Refiners Fire – burning away the ‘slag’ (Zeph 3:14-end, Phil 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18)

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All Saints, Minstead (viewed from the south near the final resting place of Conan Doyle) – yes, there are 5 bells in that little tower!

Once upon a time I was the youngest campanologist in the county. We had three bells in All Saints Church, Minstead, but there’s not much that you can do with three – the mathematical patterns that make up a peel of bells, are a little on the short side with three. Five is a much more interesting number, and research showed that we could fit five in the bell frame without the tower itself being shaken to pieces. So two new bells were commissioned, the old ones removed to be retuned, then all five re-hung – all done with one expert and parish people power, including a nine year old ‘doing as she was told, and staying out the way for the dangerous bits’!

As part of all this activity I had the opportunity to watch bells being cast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. It was a hot summer’s day, but I was clothed in good 1970s tweed trousers for protection and stood in the corner of the foundry floor as the metal was heated, and the impurities scrapped off the top so that the hot copper alloy could be poured into a hand-crafted bell mould. It was amazing to watch, and a privilege to ring the precisely tuned finished articles; the bells proclaiming peace and thanksgiving in worship, a community rejoicing in fine craftsmanship and singing out a song of praise to God.

“Rejoice”, in Latin “Gaudete”, the opening word of our reading from Philippians, a connection to this week’s lightening of the Advent mood of preparation, our rose candle and our robes. “Rejoice”, in modern parlance is about a sense of joy welling up inside people, fairly private except for the smile to the face; the sort of blooming look that comes with news of a long awaited pregnancy. In St. Paul’s day, “rejoice” was a word used to describe a public celebration, exuberance tempered with the need to be gentle and gracious toward less extrovert souls – more like change ringing when the pattern of notes moves only on command, rather than with every beat of a full peal.

There is a tension here that sits well with this mid-point in our preparations to celebrate the birth of Christ, sat here as we are, surrounded by scenes of his nativity in our Crib Festival. At the time of John the Baptist’s prophetic ministry that we focus on through today’s Gospel, devout Jews were waiting for a “new word from God”, and eager to place their hope in the presence of a fiery young prophet going about the Galilean villages! Might he be the long awaited Messiah?

But John was only tolling a single bell, proclaiming the steady sound of justice and the need for repentance, a wake-up call for those who would go on to hear the message of his cousin Jesus, the thongs of whose sandals he felt unworthy to untie. John would have grown up with the story of his cousin’s nativity just like we have, but as perfectly-tuned to God’s message for his people as any Old Testament prophet, he was well aware that when the Messiah’s mission on earth was made fully known, it would come with the sound of the axe felling the trees that bore no fruit, burning the resulting timber as waste.

John offered on the banks of the Jordon, the baptism of repentance, God’s power like water washing people clean. Yet, here he is proclaiming the baptism of burning fire that the Messiah would bring, drawing out through the power of the Holy Spirit, the impurities hidden within people’s lives. We may struggle to understand the difference, but if we consider for a moment, we’ll recognise that there is a vast difference between wanting to change the destructive habits of our lives and, dare I say it, make sensible New Year’s resolutions, and actually being changed inside of ourselves, so that it is impossible to return to old habits. It is a painful process.

The image of the bell foundry can help us understand what God wants to do here. As the copper and tin is melted in the furnace to temperatures resembling that to be found in a volcano, the impurities known as ‘slag’ rise to the surface – blackened waste material that is scrapped away, the last remnants of which are held back as the bell is cast. Here is a picture of the process of fire and the Holy Spirit at work in our lives that should be as much a part of the work of Christ in our lives as is the baby in the manger. If we are to ring true to his Gospel in our own lives, there will be ‘slag’ in each of us that needs burning to the surface and scraping away. Our hope of a Saviour for the world must come with the realistic expectation that we ourselves may need to be radically changed into what God wants us to be.

Zephaniah’s prophetic psalm of salvation that is this morning’s Old Testament reading [and I do encourage you to read it], is summoning God’s people to sing, shout and joyfully exult because of God’s presence in the midst of them, rejoicing like the clarion call of bells. It was the sort of prophesy that led to the expectation of a heroic Saviour from oppression and suffering. Yet its’ fulfilment came as the baby we now place in our crib scenes, the saving power of whom would be the refiners fire of judgement and justice, drawing us into a greater awareness of his presence, a sense of the calling to what we call holiness.

Church bells gather God’s people into the holiness of our worship of him, whether that is in the form of a peal of bells, the tempered rejoicing of a slowly changing pattern of life, or a single tolled clarion call to hasten into our place before him. They only do so after the refining process of the furnace has removed the impurities so that their call can be clear and true to the tuned pitch required by the master craftsman. God is our master craftsman. If we are to ring out a tuneful call for others to share in our rejoicing this Christmas and on into the future, we must first come into his presence in humility, seeking to understand what it is in our lives that needs to be burnt away.

A neighbours first aid box – Luke 10 The Good Samaritan

My 'first aid box' is hardly an approved medical standard, but it did help me unpack the story of the Good Samaritan and what it means to love our neighbour.
My ‘first aid box’ is hardly an approved medical standard, but it did help me unpack the story of the Good Samaritan and what it means to love our neighbour.

Our Family Eucharist is a regular term-time feature of parish life attracting families with very young children because of it’s late morning service time (11.15am). It uses one of the Children’s Eucharistic Prayer and has a simple pattern of the same songs being sung weekly, except for a single one that reflects the theme of the Gospel. 

The Gospel for today was Matthew 22:34-end the first part of which is the two greatest commandments, but I decided to unpack the second of these actually using The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) in The Storyteller Bible (p80), and asking the children sat on the rug between the Eucharistic table and the lecturn: What does it mean to love your neighbour? Helping make them better? What’s in my FIRST AID BOX?

Tissues = mopping up the tears…. just giving someone tissues to dry their tears if they are really sad is showing love towards that person – it proves you care even if you don’t know or understand why they are sad. It might also mean praying with them, or it might mean going home and praying for them later.

Plaster = stops the bleeding when we cut ourselves – stopping the initial problem from getting any worse. If we just stop and look for a moment, we might be able do something to stop a problem getting worse – it’s what the priest and the other man didn’t do in the story! sometimes we don’t understand each other, and taking time to listen to what your parent, friend or sibling really means can be like putting a plaster on a wound to stop it getting any worse. Then you can go back to being friends again.

