Category Archives: Sermon

Generosity is good for you!







Here are 7 good reasons why…

1. Because it’s what God is constantly doing

God loves us so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him may have eternal life (John 3:16)

God is a GIVER! And we are made in God’s image- generosity is in our DNA

2. Because your generosity bounces back to bless you

If you give to others, you will be given a full amount in return. It will be packed down, shaken together, and spilling over into your lap. The way you treat others is the way you will be treated. (Luke 6:38)

It is by giving that we receive. You can never out-give God!

3. Because you need to give, to keep your spiritual life fresh

Your gifts of money are like a sweet-smelling offering or like a sacrifice that pleases God. (Philippians 4:18)

When we cease to worship, we shrivel up spiritually. This goes for our giving just as much as our praying or hymn-singing.

4. Because Jesus had a lot to say about it

Jesus looked up and saw some rich people tossing their gifts into the offering box. He also saw a poor widow putting in two pennies. And he said, ‘I tell you that this poor woman has put in more than all the others.’ (Luke 21:1-3)

1/6 of Jesus’ recorded words, and 1/3 of his parables, are about people and material possessions. To Jesus, little else is so potentially deepening or damaging to our relationship with God.

5. Because you get to see other people blessed

Your generosity will lead many people to thank God when we deliver your gift. (2 Corinthians 9:11)

6. Because it’s the way to true contentment

More blessings come from giving than from receiving. (Acts 20:35)

Generous giving is a great antidote to greed and selfishness- which are a temptation and danger for us all.

7. Because it involves you in God’s work

Your heart will always be where your treasure is. (Matthew 6:21)

Giving buys us in (literally) to the work of God. Every penny and pound we spend can be an investment in God’s kingdom 🙂

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Sermon by Dr Jan Betts – 2nd October 2016

Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts – 2nd October 2016


  •  Psalm 8
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
  • Luke 11:1-13

Great is thy faithfulness O God: teach us to pray

As I began to pray and think over  this sermon I found myself  wondering a few apparently disconnected things about prayer…

Firstly  I wondered why, when Jesus’ followers were synagogue attending Jews, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray. What was it about him that led to such a question?

Then  I wondered why we all think we are not very good at praying. Why do we all make that judgement about ourselves?

My third wondering was about prayer and fun. One of the great resources of my life is in laughter. There is always something to smile about if you look hard enough. But my prayers don’t seem to  involve laughing so I wondered why not?

And finally I wondered about Paul’s injunction to the Thessalonians to  ‘pray without ceasing’? that’s a tough one.

When I started to explore these questions they began to show themselves as connected things, elements of a picture, strands which add up to a sort of whole.

Firstly a comment on my own tradition. I learnt very early to say my prayers at bed time. My prayer, said after a bible story, began Thank you god for my cosy bed……Later I learned that we pray by something called ACTS, adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication or more colloquially wow,  oops thanks and please. That’s  what you do when you say your prayers. And that’s a fantastic model, to sit with God daily and hear about Jesus and pray.

Of course we know as well that we can pray at any time – arrow prayers, I was taught to call them, prayers of urgency at a tough time.

But I have – oh so slowly !- come to recognise that  prayer is not a once a day, or a tough time event, it’s not so much saying your prayers as ‘praying’. It’s not how do we pray but how are we engaged all the time  in praying. It’s continuous. Now and forever.

Luke reading of the Lord’s Prayer and Thessalonians 5 on pray without ceasing

Let’s start with the question about  why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them about prayer. They went to the synagogue, why did they need more?  Heston illuminated me on this one. Jesus was a new teacher with  a chosen group of followers and it was customary for such followers to ask their gurus for a way of praying and living. They saw Jesus praying, all the time,  and realized that it was important to him and they wanted it too. So Jesus did. He shared  his own totally new way of relating to God and to others, to God as loving caring parent who happens also to be Lord of the Universe – or vice versa! – and to others as people who need forgiving  by us as much as we need forgiving by them and by God. This is a prayer of relationship. It’s not a prayer of asking to be helped to observe rules.

So relating is the first strand I want to offer about prayer. Prayer is about being every day and all the time in relationship with God who loves us, and wants us. Whether we are angry or sad or laughing or eating or watching a film or even making love we are relating to God. ( In the same way we are always witnessing to God in our lives but that’s another story.) Prayer is our response to God’s activity in us, his always-approaching ness, his constant desire to be in touch with us and to live our lives with us. Prayer is the language of love, how we relate to God  all day, every day. Prayer is about God acting in us.

Jesus starts with ‘our Father’, our precious parent, the one who gave us life, who loves us all the time. God always loves and is always present. This isn’t a new thought in the Bible: for example Isaiah writes ‘ I the eternal your God, I hold you by the hand, whispering fear not I will help you’ . We have a relationship with Abba. We call him dad and we fall at his feet in worship and amazement. Julian of Norwich calls it ‘ a sovereign homeliness’. We are welcome 24/7, we are never hated or unloved, but we remember the awesomeness of the one who welcomes us . Jesus is always here. (Finding Jesus book) We are always and at all times with God. God does not need us but he wants us.

When someone comes towards us we can either greet them or step out of the way. God is always coming towards us and how often do we step out of the way? God cannot change, God is always loving and waiting, like the father in the prodigal son story,  wanting to change us into the person he can see we can be,  to shape us as Jesus shaped people. He doesn’t hate us, he doesn’t give us marks out of ten for our prayers. It’s a conversation. We don’t give conversations with our loved friends marks out of ten for impressiveness. Be praying  without ceasing because you are always in a relationship and one side of the relationship can only love you! Also, unlike our friends,  God is always free! When we say  ‘see you on Sunday’ God replies with a smile ‘ok but I’m free now…fancy a chat?’, not next week or tomorrow or when you have time to compose your face into a suitable holiness. We need to attune our ears to God, to walk in daily comversation.

But at the same time our relationship is a one to one which needs to be developed. One of my questions was Why do we judge ourselves as being ‘not very good’ at prayer? Do we see God as ticking and crossing our prayers as to whether they are good enough, or timing us as to how long we take?

If we were to say of ourselves I’m not very good at being married’ or being a partner or a friend how would we respond? If we said’ I don’t really spend enough time with them…then we might ask what do you think of that person? Do you really have a relationship with them? If the relationship is to grow you might need to rethink the way you respond to them. You might like, in St Francis’ phrase, to think about offering  God courtesy – the courtesy of your time and attention, not only in passing but in a specific time which is for you to grow.

One way to brighten up a friendship is consciously to spend more time together, to say we value each other enough to make an effort.  The idea of ‘saying prayers’ is a bit like that.  it’s like ‘dating time’ – let’s spend every Friday night together. Let’s spend a bit of set-aside time with God to listen, to hear what God wants to say to us. That I think is what lies behind the idea of ‘daily prayer’ either personal or together as a community. Relating has to recognise the specialness of the person we relate to. God knows us – so our prayers are open and trusting.

Richard Leonard in Why bother praying writes:

It does not matter if we have developed bad habits in limiting prayer to only asking for things, but prayer is much ,much richer than that. By all means let’s keep asking God to keep changing us but let’s also give praise and thanksgiving, cry out in lamentation, affirm our trust and faith, express our anger, sing of our salvation and simply wait on God. There is a way to pray for all seasons under the sun

Which leads me to say that many forms of prayer are really tough because somehow they are introverted. Quiet, candles, inner thinking- it’s been described as the revenge of the Introverts. We need to affirm  extrovert ways of praying, singing, dancing, walking, laughing, alongside God and each other. Rejoicing in ways above a whisper!

Now to strand two.

Prayer is about remembering.  In the daily office we say the Benedictus, the prayer which Simeon prayed over the baby Jesus in the temple,  and the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise when she learned she was pregnant. Golly what a woman! Both of them and so many others look back to the blessing of the covenant of God with is people, which Jewish prayers did all the time – like Solomon’s great prayer of dedication for the new Temple. We always and in all things give thanks for our remembrances of God’s mercy and faithfulness, his everlasting love both in the past and now. We need to remember that this is always true.

When I was a psychology  teacher I found that relationships which did best focused on the positive. Remember and mention to each other the good bits, celebrate them and forgive the bad bits in yourself and others. In the same way we need to remember the good God has done us, in the past, today and to give thanks as well as sometimes being angry or sad.

And thirdly prayer is about noticing. On October 4 it is  Francistide and yesterday Heston and I renewed our vows as Franciscan Tertiaries.  Francis noticed the things which were around him. He had eyes and ears and all the senses finely attuned to notice God.

HESTON – the Canticle of the Sun

I love the sister bits of the Canticle of the Creatures –listen to the words –  sister moon and the stars, sister water, sister our mother earth. Everything is praising and serving God with us and we can learn from them because they never do anything else but be God’s creatures. We can choose to ignore our relationship with God – but it’s there, minute by minute, as the sun and water and fire praise God. .

