“Christ the centrepiece” and Women Bishops

Today, two high profile church news stories have become somehow linked in my mind, and as usual I have no answers and only questions and concerns as a result.

It was re-assuring as our little “Values Team” in St. Peter’s struggle with their use of language, and debate how much we should overtly identify within those values what it is that makes our faith unique, to find that the CofE still want us to “share the Gospel of Salvation” and make “Christ the centrepiece” of what we do.

But, then I found myself wondering how this might link with the proposed amendment by our Archbishops to the Women Bishop’s legislation to be debated at General Synod soon. In particular I found myself focusing on this statement in the first item:

…the fear of getting it wrong should never obscure the Christian’s commitment to the good of all and to making Christ the centrepiece of that good. Too much reticence is as untrue to our history and our vocation as too much stridency.

and wondering what it says about the debate on Women Bishops?

Is the proposed amendment by the Archbishops (both of whom I admire from the distance of not having met them, and not being their intellectual equal) an example of reticence that will “obscure the Christian’s commitment to the good of all”?

Is trying to give everyone a continued home within a CofE that has women bishops (which I guess is what the Archbishops are trying to do) going to be “good” in a way that makes Christ visible, or does it only succeed in fudging the issue and risk undermining their leadership of our historically rooted church if the vote on the amendment goes against them?

Does it not also mean that the ABs of C and Y aren’t trusting the Revision Committee’s debate and discernment on the issue to have come up with the way forward that God wants us as Christian’s to make happen, so that we can be released from this friction to get on with simply “sharing the Gospel”?

Bringing the whole thing closer to home, I then found myself wondering:
What sort of example of “trust” is this giving to ordinary parishes like ours that are struggling with their own debates, and asking their wider fellowship to trust leadership teams to have debated and discerned God’s will accurately, in an effort to inspire values, behaviours and actions that will help us share the Gospel of love rather than ‘sell another lifestyle choice’?

Thoughts on deciding when to apologise, and other things

I have a heavy 10 days of commitments ahead of me, including helping with a workshop, and running another – something where my skills and experience are rather limited. I’ve also got two Morning Prayer services this week (Wednesday and Sunday), and a meeting about taking funerals… the impending Vacancy is going to telescope what was going to be a gentle training (beyond the Diocesan CMD course) into something a lot more urgent. If there are any clergy near Yateley who wouldn’t mind me “sitting in” on any funerals/bereavement visits over the next few months I would really appreciate it!

Anyway, my intention is to preach the same/similar sermon to both Morning Prayer congregations this week because I simply don’t have time to do anything else. There is one parishioner that may well be at both services, and when this happened previously I apologised to her before the second service on the basis that “this might seem strangely familiar”. She seemed quite happy.

However, it has been suggested to me that I should not apologise for the exigencies of ministerial necessity. I think the idea was that it is unprofessional, and creates unrealistic ideals. But, this has been troubling me. I don’t see why people shouldn’t anticipate something fresh at each time of worship, at least if they are coming on separate days of the week. Equally I know that God can say different things to different people through the same sermon, and therefore presumably different things to the same person when the sermon is repeated.

I was taught to apologise when I’ve failed to do something to the best of my ability – preaching the same sermon twice in a week will be the best I can give this week, but it is not ideal in my eyes, and thus I feel the need to apologise.

Which I suppose begs the question, what is an apology? Surely it is a seeking after forgiveness? And what is wrong in seeking that where we feel we have failed in what we perceive are people’s expectations, even if those expectations might be either only in our own minds, or if real, then unrealistic? Surely nothing.

See, I’m muddled in my thinking – the only thing that doesn’t change is the necessity of having to repeat the sermon… or reflection or whatever it turns out to be!

Took the time to have a lovely evening family walk before dusk tonight. No Ringlet butterflies yet in “tussock field” (the anniversary of first sighting last year) but I guess they will be late like everything else this year. G took some great damselfly photo’s, so I’ve popped one up here. We saw the local Cuckoo tonight as well as heard it, which was a treat. Honey-dog also brought home a tick but we managed to knock it off her before it took hold, so G could photograph that for school! She has since had a dose of stuff to hopefully keep them from taking up residence!! This might be of use to someone, so just for the record…

A tick... I think because it's reddish that means it's female!

Remembering our priests, and what we expect of them

HT to Maggi Dawn for the wonderful poem on Priestly Duties by Stewart Henderson.

I have several friends being ordained deacon or priest in the next few weeks, and this made me think and pray especially of them. In fact, just in case they miss this post I shall send it to some of them.