Bandage = for when things are really broken – it stops the bits that are broken coming apart completely. It’s what the Good Samaritan had to do before he even put the injured man on his donkey to take him to safety. A hospital will actually put a plaster over this. It gives time for the broken bits to heal back together so that the break is as good as new and whatever was broken can be used again. Sometimes it can take a long time for people to heal up.

Cotton wool = padding…. we can be someone who comes between a hard place in life and the person it’s affecting. It might mean going with them to a difficult place – like a parent who goes with their child to the Doctor, like the Samaritan put the injured person on a donkey and took him to a place where he could get better.

Witch Hazel = something to bring the bruising out faster so it doesn’t hurt for so long. Often we can’t make the pain go away, but perhaps by doing something with them to cheer someone up, we can give them something else to focus on, so the really bad pain of the nasty thing that happened to them doesn’t last as long. It can be why people buy someone flowers, or a present, when it’s not their birthday or Christmas! After all the Good Samaritan had to spend money to give the injured man a safe place to stay, even though he didn’t stay with him for the whole length of time that it took for the man to get better.

So, being a good neighbour means thinking about what we can do to help them when they need it. It means we’ve got to take time to be with people, and perhaps listen to them, even when possibly we’ve got into an argument with them. It means remembering that when people hurt it can take a long time for them to feel better. It might mean praying with them and for them, telling God how much we care and we want their lives to be made well, just as we want to get better when it’s us that’s hurting.

Old and new #givingitup 9th March #Lent2014

In todays reflection (First Sunday in Lent) Maggi Dawn highlights the fact that in Luke 5:33-39 it becomes really obvious to those who see Jesus interacting with his disciples that as a community of friends they do not make a particular habit of fasting as was normal for the Jews generally, unlike other teachers of the time.

She goes on to talk about the value of old and new, in worship styles, and in churchmanship. As a songwriter and past chaplain of a Cambridge College (now at Yale Divinity School in the USA) Maggi is in an excellent position to say that with authenticity.

For me, it’s really interesting how this idea of old and new interacts with some of the things my colleagues and I have been talking about at the weekend. Each of us final year ordinands had to give a presentation about our (all too brief) parish placements, and reflect on a critical incident within them. It proved a fascinating journey around Anglican churches in southern England, featuring some Bollywood dancing (taught to a student on placement in Slough), a 9 parish benefice in a very wealthy area of Wiltshire, a couple of Local Ecumenical Partnerships functioning with various degrees of success and diocesan support on infamous estates, a church with no building to call it’s own and ghastly orange seats but good pastoral outreach, and varieties in worship that included BCP, charismatic evangelical, anglo-catholic Eucharistic, and some that were just middle of the road Common Worship with few frills. In the other group our final year pioneer ordinand stretched the worship context still further I gather. Some were old, some were new, some used borrowed buildings (or lent them out) and one was sadly blue.

All were church. Each provided worship in at least one form, some several. They were meeting different peoples understandings of God, enabling the Christ-light to shine in their communities, and feeding different spiritualities.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m moving from an open charismatic evangelical context in my ‘sending parish’ to a high, Eucharistic choral tradition in my title parish (the choral element being the one I’ve experienced very little of till now). In both, other forms of worship are used at some services, including styles like BCP and Taize. I know I meet God in a variety of worship styles, in Word and more recently in Sacrament, in creation and in creative acts, thus my expectation is to develop the skills that mean I can serve communities by being flexible and competent at a whole variety of worship styles that can draw different people closer to God.

There was a lot about context too. I can’t see learning Bollywood dancing being particularly relevant to the worship of every parish in the CofE just yet! One parish in my own diocese featured, a place where the image of ‘tent stretching’ was highlighted, stretching from a very traditional building through a congregation planted into a school, homegroups, house communions, Costa-pastoring and youth groups, and more. The apparent success of this (measured in contact points between church and people, not bums on seats) seem to somewhat belie Jesus’ teaching in this passage that you shouldn’t sew new bits into an old garment, and am erring towards the heresy of disagreeing with the Biblical portrayal of Jesus.

But, before I’m excommunicated and barred from ordination, what I think is at the heart of this is the need to seek to make Jesus come alive in a way that is authentic for the gathered community, both those who know God, and those who are yet to make that encounter. For, at the heart of this reading is the suggestion that Jesus is the bridegroom, the one to whom we are drawn to spend as much time as is possible. To me Jesus exemplifies the practice of a patchwork ministry, that is just as comfortable teaching on hillsides and in temple courts, challenging the authorities, and healing the sick in the streets and their homes. To be honest, worship styles weren’t something he really focused on, what mattered was about the honesty and authenticity of peoples encounters with him; where they being true to themselves, and simply being attention seeking or trying catching him out. My reflections on the churches I saw presented this weekend was where worship or pastoral practice is simply designed to draw attention to church, it wasn’t drawing local people into an encounter with God. Where worship and pastoral practice were authentic to and seeking to meet the needs of the local community, it was.

So that’s where I am tonight, following a patchwork Jesus, and looking forward to encountering him in old and new alike.

If you’re looking for Graham’s reflections on this reading, they’re here, and I’m off to read them myself now.

More than the body Luke 12:22-34 #givingitup #Lent2014

No Ravens at Cuddesdon, but plenty of Jackdaws - some of which perch most of the day in the big Beech tree by College House!
No Ravens at Cuddesdon, but plenty of Jackdaws – some of which perch most of the day in the big Beech tree by College House!

The reading Maggi Dawn has set for today is one that is important to my parents, having been the favourite of Canon Rham, the Rector of All Saints Minstead at the time of their marriage and later my Baptism. ‘Consider the lilies of the fields…’ is marked in every Bible they’ve used I think.

Maggi is keeping us focused on the idea that if we’re going to ‘give things up’ it needs to be done in such a way that we “reconnect our understanding of our daily existence to God… [and] no amount of self-improvement will change God’s view of us… The point of the fast is, in fact, to humble ourselves… accepting with absolute honesty our true self.”