And when the doors of Heaven seem firmly shut and God seems to be about anything but loving us,  we remember and notice. We remember God’s infinite mercy in Jesus. We notice the world around us in which the silent things are there doing God’s will, being themselves. We notice that we have breath. Like Job we count what God has done and simply wait. That’s praying, just waiting in faithfulness. And we all have to do it, however privileged our lives might look.

Finally to go back to relating – our relationship with God, especially our noticing leads to our responding.  I long ago learned not to pray for things which I could do something about. I can forgive, Jesus’ great central radical injunction but I can act in other ways to be God to my neighbour and when a need hits us we can pray – and then we can respond.  We can be God for our neighbours. We can protect through the prayer of action and we can comfort through prayer of action  and we can do so much more in response to our prayerful noticing.

Healing prayer is part of this. Do we really believe that we can make a difference? I don’t know how it works – I am a psychologist and I do think that much happens through our own histories, through the permissions which we give ourselves in desperation or longing. But one example from last Sunday- my ear feels better after being prayed over.

My last wondering was  about laughter with God. Do we not save up funny jokes to share with those we love? Well God is always with us and since we are made in the image of God, God laughs as well. Francis said that joy is one of our keynotes, along with humility and simplicity. I was very heartened to read this from Richard Rohr recently quoting Meister Eckhart, the wonderful fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic:

Do you want to know
what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us.

We are born in laughter and in joy. I think laughter is almost the sanest form of prayer, because when we lose the gift of laughter there is something very wrong in us. So when something funny happens that’s a moment of explosive joy with the God of all joy and laughter. We can share our funny moments with God as well as our tragedies and worries.

Prayer is relating, remembering, noticing, responding. Continuous actions, not static ones. Breathing to God’s rhythm.

And last of all, but not least,  I wonder what would praying, AS A CHURCH look like,  relating, remembering, noticing and responding in and to the life of God at All Hallows? If we had  prayer date times together what would they  look like? Would they be together or would some kind of rule help us? PCC prays for all church members regularly. The very last thing we need to do is find another thing to feel guilty about, but how can we encourage each other to enjoy our relationship with God together?

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Justice Matters! Talk from Sunday 11 September

Has anyone seen Sports Direct in the news this week? It’s been heavily criticised for the way it treats its workers here in the UK- timing them for going to the toilet, penalising them for sick days, paying less than the legal minimum wage. As a result of the media attention, Sports Direct have finally started to acknowledge some of the issues and have made a few small changes, although they’ve still got a long way to go.

But what about the goods sold by Sports Direct? It is highly likely that these goods are produced abroad. What do we know about the working conditions over there? Are the workers who make the clothes and shoes that we buy so cheaply and easily getting a fair deal? What is the environmental impact of the production line? However bad working practices are here in the UK, we know that they are even worse in the majority world. Just think of the horrific factory collapse in Bangladesh where goods like those sold by Sports Direct were created for us.

Sports Direct highlights so clearly that there is injustice and inequality built into the way that most businesses operate. But we can’t just blame big business without taking some responsibility ourselves – it’s our money that keeps those businesses going.

So what has God got to say about businesses like Sports Direct, and what should our response be?

Linda’s going to read from the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 58: 1-10.

The Old Testament is filled with God’s call for righteousness, justice and equity, particularly economic justice. Isaiah and his fellow prophets strongly condemned those who exploited their workers, failing to pay them their wages, or cheated people with the weights when buying their bread. The Old Testament prophets’ call was for fairness, so that all might live together in harmony and peace. A few thousand years on, unfortunately nothing has changed – we still get it terribly wrong and God still cares deeply about it.

Isaiah became very unpopular because his messages were so difficult to hear – then and now. He challenged the people of God by reminding them what God wanted from them and for them – and highlighted the fact that they were getting it so very wrong.

Our reading from Isaiah is concerned with “True religion”. It was a given in Biblical times that God’s people would spend time praying and fasting. However this passage illustrates what God thinks of a fast that is insincere and merely for show. Fasting and praying usually go hand in hand, so this is a challenge to us in relation to our prayers too. We are reminded that it is not enough to just ask God about justice and enjoy worshipping and praying together on a Sunday – our actions must then live out those words. If we are praying and fasting but it is not leading us to: “remove the chains of the prisoners; free those who are abused; share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and the homeless and give clothes to those in need” (vs 6-7) then what’s the point? Our prayers are just empty words and God’s not interested in those.

Like it says in verse 3, it is easy to think only of ourselves – am I getting a good bargain? Is this something that is going to make my life better, “because I’m worth it!”?

You might also be thinking, “I don’t have workers, so how can I be abusing them?”

However, I wonder if you remember that about a year ago I challenged you to think of every pound you spend as a vote – a vote for the kind of world you think God wants. So if your pound is being spent in a selfish way, without thinking about the impact it is having on the workers who are at the end of the supply chain you’re financing, then is your vote really bringing about God’s kingdom?

So we can use our money to vote for a better world, but we also need to recognise the systemic injustices at the heart of many businesses. This is not meant to be an anti-business sermon. Globalisation is instrumental in lifting many, many people out of abject poverty. But it could do a lot, lot better – if all companies were like Traidcraft!

Since starting the Traidcraft stall you have spent over £1,800 and as a result you’ve raised £235 for our church, some of which has been spent on keeping the church tea and coffee supplies stocked with Traidcraft goods. I transferred £55 to the church last October and this year’s cheque is for £145.75 – well done!

Traidcraft are currently campaigning on the theme “Justice matters”, recognising that God cares passionately about issues of justice and poverty, and that justice should be at the heart of the way that businesses work, but often isn’t.

Traidcraft believes that poverty is when people are robbed of the ability to make choices for themselves – the choice for safe and clean water, the choice of an education, the choice of protection from abuse, the choice of medical care and more. Traidcraft does business in a way that gives people choices they wouldn’t have previously had – by paying them a fair wage; paying a Fair Trade premium which is often used to develop schools and healthcare facilities and by providing safe working conditions.

However, unlike Traidcraft, some irresponsible British companies are abusing or exploiting people around the world and getting away with it. What (we hope!) they would be punished for if they did it here, for example, toxic pollution, forced evictions and threatened violence, goes unpunished if they inflict these injustices abroad. Recognising this, Traidcraft also uses its knowledge and influence to campaign for systemic changes in other businesses that don’t yet work in such an ethical way.

By gathering thousands of signatures on their petition Traidcraft hope to influence a change in UK criminal law. That change will make it possible for big companies who are causing serious harm abroad to be prosecuted, as currently they get away with murder, quite literally at times.

As a church, I know we spend a lot of time praying about the injustices in our world, but can we do more to be part of the answers to those prayers? Some of the issues seem so huge we feel powerless to do anything, but even if it is only something small, you can use your actions to bring about God’s justice, one purchase at a time.

No-one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Why does justice matter so much to God? We know the story of the Garden of Eden so well, but it is easy to forget in the busyness of everyday life that we are living in God’s good creation, and that we are made equal and in God’s image. What does it say about the sincerity of our prayer and fasting if we directly, or more likely indirectly, wreak havoc in God’s world?

Sarah is going to read to us from Matthew 10: 26-31.

This passage shows the value that God places on even a small, insignificant creature such as a sparrow. “God knows when one of them falls to the ground”. God loves the cheap and the dull, the common and the small, and sees our flight and fall in every moment.

Deep down everyone of us fears that no one loves us, sees our grief, or shares our aching doubt and heights of happiness. But we need not fear, because while all eyes might seem to be on the grand and great, God is looking with love on the little ones. When we are praying, this is the first thing to remember – “Don’t be afraid; we are worth much more than many sparrows.”

Jesus spent a lot of his time with the “sparrows” of his day, those who the world thought little of – the children, the outcasts, the downtrodden. He told them that God loved them deeply, illustrated by the image of God even counting the hairs on their heads! God wants to spend time with us, and wants us to open ourselves up to the intimacy of relationship of a beloved parent and child. We can come to God in prayer knowing that we are deeply loved by God.

We must remember, however, that references to sparrows are not just to be read as a parable explaining God’s love for us. The sparrows are loved by God for themselves. In a time when so many species are threatened or becoming extinct, the brown and the drab, the unexciting and the common need to be treasured by us as part of God’s creation. They are our neighbours too – and we are commanded to love them.

When we pray therefore we need to bring before God the sparrow – as parable and bird. This passage is an example of quite how much love God is capable of – far beyond our comprehension and human limitations. We need to open ourselves up to that love, and understand our intrinsic value in light of that, no matter what the world makes us feel. God’s love is limitless, and will permeate every aspect of our lives, if we let it.

But God’s heart breaks when a sparrow falls. God’s creation and God’s people are threatened by our actions or inactions. If we are made in the image of God, and are God’s hands and feet, our hearts should be breaking too. And our prayers should lead us into action to do what we can to value all sparrows as God does and campaign to bring God’s justice to our world.

