Category Archives: Sermon

Sunday 19th January 2020

This Sunday the Rev Hannah Lievesley, vicar at St Chad’s in Headingley will be leading our 10:30am service and sharing her thoughts with us.

Sermon by Rev Dr Angela Birkin 12th January 2020 – Epiphany 1

Notes from the sermon by the Rev Dr Angela Birkin 12th January 2020 – Epiphany 1 – The Baptism of Christ  

Readings

We are in the season of Epiphany and today is the feast of the Baptism of Christ.

The word epiphany comes from Greek and means “revelation from above”, and during the season of Epiphany we discover who the baby whose birth in Bethlehem we celebrate on December 25th is.

Today God is showing us something very important about Godself, about Jesus and about us in the account of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

As, this morning, we are using the account of Jesus’s baptism from the Gospel of Matthew it is useful to summarise what Matthew has told us so far in the first 2 and a bit chapters of his Gospel before we meet the adult Jesus.

In our services we read bits of Matthew’s Gospel here and bits there separated by days if not weeks, so we don’t get the force of the picture that he is building up leading to today’s account of Jesus’ baptism.

It is definitely worth sitting and reading the first three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew – if you do you will read an account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham, which contains four interesting women!

This is followed by Matthew’s narrative of the birth of Jesus which in only 8 verses tells us that Jesus is divine as Mary is with child from the Holy Spirit, but that as the adopted son of Joseph is also a son of David, a messianic title as well as a family description.

Jesus will save his people from their sins as signified by his name, the Greek version of Joshua which is derived from the Hebrew verb to save, Jesus fulfils the words of the prophets in the scriptures, and he is Emmanuel, God is with us.

Jesus will manifest God’s presence with the people he has come to save.

We are so familiar with this story, or we think that we are, and we miss how amazing it is.

But is gets more amazing as the infant Jesus is visited by Gentiles, wise men from the East, who find the child born king of the Jews not in the palace of Herod in Jerusalem but in a humble house in Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth is significant for people beyond the Jewish world it seems.

Then this story which inspires beautiful  Christmas carols and  cards becomes a story of fear and horror and sorrow as the child who is Emmanuel, who will save his people from their sins becomes a refugee from a tyrant and bully who is prepared to kill young children indiscriminately to protect his position. A story that is sadly all too familiar throughout history, but is not the story expected for the Messiah, for the Christ.

When it is safe the Holy Family returns to Judah from Egypt and settles away from Jerusalem and Bethlehem where the children were massacred, in Nazareth in the district of Galilee; not a place you would expect to find God’s anointed one.

Next, we meet John the Baptist in the Judean wilderness, whose dress recalls the prophet Elijah and who is preaching the need for repentance and a new relationship with God. John baptizes those who come to him with the water of the river Jordan, baptism acting as a ritual cleansing, and tells them that one more powerful is coming who will baptise with the Holy Spirit. And this is when the adult Jesus walks into the story.

The one who will save the people from their sins, who is Emmanuel, God is with us, who is the King of the Jews, comes to John at the Jordan to be baptised, insists on being baptised despite John’s protestations that Jesus should be baptising John.

“Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”

As Jesus came up from the water of the Jordan the Spirit of God descended on him and God said, “This is my Son.”

Jesus, the Messiah, Son of David, Emmanuel, Son of God. Matthew tells us all this in just three short chapters.

Three things to note about Jesus’ baptism, three things to be aware of for ourselves.

Firstly, Jesus is baptized at the very beginning of his public ministry. Baptism is not the end of something but the beginning of something new.

The activity of the Holy Spirit is always creative, new and radical. John baptized with water, Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire as John recognised in Matthew 3v11. Jesus experienced the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him at his baptism, and it is the same Spirit who comes to us, empowering, comforting, encouraging and guiding as we step into the future with Christ.

Baptism is just the beginning, but a wonderful beginning.

Secondly, Jesus’s baptism was followed by service to God, service which fulfilled all righteousness, service of self-offering for others. Service described by the beautiful servant song of Isaiah 42 which we heard this morning.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”

Isaiah prophesied and spoke into the context of his own time but from the time of the earliest Christians, Jesus of Nazareth has been seen as the perfect fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesies.

