It’s rather nice to have the opportunity to write some intercessions from scratch this week. So, in case they are of use to others, herewith an approximation to what I will share in a pre-recorded part of our worship this week.
If you do use them, in this year or any other, please let me know where and why, and I will remember you in prayer as we share in this ministry together.
Based on the Lectionary readings of1 Thes 2:1-8 and Matthew 22:34-end
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
We give thanks for those who had the courage to share the Gospel with us, making known the love of Jesus Christ, and helping us to grow in faith and trust in you as our God and King.
We ask you to strengthen those for whom proclaiming the Gospel is dangerous, to the point of having their livelihoods, loved ones and lives threatened, that they might know the courage that comes from seeing others come to faith, prayers answered, and their trust in your justice and mercy fulfilled.
May we, from the safety of comfortable lives, learn to spot the opportunities you give us to share your Gospel, and do so both with boldness and with grace.
God of love hear our prayer.
We give thanks for those who actions proclaim the Gospel of your love as loud as their words, bringing light where there is darkness, joy where there is sadness, nourishment where there is hunger, hope where there is despair and life where death creeps through the shadows of damaged lives.
We ask you to inspire and encourage those who lead this and all nations to do so with a constant check on their own motivations, a willingness to withstand encouragements to deceive those whose lives have been entrusted into their care, and a humility that doesn’t allow praise, flattery or greed to influence their decisions, their words or their actions.
May we know, with them, that you Lord test our hearts in what we think, and say and do and inspire us all to live out your Gospel of justice, mercy and humility.
God of love hear our prayer.
We give thanks for all those who work or volunteer in the caring professions at this time, whether in hospice or hospital, care home or college, school or street corner, laboratory or lounge.
We ask you Lord to strengthen their healing hands and hearts as they bring comfort to those in distress, inspire them to explore new ways to bring wholeness to broken limbs and lives, and courage when difficult issues are brought to life.
May we know what it is to be patient with those who are given into our care, to nurse tenderly the pain of those who share their frailties with us, and to pray faithfully for those whom we can’t minister to in other ways.
God of love hear our prayer.
We give thanks for those whose lives touch ours with fun and fellowship, with love and laughter, with kindness and comfort, in this community and beyond.
We ask that despite the barriers, real and imagined, you will enable us to be bound together as a supportive community, listening to and acting on the needs of others, caring for your creation as revealed in the countryside around us, and encouraging those for whom life feels wasted or wasteful.
As we remember in a moment of silence the needs of those known to us who are grieving, suffering in any way, or struggling to fulfil their vocations to your service and the service of others, may you Lord also help us to know what practical or private assistance we can offer to meet their needs…..
God of love hear our prayer.
Merciful Father, Accept te prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ the Lord.
Psalm 19 (Matthew 21:33-end) 17th after Trinity at St. Mary’s Eversley
It’s been a while since I posted a sermon, but I promised the photographer whose image inspired this weeks 8am reflection that I’d make it available to her, and (for a variety of reasons) this is the simplest way to do so. So…
As the psalmist puts it: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
This week, Paula Southern (someone who in better times visits our bell tower regularly from Crondall to ring), shared a photo on Facebook of dewdrops hanging from a slender spider web, itself suspended across the loop of an iron bird-feeder. Against the morning light the ephemeral jewels of the dew glinted, to be gone again as the sun ran on across the heavens. It captured a moment in someone’s early morning routine that through social media brought joy and beauty to those who couldn’t get up that early, or don’t have those things close at hand in their gardens, or perhaps can’t even get out at all.
Psalm 19 is up there in the list of my favourite Psalms, along with Psalm 8 and Psalm 148 – little jewels in themselves. They celebrate and reflect on the beauty and wonders of God’s creation, the heavens not just in the stars at night but in glorious sunrises and sunsets, and the formation of clouds scudding across the sky. Beauty is something that is not simply ‘in the eye of the beholder’ but often beyond the words of the beholder too, try as we and other poets might. Paradoxically the psalmist points out that the beauty of the heavens and the world around us pours out its own song, sound and words unto the ends of the world itself, and I don’t think the psalmist is referring to the Buzzard’s cry or the Robin’s song that we are so used to when we come to worship here.
Philosophically speaking, this captures the fact that in our humanity we are actually created by God to experience beauty instinctively, and reminds us of the qualities that make something beautiful. As Bishop Christopher Herbert has described it, beauty is “profoundly good in and of itself… points beyond itself to something which is greater… reminds us of our place in the order of things… and reminds us of our relatedness to the world and to other people.”