The poem is really powerful, and it should also be read by everyone who attends or even thinks about church: it is a comment on just how much we expect of our priests, and just how unfair we can sometimes be in our expectations of them.

It has also had the interesting effect of making sure that a “sleeping dog”, doesn’t lie completely quiet.

Found myself today looking at Sarum College prospectus (which came unrequested in a Diocesan CMD mailing) and finding I really liked the look of an MA course – I’m not going to, and I probably wouldn’t qualify to be able to, but an MA in Christian Liturgy looks fascinating.

(Also noted today in the Sarum College prospectus – though I can’t find it on the website – that they are offering a training course called “www.bb” – Women Who Would Be Bishops… now that is what I call faith, hope and good forward planning!)

Symbols of identity as we become more like Jesus – Galatians 2:11-21

Baobab Tree - Mapungubwe SA 2006

This week I ended up drawing connections between Dung Beetles and Baobab Trees and the way we should be changing our identity as we become more like Jesus! I’m not sure if it worked, but God did if the ministry time after the service was anything to go by.

A message very much for my church of St. Peter’s, Yateley at this time. The values work that I have been part of in the parish was very much at the back of my mind when writing this sermon, as well as our need to define those behaviours that our Christ-like values should instil. I shall post about this work as soon as it has been agreed by our PCC for public consumption.

You are welcome to download the text of what I said: Sermon Galatians 2v11-21

Update: Posts about our values work are here, here and here (in chronological order).

And yes, there is a vague World Cup link… but not really to the football!

God’s abundant love shouldn’t surprise – 1 Kings 17: 8-24 and Luke 7:11-17

My sermon this week did indeed focus on the abundance of God’s love for us, and our tendency to get stuck at a subsistence level of faith, but it also ended up acknowledging the tragedy in Cumbria by making a small journey through a story of personal grief which had a Cumbrian connection… Ian (who you will read about) wrote and drew the image shown here and with which I close this sermon:

Life is full of surprises.

I remember when I celebrated my 21st Birthday I made a conscious decision to forswear the search for a serious man in my life and focus very clearly on revision and my finals…. Within three weeks I was dating Graham!

Others surprises aren’t so good. A few years later and a couple of years married, Graham and I were back in Aberystwyth where we’d met at college, catching up with old friends during our holiday. We were invited in to tee with Graham’s old boss, Stuart the vicar. It was he who had to tell us that our close and newly married friend Ian had suddenly lost his battle with Leukaemia, shortly after his honeymoon. A shocking and upsetting surprise.

The prophet Elijah constantly surprised people. H would appear seemingly from nowhere, proclaiming God’s justice and dominion over this world. In Old Testament history, her arrives only a few verses before our first reading this morning, startling King Ahab with the news that God is going to withhold the rains. Why?… because basically King Ahab’s marriage to Queen Jezebel and the increased Baal worship that followed, made Ahab the baddest of the bad Kings of Israel.

But just as fast as he appeared, Elijah has vanished again, this time to his homeland to be fed by ravens near a burbling brook.

However Elijah isn’t immune from receiving surprises himself – God’s provision for him won’t let him remain on home turf; the water runs dry and God sends him instead into the homeland of all that Elijah stands against in God’s name – to Phoenicia, the native land of Queen Jezebel and her fellow Baal worshippers!

There, Elijah surprises a widow preparing to cook her last meal before starving to death with her son. The woman had almost nothing left, but, with only a little convincing by this holy man of a foreign God, she shares her meagre reserves and is rewarded by an adequate and unending supply of food. The God of Israel, who had brought this drought upon all the lands of the region, has seen fit to preserve her and her son in exchange for her hospitality. She must have thought the worst was over.

I wonder if we’re like that sometimes, or perhaps most of the time, if we’re truthful. We’ve encountered the mighty works of God, perhaps through some unexpected source, or our almost grudgingly given response to someone’s request. We recognise that God has provided us with the means of survival, spiritually,… and physically. We know that our day to day existence is enabled by God, but it’s only at the level of basic subsistence.

That’s fine, until another of life’s little surprises comes along – perhaps the loss of one of the few things left that we value as giving us hope, or our quality of life. For the widow, it was her son and, as she would have understood it, her future security.

Human nature is such that, events beyond our control or understanding need someone or something to blame them on. Sadly, we’ve seen that this week in Cumbria, as communities and the police desperately search for reasons behind a shockingly violent and devastating episode.

