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Easter II 2021.

‘Line of Duty’ (St. John 21. 15 – 19)


Line of Duty.

So here we are, in the HQ of AC 12, the anti-corruption wing of the Police Force. It’s Sunday night in ‘Line of Duty’, the latest police drama and the air is full of intrigue. Sly glances are shared among the officers for a cloud of suspicion hovers over the whole force which is charged with rooting out bent coppers. The camera pans into the office of Superintendent Ted Hastings – the boss – who is talking to his trusty colleague Inspector Steve Arnott. This is not an interview situation in the glass box where two or three officers grill a suspect mercilessly with a formal recording. No. This is a discussion between two of the main and trusted characters.  Nevertheless, Hastings is probing the reliability of his assistant in the light of unusual meetings which have been reported. How trustworthy is Arnott?  Much will depend upon the answer. Hastings wants to support Arnott for another series so he does not hold back on a variety of probing but friendly questions.


St. John’s Gospel, Conclusion.

In our bible reading today, the Risen Lord takes Simon Peter aside to quiz him.  Peter has been out fishing and the two have just had breakfast together. The other disciples are seated around the fire and Jesus takes Peter aside: the dodgy disciple.  Here is a young man who has shown much promise but he is a hot-head. He picks fights when it is not necessary; he swears undying allegiance to Jesus one minute and then, at the trial, he denies Jesus three times. And the cock crowed.

So Jesus takes Peter aside and puts these three questions to him. He asks if Peter loves him. But in true Hastings fashion, each question is gently nuanced. Jesus uses two different Greek words for love: agape, meaning unconditional love and philio meaning friendship. Most translations gloss over this difference but St. John chooses his words precisely and for a purpose so I have used the J.B. Phillips translation because it makes clear the difference:

                Jesus says twice to Peter, ‘Do you love me with all your being’? And Peter replies twice, ‘You know that I am your friend, (I like you, we meet in the pub together on occasions’).

Jesus notes the distinction which Peter makes so he lowers the bar for the 3rd question and uses Peter’s word, philio, friendship. This gets Peter annoyed. He is ‘deeply hurt’. And why?  Peter is honest. He doubts his ability to love his friend unconditionally and he has been rumbled.


Our Commitment.

Now I hope you will forgive me for this departure into biblical criticism. Perhaps it is self-indulgence on my part but what is being laid out before us is part of our human condition. How trustworthy can we be – in our job, our DIY, our marriage, our faith, our diligence in the garden? Hastings needs to know just where Arnott stands for the continuing of the operation. Now he knows. He has to make a decision. So it is with Jesus. Can Peter carry the next chapter of the gospel on his shoulders, given that his commitment is not total? We know the answer to that.

So what does Jesus do?  He gives Peter a job! Jesus doesn’t get the answer he wants but Peter’s commitment will grow as he does a job. And as Peter answers the three questions, Jesus increases the responsibility that he expects from Peter: feeding lambs, caring for sheep, growing the whole flock.

We too are challenged in our discipleship by this passage. Where do you position yourself?  Are we merely onlookers, well-wishers or do we express our commitment to the Risen Lord in some way? Yes, we are all followers – that is the last thing that Jesus says to Peter, ‘Follow me!’ – but what else is the Risen Lord asking of us? Are we buttresses or pillars in our local church?  What does it need for its further development? We will all have our views on that one but if we keep them to ourselves we will get nowhere together!

In this Easter season, people change. The confidence in the Risen Lord, the support of the Holy Spirit enables us to lift our commitment just a little. Peter’s gaffs for the gospel fizzle out and he learns to carry the weight of the fledgling church on his shoulders precisely because he knew his weaknesses as well as gathering knowledge of his strengths.

Do I need to press the point further? No, the Holy Spirit, working in your heart will do that.  Arnott will go back to his desk and suck his pencil; Hastings will pace up and down in his transparent office –but – please God – the show will go on. Amen.





Easter Day 2021. Barrowden/Zoom.



The saintly Archbishop of Paris, preaching on Easter Day, recounted a story of 3 young lads who decided to annoy their local parish priest. In they went to the confessional, one after the other, no doubt telling whacky stories of imagined evil to their Father–in-God. As the last boy was about to leave the confessional the priest said to him, “For your penance, I want you to stand in the middle of the church, look up at the giant crucifix and say, ‘I know you died for me but I don’t care a damn’.“ The boy went to the centre of the church, looked up at the crucifix and began the sentence but couldn’t finish it. “I know that story to be true said the archbishop. I was that boy.”

People change and Easter is all about change. Certainly this year, with the roadmap underway, we are very conscious that change is in the air.  So it was when St. Luke tells this story (Acts 10. 34 – 43) about Peter being invited to a party at the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion. Peter is the one who denied Christ 3 times at the trial but now he is a changed man; he has picked himself up out of despair. He is taken to the centurion’s house and dares to cross the threshold for it was forbidden for Jews to mingle with gentiles. No matter, Peter was on a mission and begins his speech by assuring Cornelius and his family that God shows no partiality. Christ is for them – for Romans – just as he was for Jews and anyone who wishes to know him.

Now the Acts of the Apostles is one of the most racy books in the bible. It is about the rapid spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, yes, but it is also written by St. Luke who has a strong interest in the outsider, the stranger, women, the poor. So this story of Cornelius is about a centurion and his family on which change is about to fall.  He and his guests are about to begin life again as Christians.


