Cutting out the canker – Romans 15:4-13 and Matthew 3:1-12 #Advent2

 

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The remaining, canker free, fruit trees in my garden – from which the birds are largely benefiting at present!

I’m still on placement in the North Hampshire Downs, and was blessed today by a stunning run between the villages, scattering Redwings and other thrushes to the four winds, and narrowly avoiding a flock of Partridge who had less concept of what wings are for! The less said about People In Lycra On Cycles the better.

On the liturgical front, celebrating Holy Communion in a rural church (Tunworth) lit largely by candles was lovely, though with no heating I breathed ‘smoke’ through the whole service and found my hands frozen by the silverware at the altar – all of which made the warm cup of tea provided from an urn in the open church porch much appreciated! At least at the second service (in Greywell), the Eucharistic Prayer was not accompanied by a loud quacking from the river that runs past the churchyard… this time😉

Some might say as a trainee on secondment I should have pulled the punch that this week’s Advent Gospel packed, but there has to be an integrity with the season, and why should those living among parishes in vacancy not be challenged to consider how they may be being called to consider how God might be calling them to change their ways, just as he calls me to change mine as I write?

 

When we moved to Yateley about 18 years ago, there were 4 fruit trees in the garden. An apple, a Conference pear, a plum tree and a cherry. It is a small garden, but the intention was to keep them all; we are big fans of fresh, home-grown produce.

But within the first 12 months, it became abundantly clear that the plum and the cherry had canker; areas of damage to the bark that at times oozed a nasty brown slime. They were the two smaller, weaker trees, and unsurprisingly they produced no fruit. Since the canker was in the main stem, we couldn’t simply remove an infected branch, as the fungal infection that causes canker would have remained.

We cut them down to ground level, treated the stumps with something so that we didn’t get sucker growth from the roots, and took the stems away to the tip, since bonfires aren’t allowed in our neighbourhood. We didn’t want the infection getting into our compost heaps or otherwise spreading through the garden. The apple and pear have survived, and after a good frost-free flowering period, bear a good crop of fruit.

In our Gospel reading this morning, John the Baptist is effectively likening the Pharisees and Sadducees, the spiritual leaders of their community, to a canker infection in a tree that needs to be cut out and thrown on the fire. The canker itself is the overwhelming arrogance and pride that the Jewish elite took in their inherited relationship with God, forgetting that their God is the maker, creator and hope of all things and all people, the Gentiles included as our Epistle highlights.

Ordinary people were flocking to John the Baptist in their hundreds to receive baptism in the river Jordan. They knew from their scriptures that the Prophets had said that God would come back to his people, when they repented. So people came in droves to repent. Confessing their sins, they were baptised with water in Jordon; not just a symbolic cleansing of individuals, but God doing a new thing in history as they went through the Jordan a second time, 1000 years after the Exodus.

God’s defeat of all evil and the establishment of his kingdom on earth as in heaven, is proclaimed by their actions as imminent. It was the beginning of a true repentance at the heart of ordinary people, that wasn’t just sorry for the day-to-day things they had done wrong, but would be life changing for those who recognised the one who would come immediately after John: the Messiah, the new King of the Jews, the inaugurator of God’s new Kingdom. His roots might be in the House of David of whom Jesse was the father, but this new Kingdom wasn’t just for Israel but for the whole world.

Of course, when the spiritual leaders of Israel sussed what was happening, they didn’t want to miss out on the excitement and anticipation that ordinary Jews were experiencing; but they were met with a very different reception. Not for them the immediate new life and forgiveness symbolised in the waters of baptism. John you see knew that at the heart of their presence was pride in their own status, and the ancestry of the Jewish people as a whole; a purity which they sought to protect.

John prepared the way for Jesus coming, knowing that God really is God; God isn’t simply a kind, indulgent parent who seeks to gently correct his children. Jesus would balance his mission of forgiveness, healing and comfort, with the solemn and stern news that when the Kingdom of God is completely fulfilled, God will demand complete allegiance. In Gospel of St. John we hear Jesus say, “I am the Real Vine and my Father… cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes…” (John 15:1-2 MSG). The vine does not even need to be suffering from canker to find itself pruned hard so that it bears fruit!

The spiritual leaders needed to have that made very clear to them, right from the start, and that was part of John’s role. They would find that the easy way to avoid being cut out and thrown on the fire would be to show they were fruitful trees, not hidebound by pride to their traditional rules, regulations and arguments around those bits of scripture they found convenient. In urging harmony between early Christians rooted in both Jewish and Gentile cultures and spiritualities, St. Paul uses our Epistle this morning to takes us back with them to the Old Testament prophesies that not only Israel, but all nations are summonsed to worship, submit to and praise God.

In this Advent season of preparation, we remember today that John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets even though we encounter him in the New Testament. We also anticipate both our remembrance of God’s incarnation as an ordinary baby in a manger, and the completion of the Kingdom of God at Jesus’ coming again. Binding those ideas together today is John’s challenge to the traditional spiritual leaders of his time echoing forward into our own church congregations who are called to be the spiritual leaders of our own generation, taking our part in the coming of God’s Kingdom. It is a call to take a long hard look at ourselves, individually and collectively, and identify where there might be a certain unhealthy pride in our lifestyle, our roots in and attitudes toward others in the community in which we live, or the practices with which we prefer to manifest our faith.

Before we flock to Jesus for the annual ‘love-in’ at the manger this Christmas, we need to look at where we need to accept God’s challenge and judgement in our own lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13). Where is there canker in our lives that needs to be cut out? What in our lives are we being summoned to repent of? It’s not just about being sorry because we can’t seem to help ourselves from making mistakes, but consciously setting aside that which inhibits our ability to share the love of God with others.