Every year we find our time at Greenbelt inspires and re-energises us to continue the journey of loving the sparrows as God does. We went to the talk by Dr Eve Poole who always has very practical suggestions about how we can do this. She challenged us last year: if St Peter at the pearly gates asked you to show him your bank statement, what would it tell him about what you believed? She went one step further this year and challenged us to consider swapping our bank statements with other church members to start a conversation. If we are demanding that UK companies be held accountable for their actions, whether at home or abroad, should we also be encouraging transparency in our own transactions?

I’ve read that the Bible mentions money directly over 800 times and makes over 2,000 financial references. Yet talking about money in a personal, rather than just a hypothetical way, is still considered a taboo in church, let alone in wider society. How would you feel if you were asked to show your bank statement to someone? You might feel self-conscious, embarrassed or even self-righteous. Do we need to let the feelings that we experience at this idea challenge us to make any changes?

Dr Poole also, surprisingly asked us to consume more rather than less, but to make sure that we are consuming the right things. We should spend time thinking about the things we spend our money on, and make sure that they are not damaging God’s sparrows. Our hope for God’s kingdom should drive our desire for stuff, not a desire for stuff being the source of our hope – hope should drive our desires, not desires drive our hope.

The term I like to use, and you’re probably sick of me doing so!, is “conscious consuming”. Do a bit of research, think through the life-cycle of the product you are buying, think about what happens to it when you’ve finished with it – when we throw things “away”, where is away? I believe that the time spent thinking about these things can be considered a prayer – not asking God to tell us whether to buy something or not, but rather to try to discern God’s view of something – is the thing you are considering buying or investing in valuing the sparrows in the way that God would have them valued?

While Dr Poole, and I, think that the small changes that we can make in our own way of living are vital to our growth as consistent Christians – living out our faith in every action, a contrasting opinion at Greenbelt was given by Bill McKibben, the founder of the campaigning group He challenged us with the idea that if 3% of the word’s population became vegan – a big increase on the current percentage – there would be very little real impact on carbon emissions in global terms. However, if even 3% of people became politically engaged and challenged the current status quo then we would be able to change the world. Relying on personal changes alone is now too little, too late – time is running out. For other human justice issues such as gender equality and voting rights, there has always been a feeling that “we’ll get there in the end” – but climate justice has a time limit, and that time limit is getting shorter and shorter.

This therefore brings us neatly back to Traidcraft: not only can you buy some lovely, ethically produced things from the stall after the service, but you can get involved with their campaign which will require companies to take responsibility for their actions, at home and abroad. Both will help to prevent the worst injustices inflicted on defenceless sparrows.

You’ll now be given one of Traidcraft’s campaigning postcards, and a pen if you need one. Spend a few moments chatting with your neighbour about what action you will take in response to what you’ve heard this morning. And as you read and complete the postcard, offer your signature as a prayer.

Or if you’re reading this on-line, you can sign the petition here.

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Sermon 22nd May 2016 (Trinity Sunday) – Elizabeth Hall

Notes from the sermon given by Elizabeth Hall on Trinity Sunday

Matthew 6:9–13 (ESV) “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ ”
(ADDED LATER: For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen)

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote to all Church of England priests in February, asking that around the time of Pentecost they should encourage their churches to spend some time focused on the Lord s prayer. I suspect that, like most of this kind of letter, some will have been acted upon with great enthusiasm and some will fall on stony ground. But Heston agreed that as part of our post-Easter series, we should give one Sunday to reflection on the Lords Prayer.

In their letter (Feb 2016) the Archbishops said: “At the heart of our prayers will be words that Jesus himself taught us – ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.’ It is impossible to overstate the life-transforming power of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that is reassuring enough to be on the lips of the dying and yet dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas. It is famous enough to be spoken each day by billions in hundreds of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us ever closer into friendship with Jesus Christ. It is simple enough to be memorised by small children and yet profound enough to sustain a whole lifetime of prayer. When we pray it with sincerity and with joy, there is no imagining the new ways in which God can use us to his glory.”

No way of going into this in any detail, but let’s look at just a few points:

– Abba /Dad – this is in the Aramaic everyday language of Jesus, not the formal Hebrew of the synagogue prayers. So it isn’t really meant to be a very formal ‘Our Father’ – more of a ‘Hi Dad’. Here at AH, we usually say ‘Our Father and Our Mother’, and that’s great because for some people, the image of Father is not a helpful one. For some people whose experience of their earthly father has been awful, then the image of God as Father can only be negative. For others, coming from the same experiences, the image of a perfect Father in heaven is very welcome. But our God is bigger than any single image pr description, and so we say Our Father and Our Mother – hopefully not forgetting that in the original Aramaic, this would be more like Hi Dad, hi Mum.

– Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – the focus of the Archbishops prayers. Not pie in the sky when we die but something to be looked for, longed for, worked for, on earth as it is in heaven.
Already sung the hymn: The Kingdom of God is justice & joy

– Give us this day our daily bread …….prayer for today, on our notice sheet.

I ask for daily bread, but not for wealth, lest I forget the poor.
I ask for strength, but not for power, lest I despise the meek.
I ask for wisdom, but not for learning, lest I scorn the simple.
I ask for a clean name, but not for fame, lest I contemn the lowly.
I ask for peace of mind, but not for idle hours, lest I fail to hearken to the call of duty.
(Nitobe Inazo, Japanese theologian and diplomat before the second World War.)

– Next comes ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us’. The section of the Lords Prayer that I find most difficult! So I’ve really wrestled with it, in thinking about this sermon and the Archbishops challenge, – I’ve more to say, but will leave that for a bit.

– so the Lords Prayer continues. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. My commentary suggests that we need to read this as part of Matthew’s emphasis on the Last Days, the ‘eschatological teachings’ about needing to be ready for that time when everything gets worse, when evil gests more powerful, just before the time when Jesus will return. I don’t really spend much of my time thinking about that, but I do know that this prayer for support even when times are really tough, is one that has mattered to me down the years. It’s a good example of prayerful poetry that, once learned from saying it over and over again, becomes part of us and part of what sustains us as day follows day.

– and that’s where, in Matthew’s original account, the prayer stops. My commentary tells me that the early church had no less than10 different possible endings, none of which date back to this prayer in Matthew. But they have become an important way of ending the prayer, and carry centuries of weight and wisdom behind them even if they weren’t in at the very beginning. So I suspect we will carry on saying, in our worship, the sentences of acknowledgement and praise: For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever Amen.’ Amen

– SO – Back To: Forgive us our debts, or sins / trespasses, as we forgive those who sin against us.
My background as a social worker has been working in child and adult protection social work, last few years worked for C of E and Methodist Church. All through the period of the Jimmy Saville revelations, the growing recognition of abusive priests within the Catholic church, and the systemic cover up by the hierarchy – and then a recognition that exactly the same problems exist across all churches. Not here to give a lecture on this, but just today to say that the words of this prayer have caused such grief for so many Christian survivors of abuse. What do you do with your pain, your anger, the devastation and trauma which has become your daily reality? Then you venture to share some of this with a Christian leader, to be told that your pain is hanging around because you haven’t cleansed your soul by forgiving your abuser. The fault is in some way turned into your fault, the blame your blame, and not the person who abused you. Again, we’ve no time to explore this in any depth but I did want just to acknowledge the depth of this difficulty.

Andf course, the path to reconciliation and / or forgiveness isn’t always one just for the individual to follow alone. Sometimes, as for example after civil war, whole countries have to find a way forward. The South African Peace & Reconciliation process was one stunning example, but there are others, less well known. In March I went to the Oscar Romero annual lecture here in Leeds.
(For those of you – most of you! – younger than me, Romero was Archbishop in El Salvador at the height of military repression in the 1970s. He provided a voice for the voiceless, the poor, the disappeared and he in turn was shot dead at the altar of his church, in 1980. See short animation on front page of Romero Trust website 

Anyway, this year the lecture was given by a Jesuit priest Fr Francisco de Roux – although everyone seemed to call him just Pacho. Pacho is from Colombia and since the time of Romero he has been struggling to work for peace and justice in Colombia. Just to put this in context, Colombia in South America has the longest running civil war of modern times, now lasted 50 years. 222000 deaths, 177000 of these civilians – and 5 million people who have had to leave their homes, making Colombia the country with the second highest number of internally displaced people across the world. Pacho has spent his whole life as a priest, trying to maintain communication with both sides, struggling to gain support and justice for communities facing total devastation, and recently acting as one of the peace workers in the current talks which are inching their way, hopefully, towards resolution.

Some Colombian refugees were there at the event in March, and they were asking that impossible question ‘How can we possibly forgive the rape and murder of our whole family?’ Pacho shared with them, and with us, and now it’s on YouTube if you’re interested, almost at end – about 1hr 15 mins)
a five-fold path of forgiveness developed by a Colombian Bishop. This seems to him to carry the seeds of hope that we can at least start along the path even if only Jesus can reach the finishing line.

