Pilgrimage in Prayer – Luke 11:1-13

2016-07-22 11.53.15To All Saints, Tunworth and St. Lawrence, Weston Patrick today, and I’m reflecting too on the end of the school year, when in St. Mary’s Old Basing, we always host Pilgrimage Day for the Year 6’s.

I’m then intending to ramble the area a little, or try a local pub, with my husband, so exciting wildlife sightings or other reflections will be offered in the comments!

On Monday of this week I spent the day with some Year 6 children from our church school in Old Basing, helping to take them on a journey, something we call ‘Pilgrimage Day’. A pilgrimage is a journey, and should be a prayerful journey. People go on pilgrimage ‘to’ somewhere; in other words there is a physical destination in mind.

But, it is not actually the destination that should be the most significant thing about the pilgrimage. What is important is commitment to the journey itself, the purpose that is chosen for it, whether that be to give time to coming closer to God through getting out in his creation, or following in the footsteps of saints, or relying on generosity of others, or a myriad of other reasons. Some Bishops take pilgrimages around their diocese; to meet with people and thus listen to what God is doing in their patch. Pilgrimage can take us to the heart of what really matters, so that we can find joy or healing, or perhaps a homecoming into God’s presence. For the Year 6’s Pilgrimage Day was marking the end of their time at the school, the beginning of their journey to pastures new, and offering them some tools to use along the way.

The activity that I led on their Pilgrim journey was focused on prayer, giving them a hopefully fun, memorable, tangible and helpful way to have a conversation with God, which is after all what prayer is, a two-way conversation. After all, the idea of pilgrimage teaches us among other things that prayer is not just about words said to God, and that for many of us a physical and creative activity gives our prayers a stronger sense of purpose, and helps us to listen to the other side of the conversation. So we made a small set of prayer beads*, that they can hold in their pockets, based on the liturgical seasons of the year – something they already know through the Acts of Worship we have shared in the school.

In our Gospel passage this morning, the disciples ask Jesus how to pray; the inference being that they want to be given words. Jesus takes their question seriously, and gives them words, words that have been treasured down the centuries and generations since, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer. They are words addressed to our Father God, an image which yes some, sadly, find difficult, but which goes back to a time where the people of Israel needed rescuing from slavery in Egypt: he spoke through Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh saying “Israel is my Son my firstborn” and freeing them to journey to a new land.

At the time Jesus was teaching this prayer, he was in effect completing that journey, a journey to the Promised Land of a Kingdom of God that is for all people, not simply those chosen by God in the years of the Old Testament. Jesus’ was journeying to Jerusalem to break the bread of his body as a sign of God’s presence and bond with all who would follow the journey of faith in him.

This Father God to whom we pray, is a God of liberation, who was releasing his people into a journey to a new Kingdom. This prayer tells us that it is a journey that feeds the hungry, forgives the sinner, delivers people from the powers of darkness. This prayer is in itself a pilgrimage.

But for Jesus, the words he taught were not enough; they were not everything that his disciples would need for the journey. For the journey with Jesus to the cross, and beyond to new life in God’s Kingdom, needs more than just words of prayer. It needs a commitment to the task, the journey, a passionate willingness to step out, a sense of tenacity that means we, his disciples, will stick to the idea. We will be the ones that seek help and assistance when we need it, from God and from our neighbour. We will ask when we’re unsure, seek the right routes on the journey God calls us to, and knock at doors that seem closed or blocked, because if we don’t we may miss the way.

On Pilgrimage Day, the beads that I had selected were at times a little temperamental, the varnish blocking some of the holes, and the thread unravelling so that at times we had to get it wet or cut a fresh end to push it through. Whilst the activity had a destination, i.e. the completion of the prayer beads, there was something appropriate about the difficulties faced along the way; the journey of creating the prayer beads, the problem solving, the patience and time required, was as important as the prayer beads themselves.

As we consider this Gospel story, and join together in praying the Lord’s Prayer this morning, let us remember as we do so that we are Pilgrims with Jesus, sharing his journey towards the fulfilment of the Kingdom of our Father God. We are equipped not simply with words to say, but with the persistence and commitment to keep praying, not just the words, but also constantly remembering those who need our prayers most, knocking at God’s door on their behalf and ours, and looking and listening for the answers, the next step on the journey.

 

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Intercessions for 9th Sunday in Trinity

I realised about an hour ago that I have to lead intercessions at one of the churches I am serving tomorrow, so I quick dash into the study to review what I have prepared as a sermon (Luke 11:1-13… The Lord’s Prayer, and the idea of pilgrimage and perseverance). Here’s what I’ve come up with, which I post in haste in case it is of any use to anyone else.