Christ the Stranger.

Peter’s party speech in the house of Cornelius compresses many details in the life of Christ but he labours the point about the resurrection appearances. Christ appears not to all but to some who are chosen as witnesses: those who could give evidence about the Risen Lord. As we also know, those witnesses were not always sure of the evidence.  Mary, at the empty tomb very early in the morning mistook Christ for the gardener, a stranger.  The apostles, gathered together in the upper room with the doors locked where frightened rigid when Christ appeared among them. His appearance had changed though they recognized his wounds.  Could this be the Risen Lord? They went on  worship him in faith, ‘though some doubted’ as St. Matthew says. Then we have the couple on the road to Emmaus who only recognized Jesus when he said the blessing over the meal. EThey scampered back to tell their mates about The Risen Lord. Finally, the disciples return to their fishing habits, but who was this chap on the shore with helpful hints about fishing from the other side of the boat?  Could that stranger be Jesus?  Well, it was. He welcomes them ashore and cooks breakfast for them.


Taking Risks.

Someone has described the work of a priest as one who comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comforted.  This adage could well be applied to The Acts of the Apostles.

Peter goes into the very heart of an alien family to talk about Jesus. Cornelius courts him but he could just as easily have crucified him. It was a risky visit. Of course, the world–changing encounter in Acts is between Stephen – who was arrested for his faith – and a stranger called Saul who stood and watched the stoning of Stephen. Later, he was contacted by those early Christians and his conversion to Christ gave added thrust to the work of evangelisation.

The Acts of the Apostles is full of such risks, people crossing boundaries for the sake of truth and joy and satisfaction. We need only think of the thousands last year who took a risk to take part in vaccine trials around the world, resulting in the most amazing progress in science and safety. Their risk resulted in our security. Such risk-taking allows us to break down barriers and this is just what happened in those early days of the church as it suddenly exploded in growth.

If this risk-taking is seen as part of church history only, then we are the most to be pitied. It has to be part of our church growth strategy too. It is so easy to do but requires an adjustment to our thinking.  We have to shift our weight onto the front foot.  Let me share a clear example with you.  Last week, two of our churches – and probably their hard-working churchwardens – distributed Palm Crosses to every church-going family in the village. Commendable, yes. But why stop there? There will be other people in those villages just waiting for permission to interact with the community of faith but we don’t allow it!  We erect our own barriers then wring our hands about not growing the church!

Now I acknowledge that there is a slight risk of rejection but in our villages it is not likely to result in crucifixion. Christ died for those too who live beyond those doors which weren’t visited!

When Peter visited Cornelius he was acutely aware of the risk to life and the danger of crossing cultural boundaries. But the man who denied Christ had been forgiven and was joyful in the presence of the Risen Lord.  He was happy to take risks for Christ.  We must stand with him. Amen.




Sunday 21st March 2021.



The concept of Sacrifice is not popular today.  Was it ever?  Well, yes, it was central to the culture of Jesus’s time – but not today. As we work our way into the 21st century, ‘sacrifice’ is not on the agenda.  We are happy to acquire more security, more wealth, more of almost everything, though the pandemic has put a check on that.  For during the pandemic we have seen our carers put their own lives and the lives of their families on the line for the good of the whole.  No need for elaboration there except perhaps to define ‘sacrifice’ as a giving up of life or possessions for a greater good.

Religious people nibble at the concept of sacrifice because it is in their vocabulary. We give up chocolate for Lent; we sacrifice a morning to do the flowers or clean the church but we do not consider it a sacrifice  to take the children to the cinema or to volunteer in the shop That is duty, joy even; entertainment certainly.  However, some people are called to really sacrifice their lives to care for a dependent relative or to go to war for the good of the nation. Here we get closer to the biblical idea of sacrifice.


The Letter to the Hebrews.

The scripture we have just heard from The Letter to the Hebrews (5. 5 – 10) takes us to the heart of the Jewish concept of sacrifice. The letter was written to conservative-minded Jewish converts to Christianity who were thinking of lapsing in the face of imminent persecution. The writer uses imagery which they would readily understand about sacrifice. They would know that it is only priests who sacrifice and on the Day of Atonement it was only the High Priest who was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies. There he would wash the altar with the blood of a bull. Then, placing his hands on a goat, transfer the sins of the people onto the scapegoat which was then driven out into the wilderness. Here, the sacrifice of bull and goat absolved the Jews of their sins so that they could be at-one with God.

Another instance: central to the Jewish Feast of The Passover is a spotless lamb whose blood is smeared on the doorposts of their houses as a sign that the Angel of Death should pass them over.

There are many other examples of sacrifice in the Jewish culture, all of which are about bridging that gap between God and humankind. Archbishop Michael Ramsey suggested that for his theological students to understand the messy nature of sacrifice, a bull should be sacrificed on the college lawns. That would make a mess of the grass!

Some of these examples of Jewish sacrifice have been rolled together and applied to the work of Christ on the cross. From the first of these examples we can take the form of a man who effects the sacrifice in the Holy of Holies and from the second, a lamb but a perfect lamb used at The Passover.




For prayer, for action.