The Messiah, Emmanuel – God with Us is also the Suffering Servant. This is the one we are called to follow, whose way is the way of justice and mercy and peace and forgiveness and love, even love of enemy.

It is not an easy way, and some of our sisters and brothers throughout the world suffer greatly in following the way of Jesus Christ, but we are never asked to walk the way alone for the Holy Spirit is with us.

Thirdly, at his baptism Jesus was not given a to do list by God. God did not say ‘If you do this, then I….’.

God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, greatly and dearly loved is affirmed clearly and unambiguously, and he hasn’t done anything yet except come to John at the Jordan. Everything that Jesus does, his public ministry, teaching and healing, is done in the knowledge that first and foremost he is the beloved Son.

And we are adopted into God’s family in Christ Jesus.

And God loves us, each one of us.

We have done nothing to earn that love, and we can not do anything to make God love us more or less.

God loves us because God loves us because God is love.

God loves you.

Our baptism is the beginning of a wonderful if challenging journey following the way of Jesus Christ, the way of service for others, accompanied and strengthened by the Holy Spirit with the soundtrack of God’s love song “You are my child. You are dearly and deeply loved. I take great delight in you.”

Sermon by Rev Hayley Matthews 5th January 2020 – Epiphany

Notes from the sermon by the Rev. Hayley Matthews 5th January 2020 – Epiphany

Readings:

I was introduced to what3words this week. It’s a little app where the entire world has been marked by a metre square grid that has been given three unique and unrelated words. For example, sat up in my bedroom writing this the three words for my precise location on the bed were disturbing.readjusts.tension* – apt, perhaps, for sermon writing – whereas where I enjoy my morning lemon and ginger tea in the kitchen the three words are insects.performer.taps*. The aim is to help the emergency services locate you so that rather than say, ‘I’m at Bolton Abbey not far from the Strid,’ you can say starting.binds.tutorial and they will be able to locate you and your broken leg much more accurately.

But there’s one Word that covers every square metre of this earth, the universe beyond, and one star that leads us all there, past, present and future, and that word is the Living Word; Jesus born to us as one of us, and yet surpassing us all. But, like all the best things, He is secretly hidden to be found only by the true seeker – and yet hidden in plain sight so that anyone might find the hidden treasure when they least expect to.

Gerard Manley Hopkins captures this perfectly in his poem God’s Grandeur:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

It is a poem that speaks so clearly of the passage in John’s gospel; just as John the Baptist was not the true Light that was to come into the world; just as the good deeds that we do should not point people to ourselves but lift peoples’ attention to a greater Love; just as the glory of the universe scattering the awesome wonder of the Northern lights across our skies is not the Light that brought everything into being; so even the darkness and dirt of life’s journey nor our suffering and sorrows can snuff out the True Light from our darkness, however dark that may be.

Three years ago I was very sick indeed and my recovery was not a given. The treatment was called ‘radical’ and they weren’t joking. Just after my first dose of chemotherapy I was pacing around my garden after midnight in desperate need of fresh air and relief from both pain and sickness. Living alone seemed harder than ever when I felt in such need. Yet it was a beautiful night; the sky was clear and dark, the stars showing off their constellations like diamonds against black velvet. I can still hear the breeze whispering through the many trees that surrounded the vicarage garden. Suddenly I became aware that although I knew it was beautiful, I could no longer feel it; no longer experience it. I realised that somewhere along the road of life the many small darknesses – and some of the bigger ones – had completely dulled my sight.

I could no longer experience or feel the beauty of an exquisite night that surrounded me with all that would once have delighted me. I could no longer see the dearest freshness deep down things – I could no longer experience God. That revelation hit me harder than my diagnosis for it seemed to be saying to me, ‘you may as well be dead, because you are dead to life already; you’re even dead to God’.  It was such a shock after so many years of devoting my life to God’s service – how could I have lost God along the way? He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not recognise him.

