Category Archives: Steves thoughts

Notes for Steve’s sermon for 12th Jan 2013–The Baptism of Christ

Docetism & Aryanism are two heresies; very much simplified, under the former Jesus is ‘God but only appearing like a human being’; under the latter he is ‘just a man – a very good man but not God’.

As I was reading through the gospel for this week I was thinking about Jesus coming to Baptism as both God and man and I wondered how he saw the idea of baptism, requiring as it does certain prerequisites:

HUMILITY, OBEDIENCE VULNERABILITY

1. Humility. Complying with John’s call to repentance and the token washing away of the old sinful nature. Jesus was without sin, so the bible tells us – since he is God; but he is also human, and as such gave us the pattern the example, to follow. Not going his own individual way; not undermining the work that John was doing, but allowing himself to be baptised and in doing so calling us, as it were, to follow him with the same humility.

2. Obedience.

John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” On a course I was on a while back (it was about leadership) the one and only thing I remember from it is this little saying:

Managers like to do it right; Leaders do the right thing”

Doing things the right way is good and very important in all sorts of areas – medicine, technology, homework, following a recipe…. But the desire to be doing things right can often be the result of external expectations, government targets, company rules, protocols and pathways… things that tend to come from individuals or institutions outside of ourselves.

Obedience to the notion of doing the right thing, however, is something that more often comes from the heart, from within us, and can sometimes even overrule our natural tendencies – even our instinct for personal safety or even our survival:

Jesus, the Eternal Word wasn’t expected to be baptised; John certainly didn’t seem to expect it but Jesus knew it was right (“It is proper for us in this way to fulfil all .”) Of course, it’s not always that simple – there can be misunderstandings, challenges, opposition and even, (John was a wild and charismatic man and Jesus had to persuade him)

Obedience to doing the right thing can get you into trouble as well – ask the Greenpeace activists, the doctors and journalists in the various trouble spots around the world who are being targeted because – because they’re just doing the right thing,

3. Vulnerability. involving risk and demanding trust – faith.

Baptism is partly about being cleansed, washed. It’s definitely not a forced thing; it’s entirely voluntary but it does mean putting yourself in the hands of another; being subjected to another’s authority, power, control; being vulnerable and trusting, along with all the risks that thjose two things involve. Baptism is about a letting go of the things that are against God or that tend to keep us from a right relationship with God: things like pride, individualism, thirst for worldly riches or glory or acknowledgement or power. The things that prevent our maturing in the Christian faith both as individuals and as a community of faith.

Community – we at All Hallows have discussed many times the idea of community and in doing so we have always acknowledged how we operate in all sorts of communities (family, work, neighbourhood, and so on) as well as the church community we belong to.

BUT a community of faith is different, it seems to me because it demands more from us – not only on practical, physical, mental, emotional levels – but on a deep spiritual level as well. A community of faith (to paraphrase the Bishop of Portsmouth) isn’t just:

· a collection of people who share like-minded interests – THAT’S A HOBBY.

· A group of people who meet together where the leaders do it all – THAT’S A CLUB

A community of faith is a living thing – it’s where everyone has unique worth, and respected as such; AND has a unique contribution to make to the whole. A community of faith is where people are falling over themselves to play their part, to shoulder some of the responsibility so that too much doesn’t fall on the shoulders of others. And that could be doing jobs on the rota; visiting people like Mabel or Kay or Phil & Nat; remembering to have a look round when we leave the building so YOU know it’s in a lovely state for the next people who are going to use it, to walk into; it could be deciding to pray daily for an individual or group or issue maybe without anyone else knowing – or maybe you get together regularly with one or two others and pray… a community of faith is about everyone looking out for everyone else, whatever the cost in terms of time and energy and even money… because as a church we’re much more than just a hobby or a club – we’re the body of Christ following in his footsteps in humility, responding to his commands in obedience and stepping up to the plate to serve, with all our vulnerabilities, trusting in Christ for all things.

All of this calls for us to take a new look at how we do relationship –

Relationships in the world around us seem to be spiralling downwards at an alarming rate: the rampant tribalism that raises its ugly head everywhere, whether it’s ethnic, political, racial, economic or whatever, and whether it’s between individuals or companies or nations, is the exact opposite of what the church of God, the community of faith, is all about. That’s because these things are marked by the opposite of humility, obedience, vulnerability and trust – pride, wilfulness, insularity and ultimately hopelessness… There’s a huge need in the world for a different way of doing things and actually the answer is one of the things we aim for and have been discussing again recently at All Hallows. It’s to be a community of Radical Discipleship – and it sounds very exciting and ‘right on’ I suppose but the first thing about radical discipleship is that it all about discipline; humility, obedience, vulnerability and trust in relationship to God and with each other – that’s how we find Christ in one another, by humbly, obediently risking our vulnerable selves in relationship with one another and finding through trusting in this process, new depths in our relationships with one another and with God that then enable and empower us to start transforming the world around us.

In his baptism, demonstrating these things, Jesus is not racing ahead of us, shouting at us, trying to get us to do super-human things to change the world in worldly ways.

His humility sits alongside the humiliated; his subjecting himself to being cleansed finds a kind of solidarity with all those who feel themselves or are judged by others, to be less than clean; his passage through the waters, like the passage through the red sea, speaks of a journey from an old life to a new.