Some of you will remember a conversation after our service 2 weeks ago. It focussed on a popular hymn that made much of an angry God venting his wrath on human-kind.  As clewed-up contemporary Christians we were unhappy about propitiating an angry God. The hymn was cheekily tweaked so that we could sing it last week with Jane leading the way, obviously singing her heart out on mute.

Our reading from Hebrews draws out some elements of sacrifice relevant to Christians today.

Firstly, Christ was ‘appointed’ as a priest by God so the sacrifice is part of God’s plan to sacrifice himself for us.  Just as the bull and the goat were chosen on the Day of Atonement, God chose Christ to be the sacrificial victim. God bears the pain of loss for us through Christ, the perfect offering. So, it is God’s work.

Secondly, the passage reminds us of Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, wrestling with his vocation to be an obedient son in the face of adversity. Here is an identification with our own experiences as fallible human beings caught up in the process of service and sacrifice.

So we can see from these two observations that the death of Christ was a part of God’s plan from the beginning and continues to be so. God takes the initiative. God is the rescuer of human kind.  However, we can’t just sit back and do nothing in response to the cross.  Jesus himself wrestled with sin and temptation in the Garden so humankind is drawn into the action, following Christ as our exemplar.  Psalm 51 balances it thus:

                                “For you will not delight in sacrifice or I would give it;

                                The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken

                                And contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” Psalm 51. 16,17

The notion of sacrifice is complicated. Justice cannot be done to it in a short address nor to its modification by the sacrifice of Christ.

But let me reinforce the major points of God’s initiative and humanity’s response by reminding you of ‘The Herald of Free Enterprise’, a tragedy which happened to this cross-channel ferry in 1987. The bow doors were left open as it left the port of Zeebrugge and immediately capsized in icy waters. Panic ensued. To enable some passengers to get from a lower deck to an upper deck a man reached across the rails to form a human bridge for others to climb over to safety. That was his initiative, his sacrifice and an escape-route for those who could take it. Amen.



The Folly of the Cross

Lent III, 7 March 2021.


“The Presence”



This painting, to be found in St. Mary’s Cathedral Edinburgh, is particularly haunting. It shows a distraught woman, creeping into the back of the cathedral whilst a service is proceeding at the other end.  The woes of the world are on her shoulders but the distance between her and any comfort seems an eternity away. And yet, she becomes aware of the presence of Christ by her side, standing with her in her agony.

The painting speaks to us on many levels but I share it with you this morning as it seems to fit into our context: a roadmap out of the pandemic and Lent, almost halfway through.  Both destinations –  the 21st June and even Easter – seem so far away, as do the problems which so often beset us and seem so acute in this particular Lent.

So where do we find Christ’s presence, who promises to be with us to the end of time and so powerfully expressed in this painting? From early times Christians have found the answer in the form of the cross but how does that work for us?


The Folly of the Cross.

When Jesus was young, a revolt took place around Jerusalem. Three prophets claimed to be The Messiah. The Romans dealt swiftly with the uprising, crucifying 2000 bandits who were strung up along the roads.

Jerusalem was a turbulent place, then as now, and crosses were common signs of torture. As we know, Jesus incurred the wrath of Romans, Jews and Greeks at the end of his short ministry. The cross on which he was impaled was a repulsive sign but so was his gospel.  It made no intellectual sense to Greeks who sought wisdom. To the Jews it was a desecration: how could their Holy God commune with human kind and be killed on a cross?  It was a scandal. So the power of the cross cannot be known purely through brains or debate or the threat of power but to this poor woman, the cross was revealed in her poverty at the back of a northern cathedral. She knew the pain of the crucified one but also His presence. As St. Paul says in our reading this morning (1Cor. 1.18 – 25) the presence of Christ is available to all who humbly search for his support, whatever their status, gender or creed.

There are many theories about how the cross saves us but none of them will make any sense without the resurrection. It is through suffering and death ‘in Christ’ that we will come to know the quality of life beyond, in him. Yes, the cross is a scandal to some, a sign of contradiction to others but for many, to own a cross or to gaze upon one is a powerful action of comfort and healing. It shows the simple truth that Christ is to be found with us at our lowest and most needy.

Shakespeare personified the power of the cross in the image of the fool, the character who through humour or by tough love point out the truth to those who are blind.  Feste or Falstaff prefigure The Fool in King Lear who sees straight through the wicked daughters and comforts the old man in his distress.


Living the Cross

Christians believe that the cross shows the ultimate gift of God’s love, that a man – this man – lays down his life for us, his friends. And we are called to do the same, but how difficult it is! 

A Sunday-School teacher once described the cross as an ‘I’ crossed out. This wisdom points to the humility required to live the cross in our own day. It doesn’t fit well with those chasing impressive goals. For some it will mean going the extra mile, kissing a frog, sticking with a challenging partner, taking the pain of an illness to the foot of the cross. We might think of Nelson Mandela as a role model here, having served 27 years in prison with no retaliation.

 Hospital chaplains know the value of the Holding Cross for those who are undergoing acute pain. It is another way of identifying with the Christ who suffered for us all on the cross. As we consider today’s agenda of ‘levelling up’ in the light of the budget, the words of Gandhi are worth pondering: “Live more simply that others may simply live.”