Fast forward so many weeks of the most arduous treatment. Again, alone on my bed one summer’s afternoon, unable to move my head because the chemo-radiotherapy made me so dizzyingly nauseated I dare not move a millimetre, I said again the only prayer I could manage; ‘Jesus, heal me, protect me, save me’.

These seven words were my mantra for many months and that afternoon they were no different to any other. Yet, at that moment that sun shone in through my bedroom window in one of those piercing shafts of light where the dust dances like a thousand tiny fireflies, glittering in the light. I watched it, absolutely mesmerised by the beauty of those tiny dust particles in the sunshine – and I thanked God; the God who made even the dust able to take my breath away and fill me with wonder – even there, unable to move on my sickbed.

Better still, I knew at that moment that I was healed – not necessarily that I would recover from either the treatment or the sickness, which, praise God, I have – but that I had had my sight restored. Once again I was able to see the light that had always been around me, that will always surround me; we have seen His glory, the glory as of a father’s only Son, full of grace and truthand from His fullness we have received grace upon grace.

No wonder the writer of Ephesians goes into such a paean of praise! He just can’t help himself as he lists all the benefits we enjoy as blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing

We discover that we are chosen – so important when so many of us are in fact rejected from our own families for one reason or another; that we are adopted into the family of God, sons and daughters of a divine Mother and father who cannot but adore us; I’m not sure I fully realised just what that meant – for me to have been adopted by God – until I adopted my own two children. For God is the One who wills the very best for us and weeps with us over our faults and failings – pouring out God’s very Self on the cross in order to put that right… the forgiveness of our trespasses secured through Christ’s own blood. God’s beloved given that we might be beloved – have you thought about that?

God’s beloved given that we might be the beloved.

Then upon each and every one of us the seal of God’s spirit – that dearest freshness deep down becoming up front and centre-stage; leading and healing us into our futures as beloved sons and daughters of God.

We also discover that we are already part of a plan so much greater than any hope or dream we have had dashed along the way; a plan that in the fullness of time we shall all be caught up in the joy of a redeemed world; a world where all who have sought refuge will find it; where all who have been rejected are welcomed and belong; where all who have been abused or oppressed are freed from the perpetrators that would use and discard them as if they were of such little value when each and every one of us is of such enormous value that Jesus offers Himself that we might be freed –  our inheritance is that of the full goodness of God, why Jeremiah writes that even the priests will be given their fill of fatness writing ‘my people shall be satisfied with my bounty’.

And although at times such scriptures have been used to suggest that there is a religious elite, a chosen few, they have been given for all. These gifts are not just for the precious few; for the good and the great and the Godly, although they too shall receive their share; they are also for the poor, the lost and the broken; for the priest who knows only inner darkness and the mother who fears she may have to leave the children she has only just brought to the light; for the woman who has been so badly damaged she fears her life has been ruined and she might never know love and for the man who fears he may never know the security of a living wage; they are for the child who cares for the adults and for the child who does not know care at all; they are for the prostitute using heroin to get through her next trick and for the man hiding a gun in his Mam’s cellar while the police raid the estate; they are for Her Majesty the Queen, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and they are for the cleaners of Church House, most of whom barely speak a word of English, and who are delighted when we leave our meeting buffet trays for them because we are all too fat to eat any more.

The promise is of comfort for mourning, dancing where there was sorrow, wine, grain and feasting where there have been foodbanks and fasting; that we shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.

I don’t know about your darknesses, whether you have passed through them, whether the world seems bleak for you right now, or whether you’ve ever seen the light at all.

But this I know, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I promise you, it’s true.

I’m living proof.


[* Just in case you have tried Hayley’s what3words and found that she seems to sleep in the ocean or drink tea in the Australian bush fires we have changed the words to protect her privacy though the replacement words hopefully convey a similar meaning! If you try using what3words please remember that if you share the words connected to where you live you are sharing your home address.]