If we go back to this image of water droplets on a spider’s web… for me at least, those jewelled droplets that Paula photographed were a reminder of the wonders of God’s creation; they brought joy, in and of themselves. But they also pointed toward something greater; to the fact that something so small is created by one of the basic elements of that creation – water – held in tension; and that like them, we need to allow the glory of God to shine on our ephemeral lives. These, our lives, often exist like water held by the tension of the many issues going on around us, and as we are enabled to let the Son of God shines through us, so people can see the beauty, perhaps even a glimpse of the glory of God.
The psalmist goes on to talk about the law, the commandments, and the statues of the Lord, as being pure, bringing joy and renewal to those who in keeping them serve God. Of course in the New Testament, we see that those statutes have been devalued, and a more perfect and better hope is made available to us, by which we draw near to God in Jesus Christ (to paraphrase Hebrews 7:18-19) the true light of the world.
This morning I believe God is reminding us of own ephemeral nature in the context of his creation, but at the same time of the value and purpose of our lives within that. God holds our individual transient humanity, and loves us as we are through Christ who we receive by faith in Holy Eucharist – and that can be the hardest of all things to remember in times of difficulty and hardship, isolation or overwork. But then we’re also linked by that thread of faith, like a sticky cobweb, to the people and places where he wants the love of Jesus to shine, not just on us but through us, to create beauty for others to behold.
We should not presume, as the psalmist strongly hints, to think of ourselves as either unworthy of the place God has made for us in his creation, or as in control of it as to abuse the position we have been entrusted with, at will. We need to hold the right tension between our lifestyles and the decisions we take in the way we govern our lives, and the light of Jesus’ commandment to love him first, and our neighbour, as ourselves.
As we make our confession in a moment, declaring before God our ‘secret faults’ as the psalmist puts it, may we desire more than anything else to make ourselves right with God, so that by whatever thread we are currently hanging, and however transient our lives from this moment, we may be seen as those who shine the beauty of God’s glory into those who encounter us.
Over a month since I last posted!
Somehow life isn’t quite the same… and I’m not sure anyone saw it coming.
40 days on, and things have become very strange indeed.
But you’re living it too, so you know that.
So this is by way of a memorandum and reflection to myself, as to a few of the things I’ve learnt and needed to be creative about, to maintain ministry in the lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a minister I think I’d become too reliant on contact with parishioners on a Sunday morning in the physical spaces that are our church buildings. Those are special times (especially in memory, when you can’t stand round and have coffee), but actually I’ve spent more time talking to people, and talked to more people more meaningfully, one-to-one, particularly the phone, than I ever have, at any stage of my ministry. I feel embarrassed that people have been surprised that I’ve rung, and depending on their circumstances, more than once. Without exception, everyone has been positive, understanding and supportive, as my colleague and I have grappled with the new needs of ministry in lockdown. If by any chance, you’re one of them, reading this… thank you, it has been hugely appreciated.
Jesus walked, and talked, and met people, and talked and taught some more. My husband and I took what should have been our statutory one-hour walk one day last week, on a route we know takes us about that, one hour. It took us 2.5 hours, as the socially-distanced conversations flowed! We’ve lived here over 20 years, so many familiar faces crossed our paths, parochially related and otherwise. I had a strong sense of healing in what at times was some fairly black humour, of words becoming the new sense of touch, of gift that God was providing in these days of glorious weather. As is so often the case, it is in looking back at your footsteps that you see where it was that Christ carries you.
Christ has a such weight to be bear now – and his burden gets heavier each day; and there should be no irony in the fact that I say that on Good Friday, as we acknowledge most particularly his sacrifice on the cross. A few months ago, I’d wondered whether I ought to change my pattern of ministry to take in some connection with our Foodbank. Not unusually I’d done nothing about it, distracting myself with other things, and probably appropriately getting excited about growing a fresh community project. But the cafe plans are of necessity on hold, though I must make sure they’re ‘oven-ready’ at a week’s notice, for when we’re free to fraternise again.
Instead, I find myself giving significant support to that previously noted Foodbank – not least because so many of the regular volunteers are now forced to protect themselves in isolation. Whilst it is horrible that we live in a society where one is needed, and tragic that the economic impact of the Coronavirus have brought so many more people to the crisis-point of needing one, there is a (slightly exhausting) joy in being able to deliver those shopping bags to socially distanced doorsteps – it’s not just food, it’s hope and a sign that people care. The same goes for the donations that have come flooding in, in particular through Eversley’s Centre Stores (who have carefully stocked the Foodbank to people’s cash donations) but also to our doorstep – one of the benefits of having lived here for a while. People’s generosity has been great, and the Foodbank is so grateful for it. No, making such things happen is not without anxiety and risk, and yes there is a cost in that, but after all, being a herald of hope is one of our diaconal responsibilities in ordination. Once again, perhaps I’m fulfilling more ordination vows more fully than before.