Our target of Easter will come soon enough – and earlier than 21st June – but it will require us to accept with humility the restrictions placed upon us for the good of all. I am a slow learner in the school of unconditional love but the cross as a sign of self-denial is a fine teaching instrument for those who have eyes to see. Amen.




Address: Ann Robinson

There is something very special about mountains, isn’t there? In my younger days I walked up quite a few and was always in awe at the view spread out before me at the summit. My most lasting memory of mountains is when we were in the French Alps. One foggy, damp morning in summer we set off to take the cable car up Mont Blanc. In spite of setting off early the cable car was full of people from all over the world and there was a cacophony of voices. We had travelled up the mountain in the mist seeing nothing. Suddenly we broke through the cloud into sunlight and the sight brought a gasp from everyone there. The view was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen with the sun glinting off the snow. Robson Green said that although he wasn’t religious he found being at the top of the mountain a spiritual experience.

Jesus took Peter, James and John possibly up to the snow line of probably Mount Hermon. There is some discussion about which mountain it was but it is not really important. It would not have been an easy journey and the disciples must have wondered what they were doing. Perhaps there was a bit of muttering between them as they scrambled behind Jesus but they followed nevertheless. The week before Peter had answered Jesus’ question “Who do you think I am?” with the reply “You are the Messiah”. It was after that when Jesus spoke about his journey to Jerusalem and his suffering and death so perhaps the disciples wanted to stay with him and protect him.

What happened on that mountain top would stay with the three for ever. As they panted regaining their breath after the arduous climb, there was an amazing sight. Jesus was surrounded by light and changed in appearance. The word that is used to describe the light means the glistening gleam of burnished bronze or gold caught in the sunlight, human words to describe a divine moment. They saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus; Moses represented the Law and Elijah the greatest of the prophets. Peter of course couldn’t keep quiet and wanted to hold this moment. He was afraid and as ever jumped in with both feet. He realised that this was something very special.

Moses and Elijah disappeared and a cloud came down. Cloud was often present when God appeared. There was cloud when Moses met with God and cloud filled the Temple when it was dedicated because it was thought that God’s glory was too bright for people to see. God spoke out of the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him”.

Then everything returned to normal. Or did it? How would the disciples feel on their journey back to real life? Going back down a mountain is not easy. They had been warned about the suffering which Jesus would undergo and his ultimate death but he also told them that he would rise again. They were bewildered and heart-broken but this experience on the mountain top gave them something so vivid to hold to.

Epiphany has now ended and Lent hasn’t quite started. Like the disciples we are now turning towards the Cross and the journey that leads there; the suffering, the betrayal and the denial by these same men. But don’t let us be complacent. Where would we be when Jesus was arrested and tried? I’m sure that Peter, James and John in the dark times ahead would remember the light on the mountain and give them some encouragement.

Sometimes we catch glimpses of God’s glory but there are many times when we are confused and don’t understand. It is then that we step out in faith. Three words stood out for me in this reading. “Listen to him!” How often do we really listen to God or do we spend most of our time bombarding him with words? Do we try to enter the spiritual realm?

Lent begins this week and perhaps we could use the enforced isolation of lockdown to get closer to our Lord. Instead of rushing through prayers just take time to listen, to enter into spirituality and experience God’s presence in a calm, special way. For some to rediscover the glory of God, for others to experience it in a deeper way than before.

. Martin Luther King told a crowd the day before he was killed, “We’ve got difficult days ahead. But it does not matter to me now. Because I have been to the mountain top, I won’t mind. I just want to do God’s will.” If we are to survive dark days we need to hold onto the vision of God’s glory and do his will. Peter wanted to remain on the mountain but that is not the object. There is always something which we are called to do. That involves not only coming down the mountain but also listening and following.

Some words from Stephen Cottrell in his book “Come and See”.

We are made in the image of God and we are very precious to him. That is why he has come to us in Jesus. These words (This is my Beloved Son, listen to him)  and this knowledge of God’s unwavering love were the driving energy of Jesus’ life and ministry. “Listen to him!” God says on the mountain. Listen to his words of love for you…whether you have mighty religious experiences or not.”

So, let us listen to him and after the mountain experience, he will help us to do his will. The words of an old hymn which is printed at the end of the service leave us with the message.

Our home, our life, our duties lie below.
While here we kneel upon the mount of prayer,
The plough lies waiting in the furrow there!
Here we sought God that we might know His will;
There we must do it, serve Him, seek Him still. Amen.




The Nation at Prayer

At the start of the week, the redtops were in full cry, cajoling the nation into praying for Capt. Tom who had just been admitted to hospital with COVID.

Now it has been some time since the media or the government had called the nation to pray.  In the 10th century, King Ethelred called the nation to pray against the Danish Invasion. Churchill supported national prayers for victory during the 2nd World War. In my own church at Scarborough  the recovery of the Prince of Wales from typhoid in 1871 was commemorated in a stained-glass window after Gladstone and the Archbishop of Canterbury commanded the nation to pray for his recovery.

However, such national calls to prayer are rare today. Even the current call to prayer by our archbishops’ is not getting much publicity and we have to ask why.

There is no doubt that, as a nation, we are coy about prayer. How often have we heard Prime Minsters say that the hearts of the nation go out to victims or, ‘’our thoughts and hopes are with you”. Prayer seems to be an embarrassment to people both outside and inside our churches and I think this is because prayers are not answered.  On Tuesday Captain Tom died.