Christmas Day “Sermon” by Rev Heston Groenewald

It came upon the midnight clear 
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to all,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Peace on the earth goodwill to all, from heaven’s all-gracious king – yes please! Because peace and goodwill are things we humans can’t seem to do without help. This feels especially true in these divided weeks after the general election. One day I suspect (I hope) we’ll look back at this point in (Anglo-American) history, and we’ll shake our heads in amazement. We’ll wonder how we got ourselves into such a mess; how we let our society get so ‘broken’; how we allowed our greed and pride and self-interest to go so totally haywire. 

We need a bit of hope to break into this craziness. And that is exactly what Christmas is all about. And that is exactly what this carol (It came upon the midnight clear) is all about. But I’m grateful that the hopefulness of our Christmas carols isn’t just blind optimism. I’m really grateful that many carols are written in a minor key – rather than whitewashing everything with jolly happy jingle bells. And their hopefulness faces up honestly to life’s difficulties and complications. In today’s ‘weary world and sad and lowly plains’ (austerity society? insane working hours/culture?) I’m grateful for the sobering side of Christmas. 

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

 At this point in history, I really need to hear the angels’ song- and I wonder if you do too?? I’m grateful to hear them sing that Jesus, who I love and serve and try to follow, was born in a barn, not a palace. 

I’m grateful that the first people to hear this good news were shepherds – outcasts – not the rich and powerful.

I’m grateful that strangers from the East – from a different religion and world view – were some of the first to perceive this good news, and to honour Jesus with their presence and presents. 

I’m grateful that the angels sang a song of peace to ALL people – but really it was only the sheep and the shepherds that witnessed it. 

I’m grateful for the sobering side of Christmas – the rough broken hurting realistic side.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And warring humankind hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise of mortal strife,
And hear the angels sing.

I’m grateful that God came to be *with us* – Immanuel – in human form, vulnerable as a baby, to share our humanity and all the mess and pain of life. 

I’m grateful to remember that for Jesus during his lifetime, there was neither fame nor power, wealth nor glory. That Jesus’ family was forced to flee to Egypt as refugees. That Jesus would grow up without a penny to his name. That Jesus would die as an enemy of the state, scorned by the crowds, and betrayed and abandoned by his friends and followers.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

I’m so grateful to hear the angels sing about Immanuel – God with us in the reality of human life. He humbled himself to live and walk with us, to share our humanity – and to show us that human life can be a sharing in his divinity. If we are ready to let our self-seeking lives be turned upside down by the endless self-giving love of God. 

This is why God was born in our midst – to invite us back to the path of love which is the blueprint for our truest humanity – love for God, love for our neighbours, love for our enemies, and even love for ourselves. 

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

In these crazy times we live in, I think the whole world needs to hear a Christmas song of peace and goodwill. So this coming year, let’s go share it with them! Let’s be angels (messengers from God) and LIVE this song in love generosity justice and joy. And for this morning, let’s be angels and SING this song of the hope we share: 

It came upon the midnight clear 
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to all,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Sermon by Adriaan van Klinken 22nd December 2019 – “Good God, Meaningless World?”

Notes from the sermon by Adriaan van Klinken 22nd December 2019 – “Good God, Meaningless World?” (Advent 4)

Readings:

The question of the existence of God is one of all ages.
In the scriptures of the world’s major religions, in traditions of myth and folktale from global cultures, in lengthy philosophical treatises, in libraries full of books – human beings for many centuries have been thinking about god – or a higher power, a supreme being, or however you want to call it.
The belief in god, or in this power or being, has taken many different forms and expressions.
Does this phenomenon we now call “god” exist in plurality – are there multiple gods and divinities out there – or is there only one?
Is “god” a person-like figure, or more of an abstract source of being and power?
What is the relationship of this god, or these gods, to the world, to us humans?

The historian of religion, Karen Armstrong, in her book The History of God, documents how the modern western idea of “god” is the result of an evolution of human thinking that has its ancient roots in the Middle East.
Scholars of ancient Middle Eastern cultures show that in the text of the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, we see this evolution taking place.
Traces of polytheism – the belief in multiple gods – are visible in a text that, by and large, reflects a newly emerging monotheism – the belief in only one god.
In fact, the Hebrew word for God, elohim, is a plural, indicating its polytheistic origins.
Psalm 82 suggests that the God of Israel is the presider over an assembly of gods.
The gods of neighbouring people are presented here, not as false idols, but as lower ranked in a divine hierarchy.
Only later in Judaism, and particularly with the emergence of Christianity, the idea comes up that the God of Israel is, in fact, the God of all people.