So, where’s the creative Rachel been? Lost, literally, frequently and for long periods, in an open source video editor (OpenShot), Facebook ‘live’ and otherwise, Zoom for Messy Church (less messy and calmer than it’s cousin, at least if you’re not ‘hosting’), and Zoom for PCC and other meetings; all via computer, phone, iPad and camera! I’ve ended up looking at myself in a way that I really would prefer not to. Perhaps, I’m seeing myself as Christ sees me, more than I do normally – flaws and all – but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.
My first recorded Morning Prayer, was a spur of the moment experiment outside St. Mary’s, but received an encouraging response. My colleague also took up the challenge and ‘went live’, and we were glad we’d started promptly, as within the week we were on lockdown, and leading worship purely from home. Bless him, he’d done a little video editing before – I am a complete newbie. I am grateful he’s putting together the really complicated Sunday Services like our first attempt. There has at times been some distinctly un-clerical language; “purely pastoral” as a past spiritual director would have it. There are also unhealthy strains associated with so much screen-time, on the eyes, the back and on the anxiety levels.
But once again, there is a strong sense of fulfilling my calling in not only a different way, but in a way that is reaching more people and encouraging them in their discipleship somehow in a way that may have a greater long-term significance of them, then perhaps our regular church-based worship does. I’m not sure that says much for our regular services, but I do find myself wondering what of all these skills and forms of worship need to be kept when we find a new way of post-lockdown living and liturgy?
There have been times to relax… there’s a crochet blanket for a loved-one slowly taking shape, an activity that can prove a prayerful Compline of sorts at the end of a long day, and there have been some gems of moments around the home and on our walks. More of the former in other posts, but if happen to have read this far (bless you) enjoy some Pipistrelle bats at late dusk – another use for my mobile phone which has resulted in interesting pastoral, and wildlife related conversations!
This afternoon I’ve done the simple things: a button on my husband’s shirt, and a new neck strap on a favourite cooking apron using some webbing inherited from my Mum; she’s been dead 24 years (who says I never through anything away?)!
There’s two pairs of trousers to be turned up after purchases in the sales, and a favourite skirt that needs a new elastic, but those are for another day.
In recent weeks I’ve also been learning new skills. I had a favourite ‘honorary’ aunt who could crochet, and I still have the shawl she made me, but I never learnt – until about 6 weeks ago. So, I’ve been working on my doubles, and triples, made a granny square, and guess what… a scarf!
Crochet seems quicker than knitting to pick up, and easier put down instantly in my busy, interruptable life – and I’m enjoying it. I’m very grateful to the lovely lady at Pack Lane Wool in Basingstoke for teaching me the basics (after some failed solo attempts), to Bella Coco’s YouTube video’s, to the encouragement of my husband and knowledgeable friends who’ve introduced me to Ravelry and Attic24. I’ve even gone back and now have the yarn for a larger project.
Mending and making. Making… and … mending. There’s something really important about both skills for community life, and for Christians for their faith life. As a Christian I believe we are made to be creative – our creator God gave us creative skills to be used to enhance the beauty of his world, to give to and grace the lives of others, and to build community.
As I’ve alluded to previously, getting my creative streak back has become important to my post-training self, mending my state of mind, drawing me into a more positive place. There’s God in this too, the idea of reconciling us to be the very best of who God created us to be, being healed to a place of peace. If we’re in a better place in our selves, we’re more likely to have the mental resources to be there for others too – so it’s important to my calling too!
Within all this, there is something else being created too, something that might create a space in one of the communities I serve (Eversley), in which people can not only make and mend in a practical sense, but also come together across generations to create a stronger community. I hope the opportunity to work with and in Eversley Village Hall will produce something of value to a community that boasts nothing similar by way of meeting places.
It will be interesting to see the results of both a larger crochet project, and this community project turn out as we move through the spring.
I’ve got a puzzle… I’m going to describe something to you, and I want you to tell me if you think you know what it might be.
It’s a bit bigger than a ping-pong ball, but a shape that is something of a cross between a football and a rugby ball, so one end is round-ish, and one end is oval-ish. The oval-ish end has a small stick in it. The round-ish end possibly has a slight hole in the middle, like a miniature cave disappearing inside. The whole thing is a green-ish, purple-ish, brown-ish colour.
Any ideas? (Hopefully blank looks.) Even vague ideas?
Get out a fig. Shhhhh, if you know what it is! Go through the description again.
Do the words make any more sense when you can see what I’m talking about? Yes, great. No, take the blame for poor description.
Any ideas now what it is? Hopefully someone, child or adult, might know it’s a fig.
There’s a big difference between just hearing something said, and actually seeing it. There’s a bigger difference still when we can eat and taste the thing… but that will have to wait until after the service. [Pray for us all to both hear and see Jesus this morning.]