It’s the blame game. When our understanding of God’s love and provision is limited and we are living on subsistence rations of faith, its very easy to blame God, or at least those that minister in his name. That’s what the widow of Zarephath did – she forgot the God that had kept them alive and blamed that God and the man that had brought him into her life… I wouldn’t be surprised if many ministers in Cumbria this week find that God, is getting the blame for allowing such an appalling tragedy to happen, and unlike for the widow and Elijah, God has not stepped in to raise anyone to life on this occasion.

We don’t know who the widow at the gates of Nain was blaming for her sons death in this morning’s Gospel reading. Perhaps, surrounded by the community in which she lived, she was too numb to blame anyone, lost in her tears and grief. Certainly she would not have concerned herself with the crowd coming the other way across the rocky plain, not even when the stranger leading the group stopped to console her. But she, with the pall bearers, would certainly have been taken aback when that same stranger reached out his hand to touch the bier. No Jew would make themselves ritually unclean in such a way. But their shock turned to joy at the life that was brought back to them before their very eyes.

The miracles of Zarephath and Nain were not teaching tools. They weren’t particularly designed to correct wayward believers, or signify God’s revelation of himself to peoples beyond Israel. Elijah and Jesus were inspired by the compassion of a loving God who despite the evils and diseases of a sinful world, wants us t recognise the truth of his concern for us and experience the abundance of his love for us. As each boy is given back to his mother, it is the truth of God’s existence, his active and powerful love, that is acknowledged and proclaimed.

There are few documented miracles of such magnitude since Biblical times, though I understand that they have occurred. Perhaps for that very reason, some of us find our faith remains at subsistence levels. Although we believe, and may in fact have always believed in God and the special relationship with him that Jesus made possible, we are often simply surviving, and may have come to think that God’s action in our lives in negligible, and that the resources that he has given us are scarce.

But, that is not the truth that Jesus brought us, and bought us, and its not the life which his own resurrection set us free to experience, and to share with the people around us. God does provide for our deepest needs and we should acknowledge and celebrate the people through whom he meets those needs, or the work in which he engages us that we know is part of his plan, however repetitive or low key it might seem to the world.

Where can we recognise the love and life that Jesus brings, filling our existence with abundant good things? For me it is through the abundant love, generosity ad patience of my family and friends. For you, it may be something different.

As a church we might also be able to accuse ourselves of living at a subsistence level of faith, dwelling too much on what we don’t have and what we see ourselves losing. Hopefully we are not as despairing as the widow of Zarephath when Elijah first greets her, but we may think that our church is purely subsisting on what each week seems to be deep down in the bottom of the jars!

But that oil and meal at the bottom of the jars, are the means of making bread – the bread of life. And, Jesus loves us and desires, with compassion for our hurts, to fill us with the joy of a new life. This isn’t just a hope for the future either, it is a certainty that God loves us so abundantly that in many ways we are already showing and sharing his abundant love through our activities (like Discoveries, Wayfinders and Messy Church.)

If our subsistence level faith has been been filled to overflowing because of the willingness of a Christian friend to call out to God on our behalf, we need to give thanks for their faith and the gif of grace that we have received. If our subsistence level experience of church has been overcome by an exciting new area of ministry – we should share that news. It is through these things that we encourage and build each other up as the body of Christ, and support each other through the lean times when personal or corporate lives get tough.

That holiday I spoke of at the beginning, where reunions were disturbed by the news of a good friends death, ended with a long and slightly sombre journey from West Wales to Cumbria, where Ian grew up. He had been a friend of faith, acknowledging through out his student life, loves and Leukaemia, that he was sustained by the abundant gifts that God had given him: a love of nature, a strong understanding of the importance of friendships, a willingness to say sorry, and the mind and hands of a poet and artist. By celebrating this, his widow of 13 weeks, enabled many (his grieving ex-girlfriend included) to have their spirits lifted to once again appreciate God’s abundant love.

Inside Ian’s funeral service sheet, inked in his own hand, was reproduced this picture poem, which reminds us of the “deep, deep love of Jesus” and the constancy of God – “vast, unmeasured, boundless, free”:

Among high marble summits I can see you there,
On the wild churning ocean I can feel you there,
On the cold autumnal air I can sense you there.
During my loneliness – I know you are there.
Through troubled waters you hold me there,
In my darkest hours I can see you there,
And when we reject you – you are still there.

Technical updates

I’ve spent part of the evening trying to improve my use of technology, so that I Tweet to Facebook, and my blog creates and update on my Twitter, thus I have less work to do to keep people in touch with stuff I’m doing. Eventually with Alec’s help I found the bit I hope I need via my Dashboard-My Blogs links.