So, you have done me this terrible harm. That could be rape, murder, abuse, you name it – I am shattered by your actions. But I will say back to you:

1- I will not do violence back to you.
So terribly hard not to seek for, to long for, the person who has hurt you to suffer in return. An eye for every eye – and so on. I remember many years ago now, when our family suffered a terrible hurt, the worst sufferer was one of our young children. It took me months and months and still I wasn’t anywhere near recovering from the pain and anger. I remember driving on the M62, and Mike in the passenger seat asked me why my hands were clenched so that the knuckles were completely white! I confessed that I was envisaging strangling the life, slowly, out of the person who had hurt us so badly. After that, I realized that I was really hurting myself – especially my poor knuckles! I decided to try and hand justice, or vengeance, or retribution, whatever I wanted to call it day by day, I was going to hand it over to God. This was really hard as I suspected that God may be a bit less bloodthirsty than I wanted him / her to be! But I managed to do it, and found an amazing peace from the doing. So I can support this first step wholeheartedly, even whilst acknowledging how difficult it is when the wrong done amounts to a shattering of the soul.
2. I will do my best to protect you from other violence. I will not turn away from you.
3. I will try not to exclude you, but to include you back into our society, into my community. I will try to accept you.
And then said Pacho, the last two are very hard and you have to be a real Christian to cope – as if the first three weren’t hard enough!
4. I will seek to love you
5 I will die for you, as Jesus did for us.

I could go on and on about this, but will leave it there. I hope no-one will go away thinking I have trivialized the difficulty of this forgiveness challenge, but I also hope that the Colombian Bishop’s wisdom, in breaking it down to 5 steps, makes it all feel just that bit more manageable.

What an amazing prayer. At the Bradford Literature Festival yesterday, I heard the historian Tom Holland speak as one of a panel and was lucky enough to travel with him on the train back to Leeds. He spoke of just how much Christianity has to offer – and it’s all summed up in this prayer. Amazing! As the former Bishop of Durham said (with some tweaking!):
God is: he is as he was for Jesus, and he is now for us as he is in Jesus. Amen.

Elizabeth Hall

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Sermon 15th May 2016 (Pentecost) – Dr Jan Betts

Notes from the sermon given by Dr Jan Betts on Pentecost Sunday

The blessing of things

1 Kings 5: 15-21 and 8: 22-29
Luke 15: 11-32

Today we are going to do something which Heston suggested is  ‘God detection’ in our daily lives. How do we spot God in the everyday? How does the Spirit driven energy of Pentecost, the fire of God in our lives,  work in our material every day lives?

On this songs of praise day, I want to think  about praising God for things,  material things. I was brought up as a young Christian  to feel a fair amount of guilt around ‘stuff’, ‘material things’ which were made by people for people, bought in shops  and just part of everyday living.  I felt I shouldn’t be enjoying things perhaps  because  we had too much and there were poor people in the world, that sort of eat your greens because the starving children of Africa would  like them business, , or you shouldn’t be pleased with  your new shoes because you should be thinking about God, especially if you were wearing them to church.  Comfort was OK, fashion was something else. There was a strange mix in it, and quite honestly I’m not sure at this distance what it was all about but  it tied into a feeling that the things of the mind and the rather abstract spirit were good and bodily, sensual things were bad in some way. That’s an old mind body division which has been around for centuries, since the enlightenment somewhere in the eighteenth century.   I suspect that I belonged to a particular generation, or a particularly Puritanical way of seeing the Gospel.

I’ve been rethinking this recently, because it seems to me that this attitude, of – roughly –  material bad and spiritual good is  wrong for all sorts of reasons, but not totally wrong.

Firstly God made us as material beings and so our materiality must be part of the blessing we were given – as well as being part of our fallen world which needs redeeming. Jesus himself shared in that materiality. In my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world I need to explore all of it, including my material resources and how I relate to them and bring them into my Christian understanding.

Now one of the material things that it was always OK to give thanks for in my growing up days was what we loosely call ‘nature’.   Most of the time  when we think of ‘nature’  we think of  the world of living things: trees, hills, waterfalls, tigers and weather of all sorts.  And as Pope Francis says ‘the history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning and revisiting those places does us much good.’

Praising God for this bit of the created world is great but when you live in an urban environment  we’re not too close to that living world on a daily basis.  Street lights and buses  don’t do it for us  quite like foxes and apple blossom.  But what that ignores is that really everything is part of creation. We really are star dust. And it may be that the church carpet was once part of a supernova, or even a stegosaurus. The atoms in it are  just configured this way now! I think we need to widen our ideas about what nature is and how we can be thankful for more than the occasional flash of a kingfisher  or red kite.

Not only are we stardust – or possibly volcano fall out – we  are also beings created in the image of God and one of our gifts is that we too can create and make things and relate to the things which we, as children of God,  have made as well as the things which God has made directly. We can’t quite yet make people, but we make many other things out of the materiality which God has given us as a gift to be responsible for.

What is there about these things which we have made, which we call ‘our possessions’ but which are gifts from God,  which can speak to us of God in our own little lives? I think there is quite a lot.

Let’s go to our readings. In the Old Testament we have the story of Solomon building the temple. The Temple wasn’t God and Solomon was clear about that but he wanted to build a beautiful place to honour God in, and give God a sort of ‘earthly house’ in line with all  other gods around, in Lebanon and Syria.  It was beautiful, gleaming with gold and other precious furnishings which everyone contributed to. It was something to wonder at in itself,  but Solomon in his prayer of dedication,  is very clear that it is an offering to bring the people of Israel closer to God, to emphasise God’s special love for and dwelling with her people. I’ll pick this up in a minute. Material things were used to honour God and to recognize a  proper relationship with God.

What about the story of the prodigal son.  How does materiality play out in this story?

The younger son seems to have seen things as being about exploiting his world, about buying friends, about appearing rich through the things he bought and valued. He exploited his father, his brother and himself. He used things as a resource to gain status, to please himself. He didn’t make them himself, or think much about what they could do except to give pleasure. He encouraged the divide which material things can create between the rich and the poor, which God wants us to break down. And it did him little good. I ask myself how I recognise any of this in me?

The older son, on the other hand seems to be  indifferent to the value of the things he worked with. He was angry because his father never offered them to him specifically – he didn’t take on board that as a loved son he only had to ask and he seemed to take no pleasure in the things themselves. They seem to be  expressions of a relationship  which feels a bit sour, and heavy  and dutiful. Is there anything of our relationship with God which feels like this?

The Father had a very different relationship with  his material goods. He took the things he had and used them joyously to express his love and his happiness at the son’s return. He wasn’t afraid of celebrating with rings and cloaks and other lovely goods, and shared them as an expression of warm relationship, of total love for someone.

So what are the principles here about how we look at the things we have?

They are to be enjoyed. I love Hannah’s  joy in her new bike! We are blessed through it. We’re not to use it to exploit others, ourselves or the earth,  nor should we  be indifferent to it. We can use it to make both beautiful and useful things. My Franciscan principles suggest this – not to exploit through materiality, and not to live with luxury or waste but to make sure there is enough for all. But I think we can go farther than this in saying that what we make, when we think about it, can point us to God, as Solomon indicates.

In my research recently I was looking at how things are more than exploiters for people at work and I found that things do a great deal, mostly around  relationships. I think these relationships are part of our God given joy in material stuff.

Firstly I think we can create things which give us and others joy. It may be a beautiful felt hanging. It may be a home made sweater. It may be a tool or a musical instrument or even a model train which we enjoy.  It may be a cartoon or a bike.  And it may be that as we look more closely at our things it can change our attitude. As I was preparing this I looked at my singing bowls and really saw them. I have three – but I realised thata I only need one to appreciate them. We don’t need a lot, we only need eyes to see and to honour. When we look properly we need less.  Burj told me once about how in his Indian community, there is a day when tools are honoured, when people don’t work but celebrate and care for their tools. I thought that was fascinating.

Created things can give us joy. But they can do more. They can  comfort us, not by their multitude, or by the way they mark us off as special but by the way they remind us of our value to others and to God. When I was talking to people at work they spoke of how they had small things – someone used her mother’s  hand cream at bad times at work, someone had a  beermat from a brother, someone had a cartoon pinned up in out of sight of others which lifted her. When they were feeling devalued, these things and many others reminded them that they were of value to someone. We are of value to other people and to God – as we look at special things, things we may have loved for a long time, we remember that these are gifts from our creator THROUGH OUR OWN CREATIVITY and they show us that there is love  and respect for us in the world when we are being oppressed. They are not Gad but they point us to God, as the temple pointed the people of Israel to God.  Some things point away from God: Daniel Berrigan, an American priest, who has died recently, founded the Plowshares movement to remind us to turn our swords into ploughshares, to use our materiality to bring peace not war, as the Father in the parable used his possessions to bring reconciliation.