That’s because, despite the Docetists and the Aryans, Jesus is at one and the same time, both Eternal Word and mere human being – the idea being that in his engaging with our humanity, he opens up the way for us to engage with God in new and possibly surprising ways: he became one with us that we might be one with God… 

You have probably seen the publicity on the website and the bulletin about the forthcoming mid-week group aimed both at new Christians and those who have a long experience of faith. It’s going to be using part of a course called ‘Pilgrim’ and one element of the course involves looking at some key elements of the baptism service. One of those is the question, “Do you turn to Christ?” and I want to finish by inviting you, in the silence that we shall shortly be sharing, to meditate on that question and what it means for you. How it affects you, not only in terms of its meaning ‘Are you a believer?’ … Have you put your trust in Christ? … Do you follow him?” … but also,

In all of your relationships, in all your dealings with other people, “Does Jesus Christ get a look in? Do you involve him in your internal thought life? What is your prayer-life like? Have you got one? How do you relate to God? In your work situation or in your daily round at home, doing the shopping, on the phone, when you finally get a moment to yourself, Do you turn to Christ?…

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Notes from Steve’s Remembrance Day Sermon

Dying to self / preparedness to die

I’ve been thinking about war. And those go to war for whatever reason: duty fear vengeance love rage patriotism compassion; and whether they are fighting for self, family, friends, country, religion, politics, or whatever.

And my thinking about war raises lots of uncomfortable questions:

We often speak of Jesus preparedness and even his willingness to die to die for the whole world, but how do we respond to men and women today who are prepared to die for others? Pity? Awe? Rage? Apathy?

And we who hate war – what do we feel about those in the forces who go off to fight on our behalf – or at least at the behest of our elected leaders?

And what do we feel for those innocent parties – referred to as ‘collateral’ when they are killed accidentally by a bomb or a shell or when a child is blown to pieces by a cluster bomb they’ve picked up thinking it’s a plaything.

And how do we respond emotionally to those who say that sometimes war is the last, least wanted and universally abhorred but only option in certain circumstances? How do we reconcile the evils of war with sometimes needing to combat and destroy monstrous evil in the world?

Is war ALWAYS wrong/evil? Yes, I hear myself reply. But it also seems to me that when we speak of war we are speaking of where war is conceived – in the human heart; and so is the human heart always wrong/evil? This time I hear my reply is NO! The human heart may be weak and prone to sin but human life even in all its frailty may never be wholly right but is not always wrong and evil… it may be where wrong emanates from but it’s also where love and compassion reside….

In the past I have spoken on occasions such as this and talked about selfless acts of compassion and bravery – like the crew of the little fishing boat deliberately sailing their boat beneath the blazing Piper Alpha gas platform in the North Sea , putting their own lives at risk to rescue a man clinging to one of the support pillars.

Or the story of bravest soldier of the first world war, as he came to be known: In the first world war, soldiers were digging a tunnel to undermine the German trenches. It caved in and trapped them but rescuers dug a narrow tunnel to them everyone crawled out except one lad who was too badly injured to crawl. It was then that one of his comrades, a 43 year-old ex-miner called William Hackett refused to leave and stayed with him while the others all escaped so he wouldn’t die alone in the cold and dark. Before the others could dig their way through again, the tunnel collapsed completely and both died and are entombed there together to this day. William Hackett was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

But today I want to look at us and how we remember acts of selfless courage but link that selflessness to our own behaviour.

We in this country, unlike others around the world even today, are not often called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. Our sacrifices are more often made with regard to our money, our time or our energy in some way and these ways are very important – but they are, in a sense, ‘external’ – they don’t necessarily always touch the inner person…

But what about those times when we find ourselves in conflict, not with an enemy on a battlefield, but when we find ourselves at odds with someone else?

In most conflicts, it seems to me, there are those who want to control, punish, even eliminate others, whether in war or a playground argument, and if we are serious when we talk about creating a better world, the thing we need to give up and surrender is often more to do with our need to be right, our desire to win at all costs – in other words, our pride.

Sometimes it’s brave soldiers like William Hackett that show us the way; sometimes it’s children: In Marcus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’, set in the Nazi era, a young Jewish German girl is sent to southern Germany for supposed safety. During a Hitler Youth rally there is a stampede and she hears her name being called. She looks around and on the ground she sees the boy from her school who has been taunting and humiliating her since she arrived in the town. His ankle is smashed and bleeding from the stampede. She might have laughed at his misfortune but she sees, not a spiteful boy but ‘a wounded animal’ needing care and protection and she immediately goes to him and helps him. Compassion overcomes fear and retribution.

In Keith Hebden’s book ‘Seeking Justice’ he lists the things we need to do to create a just and compassionate world:

Create the future – not just complaining or protesting the past or the present

Love one another – not hating /ignoring/being apathetic towards others

Integrate the self – not just going through the motions externally without engaging the heart and the head and the hands

Initiate the engagement – not waiting for someone else to move first

Consent to loss – not insisting on winning every argument every time

Die to self – not ‘surviving at all costs’ or ‘making sure you end up top dog’ or living by a ‘don’t let them get away with it’ mentality

Dying or living, in these terms, means making a decision about life in a way that dares to say, “I may live (conquer/win/be top dog/look clever but if the cost of that is someone else’s pain, someone else’s unhappiness, someone else’s losing face, what kind of life is it that I truly gain?” What was it Jesus said? “Those who wish to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it”

The fishermen, the soldier, – if they had failed to act on their compassion, if they had ‘tried to save their life’ what kind of life would they have been in effect choosing, I wonder?

