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Sunday Service for the Welland Fosse Benefice 2nd August 2020 Trinity 8

Sunday Service for the Welland Fosse Benefice 2nd August 2020 Trinity 8

Sunday Service for the Welland Fosse Benefice 2nd August 2020 Trinity 8

 

 

Please click on the above link to watch the service.

 

The Boy with his packed lunch. The man, looks back Matthew 14:13-21

I remember that day so well. Jesus was coming to our area, around Capernaum. Everyone was talking about him, about the miracles he did, his speaking. Some said he had been sent by God, that maybe he was, the Messiah. I guessed some friends of mine might be going and I might tag along too. My Mum had been baking and said take some food with you. Your friends are not as fortunate as we are and would like some bread and take those fish you caught; I grilled them last night. So, I did. We boys could have a feast wherever we ended up, which turned out to be out in the wilderness out near Tagbah as we followed where Jesus came ashore. We all felt like our ancestors wandering in the wilderness for all those years. It was windy out there so I worked my way round so I could see Jesus and hear him on the wind. There were so many people, thousands, really and I soon lost my friends and forgot about my lunch. I hardly noticed the sun dipping. But Jesus’ helpers, disciples, did and suggested we were sent out to get some food. I was alright with my loaves and fishes – perhaps I could share my food with Jesus while others were out buying their own. Mum had told me his cousin John had just been killed. But, no Jesus said to the 12 disciples – you give them something to eat. What would happen? Would it be like when God provided manna and quails in the wilderness? The disciples came to us asking if we had brought any food. So, I put up my hand and showed tm the little loaves and the fish. They ushered me forward in front of this great crowd. No one else had brought anything and the disciples looked sad, but Jesus took my little loaves and small fish. He broke the bread like the priest does in the Temple and prayed the Berakah “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.” The bread was broken and blessed and then the disciples, not Jesus came around everyone and fed every one of us. Elisha had once fed 120 men with a few small loaves but there were thousands of us and just those 5 loaves that had been broken and two fish.

Broken; Later I would learn that Jesus’ body was broken on a cross, executed by the Romans, broken for the sins of the world, my sins, your sins and my mind was drawn back to that miraculous day in the wilderness. On that day it was broken, we had enough to eat and wow, were we full  So full that when the disciples cleared up there was sufficient to fill 12 man sized baskets, taller than I was back then – all from my 5 loaves and 2 small fish. No one went away hungry and the leftovers were enough to feed folk in the little communities nearby, the next day. Because the bread was blessed, broken and distributed we were all filled for the day. But the next day I was hungry again and ate and the next day and so on. Jesus said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” My small loaves fed us all for a day, with the fish. Jesus feeds us forever.

I understand in your modern world you have not been able to celebrate eucharist and break the bread as we do and I am sorry for that but you have been filled with that bread and will be filled again, I am sure and what we have received already, feeds us and prepares us forever for eternal life with Jesus. I may not have had my one to one meal with Jesus that day with my 5 loaves and 2 fishes but everyone, including my friends, wherever they’d got to were able to be fed because of God’s love and compassion for us. Was that a miracle? Well yes, I guess it was. There were many miracles that day, people healed, lives changed but this feeding was special because it changed all of us. Not because we were no longer hungry but because Jesus had shown his love to all of us and used his followers to distribute and share that love as all of us were fed.

And Jesus still does just the same. He still loves us, still feeds us and still uses his followers to go out and give life for the world. He still mends broken hearts and fills empty lives and blesses us all and uses his followers to distribute and deliver that grace, as he did on that day in the wilderness, symbolised in that mosaic you have seen, which is still there in my home church in Tagbah. So, will you, as followers of Jesus deliver and distribute the love of Jesus like those disciples did with my packed lunch? I hope so. Amen

The Fishing Net. Trinity 7, Sunday 26 July 2020.

The Fishing Net. Trinity 7, Sunday 26 July 2020.

The Fishing Net.

Trinity 7, Sunday 26 July 2020.

The Pandemic.

This pandemic has raised some serious questions about the church. Is it locked?  If it’s not the building, then what?  Is it the people gathered on Zoom or those who wait for the church to be re-opened?

Jesus also toys with this question as he explains what the church should be like to his apostles, most of whom were fishermen. He says that the earthly expression of the Kingdom of God is like a fishing net that catches both good and bad fish. This then seems a good moment for us to consider what the church is.

Characteristics of a Church.

I used to run a college chaplaincy. The students were great fun: passionate, outrageous, devout, exhausting.  They came to chapel in good numbers on a Sunday, bringing with them all sorts of musical and theatrical skills. But was it a church?  That worried me. Geraldine and I were often the only people over 30 and it felt unbalanced in terms of age.  So we encouraged staff members to attend, which they did willingly. Immediately the atmosphere changed. It was still passionate, outrageous and exhausting but also with a gravitas which all of us appreciated.

  1. We are all agreed that Church is not just the building, though the building is important. Is it like the pub, which gives shelter to those thirsting for a pint or a meal? Or is it like Waitrose, which caters for a particular class of shopper? Or a political party, with a specific agenda – ‘The Tory Party at Prayer’, for instance?

Our hymn for today –‘Teach me My God and King’, No. 690 – Helps us to clarify our notion of The Church.  It was written by George Herbert, a 17th century clergyman from Salisbury.  He wrote it as a poem and included it in a collection of poems called ’The Temple’.

 In The Creed, we say that ‘The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’. In verse 1, Herbert illustrates the Oneness of The Church: it helps us to see the One God in everything and to adapt all that we do as if we did it for Him. So ‘Church’, at its best, helps us to concentrate every element of our lives on the One God.  It is here that we learn the language of God, refine our priorities, find encouragement from our prayers and one another to orientate our lives towards Him.  Do you say ‘Grace’ before any of your meals for instance, either privately or together?  That is a way of acknowledging One God who is even more revered than Delia Smith! We belong to one family in Christ.  Like all families, we have our disagreements. Thus many styles of church have sprung up but there is One Creed, One Baptism, One Eucharist – each of which illustrates the Oneness of God.