[Sorry about the weird spacing – WordPress on the iPad won’t let me sort it out, and I really need to go and cook dinner!]

As pilgrims in a troubled world

We ask you Father,

To be with those whose journey’s have been forced upon them,

By acts of terror, injustice, violence, and greed.

May we, with Christ,

Walk with the refugee,

Feed the hungry,

Give shelter to the homeless, 

And comfort the oppressed.

Lord In Your Mercy, Hear Our Prayer

As pilgrims in a confused country,

We ask you Father,

To be with those whose journey is in the field of politics.

Me we, with Christ,

Encourage them to act with justice,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with each other,

And with you, our creator and redeemer.
Lord In Your Mercy, Hear Our Prayer

As pilgrims in a community anticipating new beginnings,

We ask you Father,

To be with all who worship and live in this Benefice,

That we, with Christ,

May be generous and united in our welcome,

Willing and helpful in our service,

And open to the challenges ahead,

That through the power of the Holy Spirit,

Your name might be glorified in this place.

Lord In Your Mercy, Hear Our Prayer

As pilgrims who come with and carry our own burdens,

We ask you Father,

To be with those we know who need to hear your voice,

Especially….

That we, with them, may know the presence of,

Christ the comforter,

Christ the healer,

Christ the light in darkness,

And Christ who is the resurrection and the life.

Merciful Father, Accept our prayers…

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Sitting at the feet of Jesus – Luke 10 v38-end

 

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View across the nave, All Saints, Odiham, North Hampshire Downs Benefice

As we galloped through to the end of term, this week with Pilgrimage Day and end of year Acts of Worship at school, I neglected to post last Sunday’s sermon that I gave in the North Hampshire Downs Benefice. This included my first visit to All Saints, Odiham for the well attended BCP Holy Communion at 8am, and a return to St. Mary’s, Upton Grey for Family Communion.  Continue reading

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Foreigner… citizen. Doubt… belief. John 20:24-29 Eph 2:19-end

 

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The Chancel at St. Lawrence, Weston Patrick – the ceiling is stunning!

It was THAT passage again. It might have been in 3 completely new contexts, but St. Thomas seems to follow me around, and here he was again. Not in Easter Season, but for his Feast Day, post-referendum, not just post-resurrection! 

Last Sunday was my first adventure in multi-parish rural Sundays: 4 hours, 3 churches, 2 forms of worship, 1 priest! It was also another of my Sunday’s covering parishes in ‘vacancy’ in the North Hampshire Downs, specifically Weston Patrick 8.15am (BCP no hymns), Tunworth (9am BCP with hymns & coffee), Herriard 11am (CW Family Communion with portaloo!)

They were all lovely places, frequented by lovely welcoming people, who were eager to chat where appropriate, gracious where timings don’t (with the best will in the world) quite work, and treated the roving priest with a great sense of humour. In Weston Patrick I was greeted by a warden dashing off to find a Bible that didn’t collapse and a Red Kite calling over-head (and for those that know me, you will know how much that will have meant to me), in Tunworth I was greeted with the chance to catch my breath and let my heart rate slow down after a close encounter with an obdurate pony and it’s care-worn rider, and in Herriard I was greeted by an ancient Masey Ferguson tractor & apologies for the lack of bells and after service coffee; there was an agricultural show secretaries gathering that demanded the attention of those involved in both activities! 

I absolutely loved it, and am so pleased they seem happy to have me back – especially since they don’t have much choice between now and the arrival of their new Rector in mid-August!!

For what it’s worth, this is what I said to them. As you’ll see, the brief was to speak for only 3 minutes in the first parish as there isn’t time to speak for longer. I will let you be the judge of whether stopping at the point I did was helpful, or not.

Foreigner (KJV) Alien (NRSV)… and citizen.

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The tiny Chancel and stunning Belinda Scarlett altar frontal at All Saints, Tunworth (and my Dad, photographing the frontal – look her up, she’s done Lambeth and Winchester too!)

Doubt… and belief.

Pairs of words taken, not from our media news of the last 10 days, but from the scriptures set for today.

It is tempting to think that these pairs of words are opposites: mutually exclusive. But they aren’t.

These pairs of words, these scriptures, speak not of borders but of belief, proclaim peace rather than prejudice; they are not so much about judgement as about journey.

The foreigners of Ephesians 2:19, who we know biblically as Gentiles, though still not circumcised and thus unaltered from their previously alienated state, find their circumstances so changed that they are no longer strangers to their Jewish neighbour’s, but belong with them as fellow citizens of God’s kingdom.