The collect that accompanies our Advent wreath today says that Jesus is the incarnation of God’s ‘power’ and ‘love’. Peace should flow from the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ out through those of us who believe not just in his birth, but the truth of his crucifixion and resurrection too. But it will only come from us understanding that this peace with God and with our neighbour, stems from accepting and responding to both the ‘love’ and the ‘power’ of God visible in that incarnation; the balance between healing from God and obedient allegiance to God. The peace of God, which is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5) in our lives, will only be seen when the canker of pride and arrogance that makes us think we don’t need to change anything, has been well and truly cut out, and placed on the fire for God’s disposal.

Collect for the Advent Wreath: Advent 2

God our Father,
you spoke to the prophets of old
of a Saviour who would bring peace.
You helped them to spread the joyful message
of his coming kingdom.
Help us, as we prepare to celebrate his birth,
to share with those around us
the good news of your power and love.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
the light who is coming into the world.
Amen.

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Christ the King – In Him, can we? Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43

What I think is a male Duke of Burgandy butterfly... a close view of the photograph suggests  stubby legs at the front! (Noar Hill, near Selborne, late May 2016)

What I think is a male Duke of Burgandy butterfly… a close view of the photograph suggests stubby legs at the front! (Noar Hill, near Selborne, late May 2016)

This morning as part of my placement in the North Hampshire Downs I was in All Saints, Odiham marking the end of the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King. My reflections start with the super-moon and a very small butterfly!

Epistle: Colossians 1:11-20  Gospel: Luke 23:33-43

I suspect few of us will have seen the full-extent of the super-moon on Monday, though on Sunday as I returned from a late afternoon service in Greywell I was blessed with a wonderful view of the apparently huge rising of the ‘nearly’ super-moon, in the glowing colour of autumn’s glory. But as there was no-where suitable to pull-off and capture the phenomenon in a photograph, it has to stay purely as a memory.

There was something so fascinating about this phenomenon of the moon being 30-thousand miles closer to the earth than usual, that images of it filled our news bulletins, our papers and our social media. Something we usually feel very far removed from, suddenly appeared closer (due to angles and orbits) and we were drawn into the detail of the moon, especially the craters and their impact ray systems. From a greater distance we normally just accept these by projecting onto them features with which we are more familiar: a man, or a rabbit, depending on our cultural context and physical viewpoint. Instead the different materials of which the moon is made were highlighted, emphasising for those of us that aren’t scientists that the moon is a far more complex thing than perhaps we realised. We understand more of the universe when we are able to see the detail of what we are looking at.

I originally come from the New Forest and have been fortunate to be surrounded by wildlife most of my life, learning to understand the differences in coat colour, markings, size and other physical attributes of some native animals and birds. But it took the discovery and accessibility of digital photography to bring to the fore the detail and significance in an insects eye, antennae, wing-case or legs. Did you know for example that some of the small, rare and beautiful Duke of Burgundy butterflies have only four apparent legs, the vestigial remains of the front two marking out such individuals as males?! It’s important to those studying the viability of butterfly populations to know whether individuals are male or female. We understand more of the world around us when we are able to see the detail of what we are looking at.

On this final feast of the Christian year, known as the feast of Christ the King, we are given the opportunity to understand in more detail the significance of our Servant King by drawing close-up to the cross on which he died.

In Luke’s account of the crucifixion the accepted view of Jesus’ pretentions to the role of a Messiah who brings salvation, inspire mockery and derision with the thrice repeated challenge to save himself. The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers and one of the criminals with whom he is being crucified see Jesus as-if only from a distance, and even then, perhaps only as what they want to see: not a man or a rabbit on the moon, or an insect with the usual legs but another defeated and humiliated trouble-maker put out of the way.

Yet the second criminal takes a much closer view. Recognising his own death as justified by the law of that time because of his own wrongdoing, his vision of the innocent next to him is enhanced, and he sees clearly in his character, words and actions, the truth of who Jesus is, and the power of which his crucifixion speaks. For the irony of the mockers demand that Jesus should “save himself” to prove he is “the Messiah, the chosen one”, is that in his crucifixion lies the means by which this King achieves his royal power and offers salvation not to himself, but to all humankind. As in so many other examples from his earthly ministry, it is an outcast from society who is capable of a unique insight into who Jesus is, the Servant King.

The early Christian Hebrew poem that we now read in English prose in Colossians, draws this image of Christ as Servant King still closer, like a telescope on a distant moon or perhaps the macro lens on the minute detail of a passing insect. Here is visible even more detail, highlighting the supremacy and sacrifice of Jesus, giving us a greater understanding of the nature of the God we too are called to serve.

Jesus, it highlights, is the first-born of all creation. In him all things hold together. It is easy to forget when looking in awe at a super-moon or the beauty of a butterfly, that actually they are, because Jesus. Jesus Christ wasn’t simply the person for whom the whole creation was made, it was his idea, his workmanship in the first place, designed for humans to enjoy and care for. He who flung stars into space, created us to rule with justice what he had brought into being (Psalm 8).

But, we’re told, he is also the first-born from the dead. Why? Because the evil and pain that came into that creation through humans wrongdoing, their inability to care appropriately for it and for each other, could only be healed by the very one who created it, the living God. Christ the agent of creation is also the agent of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope, which is why Christ the King, the head of the church, the fullness of God, is a crucified Christ, the Servant King.

As WE look in detail at these close-up images of God made man, refusing to save himself because of you and me, and the world we live in, we should also see something else: Jesus is the blueprint for the genuine humanness which is the gold-standard of what we are called to be as humans. The cross isn’t just about the perfection of love, grace, forgiveness, humility and sacrifice which Jesus made, it is a summons to find and exhibit that love, grace, forgiveness, humility and sacrifice in our own personal humanity.