In verse 2 and 3 Herbert encourages us to look beyond the material to identify the Holy in our midst, both immediately, as in glass but also through it to the creator, symbolic of heaven beyond. It can lift our eyes and hearts so that we can ‘the heaven espy’. I think the bread from King’s Cliffe Bakey – sold locally in our shops – does just that for me.  The humble loaf is of such good quality! Furthermore, I visited the bakery just before it was transferred to Corby.  It was tiny, stuffed into the back room of a house in Main Street,Kings Cliffe. The baker sacrifices his sleep and rises early so that we could have fresh bread for breakfast! My mother lived through the last war and its restrictions.  She would be very critical if we even thought about throwing away our crusts.  They were precious, holy even.

The Church is also catholic – and here we come to the point of Jesus’ Parable of the Fishing Net, in which are to be found the good, the bad and the very smelly. In verse 3, Herbert says that we can all partake in God; nothing is too simple or unworthy. Furthermore, God’s tincture – God’s Holy Spirit – will improve us who devote our prayers and our lives ‘for thy (His) sake’. Rural church life tend to be non-selective.  There is only one church in a village so believers of all colours will come – unless they commute. We then miss that richness of variety.  We can also be a bit choosy ourselves, raising an eyebrow when someone unusual turns up.  As Ann demonstrated last week, we can also look out of place with our dusty souls and dubious morals. Who are we to cast the first stone? The Parable takes that into account.  The fish are not sorted until the end of the journey. Don’t let’s push the analogy too far but the bad ones may well be put back into the lake to live another day.

Finally, the Creed says that The Church is Apostolic, sent out. In verse 4, God’s servants find even the meanest job satisfying, like sweeping a room.  Far-fetched?  Well, sweeping up is not my favourite pastime but I do enjoy polishing! However, St. Theresa suggest that we can peel a potato to the glory of God.  All things can give him glory and those who feel that vocation to follow Christ often apply themselves more rigorously because it says something about Him. Some people find going that extra mile part of their personality. And why do they do it? Because God expects it of us and that attitude is both infectious and transformative. We must remember that The Church – its people as well as the building – is there to bring people to Christ. It is not an end in itself, however beautiful the building.  So is it doing its job?  Are we? The Parable asks some challenging questions.

Real or Virtual?

One Final thought. This Parable of the Fishng Net went down well in a coastal community.  However, Jesus then called the fishermen to lay down their nets and follow him to become fishers of men.  Imagine their shock  at leaving that comfortable way of life. They would be shocked, fearful, disbelieving that anything else could be so effective in harvesting souls.

We are about to be faced with the same challenge. Zoom worship has served us well during the lockdown.  True, it’s only second-best but for some, it is the only way. The house-bound, the shielding, the very poorly: do they not have a place too in God’s church?  How can we best encourage them as the lockdown eases?  Will they be abandoned? Amen.

SERMON SUNDAY 19TH JULY 2020

SERMON SUNDAY 19TH JULY 2020

TRINITY 6A

JULY 19TH 2020

The reading that we have just heard is one that was often used by fire and brimstone preachers. I was very tempted but decided to spare you that this morning. This parable is only told in Matthew’s gospel and would have been readily understood at the time. But what relevance does it have for us today? What do wheat and weeds mean to us?

It is a very uncomfortable parable and as I researched, it became even more difficult to think about! The wheat and the weeds are growing side by side in the field, the weeds having allegedly been put there by the enemy. But until the harvest is ready there is no way of distinguishing one from the other. They look the same until the ears appear when the wheat is a golden yellow and the ears of the weeds are black. If they are not destroyed then the flour will be toxic. At harvest the weeds will be separated and burnt. Hence the fire and brimstone if we accept that the weeds are the sinners.

And we all know who they are, don’t we? The murderers, the rapists, the robbers, the fraudsters etc. and we wonder why God hasn’t zapped some people already. But we go to church and we are good people. I used to know one lady who had her place in heaven booked and had no doubt that it was reserved for her! But what did Jesus teach about the fruits of the Spirit?But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) This is how we are supposed to live if we follow Christ. It is at this point that everything becomes very tricky.

We are very quick to judge others but we need to look at ourselves and compare ourselves to Christ. The result is not easy to bear. In the Confession we state: we have sinned in thought, word and deed. It is not enough to say that glibly and then go and not even try to produce the fruits of the Spirit. It would be lovely if we could buy Indulgences as in times past but we know that it is our hearts that need to be changed and we know that Christ died for us so that we could be saved from ourselves.

But all of us are part saints and part sinners and although we would like to think that the saintly bit has the upper hand it is up to each one of us to look deeply at ourselves. I began by stating that this parable is uncomfortable! If we all honestly examined ourselves, rather than each other and all the sinners had to leave, the church would be empty.

So why is this situation allowed? Why do we all have to grow together until the end? The servants wanted to pull up the weeds before the harvest was complete, when the crop could be first recognised with the weeds growing but the Master told them to wait for the ingathering. He told them to wait!

We are not used to waiting; we want things to happen when we want them to. God’s timetable is not the same as ours; but he is in control of the harvest. If we look at the people Jesus loved they included tax collectors, a hated group, and those who were regarded as not fit society members. His disciples were lowly folk, not great intellectuals; they didn’t understand, they doubted; they ran away, they lied about knowing him. They were like us and Jesus loves us warts and all!

