Facing our fears this Christmas – Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11

 

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St. Nicholas, Newnham in the North Hampshire Downs… that existed long before the larger village nearby, Hook. (Cameraphone photo by Graham)

This morning involved a first. It was the first time I’ve led Sung Matins, and I don’t think the little congregation at St. Nicholas, Newnham twigged, so I feel relatively pleased as to how it went.

And here’s what I preached:

We’ve got two weeks. Exactly two weeks.

For those of us who have not yet written a Christmas card, wrapped a present, iced a cake, nor hung up a decoration, Christmas still seems like something that lies a little beyond our anticipation, wrapped more in stress than holiness.

For those of us who know they’ll be alone, or sharing Christmas around strained and broken relationships, who are concerned that this might be the last Christmas with a loved-one who is ill or frail, or who are worried that celebrations will be tempered by physical pain and the drugs required to mediate them, the holiness of the season isn’t just marked by stress, but by fear.

Fear of isolation.
Fear of the emotional turmoil.
Fear of imminent bereavement.
Fear of admitting we aren’t coping with life, let alone Christmas.
Fear that the Messiah isn’t who we thought he was.
Fear that Jesus isn’t coming for us.

In our Gospel reading this morning, with just two weeks to go until Christmas, we are quite deliberately taken away from our preparations for and anticipation of the Christmas story, and asked to confront our fears. Our fears, and those of John the Baptist who we visit this morning not in the desert proclaiming judgement, but locked in a prison cell, awaiting a fate that we know ends in his beheading.

The rufty-tufty desert man, who announced the coming of God’s kingdom and proclaimed Jesus as God’s anointed, expected the world to change with the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. Now caged, John, wondering why he hasn’t yet heard that promise is being kept, is probably disappointed, definitely vulnerable to doubts, but still gutsy enough to voice them to the one they are concerned with.

John, who after all is cousin to Jesus and will have grown up with the prophesies that were spoken around the births of both of them… John is having his doubts about the identity of the Messiah because Jesus isn’t living up to expectations. Even in his response to John’s question, Jesus doesn’t seem to be talking like a strong leader strengthening God’s people (Isaiah 35:3) for battle, or a saviour come to bring vengeance (Isaiah 35:4) on an oppressor.

Yet, Jesus, in word and action, DOES fulfil the prophesies about him, the ones that say he will heal the blind, the deaf, the mute and the lame (Isaiah 35:5-6). Indeed even the dead are raised (Matt 11:5), though when John receives Jesus’ return message, I wonder if he might again have been disappointed, wishing that Jesus could also set the prisoners free (Luke 4:18) – starting with his cousin John!

And yet, Jesus is trying to set John free, to bring him some joy. Free from the doubts as to whether all the locusts and honey, the rough desert living, the run-ins with the authorities, and indeed the imprisonment, have been worthwhile. John hadn’t been failed, nor had he failed, or let God down. Jesus is affirming that he is indeed the Messiah, fulfilling the prophesies that had been spoken down the centuries about him, including John’s. But with the new Kingdom comes new ways, and they put the weak, the lonely and the broken first, the new covenant before the old which in effect has been closed with John the Baptist’s work.

Jesus the baby in a Bethlehem manger, Jesus the itinerant healer, is also Jesus of the cross, and it won’t be until the temple curtain is torn in two and then the stone is rolled away, that the saving power of Jesus the Messiah, will be fully revealed. Sadly, John doesn’t live to see and hear that revelation. But we do.

While Matthew’s portrayal of John and his doubts is striking, maybe it’s not so odd to hear about them in Advent, when we, too, at times, may feel stuck between God’s promises made and God’s promises kept. Like John the Baptist, we may feel we are are hung-out-to-dry between Christ’s first coming at Bethlehem and his second in glory; disappointed by ourselves, the world, and even God; fearful that we’ll not be released from the prison of our fears.

We regularly try to hide our insecurities and fears behind our houses, our careers and (dare I say it) church attendance or, for that matter, our failings and infirmities. Until, that is, the word “cancer” or “redundancy” or “divorce” is breathed within our family circle and we know ourselves to be just as fragile and vulnerable as anyone else. Even the word “vacancy” can set up a myriad insecurities and fears within a Christian community! And at these moments – the impact of which is heightened at this time of the year – we need to turn again to the words and actions of Jesus for comfort, hope and joy, all the more because we know they are accompanied by the cross and resurrection.

