in particular, seems set on being bold, better, best. That’s the human motto, in every form, it seems. The bigger, the better, the best. The most influential. The most powerful. The most anything. It’s true of extremists too. It seems that the more cataclysmic the chaos, the higher the number of fatalities and news inches created, the better.

As we ache with the people of Paris, Beirut and Baghdad this morning, quite possibly concerned for friends and loved ones, and certainly asking God if there will ever be an end to such horrors, how do we make sense of this morning’s Gospel?

We can start by taking ourselves back to what the disciples were encountering. Those disciples were no different to anyone else and most of them had spent their lives in rural, lakeside, Galilee.  So an immense structure covering hundreds of metres in every direction, with stones as big as 13 metres long and 3 metres wide (in old money 44 feet by 10 feet), was bound to capture their attention, hitting all the awe and wonder buttons in their minds. If we have encountered the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building or one of those immense buildings in Dubai, then, like them or not, we tend to be impressed with the scale and complexity of the architecture. As someone who’s not done much international travel, I’m more in awe of Stonehenge myself. In the case of both the Temple and Stonehenge, I am left amazed at how, with simple tools and transport, people engineered such mammoth stones into place.

Stonehenge was designed to give people confidence in what they believed. In the case of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was originally designed to speak of confidence in God’s presence and his protection of his chosen people. Of course prophesies of the Temple’s destruction, similar to Jesus’ words in this Gospel passage, are very visible within Jewish scripture in relation to Israel’s disobedience as a nation. But, like many things that smack of disloyalty to a favourite cause, such prophesies were often ignored, and some leaders simply fought to develop and hang on to the power they had created as the solid structure around their faith, rather than being obedient to God. Jesus was trying to remind the Jews what was at the heart of their faith. The result of them ignoring and seeking to silence him would indeed be the destruction of the Temple in AD70 and the dislocation of the Jewish people at the hands of others more powerful and greedy than they were. Similarly, what we’ve witnessed this last few days is the result of a twisted greed of a few for land, power and retribution, and shows no understanding of ‘Allah, the most gracious and the most merciful.’

Scripturally speaking, our Gospel in Mark today lies within Holy Week. Time was running out for Jesus in his earthly journey, and he knew it. He was desperate to emphasise to them that they would face all sorts of horrors, the rumours of which would come far more slowly than today’s newsfeed. But they were at all times to hold on to the simple core values of the Kingdom: to love God, and one another. “Beware”, says Jesus, to his disciples in a private conversation over-looking a symbol of faith that had become a memorial to power, “Beware,… that no one leads you astray.” He knew people would come and suggest that a particular course of action would give their ideas more influence among people seeking power. Yet they had listened to his parables which taught that greed led ultimately to self-destruction. They had also walked with him, watching his acts of healing that fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy from Micah that all should act with mercy, love with justice and walk with humility. And, he had taught them to pray for forgiveness for those who would trespass against them, even if, just as he would, that meant doing so as they were killed in a futile attempt to stop the power of God’s love.

As we sit here, talking intimately with God, receiving Christ in the Eucharist, and looking out over  the evil that the search for power can inspire within people, the only gift we have been given to counter such things is the power of God’s love for all, the example of Jesus’ teaching, his healing touch and his prayer.

Over the coming days there will be voices all over the media calling for greater surveillance, greater controls and less immigration. As we remember that many of the migrants are running away from this same savagery that has been witnessed in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, we must consider such ideas in the light of today’s reading. If we do not seek to act in the way Christ would, we stand the risk of being led astray in a climate of fear and suspicion, which only seeks to alienate and cause further fracturing of community – instead, we are called to love our neighbour.

We should also “beware” the temptation to expect those mysterious people called ‘others’, to do that all important ‘something’, without them being clear what it is that we, as Christians, think they should do. That will effectively be like acting as the Priest or Levite did in the story of the Good Samaritan, and walking by on the other side. Granted we may initially struggle in shock to find positive things to suggest, but there are plenty of ways to make our voices heard, and based on Christ’s teaching, we can promote the need to enter into dialogue with neighbours, to seek to welcome the stranger, and to bind up the broken-hearted – and we can do these things ourselves when the opportunity presents itself.

We can also think about what forgiveness means, and whilst it does involve seeking justice, that justice should be restorative not abusive: we are called as Christians not to demand an eye for an eye, but to undertake that most difficult of tasks: in humility, we need to pray for peace in the face of evil, and then to keep on praying for peace some more. For, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Amen.

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Go on your way – Sermon for the Feast of St. Luke (Isaiah 35:3-6, 2 Tim 4:5-17, Luke 10:1-9)

Well, someone got out the boat(s)! (An excuse to post a photo from Otter Ferry, Tighnabruach, Argyll - August 2015)

Well, someone got out the boat(s)! (An excuse to post a photo from Otter Ferry, Tighnabruach, Argyll – August 2015)

It is only two short weeks since all was safely gathered in, since the fruits of the garden, the allotment, the hedgerow and the supermarket were gathered into God’s house, as we gave thanks for all he has created and nourishes us with. And, here we are, thinking about harvest again. Not this time in relation to what we celebrate of God’s work, but in terms of the work God has for us to do as his disciples, in the fields of his Kingdom.