Many people that we would discount on first glance, change their lives. In later

stages of his life Saul lead major persecutions against Christians, he did everything

within his power to stop the growth of Christianity by destroying groups of Christians,

putting Christians in prison in Jerusalem.

 

It was when he was on the way to Damascus to persecute more Christian believers,

that Christ appeared to him, which caused him to repent and become one of

the greatest evangelists of his day. Michael Franzese was born into a life of crime in

Brooklyn, New York. In 1985 he was indicted on 14 counts of racketeering, extortion, counterfeiting and was sentenced to ten years in prison but was released from prison after serving 43 months. In December, 1991 he was sent back to prison for his involvement in tax fraud. During his time in jail, he claimed he found Jesus and he summoned up the strength to walk away from the Colombo family which is a cardinal sin in the mafia. He now spends his life keeping teenagers out of a life of crime.

 We would have pulled these people up as weeds and thought we were right to do so. But God never gives up on people and that includes us, which is very fortunate; we are given time to come close to our Saviour. But patience is needed and God shows that to us. He knows everything about us. These few verses from Psalm 139 show this and the rest is worth reading later:

Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do;
    from far away you understand all my thoughts.
You see me, whether I am working or resting;
    you know all my actions.
Even before I speak,
    you already know what I will say.
You are all around me on every side;
    you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep;
    it is beyond my understanding.

  We do NOT know what is in the hearts of others and sometimes don’t know what our own hearts are like. We should be utterly thankful that God gives us all time to become more nearly the people he created us to be and we should ask to be more wheatlike than weedlike! A short poem to end by Annonymous

I dreamed of death the other night,

 And Heaven’s gate swung wide,

An Angel came with halo bright

 To usher me inside.

And there! To my astonishment

Stood folks I’d judged and labelled

 As “quite unfit”, “of little worth”

And “spiritually disabled.”

Indignant words rose to my lips,

But never were set free.

 For every face showed stunned surprise –

 Not one expected ME!

Amen.

5 More Steps to Kick-Start Prayer 1st July 2020

5 More Steps to Kick-Start Prayer 1st July 2020

5 More Steps to Kick-Start Prayer

 

Introduction.

  • Last May (22nd) I published a short paper, ‘5 Steps to Kick-Start Prayer’ which outlined my lack of expertise in prayer but also some hints which help me to persevere. They were basic steps regarding place, time and language. For some they will be vital; for others rather underwhelming. These next 5 steps take us deeper into prayer which we defined as ‘consciously putting ourselves in God’s company’.
  • There are libraries of books on each of these topics. You may have found some treasures among them but if you haven’t, then please ask.  I still have some useful books in my twice-filleted library which I am happy to lend or to make further suggestions.
  • So, 5 more steps which I hope may help you along the path through this tantalizing and infuriating mystery which we call prayer!

 

Step 6: Meditation.

  • The first 5 steps were principally about intercession: a good place to start. The Lord’s Prayer, the model prayer, is concerned mainly with intercession (the coming of kingdom values, the provision of daily necessities). Archbishop William Temple said that when he prayed, coincidences happen. When he doesn’t, they don’t.
  • Contrasted with intercessory prayer, meditation focusses our minds on one thought or situation. Scripture is an obvious focus and the best. Take a phrase which appeals to you and ’brood’ upon it. One French mystic calls the exercise ‘rocking and chewing The Word’, rather like a cow chewing the cud, extracting the juices. For instance, a verse like Luke 12 32: ‘Fear not little flock for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’.
  • The parables of Jesus are also fruitful ground for mediation. Take Mark 4. 1 – 20: the Parable of the Sower and Jesus’s explanation. Plenty of scope there for brooding, getting inside the story.
  • Another method is to take an event in Jesus’s life such as Luke 5. 17 – 26, the healing of the paralytic. Put yourself in the picture: are you one of the crowd in the house? If so, are you at the front or the back? Are you on the roof, ripping off the tiles or are you on the stretcher, being lowered down on top of the crowd?  How does if feel? Who is near you? What about the atmosphere and lastly, how will you move closer to Jesus from your present position?

 

Step 7: Coping with Frustration.

  • ‘5 Steps’ finished with a reference to the 17th century priest and poet, George Herbert and his poem, ‘Prayer’. I go to poetry when my prayers run dry, and for good reason. Another of Herbert’s poems illustrates his frustration (and mine) in prayer. ‘The Collar’ begins with Herbert thumping the Holy Table in frustration! Many a Christian will have been there! There are several causes of frustration in prayer:
  1. Silence can be frightening to some but is such a vital ingredient in serious prayer. A cork floating on the water seems distracted by the turmoil on the surface but underneath is a whole different world. Elijah feared for his life (1 Kings 19) and found refuge in a cave.  It wasn’t in the wind, the earthquake or fire that he found the voice of God but in the silence. Getting under the surface can be challenging.  Use a repetitive word or phrase or something visual to concentrate upon. However, it is in the silence where the real riches lie.
  2. Boredom is a common problem. Boredom can be brought on by external factors (fatigue, repetition) and can be tempered by a change of location, time or posture). However, internal factors can also irritate us and might suggest a different form of prayer (see Step 8). We all need encouragement to keep going so a prayer partner or guide may be an encouragement to you. Or even the right book.
  3. No answers to prayer? This raises big questions for which there are pointers which don’t fit into this short guide. But many of us this lockdown will have been encouraged by the recovery from illness of key people in our communities for whom we have been praying fervently. Intercessory prayers will have an answer and we may be part of that answer. To assist another person or group with practical help makes the spirit soar and the prayers dance! More on this in Step 9, below.

Step 8: Contemplation.