I’ve been sat in the window of my room watching the Jackdaws (we don’t have Ravens at college) and pondering on those things in my daily existence that connect me to God, or should do. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • prayer – whether that be through the use of set liturgy in Common Worship or Celtic forms, or through arrow prayers ‘at the kitchen sink’ or through more reflective times walking, or more often in recent months, gazing out the window watching the rain.
  • creative things – doesn’t matter whether it’s cooking or something more artistic, and it particularly includes creating acts of worship, and writing sermons; I’ve not stopped cooking though I don’t bake as much (partly for the sake our waistlines), but the others on this list have all been neglected by my focus on, or procrastinating about, my studies – and procrastination is rarely creative! Something I could rectify, possibly?
  • studying – I’m studying theology for ministry for goodness sake, it ought to connect me with God, yet sadly it’s rarely been in a way that I have found uplifting and really fulfilling, so I guess with the next essay (the theology of land in the Old Testament with particular reference to the Sabbath) that should be my key aim, not just to write it, but to seek God in it.
  • people – I’ve realised through this course how much I miss people when I have to study, and it’s not just the spending time with them, it’s the practice of hospitality given and received, the seeing Christ in people and where needed, being Christ to others, all of which I so look forward to doing more of in curacy!

So I guess that what I really need to focus on once I return to it later next week (after lots of time needing to be away from it for valid reasons like this study weekend) is humbling myself before the immense amount I don’t know about God, and expecting him to show me things in the essay I need to research and write before Easter.

Feels pretty Lenten to me, even if I’m not explicitly ‘giving something up!

PS: I’m sure Graham will be along later with his thoughts on his blog here.

Two sermons for harvest – Deut 26v1-11 and Luke 7v36-50

St. Peter's Mill End, Rickmansworth
St. Peter’s Mill End, Rickmansworth

Today has seen the conclusion of my parish placement which has been a significant encouragement to me as I enter this second and last year of ordination training. I am hugely grateful to the warm welcome and hospitality provided by Revd. Simon Cutmore, his family and the parish of Mill End and Heronsgate with West Hyde. I am going to miss these lovely congregations a lot.

Last week and this, I have preaching for two of their harvest services. Both sermons were based on the same passages, and designed to be part of the St. Alban’s Diocesan Harvest Appeal .

Honey cakes decorated in their activity during my sermon with St. Thomas's West Hyde at Maple Cross School - I got to eat one later!
Honey cakes decorated in their activity during my sermon with St. Thomas’s West Hyde at Maple Cross School – I got to eat one later!

BUT, last week’s harvest service at Maple Cross School was a sermon for an adult congregation while the children had their own activities, whilst this week the sermon at St. Peter’s Mill End was for a harvest parade service, where a congregation of more than 150 included the children of the local uniformed organisations. So, the actual sermons needed to be very different in style and delivery, even though they needed to contain basically the same message.

I’ll let you be the judge of whether I managed it or not!

Sermon for Harvest at West Hyde and Maple Cross last week can be downloaded here: Harvest 2013 Luke 7 and Deut 26 What have you done?

The activity and talk for this weeks sermon is below, and I am indebted to my new colleague at college @tweet_too_woo for sourcing me a bee-keepers protective head gear and a frame from a bee-hive!

Activity

This years harvest appeal in St. Alban’s Diocese is focused on bees and bee-keeping.

It talks about a man called Geji, who lives in Ethiopia in eastern Africa, who is now in his 70s. All his life he’s worked really hard to try and keep him and his family alive in his really hot, dry country, and he’s done this harvesting honey that the wild bees produce. But he’s never really had the right equipment to keep bees properly.

Until recently. He’s been given some presents. Do you want to see what one of them is? (Seek volunteer from congregation.)

The first thing that Geji has been given is a bee-keepers ‘veil’ (place on volunteer) – Why does he need those? So he doesn’t get stung – buzz, buzz, buzz! (Sit fluffy bee on the hat!)

He’s also been given a proper hive, with frames in it that bees like to build their honeycomb in, and from which the honey is easier to harvest. (Show a frame.) 

Then, he and some bee-keeping friends have been given a present to share, a really important present that makes their lives much easier. It’s an honey extractor – describe briefly how it works.

So now Geji has lots of honey. And he can sell more honey – honey to hold – and get more money for his honey – money to hold.

So what do you think Geji is doing with all his money he’s getting for his honey? (Get 4 volunteers and give them the following).

Now he’s able to pay for

  • his family to have three proper meals a day, which they’ve never had before – breakfast/lunch/dinner paper plates
  • his children to go to school, because school isn’t paid for out of the money the government have collected like happens in this country –  paper/pens and pencils
  • he’s got enough money to buy his family and himself some better clothes for when he’s not wearing his bee-keeping outfit – pop a nice jacket on another child
  • and… he’s got enough honey left over that his grandchildren can have some for themselves… another jar of honey to last volunteer!

So, not only has Geji had lots of things given to him to help his bee-keeping, but as a result he’s been able to share the results with his family.

He had done nothing special to deserve receiving these gifts, but he has used them wisely, and the ‘fruit’ of those gifts, is that lots of people have benefited.

As the service goes on we’re going to hear about other people who have been given things, and we’re going to think about

  • what they’ve done with those gifts,
  • what they’d done to deserve them,
  • and what that might teach us today.

Get back all those props, and leave them at the front to remind us as the service goes on about what we’re talking about.

Talk

So Geji who we heard about at the beginning of our service, was given a whole load of bee-keeping equipment for no particular reason other than to harvest honey. He used the money he made with the larger quantities of honey he had, to make life better for his family. There will be a collection this morning to raise funds for similar bee-keeping equipment to be sent to Ethiopia to change more lives in this way.

In our Old Testament reading this morning, we heard about a group of people who were given something. The people were the people of Israel, and if you were listening carefully, you might be able to tell me what had the people had been given?

Tricky, adults can help, who read the lesson…. the Promised Land.

The people of Israel had been kept in captivity as slaves in Egypt, they had been freed by God with some miracles, and then they had been wandering in the wilderness for many years because they kept getting things wrong, making mistakes and disobeying God.

Finally, they were in the land that God had promised them, un-originally known to us as the Promised Land. It was a place where they could finally settle down with their sheep, goats and cattle. The soil was fairly good, so they could also grow crops, and harvest what the local trees produced. It was a land where they had a deep sense of belonging.

They had done nothing to deserve all this productivity and good living, it was God’s gift to them, as God’s chosen people. So, as a way of saying thank you to God, they brought a sample of all their harvest goods, the first-fruits of that land, and placed these before God at the altar. They also celebrated the wonderful things they had been given in the way they ate their meals at home, not just on special thanksgiving days, but all the time.