We may have the safety and security of being part of God’s harvest as followers of Christ, but why, as we celebrate the feast of Luke are we thinking particularly about how we are also sent out by Jesus, to “go on [our] way”, with nothing but the healing peace of his love for the world?

Luke, styled by St. Paul in Colossians (4:14) as “the Physician”, was a man who journeyed. Quite possibly a non-Jew, we watch his account of Paul’s journeys in the Acts of the Apostles change from a description of what others did – “they went from town to town” (Acts 16:4) – to a description of what he shared in – “we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them” (Acts 16:10). In our Epistle, we see how far he has travelled, as he is now Paul’s only companion during part of his house-arrest in Rome. Luke is a man who journeyed for Jesus, writing in his Gospel of the journeys of Jesus, and the need for us to similarly, “go on [our] way” for Jesus.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus “has set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He knows he is journeying toward his death, the fulfilment of God’s purpose for him in this world, and a time when others must take up the challenge of sharing God’s love with the world. He is also journeying through particularly hostile territory, having been snubbed by a community of Samaritans who didn’t appreciate his purposeful journey towards the Temple from which they were excluded. For these reasons, he sends seventy of his followers out ahead of him “to every town and place where he… intended to go… like lambs among wolves.”

We know little of these people.

But, we do know there were seventy of them. They formed a community, joined together by a shared task, having all received the same instructions from Jesus. We can note that good safeguarding principles were applied because they were sent out in twos, but I think we can be reasonably certain that this was actually for the purpose of good team building – one could encourage another when the going got tough, and fear and uncertainty were in danger of taking hold.

We also know, that up until this point they had kept with them their own belongings, whether they were travelling from home each day to hear Jesus, of physically following the route he took, they had things that provided them with safety and security, like their purse, and footwear. Now Jesus was sending them out on what must have seemed a tremendously scary task, with nothing. They were to leave their current situations, and change to live a new pattern of life, one that meant they would be not just living like Jesus, but sharing his message.

And we also know they had a shared faith in Jesus.

Or do we?

Jesus was sending away those who had been followers, people who had seen his miracles, heard his words, and responded with curiosity, asking questions to which they did not necessarily receive straight-forward answers. Did they truly understand the relationship between Jesus, and the Kingdom of God he was asking them to proclaim? In this period before the events of Holy Week, I doubt whether they did. Greater faith would come only by deciding to be obedient to Jesus’ command. By sharing what little they already knew of his message – that in the person of Jesus, God was bringing a peace that would be among the most significant fruit of his love – they were exhausting their own understanding. Everything else they needed by way of understanding, would be given along the way. Jesus was after all, coming along right behind them, in person, to “make the job a good ‘un”.

And he still is.

In the Book of Common Prayer, the service of Holy Communion uses these words as a response to encountering the body and blood of Christ: “we offer and present unto thee O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee.” In our Eucharist we respond with similar words, asking that through Jesus, we are able to offer God “our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice.”

From the book of stories about God’s action in the world, otherwise known as the Bible, colloquial wisdom also comes up with the phrase: ‘if you want to talk on water, you have to get out of the boat’!

Sacrifice and bravery. Being a follower of Jesus, a disciple, is not for the faint-hearted. We have to “go on our way”, and be sent out by Jesus with only what he gives us. When we sense that he is telling us to do something new, he will give us what we need.

We may feel out on our own, but if we look around us, Jesus has placed us in a community that is on the same journey, and to which he is giving the same message. Go on your way, not alone, but together. We may share the exact same journey with one other, or even a few, but the reason for doing our journey will be the same as for many others. Jesus is sending us. So, we should encourage each other when the going gets tough, for in prayerfully sharing our concerns, weak hands are strengthened and feeble knees made firm (Is 35:3 adapted)!

We may also feel inadequate when we see a task ahead and sense our security being removed, but God is often asking us to make sacrifices or simply be brave and trust him. We won’t necessarily be required to give up our livelihood, our home, our financial and physical security, but we might need to work with people we don’t feel comfortable with, or do things that use skills we don’t think we’ve got. God can and will use what is freely given to him, however much we doubt ourselves. “Be strong, do not fear!” (Is 35:4)

We may feel our faith in Jesus is as small as a mustard seed, but “The Lord [stands by us] and gives [us] strength, so that through [us God’s] message might be fully proclaimed” (2 Tim 4:17, adapted). It is only by actively being disciples that we can really learn more about what it means to know Jesus, who is our God (Is 35:4). The encounters with God that he asks us to deliver and receive are a message of peace, the presence of Jesus that can heal lives as well as calm fears. Through his death and resurrection, we know that Jesus isn’t simply following along behind us on the road, but he is there in the thick of challenges we are presented with on the road he shares with us.

As we remember St. Luke, we are challenged by Jesus’ sending out of the seventy: are we willing to be sent out by Jesus as they were? They may not have felt safe or secure, but they went out in twos, a community sharing their ‘sent-ness’, their sense of inadequacy and their doubts, sure in the knowledge of nothing more than that they had a part in the beginning of God’s new Kingdom, because they could share of his peace.

Let us pray: Great God of bravery and boldness, who encourages the weak and timid, grant us the courage to be your hands, eyes and voice to those we meet this week. For the sake of Jesus, in whose name we are sent. Amen

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