Nathaniel had been watched.
It was perfectly sensible to sit in the shade of a spreading fig tree. You might sit there on your own, making the most of the peace and quiet for meditation and prayer. You might sit there with friends or a teacher, for a quiet discussion. It was perfectly normal in the climate and culture of the time, and would have excited no comment at all.
Yet, Nathaniel, under a fig tree, was being watched.
The story of the law and the prophets that he had heard read from the scroll in the Temple or Synagogue, might well have been explained to Nathaniel under a fig tree by the rabbi of his community. It was also quite possibly a place where he’d have learnt the prejudices of his elders, listening to their stories of the rivalry that existed between villages. Nathaniel had heard, and learnt, many things, about God, about his religion, and about his community, whilst sat under a fig tree.
But whilst he was sat under a fig tree listening to others, he was being watched… By Jesus.
Of course, Nathaniel didn’t know that. All he knew was that today his friend Philip was full to bursting with a bit of news. Philip and his friends thought they’d found the person who would fulfil the prophesies of Isaiah, the promised ruler for King David’s throne, the Messiah (Is 9:6-7 and Is 11:1-5) But it was just that, news. Something else to listen to. And the fact that Philip said this person came from Nazareth fed all the prejudices that Nathaniel had learnt; Philip’s excitement was just words, easily dismissed,… until Philip said “Come and see”.
Sitting under a fig tree listening to others was no help. Getting up and discovering that the man Philip spoke of had been watching and listening to him without him being aware, made a significant difference.
It was only when Nathaniel had been drawn away from his place of safety under the fig tree, the place where his hearing senses dominated, that he is able to actually see the truth of Philip’s words, and use his natural abilities as a down-to-earth Israelite to recognise Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah. There was no point just using words with Nathaniel, he had to see for himself.
In some senses Jesus was just like him, a down-to-earth, blunt-talking Israelite who knew his scriptures. But Israel’s purpose as God’s people had been to provide the means of bridging the gap between heaven and earth, repairing God’s broken creation, initiating God’s rescue plan among people’s who were intent on destroying God’s handiwork. Unfortunately Israel was a little too hung-up in it’s old prejudices, rather more intent on reciting scripture than getting out and looking to be it’s fulfilment. Until he got out from under the fig-tree, Nathaniel was a good representation of an Israel too fractured and hidebound by tradition to be able to break the seals on God’s rescue plan.
Jesus was the image of what Israel should have been, had indeed been created for. What Nathaniel saw in Jesus in those first moments of personal engagement, and the realisation that Jesus had been watching over and listening to him for a significant period, was the power of Israel’s royalty, combined with a gentle vulnerability that enabled people to encounter him on their own terms. Jesus: the lion and the lamb, something to be spoken about, and something to be seen for yourself; a true Israelite of the house of David and the ‘lion-cub’ tribe of Judah (Gen 29:9), and the slaughtered sacrificial lamb of Passover, through whom Israel was saved, and by whom all the people’s of the world would now be bought the opportunity of new life. Jesus was a piece of news worth getting out of the shade of a fig tree for.
Only Jesus could show Nathaniel that he was visible and listened to by God.
Only Jesus could be both the lion and the lamb of Israel’s people.
Only Jesus could provide from Israel the fulfilment of God’s original creative intention to heal the world and it’s people of the broken-ness which had become endemic.
Only Jesus could bring about a new covenant and a new kingdom that would start to bring earth and heaven together.
Only Jesus could enable us to sing a new song to God as the priesthood of all believers.
We are being watched.
It’s perfectly appropriate to have places of meditation and prayer where we feel at peace. It’s perfectly reasonable to sit in the shade of a metaphorical fig-tree, listening to and discussing what it is that scripture says about the future. It’s indeed not uncommon for those discussions to wander off and feed our own prejudices about different elements of the community we live in.
But it’s worth remembering that we are being watched, and listened to, by Jesus.
If we haven’t already, soon we’re going to have to leave listening and talking behind, get out from under our fig-tree, and go and meet the Jesus who has been watching and listening to us, and knows us through and through, prejudices and all. Are we ready to see more? Are we ready to encounter the power of the lion and the sacrifice of the lamb?
Some of us have got out from under the fig tree before. We’ve recognised that through those that come and talk to us, we hear news about what God is doing that is worth going out and seeing for ourselves. But when the fig tree provides plenty of shade from the heat of the sun, and life wears us to a frazzle, a little comfort and company can do wonders for our energy levels. However, then we have to remember it’s not necessarily where we’re going to encounter Jesus. We have to get up and go meet the next piece of good news.