 

The Nave Altar at St. Peter's Mill End, Rickmansworth, with all the harvest gifts that were brought up and some talk props!
The Nave Altar at St. Peter’s Mill End, Rickmansworth, with all the harvest gifts that were brought up and some talk props!

Now, most of us have done something very similar this morning, we’ve brought up goods and put them in front of the altar. I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, so who would like to see what I’ve brought from my little garden at home?

Volunteers, to place my items in front of the altar – pears, tomatoes, carrots, flowers

There’s lots of food here because people have been incredibly generous, so why have we done that?

Answers: so we can help people, so other people who need it can eat.

Now, do we know who is going to be given all these things in front of the altar?

Answer: Catholic Worker Farm and the Rickmansworth Food Bank.

Hopefully it’s not just because we were told to. This is an important part of our harvest celebrations,we’re giving away things that we have, to others who don’t have enough right at the moment.

So, what happened in our second reading this morning. The one about a woman who gate-crashed a private dinner party. WHAT was that all about, hey?! Don’t hear of any baskets of vegetables, or packets of rice, or jars of honey, in that story, did you?!

So, what did the lady in that story, bring and do to Jesus?

Who can remember? Hands up… tears, hair, ointment – anointed Jesus feet.

Does this seem like normal behaviour to you? Do strangers normally walk into your house, have a fit of hysterics all over your feet, dry them with their hair and then rub nice smelling oil into your feet afterwards?

No? Thought not!

The woman in our Gospel story this morning, also wanted to say thank you to God for something she knew she had received, and those tears and that nice smelling oil that she put on Jesus feet, were her way of doing just that. She had received something so special that she wanted to say thank you to God for it, even though she had done nothing to deserve it. She recognised that Jesus was God’s Son, living and walking here on earth, even though he might have looked just like an ordinary man at a dinner party!

The woman had received something sooooooooo special that she celebrated it with the first-fruits of her life, which happened to be tears and precious oils. They were what she had to show for the change inside her that was happening now she understood herself to be forgiven for all of the bad things she’d done in her past. Suddenly she was valued for who she was. She hadn’t received honey, nor a promised land on which to grow fruit and veg, but forgiveness. Jesus recognised what was happening in her, and when she had finished he blessed her with these words:

Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

 

Harvest gifts given before the service had been placed in all the Nave windows at St. Peter's Mill End
Harvest gifts given before the service had been placed in all the Nave windows at St. Peter’s Mill End

This morning, whilst we’re busy giving away food and money to those that need it and asking God to bless those gifts and those receiving them, what we all need to think about, young and old alike, is this:

What is the precious gift that we have received from God, that we want to thank him for?

  • It might be that you know yourself to be loved by God. All of us are, I hope and pray we know that.
  • It might be that we are starting to understand what it means to be forgiven.

  • It might be that we’re starting to understand what it means to have faith, to believe in Jesus despite all that the world and the trials of life do to stop us believing that.
  • It might be that you are beginning to feel a deep peace within you, that gives you mental, emotional space to consider other things.

I don’t know what it is you personally have received, all I can do is give you a reminder to keep you thinking about what God has given you. It had to be something simple that I could give to everyone, to remind you of the stories we’ve heard this morning. So it’s a piece of cloth with flowers printed on it, that we’ve poured a scent over.

  • The cloth is to remind us of the clothes that Geji bought with the money he made from the extra honey he sold.
  • The flower pattern is to remind us of the flowers the bees need, and also the first-fruits and flowers of the Promised Land that the people of Israel received from God.
  • The scented is to remind us of the precious oil that the woman rubbed into Jesus feet when she realised that she had received forgiveness from God.

If you’re not sure whether you have received a precious gift from God, talk to someone else here, talk to Simon, or me, or some other Christian you trust, or trying praying, just talking to God. Don’t ignore the prompting. Think about it, and once you’re certain, share what you’re discovering with someone else.

So, with some help, I’ve got 200 little bits of scented, flowery cloth here – please take one, think about what you’ve received from God, and what you want to thank him for.

 

Reconciliation and Celebration – Genesis 42v1-13 and Luke 11v1-4

Eucharistic table after alternative worship celebration at Oxford Ministry Course Summer School 2013
Eucharistic table after alternative worship celebration at Oxford Ministry Course Summer School 2013

This morning I preached at our first Summer Sunday combined service, to those of St. Peter’s Yateley who hadn’t yet left for New Wine, or otherwise gone on holiday. It forms the last of a sequence of sermons on the story of Jacob and Joseph, and brings together thoughts about reconciliation and Eucharist.

I wonder how many of us feel trapped in some way by the past?

We’re doing our best to work through the challenges life throws at us, when some circumstance comes along and reminds us of our own past mistakes, our folly, or of the unexpected consequences of some innocuous comment we made a long time ago. Many of us live with these occasional and uncomfortable reminders of broken relationships; we set them aside and get on with life, but unless we can forge circumstances whereby a meeting takes place, reconciliation is impossible. Graham and I know only too well in our family how painful that can be; its like a kind of bereavement – every so often something happens to remind you how painful it is.

For Jacob’s family in today’s Old Testament reading, drought and hunger might be their most pressing concern, but they still live with the consequences of their past actions, now twenty years behind them.

Jacob, has a paranoid fear of losing the second son of his beloved wife Rachel, given that their older child Joseph has been, supposedly, lost to the ravages of wild animals. Benjamin must, at almost all costs, be protected from danger, even at the cost of remaining at home in famine conditions. Jacob still has his favourites!

That of course must remind Benjamin’s older brothers, Leah’s sons, of their own complicity in the so called death of Joseph, and the lies they have woven to hide the truth. Something they continue to have to cover for when faced with the accusation of spying by Pharaoh’s awe inspiring Grand Vizier! When they declare that “one brother is no more” the English translation hides a whole packet of intense emotions that are suggested at in the Hebrew!

I guess the face paint worn by Egypt’s ruling elite must have hidden Joseph’s emotions at this first meeting: not only does he remember his dreams and their role in bringing him on a painful journey to his current exalted position, but he also remembers the part played by his older brothers, now prostrate before him!

If we read back in Genesis 41:51 we find Joseph called his first-born Manasseh, as an acknowledgement that it was because “God had made him forget his trouble and his Fathers’ house”, which actually only goes to show that really the contrary was true! He hadn’t forgotten at all! The naming of his second son, Ephraim, suggests rather, that the real truth was he’d simply learned to live with different blessings in the land of his suffering.