And sometimes objects may hold secrets which we can only share with God, because only God knows what they mean.

Think for yourselves of your special things which point youto God, to your neighbour, which show you that you are of value.

Material things can work to remind us and show us the love of God, the love of others,  the delightful skills he has given us to work in the material world and how we can enjoy them .

Nowhere is material stuff more closely linked to God than  in the body of Jesus, broken for us and in the practical homely bread and wine which Jesus chose as the symbol for us to remember his love.  These are not God but they work to show us that God loves us and provides for us.  As we approach them can we look to see how bread and wine, material things,  sustain us and  feed us in every sense, literal and metaphorical.

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Sermon 20th March 2016 (Palm Sunday) – Richard Burton

Notes from the sermon given by Richard Burton on Palm Sunday

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 118.1-2,19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

One of the advantages of being married to an artist, as I am, is that you get to learn about and see some very inspirational pieces of art. The artist Stanley Spencer who some of you will know, was born in 1891 in a small village in Berkshire, called Cookham. He was a prolific artist and had what Wikipedia calls a “fervent if unconventional Christian faith”. In the 1920s he painted a series of pictures of biblical scenes and one of these is “Christ entering Jerusalem”. But one of the striking aspects of this picture is that the Jerusalem Christ is entering is, in fact, Cookham High Street. What Spencer was imagining was not an event happening in faraway Palestine but right on his doorstep.

The story of Palm Sunday is a familiar one, its described in all four of the gospels. Jesus and his disciples were on they way to Jerusalem stopping in Bethany a village outside the city and to the East, Jesus ask his disciples to go to a village ahead of them where they will find a colt, untie it, explain to the owner rather mysteriously why they are doing it, and bring it to him. Then spreading cloaks on the animal they make their way into Jerusalem. They hadn’t even got into the city when coming down the mount of Olives a crowd gathers, sings the praises of God and chants: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Praise to God” and throw down cloaks in his path and wave palm branches.
There were at that time actually two contrasting processions. Pilate had moved into Jerusalem from the west at the beginning of the week of Passover as well, with the Roman army, keen to kwell potential uprisings. That procession would be one of a show of strength and domination, with promises of violence and brutality. The image of an occupying force. In contrast Jesus leads a band of disciples in a show of gentleness and humility, he arouses a sense of celebration and joy, with promises of peace and love. But as we know the joy and thanksgiving of this procession are short lived. In the next verses we get sorrow and anger. Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and the lack of peace, and then the scenes in the temples where an ordinarily placid Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers in anger at turning the house of prayer into a den of thieves.
Then the last supper and arrest of Jesus and events of Good Friday. Whether or not it’s the same people who shout Hosanna who then call for Jesus crucifixation we will never know, but clearly the mood changed completely.
It was suggested to me that rather than finding it hard to understand the crowds who called for Jesus crucifixation, what is harder to understand is why the crowds would come to celebrate Jesus entry to Jerusalem.
Its true that Jesus did a lot of healing, and some amazing miracles, but this was the man who said: “Let the dead bury their own dead”, “The poor will always be with you” – what a terrible thing to say! The man who noted that it was only a foreigner who came back to give thanks when he had cured 10 men from disease, the man demanded people leave their families to follow him, the man who advised people trying to work hard and save up for rainy days were foolish and those who didn’t worry about a thing because birds and flowers did’t worry, would be blessed!
The man who said the most ridiculous thing of all: “That we are to love each other, even those who hate us”. You could, it seems, write a book about all the outrageous sayings of this man. Or four of them! They are of course called the gospels.
Yet his was the man that everyone was cheering on, waving bits of tree, throwing down their coats so the colts feet didn’t get dusty, for the one moment in his short life, the whole world rose up to see him, to cheer him to acknowledge him, the whole of creation even.
But not everyone was happy about this. In the reading from Matthew we hear that on entering Jerusalem the whole city was in uproar and people were asking “who is this?” Perhaps in the sense of “ who does he think he is?!” In Lukes account the Pharisees told Jesus to “command your disciples to be quiet” or as they might say now “just tell them to shut up!” Jesus was no great friend to the Pharisees, in the previous chapter he had compared the arrogant complacency of a Pharisee in the Temple with the recognition by a penitant tax collector of his bad ways. He called them a brood of vipers, whited sepulchres he had no time for their hypocrisy and their blinkered adherence to the scriptural laws.
But in response to this Jesus echoes a verse from Habakuk, “If the disciples were quietened, the stones would cry out!”
This response is perhaps telling the Pharisees that the truth of the Good News is too great toe silenced.
Furthermore, Jesus is perhaps predicting that even if his disciples fall silent through cowardice or compulsion, others will take their place to shout Gods praises and welcome the Christ.
But, Jesus, if we know anything of him, was a scholar of the scriptures. As I said he was quoting a text from the prophet Habakuk
“Your schemes have brought shame on your family: by destroying many nations you have only brought ruin on yourself. Even the stones of the walls cry out against you, and the rafters echo the cry.”
Jesus was talking about how the shouts of the people was not just to acknowledge and welcome him, but to bring about a new kingdom of justice and bring down the corrupt and the oppressors. If they try to silence this movement, even the stones will bear witness against them. Again more outrageous words from Jesus.
There are many examples in history of how people of faith who speak out against injustice, are not just told to be quiet but are forcibly silenced. Archbishop Romero in El Salvador was murdered while celebrating mass in 1980 for speaking out against the human rights atrocities committed by the El Salvadoran government, he was beatified and his witness lives on. Martin Luther King was killed, but his peaceful and powerful prophetic dream of equal rights lives on.
And it is not just the religious who some try to silence. The more I hear of the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, the more I believe he is a prophetic voice for our time. Most recently I have seen a video clip of him under a plastic sheet in the rain in a Syrian refugee camp with a woman playing a piano. He provided the piano to enable the woman to play and highlight the plight of the displaced in Syria. Only a few years back the Chinese government held him under house arrest for spurious tax evasion changes, but in practice for criticising human rights in China.
If you are new to All hallows, I can tell you that our church is one which has a strong emphasis on social justice, as a key expression of how we try to bring about Gods Kingdom here on earth.
We support asylum seekers and refugees. Next week we are welcoming people seeking refuge in this country who have nowhere else to stay. We try in various ways to shout about the injustice of people in this situation. I recall Linda and I joining a crowd last year, including many here, on Kirkstall Road outside the centre where Aslyum seekers go to sign on each week, to protest against the treatment of our friends from Syria – Raja and Mahmoud facing at the time imminent deportation. The waving of placards and singing of peace songs was vaguely reminiscent of the Palm Sunday story.
All Hallows also makes a stand on issues of sexuality within the church and looks to support people looking to find their gender identity.
All hallows wrestles with the weighty issues of inequalities in our society. I may sound like a broken record but I cannot preach without mentioning the work of the Real Junk Food project café here where the cafe provides meals from food saved from landfill on a pay as you feel basis, providing food and fellowship and volunteer opportunities for people who live on the margins of society here in Hyde Park.
Spencer’s Christ came to Cookham High street, here Christ comes to Hyde park and to wherever we live and work and we need to shout about God and about Justice and about the outrageous truth of the Gospel. And I speak as someone who finds it hard to make a noise either as an expression of faith or protest against injustice. I know its not easy.
An there are those who do not want to hear any of this – who want us to be quiet.
So to those who don’t want to hear anymore about social justice for asylum seekers.
To those who are tired of hearing that God creates all of us equal in an amazing and wondrous diversity of sexuality, and for some there is a difficult and complicated journey to find sexual identity.
To those who are fed up with talk about inequality in our society here or anywhere in the world
To those who just don’t want to hear anymore talk of Jesus
Just tell us to be quiet, just tell us just to “Shut up”

And the stones themselves, will cry out!


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Sermon 21st February 2016 – Ruth Wilde

Notes from the sermon given by Ruth Wilde on the second Sunday in Lent and Student Sunday

Reading: Matthew 11

My name’s Ruth and I work for the Student Christian Movement. Thanks to Heston and all of you for inviting me to preach here today. The reason I’m here today is because it’s what we call ‘Student Sunday’. This is a world day of prayer for students, started up by the WSCF (World Student Christian Federation), of which SCM is a part.

Student Sunday is important because students are important. We have a little magnet that we give out at Freshers stalls which says on it ‘Don’t let your faith go off’! University is a time when faith is often lost. This is partly because students question everything, which is a really good thing and something that should be encouraged and nurtured. There are not that many opportunities at university for students who want to question their faith in a supportive environment and grow in their faith in a supportive community. The Student Christian Movement (SCM) gives them that opportunity. We encourage diversity, questioning, community and friendship. As part of SCM, students can worship together, campaign and seek justice together, and grow in faith together.