The doubting disciple Thomas, more accurately described as honest Thomas, the disciple who had the integrity to say what he could and couldn’t believe, to stay around to find out the truth for himself AND be willing to admit a change of understanding, though seeming foolish among his friends, finds faith.

Journey’s from alienation to citizenship, from doubt to belief. Journeys of reconciliation.

What makes the difference in both these stories, is the presence of the risen Jesus.

Thomas finds that Jesus knows, without being told. Knows Thomas’s questions, and his honesty. Faced with the risen Christ, Thomas doesn’t need to probe wounds inflicted by prejudice, jealousy and hatred, for Jesus’ very presence in and of itself, is an encounter with love. Thomas journeys from doubt to belief.

In Ephesians, the risen Jesus is described as the cornerstone of a holy temple, one that replaces the physical Temple of Jewish tradition. A group of ordinary people build on the witness of the prophets of the Old Testament, and the apostles of the New, around the cornerstone that is Christ, to create a community where all have equal status, both Jew and Gentile. A journey of reconciliation from the status of alien, to full citizenship.

The presence of Jesus leads people on a journey. For Thomas and the first Gentile converts to Christianity, it led them from places of emotional pain and confusion to a place of peace and community. This journey with Jesus, is perhaps more needed now in the world, and dare I say it, in this country, than perhaps at any other point since WW2.

It is participation in a journey of reconciliation to which we have all committed by our very presence here this morning with Christ. (I ended my reflections here at Weston Patrick.)

We might be hidden within the walls of an ancient building, just as Thomas was hidden with the other disciples after the crucifixion, but we are part of that new community that was being spoken of and built in Ephesus, a community based on the resurrection of Jesus; he broke down the barrier of death to offer new life, a life marked by healing, justice and equality.

Neither Thomas and the other disciples, nor the Gentile Christians of Ephesus, stayed hidden for long. Thomas after all, declared aloud: “My Lord and my God” and went on to share that testimony as far away as India! They all went out, and filled with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, shared the message of Christ’s resurrection, the love that overcame suffering, so that others could become citizens, be blessed by belief, share the journey and be part of a growing community Christians.

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The view from St. Mary’s Herriard

Just as we see the journeys of reconciliation that Thomas and the Ephesians took, from alien to citizen, from doubt to belief, if we are looking to apply the lessons of these scriptures, then the impact of the risen Jesus in our lives needs to be recognisable. Among the many challenges we find ourselves faced with today, this is perhaps the greatest: how, in our social lives, our businesses, our economic or political aspirations or decisions, how does the presence of Jesus affect what we think, and say and do? How are we contributing to the world’s desperate need to take a journey of reconciliation?

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Are we like Legion? Luke 8:26-39

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St. Mary’s Church, Upton Grey, in the North Hampshire Downs Benefice

Today was my first Sunday covering services the North Hampshire Downs Benefice, and specifically a Family Communion service in the parish of Upton Grey. I really should have photographed the glorious view from the church porch (complete with circling Red Kite and twittering Long Tailed Tits) and I received a very warm welcome. It was a particular delight to have young children both read the Epistle, and lead the prayers. 
It has been a challenging week for anyone preaching; just what can one usefully say into a dynamic situation of violent episodes around the world. For me there was the added challenge of speaking to a congregation I don’t know, to a maximum of 8 minutes, and with young children present. What follows was my stumbling attempt which included props, as annotated. 

How familiar is our Gospel this morning? A person with significant mental health issues is ignored by the society in which he lives, and presents not simply a threat to himself but to those he encounters. A carer, passionate about serving people in need, is turned away through fear.

No too human stories are exactly the same. In our Gospel today, Legion doesn’t kill, Christ does not die, at least not in the land of the Geresenes – it will take the religious and political powers of the land to do that. In the Gospel story, our God-given humanity is given another chance.

We see a ‘legion’ of dehumanized situations in our world that perhaps it’s tempting to hide our children from and ignore. To add to the conflict in Syria and the treatment of refugees across the Middle East and Europe, the normalization of violence has been seen only too clearly in the last couple of weeks. We’ve seen football hooliganism (I managed not to decapitate a Churchwarden when throwing a football to them) rooted in a culture of casual racism, fuelled by the normality of heavy drinking (empty beer bottle). The violent gun use of a computer game (Call of Duty 2, borrowed from a neighbour) was suddenly translated into desperate scenes from Orlando (on my iPad) related to both IS and to homophobia. And when it all seemed comfortably like other people’s problems, MP Jo Cox is murdered outside her constituency office, and we watch (Saturday’s Guardian article) as an armed man is arrested. West Yorkshire suddenly seems quite close to leafy Hampshire. (Hand out visual aids as I talk.)