Unlike the images we have of a super-moon, a butterfly or any other aspect of the world and life around us, whether purely in our memory or on a camera or computer chip, this close-up, detailed image of Christ, the Servant King, can only be retained in our memories, and, importantly, shared with others, IF we willingly admit our own wrong-doings, strive constantly to understand who Jesus is by being up-close to him in all things, and bring that image alive in our own lives.

JESUS withstood the mockery of those who really should have understood and recognised him, and rose with humility above the derision of those whose last laugh was at the expense of an innocent. In him, can we?

JESUS recognised in the words an outcast criminal condemned for crimes he really had committed, a hope and faith in God that deserved a place with him in paradise. In him, can we?

JESUS, first-born of all creation, brought the world into being as a place of beauty, in which the abundance of life was to be enjoyed, celebrated and cared for. In him, can we?

JESUS, first-born of the dead, brought healing and forgiveness to a broken world and to broken people. In him, can we?

In the image of Jesus we show to others in our own lives, can we welcome people into this kingdom of Christ, our King?

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Prayers for #Remembrance Day based around a sonnet by Malcolm Guite

I have been asked to do the prayers for the Remembrance Day service in one church of the parish in which I have recently started a two month placement. In an effort to both step away from standard forms of published prayers, and to feed my own need for creativity, I have written the following. The words of intercession are wrapped around the words of a sonnet written by the well-known poet-priest Malcolm Guite (published in his book ‘Sounding the Seasons’,) and conclude with more formal words from the Church of England’s, ‘New Patterns for Worship’.

I hope Malcolm will forgive me if he’s not sure his sonnet should have been used this way, or if my words don’t live up to his wordsmithery. I also hope that the parish in which they will be spoken can relate them their own feelings and emotions in the silences that will be offered, and that you, if you have need, might feel free to make use of them. [If you do, please let me know when and where via the ‘comments’ facility.]

 

 


November pierces with its bleak remembrance

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Photograph by Graham Hartland from the Devonshire monument near Theipval, France, reminding us not only that this is 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, but that the Jews whose kin would die at the hands of the Nazis in the Second World War faught as an integral part of the Allied Forces in the First!

Of all the bitterness and waste of war;
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.

Lord God, as we remember with gratitude
the fallen of generations past,
The faces and wounds of those
still very much present in our living memory;
We beseech you again
as heirs of a conflicted humanity,
for that peace which passes all understanding,
And the faith that trusts in your unfailing love.

[Silence]

Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
For shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause.

Jesus Christ, who spoke calm to the storm,
Healing to the diseased and lame
And the assurance of a future to the hopeless;
Make your voice heard by the leaders of all nations and peoples,
That they, with us,
might act with true justice,
Love mercy,
and walk humbly with you our God.

[Silence]

In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth, and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries from every land.

Holy Spirit who stirs our hearts to compassion
In flickering images
That flow with the blood of careless inhumanity;
Let the sparks of our inadequacy and frustration,
Be ignited into the flames of action,
That together we might be prepared to be
Your answer to our fervent prayers.

[Silence]

One silence only might redeem that blood;
Only the silence of a dying God.

Blessed Trinity, who reached into your broken world,
Through the redeeming power of the cross and resurrection
To break the power of darkness;
In your endless grace,
Work in us to restore the knowledge that silence
contains not the seeds of apathy,
nor the truth of lies,
But the fruit of your Kingdom come,
And the hope of eternal life.

[Silence]

In darkness and in light,                                              NPW J6
in trouble and in joy,
help us, heavenly Father,
to trust your love,
to serve your purpose,
and to praise your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.      

 

 

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Silk and batik clergy shirts – from bridal designers Nortier Shallow

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Silk clerical shirt – I know the sleeves look long, but that way they cope with a multitude of needs.

I don’t profess to be in the slightest bit stylish, being happiest when comfortable, and am no model, so apologies for the grim photos (courtesy of my husband). I work in a variety of environments which tend to the cold and drafty at times, and require the wearing of a top layer of long, flowing robes in which I tend to wave my arms around a lot (aka: the ‘manual actions’ of the Eucharist Prayer and sharing God’s blessing and forgiveness)! Thus I like my clerical shirts to have ample room both for the arm waving, and the ability to hide a layer of thermals!! I’m basically just a little,… quirky.

I inherited some silk remnants that Cross Designs successfully made into a dress and shirt for my ordination as Deacon, but they tended to the ‘close fitting’ and they’re too far away for easy fitting sessions. Then I found some similar silk in CandH in Winchester, so for my ordination as Priest I got Ben and Adrien (Bahbua the designers at my local bridal shop BOO) to come up with something that fitted my quirky requirements. It was fantastic fun, and they fully entered into the spirit with which the material had been chosen.

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My ‘pentecost’ clerical shirt – in cotton batik.

I was delighted, so when we found some batik cottons in wonderful colours at a quilting shop called Step-By-Step Quilts in South Molton whilst on holiday, I just had to get Ben and Adrien to have another go, the only alteration to the pattern being to reduce the depth of the collar, so that a standard collar insert fits without falling out. Once again I’m thrilled with how they’ve turned out, and the orange/green/pink shirt has already been christened my ‘pentecost’ shirt by the locals where I’m on placement. I also have red stars, which I’m saving for Christmas – no surprises there!

I’m hugely grateful to Anna at Boo, and particularly Ben and Adrien for making the whole experience a delight and coping with an eccentric cleric in their bridal shop.

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My ‘pentecost’ shirt hiding under robes – I can even toll a bell in it!

Adrien and Ben are in the process of re-branding and will be moving to their own premises in Basingstoke as Nortier Shallow in the near future. I can thoroughly recommend them for anyone wanting something a little different made ‘bespoke’.

Not the cheapest option in clergy shirts, but way more fun and a great way of getting to know local businesses!

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Another batik clerical shirt – Christmas stars!