  • So far we have covered the work of intercession and meditation. Both require verbal or mental language. Intercession ranges around the concerns of the world while meditation concentrates on a phrase or an event in the life of Christ, or even the verse of a hymn. Contemplation requires a shift to wordless adoration and the move can be disturbing.  John of the Cross, one of the Spanish Mystics, coined the phrase, ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ – a rather frightening phrase which is actually encountered by many on their spiritual journeys.(1)
  • Symptoms that this shift is required include a frustration with meditation, a desire to move away from mental/active prayer and thirdly a desire to be alone with God. We are drawn to be near and in that mystery which, for shorthand, we call God.

When I lived by the sea, I thought that vast ocean was a dead hinterland which I did not

understand and contributed nothing to the life of the parish.  Then I began to understand it, was mesmerised and drawn to it.  It remained a mystery but a friendly one – one which brought peace, comfort and even when it was in a rage, communicated power and majesty.

  • This attraction to wordless adoration is like two lovers wanting to be nowhere else but together. No words are necessary; they know each other’s thoughts and intentions. There is much experience of darkness, cloud and ‘lostness’ but also a continued yearning to be present in that state of lostness for a glimpse of clarity.
  • This form of prayer brings us close to a unity with God but should not be confused with a state of tranquillity alone. Quiet is important as part of the process but all our prayers must issue in action: love of God and our neighbours.

Step 9:  Morality.

  • All our prayers must issue in some form of action on our part. God does answer every prayer but sometimes the signs are obscure. That has always been the case.  Think of the burning bush (Exodus 3) when God propels Moses into leadership; the star above a stable in winter; a silence after the storm; a vision on a hillside, a conversation with a stranger in a graveyard. However, if we’re facing in the wrong direction – away from Christ and his ways – then we will miss those signs. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5.8).
  • Karl Barth (famous theologian) said, ‘To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world’. Prayer does not come under the category of self-fulfilment, happiness or therapy. It is part of the work of building the Kingdom of God which Jesus preached and practised during his ministry. He has given us our ministry, of which quiet prayer is just a part, an orientation towards action.
  • Luke tells us of a most powerful spiritual experience on the top of a mountain: the story of the Transfiguration, Chapter 9. However, “on the next day” (9.37) the disciples were faced with a fitting child whom Jesus heals but he also gave the disciples a sharp telling-off for their lack of action.
  • ‘Hints and guesses’ as T.S.Eliot says, are often all we receive in terms of answers to prayer or prompts towards action. Scripture reading is a backdrop to all of this. It makes God’s truths more sharply defined. And don’t ignore dreams either. They can be powerful incentives. Lift the phone, write a card, raise a smile, volunteer for Foodbank, face that difficult relationship.

Step 10: Church-Going.

  • I have spent much time among the most professional pray-ers in the world: monks and nuns. Their life is one of solitude, silence, aloneness. But each day, at regular intervals, they go to church together for Divine Worship.  Now the internal dynamics of a monastic house are often very powerful.  They did not choose each other; God chose them to live, work and pray together – to love one another though not necessarily to like one another. 
  • Churchgoing for them is a corrective, a re-orientation. It is a crucial part of the day and not an option. Neither is church-going for us an option. It is here that we are fed, encouraged, directed, challenged and valued. It is here that we give value to others by just being there and that is so important in a bleak world which is now looking for a different way to live, post-pandemic.
  • People who pray – and you must be one called to such a ministry, having followed these 10 steps! – find that their work begins and ends in worship. We do not pray alone. We pray with our colleagues around the world – millions at any given moment – but we also join our prayers with those of the saints who have gone before and those who will follow after. The church (building) is a signpost on the way; a marker, a cairn for which our contribution is vital, especially in the countryside where the density of population is low and resources are scarce.
  • Stewardship is not a clever way of raising money but a spiritual thermometer. How much are we prepared to give to God in terms of time, talents and money? Your contributions will grow, along with your commitment and prayer is a lubricant to all of that.
  • Enjoy your prayers. Thank you for reading thus far – and please pray for me.

                                                                                                Christopher Armstrong.

                                                                                                1 July 2020

TALK FOR SUNDAY 28TH JUNE 2020

TALK FOR SUNDAY 28TH JUNE 2020

Lay Reader Ann Robinson preached the Sermon this Sunday

The reading that we heard from St Matthew’s gospel this morning comes at the end of a chapter where Jesus is setting out the directions for the disciples to go and preach the Kingdom of Heaven, heal the sick and drive out demons. He then goes on to tell them that they will be like “sheep among wolves” and will be persecuted. Hardly an advert for an easy life! Nothing to make you want to sign up! Jesus did not promise an easy life either for the disciples or for us.

But Jesus states that there will be great rewards for even the smallest good action, a drink of water, nothing huge but very necessary and it shows kindness. Here he is speaking of hospitality but not as a one-off as love is not a one-off! Jesus doesn’t give us a script but we speak through the way we show love to those we meet. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked how it was that she could continue to tend the sickest and most wretched of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India. She said that as she looked at each person for whom she was caring she tried to imagine that she was tending the Lord Jesus’ wounded body – His nail-scarred hands, feet, and side. A hard thing to do.!

 When Jesus sent the disciples out, He told them that they were doing God’s work. In Jewish law there was what was known as the principle of Shalia. If a nobleman sent a representative it was as if the man himself was there and should be treated with the respect deserved. Much as ambassadors of other countries are treated here. Any kindness shown to the disciples was shown to Jesus and so to God and likewise the opposite! The disciples were not out to sell themselves but to show the love of God.

The picture given is not one that encourages sign up! The world was and often is a hostile place but in the service of Christ there are no undercover agents and there is no blending in. It calls for active service and to be on the front line. It is not easy and we are often distracted but we can make that journey.