In our Gospel reading, within a short while of Jesus’ arrival and healing encounter with Legion, the community Legion has run from, creep up voyeuristically to gaup at the transformed outcast – fully clothed and in his right mind, sat as a disciple at Jesus’ feet. They are filled, not with joy and amazement at the healing of someone they know, but by fear. Fear, not so much of Legion, but of the man who had given him new life: it is Jesus they ask to leave.

It is human nature to fear what we do not understand.  The Gerasenes understood the source of the healing power that transformed Legion’s dehumanised life even less than the evil that had inhabited Legion in the first place. Jesus knew that they would only come to understand by living with a visible symbol of the power of good over evil, which was why to complete his re-humanisation, Legion had to stay in the community to which he belonged as a catalyst for their healing. It was Legion’s healing which for that society would prepare the ground for the apostolic mission to the Gentiles that would proclaim that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for ALL of you are one in Christ Jesus”.

As we reflect on this morning’s Gospel, we need to ask ourselves to what extent are we like Legion? There may indeed be demons that we have been, or need to be freed from including an over-addiction to computer games or drinking to the exclusion of all else. There may indeed be the dehumanising influences of racism around sport, the sensationalism of the papers, and the ridicule of social media memes that on the surface seem funny. (I took back the visual aids and placed them at foot of Nave altar at which I presided.) Yes, as the last week has proved only too well, we need the calm understanding of Christ-like compassion to heal these, alongside a healthy dose of self-control. To the extent that these things rule our lives rather than cause us to flourish, we need to let Jesus take them from us and place them out of reach.

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The ‘high altar’ at the end of a narrow chancel in St. Mary’s Church Upton Grey – I shared bread and wine with the congregation at the rail here, having presided at the Nave altar.

But like Legion, we are also called by Jesus to stay in the communities in which we live and work, and to show them in word and action how he has changed us. To the extent that we have been healed, helped and placed ourselves as disciples at Jesus’ feet, we need to be encouraged to make that known to those around us. Like Legion, we will not see Jesus’ healing work complete in us, until we share his compassion with the world around us. The apostolic work towards creating a world of equals, where our shared, God-given humanity is understood, is ours. “Return to your home” Jesus is saying to US, “and declare how much God has done for you.”

 

 

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Luke 7:36-8:3 Serving and being served #HMQ90

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The Nave and unusual sanctuary of St. Mary’s Church Eversley.

On the occasion of national celebrations for Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday, I found my self covering a service of Holy Communion in a parish a mere five minutes from my home, rather than the usual 25 minute drive to Old Basing. It’s been a while since I was in St. Mary’s Eversley, but as they work through a vacancy this is the first of a couple of services I’m for them. Due to the celebrations of The Queen’s birthday the service also included the treat of listening to the choir sing Zadok the Priest!

 

I wonder how many times in her long reign Her Majesty The Queen has felt like she is dining at a Pharisee’s house? Perhaps we best not answer that question.

Pharisees got such a poor reputation from the Bible that they became an adjective in our dictionary, a synonym for hypocrisy and dissembling. But, at least at first view, Simon the host in our Gospel passage seems on better terms with Jesus than some of his legalistically minded brethren.

Simon is willing to invite Jesus into his home; pity he forgets to make Jesus welcome too.

When you look at footage of Her Majesty’s 265+ foreign visits, I wonder if like me, you are struck both by the number of symbols of welcome which she encounters: in Tuvalu she was borne shoulder high into the sea in a boat carried by warriors; in Northern Ireland she received a model of the infamous Game of Thrones throne; she received a wooden plaque from athletes in Sierra Leone ; a silver box of soil from World War 1 battle grounds whilst at Wellington Barracks; and in a New Forest clearing in 1979, she was presented with a small posy of garden flowers by a 10 year old girl, who had to curtsey whilst wearing a trouser suit!

I wonder if she’s ever had her feet ceremonially washed?

Many of us will know that common courtesy and tradition in first century Israel-Palestine, should have meant that whatever Simon’s view of Jesus’ status, as a guest entering from the dusty street, Jesus should have been made welcome by having his feet washed. As social faux-pas go, it was quite a big omission. Perhaps it’s a sign of Simon’s confusion about Jesus: is he a prophet or a problem; a servant of God or a seditious dissenter?

An intruder enters and with emotional excess, makes up for Simon’s slight.

The Queen knows a little of intruders too: when in 1982 a gentleman entered her Buckingham Palace bedroom, she said afterwards to those who praised her calm reactions: “you seem to forget that I spend most of my time conversing with complete strangers.”