Although for many centuries human beings have been thinking about “god”, one thing was almost commonly agreed: that something like god or gods exist.
Thus, the existence of “god” itself was out of question – the debate, instead, was about the nature of “god”.
As Psalm 14 boldly declares in its opening, only the fool says in his heart, “There is no god”.
At that time, you were seen as foolish if you did not belief in god.
And the few people who may have been such fools would only say so within the safety “of their heart”.
Making a public statement about it – publicly rejecting the belief in god – could have had serious repercussions.
Indeed, you would be seen and treated as a fool, if not worse.

How have things changed!
Today, the popular idea seems to be that the fool is the one who says, “There is a God”.
Our world is dominated by voices such as Richard Dawkins, whose book The God Delusion became a bestseller, translated in many languages and with millions of copies being sold across the world.
In this book, Dawkins, a biology professor at Oxford, argues that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist.
The belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, that is, a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence.
Dawkins is only one voice among many.
Since the Enlightenment in the 18th century, Western culture has slowly but steadily adopted a worldview in which there is no, or only very little, room for god.

And yet here we are, as Christian believers gathered on a Sunday morning to worship God.
Are we fools?
Is our worship an illusion of the human mind?
Is our belief in God a delusion?

When David (the writer of Psalm 14), writes about the fool who says “there is no god”, he does not so much have in mind a person who rejects the existence of god for intellectual reasons.
Indeed, such a form of atheism may have been unknown to him.
The fool David refers to is a person who leads their life as if there is no God – vile, morally corrupt, not doing good but offending the laws of God with their actions and behaviour.
As the Psalm unfolds, it becomes clear that the fool is the one who “frustrates the plans of the poor”.
He doesn’t care about the poor and those who are suffering.
He is indifferent to God who sides with the poor and the suffering, a God committed to justice and compassion.

David appears to be in despair, as he writes:
“The LORD looks down from heaven on all humankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.
But all have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
A recognisable feeling, perhaps, for those of us who are feeling desperate after last week’s election results.
Personally I do not want to be as gloomy as David – there are many people of good will left in this country, although they may have voted in a different way than I might wish.
But yes, our society, our world, can seem to be dominated by fools in the sense that David has in mind:
morally corrupt, influenced by the powers of Big Money, brainwashed by an ideology of neoliberal capitalism, buying into a consumerist culture that threatens our earth.
Fools are those who frustrate the plans of the poor, who oppose God’s vision of a just and compassionate society.

David’s cry that “there is no one who does good, not even one” also calls for introspection on our side.
We should not just be blaming other people, and call them fools (because of how they vote, how they lead their lives, the choices they make).
We should, first and foremost, think about our own complicity in this immoral world, the corruption of our own heart and mind.
That’s the beginning of a process of repentance, conversion, transformation, and healing.

Is there a link between the intellectual atheism of Dawkins and the likes, and the moral atheism that Psalm 14 writes about?
I’m not suggesting that atheists are immoral.
There are many great people who do not believe in God but are deeply compassionate, loving, justice-seeking.
And the other way around, there are many people claiming to believe in God, indeed worshipping God in church, but behaving as if they could not care less about what God, from a biblical perspective, stands for.
As Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

But intellectual atheism – the rational belief that there is no god – leaves us as humans with little ground to resist the moral corruption of our world.
There is no ultimate reality we are accountable to, there is no fundamental ground for our moral compass.
Our world becomes a place of the survival of the fittest and the strongest – and the poor and marginalised will be left on their own.

For David, the hope that we can overcome the moral corruption of our world, is rooted in his belief in God.
He concludes the psalm by saying “that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!”
David joins a long tradition of prophets and seers, in biblical times and long thereafter until today.
Prophets and seers such as the legendary Martin Luther King who are inspired by a vision of salvation to come, a dream of the world restored and transformed.
That vision does not make us sit down and wait for God to make all things new, but makes us stand up and resist the powers that be and work for a better world.