 

Our journey with God can be likened to a labyrinth. A labyrinth is different entirely to a maze. A maze is deliberately confusing whereas a labyrinth is a meandering path to the centre. The pictures on the screen show the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France It was often used as a symbolic journey to Jerusalem and was walked as a pilgrimage, a journey searching to be nearer God. If you print the diagram out and follow it you will find that there is one way in and out but the path meanders, a questioning and searching journey in the hope of coming nearer to God. Often you are further away from the centre but need to keep going to eventually reach the centre of complete love.

We are all on a pilgrimage, searching for something. Huston Smith in Phil Cousineau’s book “The Art of Pilgrimage” states “The object of a pilgrimage is not rest and relaxation—to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life.” That is what we are asked to do as Christians; challenge everything we do and say. Perhaps some of you have watched the series on television about groups of people who travel one of the old pilgrim ways such as the Camino de Santiago, the way of St James. The groups are very disparate, some committed Christians, some of other faiths and some of none. But the effect of the pilgrimage on most of them was amazing and even those who professed atheism were profoundly affected by the faith and holiness encountered. We all have the need to find a deep love beyond ourselves and it is that love which Christ offers each one of us.

But once you have found the love at the centre of your life you have to return to the mundane world and give out that love to everyone you meet. We can’t scare people into the arms of God but we can love them there. Maya Angellou who wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings states: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

During the last few months during lockdown, I have received incredible kindness often from unexpected sources and I’m sure many of you have found the same. In most cases the actions have not been huge but so necessary to making life easier. Many have commented on the hope that this will continue when we are back to our usual busy lives and that is the responsibility of all of us. Christ needs the saints and those who do great things. But he also needs those who show their love in creating welcoming homes, the hands that care for those many would find unlovely, the hearts that show Christian love. Robert Browning wrote in “Pippa Passes” ‘All service ranks the same with God’. No act done in the name of Christ is too small.

We are all ambassadors for Christ with all that that entails, the hostility which the world can send our way, but the reward is the great love of God which is ours for the accepting. The pilgrimage continues throughout our lives as we move ever nearer our God. Stephen Cottrell once a canon at Peterborough and now Archbishop-elect of York went on the 700km pilgrimage to Santiago and wrote in his book “Striking Out” about his journey:

“Why are you walking, oh why are you walking? What is the reason and where is the way?

To learn how to stop, is the reason I’m walking, the reason I’m leaving, to learn how to stay. Oh why don’t you join me and we’ll walk together, each step a blessing and each road a way.”

 

Let us pray:

Lord, help us to walk in your way, to walk together and to find your peace and love. Amen.

TRINITY SUNDAY JUNE 7TH 2020 ZOOM SERVICE

TRINITY SUNDAY JUNE 7TH 2020 ZOOM SERVICE

TRINITY SUNDAY 2020

ZOOM SERVICE

Reading  Matthew ch 28 v 16-20

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

There is a story about a church which was reciting the Athanasian creed during the Trinity service with the statements “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible…” when a crotchety voice came from the pews “If you ask me the whole darned thing is incomprehensible”.  Those of you who have heard me before know that Trinity is one service when I always hope someone else will have the problem. Even at the cathedral I am reliably informed that the clergy always hope it will be someone else!

Over the years I have used various ways to try to illustrate the Trinity: the jaffa cake, the clover leaf and the 3 in 1 washing tablet. Perhaps for children they are a good start but we need to understand with more depth when we grow up. So what is the Trinity and what does it mean for us?

The reading from St Matthew this morning is very short but has a great deal in it. It is the end of the story and yet also the beginning. Jesus has appeared to his disciples and he has now asked them to go to a mountain. He gives them what has come to be called The Great Commission, telling them to go to all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, although that word is never used in the Bible.

God is one and God is three. From the beginning of Creation we learn of God creating the world and everything in it. He nurtured it and cared for it but we made a mess of it. God wept and loved us and in desperation sent his Son to save us. Jesus lived as one of us and died the cruellest of deaths for us. Those who followed him were bereft but the Holy Spirit came to guide and energise.

 The Trinity is difficult but perhaps the reflection of The Bishop of Burnley will help. There is a work of art in St Michael’s Church in Camden by Maniecj Urbaniec a Polish artist and photographer. This is what Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley says about it:

“It is positioned behind the font where people are baptized into the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It started as a photograph of ordinary black supermarket bin bags, the ultimate symbol of trash and transience but because of the artist’s skill becomes incredibly beautiful. Just what happens when baptized into the Trinity; broken, sinful, mortal bodies of ours swept up into the life of God. Beautifully made by the Father, redeemed by the saving work of the Son, we are temples of the Holy Spirit; our bodies the place where God himself makes his home. From baptism into the Trinity we shine out gloriously with the very life of God. People think of the Trinity as an idea to be rationally explained but it’s not. It is a lifestyle, it’s who we are. The Trinity invites us to share in his life. That’s how precious we are”

Jesus left the disciples with the words “I am with you always”. At this difficult time, there is nothing that is more comforting than that; even when everything seems dark and despairing, the Father cares for us, the Son saves us and the Holy Spirit is with us. As the Bishop of Burnley states, we are that precious to God. Amen.

Sermon for the Sunday after Ascension: Lockdown Gardening

Sermon for the Sunday after Ascension: Lockdown Gardening

24 May 2020

Borders and Edges

I’m a willing amateur when it comes to gardening. I tend to go for the straightforward things like clean soil, veg. in rows and neat stripes on the lawn. Well, ‘lawn’ is a bit of an exaggeration; it’s really mown meadow. The border is also a bit of an overstatement.  We grandly call it ‘The Western Border’. It used to be a thick bramble hedge until Les and I tore it out with crowbar and axe. But the contrast between lawn and border is clear, even from this photo. The edge divides the two: predictable grass on the one side and an eruption of surprises on the other.  A gardener has been here before and each year we discover some new addition: shrubs, bulbs, bluebells. We even have some planned fruit and veg. of our own among the surprises.