So did Jesus. His Kingdom-building ministry meant he was constantly on the road, meeting strangers, most of whom were as confused as Simon the Pharisee about Jesus’ role in the world. Unlike the woman with the alabaster jar: she knew exactly what Jesus’ role was; he was her King.

We don’t know what the Palace intruder said to his Queen, just as we hear nothing except weeping from the woman pouring her wealth over Jesus feet. But unlike the Palace intruder, she is a disciple, someone who welcomes Jesus and recognises him as the Messiah; it’s just she doesn’t need words to say so.

In scripture we hear Simon’s concern for the impropriety of the situation overwhelm any understanding of his own mistake – he’s much more worried about her past mistakes than his current ones. He cannot see beyond these to the service and powerful symbolic action that she is making towards Jesus. Simon seeks to score points, rather than understand the depth and dynamics of love and forgiveness, faith and servant-hood.

They are hidden from Simon, deep in that alabaster jar, those tears, that hair, and in Jesus’ unflinching understanding of the woman at his feet: who here is serving, who is being served; who here is King, and who given a Royal inheritance?

Anointing with Oil of Chrism is a sign of Royal status. It was the most private bit of the Queen’s coronation, the part that wasn’t televised. During the singing of Zadok the Priest, the symbols of her status were removed, and in a simple white dress, the oil of Chrism “was poured onto her hands, her chest and her head, to show she was being set apart to serve and love her people in all her actions, with all her heart and with all her mind” (‘The Servant Queen and the King she serves’). To Her Majesty this was the most important part of her coronation, the point which most strongly symbolised the sacrificial qualities of the loving service in which she would devote the rest of her life to the peoples of this country and Commonwealth. Through that service she has sought to tell forth the praises of her Lord Jesus Christ, in the words of her Christmas messages and in the way she relates to people. She may have had Prince Philip at her side all these years to support her, but it is her Christian faith that has been at the “inspiration” and “anchor” of her service.

The woman with the alabaster jar was serving and anointing Jesus because she recognised him as her Lord and King. Something had happened that meant she had seen in him the undiluted love of God and so she placed her faith totally in him. But whilst it was her that was anointing him, at the end of this encounter it is Jesus who serves her with an anointing not of oil, but of public words of forgiveness with which to step forth into the freedom of a new life.

In baptism the stories of love, forgiveness and freedom come alive in the symbolism of water, the stories of creation, of Exodus, of new life. It is the point where we are to invited to metaphorically rise from our knees and start our journey through life taking with us the peace of Christ. As part of this, in some Christian traditions, the oil of Chrism is used as part of baptism services, underlining the fact that through baptism we are made Christ’s Royal people, anointed to serve others, as Christ has served us.

In a world where we are encouraged constantly by the media, by politicians, by economists to make judgements about others, the truthfulness or otherwise of their statements, the validity of one person’s rights over another’s, it is easy perhaps to forget that we are called by Jesus simply to serve one another.

If we are baptised, or wish to be baptised, then to fitly live out our baptism we must make sure we do not live like Pharisees. To show that we have received that anointing for service, we are called not to simply invite the stranger in, but to make them welcome. We are called not to judge the style or degree of another’s sin, but to forgive it. We are called not to hide our faith, but to proclaim it in abundance, by word and action. We are called to live lives as Christ’s Royal people, such that we make others feel not hopeless and downtrodden, but like royalty themselves.

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From behind the altar, the sanctuary design makes for a rather unusual view of the congregation, especially since there’s a who extra aisle and the choir right of picture!

As we celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s birthday and her life-long commitment to Jesus, let us live as a true witness to the faith we share with her, “inspired [as she herself has said] by Jesus’ simple but powerful teaching: love God and love thy neighbour as thyself – in other words, treat others as you would like them to treat you.”

 

St. Mary’s Eversley, it was a joy to worship with you; thank you for the warm welcome. I look forward to an early morning BCP with you in a few weeks time.

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Noar Hill, Selborne – birds, butteflies, moths and orchids

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post about wildlife sightings, largely because they have been few and far between – not so much the sightings as the time to make them in the first place! However, having spent both my husband and my father’s birthday’s on Noar Hill, near Selborne in Hampshire, I thought I’d share our increasing love of the place.

At the very end of April my husband and I spent a rather cool day in this nature reserve which boasts among other things great views, and a friendly throughput of knowledgeable wildlife experts happy to stand, talk and share their expertise. Though we met people who had seen a Duke of Burgundy (a rare butterfly for which the hill is known) and also Green Hairstreak, we drew a complete blank, notching up only more common species like a Peacock and an Orange Tip.

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Chiff Chaff… or Wood Warbler?