I can’t necessarily tell you where we must go to find Jesus, but it means knowing we are being listened to and seen by Jesus as we work out where we go, and will involve listening to and seeing others. Part of that starts over the next ten days as our two PCCs coming together to listen to each other and God as to the direction we go in making sure Jesus is seen in our communities, our mission and our worship. A small group of us are also going to listen and help Jesus and this church be seen at the wedding fair at Warbrook House next Sunday.
There will be other things. It might be sitting and listening to children read in school, seeing whether the school want people to return to gardening for them, or joining the Open The Book team so that the children meet Jesus. It may be that we have to spend time finding a non-threatening way to tell the people who come and sit under the local trees about Jesus, like the horse-riders who frequent Church Green, or the families who use the play area. It could be that in encouraging the community to recycle things the council won’t accept, and finding a site and a mechanism for doing so, we might be more like Jesus himself, bringing healing to God’s creation. Whatever the things are that we do, they will be a new song, a song that lives and celebrates the power and the sacrifice of Jesus, if we not only listen to what people say, but also go out and meet Jesus, the lion and the lamb.
I’ve got a new, warm, long, black coat, and today, much to our local headteacher’s amusement, I hid a set of Christmas lights wrapped round myself under it! Why? Because at school the long run in to Christmas is starting. Gently you understand, not too Christmas, just a little creation orientated ‘light of the world’ stuff.
I also thought I was going to end up teaching the kids a song, but they already knew the chorus, and we had great fun singing it acapella, lustily, and with much clapping, and without a tape or an instrument in sight!
In case this might help anyone else, here’s what I did:
NB: I checked first with the head for epileptic students who are flashing light sensitive, and set the light sequence on my lights accordingly under my coat.
Ask the children to use their imaginations (eyes closed) to think about what they feel like when it’s very dark? Have they ever experienced a power cut? Have they ever woken up in the night and felt frightened of the dark?
When God made the world, the Bible says that the very first thing that God did was to create light:
So when we think of light, we can think of our creator God, and all the good things that he created, starting with light. God switched the lights on!
Why is that light so important? e.g. we can see more clearly, so it keeps us safe, guides us, plants to grow etc.
God came to the world as Jesus, human like you and me, and Jesus referred to himself as “the light of the world”, and suggested people who follow him always have the light of life with them, and are never in darkness. (John 8:12)
Jesus was God’s Son, so, God is both the creator of light and light itself!
We’ll think more about Jesus as the light of the world as we move close to Christmas.
Is there anything slightly different about the way I look this morning?(Have my big black coat on done up tight, over battery powered Christmas lights.)
I’m dressed in black, and still got my coat on. BUT I’m meant to be a follower of Jesus, I’m meant to be living in the light, in fact Jesus says to all of us:
That means I’m meant to have Jesus light with me, to be lit up, a light to shine before you! A light that reflects God’s light out into the world. What could I do?
I think I need to take my coat off! (Reveal Christmas lights.)
But it can’t be just me who shine’s God’s light. (Ask teachers for a volunteer to be lit up. Ask their name. Wrap them in a set of lights, and switch on.)
Now, do you think we can walk round like this all the time? No?!
In which case what sort of things can all of us do that will help shine God’s light in this school, in our families and in our community? How can we shine with God’s light?
Listen to the children’s answers, and value them.
Unwrap volunteer, and invite them to sit down.
We’re now going to ask God to help us be light’s in the world, that shine good things out that other people can see. If you want to agree with what I’m praying you can say ‘Amen.’
Thank you God that the first thing you created was light.
Thank you God that the light you made helps plants to grow, and animals to live, and us to feel safe.
Thank you God that you came to us as light in Jesus, the light of the world.
Jesus, help us to follow you, so that we can shine as God’s light to the people around us.
Song: This little light of mine – inspired by this YouTube version but without the instrumental back-up
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. (x2)
The light that shines is the light of love,
Hides the darkness from above,
Shines on me, and it shines on you,
Shows you what the power of love can do.
Shine my light both bright and clear,
Shine my light both far and near,
In every dark corner that I find,
Gonna let my little light shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. (x2)
Let it shine…
Let it shine…
Let it shine.
Additional verse that I didn’t teach this time:
Monday, he gave me the gift of love;
Tuesday, peace came from above.
Wednesday, he told me to have more faith;
Thursday, he gave me a little more grace.
Friday, he told me to watch and pray;
Saturday, he told me just what to say,
Sunday, he gave me the power divine,
To let my little light shine.
A couple of weeks ago I sat in the pews to enjoy the new vicar at work, and then last week I took our All Souls reflective service, which didn’t really have a sermon in the traditional sense – I sort of talked at various points in the service, and not in a way that easily translates to the blog. So that’s why I’ve been a bit quiet.