In his book on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, Desmond Tutu talks about different types of “truth” people experience:

There is something called forensic, or factual, truth. This, if we read on through the conclusion of this fascinating story of Jacob’s family, is the type of truth that tells Joseph’s older brothers that somehow the silver they thought they had paid the Pharoah’s Vizier for their first shipment of grain, has been mysteriously returned to their possession. They do not understand why, or how, but the forensic truth is that the silver is there in their sacks in Genesis 42 v28; which only adds to the discomfort at having to leave Simeon behind as hostage against their eventual return with young Benjamin.

It was a different type of truth, a social truth, that finally enabled the political powers of South Africa to bring about the end of apartheid between 1990 and 1994, giving all people equal rights to democratic process and freedom of speech, regardless of colour or race. I guess the social truth in this Genesis story, is the starvation that drives migration and brings together different cultures, the Hebrew and the Egyptian. We see so much such economic migration today, and the social changes and challenges it brings, that it shouldn’t be too hard for us to recognise!

But it is personal truth, what Desmond Tutu writes of as the truth of wounded memories, which is being most prominently featured in these closing chapters of Genesis, that I do encourage you to read as we conclude this series of sermons today. Personal truth, says that when one person is encouraged or allowed to speak their memories, in the context of being heard and respected by those intimately involved in them, healing can be found. Personal truth was what formed the basis of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it followed from the social truth of equality. The reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers’ starts with Joseph’s discovery that they are repentant for their actions of twenty years previously.

You see, if we read through Genesis 42 v21-23, we see that Joseph comes to understand that they see their current trouble as relating to their past treatment of him, a form of confession that brings to light the information that the eldest, Reuben, spoke up for him at the time. Perhaps that is why it is in fact Simeon, Leahs’ second son, and not Reuben, who becomes Josephs’ hostage.

Some of you may have heard me talk before about the African theology of “ubuntu”. It may have become a word that describes a computer system, but even that derives from the theology popularised by Desmond Tutu, that a person is a person, through other people. To live with broken relationships, with other people, or with God, is a kind of death because we are created by God to be in relationship, healthy relationship, with other people. Ubuntu says that supporters of apartheid were as much victims of the vicious system they implemented, as the murdered, widowed, beaten and ostracised of the townships.

By being confronted by a situation where they were reminded of, and forced to acknowledge, the arguments and dehumanising behaviour they had exhibited towards Joseph in the past, the older brothers’ started the process of gaining Joseph’s forgiveness. It is personal truth, Reuben’s outburst of honesty, that sparks Joseph’s tears in Genesis 42 v22. And, if we read on into Chapter 44, on their second visit to Egypt, this time with Benjamin, it is the proof of repentance for their past actions exhibited in their honesty and truth telling under the pressure of new situations in which they feel totally out of control, that enables Joseph to finally complete his own generous acts of reconciliation by finally making himself known to them, thus enabling his reunion with Jacob in Genesis 46 v29. In the long run, it brings the family together in Egypt where they can prosper and grow in number and in their understanding of themselves as the people of God.

Here in the story of Joseph and his brothers being reconciled, we see the same as Jesus teaches us in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus is teaching us, his disciples, that the starting point for our prayers and mission as his people, is to be reconciled to one another. The familiar words of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer includes the practice of forgiveness, a daily awareness of our ongoing need for forgiveness by God for those times we stuff up, that is compromised if there is not a corresponding practice of forgiveness on our own part. It is a teaching of Jesus that we read elsewhere, for example in the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18 v23-35, and in Luke 6 v37 where it says “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” The biggest challenge of all is that, throughout his ministry, and most obviously in his journey to and in his words from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), that Jesus also gives us a living example of what it means to forgive those who exclude, condemn, and torture, without understanding the personal truth of what they are doing wrong, making any confession or seeking his or anyone else’s, forgiveness.

Admitting fault, confessing wrong thoughts and actions before others, and before God, is not about earning forgiveness, or about putting the right coin in God’s vending machine to trigger forgiveness, but a response to God’s sacrificial abundant love in Christ. Offering forgiveness to those who speak their own personal truths honestly, and with an integrity to their actions, is a response to both God and to such openness. Complete reconciliation should be a celebration of the basic idea that God is over-flowing with his own self-giving love, and has made us to have Ubuntu, to be in right relationship with each other.

Joseph’s reaction to being reunited with his younger brother in Genesis 43 v29-34, is a celebration meal which he serves himself with great generosity, and at which he makes his final reconciliation with his older brothers. What we call Holy Communion, which we will share later in this service, is something that celebrates our God given freedom of relationship with him, and with each other. It is a moment of Eucharist, which means to “give thanks”, the ultimate celebration meal that should grow out of willingness to confess before God the deep personal truths of our lives, our desire for forgiveness, our ability to forgive and the quest for right relationship, for ubuntu, with each other and with God.

The dreams of the next generation – Genesis 37 v1-11 and Luke 10 v1-11

Priest at Prayer - an image from our 'elemental' outdoor Eucharist during summer school. Other images of this service and local wildlife can be found in my Flickr account, accessed via the right-hand column.
Priest at Prayer – an image from our ‘elemental’ outdoor Eucharist during summer school. Other images of this service and local wildlife can be found in my Flickr account, accessed via the right-hand column.

I preached this sermon a couple of weeks ago when it gave rise to no comment at all from the small congregation it was written for. Yet when I preached it (to video) for peer and tutor feedback at our Oxford Ministry Course Summer School last week, a tutor was surprised by my interpretation of these scriptures, and one particular CMS Pioneer colleague described it as prophetic and one of the top three sermons he’d heard this year! This was greatly encouraging, though I’m still rather uncertain what specifically I said that was so radical, so your thoughts and responses are VERY welcome. It also begs the question:
do you need to know you’re being prophetic?

I wonder how many of us are willing to listen to, and take seriously, the dreams of the next generation?

When our children, grandchildren and the youngsters of our community take the risk of sharing something of their hopes and dreams of the future, what is our reaction? Do we resent their bright ideas and feel they’re getting too big for their boots, or do we think we’ve heard and dreamt it all before and their ideas are doomed to failure, because our weren’t and the world just doesn’t work that way?! Or are we open-minded enough to at least mull over the ideas, pray and discern with them what they are saying so that we support and encourage them on their journey through life? Or, is it a bit of both… just like Jacob?!