We did however see emerging Twayblade orchids, early Common Spotted Orchid, and got some good sightings of singing Chiff Chaff and I photographed this little warbler at close range, which I assumed was a Chiff Chaff (it wasn’t singing so I couldn’t be sure). I’ve since been told by a chap on a birding Facebook group that it might be a Wood Warbler because it has brown legs, though it would have only just arrived on migration if that was the case. Any guidance or definitive explanation would be most helpful via the comments please!

The end of May is my father’s birthday, and leaving poor husband to an INSET day in school, I took Dad to Noar Hill, and this time came away with a list of 7 butterflies seen (Duke, Orange-Tip, Green Hairstreak, Dingy Skipper, Large White, Green-Veined White, Speckled Wood), 4 species of moth (none rare), a Dark-Edged Bee Fly, Twayblade, Common Spotted (including a white one) and Early Purple Orchids, and a Wood Warbler heard (but not seen – Dad’s warbler id skills stretch to song, and certainly wasn’t a Chiff Chaff singing that beautifully!)

Here are a selection of the treats from the day, though not including father’s fab photo of a Yellowhammer taken out the car window before I’d even managed to park!

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Duke of Burgundy

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Early Purple Orchid

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Twayblade Orchids

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Green Hairstreak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dingy Skipper

 

I thoroughly recommend a visit to Noar Hill, but don’t miss out on Selborne. There a great public loos at the free car park by the pub, and of course Gilbert White’s house and it’s associated walks, but there is also The Selborne Tea Room and it’s lovely cheese and watercress scones that aren’t to be missed, unless they’ve sold out (again)!

 

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Dark-edged Bee Fly

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“To be, or not to be?” A sermon on John 14:23-29

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them?.. (Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1)

P1220906wIn the week in which the nation has marked not only the 90th birthday of a monarch with a very visible Christian faith, but 4 centuries since the death of it’s greatest bard, it seems not too inappropriate to reflect on the idea of words in our Gospel this morning; words, and the Word.

To be, or not to be…?
A follower of Christ… That is our question.

There was a wonderful sketch within last week’s RSC Shakespeare Live presentation, involving some of the most recognisable surviving faces of British film and theatre, and a certain Prince. It was about finding the correct emphasis for the delivery of the opening lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy. There are so many ways of saying the same thing, but where they are set and how they are said changes their meaning, their impact, their connection with the audience, and indeed with the rest of the play, which is the world those words inhabit.

Words. Jesus said a lot of them too. He played with them and on them, drew pictures and told stories with them. He questioned people’s integrity and prodded their consciences with some, healed lives and bodies with others. Jesus words came with power.

Jesus, the living Word; the living God, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), was not using idle words to create a theatrical presence and develop a story line, but rather, was using them to make a home in people’s hearts and lives, for God to dwell in. That is God the Father, God the Son and God “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.” (John 14:26)

An Advocate is someone who speaks or writes words in support of a person or a cause. The Advocate who Jesus called the Holy Spirit, was to be poured out into the lives of those who recognised Jesus as the Son of God, and his resurrection as the beginning of a new way of relating to God. The Advocate is the one who daily teaches and reminds us of the words and actions of Jesus, and encourages us to live them out.

Jesus emphasised words that were to be key to living a life that reflected his teaching, his example, the very essence of who he was. “Those who love me will keep my word… Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Jesus words, at his command, were to be kept safe, but the only way to keep them safe, he says, is to use them. Use them, or loose them. Because to use his words, to bring them alive by living them out in our lives, is to love.

Hamlet’s famous soliloquy is full of anxious torment, an outpouring of confusion as to the most appropriate response to the circumstances in which he found himself; his father dead, his royal crown and his father’s marital bed usurped by his uncle. It is in effect a search for peace, peace with his situation and peace with the turmoil and madness that has become a place of seclusion and safety from which it seems almost impossible to step out. Peace, just a word, but something so much more powerful than a word, especially when it’s missing.

The peace that Hamlet was searching for was not I suggest, the peace that the world gives. The world is a funny place – funny peculiar, not funny ‘ha ha’. It tries to hold us all in the swirling waters which throw the perceived importance of the individual and their desires against the need to conform to one of a variety of colour washed viewpoints, made bland by a lack of nuance hidden in words of political rhetoric and vitriolic posturing.

To find the peace for which perhaps Hamlet searched, and of which Jesus certainly speaks, is to have our minds renewed by a constant awareness of the words God’s Advocate the Holy Spirit is whispering into our lives, so that we have the strength to step out of the spin-cycle in which the world works (Romans 12:2). We are to be conformed instead to the image of God’s Son Jesus (Romans 2:29), in whom we [have just/will shortly] profess our faith. Peace comes through hearing God’s living Word in Jesus, and responding in love to others, not through a constant striving to fit imposed models of behaviour or tradition.