Today we remember those who for whatever reason, in whatever circumstances, laid down their lives or had them cruelly taken away for the good of whoever – or no-one – (which is what Jesus meant, of course, when he talked about losing ones life ‘For his sake’)

In countries around the world people are dying for their faith (or at the hands of those who think they are killing in the name of God ) – whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish or whatever. I pray that none of you ever have to make that supreme sacrifice in the same way.

But dare we resolve, out of nothing else but selfless love and compassion, to die to self, be prepared to die, whether physically or figuratively, for the good of the other, seeing all people as children of God, as indeed we are – and therefore in that sense, not enemies but friends. If we can only do that, how much it could change our understanding of the words of Jesus in John 15.13:

“Greater love has no one than this – that they lay down their life for their friends…”

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Steve’s sermon notes for 20th Oct

NOTES FOR STEVE’S SERMON OCT 20TH 2013

Genesis 32.22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3.14 – 4.5
Luke 18.1-8

· Firstly a few words about the readings today and how they are partly at least about prayer and the need to be persistent in prayer:

Psalm 121 asks “Where does my help come from?” and the answer – “From God who made heaven and earth. If you like, a pre-requisite to prayer, knowing who you’re praying to;

· Genesis 32: Jacob at the Jabbok – “Bless me” – grabbing hold of God – even if you don’t know at the time that it is God; being bold, persistent, risking even being rude or selfish. Wrestling with ‘God’, or your conscience, or fate, or your demons… God as a help is in all…..

· 2 Tim 3.14-4.5: Scripture is there as a help … “proclaim the message: people will look elsewhere than God , so carry out your ministry fully – do the work of an evangelist… (meaning tell teach tend transform treasure – 5 MARKS OF MISSION) live out the gospel. To be persistent in these is also a form of practical praying.

· Luke 18.1-8 The judge has no fear of God or respect for people. If he could ultimately grant the woman justice, how much more will a loving God give justice to those who cry out to God day and night. Also an encouragement to those in difficulties – and an encouragement to be faithful in prayer for ourselves and others.

But as well as the traditional exposition of the readings for today I want to talk about a related issue: justice and how we respond to issues of justice today.

Last week Jack preached a great sermon on Jesus healing of the 10 lepers and used the nine lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus, as alternative models for discipleship.

In his sermon he asked the controversial question, “Can the touch of Jesus become what seems to be not a blessing but a curse?”

The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is the story of Jacob at the ford of the river Jabbok wrestling with a strange figure all night. At daybreak Jacob receives a wound to his hip from the figure (who Jacob takes to be God ) who then proceeds to bless him. I found myself thinking, what kind of a message this was… That God can strike hurtfully one moment and then proceed to give a blessing (and then only after much pressing).

That of course is to view these things in very black-and-white terms and there are times and situations when we need to let go of our either-or mentality and see beyond such thinking for the ways in which seeming curses, injustices, disappointments, and so on might, when looked at through the lens of the grace of God, actually bear the seeds of blessing.

In the bible, examples might be Abram’s wife Sarai’s inability to bear children – it was this in part that led to God’s covenant with Abraham and the promise of descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore.

Or the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt which in the end led to freedom in the promised land… ?

And of course God can and does bring good things out of bad but it strikes me that if we start to justify bad stuff by looking at it in retrospect, in the light of good stuff that happens later on, we can get dangerously close to condoning almost anything – and worse, giving the chilling message to those who suffer dreadful poverty or illness or torture in the here-and-now, that one day it’ll all be put right … and in doing so we discount their suffering in the present moment and demonstrate our inability to really empathise with those who suffer.

Back to the gospel story of the woman and the unjust judge:

It seems to me it’s all too easy to judge and to condemn those who may well be guilty as hell; those who absolutely brought it on themselves … but are they not, like us, people for whom Jesus Christ lived and died as he did and shouldn’t that make a difference in how we treat each other, regardless of how good or bad we see other people as??

I watched The da Vinci Code the other night (again) and in amongst all the sifting through clues and codes and things, there was one particular line spoken by a character who turns out unexpectedly to be a baddie: “We tend to see what we look for”

Cue the gorilla in the basketball game! – This is a set-up where people are asked to watch a video of a basketball game between a black-shirted team and a white -shirted team and (on some pretext to with research or similar) asked to count the moves made by the white-shirts. Afterwards when they’ve all answered what they thought was the point of the video clip, the audience is asked if they noticed the gorilla moving amongst the players. People don’t believe it but on re-playing the clip, there, walking nonchalantly through the basketball players, is a man in a gorilla suit. And not one person notices him! We see what we look for – in that case what we are told to look for; and our subconscious mind blanks out everything else!

Is it possible I wonder, that the woman in the gospel story recognised perhaps at an sub-conscious level, something good, potentially, (even something of God, maybe) in the unjust judge? That vestigial bit of him that, though hidden by his bruised and cynical humanity still resembled the God in whose image he was made? Could it have been this that made her persevere in complaining and giving him no peace? Or maybe it was just her plain need for justice. It is just a story Jesus made up, anyhow. BUT:

The important question that I think needs asking is, What do we look for in other people?

· A target for our desire to avenge another’s suffering?

· An excuse to punish someone for an injustice done to us?

· Someone to help perpetuate and provide the pay-off in the self-destructive games we play and replay throughout our lives if we’re not careful?

· Someone to make me feel better about myself, by comparison?

· Other….

Because if we are looking for these, even unwittingly, we are liable to completely miss the hurt child of fifty-something whose selfish, arrogant or hurtful behaviour is hurting him-or herself – behaviour that may be an unwitting cry for help to get out of the pit that they can’t climb out of by themselves. So when I say I am strongly in favour of justice and especially social justice, which is often about finding justice for other people, what exactly do I mean? What am I after?