Is Prayer Valid?

As a Christian, this neglect of prayer worries me. There is a story about the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Archbishop George Carey becoming firm friends as a result of them both supporting Arsenal Football Club.  At one critical match, they were both present when their favourite team was thrashed. A keen journalist from ‘The Sun’, observing these two religious leaders humiliated, wrote in the paper the next day that ‘here was ample proof that God is dead’. ‘Not at all’, shot back Rabbi Sacks in the letter column next day. ‘It shows that God is very much alive and supports Manchester United’!

There are things to be said about this. ‘The Sun’ journalist had a concept of God that was too small.  He – like many of us – was working with a ‘slot-machine’ God. We push in a request and out comes our desired result. Now this approach is not wrong.  We are told in The Lord’s Prayer to ask for daily bread but God is not a machine and doesn’t always deliver. There are different types of prayer but here my concern – and the concern of the nation – is intercessory prayer.

Perhaps the problem is to be found in regarding both God and the creation as mechanistic. Put the money in and out comes the answer. However, our understanding of creation has changed. Our ideas of both God and creation have been conditioned by old science.  For three hundred years scientific thought has been heavily influenced by Newtonian physical laws: of gravity, of motion and so much more. Creation was seen as predictable; there was no room for God.  He may have blown the whistle to set it off but was incapable of later intervention. Appeals for foul play went unheeded.

Since the 1920’s however, a greater openness in science and natural law has been recognized with mind-blowing theories such as quantum theory, cloud theory and chaos theory about which I know very little. But scientists tell us that although the laws of nature still obtain – night follows day, water freezes when cold – there is real flexibility at the micro level of life. Both exist together which will allow for surprise, intervention and reversal. The biblical record has plenty of examples of prayer being answered (such as Elijah’s contest on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18) but there are also examples of unanswered prayer, the most stark being that Jesus’ cup of suffering might be removed at the crucifixion (Mt.26.39). Among scientists today there is wide recognition of this open system of creation, allowing flexibility and intervention.  I have witnessed myself the humility and astonishment of doctors who readily admit that this patient has recovered against all the odds.


Prayer Answered.

So, it is time to recover our confidence in the power of prayer. But with it we need to learn some more about the contours of God’s kingdom where justice, mercy, sacrifice and generosity are some of the key ingredients.  God will not act against himself, however hard we might pray. The analogy of parent and child is often helpful here. A child will get very confused if the parents keep changing their minds as they nurture their child. Bedtime is at 9pm…. but if the child has a special soccer match to watch, then an exception can occasionally be made.

God expects us to pray for all manner of things. Our prayers will influence our own behaviour certainly but if God’s nature is to see all things in the end united in him then he will continue to intervene as we have seen in the biblical record. Answers will come: they might be delayed or appear in the most surprising form. They may even take us by surprise in their response even before the prayer is uttered.

So we prayed for Captain Tom.  His life was not prolonged in answer to our prayers on Monday but his family were already gathering round him and he died content in the knowledge that his NHS was appreciated and that he had been in the right place at the right time: a tonic for his country. Amen.




Address: Ann Robinson

Today would normally be a benefice service at Tixover, our beautiful church in a field without electricity so wonderfully lit with candles. A very appropriate setting for Candlemas which is officially on Tuesday. This is the day we remember Christ’s presentation in the Temple. By the middle of the 5th century the custom of observing the festival with lighted candles had been introduced, and the name Candlemas developed from this custom. In the Western church, Pope Sergius I (687–701) instituted the festival in Rome. It is also the official end of Christmas, with the decorations down and the tree trunk bound together to form a cross.

 Mary and Joseph took their child to the Temple to give thanks. They took the offering required of two young pigeons, the offerings of a poor family. Simeon and Anna were there and overjoyed to see the baby whom they recognized would be the Saviour for whom they had waited. Waiting is something that is very difficult to do. We have perhaps learnt to be a little more patient in the past few months when we have been locked down. We have waited for the daily briefings; we have waited for the news of the tragic death total and we have waited for the vaccine.

Many people wait in darkness, loneliness, feeling lost and without help. Doesn’t that present a dreadful picture of the life that Jewish people lived then and so many live now? But then Jesus came into the world bringing life and light.

We know very little about Simeon except the important point that he was very devout with a strong faith. He was not part of the Temple hierarchy but spent much of his time worshipping and was there when Mary and Joseph brought their special baby. He must have felt unbounded joy when he held Jesus and realised who he was. Simeon had waited all his life for this and now was ready to go, giving us the beautiful Nunc Dimmitis.

Anna was a widow and would have been expected to remarry and have children. As a widow she was a liability to the family as they would have to feed and clothe her. She had spent most of her life in the Temple and was a very godly woman. She would have spent her life in the Court of Women as the inner courts of the Temple were only for men. Many Jews believed that the Messiah would be a warrior king but there was also a group known as “the Quiet in the Land” who waited without violence, without power and without conflict but constant in prayer and watchfulness. Both Simeon and Anna were part of this group and they never lost the hope that they would see the fulfilment of God’s promise.

There is a great deal of waiting in the readings we heard at Christmas and the one we heard this morning. Mary waited for the birth of her new baby, having accepted the word of the angel; Simeon and Anna waited for the coming of the new covenant between God and his people. They also all followed God and trusted him. Do we trust God with such fervour and humility?