I spend quite a lot of time on the border – the border between humankind and God. That’s part of what clergy do. Border activities include prayer; scanning the contours of that mystery we call God; developing the community’s interaction with Kingdom values; translating divine movement; staring into the divine fog. And at this Ascension-tide, the line between humanity and divinity is most marked. The Ascension celebrates the end of those extra-physical appearances of Jesus.  We believe that Jesus returns to the company of The Father in order that together they send their councillor, their advocate, their Holy Spirit to support us in the on-going work of Christ here on earth. Through The Ascension, the local can become the universal presence of Christ.

Images of The Ascension

Our reading today tells the story of the Ascension. Luke is the only gospel writer who records the event but even he, with his medical precision, struggles. And so do we. The whole canon of Christian Art on the subject is quite frankly laughable so I’ve asked Joss Jordon, aged 7, to paint us the scene and she’s done a great job. It’s bold, colourful, precise and has that vertical dimension about it which was so important for the 1st century mind. For them, heaven was above; hell was below. Joss’s picture is far more sophisticated than the Chapel of the Ascension at Walsingham, where a pair of plaster feet are screwed into the ceiling!

This boundary of Jesus’s earthly life challenges us. Our minds are stretched to the limit; language seems inadequate.  We are faced with this boundary between earth and heaven, between the physical and the spiritual which Jesus crosses and unites them in himself.  But also in us, The Body of Christ.

Monty Don, writing last week about the loss of Nigel, his beloved dog, points towards this mystery in which we are united

“Part of the pleasure of gardening is the connection to the rhythm of something deeper than our daily lives. It connects backwards and forwards to something of which we are only a part.”

Witnesses

Back to my border.  There’s a big contrast between the rough grass and the teeming border. With the help of my gardening friends, I can tell you what is in the border. I can step into the border and weed, mulch, plant and harvest. And there appears to be a heavy crop of soft fruit this year and I shall be sad if I cannot share it with my jam-making brother who lives in the north. But I can tell him what to expect if the lockdown ends. I can witness to most plants in that border: the shrubs which God has thrown up and the stuff I continue to plant.  I know what’s there.

As Jesus ascended he told his friends that they must be witnesses to all that has happened. They must tell of all the good things that Jesus accomplished here on earth – his teaching, the miracles, befriending of the poor and the speaking of truth to power. It was costly, we know that, but The Ascension beckons us upwards too, to continue that work as he equips us to do.

We too are called to witness to the good things we have experienced directly or indirectly from the hand of God: relationships healed, the lives saved from agony, different directions taken, new skills discovered, a new life, a peaceful death. At The Ascension, Jesus encourages us to explore beyond the border, for the treasures to be found there will colour life on my patchy lawn. Amen.

Sunday 10 May 2020 – Simon’s Talk

Sunday 10 May 2020 – Simon’s Talk

Simon Aley, currently preparing for ordination, has recorded this week’s sermon, which can be watched here on YouTube.

If you have any problem doing this the sermon is also copied underneath. 

Today’s Gospel reading is John 14:1-12 and Simon has used the New International Version but you can follow in any Bible.

 

“Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us”

So how are you managing in lockdown? How are you contacting friends, family, business contacts? By telephone? Skype? Teams? Facetime? Or Zoom. And what does it look like? A few weeks ago, the Church Times, created a montage of people on these various platforms in lockdown. Various images – some with a full face, others just the top of their head, some dog collars, one even robed! Different ages, different settings And don’t you all look round, take a nosy peek? Or is that just me?!! As you can imagine while our Priest in Charge reads the erudite articles in the Church Times, I tend to go for the cartoon they publish each week and in that same edition the cartoon also focussed on the online screen view classifying us accordingly, the artistic or the scholarly or the realistic! I will leave you to decide which group you fall into or other people you have had these Zoom or similar sessions with and taken a nosey peak! Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us. Give us a nosy peek at God if you like.

I get Jesus’ disappointment at Philip saying this. “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” Philip was one of the earliest of the disciples to follow Jesus, a friend of Andrew and his family, Philip really had better opportunity than most to know Jesus and who he was and yet says “show us the Father and that will be enough.” Clearly therefore being a disciple of Jesus, all that time had not been enough. He needed something more. Jesus has just declared “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” Philip had assumed perhaps that Jesus was offering to introduce the disciples to the Father, and, in a sense, he does but what Philip fails to appreciate is that in seeing Jesus he is with the Father. Jesus and the Father are one. Philip should know that no-one has seen God and to do so is certain death. So, a strange demand for Philip to make.

What are you hoping to get from the Prime Minister’s announcement this evening 10th May? Depending on when you listen to this you may already know! What restrictions do you want to see lifted? One I have heard many times in the last week is around when we can get back into our churches and worship together. On one level I share that longing but on another I have really valued this time of worship in lockdown, actually seeing our garden grow daily through spring that I have not done in over 20 years living here in Manton and meeting with the people of God locally and around the world through daily acts of worship on Zoom – to pray for one another daily and see God’s hand at work. And as an aside I have probably invited more people every day to these Zoom services because that is how you join than I had to any other church services prior to lockdown and perhaps I need to learn from that. God was not locked into our churches when we had to close the doors. He was and is and will be omnipresent – everywhere. Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us. We may be in lockdown, but God is with us every moment. The famous German Pastor and writer of the last century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a poem while locked in prison on New Year’s Day 1945 a few weeks before he was executed by the Nazis, not long before VE day. This is a free translation I did of one of the stanzas:

From all His powers so wonderfully bestowed

Whatever happens we can surely know

That God is with us evening until morning

Already knowing what each new day brings.