If ‘the hopes and fears of all our years’ are to be ‘met in him’ not just tonight or in a fortnight’s time, but ALWAYS, then we have to view the babe in a manger in the light of the whole of his story. When God became incarnate as a human baby, he took on our hopes and fears and not only moved to heal those he could in Jesus’ earthly life, but then watched them get nailed with the Christ-child to a cross on Good Friday, breaking the hold of any sense of failure that first Easter morning.

That wasn’t just for then. It is for now. Whatever our disappointments, we don’t let God down by having or expressing them. God comes to us anyway, eager to join us in our weakness, to hold onto us in our insecurity, and to comfort us in our fears. For God in Jesus came not for the strong and the proud, or to fight physical battles on the fields of history, but he comes the weak and the vulnerable, the lonely and ill, and the broken. We, who may feel that we’re the ‘least in the kingdom’ and out in a desert place, by grace have an honoured place at Jesus’ side, because he comes to us where we are, offering us the strength to withstand the winds and rough cloth of our lives, bringing the joy of his presence into our lives.

There is no reason why we shouldn’t admit our hopes and fears, and like John, question him with our doubts, but God in Jesus, comes for us.

[With thanks to the Working Preacher for inspiration: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2911]

 

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Praying in Advent through five festivals

5-candlesRegular readers will be aware that I’m currently on placement in the North Hampshire Downs Benefice. One of the mini-projects that I’ve been focusing on is leading the prayer element of a couple of Prayer Suppers in the Parish of Odiham.

Alongside the re-ordering of the physical church, the people of All Saints Odiham have also been focusing on prayer as part of their own re-ordering as a community of Christians. The ‘bring-and-share’ style suppers (an hour for fellowship and food, followed by an hour for prayer) are a part of this process, and the vicar and I will be reflecting on how they have gone before I complete my placement.

This particular hour of prayer was inspired by the Service of Five Candles celebrated each Advent Sunday in All Saints Church, Minstead in the New Forest (where I grew up). That service involves children processing five large ‘pascal’ sized candles with appropriate motifs, readings and collects, one for each of the five main Christian festivals. It was brought to the parish in the 1960s by the then Rector, Rev’d Clifford Rham.

This pattern of prayer involves ordinary-sized candles, shorter but appropriate readings and collects, and uses them as an inspiration for prayer, which need not be restricted to the bullet point suggestions provided.

The attached document forms a folded A4 sheet that anyone could use for a an Advent reflective service or similar. The illustration above shows how the five candles can be used and decorated.  advent-hour-of-prayer-through-five-festivals

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If Jesus chose to return today? An Advent reflection

p1090449cwI’ve been preparing some Advent materials, and in doing so found this old reflection, dated November 2006, so as I started Reader Training and before this blog was started!

It is by way of a response to the following questions:

If Jesus chose to return today, how would you react?
What might you say? How would you feel?

 

Why did you not come sooner?

Don’t get me wrong Jesus,
it is good to have faith rewarded.
But if you’d come last week those
four soldiers would not have died;
If you’d come last year those
bombs would not have shattered lives;
If you’d come twenty years ago
millions of children would not have suffered.

So why now Lord? Why here?
Why this room, these friends?

Is our pride, our business,
our self sufficiency and security,
really part of the pain you’ve come to relieve?
How can we be worthy of your interest?

Come to the kids loitering in our street,
our friend who lies in a hospice;
Relieve the bereaved, the prisoner
or hassled mother coping on her own.

Relive their pain, forgive their sin,
remove the evil from their lives.

And then, perhaps then…

consider me.

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I’ve missed the point:
I see it in your eyes and feel it in your touch.
You are there too, aren’t you Lord!

If you’ve come back, you’re here for all;
Each house, each home;
each hospital and prison;
Each tank, and battlefield;
each parliament and throne.

Your Majesty, now considers …
me;
Replays the video of my life,
freeze-framing those moments in the journey,
When I forgot to phone a friend,
to say a prayer, to comfort a relative,
To leave a space,

for you.

And now Lord,
on my knees,
At your feet
surrounded by your glory…

I wait upon you.

Photos by Graham taken at St. Mary’s Old Basing, December 2014

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collect for the Advent Wreath: Advent 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


November pierces with its bleak remembrance

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

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

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

[Silence]

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

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

[Silence]

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

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

[Silence]

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

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

[Silence]

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

 

 

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Silk and batik clergy shirts – from bridal designers Nortier Shallow

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

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

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

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My ‘pentecost’ clerical shirt – in cotton batik.

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

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

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

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

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

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Another batik clerical shirt – Christmas stars!

 

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Coloured Fallow Deer in the New Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray:

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Simple introduction for Upton Grey (Family Communion): 

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

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

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

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

Both:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion for Upton Grey:

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

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