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!

 

 

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.

 

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…

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

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?