In our reading for today- Matthew ch.11- Jesus says:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

This sounds quite familiar. It sound similar to something that Jesus says in Luke ch.4, when he quotes Isaiah in the temple:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Some people call this passage Jesus’ ‘manifesto’, because it is the moment (at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry) when he proclaims what he is about to do- what his life’s work is going to be about. I personally believe that nothing sums up Jesus’ mission (and therefore our mission) better than this passage and the Sermon on the Mount in his later ministry. In this passage, Jesus announces that he has come to bring liberation- to those who are on the margins of society, to those who are at the bottom of the pile, to those who are oppressed by the system.

SCM doesn’t have a ‘statement of faith’ or any doctrine that people must sign up to, but we do have a manifesto of sorts, and we try to shape that manifesto around what we believe Jesus calls us to do. Our manifesto goes by the name of ‘SCM Values’ and it goes like this:

Deepening Faith – We think through our faith, drawing on scripture, our lived experience, theology and church traditions to learn and grow as Christians.

Seeking Justice – We believe faith and justice are inseparable.  We are a movement for change, creating God’s kingdom of peace, justice and hope.

Celebrating Diversity – We seek to create inclusive communities where all are welcome and valued equally regardless of age, disability, denomination, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background or belief.

Christian Unity – We are founded in the spirit of ecumenism, bringing students together from different denominations and traditions to deepen faith, learn from one another and work together for justice.

I’m at All Hallows on this Student Sunday because you are an SCM Link Church- you have decided that SCM’s Values and your values as a church match up, and you have decided that you want us to work together in nurturing the faith of students in Leeds.

I recently organised a day of action and reflection as part of our refugee campaign. Around 8 or 9 students came together in Birmingham to hear asylum seekers tell their stories, to hear about and see what’s being done to help refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham, and to talk about what our faith and our scriptures say to us about how we should view people who have fled their homeland in order to find somewhere safer to be.

I know that you at All Hallows have good relationships with asylum seekers in Leeds and that you’ve been involved with many initiatives to help and support them. Bringing students and refugees together in Birmingham was a very moving experience which I’m confident will impact the students who came in very powerful ways, as well as encouraging the refugees and the charity workers who came to speak to us.

Students are often passionate about justice and have enormous amounts of energy to put into making the world a better place. Alongside their questioning attitude to faith (and everything else), this passion for justice is something I admire most about students.

You are lucky at All Hallows to be right in the middle of the student area. There is so much potential in this church for student ministry. There are many ways in which you can begin to nurture and make a difference to students in this area, and I’m sure you will explore them as a church going forward, but if I could offer you any advice from my own experience working for SCM, it would be these few things. You could call it the SCM All Hallows Manifesto if you liked!

Be authentic: Be honest about faith and don’t try to paper over any difficulties- students know when what you’re saying is rubbish- they have a very strong BS meter (ask a young person if you don’t understand what that means!)

Be Jesus-Centred: Be true to Jesus’ calling and build your church around Jesus’ liberating mission. God will add to and multiply your efforts when you are working for God and for your neighbour.

Build Community: Build a strong sense of community, but make that community accessible and welcoming from the outside, so that everyone who comes in for the first time feels like they’ve known the people at All Hallows since the dawn of time!

Encourage Diversity and Questioning: Create space for exploration and discussion without judgment. Include everyone in the conversation, leave no-one out.

Connect with students: Be pro-active, connecting with and meeting students where they are first, before drawing them into the church family.

You’re not alone: God calls you and sends you out with others in your church; God is alongside you in your work; and God is already at work before you even begin, building community and seeking justice. You only need to join in, and you will see the flourishing of God’s kingdom here at All Hallows and in the whole of the Hyde Park area. Have faith in God’s mission!

Thanks again for inviting me to speak to you today.


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Sermon 14th February 2016 – Jan Betts

Notes from the sermon given by Jan Betts on the first Sunday in Lent at the baptism of Edie and Thor.

Reading: Matthew 10: 17-20, 26-33, 40-42

This is a very tough chapter for a baptism. In verse 21 Jesus says ‘brother will betray brother and a father his child: children will come forward against their parents and have them put to death.’  And in verse 37 ‘no one who prefers father or mother to me is worthy of me. No one who prefers a son or daughter to me is worthy of me.’ What a great message to give children at a baptism. Doh! Thanks Heston!! But it also says nice things and x is going to read some.

So let’s have a closer look at this theological can of worms. What is Jesus doing here?

Let me set out two points of context first :

In Jesus’ time, family loyalty was everything and such warm links to family are still the norm in the Middle East. Having very close friendships and loyalties outside the family group is still pretty strange, as someone told me the other day describing a Lebanese family group. Asking his disciples to put him first, before family loyalty, was a huge ask.  It wasn’t unknown in Judaism because the first commandment says you shall love the Lord your God with all of yourself. The OT is shot through with this message about God as the first point of loyalty but it was part of the family loyalty structure, embedded in the legal system of responsibility. So Jesus was putting himself in the line of the OT here, but he was pointing up how a relationship with him rather obedience to laws was the most important thing. Jesus was underlining how we are made for God first, not family first. There’s so much we could explore here about how Jesus fulfils OT commands, but not today!

Second point of context:  this was written after the fall of Jerusalem, when Christians were beginning to expect systematic persecution in the Roman Empire and were also expecting Jesus to return at any time. Life could be very tough as a Christian. The gospel here is asking the new testament followers of Jesus to remain faithful, not to give up on their faith and retreat into human relationships. Again there is much we could  explore in this topic, which touches us all in our lives in very practical ways.

So what was Jesus asking when he asked people to love him more than family?

I think we can see it as both an ask but much much more importantly as a gift and as a welcome.

Jesus is inviting those who follow him to recognise that we are given our lives freely by God, as a gift, and that this calls us to give back to God and others equally  freely.  God wants us  to live under Kingdom values  not to human values.  We are first of all children of God. We are there to bring  good news to the lost, to share with  them news of the Kingdom of heaven. To do this we need God’s  courage and truthfulness, generosity and honesty. God needs to be our vision and our guide. But this kind of living is not very popular: one of my favourite theologians, Rene Girard, writes of how  we as human beings tend to  live lives of copy  cat envy and we take our discontent out on the scapegoats who show up our weaknesses, the ones we hate because they act as a mirror to our selfish envious wanting.  Someone who speaks the truth and asks questions which are innocently direct is not popular. Do you remember the story of the Emperor’s new clothes? The boy who called out that the king was naked was not the most admired person in the kingdom. Speaking truth to power is hard, but it is what God asks us to do, and sets us free to do – in ways which are as wise or rather as shrewd and watchful  as the serpents who don’t go looking for trouble but are prepared to strike if necessary and as harmless as the doves who don’t make trouble or offend gratuitously. It’s not easy in our practical everyday capitalist lives to be truthful, loving and humble, ready to give ‘cups of cold water’, that is both physical and all sorts of other necessary things to people as we share God’s love.

Who influenced you most and why?

The welcome to living this  life comes with a promise, that we can totally rely on God, that we have the holy spirit to speak for us and live in us, that every hair on our head has been counted and we are more precious to God than we can imagine. This is mind-blowing and wonderful and very very difficult to accept. It’s something which easily gets forgotten by us – maybe  part perhaps of our daily sitting with God during Lent could be to remember this? Jesus wept over Jerusalem…we upset the loving parent heart of God when we race after things which are bad for us. God wants us to know that we are fully loved so we can live a life without fear. What a great thing to offer a child. We are children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Such love is God’s gift to us all. Today we are celebrating another kind of gift. A child is a gift a trust, a fragile, malleable determined little human being, who is dependent and needs to  be brought to independence through wise parenting,  to  be loved totally through all the ups and downs of that journey. We know  they will be hurt, through their own desires and through the desires of others. We can’t always protect them. they don’t always know what is best for them. But  we want them to learn to steer a course though life which will give them everything we could wish for them, joy, security and a sense of their true place in the world.  God sees us as we see these vulnerable, wonderful children, Edie and Thor. God’s  longing is to give us all we need , much more than we can imagine or desire.

One of those things which we need, which God gives us, is Christian brothers and sisters,  people who see the world as we do and who want to grow in grace and into the fullness of all they can be.  We fail sometimes in our support of each other. Sometimes we want more from others than it  is possible or right to ask, as children want things that aren’t possible. Sometimes it’s right to challenge each other to live responsibly and I have heard and admired and learned from such challenging in All Hallows over the years. It’s right to do that because we are all, all the time, stumbling and falling and needing to be brought back to where we are loved,  dusted down, have spiritual plasters put on our knees, given a cuddle to make sure we are OK and sent out to try again.  Some of this comes from our relationship with God but we can also do this for each other, as other friends can support these children. Why are we afraid of saying that we didn’t do so well this week? God knows – in every sense.

So Edie and Thor, our new brother and sister, we want to make you welcome. We want to say welcome to our Christian community here as well as to the enormous community of baptised people of God. We want to tell you that like your godparents who will make formal promises, we all want to support you and your parents as they bring you up in the way of Jesus, of truth and love.