Jesus gave a wonderful assurance to his disciples and to all of us. It is one of the 7 I am sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel ego eimi is the Greek for I am and is a very intense way of saying this, deep, personal and reassuring and Jesus is not a way to God, he is the only way. Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. Jesus is truth. In the Old Testament the law is the truth but Christ fulfils the law and so embodies truth; the truth about who I am, how I am counted as righteous and my destiny in God are all wrapped into this assurance. And thirdly the life. Jesus is about to die. Our Gospel reading today has flipped us back to just before Holy Week and Jesus will die in a few days and the disciples have been warned and yet this condemned, or at least doomed man is claiming he is the life. This claim is only possible because Jesus, as he reminded Philip is in the Father and the Father is in him. He knew that but his faith was not strong enough. My faith is not strong enough. Relying on faith alone, I falter. If I had faith the size of a mustard seed, I could move mountains and yet there has been no tectonic activity as a result of my small faith and I suspect I am in good company. The nearest the patron saint of Wales got was for a small hill to rise up from the ground from which he could preach! My faith is not enough even for that. Being allowed back into our churches to worship again would not be enough and being shown the Father, I suspect, would not be enough. I need, we all need Christ in our lives and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. To know that Christ is in us, the hope of glory – the way, the truth and the life is enough for now in lockdown, in normal times and for all eternity.

Let us pray.

Thank you Lord that you are the way, the truth and the life, that you are in the Father and the Father is in you and in the Spirit’s you are with us and when our faith is weak you uplift us. Help us see however hard the situation is that you are enough for us. We may not see you, but we can love you and worship you right where are

And now to Him who is able to keep us from falling and to make us stand without blemish in the presence of His glory, to the only God our saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord be all glory, power and authority for all time and for now and forever. Amen

Talk for Sunday 3 May 2020

Talk for Sunday 3 May 2020

Christopher has managed to video his sermon this week!  You can watch it on Google Drive: just click on the link here and then on the ‘play’ arrow in the image:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/18EkpI1MDXeRZnZ5x5wOA3WkJjrYGUv9o/view

But in case you’re unable to access it that way, here it is in full:

Contagious Christianity?   Sunday 3 May 2020. Easter IV.

The Resurrection Season.

We are now 6 weeks into the lockdown and three weeks away from Easter Day. The set readings for Sunday are already wandering away from the resurrection appearances but before we forget them for another year I want to take an overview to find some relevance for us today in this situation of isolation when we crave the assurance of hope, of company, of health and of Christ.

It all begins with the empty tomb on that first Easter Day.  That is enough to raise the suspicions of both friends and foes of Jesus.  No trace of a body: just an alibi about body-snatchers spread by the Jewish guards. The empty tomb doesn’t offer evidence, just questions.

The Resurrection Appearances

Those questions soon get answers of a sort as the Risen Lord starts to appear. He appears first of all as a stranger to Mary at the tomb; then to the apostles in the upper room, to the disciples on the lakeside and to the travellers to Emmaus.  Is it Jesus?  No one is sure until he begins to interact with a name (John 20.16), the blessing of bread (Luke.24.30), his wounded hands (Luke 24.39) or some fishing advice (John 21.6). Caravaggio’s painting of the Supper at Emmaus shows just how amazed the disciples were when the stranger reveals himself as Jesus. One chap can’t wait to get away from his chair!

This strangeness suggests that Christ’s appearance has changed in some way. He passes through locked doors (John 20.19) and yet is able to cook breakfast (John21.12), eat fish and honey (Luke 24. 42). But there is another element to this strangeness: Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of understanding (Mark 16.14; John 20.23) but also gives them instructions as to how they should conduct their future lives (John 20.17; Mark 16.15). So those who knew Jesus before the crucifixion have to learn to live with this friend who is also a stranger in a different way after the Resurrection.  We all know people who are difficult to predict. They are often the most exciting but also infuriating friends to have!  So the Risen Lord must have appeared to those first disciples but also to us who need both companionship and divine direction which cannot be presumed.

The appearances of The Risen Lord are not confined to any particular geographical area. Jerusalem and Galilee are the favoured places and they are 100 miles part. Damascus is much further north.  There is no obvious connection between these appearances. They don’t appear to be induced by hysteria, hallucination or a desire for consolation. The most surprising of all is the appearance to Saul, the aristocratic Jew fervently opposed to Christ and his friends. His conversion is well documented in scripture (Acts 9; 2 Corinthians 12) because for him and for The Church it was a seismic change.

The Risen Christ also comes among his friends who are ill at ease. He changes them. Mary is grieving for her compassionate Christ; the apostles are afraid of the Jews; Peter is riddled with guilt; the fishermen are glum and most of them are disbelieving. None of them are in a good place yet this challenge by The Risen Lord changes them. They boldly gossip the gospel (Acts 4.13); they exercise healing gifts (Acts 3.6); they worship in public (Acts 2.42) and they courageously challenge authority (Acts 5.29ff).

So here is a mystery.  What drives such a change – and how is it sustained? People of faith have put the answer down to The Risen Lord: the Lord who came to those first Christians as a stranger, in a variety of locations, with boldness, with compassion but also with a message. The fruits of that mystery – that string of appearances from The Risen Lord – is to be seen in The Church today.  These are the groups that began to form in the first pages of the Acts of the Apostles – that most exciting of biblical books which accelerates through church development like a whirlwind! It is around these encounters with the Risen Lord that the church gathers and develops, then and now.

A virus?