Equally, I’m experimenting with Tweetdeck to read both Twitter and Facebook feeds in one place… again to make life easier and less time consuming.

So here goes… testing, testing….

A wonderful musical treat

This week has been half-term and somehow I’ve not had time to blog about the wonderful musical treat we had last Sunday: Cosi Fan Tutti at Glyndebourne

Grandpa took control at home, and G and I escaped for a much anticipated treat, courtesy of Gs VERY kind aunt and uncle. Armed with a cold box we set off in the morning across country, eventually taking a detour to find a lunch spot – which turned out to be this wonderful place; Devil’s Dyke on the South Downs Somewhere to return to – en famille.

View from Devi's Dyke, South Downs

We arrived in good at Glyndebourne (after a brief stop to view an Alpaca farm) to be greeted by the family, and with plenty of time to change into appropriate finery (I’ve never worn a proper evening dress before, and it’s only Gs second outing in a DJ) before wandering the beautiful grounds, and enjoying some ‘light refreshment’ before the performance.

View over the lake at Glyndebourne

We’ve not heard much opera and never live, but this was huge fun: it was in period costume, with a young cast and a very witty libretto. The music was truly wonderful but then with the batton in the hands of one of the worlds greats (Sir Charles Mackerras) at one of opera’s most acclaimed venues, this was no surprise. We were also wined and dined during the long-interval with great care and delightfully light food.

What was a surprise was the level of involvement Gs aunt and uncle have at Glyndebourne as sponsors, and thus the access we had afterwards to the cast. They tumbled out of the showers to talk to people in an interesting array of clothing – old jeans and t-shirts being favoured by the leading men… the ladies taking their time and being rather more fashion concious! They were happy to chat about how productions differ, the rehearsal and production pattern, where they are from, how their families are enjoying the UK (in the case of the Toronto born Robert Gleadow) and any number of other things to interest folk who are new to opera.

The gardens and main house at Glyndebourne

It was all a great experience for which we are tremendously grateful to the relevant relatives and the caring staff Glyndebourne who hosted us, which, if we’re ever offered the chance, we will happily repeat.

The other best bit of the day? 4 hours of car journey just talking and being with my lovely husband, with no other distractions than the scenery!

Abundance or scarcity – 1st after Trinity

Around half-term, the preparations for the carpet fitters tomorrow, and a quick mercy dash to bring home a friend from the local hospital, I have finally tried today to grappel with two of the lectionary readings for this week 1Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:11-17

Two widows, both with dead sons, make their appearance this week – and both sons are brought to life. There are stark contrasts here between widows with nothing (no future support, no food/drink, no hope) and everything (the restoration of the same) if not to overflowing, at least to joyful recognition of God’s direct action in their lives.

So my thoughts turned to straightforward themes to do with someone unexpectedly coming into your suffering (I could tell you a story…), finding words aren’t needed because of Jesus’ compassion, being willing to touch where it is inappropriate or inadvisable to touch (the “Diana effect”) and considering that when all earthly means of support is gone Jesus can step in.

But I’m not sure that any of these are particularly what God wants me to say this week – surely there is a more specific message for us?

A couple of other things have got me thinking slightly more widely:

The first was today’s posting from Bishop Alan from his recent ‘visitation’ talks… asking his parishes “Where is the fire?” If we as a church want to corporately live out the life of Christ, using the Luke 7:11-17 reading as our inspiration, where are we showing compassion, and where are bringing life to people who are otherwise dead?

Then, via the Text this Week (on Facebook), I found some thoughts about how Christians (like the widow in 1Kings 17:8-24) struggle with feelings of scarcity: we so often dwell on what we don’t have, where our limitations are, and how close to failure we might be, rather than affirming that God provides us with enough to sustain us (the widow finds there is always oil and flour in the vessels because she offers risky generosity to a stranger), so that when we need it we might have abundance of life (which is I’m sure how she felt about the renewed life of her son.)

Common Blue

Somehow to a parish now faced with an impending vacancy (I think, given what Bishop Alan says our departing vicar will like Oxford Diocese as he doesn’t want to chase his tail, or be the ‘Fat Controller’) on top of a £40k deficit but with a desire to meet its commitments to both parish and Diocese, this seems to provide something a little more pertinent to where we are at present.

So tomorrow, I shall see if I can find a sermon out of all this (once the carpet man has been). In the meantime, the major abundance in our lives are the damselflies that flit through the garden and the clouds of lovely Common Blue butterflies up on the back of Blackbushe Airport.