We want to pray for you, to wish you all that God wants for you, courage and joy and fun and resilience, a sense of being loved by God and being free to be all that God wants you to be, knowing that you are of more value than many sparrows.

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Sermon 7th February – Lydia Groenewald and Emma Mawer

This Sunday we were privileged to have two sermons for the price of one! Lydia spoke about Church Action on Poverty Sunday and Emma told us more about how TRJFP@AH Cafe tries to help our community. Here are notes from their sermons.

Reading: Matthew 8: 1-17

Today is Church Action on Poverty Sunday, with the theme “Bread Broken for All”.

Church Action on Poverty is a national, ecumenical, social justice charity, committed to tackling poverty in the UK. They work in partnership with churches, and with people in poverty themselves, to find solutions to poverty, locally, nationally and globally. (As Heston has mentioned) I’m one of their Trustees. I took up the position of Treasurer over a year ago as I am passionate about the work they do and was very impressed by the impact they have despite their very limited resources. Church Action on Poverty believes in equipping people who are experiencing poverty to speak to power themselves – not to provide a voice FOR the poor but to give those in poverty a voice – as they are “experts by experience”. Church Action on Poverty is increasingly becoming part of the essential movement for food justice in this country, the need for which we will explore today.

There are many things that unite us as humans, but few more universal than our need for food. Without access to a regular, nutritious supply of food our bodies die. Without the feeling of community and acceptance that comes as we share food together our spirits die. Food has elements of healing and is essential for a healthy life, but as we know well, not everyone has access to this primary aspect of life – not only in the majority world, but increasingly here, in our wealthy and privileged country too. Food is a gift from God. But today, in one of the world’s richest countries, thousands of people are being denied access to that gift and made to go hungry.

Our reading from Matthew 8 recounts many acts of healing: the man suffering from leprosy; the Centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother-in-law, amongst others. I found it interesting to think about the role food plays in these accounts.

I love the fact that, after her healing, Peter’s mother-in-law’s first action, once she was back up on her feet, was to prepare dinner for Jesus. Sharing food through hospitality is her instinctive response as soon as she is made well again.

The account of the man with leprosy might feel a little alien to us – how many of us know someone with such a debilitating skin disease today? We’re so fortunate that, in our country, leprosy is not a disease we’re at risk from. But if you think back to Jesus’ time, when this disease was all too commonplace, it was a much bigger deal. Leprosy meant not only sickness and disfigurement, but also social banishment. Leprosy was highly contagious. Sufferers had to stay well away from everybody else. Nobody approached them, let alone ate with them; nobody would dream of touching them. Imagine for a moment what it must have felt like for that man, to have Jesus touch him and accept him after years of being ostracised? PAUSE. Jesus’ action was the start of that man’s restoration into society, not only physical healing but also the means for re-integration.

Even if we don’t have the tragedy of people experiencing leprosy in this country today, who are the people that our society treats as social outcasts? Could it be the asylum seekers, those with mental health issues or the so-called “benefit scroungers”? If we are to follow Jesus, then how can we find more opportunities to encounter these people, and show God’s love to them by accepting them, loving them, and even sharing a meal with them?

In the section about the Centurion’s servant, Jesus’ description of the invitation of the Kingdom of heaven is wonderfully inspiring, and revolves around sharing food. The quote from The Message translation is: “This man is the new wave of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This not only shows the value God places on sitting and eating together, but also challenges any narrow-mindedness that we find in ourselves about who might be “in” and who is “out” of God’s Kingdom – this is a feast where everyone is welcome and we’re all invited!

Church Action on Poverty is working hard to ensure that God’s kingdom banquet can become a reality, in our society today, as it is in heaven. And so their supporters campaign for a “right to food” for everyone and try to hold the government accountable for this.

The right to food is contained within the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its special committee on economic food and social rights explained it as:

“The right to adequate food is realised when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”

The British Government signed up to guarantee an adequate standard of living, including food, when the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was ratified in 1976. So as citizens we are entitled to expect that the country we live in will respect and fulfil the right to food that is affordable for all our people.

The right to food is amongst the most basic of all our human rights. Its a matter of justice, not charity. However, we know that injustice exists today, even right here on our doorstep.

Are we too accepting of the existence of food poverty in our country? It has been great to see churches stepping in to the breach and setting up foodbanks, like our own Parish Pantry, but are we doing enough to challenge the government policies which have made these provisions necessary? The Trussell Trust, one of the main facilitators of foodbanks, highlights how many of their recipients are actually in work but not receiving enough wages to live on; or there because of harshly applied benefit sanctions or delays. By providing foodbanks, as necessary as they are, are we treating only the symptoms, and not the causes? You’ll all know the story of the community which had a river running through it. One day they found a person being swept along by the river, and then another and another. Initially they rescued each person floating by, but as the numbers increased, they realised they would need to go up stream to deal with the cause of this issue to prevent people falling in the river in the first place.

Food poverty is, of course, not about a shortage of food as we very well know. I read recently that the world already produces enough food for 14 billion people, twice as many as are now on earth. But what is happening to that food? In a moment, Emma will be sharing with us how our café, here at All Hallows, is being used to challenge the shortcomings in our food supply system, and to counteract the impact of food poverty amongst our neighbours.

Community is a core part of what helps us to flourish. So alongside the re-instatement of our social-security safety-net, we need to support initiatives such as our café which encourages and fosters community building. We’ve seen first hand how food can be a vital ingredient for nurturing community. Foodbanks follow the model of “I give and you take”, re-enforcing inequality, but our cafe is based on the principle of “We share” through its Pay as You Feel system.

The bread and wine that we are about to share together as we share the Feast of Life are symbolic of Jesus’ final supper. Jesus shared that meal with his disciples, some of whom themselves were the outcasts of their society. This was his last act before his body, the “bread of life”, was broken for all. One of the significant elements to this symbolic meal is that everyone gets an equal amount – God’s hope for the world in action.

After the service today we will be sharing food together – yummy pancakes in honour of the fact that it is Shrove Tuesday this week. We will also be taking donations to support the work of Church Action on Poverty. Any money you give will help people who are affected by stigma and food poverty to make their voices heard, building their confidence and helping them to speak out for justice. It will also support Church Action on Poverty’s campaigns to tackle the root causes of the UK’s growing hunger crisis, working towards a UK where no-one is made to go hungry. As their Treasurer I can assure you your money will be put to very good use!

Emma is now going to tell us how our Sunday Feast of Life continues during the week through our wonderful café and its people.



TRJFP (The Real Junk Food Project) @ All Hallows’ Café has been running since the 12th September 2014. It is essentially a means by which this church reaches out into its surrounding neighbourhood and shows them the love of God.

The UK, which now has so many people in food poverty, doesn’t have a food shortage. The problems are consumerism and mismanagement. As consumers we are encouraged to buy food that it ‘2 for the price of 1’, the latest food product on the market, food that is pre-packaged in a plastic bag, food that looks attractive (not wonky carrots or muddy parsnips), convenience food, food that will only last until its use by date. Due to this pressure, the average UK household throws away almost an entire meal a day (that could have been eaten). To add to this mountain of waste food, supermarkets throw out anything that is slightly mouldy, squashed or past its use by date. Most of the time, this food is still perfectly edible and yet it ends up joining our ever increasing piles of landfill. By using waste food in the café, we are trying to be better stewards of the wonderful gifts that God has given us. Last year alone we ‘intercepted’ (put to good use) 8⅟4 tonnes of waste food.

The café opens on a Tuesday, Thursday morning and Friday. It has about 25 regular customers and then there are always new people who pop in each day. On an average day, any number between 30 and 60 people come through the doors. On arrival they are greeted, shown where to help themselves to drinks and snacks, and then their food order is taken. The food is given on a ‘Pay As You Feel’ (PAYF) basis – customers either give a monetary donation, or volunteer their time to ‘pay’ for their meal.

Hyde Park has a diverse community which we welcome and serve. Our regular customers include council refuse collectors, a few asylum seekers, people struggling with alcohol addiction, others who have recently been made redundant, one family are Muslims, and then there are those with physical health challenges, mental health challenges and housing issues. Sometimes our role is to encourage friendship and understanding between some of these individuals who wouldn’t usually mix. Other times it can be fighting against stereotypes. Our main aim is to treat everyone with respect, regardless of who they are or where they have come from. We do this to demonstrate how Jesus views each member of the human race – worth more than the flowers and birds of the fields. Regular customers often describe the café as having ‘a lovely atmosphere’. The fact that Heston is actively involved in the café enables us to actively share our faith, not only in actions, but also in what we say. Many people have asked for prayer and others have had questions about the Christian faith.