1. What is ‘just ‘according to the law (Which law? Whose interpretation of the law? Mine?)

2. What I’d like to happen to others (good things – blessings – to those I see as good people; punishment or shame – cursings – to those I see as bad)?

Ø We’re not told what the woman’s case was about; all we know on that score is that she ‘wanted justice’– compare the story of the King and the thief (The king granted the thief, having been found guilty, a boon; he asked for justice, to which the king replied, “Then you shall hang; if you had asked for mercy, mercy is what I would have given you.”) The Christian message contains includes the idea that justice -real justice- cannot be divorced from mercy: “Justice and peace have kissed (or embraced) each other – they have become enmeshed…

Ø So the demand – or even the request for justice is one we should take very seriously and think very carefully about and remember that we are called by the merciful God to show mercy too. And what we expect in terms of justice, for ourselves or others, may be very different from the expectations, the needs, or the desires, of others.

Ø Finally, Jacob says in the old testament reading, “I have seen God face-to face” – and later sways to Esau, “Truly your face is the face of God”. If the face of God can be seen in those who have, or might, cause us pain, let us determine always look for the face of God in the face of every person we meet – whoever they are ‘just or unjust’. We may be surprised at the blessings that ensue.

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Steve’s sermon 25/8/13

The gospel reading today is from Luke chapter 13 – which is basically all about judging.

I’ve been reading a colleague’s sabbatical study on the spiritualities of the Coptic and the Celtic churches – which among other things shared the idea of a Rule of Life that centres on

  • ·Gender equality
  • the importance of the Created order its care
  • ·Self-discipline
  • Communal activity

All of these areas of life call for judgement of some kind.

Life is full of judgements isn’t it? –

Ø Egypt and the conflict between a regime acting on the will of millions of people to topple a seemingly corrupt leadership – and a political group whose democratically elected leader has been summarily arrested and imprisoned…

Ø The partner of the Guardian correspondent who was held for nine hours at Heathrow airport under terrorist legislation without charge or arrest…

Ø The cull of badgers – unnecessary wiping out of innocent defenceless creatures, or essential protection dairy herds…

Judgement always has two parts – our words and actions in expressing judgement (including sometimes saying and doing things we don’t realise give away what we really think, feel, believe) – and the judgements we hold in our minds and hearts.

Sometimes these two don’t match as neatly as we’d like them to… especially in those judgements that affect us more personally; think for a moment. In your dealings with each other and with other people, what are the things that determine your judgements – your intentions, words and actions?

Because among the many gifts that nature in her wisdom has given each of us, is a very strong instinct for survival and this often leads us into conflict, doesn’t it… conflict between our wants and what we know from our discipleship of Jesus the Christ and following his Way, are his wants for us.

In the news over the past couple of days was the story of the British soldier, a bomb-disposal expert, the first foreigner ever to be honoured by the Danish government. This was for an incident that happened in Afghanistan when the soldier shielded his Danish colleague with his own body.

I wonder what went through his mind in the second or so he had to make a decision about preserving his own life or potentially saving the life of another? Maybe you think that that kind of incident is far from your life and the judgements you need to make day by day – But I would argue that it’s precisely this kind of thinking that has to rule everything we do. We Christians talk about the Way of Christ; in our welcome at the start of our Sunday services we often use the words, “Everyone is welcome to receive communion – all we ask is a heart open to God and a respect for the Way of Jesus”… Well we’ve already made a judgement about who can have communion (everyone) – but we also judge that a heart open to God and a respect for the way of Jesus is more deserving than perhaps a tortured heart that knows nothing of God and has never even heard of the way of Jesus…

Judgements – more tricky than perhaps we sometimes think!!

So it was for the poor leader of the synagogue in today’s reading from the gospel of Luke. He obviously had something against the woman who Jesus healed, or maybe he even had a thing about women in general? Or perhaps he was just a mean-spirited man who you just want to slap?

He was evidently defending (rather too hard, you might think) his received religious instruction to keep the Sabbath, and that meant no work of any kind – which for him and many others included healing, As our Old testament reading says:

If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honourable;
if you honour it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;*
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord…

Maybe there is a point here that we miss at our peril: could the leader of the synagogue have been genuinely, even faithfully according to the received teaching, exhorting people to put even their need for healing (or their desire to heal?) secondary to the importance of keeping Sabbath – focussing totally on the things of God to the exclusion of all else? His fervour does seem genuine…

15But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?’ 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

There always seem to be winners and losers when we get involved in judging … in Keith Hebden’s book ‘”SEEKING JUSTICE”, in writing about our response to people we judge to be wrong-doers and how justice and forgiveness are always personal, he says this:

“Finding a way to forgive an offender is often challenging. We have been taught to believe that the natural human response to being offended against is to seek retribution” ­– There has to be payback, punishment, JUSTICE!!

The leader of the synagogue in our gospel reading is a good example of this. It seems to me that Jesus’ compassion for the woman is paramount and rightly so, but what about the man?

What is your response to him? What does the way of Jesus say about how we ought to treat him?

On Jesus’ response to the man’s complaints, the gospel says, “all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”

Well hooray for our side! Jesus is the winner and this horrible man and people like him are all losers.

But let’s look at that again:

When Jesus replies 15But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites (PLURAL!)

And then goes on to suggest something positive – “…ought not this woman be set free on the Sabbath?”

