Author Archives: Rev Steve Smith

The Feast of the Ascension, Thursday 9th May

As a deanery we decided some time ago that since some churches don’t tend to have evening weekday services on some of the feast days, we’d advertise those churches who do, so everyone who wants can join them. We starting with three major feast days, Candlemas, Ascension and All Souls.

A beautiful Candlemas service was held at St Chad’s Far Headingley in February and on Thursday 9th May there is a service to celebrate the Ascension – 7pm at St Paul’s, Ireland Wood on the Old Otley Road.

All are invited!

A gift from the past…

These four stoles (pictured) arrived recently with the accompanying letter from Mrs Rosemary Evans of Bedford. Mrs Evans writes that the stoles belonged to the late Reverend John Frame (vicar of All Hallows 1942-50) and were passed to John’s sister Joyce, who thought we might be glad to receive them.

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The letter goes on:

“After being educated at Reading School, (John) went on St Edmund Hall, Oxford, graduating with an honours degree in Modern History in 1935; his ordination as a priest in the Church of England followed training at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. His curacies in Leeds between 1937 and 1940 were at St George’s and St Cyprian’s churches and during his incumbency at All Hallows church (1942-50) he was at some time Scoutmaster of the 11th Northwest Leeds Group. After leaving the church he taught religion and other subjects for many years until his retirement in 1977, dying in October 1986. I do hope that the stoles can still be put to good us.”

I’m very glad to think that his surviving sister felt that these stoles should return to the church where her brother was once incumbent.

Steve

“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.

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

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…’

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…

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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’.

Waxwings at All Hallows!

WAXWINGS AT ALL HALLOWS

Photo taken Sunday morning 18th November 2012

looking west from All Hallows. The total number of birds in this flock was 53 !

Sermon 18/11/12

“Impression… obsession… fascination”

Hebrews 10:1-14; 19-25 – priests making daily sacrifices for sin… but Jesus died once, for all. This is grace – unlooked-for and undeserved favour, and faith in this gift is what we have in our hearts. It finds its way of expression in “holding fast to the confession of our hope without wavering; provoking each other to love and good deeds and meeting together and encouraging one another”.

Mark 13 1-8

1. A disciple is awestruck by the magnificence of the temple buildings & the size of the stones… and Jesus’ response is that not one stone will be left standing on another.

2. Andrew, Peter, James and John ask about when this will take place – and Jesus launches into a discourse about the end of the world and the final judgement: “You’ll hear of wars and rumours of wars – but that will be just the beginning.”

3. Jesus also talks about false messiahs coming claiming to be Jesus himself – and many will be led astray by them.

These three aspects of today’s gospel seem to me to have a common theme: the things that … impress us, obsess us and fascinate us.

1. Firstly the thing about buildings:- we tend to be impressed by size and magnificence generally – particularly when it comes to human-made structures; buildings that are both huge and beautiful as well as being made for special purposes such as religious worship, often tend to leave people awestruck; I’m thinking particularly of our cathedrals – most of them pretty impressive buildings – but our problem – our weakness – is that too often we can be dazzled by size and beauty and forget what these buildings – like the temple in Jerusalem – are actually for: they’re intended to be places of prayer – and prayer is an activity of the heart and the mind, regardless of where or when it takes place. Remember the conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samaria (John Chapter 4) where the woman says,

“Our (Samaritan) ancestors worshipped on this mountain but you Jews say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” And Jesus said to her, “The hour is coming when true believers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

In other words, outward things will be of no consequence; it is the things of the heart, where true worship and genuine prayer comes from, that really matter with God.