Simeon was full of wonder when he recognised the Christ Child but had a severe warning for Mary. “And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart”. Joseph was much older than Mary and would die before the horror of the road to the Cross became apparent but Mary followed the whole path with her God-given son. She must have often thought of those words spoken when her baby was so small.

We are at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and this year especially we are looking towards the future after so much darkness caused by the pandemic. I remember us saying during the first lockdown that at least it wasn’t winter with the dark nights and snow and frost but things didn’t quite work out the way we hoped and we have found ourselves in precisely that situation. But now we are heading towards the light.

Light is important.  It plays a central role in health, communication, energy, education, agriculture, design and much more. This whole world looks beautiful due to colours. But in darkness, we see no colours. This is because all the colours in this world are possible only due to light. We only have to remember the last power cut to know how much we rely on light especially those of us who do not like the dark!

There are many similes and metaphors about light and darkness but it is not difficult to understand how these have grown up. What are our lives like? Lived in the shadows or in the light? Christ brought light into the world but we have the option to accept it or reject it. Holman Hunt’s picture of Christ the Light of the World depicts an overgrown with no means of opening it from the outside. We are invited to open the door to Christ and let his light flood into our lives.

I said at the beginning that we are now finished with Christmas but that is the beginning of our story of faith. Now we can look backwards or go forward with Christ on the road to Easter, the harshness of Lent, the desperate cruelty of the Cross leading to the glorious light of the Resurrection. Candlemas is celebrated on Tuesday so perhaps we could put candles in our windows and think quietly about the events at the Temple all those years ago when that special baby was recognised as the Light of the World and accept that light with its boundless hope into our own lives and know that Christ walks with us each step of the road ahead, whether in the light or the dark, but always with Christ’s light shining through the darkness giving us hope of the glorious life to come.




JOHN CH 1 V 43-51

When my husband Phil was promoted to a job in Peterborough, I’m ashamed to admit I had no idea where Peterborough was. Fortunately I taught with a geography teacher who did have that information, although only to tell me that it was on the main railway line to London! And some years later we moved to South Luffenham which no-one had heard of. Where? people ask! In our reading today we hear Nathaniel being very derogatory about Nazareth and we can imagine him saying, “Where?” 

Nazareth is not mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament and after the death of Christ  sank again into obscurity and it was only later that it became a place of pilgrimage and under the Crusades became a bishopric. But Cana was seemingly more well-known even though it was only about four miles from Nazareth. In spite of this Philip does not make any retort except, Come and see!

The Old Testament reading for today is the story of the calling of Samuel as he slept in the Temple. He thought it was the priest Eli calling him and it wasn’t until Eli realised that it was God calling that he instructed Samuel to say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” The chapter begins with the words: In those days there were very few messages from the Lord.  Perhaps there is a link between the two comments No messages and I am listening.

Philip had met Jesus and followed him but he was desperate for his friend to share in what he had found.  Nathaniel was less than enthusiastic; perhaps he wanted to be left alone; perhaps he didn’t need a saviour. But out of friendship or curiosity he went to see what all the fuss was about. Jesus saw something special in this man and Nathaniel realised that Jesus knew who he was. Not in the sense of knowing what he did but knew all the deep places in him. A very scary concept but Christ knows each one of us like that. And he still wants to have us with him. A sobering thought!

Most of us think that most of the time we are doing ok. But when we have time to reflect, which we have had in abundance recently, we can see the things that we have done that we ought not to have done and have not done those things which we ought to have done. Perhaps seemingly small things like not phoning to see how someone is, gossiping, being unkind but they are still dark stains on our hearts which Christ knows.

Eli told Samuel to listen and Philip told Nathaniel to come and see. We are not sure who Nathaniel is although he must have been in the inner circle as he is mentioned in John ch 21 v 2 in the list of disciples when Jesus appeared to them when they were fishing after the resurrection. But it doesn’t really matter who he was; what we can learn from him and his response to Jesus is the important thing. Nathaniel knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the King of Israel. He recognised his saviour. Jesus comes alongside us and calls us by name.

We don’t know much about Philip either; he appears to have worked faithfully in the background, preaching and ultimately being killed in the service of Christ. He guided people towards belief in Christ as he did with Nathaniel But as the Swiss theologian F.L.Godet wrote: One lighted torch serves to light another.

Philip wanted to share his new-found faith and Nathaniel believed and found his own faith. They followed Christ, giving their all, even life itself. We are unlikely to be asked to give our physical lives in the service of God but we are asked to give all of ourselves to him. At the beginning of each year the Methodists hold a Covenant service and the main prayer in this in the toughest I have ever seen and the most difficult to mean. However, I would like to share it with you and you can judge for yourselves.

I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

 And a more modern version does not make it any easier

I am no longer my own but yours. Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me, in all that I do and in all that I may endure; when there is work for me and when there is none; when I am troubled and when I am at peace. Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded; when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking; when I have all things, and when I have nothing. I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose. Glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. May it be so for ever. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven.

This is written in the first person so there is no chance of pretending that it only applies to everyone else! Samuel listened to God speaking to him and Philip and Nathaniel made this life changing commitment. Do we listen to God’s voice and give ourselves totally to him to follow him in all he asks of us?