Does this sound like an infection? Richard Dawkins in a clever book from 1976 suggested that God acted like a virus, a selfish gene which looks after its own.  He wasn’t the first sceptic to use such an analogy.  During the Roman occupation of the Mediterranean, Christians were hunted down and if they didn’t recant, then they were killed. Pliny – a Roman magistrate – was sent to Bithynia to sort out the province. He had to put many Christians to death. In a letter to his boss, The Emperor Trajan, he refers to Christianity as a “contagion.”

Apart from the implied negativity – especially in these desperate times of the current pandemic – that is difficult to accept. The appearances of The Risen Lord are scattered. Sometimes they do run among friends but in other occasions the most surprising people become Christians. There are no physical symptoms which connect us and there is no evidence that the faith manifests itself in a weakness.

And Christianity has lasted a long time: two millennia.  Whilst countries in Europe still wait for signs that the coronavirus has peaked, there is no sign of Christianity abating world-wide, though in Europe it is struggling. Whilst we wait behind locked doors, there are signs that our faith is developing. One firm reports that its sales of bibles are up 25% in March this year. Other sacred texts show similar increases. And our behaviour has changed. In spite of the curfew, care for neighbour and community has increased, especially in our villages.

St. Paul, writing soon after the physical resurrection appearances had ceased, reminds us in a passage often used in our funeral services (1 Cor. 15.3,4) that Christ died, was buried and was raised. This third action – ‘was raised’ – is in a different tense, suggesting that the raising has happened but is still in force. Christ is alive now! And this is so obviously true, even in our own experience. People find Christ entering their lives often in the most difficult situations.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Christopher Armstrong

 

TALK FOR SUNDAY 26TH APRIL 2020

TALK FOR SUNDAY 26TH APRIL 2020

TALK FOR SUNDAY 26TH APRIL 2020   Easter 3

 

In the reading from St Luke’s gospel today we find the story of the two people travelling away from Jerusalem back home. The journey to Emmaus was about seven miles, so a good two hours walk . They were talking about all that they had seen during the past few days and they were so upset. They were not disciples of the inner circle and so not in ‘lockdown’ as Simon wrote about last week. They were on their way home where they felt they would feel safe. We have probably all taken journeys where we needed to reach home as soon as possible to feel secure and familiar.

They were sad, angry, upset, puzzled.  A stranger joined them, and asked what they were discussing. They were astounded because they thought that everyone would know about the events which had taken place in Jerusalem. They explained and that must have been quite brave as they did not know whether the stranger was a spy but possibly they were beyond caring. The phrase which stands out in their explanation  is “We had hoped he was the one who was going to set Israel free”. They just did not understand although they knew that the body had disappeared and that angels had told some of the disciples that Jesus was alive.

Sometimes events like this make us feel a bit supercilious as of course we know Jesus rose from the dead and is alive now. But we have the advantage of hindsight. The story continues. They arrived at the village and the stranger was prepared to continue his journey until the two invited him to stay. This reminds me of the picture by Holman Hunt called “The Light of the World” where there is no handle on the outside; 

 

 

                 Christ does  not force himself on us, the choice is ours.

The stranger stayed with them and ate with them. He took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it. Only then did they recognise Jesus who disappeared from their sight. They rushed back to Jerusalem to share what hadhe choice is ours. happened in spite of the fact that it was dark and the journey would be perilous.

Cleopas, the name given of one of the two, was with a friend or perhaps his wife, but whoever it was we can relate to the situation. Too often we do not recognise Christ’s presence as we journey through life with all its problems along the bumpy road. In one of her ‘Thoughts for the Day’ on Radio 4 Lucy Winkett said that “God is not elsewhere”. She was talking about our current situation and as Christ walked with the two on the journey to Emmaus, so he walks with us. Pope John Paul II said “Before God, each human being is always unique and unrepeatable, somebody thought of and chosen from eternity.” Each one of us matters and is loved by God through Jesus.

There is a hymn which shows the wonder of travelling with Christ and the first verse is:

At the font we start our journey,

in the Easter faith baptized;

doubts and fears no longer blind us,

by the light of Christ surprised.

Alleluia, alleluia!

Hope held out and realized.

Christ will often surprise us but we need to be open to that element of surprise which will change us. The disciples were changed by the resurrection as we need to be and realise that Christ walks beside us. Everything changed at Easter; nothing was the same any more. This story of a journey is often used in meditation especially when people are in difficulty and the events of Easter are not “…a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, William Shakespeare) They  give life meaning and care.

The two walking home did not recognise Jesus possibly because they were walking towards the sunset and so could not see clearly. All their hopes and dreams seemed to be shattered but Christ showed them that it was not the end but the beginning of eternity. We need to walk towards the sunrise and be surprised by the light of Christ.

 

What does this story have to offer us today in this difficult time? The two people were sad, puzzled and thought all hope had gone. They were walking on a road that was fraught with danger from robbers and wild animals. There are many people today who are sad and puzzled and think that all hope has gone and we are all walking a road that is unknown. The coronavirus has affected everyone, some in dire ways.

 

There is light even if it at times seems very dim. There are more people watching on-line services than would normally go to church on a Sunday. There is a wonderful community spirit in our villages and in our country. There are stories of immense courage and selflessness. People are caring about others. There will be people asking where God is in all this. The answer is that he is in the midst of all of it; he is in the care homes, the hospitals, the distribution centres, the shops, everywhere where we are, God is there.

He understands our hurt, our dismay, and our fear. He cares about our loneliness and isolation. But he offers everyone hope and eternal life because he loves each one of us. He wants us to reach out to him as the two disciples did when they recognized Jesus and he offers us the light of the sunrise. We only have to reach out and take his hand.

A short prayer:

God of compassion,
be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.
In their loneliness, be their consolation;
in their anxiety, be their hope;
in their darkness, be their light;
through him who suffered alone on the cross,
but reigns with you in glory,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. (Association of English Cathedrals)