This week was back to normal though, and had the chance to preach and celebrate Holy Communion in both the churches in the Benefice; first the BCP at Eversley, and then, so that the new vicar could share in the lay-led contemporary and family services there, at St. Barnabas, Darby Green. We all felt really welcomed there, and felt encouraged by the conversations that came in response to my sermon.
In both churches they were collecting in their ‘shoeboxes’, though for different charities: at Eversley we’ve supported Link to Hope for the first time this year, and at Darby Green they were collecting for Operation Christmas Child. We were also marking All Saints day, and the reading was from the Beatitudes. So here’s all those things, drawn together (and if you want to HEAR me preach, St Barnabas record the sermon so you could click this link if you really wanted to):
Today is one of the nine principle feasts of the church, a day of as much importance as Christmas, Easter or Pentecost. All Saints Day is the a celebration of the unity of all God’s people, living and dead, and their share in the work Jesus started in bringing in the Kingdom of God.
We probably know the stories of many who are now formally titled ‘Saints’. One should be well known to us: Barnabas (the encourager who travelled in another saint, Paul), Peter (and the other apostles), Mary… several, notably the BVM and Mary Magdalene (sometimes referred to as the apostle to the apostles). What about more modern saints? Mother Teresa of the Sisters of Calcutta, and Oscar Romero who spoke up for the poor of South America and was martyred whilst celebrating communion in San Salvador (1980), are regarded as saints among both Catholics and Anglicans. In Anglicanism we have this week also commemorated (as we now term it) Martin Luther, particularly in this 500th year since the Reformation.
We know, or can easily find out, the stories of these people and the part they played in God’s story, the revelation of his Kingdom, the care of other people in his name. But I wonder if we would ever consider number ourselves among them? What’s our part in revealing God’s story? For this is a feast of community where we are reminded that no Christian is solitary in their belonging to Christ, or in the endeavours with which we try be God’s blessing to others in the ordinary circumstances and extraordinary crises of human life.
It is therefore fitting that for us, this Feast of All Saints is our Shoebox Sunday, when as a community we bring together in our brightly coloured shoeboxes what we might regard as the ordinary blessing of woolly hats, toothbrushes, cuddly toys and colouring pencils, to reach into the crises of lives lived without any of those things, and other basic needs like food, water, peace, or a loving family.
You see, the key to understanding what it means to be a saint is to understand what it means to be blessed, to be a blessing, to inhabit the multi-coloured cloak of the beatitudes which are our Gospel reading this morning. These opening words to what we know as the Sermon on the Mount, are not badges of holiness that we seek to earn, that create guilt (like when we don’t feel comforted at the death of a loved one), or that cause us to be frustrated (as should we don’t receive justice when we’ve been wronged). They are Jesus’ announcement of a new way of living, the fresh way that God was starting to work in the world, initially through him, and since then through the many named and un-named saints, who have put into action this mosaic of ideas.
A person or a thing is blessed firstly by being part of God’s creation, the story of God started with the living Word (who we come to know as Jesus) and the breath or spirit of God revealed fully at Pentecost, that together brought his creation into being (Genesis 1, John 1) and which he recognised as ‘GOOD’. We are each made in the image of our creator God, and all the material things that we make and are given, come from him, and therefore what we do and use as our contribution to God’s Kingdom work, is God’s work before it is ours.
Our vocation or calling, as the people of God, is to be a community that purposefully reveals God to others in our gifts and actions, as much as in our words. In doing so we should give thanks and praise to God for grace in what we do, we follow the example of love and sacrifice set by his Son Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, and also recognise the cost to ourselves of what we are doing. If those three things are happening in what we are doing, then we are living out our responsibility to love and care for all God’s people, and we become God’s blessing to them.
I’m going to use three of the items in my shoebox to relate this idea of being a blessing to others in just three of the Beatitudes in today’s reading:
Here is a packet of plasters, and we remember the beatitude that says, “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). I’m not suggesting that a sticking plaster makes someone feel better after the death of a loved one; we know that’s not true. But there is a wide variety of suffering and pain experienced in the world today, and whilst bereavement is part of that, it can be experienced in very different ways. The plasters we offer here might stop bleeding in a wound, and prevent infection, bringing comfort and protection, so that death doesn’t become part of the situation, but the comfort we offer might just as well be pot of a flowers, a casserole, or a garden tidied… it’s just those don’t fit well in a shoebox. Each are blessings to those who mourn.
