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SERMON AND INTERCESSION PRAYERS FOR SUNDAY 17TH JANUARY 2021

SERMON AND INTERCESSION PRAYERS FOR SUNDAY 17TH JANUARY 2021

EPIPHANY 2 B 2021

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”

 

 

EPIPHANY 2 INTERCESSION PRAYERS

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.

Holiness.

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).

Amen.

Advent II 2020. Sermon.

Advent II 2020. Sermon.

Advent II 2020. Sermon.

A Meditation on Milton’s Hymn, “The Lord Will Come and not be Slow.”  (NEH 15)

 

Our Hymn today has a wonderful pedigree!  It has been quarried from 3 psalms in the Old Testament by none other than the great English poet John Milton who wrote lots of poetry at a difficult time in our history.  He lived during the Civil War in this country.  Milton found himself on the side of the Roundheads, fighting for the government against the monarchy in the 17th century. Much of his poetry was created in a period of personal distress for he went blind and dictated his poetry to helpers, including his daughters.

The psalms too were created at various times of agony during the history of the Jews – often looking back in lament to their exile on the one hand and on the other, looking forward to a time when the Messiah will come and banish their problems and reward their faithfulness.

As we find ourselves at the end of a most difficult, painful and challenging year, this hymn speaks to our condition: of sadness and loss coupled with a yearning for a different future when a vaccine is distributed to help us be more human. Let’s examine Milton’s verses.

Verse 1 immediately introduces us to the main theme of advent: the coming of the Lord. This hope is created as we look back on our salvation history expressed in both old and new testaments.  The Lord has acted and will act again. Some will say that his arrival has been too slow to save their nearest and dearest from the effects of COVID but that would not take account of the resurrection of Christ on which the quality of life both now and in the future rests.

Righteousness – zedek, uprightness – will accompany God’s appearance. This puts us in mind of our gospel this morning which features the fearless John the Baptist who was quite defiant in standing up to King Herod’s immoral life-style. Through John’s ministry we get a hint of the justice which Christ demands.

In Verse 2 Milton turns to the natural world to find encouragement.  The rhythms of nature and their dependability augment our hope – a gift from God the Creator whose force lies behind the arrival of spring blossom. But there is more.  Nature offers us a baseline of truth. It is incontrovertible and brings with it a sense of natural justice by which we are so often judged in our meddling and abuse of nature. We might think of the wet markets of China or the current proposals for addressing excessive agricultural practices in our own land. That justice, which looks down on mortal men, judges us and finds us wanting. Our hope is to re-direct our lives towards God during this period of Advent.  In my experience, this re-direction needs to be done on a regular basis but the atmosphere of Advent, working from darkness to light, is an encouragement to me.

Verse 3 reminds us that God is the judge of the whole world. Psalm 82 sets God on his royal throne high above his creatures. It is a favourite subject in Christian art, painted or carved above Cathedral and abbey doorways in both east and west: the Pantocrator, God Almighty. His concern in the psalm is specifically for the poor, the weak and the needy. Our foodbanks receive good support in this benefice and many of us will give to local or national charities as part of our Advent preparation.

But I wonder if you feel that Milton gets his balance wrong in this verse.  Do we inhabit a wicked world – the world which the writer of Genesis says was ‘very good’?  Yes, it is marred by our sin and selfish pursuits but is it that bad?  I fear that this is Milton’s Puritanism coming out!  He rails against bishops, calling them ‘Egyptian taskmasters’.  I find amusing but is the world really that evil? Even during this pandemic, we have had real glimpses of amazing neighbourly love, climatic improvements, scientific co-operation.

 Life has suddenly become simpler for many. John the Baptist’s humble lifestyle – simple dress and frugal diet – presents a challenge to the town-dweller and still speaks to our fussy and over-regulated world today.

Verses 4 and 5 again looks towards the Pantocrator: God’s authority extending over every nation and every creature under heaven. These verses summarize Psalm 86 which expresses a yearning for God’s care for the poor and needy.

But how will God’s care be shown today in Rutland for the poor and needy if it is not through us and other like-minded souls who have hope in their hearts not just for Christmas but for a better tomorrow? When did you last reach out and touch the soul of a leper?  We don’t have many of those in our villages but you know what I mean.   When did we bring comfort to the lonely?  We have many of those in touching distance!  The wardens’ are trying to put together a telephone cascade to ensure that no one is overlooked in our villages but there is significant resistance to such a project.  Are we scared to reach beyond our comfort zones?

The final two lines of the hymn suggest that God is remote. Maybe once upon a time in the old dispensation. Now, through Christ, God is among us, surging, even through the networks of the C of E with his Holy Spirit, to reach out and touch those in need.

As we stand at the threshold of a new way of life after COVID and as we draw near to the celebration of God’s ‘earthing’ at the Incarnation, the words of St. Therea of Avila may not be amiss:

                “Christ has

                                No other hands but your hands to do his work today;

                                No other feet but your feet to guide men on his way;

                                No other lips but your lips to tell men why he died;

                                No other love but your love to win men to his side”.  Amen.

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.