Where are our spaces? Where can we meet with God? Some folk find a church a useful place and during our 24 hours of prayer there should be plenty of peace and gentle stimulus to hear the “still small voice” of the Advocate, but we can’t be here all the time. Some will speak with God whilst they do the washing up, or the ironing, or first thing in the morning with a cuppa. Some might do it in the car on the way to work: it’s perfectly possible to pray with our eyes open!

We have to find for ourselves the correct emphasis for delivering the lines of our faith, the living words of love to which Jesus called his disciples before his death. He did so in the context of a meal, in a house he didn’t own, and after a trusted friend had left to betray him. It was no safe place, nor safe space, much less the ancient Temple built by his forbears for the safe remembrance of his Father.

Likewise, we will find the constant fulfilment of knowing the peace of Christ not in the transient stillness or grandeur of a specific place but in the in-dwelling of the Father and the Son, welcomed to make their home with us and in us (John 14:23). As the Book of Revelation reminds us today, when the new heaven and the new earth come into being at the completion of God’s Kingdom, there will be “no temple in the city, for the temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22). Until the day comes that we see that for ourselves, we are God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16), his dwelling place on earth, the lives through which his living Word must be recognised.

It is no co-incidence therefore that as St. Paul responds to the vision God gave him for the people of Macedonia, he takes Luke outside the gate of Philippi to the river, where they find a place of prayer in which to speak to those with hearts open to the Lord (Acts 16:13). If we truly have a home for God in our hearts, we must remember that we have to leave the safe spaces of our lives and seek other places where people are open to what God wants to say to them through us. Just as prayer is about both speaking and listening, unless words are carefully chosen and emphasized in an open non-judgemental atmosphere, they will not or cannot be heard.

P1220903cw

Family heirloom, dated 1867

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” Words of soliloquy, spoken in a character’s mind, declaimed down four centuries for the world to hear. Words that need the right setting in which to be heard, and the correct emphasis for their delivery.

To be a follower of Jesus Christ, the living Word, we need to be able to multi-task: to have our minds constantly renewed by listening to his Advocate the Holy Spirit speaking words of encouragement and challenge into our hearts and minds; and we need to put ourselves into the place where the words the Holy Spirit speaks through us will be best heard, however unusual that stage might be.

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Being Brave and Honest – like Thomas (John 20 v19-end)

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

 

We say that so easily, don’t we?

Like Pavlov’s dogs, I said four words, and to mix my metaphors you parroted the response back.

It’s easy to do isn’t it, when we’re absolutely certain that the crucified Jesus, his body bound in cloths and laid in the tomb, rose again to life – not like Lazarus who would die again, but to a life like no-one has experienced since.

It’s easy to believe because people we trust wrote that we should believe. It’s easy to know we believe because we’ve had a profound experience or experiences of our risen Christ. It’s easy to say we believe because we simply can’t face admitting – especially in church – that it isn’t, or we don’t.

Except it isn’t, is it. Easy, that is. Believing that Jesus rose again and can meet us in our daily lives, in answered prayer, in extraordinary encounters, in another’s pain, in our own pain… None of that is easy at all. Having faith in the risen Jesus, and holding on to that faith, can be really, really tough. Especially, when we’ve not necessarily seen or encountered him for ourselves.

But we do believe don’t we. We share this thing called faith in the risen Jesus, or we are at least intrigued by the possibility of that fact, else we would not be sat here this morning. We base our hopes and/or trust in the fact that the beatitude of the risen Christ that we heard this morning is: “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”. We rely on the fact that Jesus responded to what we so easily assume were Thomas’s doubts, and returned to a locked room to reveal his risen self, his scars, his love.

I don’t believe the hype about Thomas, or at least about his doubts being such a bad thing. We should not be derogatory about these doubts, but rather celebrate their worth: for me he is Brave and Honest Thomas, someone we need to seek to emulate, not look down upon.