Here’sa ball, brightly coloured and slightly bouncy, and with it I suggest that we remember that “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Those who take delight in teaching a child to catch a ball, or enjoy the simple pleasure of bouncing a ball against a wall, understand the joy that can be found in such a simple activity. Perhaps in this case, the colour of the ball reflects those found in God’s creation, and the bounce form part of a simple explanation of why some materials bounce, and thus bring the joy of understanding how God’s world works to someone’s life. It is in the simplicity and complexity of the world we live in, that we can see God at work if we look hard enough, and the more we do that, the purer the hearts with which we can bless others with that joy.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God, and so I’ve got a very small, soft toy here, trying to create a less slimy reputation for frogs as a species! You laugh, but soft-toys like some animals can be source of calm and peace with which healing and reconciliation can break through. How may of us have used a soft toy to pacify a wailing child, or held on to our own much loved and dilapidated teddy to quell our own feelings of anxiety or loneliness at times of crisis? To be a peacemaker we need to step outside of our own selfish ambitions and vested interests to focus on tis characteristic of God’s love and desire for a world were different communities can live ‘cheek by jowl’ in harmony with each other. I’d love to visit the UN one day and give all the world leaders a plushy, and an hour of silence, to consider one thing their country could do to comfort the greatest need of a country they are at war with or supply arms to! All God’s children yearn for the blessing of peace.
Through the God-given skills of those who made them, we are purposing our gifts to be a blessing to those that receive them. Just as we will acknowledge the purposing of bread and wine to the remembrance of Jesus’ body and blood in the words of blessing over the elements in Holy Communion, so we will pray first for the purpose of these gifts to be a blessing to those that receive them. In this way they become part of God’s story, linking us with those that receive them, revealing his love for them and our understanding of how best to use the riches we have received, and hoping that in these small ways, we are doing the work of God, and therefore can count ourselves blessed to be among his saints.
Let us pray:
Creator God, we acknowledge that all we have comes from you, and therefore of your own do we give. We ask you to bless thee gifts for the purpose of bringing comfort, joy and peace into the lives of those who receive them. May they know your love in other ways too, so that their lives are blessed long-term with better living conditions, the means of caring for and making productive the land they live in, and the just distribution of the world’s resources. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, bless us, with those who will receive these gifts, in the knowledge and example of God’s sacrifice, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The hidden gem of the Parish of Eversley and Bramshill is that there is a mission chapel in the woods at Bramshill, where the locals still gather to worship once a month. It seats 24 – in old cinema seating derived from a source I’ve not yet managed to discern! It also, as of this month, boasts a new (to Bramshill) organ – a gift from a local Roman Catholic parish – with which a ‘full-house’ sang the harvest hymns this evening.
Celebrating God’s creation as the bedrock of our life and faith.
Why is it that as Christian’s we make such a huge effort in our harvest celebrations?
It’s not like it’s a festival that celebrates a part of Jesus’ life, like Christmas, or Easter, or even his continued ministry among us through the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Harvest formed no direct part in Jesus’ story, despite the number of agricultural parables and images he used.
Why is that some come to adorn our local holy places with produce and share in worship at harvest more than other seasons, and without the stimulus of the significant secular commercialism that adorns at last some of those other festivals?
As we gather the fruit and vegetables, the flowers and the autumn leaves to beautify even this simple place of Christian worship, we are reaching back to our most basic understanding of God, and the bedrock of what he has gifted us with: life.
Tucked away in the woods by a garden pond, corrugated iron roof resounding to the scrape of branches and the ricochet of this years abundant crop of acorns and chestnuts, one might be forgiven for thinking this chapel is dead. Certainly many locals, including until recently myself, live in ignorance of it’s presence, or at least it’s location. And yet this place is a symbol of the riches of life, renewed and re-used for God’s glory, whether that be in the comfort of cinema seating or the swell of the freshly inherited organ. Here is life to be celebrated rather than hidden away.
The abundance of colour and produce here, against the backdrop of simplicity in this place, reminds me of two other ‘hidden’ places.
One, which I visited earlier this year, is the Chapel in the roof space at Talbot House, at Poperinge in Flanders, a pilgrimage I may reflect more on at Remembrance. In WW1 and still today, it is decorated with the rich harvest of that fertile but scarred land… hops.
The other I have only read about, for it was only briefly a place of Christian worship planted into a mosque, within the confines of Changi prison after the fall of Singapore in 1942.
Rev’d Eric Cordingly* created St. George’s Chapel within Changi, and in the autumn of 1942 invited the inmates of that most notorious of prisons to celebrate harvest. One might wonder, given the starvation rations and forced labour of their circumstances, why and how, both practically and spiritually, they could possibly celebrate the abundance of God’s life? But celebrate it they did. Eric writes:
“It was useless to attempt to decorate until the cool of Saturday evening, and then there was no dearth of helpers… sweet potatoes, purplish-green egg plant, those odd-looking “ladies fingers”, tapioca root in its twisted and distorted shapes,… bundles of green leaf vegetable [were] in evidence. Numbers of palm branches had been cut and were then fastened against the pillars of the Church. Tremendous bundles of brilliant hued flowers were left shyly at the entrance of the Church by the giver. The gift of flowers had meant a journey with a fatigue party outside the wire [as] the amount of flowers growing within the limits of the camp was very small…
As the sun set the Church seemed to fill with that typical smell that fills our Churches at home at Harvest, [and] someone had made a huge cross entirely of [the] pure white blooms [of frangipania]; over a thousand of them went to make up this symbol of Christianity.”