Two points here: firstly, you might say the leader of the synagogue is wrong and needs to be castigated in some way; made to feel shame for his thoughtless and uncaring attitude…

But wait – the Old Testament reading (Isaiah 58. 9 & 10):

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
you shall be called the repairer of the breach!

So if you were to offer the ‘food’ of your compassion to this evidently spiritually hungry man you might say he is just a poor individual whose religious fervour and devotion have led him to make a wrong judgement. So when Jesus replies in the plural, could it be that he is not having a go at this one man in a condemnatory way but is actually talking to a whole Community about getting the right message about making judgements?

Keith Hebden echoes this in his chapter on ‘Making Community Personal’ when he distinguishes between an individualistic outlook on the one hand – and a personal world-view on the other. With Individualism the individual strives to be materially and emotionally self-sustaining; in other words it is based on a selfishness that serves to divide communities and make us dependent on a system that is beyond individual control. Personalism assumes that we have collective needs and an ability to express a consensus; and that this can only be done as we learn to meet one another with personal responsibility. Individualism makes the needs of others less important than our own needs and manufactured wants. Personalism seeks to hear the needs of others and find ways to communicate our own real needs.

And the second point, Jesus asks a really powerful rhetorical question that is designed to help people, (the leader of the synagogue included) to reach the right conclusion about judging between our conditioned responses, and the Way of Jesus… “…ought not this woman be set free on the Sabbath?” 

Whenever we make judgements: whether we are judging others or ourselves, or we are seeking justice for ourselves or others, this question of Jesus’ is the kind of powerful question that challenges our conditioning when we’re tempted to choose habitual practice over what our heart tells us is right… as such it is also the kind of powerful question that is designed to invite us to listen more closely to what actually is there, deep in our hearts… it’s the kind of powerful question that encourages us into a way of being where justice and mercy, in the words of psalm 85 ‘kiss each other’… it’s the kind of powerful question that warmly beckons us to the Way of Jesus.

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The 3-peaks (well ok, one-and-a-bit peaks actually) Walk!

 

THE 3-PEAKS WALK … A REFLECTION

This is a view of Pen-y-Ghent, the first of the mountains on the 3-peaks walk. It’s an imposing mountain set against a clear sky – it’s rather more than imposing when you’re near the top, in dark cloud, lashed by rain and all you can see most of the time are the boots of the person in front! Anyway, confessions first – Pen-y-Ghent was the only one of the three peaks I managed. By the time Burj, Sarah, Andrea, Amy & Daniel  (the serious 3-peakers!) and I got to the famous Burger van at Ribble Head, I knew I had gone as far as I was going to go that day. I was, after all, under strict orders from Simon NOT to overdo it!

Looking back, it was a day to raise the spirits – the weather (after the thankfully short-lived torrential bit at the top of Pen-y Ghent it actually got quite summery!); the views – including of clouds beneath you as you climb and the magic of catching a glimpse of sunlight striking a hillside on the other side of the valley when all around you is wreathed in shadow; the  sight of all the different groups walking for a variety of causes – the youngsters walking to raise money in memory of a young lady who had died; another group walking in aid of a Crohns disease charity – plus many more walkers besides, and of a wide range of ages.

For me, though, there are three things that will remain long in my memory of the day, all of which I think speak of God in some way or other:

Firstly being on a particularly steep, slippery and distinctly dodgy bit of Pen-y-Ghent in cold, driving rain, wondering quite where this was leading – and then noticing out of the corner of my eye the figure of Burj a couple of steps beneath me, arms outstretched, Condor-like, ready to grab me in case I slipped and fell.

Secondly the way the different aspects of planning and preparation by All Hallows’ people all came together: overall organisation, flag-making, food-making or buying and sharing at various points along the way; sponsor-form creating & copying & distributing, lifts, timings, communications, and of course donating –  each little bit of the whole playing its part in making the day the truly memorable experience it was. The sentiment was kind of echoed by one of the group who said, “Every walk, however long or short, is done one step at a time”. Or as we say, some things are greater than the sum of their parts.

All this also served to remind me that working together, doing stuff like this is not only good for us, physically, emotionally and socially; it’s good for the church (a rain-proof building more fit for use by the community as well as for worship is that bit nearer) and is also such brilliant fun, something we need to bear in mind as being an important part of our life together.

Rev Steve's FeetAnd the third thing that will stay with me always is the really wonderful feeling of being in touch with the Creation – ok, sometimes a Creation that was a bit wetter or steeper or boggier than some of us bargained for, but awesome nonetheless to feel and know ourselves part of it, and it of us.

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“Have your say!”

This last week, like a lot of people, I’ve been laid up with a chest cold and I’ve watched and listened to more TV and radio than I normally do in a whole month!

Apart from the aftermath of the death of Margaret Thatcher and the tensions between North Korea and most of the rest of the world, the one thing that’s struck me most coming over the airwaves is the almost constant invitation to ‘Have Your Say’…

It seems that there’s not much going on in the world that you and I are not required to have an opinion about: has the local authority got its social care policy right, did the murderers get a long enough sentence; does global warming really exist, what do you think about the proposed route of the High Speed Train, should we bring back dog licences, should we eat more horsemeat, the list is seemingly endless and we’ve all got to be on one side or another, it seems, and we’ve all got to have our say – let everyone else know where we stand!

Opinion has been sharply divided this week between those who are fans of the late baroness Thatcher and those who are not; on the one hand those who believe she ‘made Britain great again’ and on the other those who like Glenda Jackson see in the Thatcher era’s spiritual legacy “Sharp elbows, sharp knees, greed, selfishness, no care for the weak…” – The one thing everyone seems to be agreed on is that Margaret Thatcher in death as in life divides opinion.