This vision is also reflected in the song of Mary that we read from the Gospel of Luke.
After Mary has been visited by an angel telling her that she will give birth to the Messiah, she bursts out in a song:
“My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour / for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
This song, often referred to in Latin as the Magnificat, has become one of the most famous ones in the Christian tradition.
It sings of God turning the world upside down – with rulers being taken from their thrones, while the humble are lifted up; the hungry being filled with food, while the rich are being sent away.
God wants our world transformed, the inequalities in our world levelled out, a vision of justice and compassion to be materialised.

The Magnificat is such a powerful song because it is not an abstract manifesto of social renewal, but is born out of Mary’s personal experience.
She was a young woman of insignificant descent, who became pregnant out of wedlock, with her fiancée ready to leave her.
Yet she was chosen to bear this precious child, the Son of God.
It is her personal experience that grounds her faith in God restoring the world and elevating the humble and poor.
Just as for Martin Luther King, his personal experience of being affirmed in his blackness grounded his faith in God giving freedom to all black people.

Personally, I’ve never been too bothered about the intellectual question of the existence of God.
One can have long philosophical and scientific discussions about all the arguments for, and against, the existence of God.
But in the end they don’t lead anywhere.
Because faith in God is not a science but a relationship born out of the encounter with the divine through which we are affirmed, elevated, and nourished.
Faith in God is not a science but is about imagination, the ability to imagine a different reality than what we see with our eyes, what we read in the newspapers, what we watch on TV.
This imagination is not just wishful thinking.
It is born out of our experience of God – not God as an abstract supreme being far away in heaven, but God as the heart of our reality.
God is not far from any of us, the apostle Paul preaches at the Areopagus, in Athens, Greece – the centre of philosophical debate at the time.
God is not far away from us, as the Greek philosophers tended to think, but God is the reality in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17, 28).

This would be the beginning of my response to Dawkins and the like, who argue that the supernatural God is a delusion.
I think of God, not so much as a supreme being out there who enters into our universe occasionally to solve things.
With Paul, I’d like to think about God as the ground of our being, as an encompassing Spirit – the one who is all around us and within us.
In the Christian tradition, we believe that this spirit is personal, in the sense that it is relational.
We can be, and we are (knowingly or unknowingly) in a relationship with this God, because the divine spirit breathes in us (to use that biblical metaphor of creation, where God breathes his breath in the first human being calling them to life).
In the Christian tradition, we also believe that this spirit, this divine breath, has been embodied to the fullest in Jesus.
Born in a manger and dying on a cross, he made God visible in the midst of this world, vulnerable but strong in his radical love and compassion.
If God is the heart of reality, Jesus is the heart of God, revealing the mystery of God.
He embodies the salvation coming out of Zion that David speaks about in Psalm 14.
In him God restores humankind, renews our spirit.

Are we fools to believe in this God?
The apostle Paul suggests that we might be:
the gospel of Jesus Christ is foolishness to the world,
but to us who believe it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1, 18)

God of mercy, God of grace,
Give us eyes to see.
Eyes to see your smiling face,
Within the mystery.

Sermon by Toby Parsons 10th November 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 6)

Notes from the sermon by Toby Parsons 10th November 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 6) and Remembrance Sunday

Readings:

“I’ve forgotten where I’ve put my keys – again”
“What on earth is that person’s name, who I’ve already been introduced to three times?”
“Which of my seventeen passwords have I used for that particular online account?”
Sometimes we can’t help forgetting things. And of course medical or age-related loss of memory can be extremely difficult for family and friends, as well as the person concerned. Conversely some memories, particularly painful ones, can be hard to put away, even if we want to.
But on some levels we have a choice in what we remember, certainly in what we commemorate. As a country – and beyond – we come together this Remembrance Sunday to acknowledge those who have suffered and died in conflict. And as Christians we remember the death of Christ, celebrated in the Eucharist.
Today, we’ll be weaving together some thoughts on both Remembrance Sunday and the Eucharist. And to do that, we’ll focus on three themes – sacrifice, pain and promise.