With 12 sons, plus Dinah and unknown other numbers of daughters, you can’t tell me that Jacob didn’t have to be patient with plenty of bright ideas, dreams and stories from his children. We know for example that

  • Simeon and Levi could over re-act to the offences of those living in the land around them, so that they endangered the lives of their whole family without realising it, until their Father pointed it out;
  • Judah would prove himself quick thinking as he put Joseph in a dry well, but eager to tell lies to cover his own actions when he knows they’ll be disapproved of, which we become aware of as the story of the family unfolds;
  • Ruben is a man able to speak up for the under-dog, but not quite with enough gravitas for his wisdom to be listened to by his brother’s, either in Canaan at the well side, or in Egypt .

It’s no different today is it. Being married to a teacher, I hear plenty of classroom tales: one child might boast to another, and their companions will over-react; tempers flare and not uncommonly parents get involved; good parenting demands that the manner of the doing is often rebuked before what has been said is reflected upon. Jacob’s reaction to Joseph’s dreams is an example of pretty reasonable parenting – correct the manner of the doing and then wonder what lies behind it.

But sometimes, though perhaps we’d rather not admit it, the situations we face as parents and adults, and our reactions as adults to the dreams and actions of the next generation, are actually dependent on our own previous failures! In Jacob’s case, it was the favouritism that he had shown previously to Joseph with his gift of the luxurious long-robe totally inappropriate to a lifestyle of manual labour, that had set up the atmosphere of tale-telling and jealousy which was dominating his family life.

Of course the reason we know about Joseph’s dreams and their interpretations is because, after there initial consequences lead to his slavery and imprisonment, they come to pass. Joseph’s were words that held truth, a truth that at the time wasn’t accepted or understood; a truth that perhaps wasn’t delivered with either tact or diplomacy; but in fact words of truth that held within them the promise of a future situation and earthly kingdom, into which Jacob and all his sons would enter, in an effort to save their own lives from the a pitiful death by starvation. Those dreams would lead to Jacob’s family becoming the people of promise; God’s people, a holy nation from which the Kingdom of God would be revealed in the person of Jesus.

Our Gospel this morning, announces God’s Kingdom. As he starts his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus was in effect sending the seventy ahead, to announce a new order, a new way of relating to each other and to God. Something not so dissimilar to what Joseph had done through his dreams, and to be honest, just as unpopular! And in both cases, the death of one life was required to bring to fruition a new way living out the life of God’s people. Joseph was stripped, beaten and thrown in a dry well before being sold into a new life of slavery, something that led to God’s purposes for Jacob’s family being worked out. For Jesus, his death on the cross was to bring the new life of resurrection, so that every person might be given the opportunity of a welcome into God’s family.

So what lessons can we learn from Jacob’s, let say erratic, parenting skills, and God’s eagerness to constantly move people into an awareness of his Kingdom being revealed here on earth?

I think we need to be prepared to listen and take the next generation seriously, and not make assumptions based on our own past failures or the negative over-reactions of others, even from within their own peer group. It might only be that young people come to us with ideas of their own future careers, or how they can best be enabled to care for us later in life. Both can cause us to be made uncomfortable and grumpy, because to be honest none of us like change, especially when it affects us intimately.

Equally, there are situations when despite their need to learn some tact or a sense of timing, actually God is speaking through the next generation about how to reach a mission field that needs to know that his Kingdom is coming. It might mean that our normal view of what attracts young people to God needs re-adjusting, that it might not be all about the loud music we’re not so keen on anyway, or that we need to support them as they go out to work inclusively with sections of the community that we find difficult to live with, or it might be something else entirely – but if we don’t listen, we won’t know.

Jacob kept Joseph’s dreams in mind, just as after Jesus’ seemingly uncaring behaviour in the Temple, Mary treasured the meaning of his behaviour in her heart. If we are to really live out God’s commission to go ahead of him and proclaim his Kingdom in the years to come, we need to stop, listen and treasure carefully those things that the next generation are dreaming about because just as much as Jesus offer’s it to us, theirs too is the Kingdom of God.

 

The house that God built – 1 Kings 8 and Luke 7:1-10

All Saints' Church Basingstoke, photographed in 2009 during my Reader Training Placement
All Saints’ Church Basingstoke, photographed in 2009 during my Reader Training Placement

This morning’s sermon was for the occasion of the ‘Friends of All Saints Basingstoke’ annual Eucharist (followed by an excellent bring and share lunch!) (Note: colleagues with whom I might be undertaking preaching practice next weekend probably don’t want to read it – they’ll be hearing something similar!)

Lord, take my words and speak through them,
take our thoughts and think through them,
take our hearts & set them on fire with love for you
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
and in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Four years ago, this church took in a foreigner. She wasn’t from these parts. She came from another place, somewhere outside this town, though not so far away that she couldn’t commute quite comfortably for services and the like.

She was warmly welcomed, challenged about the importance of certain Christian traditions, had her calling questioned, was perhaps healed of certain prejudices, though probably not all of them, and once departed, was invited back.

Then, I was a trainee Reader. Now, I am a trainee priest. This place, and you people, have been part of the journey of this ‘foreigner’, one element of God’s grace visible in my life, and it is wonderful to celebrate with you today as a Friend of All Saints.

“Foreigner” is a rather loaded word these days. It possibly conjures up in our minds other words: on the safe side it might infer “tourist” or as some New Forest folk say when sat in a traffic jam, “grockel”! Less helpfully it comes loaded with words like “immigrant”, or “racist”. Sadly, it may therefore no longer be a word that always holds a welcome.

In our Old Testament reading this morning, “foreigner” refers to someone from outside the Promised Land, an occasional visitor who bore no part in the life of Israel. Meanwhile, the centurion of our Gospel reading was a Roman and therefore presumably Gentile, a non-Jew.

And yet because God’s gifts are available to all who call on his name, the expectation in both cases is that God will act: Solomon asks that God will act according to all that the foreigner asks of him (1 Kings 8:43), and the centurion declares: “only speak the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7).

Perhaps surprisingly, but in common with all the people of Israel, once in the land of their covenant promise, the foreigner of Solomon’s prayer is only expected to pray towards the house of God’s name, the new Temple in Jerusalem. It is being in the land and honouring the authority of God’s name that is important.