The thing about opinions is that while most people seem to have them, the ones that get as far as the TV or radio are not really listened to – in the sense of being taken seriously; they don’t seem to have any real power or influence; it seems to me they are just there to fill the air-time or maybe to lend some dignity to the idea that our opinion actually matters, if only to ourselves listening to ourselves on the media, being famous.

There are those who look at the opinions of the masses even more cynically: Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

But whether educated or worthy or not, the point of having an opinion is surely to try to persuade others to agree with it and all this got me thinking about what happens when our opinions are just discounted or ignored… and it seems to me that two things tend to happen: Either

1) Frustration understandably leads to anger. The danger here is that if no one heeds our call we can be drawn into letting the sharpness of life make us sharp-elbowed – and that way lie aggression and even violence. OR,

2) Frustration understandably leads to apathy The danger here, like so many broken ex-working communities is to then fall into depression and even into despair.

Opinions are to do with a desire for power or influence and at root I guess they are about making judgements – and judgement is about taking responsibility.

For us Christians, judgement and responsibility are things w of the church for the e need to take very seriously. For us, being the eyes and hands and feet and mouthpieces of Jesus Christ, our opinions, reflected in the judgements we make and the responsibilities we take, speak volumes about just how much Jesus actually influences our lives.

This next week sees the Annual General Meeting of the church here at All Hallows and we shall be electing some of the leaders of the church for the coming year.

You may or may not think that the leaders of the church should demonstrate the same qualities as the late Margaret Thatcher – although one thing everyone I’ve heard who has been thoughtful and gracious in their responses to Mrs Thatcher’s legacy has mentioned the fact that whatever else you thought of her, she took her responsibilities very seriously.

We at All Hallows are a very small congregation in number and it’s vital for the life of the church that everyone here takes very seriously the fact that we all have a part to play in one form or another, whether on the Parochial Church Council, or helping with admin or caretaking or room bookings or cleaning or helping with Kids Church or taking communion to sick people at home or whatever. It’s far too easy to “let others get on with it” and treat the church like a club that you might belong to, but not take responsibility for… because the world we live in, whether you believe it’s Thatcher’s legacy or not, is full of people who need to hear the gospel message from a church that is full of people who take that message, and those people, seriously enough to take responsibility for them.Today’s gospel ends with the three-fold ‘Do you love me?’ question to Peter and the command at each response ‘Well then do something about it – feed my sheep’

Have your say by all means but love needs to be seen in action.

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Some thoughts on the “5 Marks of Mission”

Mission, or Task, is at the heart of what the Church of God is about. The idea  starts with the assumption that belief isn’t just something that goes on internally, either in our minds or within the walls of our church buildings on Sundays, but is to do with transforming what we believe into what we do.

To those who are confused or even frightened by the very notion of being involved in some way in the mission of the church, there have been a couple of helpful developments in recent times:

Firstly there was the introduction of the idea of mission having five ‘hallmarks’: it meant preaching to the unconverted, baptising and teaching new Christians, having an eye to ministry among the needy, a desire to see the world changed through the power of the message of love and care for the created order of which we and all people are part…

Secondly (and thankfully for me and people like me) someone decide to ‘alliterate’ the list (write them down so they all start with the same letter!) to make remembering and understanding these hallmarks easier.

SO – the five ‘marks’ of the mission of the church are:

TELL – this is about communicating to the world around us our experience of the things of God: joy, liberation, generosity, hope, grace, faithfulness, peace, love… When we say ‘Tell’ of course we must remember the words of St Francis “…use words if necessary” . In other words, telling, preaching, proclaiming the message of love is every bit as much about how we live, how we behave, what sort of things we say and how we say them, how much we listen, our patience, compassion, grace, peace, generosity  and so on, as what we merely say.

TEACH – this is about nurturing people who are new to faith, passing on to them something of what we’ve experienced and learnt – and are still learning – for example about trust, humility, mercy, commitment, forgiveness, prayerfulness…  and helping them to experience the things of faith for themselves

TEND – this is about looking to the needs of others, whoever they are, whether we consider them to be good or bad, like or unlike us, near or far, deserving or undeserving

TRANSFORM – this is about having the vision of the world as it could and can be (our local community, family, colleagues – and ourselves) and seeking to help it to grow in love, hope, compassion, justice-with-mercy, peace

TREASURE – this is about having a wider view and respect for the of the whole of Creation and the way its parts are all inter-related and inter-dependent – including us

It’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean that each of us individually is expected (or even be able!) to do all of the things in each of the five areas; these are the ‘Marks’ of mission: guidelines for what the Church  needs to do in order to fulfil its vital task of revealing the kingdom of God on earth – which is the whole point of the church’s existence.

Steve

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Sermon for Advent 4: “O King of the Nations”

Advent 4 Sunday 23rd DecO King of the Nations’

The ‘O Antiphons’ are ancient titles for Jesus we’ve been looking at during the Sundays of Advent. The antiphons are traditionally used as refrains to the reciting of the ‘Magnificat’, or the Song of Mary, at Evensong during the last week of Advent. This week we’re thinking about the Antiphon for December 22‘O King of the Nations’


O King of the nations,
the Ruler they desire,
the Cornerstone uniting all people:
Come and save us all, whom you formed out of clay.

In 586 BC The temple in Jerusalem, (the core of the life of the Jewish people) had been ransacked and destroyed by the Babylonians and some 70 years later, Judea having come under the rule of the empire of the more enlightened Persians, the possibility arose of the temple being restored.