As I received… the gifts I felt deeply conscious of the sacrifice entailed… The services need not be described in detail, the enthusiasm was typical of that shown in decorating… Among those present was the… commanding officer of the Dysentery Wing at the Hospital… to [whom] we were sending the gifts which decorated the church… The harvest hymns were sung for we realised that as we were thanking God for the fruits of the earth over which we had toiled, our prayers too were thanksgivings for the Harvest at home.”
Here amidst the death that pervaded Changi, was a community celebration not just of life, but of love and sacrifice in the presence of conflict, injustice, suffering and constant, un-necessary bereavement due to starvation. The “veneer of civilisation or reticence” which Eric writes of having been stripped from them all, reveals that at the bedrock of human existence is a thankfulness for the harvests by which our life, both it’s physical life and it’s spiritual core, are maintained by God. From one day to the next, they did not know if they were to live or die, what clothes or food they would have, but they wished to celebrate life, and God’s provision within it, without visible anxiety for that future over which they had no control.
That harvest celebration in Changi in 1942, to my eyes at least, was an example of living out our Gospel reading today. Jesus’ parable is warning against hiding away that which we have been given, and which our own sacrifices have produced or gathered in. Death will come all too quickly, especially to the human soul, if the abundance of life is not celebrated and shared when opportunity presents itself.
Jesus’ reflection on the birds and the flowers isn’t some kind of romantic mysticism, but an encouragement to recognise that which we have been given; what it is that can be used to focus on a very necessary recognition of what God has given us both symbolically and practically, in the life of the natural world with which we are surrounded. Surely in the economy of God’s Kingdom, the beauty and productivity of the land is a foretaste of the treasures of heaven with which we will be surrounded when it is more fully revealed? Jesus is reminding us that if we are to be rich towards God in the now and not yet of this kingdom, then we must celebrate and share that which we have been given, and the sacrifices of toil with which we have shared in the labours of his beauty; life, today, in all it’s fulness.
This chapel, these harvest gifts that you’ve so faithfully brought in, our hymns and prayers, and the meal which we shall shortly share, are a witness to the goodness and riches of life that God has given us. Our celebration of these good things should also not be hidden away, but brought out into the open in our lives, so that the riches with which God has blessed us are shared with the world at large, witness to our faith in our creator God. That means not simply finding productive and helpful places in which all this beauty can be shared, but considering how the beauty and riches of our lives can be more creatively used to feed the physical and spiritual needs of others, and point to God’s coming Kingdom.
*Rev’d Eric Cordingly became Bishop of Thetford and his secret notes from his life and ministry at Changi and on the Burma Railroad were published posthumously by his family as ‘Down to Bedrock’.
One of the particularly lovely bits of my monthly cycle of ministry is acting as a Visitor’s Chaplain at Winchester Cathedral. My normal pattern of activity during a shift is to perambulate the Cathedral, chatting to fellow volunteers (often guides) and staff like virgers, any visitors who want or need time to talk, and sometimes members of Cathedral Chapter or Diocesan staff.
I make a habit of sitting quietly for a few moments and writing fresh prayers that are pertinent to the moment: the activities in the Cathedral that day, the liturgical season, and world events. These I then use when I lead the ‘Prayers on the hour’ that punctuate the Cathedral day and remind visitors of the purpose and significance of the building.
And lastly, I tend to keep my mobile phone camera to hand, to catch the light through windows, the Cathedral decorations or community displays, or anything else that strikes me as significant or important ‘in the moment.
This week, the harvest display was still up after last weeks celebrations, so my photographs and prayers reflect that:
As we take time in this holy place to acknowledge your presence, we remember that you do not rest simply in buildings dedicated to your worship, but through your Holy Spirit walk beside us as the crucified Christ, in the joys and traumas of our daily lives.
As we celebrate the gifts of your creation in this Harvest season, we ask you to encourage the political leaders of this world to work for peace, that we might beat the swords, guns and armaments of our nations into the ploughshares, water wells and irrigation systems that will enable us to feed the world family.
We pray that together, in this way, we might bring hope in the name of Jesus.
Around us we see the work of human hands wrought from your creation in stone, and wood, and glass, in stitch-work and flowers. So often this place resounds to the human voice in prayer and song.
Thank you for the skills of all those who celebrate your Word and Power and make for us this place of peace and restoration. Continue to gift those who care for this building with the wisdom and love that enables it to glorify your name,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
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?