A short prayer:

God, by your Holy Spirit, now send us in your name
To serve the lost and outcast, the poor for whom you came.
Through gifts of hope and healing, through loving ministry,
May we reach out, inviting the world to “Come and see!” Amen.


Now we will listen to Jean lead us in I, the Lord of sea and sky, thinking especially about the words of the chorus “I will go, Lord”




We may not all be gathered in the same building, but at this time, when we need each other so much, we are invited to pray together, from where we are – knowing that God can hear us all and can blend even distant voices into one song of praise.

Reconciling God, we pray for your world. May all that is divided by doctrine or politics, class or nationality, be united in your praise. We pray for a peaceful world, where children grow up without fear, where security rests on trust rather than threats, and where nations fight against poverty rather than against each other

Lord, in your mercy

Hear our prayer

Loving Lord, we pray for all in authority in the church, that those who lead us, may establish right priorities, and that by your wisdom and their vision it may reflect your kingdom. We remember especially our bishops, Donald and John, as he fights to become well again. May members of your church be present wherever there is need

Lord, in your mercy

Hear our prayer

 Healing God, we pray for those who are ill and suffering and those who care for them, for all who are worried, for those who are grieving and we remember especially the family of Sheila Saunders, who died last Sunday. We pray for those experiencing trauma and for a world gripped by the repercussions of pandemic. May we know the power of Christ to sustain us and the love of friends near and distanced to support us. You know our greatest fears, our longings and our hopes, sometimes expressed and sometimes kept silent in our hearts.

  Lord, in your mercy,

 Hear our prayer

Eternal God, we remember before you all those who have guided us in to your light and who have loved us when seen at our worst.  We remember our friend Sheila, missed by so many and who has left a legacy of love and commitment. We bring them all before you, knowing that they are with you in your glory.

Lord, in your mercy

Hear our prayer

Eternal God, present among us, you are with us in our gathering, you are with us in our distancing. Hear our prayers, and blend our voices together, unite us by your Spirit as we join together in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray:

Our Father

The Darkest Hour Sunday 10 January 2021

The Darkest Hour Sunday 10 January 2021

The Darkest Hour

Sunday 10 January 2021: South Luffenham and Barrowden/Zoom


The Darkest Hour.

A third Lockdown. It is indeed one of our Darkest Hours.  And it is not the only one either. Most of us will have been horrified as we watched the events unfold on Capitol Hill, Washington last week. This will be one of the longest winters we have had to endure, whatever the weather might throw at our farmers when they begin lambing.

I am an eternal optimist but I can see all around the increasing downwards pull on the national mind-set. We will know from our own conversations that many folk are beginning to suffer with some form of depression. We will suspend public worship for a while but that sign of hope implicit in our church buildings is so important.

It is no coincidence that Christmas occurs at one of the darkest time of the year. No-one knows the exact date when Jesus was born but in the 4th century The Church decided to Christianise the Winter Solstice – the birth of the Sun-God – which then fell on 25 December. When that decision was made by Constantine, he wasn’t to know how vital it would be for the world in 2020!

There is talk in the media about keeping our Christmas decorations up to relieve some of the depression. Well, it’s amazing what can be re-discovered when conditions get tough!  As we know, The Church has always cherished Christmas as a season which lasts beyond Twelfth Night until Candlemas on 2nd February. We make much of it in church but society needs to value that celebration now.  It is so sad to see Christmas Trees turfed out on Boxing Day. So much of the festival has been aborted if we do that!

Today we mark the Baptism of Jesus. As we know, he was baptised as an adult to identify with our sinful nature.  It happened in a dark time in the history of Israel too. The Chosen People were overrun by the Roman invaders and were looking for a sign.  In Jesus and John the Baptist thy found not just a sign but a revolution.

Light and Shade.

What then has this revolution to offer the world? Basically, it has exposed God to humankind. There is God the Son, whose birth and baptism we celebrate at this time. His life and work remind us that nature must be cherished for it too is a product of God’s creative power. Finally, these two forces – the human and the natural world – work together to highlight the work of the Spirit which always draws us to the light of Christ, even in our darkest hour.

At the start of the Bible record, when darkness brooded over the face of the deep, the Spirit was moving. It was not long before light appeared. This of course is pure poetry, fused with metaphysics but that biblical record shows up other dark moments in the peoples’ search for God. At another dark time, when the Jews were imprisoned in Egypt, Moses was sent to plan their escape and lead them for 40 years in the wilderness. The Book of Job teaches us so much about suffering when we ourselves endure the darkest hours. No wonder the Jews, in Psalm 139 leaned to sing:

                                “Within our darkest night, you kindle a flame that never dies away.”


When the infant faith showed signs of speaking to itself, along came St. Paul who made it possible for the Good News to be shared more widely.  During the Dark Ages it was the monastic communities which preserved both culture and faith for a world learning to use its freedom. Such sharing of the light of Christ was reinforced by the Reformation which allowed people to hear the Good News in the vernacular. We could mention also Wesley and Newman who both broke down barriers to help diffuse the light. Then Attenborough and Thunburg spoke as sophisticated humanity turned its back on nature.