And in this version of the healing of the centurion’s servant, the centurion doesn’t enter Christ’s presence in person, but rather in his humility sends representatives to speak on his behalf. The centurion sends the Jewish elders to seek Jesus’ healing for his servant, because of what “he heard about Jesus”. It is God’s authority heard to be active in Jesus, that is so attractive.

Much as there is a building involved in both these stories, the Temple made by Solomon, and the synagogue funded by the centurion, it is not the buildings that attract the faith of those outside of these places of worship, it is what they have heard of God. It is God’s name, “his mighty hand and outstretched arm”, and God revealed in the person of Jesus, that in words of our Psalm this morning have the authority to “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.” (Psalm 96:3)

Solomon after all, despite, or almost because of his Temple building exploits, was about to prove that unfaithfulness destroys the people of God, rather than attract people to faith. Solomon suggests that the Temple honours the covenant that brought the people of Israel to the Promised Land, and the promises that brought about his kingship. But he’d built it not in partnership with his fellow Israelites, but with Israel’s indentured labour and foreign craftsmanship and materials.

If you read on through 1 Kings, Solomon will also show his lack of understanding regarding his responsibility to the land God has covenanted to Israel, through his sale of twenty cities as a gratuity to the timber suppliers. The intention was that the name of God prayed over the Temple should highlight God’s presence, making it a listening post and sounding board for God. Instead, the list of Solomon’s prayers surrounding this mornings passage, makes it seem that he’s put God in a box, like some performing animal, required to do tricks on cue!

The centurion on the other hand, was a seeker whose synagogue honoured what St. Paul would later describe as his “unknown god” (Acts 17:23), and which celebrated the faith of a conquered people. He had built a relationship with the Jewish community that led him to hear about Jesus. All this had brought him to a point where he could proclaim with humility the healing purposes of God revealed in Christ in a way many Jews couldn’t bring themselves to acknowledge. Unlike Solomon’s shopping list to God, the faith of the centurion had integrity.

So, when we build a house of God, it isn’t really the building, however formal or ornate we make it, that proclaims the authority of God to those who may contribute to, or see it from a distance. Rather it is the integrity with which we show ourselves to be “living stones, being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5) that proclaims the authority of Christ “as the chief cornerstone in whom the building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:20-21).

Today, it is probably better to think about the “foreigner” as the “stranger in our midst”. Though it might not fit his spirituality, there is the famous quote of W.B.Yeats that “There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet”, which holds within it a note of God’s mission to the world, in which we are called to collaborate by reaching out to the stranger and the stranger’s need, in a way which names our faith.

Though I don’t subscribe to the doom-merchants of church statistics who proclaim the decline of faith in God, it is very easy to slip into the habit when thinking about mission, of measuring its success by the statistics of bums on seats! Solomon’s prayer, for all its faults, asks the question of our modern context: do we expect too much by wanting the strangers who know the name and acknowledge the authority of God, to enter the churches we’ve constructed to make his name visible in our communities?

Although it is right to celebrate and proclaim his name in worship and fellowship within God’s house, we know God’s authority and commission stretches beyond the walls of our churches. I believe that the success of such projects as Street Pastors is because they are done in God’s name, by his power, and that his name used wisely still has an authority that people trust.

Then again, Luke’s account of the centurion’s humble faith, begs the question: who are the representative voices of our communities, and what are the stories of distress and pain that they are trying to share with us? Our communities are often transient and encountered only briefly in their births, deaths and marriages. At the same time it seems that even if the passing strangers of our car parks and alley ways are daily visitors, there is no means to share their pleasures or understand their pain without translating their graffiti or picking up the broken glass of their lives. Who are their spokespeople, and what are their concerns? Does their individualism isolate us from attending to God’s mission?

When I read this morning’s Gospel, I am left wondering about the Jewish elders who spoke up for the centurion who built their synagogue. They honoured the giver, the stranger in their own land, by leading Jesus toward him. They heard the testimony of his friends who met them on the road, proclaiming the centurion’s faith that God was at work in Jesus Christ. I wonder if, when they returned together with his friends to the centurion’s home, they too believed?

Throughout the week, whilst working through these passages, I’ve been reminded of an old nursery rhyme and cumulative tale, about the house that Jack built. You may recall it from your childhood, as I do from mine. It doesn’t tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn”, and the “Maiden all forlorn”, as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked.

As we worship in and quite rightly celebrate this house of God a gift of promise to the people of Basingstoke, we remember today Solomon and the centurion who each built houses for God, and for his people. But perhaps we too need to remember that unless we engage with people outside of the building in the name of Jesus, then we aren’t really engaged in the mission of God that makes us the living stones of the Kingdom, to which Jesus Christ brought healing:

If, this is the house that God built,
then these are the chairs a little bit worn,
that seat the people who worship the Christ,
and make up the house that God built.

Here are the streets that carry the strangers,
who mutter in pain and worry and fret,
but don’t see these chairs a little bit worn,
that seat the people who worship the Christ,
and make up the house that God built.

Here are stories of God in action,
that name the faith which proclaims and heals,
hid from the streets that carry the strangers,
who mutter in pain and worry and fret,
but don’t see these chairs a little bit worn,
that seat the people who worship the Christ,
and make up the house that God built.

Here’s the hope of the people of God,
who only return to restore their strength,
with some of their stories of God in action,
that name the faith that proclaims and heals,
out in the streets among the strangers,
who’d muttered in pain and worry and fret,
but don’t need the chairs a little bit worn,
that seat the people who worship the Christ,
who are the house that God built.

 

The joy of… ordinand?! How being an ordinand is like being pregnant – Luke1:39-45

Nativity detail from altar window, All Saints Church, Cuddesdon
Nativity detail from altar window, All Saints Church, Cuddesdon

I mentioned yesterday that amid the grief (and other Christmas aggravations like the alternator going on the car) there have only been will-o’-the-wisp moments when I have connected with the Christ-child this Christmas.

As I prepare to write a 5000 word essay this week, and re-start my hospital placement (grotty cough permitting) I wanted to reflect briefly on what those glimpses have said been, and what I’ve allowed the Christ-child to give me. They are what I have been given to build-up my sense of Christ’s presence with me as I return to my Benedictine studies.