2. Secondly to do with knowing the sings and the times:– we do like, don’t we, to have knowledge – or perhaps the power that comes from knowledge. To know all we can about what is going to happen in the future is natural, of course; it’s part of our human conditioning to grow up learning how to manipulate our environment to our own advantage. But then we get obsessed with knowing how long or short we might live, and knowing what to eat and drink and do – and what not to eat and drink and do – that will help us live long, we hope and expect… we can get obsessed about the future of the world, how long it will be until the oil runs out, the food runs out, time runs out, and what will happen then… we want to know about if and when asteroids might collide with earth, will we make it to Mars or another planet before this one that we insist on polluting day after day finally gives up the ghost… and yet we spend so little time on the knowledge that really is important – knowledge of the love of God, inspiring and empowering not just what we might do as the human race in the future, but what we might be … how we let our knowledge affect the kind of people we are. Colonising the galaxy might be part of our future but we have yet to tame the human heart with its passions for lust and jealousy and greed and war – all the things that are spoiling and wrecking this beautiful world that we’ve been gifted with.

3. And lastly, our fascination with Messiahs – be they religious, sporting, or just some of the ‘celebrities’ that seem to fill the newspapers and most TV shows it seems to me. I wonder if these are the ones Jesus was thinking of because these people and the whole cult of celebrity with its cheap competitiveness and mindlessness do indeed lead so many astray from – what was that phrase from Hebrews again? – “Holding fast to our hope without wavering and provoking one another to love and good deeds and encouraging one another”. Again, the theme here seems to be a focus on outward things: excitement, spectacle, competition, money, success… rather than the inward things of the heart that make for real reasons to celebrate. The tendency to try to find our identity or our security in other people or institutions is in contrast to what we’re called by God to do- to seek and find the Kingdom of God within us, among us, in our thoughts and prayers and actions and relationships as we hold fast to our hope and provoke one another to love and good deeds and encourage one another…

Being impressed by the size and magnificence of human structures

Being obsessed by the power that comes from knowledge

Being fascinated by false messiahs – not all of them religious –

… all things that place importance, and demand us to focus on, and lead us to believe that our salvation is tied up in, these external things, on things outside of ourselves, rather than remembering the kingdom is like a seed within us that needs internal focus and care in order to grow and blossom and produce fruit in terms of provoking each other to love and do good deeds and to encourage one another …

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Here at All Hallows we know about these things don’t we –

1. In terms of buildings, at the moment we have to concentrate on this building more than many of us would like! – yet it is what the building is used for, rather than its beauty or magnificence that inspires us – it’s the mission and ministry that goes on within these walls through the week that makes us want to do all we can to ensure those things can carry on: the groups that form part of the family of All Hallows that are just as important as those of who worship here Sunday by Sunday.

2. Where knowledge is concerned, there is a distinct lack of it at the moment in terms of what the future holds for the church – here at All Hallows, in the Deanery of Headingley, and in Ripon & Leeds Diocese with the possibility of a New Diocese coming our way in 2014 there is much uncertainty. For us, we need to be gathering knowledge about our parish and those places where we live, in order to ; be of better service to those around us. Selflessness rather than self-serving and love rather than knowledge should be our watchword : ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

3. And lastly, messiahs are so mesmerising aren’t they? And for some it’s all too easy to fall prey to the charm of someone who seems to be so much more pious, or ‘good’ or religious or clever or well-versed or whatever… But for us at All Hallows we of all people know that ‘we are what we are’, created as God intended, loved by God, cherished and empowered by God. Many of us have seen or met with so-called messiahs – and seen right through them, because they are all false, except one. And despite all the glittering magnificence, all the knowledge and power, all the celebrity or false salvation the world offers, we set our hearts and minds and lives on Jesus Christ alone.

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!

An extract from one of Steve’s recent sermons…

As a child of 6 or 7, I remember hearing read in church the ‘sermon on the mount’ (Jesus saying ‘”Blessed is this kind of person and blessed are those people…” and thinking about which of the categories I would fit into as I went through life: I wanted most of all to be one of the peacemakers; they were to be called the children of God.