The prophet Haggai, talking about the ruins of the temple , asks the leaders of the people, “Is this a time for you to live in your splendid houses while the temple of God lies in ruins?” “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, I am with you, f6or thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.

This all took place in or around the year 520 BC. And the prophesy would come true at one level in the rebuilding of the temple building shortly afterwards; but the prophesy would also come to fruition in a rather different way five hundred and twenty years later at the birth of Christ.

Because the ‘treasure of all nations’ that would come into the temple would be Jesus himself. When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus into the temple for his ritual presentation, and the old man Simeon took the child in his arms and said, “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel”. This was the true treasure – Jesus Christ, the king coming into his temple.

In every generation the church is called to remember, as we in our liturgy regularly remind ourselves, that we are the temples of God and the idea of God coming to his temple also has this sense of the God of Love coming to each of us: Love taking its rightful place at the core of our lives…

But in the words of the antiphon, He comes to us and to the people of ‘the nations’ – all countries and cultures, as King. So what kind of King would this be? Certainly not the archetypal Emperor-king, invading countries and forcing homage from defeated peoples; as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingship does not derive its authority from this world’s order of things. If it did, my men would have fought to keep me from being arrested by the Judeans. But my kingship does not come from here.” There is the thorny issue of authority here of course – thorny especially for those of us who have experienced the authority of others in a negative or traumatic way. Authority can be seen automatically as being a fearful or bad thing, something to be avoided especially in those who grasp at power and authority or who use their authority for purposes other than for the good of others. There are those in power who ‘demand’ respect because they are basically insecure and there are those who ‘command’ respect because others recognise in them the blend of qualities that go together to form an authority that is natural, God-given, genuine. In Jesus’ case, his authority carries with it the hallmark of genuine-ness and positivity because his kingly authority is shot through with humility and vulnerability. It is people like this that others desire as leaders.

So this is not a case of “Jesus is King of the Nations and therefore has the right to, or desires to, demand that everyone bows the knee and accept his Kingship’; – no of course not. Rather, Jesus naturally has something in common with people of goodwill whatever their origins, nationality or religion and in that sense can be said to be King of peoples from all nations who willingly desire the things that mark his kingship, because the King of the nations has at his heart and the heart of his kingdom the things we know about well and remind ourselves of constantly – love, joy, peace, compassion, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, unconditional acceptance and welcome – these are things that extend beyond the territorial boundaries of earthly realms.

And more than this, Jesus is the ultimate example of a different kind of ‘King-ship’ in the sense of it being the kingship of a man – and a poor man at that – prepared to put his own life on the line – being born to a life of hardship under a tyrannical regime, yet living his life teaching and demonstrating healing and peace and at the end literally laying his own life down for the people he loves – the people of all nations, meaning all people full stop; Being ‘king’ in this sense means using power always and only for the good of others, taking words and concepts like king, kingdom, rule, authority, power, and subverting them and transforming them into things that are good and positive and peaceable.. In this sense he lives out the title ‘desire of nations’ – the kind of leader people naturally gravitate towards – the kind of king people naturally know is good and right; the kind of leader people genuinely like and need and desire.

And if we are willing to become subjects of this kind of king, workers in this kind of kingdom, we become agents of that subversion and transformation of the flawed ethics of this world through an agenda that originates not in any kingdom of earth but from the kingdom of heaven: that of bringing peace and mercy and joy and love to the world.

One more thing: King of the Nations means king of the gentiles – to the Jews this would mean foreigners, outsiders, all of whom were in a sense ‘the unrighteous’. And the stories of Jesus in the bible are certainly enough to demonstrate that he is the natural leader of precisely those people – the ones who are on the outside: poor, disadvantaged, excluded – and even more, the natural leader – the desire – of those who are seen by others – and maybe themselves – as the ‘unrighteous!’…

This to me is the most powerful clue to the real nature and identity of Jesus, ‘King of the Nations and their desire…’

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Sermon for Advent 2: “O Dayspring”

Advent 2: 9th DecO Dayspring”

Readings – Genesis 32.22-31; John 21:1-12;

On this the 2nd Sunday of Advent we continue our look at the O Antiphons’ – the names for Jesus traditionally used as the refrains to the Magnificat in the service of Evening Prayer during Advent.

This week we’re looking at the name ‘O Dayspring’… a reference to the dawn, the beginning of the day.

The traditional Advent refrain to the Magnificat at evening prayer:

O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness, Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death”

And the prayer used throughout the year during Morning Prayer:

The night is past and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind… As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O lord, set our hearts on fire with love for you now and for ever.

It has to be said firstly that morning can be a time when sadly on awakening we are reminded of the reality of the loss of loved people or things – but today I want to focus on the positive emotions morning can bring.

The foregoing prayers speak of the relief of the arrival of the morning after the darkness of night: light to see by; warmth after coldness; being connected after the isolation of the night; breaking the fast – re-fuelling, refreshing; washing, cleansing; colour after blackness; ‘reality’ after the night’s dreams and imaginings…

————————————————————

The Genesis reading concerns the night before Jacob’s return to his brother Esau. In the night he wrestles with someone (it’s not clear who this actually is) and just before daybreak, having prevailed against his opponent despite a serious wound, Jacob receives a blessing. Not in spite of his struggle in the dark, but because of it. He is left maimed but blessed.