When Thomas said to his friends “Unless I see him face to face and put my fingers in the hole of his and hands and his side, I shall not believe”, he was most likely just seeking “clarity”. He needed “to get to the bottom of things”, to check whether his friends had reached a point of hysteria in their grief, or whether something significant that he really needed to get his mind round had just happened. Thomas knew he had to “find his own way to be faithful to God” that involved not simply blind faith, but his intellect, his mind and a firm grasp of the reality of the situation.**

We know that “It’s… hard to own up to being the odd one out among a group of friends, and [we should recognise that] it was brave [of Thomas when he] found that he was the odd one out, not to go off, be by himself, [and give up on the last three years of following Jesus].  For a whole week he went on meeting up with the other disciples. Their faith and stories… must have made him feel uncomfortable and left out. But he still hung around.”*

It was his honesty, and that willingness to hang around with those for whom the risen Jesus had become a reality which meant that “eventually, Jesus came and met him in person. His integrity paid off; when faith came to him as a gift, it was his own and not someone else’s.”*

“Doubt is not the same as unbelief. Unbelief is a determined refusal to believe, whereas doubt is an honest owning up to not being convinced”, and finding that the people and ideas we encounter in this life can knock holes in our faith. “In Judaism, according to Dr. Jonathan Sacks,… ‘To be without questions is not a sign of faith, but [suggests a] lack of depth [to our faith].’ Sacks encourages people not only to ask questions about the meaning of the faith, but to question God. We ask questions, [he says], “not because we doubt, but because we believe.”*

Like Thomas, we need to risk making our ourselves look foolish among our friends, ask apparently awkward questions, confess our doubts and confusion, because even when we can’t see him, Jesus is listening.

Like Thomas, we need to hang around in the places that we are most likely to encounter Jesus. In our private devotions, our public worship and other forms of fellowship with Christians, our participation in the sacraments, in our commitment to serve others, to make time to be in holy places (both natural and man-made), we need to be doing the things that mean Jesus can show up and reveal himself to us – scars and all. That may mean we’re behind closed doors at times, though that doesn’t mean that’s where Jesus wants us to stay.

Like Thomas, we may find that when we are faced with the risen Christ, we will not need to touch or “probe” his wounds, for his presence in and of itself, the encounter with his love for us, will be enough to convince us that it is Jesus.***

Like Thomas, and the other disciples, we need to be reminded that there are many people in this world who believe in the risen Christ without having seen him, and we need to honour and encourage that faith, in ourselves as much as in others: for “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Like Thomas, we are called by Jesus to be brave and honest. Jesus, appeared in the disciples hideaway the first time to commission them to go out into the world – sending them out as they were, but with the power of the Holy Spirit as their guide, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins that comes to those who believe in him as their Lord and their God. St. John’s account of these resurrection encounters gives the disciples, Thomas included, little time for hesitancy. There is no waiting around for Pentecost, no more time to struggle with doubt and uncertainty, for questions to be answered. They have to take those with them.

Acknowledging that we are both ‘Like Thomas’ in his doubts and also blessed by God whatever stage our belief in the risen Jesus has reached, means accepting our uncertainties and the questions that seem to remain un-answered, and yet STILL going out into the world to live as Jesus wants us to – as those who proclaim his name in words of forgiveness. What we watch and read on the news, shows us that there is no more time for us to remain hidden – the world needs to hear that in Jesus there is forgiveness, in that forgiveness there is reconciliation with each other and with God, and in that reconciliation, there is peace.

Lord Jesus
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
We acknowledge before you our doubts, as well as our certainties.
Help us this week to be bold in what we do,
and honest about our search to meet you;
that in thought, word and deed
we will be encouraged to
proclaim your resurrection, your forgiveness,
and the hope of peace it offers.
Amen

Sources: 

*Maggie Dawn http://maggidawn.typepad.com/maggidawn/2009/04/honest-thomas.html

**Rachel Mann ‘Thomas’ in “The Risen Dust” Wild Goose Publications

***Paula Gooder “Journey to the Empty Tomb” 

This is one of those sermons that was excruciatingly painful to preach, though it always is when I speak of Thomas. It has been significant for me to realise that Thomas, and the other disciples in this account, do not meet the risen Lord in the breaking of bread, but hidden behind closed doors. But that doesn’t mean that is where we should stay.

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Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Luke 23:44-46

This is the last of The Seven Last Words attributed to Jesus on Good Friday. What follows is the short reflection I wrote on it last year. This is deliberately short – and if you’ve been following through the rest, they have (largely) decreased in length, because that was the brief I was given.

The first six can be accessed via this link to the sixth until I have time to put all the links here – I have to go away now to be at the cross.

Feel free to re-use them, with attribution, but it would be lovely to know where they are used, so please use the comment facility for that.

Go well and may you have a very Holy Easter.

Seemingly abandoned,
desolate and alone,
the unbreakable bond of trust
between the Son and his Father,
finds supreme expression
in the confidence that Christ’s self-offering,
would be accepted by God.

Freedom, and a new beginning,
are located in the certainty of His death;
a death that carries us –
if we too can bring ourselves to trust,
shattered and broken as we may be –
into the presence of the Divine,
and an encounter with the abundant blessings
of the cross.

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