A group of volunteers help to prepare, cook, serve and tidy up after the meals. They include various people who are on benefits. These individuals really value being able to ‘do something worthwhile’ with their time. In addition, they enjoy the social aspect of being part of a team. One of them has been out of work for a long time and in January, at the age of around 50, was still living with his father. Through volunteering, he has really grown in confidence and is now starting to take on a supervisory role. He has moved into a flat of his own and has applied for a part-time job. Another volunteer has struggled with poverty and ill health for many years. However, the café gives her a purpose, an opportunity to give to others. It also provides her with hot, tasty meals when her cupboards are bare. A third volunteer is again in poverty. He has ad-hoc jobs, but struggles to feed his family. On one occasion he admitted going without food so that others could be fed. In the café, he is very hard working and a wonderful role model for other volunteers. Two weeks ago, he invited a friend to come and volunteer too. She is a stay at home mum, who found that she had too much time on her hands, when her youngest child started school. Volunteering in the café means an awful lot to her. We are currently training up 3 of these individuals, with the hope that they will become café managers. Our aim is to give each of them a salary of 5 paid hours a week, at the living wage of £8.25 per hour.

The café reaches wider into the community than just serving those who come through the doors. Last year, the Sinclair project, the Ladybird project, the Youth Offending Service, Leeds City College and St Annes alcohol services, all approached the café, recognising its value. We now work in connection with them all, be it through providing placements for volunteers, providing a space where they can hold meetings, providing hot meals for their service users, or receiving their excess food. Live at All Hallows’ invites artists to perform gigs in the church. We are also work alongside them, offering pre-gig evening meals. Then, on Christmas Day we provided a Christmas meal and entertainment for 65 people, most of whom would otherwise have been on their own, or finding the day difficult.

TRJFP @ All Hallows’ Café is an exciting project to be a part of. No two days are the same and there are frequently new challenges. But to sum up in terms of healing, the café gives food to the hungry, both physically and spiritually. It gives hope to the hopeless, friends to the friendless and purpose to those who feel worthless. We try in our own small way, to bring some of God’s kingdom to this area of Hyde Park.

If you would like to partner with the café, please pray for the project and, if you can, support us financially by filling in a ‘Community Investor’ form (available from the church or from Lydia).


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Sermon 17th January 2016 – Emma Temple

When Heston told me I was going to preach on Matthew chapter 5 I was excited, because there’s so much in there. But then I read it, and I was a little bit terrified, because there is so much in there, and a lot of it is really challenging! But, as Heston said last week, today I’m going to focus on one aspect of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the idea of committing to live by a rule of life. That’s what Jesus is setting out in this chapter of Matthew’s gospel, he’s laying out the rules for his followers. So while we’re thinking these few months at All Hallows about commitment, I’m going to share some of my thoughts about living by the rules that Jesus calls us to follow, and on making a conscious commitment to a set of rules in order to live in the most Christ-like way we can. It’s a really scary challenge!! But I’ve come to the conclusion that it can be really helpful and life-giving too.

So, as Heston explained last week, by this point in Matthew’s gospel Jesus has just spent 40 days in the desert preparing himself for ministry, being tested as Israel were tested, and doing a far better job than they did of resisting the temptations he encountered there. And now, he’s ready to start his ministry; the last thing we hear in chapter 4 is this phrase ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people.’ So everything from here until that’s repeated in chapter nine goes together as his demonstration of how we should live as followers of Jesus, a how-to guide for his disciples so that they can take on his work. He starts here by laying out the rules, and then goes on later to demonstrate his way of life, by healing people and working miracles. He goes through the laws one by one: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not divorce, keep to your oaths, and then he takes each one a step further and explains that it’s not enough just to keep these rules, but we are not even to be angry with our neighbour, or to make any oaths more than saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

To me this seemed at first like a really strange way of doing things. A huge part of Jesus’ mission during his life was to challenge the legalistic and hierarchic systems of the Jewish religion by doing things like performing miracles on the Sabbath and spending time with those pronounced unclean by the religious leaders at the time. It seems like the most important thing for Jesus is to love everyone, and sometimes even to deliberately break the rules in order to live out that love, to challenge the authorities and to give to us a radical new way of living our lives which undermines everything the Jewish people thought was important about the laws. So why does he start his handbook for discipleship by affirming that he has come ‘not to abolish the Laws but to fulfil them’ and, even more challenging, that ‘anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments will be called least in the kingdom of heaven’? It’s pretty scary stuff!

At first it seems like this laying down of the law isn’t very compatible with Jesus’ promise of freedom from oppression, to give us life in all its fullness. For me when I started to think about committing to a rule of life, it sounded like a limit on my freedom, like a huge burden that would hold me back from enjoying life as much as I could. It also can feel like an impossible standard that we can never live up to, like something that will be used as a measure for how acceptable we are to God – the opposite of the affirming message that we are all acceptable and loved no matter what we do. Why would the Jesus who promises us freedom and forgiveness and unconditional love want us to be held back by a strict set of rules?

During my reflecting I was trying to think of times when I’ve tried to give myself a rule of life before, and the only kind of rule of life I’ve ever formally taken on in any way is making new years resolutions each year – I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to keep up a new years resolution longer than a few weeks. It’s only the seventeenth of January, and I can’t even remember what mine were for this year – which leaves me wondering how I’m ever meant to be able to keep to this strict set of rules for the rest of my life? The new years resolutions I’ve set myself before are also usually pretty boring – they mainly involve cutting back on all the indulgences I’ve enjoyed over Christmas, or keeping my room tidy, or working harder, none of which are particularly exciting or liberating good news. But when I think of living life in the way Jesus wants me to, it’s the complete opposite of boring! It involves loving recklessly, and transforming the world, and being completely and utterly free. So how do we square these images of living life by the rules Jesus calls us to follow and embracing the freedom and fullness of life which Jesus promises as a result of following him and being his disciple?

Well, one of the most important things I learned studying philosophy was that definitions are very important. Don’t worry, it’s not as boring as it sounds; in working through this challenge a distinction came to mind that I’d heard explained to me in a philosophy classroom between freedom to and freedom from. Sometimes in accepting things which limit our freedom to live our lives in exactly the way we always choose, we actually gain freedom from things which might hold us back from having the true fullness of life which Jesus talks about. We are freed from living according to our selfish whims and passing desires, freed from the things which separate us from a Godly life – freed, in other words, from our sins; so that we can make a conscious choice to live in the way we wish to – in the way that Jesus teaches us. We are freed from what I’ve heard called the ‘tyranny of choice’. Have you ever stood in a supermarket without a shopping list and looked at aisle after aisle and shelf after shelf of choices to make, and been so overwhelmed you don’t know what to choose, or what you want, or even what you went in for in the first place? That’s the tyranny of choice, and it’s how our lives can get if we don’t limit ourselves to making choices which fit in with the way we want to live. It’s only by these limits that we allow ourselves to flourish and to live out the life Jesus wants for us. So it might be useful sometimes to make for ourselves a “shopping list” of rules which allow us to pick out the things in our lives which are life-giving and Jesus-shaped, and to leave everything else behind us.

And thanks to Jesus these rules aren’t just laid down for us to follow blindly or for us to be held to them legalistically. Jesus came to teach us the heart of these rules. When he says things in this chapter like ‘You have heard it said do not murder but I tell you anyone who is angry will be subject to judgement’ he is not giving us a stricter law to follow, and burdening us with further demands – he is actually teaching us about the wider spirit in which the law is meant. He wants us to be freed from following the legalistic laws of the Jewish culture at the time down to the letter, and in order to do that he has to teach us the place of love which these rules come from so that we can freely follow them without being held to them through fear. That’s what I believe he means when he says ‘I have not come to abolish the laws but to fulfil them’; he has come to write the laws on our hearts, so that they no longer have to be forced upon us by a disciplinarian God.

So that’s why Jesus starts his ministry in this chapter of the gospel of Matthew by laying out the rules in the Sermon on the Mount. He needs to teach us how to choose a life of love, and a life of commitment to following him, before we can be freed from our sins to live out that life by doing good works among people just like he did.

And thankfully we’re not left to our own devices in this challenging task! The difference between taking on new years resolutions and taking on Jesus’ way of life is his promise to us through the cross is that God will be with us every step of the way, when we succeed and when we fail. When we feel like giving up because it’s too hard and we can’t get it right, Jesus reminds us that we don’t have to bear the burden of our sins, of the things which hold us back from living life in his way. We are constantly renewed, and constantly given chance after chance to choose Jesus’ way of life, to choose to live by the rules he calls us to follow.

So over the next few weeks, while we’re thinking about committing ourselves to God and to each other, we can be thinking about what a rule of life might look like in our lives. Jesus is teaching us the spirit of love that we’re called to live out – and now we have to ask ourselves how we can shape and reshape our lives to better embody that love to the world. What rules might we set for ourselves which allow us to choose to live by God’s love every day? Adopting them in some formal way can be really life-giving and freeing. And throughout that process of becoming more Christ-like, we must remember God’s commitment to us, that we never have to give up on becoming the people that God made us to be.

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