Not all these heralds of the light were card-carrying Christians but God used them at critically dark moments. And on Capitol Hill on Sunday, it was the voice of Mike Pence who shone a torch over the chaos, forsaking his political orientation and allowing his conscience to speak.

Hope and Optimism

Every morning I walk past the Almond-blossom tree at Barrowden’s church gate. It reminds me that spring is on its way, the dark nights are waning. It fuels my optimism. It is a given. As I open the church door the font greets me, the place where so many of you have been baptised, turned from darkness to light and we began our often struggling journey in Christ.

Here is the difference between hope and optimism. Optimism is placed in something which is fixed, passive. Nature is optimistic. The Almond blossoms year after year, whatever the problem. Hope on the other hand has to be worked at. It is present where there is no recurring blossom. Our brothers and sisters who live in the slums of South Africa share the Christian hope though they may not see our almond blossom. The Good News of the gospel relates to the long game set in motion by God and reinforced in Christ that all may live in the light of His Company. It has to be worked at. It is our baptismal vocation.

The 3 vaccines which will lift the darkness of this pandemic are not recurring elements in nature but the result of ruthless research and sparkling intellect aimed at bringing in a fullness of life. They are signs of hope. There is much to look forward to. Thanks be to God. Amen.

SERMON Black Narcissus Sunday 3rd January 2021.

SERMON Black Narcissus Sunday 3rd January 2021.

Black Narcissus

Sunday 3rd January 2021. Duddington and Zoom

“God chose us…. that we might be holy” Eph. 1.4.


Why are we here, gathered as a Christian Community?  There will be many good but varied answers to that question but all of us here today will be more committed to that purpose than we were 12 months ago. The pandemic presents extra challenges to churchgoing today.  It might just be the case that the most powerful answer to why we are gathered is to be found in our reading today: we have been called, chosen. ‘God chose us’ – and he chose us that we might be holy.

Holiness is a tricky concept.  It tricked me. My ordination training took place in a monastic community, tucked away in a vast Victorian mansion deep, to the west of Newark. It was here that we learned Greek for the Bible, struggle for prayer, gardening for discipline and washing-up for community life. But all of this was set behind a high wall with definite times for returning back from the world. Holiness seemed to be about being set apart, separate. This has more to do with the Old Testament idea of Israel being God’s chosen people: set apart, distant.

With the coming of Jesus, the emphasis shifts from being separate to being distinctive. This reflects the whole movement of the Incarnation: from God being ‘out there’, separate, to God in Christ coming among us yet retaining that distinctiveness. He exhorts us to be salt, yeast. So we are called by God to be holy but distinctive rather than set apart.

Black Narcissus.

Many of us will have watched BBC’s Christmas block-buster, ‘Black Narcissus’. It told the story of a community of Anglican nuns who were sent to a remote castle high up in the Himalaya in order to set up a school for the local children. They were certainly set apart but much of the allure in the programme revolved around the sexual, emotional and temptations of ambition which swirled around the nuns. They found this Old Testament interpretation of holiness difficult to defend.  It was impossible to keep themselves separate from the locals or indeed from one another. We all salivated as sin set in.

Whatever the merits of the programme, those nuns were called to be holy, just like us.  They were baptised, re-generated and set on a new course with Christ as their end. We were all christened but that does not make our journey to and with Christ much easier. We may not be set apart in a religious community but we are called to be distinctive as we live out our lives in this particular religious community. Indeed, I am constantly amazed to find how many committed Christians are at the forefront of those serving community networks throughout the benefice.

Practical Christianity

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, says St. Paul. We have much in common with those nuns in the Himalaya. But what do they do? They remove themselves from the problem and retreat to Calcutta in order to continue their lives, set apart. That luxury is not open to most of us though, like Jesus, we can withdraw for twenty minutes to say our prayers.

However, that other route to holiness is available to us: being distinctive. Our reading this morning is taken from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. It’s emphasis is on unity: unity with God and unity between humankind. Paul wrote it from prison in Rome. Rome, the centre of the civilized world! It must have struck Paul that – although Rome was powerful and all roads lead to it – Christ was even more powerful as a unifying force. It is in this letter that Paul struck that amazing phrase of unity, ‘The Body of Christ’.

In any situation – however bleak – we are part of that body. The sinews of unity are already present but we must feed them. There is a lesson here for all our churches – and our PCC’s. We must feed the sinews which bid us together in ways both practical and spiritual. Eating together would be a start and once this pandemic is over, perhaps we should do just that to build back our strength.

But we have responsibilities as an individual too.  We can’t run away from our temptations, like the nuns. We have to battle through them, knowing that Christ is our focus and those sinews of the body all lead to our fulfilment.

In the 3rd verse of our next hymn we will sing about the darkness of sin hiding Christ, whose glory we cannot see because of it. This is where faith steps forward and we need to rely on those spiritual compass-bearings to see us through.

But further help is at hand. If praying alone is impossible for you, then join zoom Morning Prayer! If you want to know more about the bible, then Bible Studies re-commence on 9 February. Lent begins on 17 February which is always an excellent laboratory for spiritual experimentation.  However, Cardinal Newman warns us, “Holiness is always easier now.” Make up your mind today about the steps you will take tomorrow to live a holy life,

                                ‘to see Christ more clearly,

                                 love him more dearly,

                                follow him more nearly,

                                day by day.”                       (St. Richard of Chichester).