I didn’t make church on 23rd December (Advent 4) because I was simply feeling too rough. Instead I sought out the sermons of clergy friends on Twitter, to feed what little brain I had. I lit upon this sermon from Reverend Ally. She reminds us of the questions Mary asked of Gabriel at the annunciation, which reflect quite closely those that many ordinands ask themselves, including “Why me!?”.  She goes on to talk about what happens after Mary declares her obedience to God’s will, and specifically about the joy of Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45). “Mary realises that God has not just asked a great thing of her, he has also given her a great thing” and that part of this gift is her common calling with Elizabeth, to which their miraculous pregnancies testify.

Being an ordinand isn’t so very different to being pregnant. You’re carrying something precious (your calling to serve Christ as a priest), can at times be very uncomfortable (there’s stuff asked of you that makes life painful), can feel incredibly lonely (not even a long-suffering spouse can really share the load, and they’re probably as worried as you), and you must be obedient to a detailed process you may not completely understand (portfolios require all sorts of detailed analysis that is almost beyond understanding, and then someone else arranges a curacy for you)!

For me this last term, it’s been a lonely journey. Cut off from parish life by the request that I focus on my studies, I’ve felt isolated at college by being the ‘odd one out’ (as the only one currently attempting a ‘mixed-mode MA’) and a strange unwillingness to take part in the regular and extra-curricular activities that would draw me into relationship with fellow ordinands. It’s like I’ve got too good at saying ‘no’ I’ve forgotten to say ‘yes’ occasionally, and the cost has been a painful isolation from those I’m journeying with.

Revd Ally goes on to say

One of the greatest gifts that God gives to us is each other. And it is so often the case that we can only truly find joy, or at least, fulfillment, in our responsibilities when we share those burdens that weigh heavily on us.

She’s right, I’ve been missing out on the joy of being an ordinand, focusing purely on ‘obeying the call’ and the sense I can’t possibly do the really scary bits of what is expected of me, and this is something I need to rectify in 2013.  Just as Christ was incarnate through Mary’s pregnancy, so I need to hold Christ incarnate within me, ’embracing and enjoying’ with others what Jesus is doing within my life and obedience to his call, so that that it might live joyfully now (like a squirming foetus eager for the world), and be incarnate in my future ministry seeking to recognise Christ in others, and make him recognisable to others.

The Sepulchre Experience – The women’s tale

Will you light a candle for the women at the sepulchre? (Minstead Church, November 2012)

For the open day celebrating ‘Life and Lives Lived’ at All Saints’ Minstead, my father was asked to select a reflection on the sepulchre to leave out for people to read. He didn’t. Instead he was inspired to write this retelling of the Gospel which seems to echo something of what Rt Revd Steven Croft has said, and which concludes with what I pray may be a prophesy:

We had no rights. Our laws were strict. As girls we were under the control of our fathers. When we married, which was expected of us, control passed to our husband and we became his property.

As an eldest child we did not inherit our father’s estate; that would pass to our oldest brother. Single women, or those widowed, rarely got the respect they deserved. Women took no part in our religious ceremonies. The rite of membership, that of circumcision, was inscribed in one of our early scrolls, and so as women we were excluded. (Genesis 17:10)

This exclusion was accentuated at the Temple where we were confined to the Court of Women which was nineteen steps higher than the Court of Gentiles, but fifteen steps lower than the Court of Israel. We were still further excluded by Temple rules which viewed the rhythm of our feminine biological clocks as something unclean.

Some few of us made successful lives of our own and because we had not married, were sometimes classed together with the street women who plied their trade. We moved on era by era until we heard of a new prophet who was travelling around Galilee. He had healed several of us and also cured Simon’s mother of fever.

He told how he had been sent by his Father, our God, to fulfil the ancient scriptures. We believed, and so were given a new beginning to our lives as women. We came out from the shadow of the Temple and the old restrictive laws and became empowered to serve fully in the new freedom of his Church.

Our friend Luke recorded many of these wonderful times in his account of the life of this Jesus who had grown up in Nazareth, and you read them as Luke 8:

After this Jesus travelled from one town and village to another proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. They included Mary (called Magdalene), Joanna the wife of Cuza who was Herod’s steward, Susanna, Salome the wife of Zebedee, and many other women. These women helped support the men out of their own means.

This Jesus was both remote and yet intimately close; a presence like no other man. He spread the news that the Kingdom of God was among us, all were welcome and that we as women were fully part of it.

So many folk came to hear him and took to his new Way of living that the priests felt threatened and fabricated charges against him. We were at his ‘trial’, a mockery of justice.

They were afraid that the freedom, justice and equality Jesus preached as a fulfilment of Scripture would diminish their power base. The Roman governor Pilate could find no fault in him. He did not listen to his wife Claudia when she recounted her dream, but bowed to pressure from the priests and allowed our friend Jesus to be crucified.

A group of us stood there by his cross, totally bereft. With us were Mary his mother and her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Salome, and Mary Magdalene. The soldiers realised he had died and so we were spared the final agony of seeing his bones broken.

‘Jesus is taken down from the cross’ Station XIII from All Saints’ Basingstoke

As the Day of Preparation drew to a close, Joseph from Arimathea gained Pilate’s permission to take Jesus’ body to the tomb he had bought for himself. Nicodemus had brought embalming spices and together they completed the rituals and sealed the tomb with a large rock.

We had lost him and were leaderless. We all feared were were being spied on, so observed the Passover; but before dawn the next day one of us went to the tomb and in amazement found the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty. She ran and told the others. Several of the men went back with her, looked and went away in great sadness not knowing what to believe. But she was drawn in her own grief to stay in the garden and find a closeness to him in that place where his body had rested.

Through her tears she saw a man she thought was the gardener who asked the reason for her grief. She could only reply, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know what they’ve done with him.” In a voice she never expected to hear again he spoke her name, “Mary,… tell the others I will meet them in Galilee.”

He had chosen one of us, his women companions, to carry to the world the message of his Resurrection. In that brief moment he confirmed that his Church was one without discrimination between the sexes. Years later his apostle Paul put it like this when he wrote to the Galatians:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But those fruitful years were short and generations of women were once more marginalised, until in your time a degree of enlightenment dawned and our sex can again live the Resurrection Day experience of being called by name to serve in his Church.

By the time you read this, the last barrier may have been removed, and we will have received his final blessing of complete equality with our fellow male believers.

Michael Clarke, 20th October 2012

He and I are supporting the Yes 2 Women Bishops Campaign. Can you?