The set reading for this week is actually Luke 3.1-6, John the Baptist’s call to people to “Prepare the way of the Lord” meaning to examine ourselves, our lives, and get ready for God to come among us – in the form of the Christ-child as we celebrate every Christmas – but also in the form of God’s Spirit entering our lives afresh with healing and mercy and generosity and peace and joy. ‘Prepare the way’ – an important message, as we start to prepare for the annual festivities, that the coming of God is there for everyone not just at Christmas but at every moment of every day of our lives.

Yet in John 21 we see an alternative way of looking at things: In the gospel the time is morning, just as day is breaking, and Jesus after the resurrection, is acting out, as it were, what he has just accomplished by his death and resurrection – turning the whole idea of religion and faith upside-down; not our dependence upon our goodness or faithfulness or hard work; not our having to clear the way for him – but God’s gift of love given in the form of Jesus Christ, clearly shown for what it is – accessible, gracious, unconditional. And now the call to ‘come and have breakfast’ – the dawn has broken and along with it the power of darkness – and now it’s time to break the fast – prepared, servant-like, for his friends, as we celebrate whenever we share the bread and wine of communion as we shall shortly be doing here.

Morning… the time when fevered minds that are clouded by doubt or disease or despair are enlightened. In David Rhodes’ book Faith in Dark Places, he writes about ‘The Great Darkness’ – those times when God seems far away and prayer of any kind is difficult and we wrestle with our fears, our problems, all those things that in the darkness seem impossible to fathom; and like Jacob at the ford of the Jabbok we may wrestle with our demons and even our God, – as the story from Genesis shows, sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.

…and Daniel O’Leary in “Passion for the Possible” writes, “Naked trust in God alone is a rare, beautiful and final state of soul… it is promised to those who believe that in the depths of winter we finally learn that within us lies an invincible summer ”

So maybe it’s not just that summer is nice and warm and comfortable and we want to avoid, or at best just shudder through winter, making the best of a bad job. It’s in the winter that the promise becomes apparent; it’s in midwinter that we celebrate Christmas! And maybe in our imagery of dark and light, night and morning, it’s not just that dark is nasty, bad, or whatever, and light is nice and good; Meister Eckhart wrote,

In the middle of the night there was spoken to me a word, a secret word…”

Jacob at the Jabbok in the night wrestled with God and was rewarded – injured, yes, but rewarded and when the day was breaking he received the blessing – not in spite of the night but because of it.

Jesus on the beach preparing breakfast for his disciples does so not in spite of the events of Golgotha, certainly not in denial of them, but through them – because of them.

So the name of Jesus ‘O Dayspring’ is not just a happy, bright, sweet title – it’s a recognition that without the night there would be no dawn.

As the dawn brings freshness and warmth relief and enlightenment, so Jesus the Dayspring brings these things to us. The prayer, again, from Morning Prayer: ‘As we rejoice in the gift of this new day so may the light of your presence set our hearts on fire with love for you now and for ever’.

As we rejoice in Jesus the Dayspring bringing us the gifts of God’s grace, of life and light and relief… so may we be fired up with love – mercy, forgiveness of others, grace, – in other words to be like Christ – be to other people like the dawn breaking, bringing to others all the feelings that the breaking dawn brings to us.

And one final word – one of the marks of God’s Spirit is Joy. Thinking about the state of the church generally and some of the sad and tragic events in the world around us, I was reminded of a profound quote from Khalil Gibran’s book The Prophet where he talks about the universally-recognised feelings of warmth and joy that morning evokes; how we need to remember these sentiments!…

…‘In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures, for in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed’.

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Gay Marriage

Gay marriage was one of the items debated at the recent Ripon & Leeds Diocesan Synod.

The discussion was on the motion “this Synod welcomes the affirmation by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury of the Church of England’s understanding of marriage as a life long union between one man and one woman as derived from Scripture and enshrined in its Liturgy”.

This led to much discussion, including issues to do with the definition of marriage and whether or not the Church of England should allow individual churches to perform same-sex marriages in their church buildings. It was heartening to see that most of the speakers spoke positively about gay marriage (i.e. against the motion) and in fact at one point the Bishop, chairing the debate, had to ask if there was actually anyone who wanted to speak for the motion!

After some moving speeches, the general feeling was that wider issues raised by the motion required careful preparation and consideration and that to vote on the motion at this stage would have the effect of closing down, rather than opening up, debate and sensitive listening to one another. It was proposed  and  agreed that this debate should not be voted upon at this synod but carried forward to a future meeting.

The Ripon & Leeds Diocese’s Sexuality Task Group will be arranging a public debate in the New Year.

 

In a recent meeting of around fifty people from several parishes, in answer to the question,

  • “If gay people who make covenant with one another wish to bring their whole selves and make those covenants before God, as the rest of the population already can, should they be enabled to?”the answer was “Yes” by  a ratio of 4:1.
  • Asked if they believed gay marriage would undermine straight marriage and have a destabilising effect on society, the answer was “No” by a ratio of almost 3:1.
  • The answer to “Should having children – or the ability or the desire or the intention to have children – be a pre-requisite for marriage?”  was a unanimous “No”.
  • To “Under the proposed state law, denominations are allowed to permit their individual churches to perform same-sex marriages. Should the Church of England therefore allow each PCC to decide on this for themselves?” The answer was “No” by a ratio of 10:1.

So – a snapshot of the thoughts and feelings of some of the people in the Church of England which shows that the issues surrounding same-sex marriage are not as black-and-white as some would perhaps like. It also shows that the idea of gay marriage is not being rejected out of hand by the people of the Church as clearly as some would have us believe!

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