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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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,     (in vacancy but having appointed)
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.

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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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