 

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Coloured Fallow Deer in the New Forest

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Oblong-leaved Sundews (Drosera intermedia) (I think?)

On the very last afternoon of the school summer holidays (4th September), my husband (a teacher) and I took a last trip out together, and since we had to be in the New Forest, chose one of my childhood haunts, when my father was Forestry Commission Head Keeper for the north of the New Forest.

On this occasion my thinking was that we might see deer, and also dragonflies and damselflies. I spotted a distant mixed bunch of Fallow before we’d got off the tarmac road, and we weren’t to be disappointed by the mating Emerald Damselflies on the pond. We also found a good number of Bog Asphodel seedheads (Narthecium ossifragum), and what I take to be Oblong-leaved Sundews (Drosera intermedia) among the various wallows and valley mire areas (though you’re welcome to correct me if I’m wrong with my i.d.).

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Fallow Deer in the New Forest, in all their colour variations. (Sept 2016)

But it was the Fallow Deer that proved the most interesting to me on this occasion. It was a large group of 30-40 “small deer” as my Dad would describe them; does with fawns, and some yearlings, the prickets (yearling males) showing their first antlers. Among them were 5 melanistic (black) animals, one of which was definitely a fawn another being a mature doe. There was also a white doe, and a menil pricket.

It was a really impressive show of the range of colours that exist in the coats of Fallow Deer, and when we showed my father the photo’s later, he commented that it was the most diversely coloured herd he’d seen for many, many years.

The white deer aren’t albino, having normal coloured eyes, but do tend to have cleaves (hooves) that are paler than normal. Dad showed me a paper he co-wrote in 1975 for the British Deer Society journal ‘Deer’ (Vol 3, No7), which explains that the white deer had been in the New Forest for “a very long time” owing their origin to the historic parks north of the Forest. The black and menil deer were at that time a more recent introduction, with the Keeper of Holly Hatch recording the first black buck in 1945 from Loosehanger. The first menil Fallow was recorded by New Forest Keepers in 1965.

The records published in that report gives the Keeper’s 1974 survey as showing 63 white Fallow, 12 black and 15 menil. It would be interesting to discover what those numbers stand at more than 40 years later.

In the meantime, if you’re in the New Forest, do look carefully to see what deer you can see; only the Fallow have this colour range!

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Financial battles – 1 Tim 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-end

I was back in Old Basing celebrating Eucharist and preaching this Sunday, before being back on the road again next week.

The Epistle and Gospel spoke about money, at times using some quite militaristic language I thought, but also about listening to God, to Jesus’ example and instructions for living a life that helps to extend the Kingdom of God. To understand my reference early in the sermon, it will help to know that my training incumbent Fr Alec has previously served as a padre in the Guards during the Afghan conflict.

2016-08-04-18-14-02I wonder how many battles you’ve fought in your lifetime?

Some, like Fr Alec and others among you will have fought in, or at least witnessed personal, armed conflict with a dangerous aggressor.

I’ve been reading my great-uncle’s diary, written at least in part during the Battle of the Somme, and it has struck me forcibly that in battle, listening to, and passing on accurately, commands and current positions is vital; you need to know when to move forward and where to, else your battle line will not be covered by supporting fire; you need to be aware of when retreat is the only option; and you need to listen to those around you, to know where the fighting is fiercest. And if those in command are ill-informed, misdirected, or won’t listen to the wisdom of those who have seen and experienced the front line, however junior their rank, then the battle becomes an even more pointless waste of life than it was already.

Many of you will have fought other battles. Battles with various illnesses, battles to get members of your family the support they need, battles of a legal nature when things have gone wrong or accidents happened. And quite probably we have all fought a battle with money in some way.

2016-09-27-12-48-03cHowever rich or poor we are, most of us will say we could do with a little more money. And of course there are untold millions of people in the world, for whom a little more money would make a massive difference. They’d be able to eat more than one tiny meal a day, perhaps have a roof over their head, and be able to afford to send their kids to school. They could leave behind sheer misery, and yes, probably be content with their improved financial lot.

For some people, much of their dealings with money have given rise to uncertainty and stress. Those of us who have lived through the massive fluctuations in the mortgage rates and styles of the 1980s and 1990s, or held savings in more recent financial crises, will know that money will come and go. Listening to best advice doesn’t always guarantee financial security, especially when the greed of a few jeopardises the whole financial system. But, the front line of the battle in individual families is always whether food can be put on the table, clothes on our backs, the rent or mortgage paid, and some form of transport be afforded to get us to work or school. When all is said and done, here in the western world, that is about ALL we need.

Money is NOT of itself evil. Money was a human invention to make the movement of goods and services easier; in and of itself, money is not a bad thing. But when money becomes the thing that we listen to the most, whether we desire more and more of it, or whether we’re in debt because of desiring more and more of what it can buy, then we’ve started on the slippery slope to worshipping it, and that is idolatry. Money isn’t evil. Loving it IS, as our passage from 1 Timothy 6 this morning famously points out.

Loving money, or the things it can buy, makes us greedy, and whether held individually or corporately, loving money will stop us having a generous heart, and that was the rich man’s problem in our Gospel parable from Luke 16. He couldn’t even make the effort to give the starving man at his gate the crumbs from his table. We’ve all seen images of starving people, those on our own streets and those around the world. Written in the pain of their pinched faces and the pattern of their skeletons protruding through thin, fleshless skin, is a picture of what greed can do – even when some of the cause is natural disaster. If we listen to our politicians carefully, we can hear greed in their words too, when the profits made from the sales of arms, far outweighs the increase of a few million in the aid budget to the very places under fire from those armaments!

So in the battles generated through the idolatry of money that leads to greed at a personal or national level, how do we as Christians decide who to listen to, and then how to act?