Later on (around 9 or 10, I guess) I read in the bible that some people are given gifts of healing and so I then desperately wanted to be given that gift. Why, at that age I wasn’t sure but looking back it feels like it was again a desire for recognition and approval. Anyway I wanted to be a peacemaker and a healer, to be wanted and needed and loved.

So it will no doubt come as no surprise that all through my life since that time, in every job I have done, it’s been the exact opposite. I’ve learned, slowly and painfully [because I’m a painfully slow learner], about what healing and peace are really about. All my adult life seems to have been about experiencing the exact opposite of peace and healing: my own inner chaos and doubt; my own dis-eases and weaknesses and vulnerabilities –  feeling somehow not entitled to the peace and health of an integrated life. In other words, my own need for healing and peace.

Another thing I learned is that peace-making and healing aren’t things that I always do myself. In fact the deepest kind of inner healing, and the kind of peace that is not just peace of mind but the peace that extends to the depths of your very soul, this healing and peace, I’ve discovered, are gifts of God – and sometimes other people. Often uncomfortable and sometimes painful gifts, true – they arise out of the cauldron of life’s events and experiences and mistakes and misunderstandings and most of all it seems to me, through life’s wounds, sometimes cruel undeserved wounds at the hands of others, sometimes self-inflicted wounds like misplaced guilt or our determination to nurture our hurt or our rage and sometimes even our selfish motives and intentions – cue St James and St John in today’s gospel reading!

James and John want to be given the honour of sitting next to Jesus in Heaven. And in the ensuing heated discussion among the other disciples- evidently about who’s going to be at the top, who’s going to have power and status and so on… Jesus eventually shuts them all up with:

“Whoever wishes to become great among you must become your servant … and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all… because I came not to be served… but to serve… and to give my life… as a ransom for many.”

His crucifixion – his death on the cross was the supreme gift: he gives himself, unconditionally, as the ultimate example of what God is like – that is of course, total, unconditional love.

Jesus Christ comes, as he always has and always does – to give. To give as he always does, selflessly, sacrificially and unconditionally – the love of God in person, showing us in everything he says and does, firstly how much God loves us, and secondly how we ought to live… being bearers of that same selfless, sacrificial and unconditional love. The point being that the sacrificial giving that found its zenith, its ultimate expression on the cross, became the very means of resurrection – new life beyond death – healing and peace like no other, given to us as a free gift.

Looking back at myself as a child, I remember now that wanting to be peacemaker was also partly to do with the thing about becoming a child of God (Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God) and I realise that this bit is about relationship – relationship to God was something I certainly didn’t understand but I seem to have intuitively been attracted to it in some way. And today I know this much – that the real peace and healing we all seek in life has something to do with this relationship with God. With the people in the gospels who Jesus healed, there was an exchange of some sort – he touched something in them or vice-versa … there’s something about healing and peace that seems to need a relational dimension, an interaction of some sort.

For us Christians that relational aspect finds its expression in prayer – not just prayers of asking and thanking, good and proper though they are but our deepest prayers are like the communication in our most meaningful human relationships – those times of being with, getting to know, telling the other how we feel, opening the door of our lives and hearts and sharing our inner selves … when we do that with God we call it ‘Contemplative prayer’, a way of deepening our relationship with God and experiencing the unconditional love of the God who gives and goes on giving…

As a child I wanted to grow up being seen to be a healer and a peacemaker and for a long time, a bit like James and John wanting to book their place at the top table, I wanted to get the gift of healing and I wanted get to be a peacemaker – because I wanted, deep down, to get healing and peace. For those of us who are striving to ‘get’ things now, perhaps for a way forward in life; for some meaning that life has yet to reveal to us; some idea of our true selves as yet undisclosed; some way of being acknowledged, accepted, or maybe for an understanding of the things that have happened in life so far here is a reminder that the answer lies   in understanding that these things come not by our desire to get, but by our willingness to give – and to be given, both the true attributes of the healer and the peacemaker.