Money can come, and can go. God doesn’t. He is the constant. His is the voice of instruction that should guide us. In our parable, Abraham listens to the rich man in torment in Hades who has, too late, seen the revelry of his lounging pass away (Amos 6:7). Realising the error of his ways he wants to save his like-minded brothers. Unlike similar fables of it’s time, in Jesus version of this story, there is no happy ending but rather the stark reminder that the rich man and his brothers’ had failed to listen to the voices of Moses, and the prophets like Amos, who taught God’s law. The Law included among other instructions the requirement to enable “the alien, the orphan, and the widow” to collect the gleanings in a field and the last olives from your trees, “so that God may bless you in all your undertakings.” (Deut 24:19-20)

God has not required those who have money, or other forms of wealth, to simply give it away willy nilly. It is as possible to be a wealthy Christian, as it is to be poor one who remains financially secure. The key in battling to handle our finances with integrity as Christians, is not only to listen to wise financial advice and hope it’s at least half-right, but to listen to scriptures like those today. These scriptures, and others like them, are the battle commands we’ve been given and should lie behind all our financial dealings; to fight with our faith and our money those battles that stand for Jesus’ priorities of love, gentleness, endurance, generosity, and other good works, including feeding the hungry at our gates.

With the Foodbank, our support for Christian Aid and other charities, the occasional purchase of the Big Issue, we are caring in small ways for the Lazarus’s at our gate. But, the characteristics of love and generosity aren’t just about us behaving better towards others for our own peace of mind to show we’re better people; they are the essential requirements of being in Jesus’ army. However, it isn’t about buying our way into God’s Kingdom either, it’s about living by faith from the point that we declare for ourselves a belief in the resurrection of Christ on through our lives. We accept our place in this battle through baptism and confirmation, and we will be constantly challenged to move our financial battle lines forward making appropriate forays and sacrifices along the way, listening for the instructions both scriptural and otherwise that show us when to advance, or retreat, and where the fighting is fiercest for those around us. Those will be the places where our generosity of spirit, and our money, is needed most. There will come alive our calling to fight in Jesus’ army.

Let us pray:

Loving Lord who has given us much
We thank you for the example of generosity set us in scripture;
We repent of those times when we have not been generous.
We repent of those times when greed has made our finances precarious.
Open our eyes to the needs in the world, those on our doorstep, and those further afield,
And grant us wisdom to prioritise your kingdom in the financial decisions that we make.
Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Praying for our nations leaders and the leaders of all nations – 1 Tim 2:1-7 and Luke 16:1-13

I was back on the road this week, visiting two churches with contrasting services: a BCP Holy Communion in a church actively being re-ordered (there was a small digger in the nave), and a Family Communion. In the first place (Odiham) there is a theme of prayer encompassing their sermons at present, and the 1 Timothy passage lent itself to this. The Gospel on the other hand is apparently one of the hardest in the lectionary to preach on! So no pressure then!!

So, in the format in which I wrote it, with alternative starting modes for each church, and an additional ending for the second church, here is what I said. (In the second church it actually had people talking about who they were going to have to pray for, and it was really interesting who they found hardest.)
Intro for Odiham (BCP):

It is not unlikely that at some point in our lives we have lent
someone money, at least if we have had any to lend. It might
have been as part of a formal agreement, or something more
informal where repayment is taken on trust, and interest may
or may not have been charged. We have almost certainly been
lent money, by a bank or building society if by no-one else; and in those circumstances, we have almost certainly been charged interest. People like a return on the money that others
use; it makes the effort and risk seem worth their while. When
we are the debtors it is wonderful if the interest on the loan is discounted. When we are creditors, it may be more difficult to
waive.  

If it is not money that we have lent, we are very likely to have
committed time, talents or some other definable resource to
help family, friends, or a neighbour, and whilst we have not  perhaps done so with the anticipation of being paid back in kind, there is possibly a natural expectation that in some way
the relationship will be reciprocal when we experience a time
of need or crisis ourselves. With money and goods, time and talents we have a natural inclination to expect some return on our investments. And I  wonder if sometimes we anticipate the same when we pray? 

Simple introduction for Upton Grey (Family Communion): 

Some coins, and the remaining pictures of world leaders to be prayed for – there were more than this.

I have three bags with me today, and with the first let us
imagine for a moment that you have asked me for a loan of some money, and I lend you some. (Circulate bag of coins 2/5p) What might I expect in return?  

I might also, perhaps more realistically, imagine that you have
asked me to pray for you. I can indeed give you my prayers. (Second bag of ‘Can I pray for you?’ paper slips.) What might you and I expect in return? Nothing? But plenty from God, as we trust faithfully that in some way those prayers will be answered.  

Paul, in our first reading this morning, is asking us to pray
specifically for our leaders, the ones that grown ups elect into  power, and those that inherit what we might view as status or wealth, as in the case of Her Majesty Queen. But why should  we bother, if we don’t feel like we get any benefit in return?

Both:

In many places in scripture we are taught to pray. In the Old
Testament we are taught to “look to the Lord and his strength;
to seek his face always” (Hos 14:2). Jesus taught repeatedly
on prayer and among other things said to “ask for anything in
his name” (John 16:24), to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44)
and of course left his disciples with what we know as the

Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). St. Paul, elsewhere in his
letters teaches by example that we are to pray with thanks for
others (Eph 1:15-21). But in our passage from 1 Tim today,
Paul is exhorting us first and foremost to pray for our nation’s
leaders and the leaders of all nations.

The temptation when we read that we are meant to pray for
our leaders, those elected and unelected, may be to think in a
similar way to that which we would about making a loan ofmoney; what will we get in return? Prayer all too easily

becomes more like trying to broker a deal with God, reminding
him that he is known as a just God, but having our own image
of what that justice should look like. If we don’t agree with the
politics and policies of those for whom we are called to pray,
this may be a particular issue and possibly put us off doing it
all together!

But if we look at this ideal in the light of Jesus’ parable about
money, perhaps it can help us in some way. In itself, it is not
an easy parable to understand, perhaps because it was not
directly aimed at us, but at the community of Israel at the time
of Jesus. He was only too well aware that it has been under
the leadership of foreign rulers for many generations, and that
a time was coming when that rule would become particularly
ruthless and hard to survive under.

Jesus was not suggesting that devious financial practices
would help them through this, but that they should as it were,
think ‘outside the box’ with regard to their financial and other
relations with those in power who control their lives, so that as
his disciples they would live to tell the tale, and the good news
of his life, death and resurrection. And, it is not after all, the only time that Jesus exhorts his followers to be shrewd, as
shrewd as snakes indeed (Matthew 10:16)!  

St. Paul too has the expectation that we, with young Timothy,
will think shrewdly and laterally, but in this case about how we
pray. Paul doesn’t want our national, secular and spiritual
leaders to be an after thought behind our own more pressing
concerns, and that of our family, friends and neighbour’s. Like
Jeremiah telling the exiled people of Israel to pray for the city
of Babylon to which they had been taken, so that they will prosper within it (Jer 29:7), Paul knows that to live in peace, with godliness and dignity, requires us to pray for our leaders.
And on the world stage, I think we know only too well how much millions of other people need such peace and dignity?!

It is also about the propagation of the Christian gospel; as
ordinary people with limited power at our fingertips, we need to
live in as stable a situation as possible, so that we can thrive,
and so that the message of God’s love that we hopefully live  out, can be seen as a witness to the grace of God, and the sacrifice of Christ.  

The conclusion of our Gospel reminds us that money is not the
possession the master and steward regard it as in the parable;
but something whose use demands trust. In the modern world
we have to trust people with the care of our money, and whilst
that doesn’t always go as well as it might, we too are trusted
with the care of the finances of others, who place their faith in us. 

And just as we need to be faithful in such secular and  financial dealings, so too we are called to be faithful in the  matter of prayer. God entrusts us with the ability to pray, to turn to Jesus who is our mediator and advocate with the Father, with the focus of our prayers being first and foremost  those who lead, or seek to lead, the nation’s of the world, for  through their decisions and actions lies the welfare of all God’s
people.  

Conclusion for Upton Grey:

And so we are left with my third bag, and the challenge held
there-in: will you pray for these, the leaders of the world?  (Circulate bag of ‘leaders’ and the question, ‘Will you pray for me?)

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Rhubarb gin and its yummy by-products

2016-07-09 14.55.329th July: a rare Saturday of family time at home combined with the need to make the most of the limited productivity of our little garden as we were going away (to different places) for a few days the following week.

Among the pickings was over a kilo of rhubarb (grown in half a water butt – the other one has courgette plants in it). Having recently bottled last year’s sloe gin, and not yet got any raspberries to do the business with, the lad and I had decided that some of this would go towards an experiment in rhubarb gin.

The internet told us variously that we should use the juice of half a lemon, only steep it for 2-3 weeks, and not leave it for more than 3 months because otherwise it takes on a bitter flavour.

2016-07-09 14.56.09This is what we actually did:

  • Wash the rhubarb
  • Cut the pinkest (lower) bits of the stalks into roughly inch lengths, setting the top half of each stalk aside to be stewed
  • Weighed it (600g)
  • Dropped it in the massively large Kilner jar we got from a charity shop some years ago
  • Using roughly the quantities from the Superpants recipe, because I like Hugh F-W stuff and that was their source, we added 300g of castor sugar: a mix of white and golden because that’s what we had, pouring it in on top
  • Closed the lid, and shook the sugar so it was stuck all over the rhubarb
  • Poured in 75cl of London Dry Gin from what is effectively our corner shop; OK so Waitrose is our corner shop, we live with it😉
  • Closed the lid again, and shook repeatedly2016-07-09 14.56.57
  • Stored it in a cool dark corner, with a note on the counter above which read “have we shaken the gin today?”
  • There was then a significant pause… which we decided would probably last until shortly before the lad went back to Uni. Can’t think why…

Perhaps fittingly, 9th July also proved to be the day that my ‘sloe gin’ guru Dom Nicholas, monk of Alton Abbey, died. I think he would have approved.

29th August: It also seemed fitting to end the ‘Not Greenbelt 2016’ (#notgb16) festival with the conclusion of the rhubarb gin experiment. You can read about the festival (which raises funds The Big Issue Foundation) here.

2016-08-29 10.33.23cToday the lad and I strained the rhubarb gin; it gave us almost exactly a litre of liquid, which we assume includes the juice of the rhubarb but more particularly the sugar we added. It tastes… delicious, and has a bit of a kick. We’ve not yet tried the ‘cut with champagne’ version, that will need to come later!

Left with gin infused but otherwise raw rhubarb we didn’t feel we could throw it in the compost – if only because we’d get the worms very drunk😉

So instead, we stewed some down, with a little more sugar, mixed that with lime jelly cubes and made the whole into Rhubarb, Gin and Lime Jelly. A finger taste before it set suggests it will taste lovely, but we’ll see how tomorrow guests take to it. 2016-08-29 12.54.08

With the rest, plus some added fresh rhubarb from the patch, we made a simple rhubarb crumble, which we hope will have a suitable kick from the not so secret ingredient. It smells lovely but is going in the freezer, so the taste test will be much delayed.

So that’s about it really. Feel free to try copying any or all of the above, and let me know the results, good or bad. Happy gin drinking… and if you’re a connoisseur of the stuff try and get hold of my favourite holiday find Wicked Wolf a new handcrafted award-winning gin from Exmoor (but don’t waste it on rhubarb!)2016-08-29 10.51.53

 

 

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Coming or going? A sermon for 2 parishes in vacancy (Heb 11:1-16 and Luke 12:32-40)

 

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Inside St. Mary’s Herriard  (very grateful to my husband for taking the photographs as we’ve travelled the rural parishes of Odiham Deanery in recent weeks)

I was back on the road this week, at two ends of Odiham Deanery, leading worship at a BCP Holy Communion in St. Mary’s Eversley who with Derby Green are still to appoint a vicar, then crossing all the way to St. Mary’s Herriard as that part of the North Hampshire Downs Benefice anticipate the imminent arrival of their new Team Rector. My reflections dwelt on their situations in the light of the Epistle and Gospel this week.

Also included here are the intercessions I used at Herriard, which used some of the imagery of the Gospel reading.

 

I wonder. Do we know whether we’re coming or going?

We all have times in our lives when we are up to our ears in stuff, juggling different needs. There will be things related to our work or livelihood demanding our attention; some domestic issues that might inflict themselves on us, like a car breaking down just before a long-journey is required; or perhaps some difficult family situation that needs us to give up precious time that we don’t really have, to help or resolve it. Some of this muddle of circumstances will have been caused by our own mistakes, some, simply by that thing we call life. We find ourselves dashing, mentally and possibly physically, from one thing to another, without a clear a idea of where our focus needs to be, what is important rather than urgent. We don’t know whether we’re coming or going.

Our readings this morning are all about comings and goings.

In the passage from Hebrews, we start with the coming of faith into the world, people learning to recognise the relationship of faith, hope and trust in the lives and movement of people who heard what could not be seen: the power of God to move things forward.

In our Gospel passage, there are preparations for the coming of a master to his servants, at an unknown time, possibly late at night when it would be understandable and easy to be asleep.

That’s the comings, but what about the goings?

In our Hebrews passage we are reminded of some of the root stories of our faith, with Abraham “setting out into a new land, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). Isaac and Jacob were to take important journeys of their own, all three of them having heard the promise of a kingdom that they were never themselves to see fulfilled: that Abraham’s children would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore.

In Luke, there is also the promise of this kingdom, but the details of the journey required are hidden in the description of what needs to be done. “Be dressed for action…” (Luke 12:35) was the advice originally given to the Israelites preparing for their Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:11). In the story of the first Passover there is a sense of urgency as they prepare to leave and go into a new land. But, this going can only be enabled by the coming of the Lord into Egypt in great power, preserving and releasing his chosen people to go into the Promised Land. We also read this passage in the light of the Christ who spoke it, he who had not only come in his earthly life to serve, but was also going through a violent death, to release all people into a new life. Goings, and comings, towards the fulfilment of a promise that will ultimately be fulfilled at Jesus’ return.

I have spent much of the last few Sundays travelling around parishes in the Odiham Deanery that are in vacancy, so it is unsurprising that as I reflect on my own comings and goings among you and other parishes, I do so with a strong sense of the goings and comings that you are yourselves experiencing. You have said goodbye to clergy who have moved on to pastures new, and you anticipate the coming, sooner (Herriard) or perhaps later (Eversley), of those freshly called to be among you. As churches, you are making preparations, either concrete plans or something a little more nebulous and ill-defined that hasn’t quite, if you’ll excuse the expression, got its clothes on yet.

But what of the promises that all these comings and goings are moving towards. Is it simply the potential/promise of a new Vicar/Rector who will take the strain off tired hands, fasten their belt, tuck in their robes, and get down to the hard work of serving their patch as Christ serves the church? Is it a promise which will take you on a journey to a new land, a fresh coming of Christ? Is it the promise of the Kingdom of God?

The opening lines of our passage in Hebrews define faith in relation to hope. Faith for the Hebrews – the people of Israel whose community is defined by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and a journey to a new kingdom – was always closely linked to hope. Their hope was in looking at the future and trusting God to sort it out from the muddle of circumstances that their lives, at times their mistakes, had got them into. Their hope was under-girded with faith, and with that they had an assurance that the promises that had been made to Abraham, would be fulfilled.

It wasn’t a promise that rested on particular people, though they needed to be obedient to the voice of God, and encourage obedience in others. It wasn’t just a promise about some land, a place to call home, to protect and nurture so that it fed them. It was most importantly a promise that moved them toward a perfection of relationship with God, which is what the Kingdom of God is. In Jesus that promised relationship with God was extended to include us all. In the ‘now and not yet’ of the Kingdom of God, the promise has a fresh start, a new beginning that includes us in the need to be prepared for its complete fulfilment when Jesus comes again in glory.

We are the stars in the sky, the sand on the shore, part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. We are part of the Kingdom of God, the custodians of the next leg of the Kingdom’s journey toward perfection, and God works in our imperfections just as he worked with Israel’s. So, we need to understand our roles in the comings and goings that are required in that Kingdom.

As you make your preparations for the coming, sooner or later, of new clergy, how prepared are you for going forward with the next part of that promise? Are you dressed and ready for action? Have your lamps been lit?

My hope and prayer is that amid the comings and goings of a parish in vacancy, your hopes have been based on the assurance of faith in our God of journeys, and the anticipation of life in the now and not yet of the Kingdom of God, revealed in a Christ who comes among us now, and serves us at this table.

Prayers used for Herriard service:

Looking at the clothes we are wearing:

Lord Jesus, your Kingdom comes that those who have nothing are clothed not only for comfort, warmth and protection, but in the love of God our Father. As we put on the cloth of hope in new beginnings, enable us to clothe and feed others, so that they too may be know what it is to receive blessing from you.                    Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Looking at the lamps and lights around us:

Lord Jesus, your Kingdom comes that those who are in darkness see light, the light that shows the path ahead. As we look forward to a new path, a different route, enable us to shine the light of your mercy into the lives of those whose journeys have become dominated by pain, by fear or by addiction, so that they too see a new way and a new hope, in the knowledge of your presence and your promises.             Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Looking at the belts, fastenings and ties of not just our clothes but also our relationships with each other and with others:

Lord Jesus, we remember that your Kingdom comes through the relationships that we have. Help us where appropriate to use some to lift what we carry out the dirt so that it can be used for your glory. Through the power of your forgiveness, loose those relationships that bind us to places of pain and judgement, and fasten others tight, so that no-one is left behind and all are included in the journey of faith in you.             Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As we gather at your table, and leave by the door:

Lord Jesus, we remember that your Kingdom is a place where we are fed and sent out. Help us be alert to your presence among us, from the smallest to the largest part of your creation, in our friends and in our occupations; that in all things we welcome you, but are also your obedient servants, eager and prepared to serve your Kingdom in our prayers and preparations for your coming again in glory.

Merciful Father…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taking responsibility: Luke 12:13-21 and Colossians 3:1-11

I was back at base in Old Basing this week. It’s funny how somewhere you’ve been for two years, and an altar that you’ve celebrated Eucharist at for one, can suddenly feel unfamiliar! The message however, would be much the same, wherever I preached it, so I hope it challenges those who only read it, as well as those who heard it.

I have never had to face the repeated onslaught of shrill, wheedling requests that start: “Mummy, can you tell [insert name of sibling here] to… Stop hitting me… Give me my pencil back… Let me have have my turn… Etc.” But I’ve done my time at the school gate and with friends with multiple children, and I know that it’s a reality that I have been fortunate to escape.

 There’s something about human nature that means we don’t always grow out of the idea that we need to get other people to make decisions for us. Our political system seems to run on the idea: we elect people who will make decisions for us, and then when we think they’ve made the wrong decision, we can moan about it and blame them! One might say, that now we’re living with the consequences of a referendum where we had to take a collective decision for ourselves, we’re still blaming the politicians for giving us inaccurate facts on which to base those decisions… But perhaps I digress.

 

My stock of sporting knowledge is restricted, but our national footballers, cricketers and Olympic hopefuls all have to live with the consequences of each and every move they chose to make in their particular arena. If you’re Joe Root, then those decisions will be perfect almost every time; if you’re a member of the England football team, that is less likely. If you don’t have a clue who or what I’m talking about… Well done for avoiding sporting distractions, and I suggest you turn your TV off for the next month!

 

We humans are risk-averse enough to attempt the feat of metaphorically ‘putting our head in the sand’ as ostriches were once supposed to do when faced with danger, especially when WE are faced with the danger of having to take responsibility for dealing with a difficult situation for ourselves, and living with the consequences of how that works out. The person in the crowd around Jesus who wanted Jesus to tell his “brother to divide the family inheritance with [him]”, was not an unusual character.

 

Jesus of course, had more right than any other human to make such a judgement, and perhaps the person who asked the question understood that. But I doubt it. Jesus, the Son of God, recognised as such even by the demons who possessed Legion (Luke 8:28), would have known that he had both the authority to make such a judgement, and the power to see that it was carried through, but he refused to use it.

 

Instead, he tells a parable that talks about the dangers of greed, especially when it is combined with a self-assurance that sets aside the teachings of God, and forgets that no-one can avoid their own mortality. In other words, the Son of God expects us to grapple with tricky situations for ourselves, and we need to be prepared to take responsibility for the consequences of those decisions. Yes, as Christians we believe in a loving God who is in control. He is also the loving God who gave us freedom of expression, freedom of will; the ability to work together to make decisions for ourselves. But in Christ, we have the example as well as the command of this parable, to use our freedoms wisely. We are to put God, and our fellow humans, before our own needs and our own desire for comfort, relaxation and a good time.

 

St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians has a not unrelated message: alongside the Colossians, we are asked to set our minds on God, on clothing ourselves with a way of life that befits our professed faith, faith in he “who, though he was in the form of God,… emptied himself,… being born in human likeness… [and] became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). Indeed the whole letter to the Colossians is about that new community learning how to bear the fruit that comes from following Jesus, setting aside any number of faults that show that by nature we humans too easily fall into the trap of putting our own desires before the needs of others, and are willing to cover our tracks with bad behaviour when we get caught out.

 

If we put ourselves in the place of the person who wanted Jesus to effectively take control of a tricky family situation, we may grudgingly recognise that there’s an element of immaturity on display, with perhaps a side order of buck-passing. Are we, like them, simply in the crowd around Jesus hoping he’ll make life easier for us, so that we don’t have to sort out our own problems?

 

If we place ourselves in Colossae, are we still struggling to get rid of old habits that haunt us, and in need of a fresh start that sees us being renewed so that we fit better with the image of our creator God, as revealed in Christ?

 

Whatever our age, by placing ourselves at God’s table this morning, we are saying that whilst we are children of a loving God, we are seeking to put away childish behaviour (1 Corinthians 13:11), to set aside our greed and our habitual faults, to stop playing the blame game, to put the needs of others before our own, to live by Jesus’ example.

 

We are not the England football team, we do not need a new manager. Neither do we need the ‘get out jail card’ that is having a high-performing, can’t do anything wrong at the moment, player on our team. We cannot only blame politicians at home or abroad for their acts of injustice, favouritism, and greed; we need the mature capability of showing by example the use of humility, sacrificial generosity, and love toward all people, not simply the ones we like.

 

We are called not simply to watch, or ignore, other people’s efforts at the Olympics, but to run our own race (Hebrews 12:1-2), individually and as a community of Christians. God has set us a challenge, and it’s no sprint. The goal, the inspiration, and the support team, is with God, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and we have them already. It’s down to us to live up to their expectations and example, and take responsibility for our own performance in our own field of play!

 

 

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