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, guns that had injured, maimed and killed almost ten million soldiers fell silent. Battles that had raged for 51 angry months ceased. It was a moment of quiet to bring to an end four years in which the huge technical and mechanical advances of the nineteenth century were perverted into creating tools of death and destruction on an industrial scale.
The enormity of the numbers can overshadow the individual stories, and the individual sacrifices. I suspect some of us approach Remembrance Sunday with a slight hesitation. We may find some tension between feeling that we’re commemorating war or violence, and our longing for peace. We may wonder about the justness, or otherwise, of the causes are fought for. But if we think about the very real people who took part in any conflict, we see them recognising something bigger than their own needs and welfare. Whether we look at the soldiers who fought; those who worked around the clock in factories; the not-so-old children who cared for their younger siblings as their parents weren’t at home; in all these situations there’s an example of selflessness, of sacrifice.
In some cases, that resulted in them paying the ultimate price, at least in earthly terms. They remained committed to what they were doing, and to their comrades, even to the point of death. And that selflessness is something which we can affirm; putting others first is hard, in any situation. But millions did, and we remember their sacrifice on this day.
And if we turn to the Eucharist, sacrifice is of course a central theme here too. How we see Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross could be a series in itself – was he literally taking on our sin and dying instead of us? Was he showing the limitless power of love, and in doing so creating an example that brings us back to God? We could find many discussions about the nature of Christ’s sacrifice, from early Christians through to medieval figures like Anselm of Canterbury, and onto today’s theologians. I’m not going to try to unpack what exactly we mean by “Jesus dying for us” – how we see that is perhaps part of our personal relationship with God.
But I think most Christians could readily agree that Jesus’s death was sacrificial, in that he chose to give up something important and valuable in order to get or do something more important – that’s pretty much the dictionary definition of “sacrifice”. He gave up something important or valuable (his life) in order to achieve something more important (our redemption, our freedom, our relationship with God).
And isn’t that the amazing thing? That he chose to die for us. And that the “cause” he died for wasn’t the victory of one nation over another; it wasn’t the enforcing of one political ideology; it wasn’t even the defeat of a dictatorial regime. His sacrifice was about us – each of us, individually, as human beings loved by God.
So sacrifice is one of the things we remember.

We’re going to pause at this point, and we’ll come back to think about pain and promise. But as we now approach 11 o’clock, we’ll listen to a recorded version of It is well with my soul. It will then be faded out and a chime will mark the start and end of two minutes of silence.

Tomorrow will be 101 years since the armistice that brought the First World War to an end was signed. The tradition of a two minute silence on the 11th of November began the following year, 1919. The next day’s edition of the Manchester Guardian included the following description of that first silence;
“The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect.
The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.
Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.”
Pain. Anguish. Grief.
Many of the images of the First World War (or indeed the Second, or other conflicts) which we’re familiar with convey a sense of horror. But even so, we can underestimate the pain which so many would have felt – and so many feel today. In November 1919, parents would still have been grieving the children no longer sitting in the empty chair; ex-soldiers would have been re-living terrifying moments in their nightmares, as well as enduring physical pain. And the whole community would have been reeling from the indiscriminate flu epidemic that had taken hold and which killed more people worldwide than the war. People were hurting, intensely and in many ways.
And if we turn to the eucharist, there’s certainly reverence and reflection. There’s perhaps also chaos and a bit of fun – certainly if you were here for the eucharistic meal we prepared and shared together three weeks ago! And we do have space set aside for healing prayers each week, recognising the pain we may wish to bring before God.
But I wonder if we sometimes gloss over the pain experienced by Jesus when he broke bread and shared the cup of wine with his friends. He was facing death. And not a quiet passing, surrounded by family – incredibly hard though that still is. He was to be betrayed, humiliated, abused, and crucified. The pain – the mental anguish of anticipation; the physical suffering of the cross – would have been intense. And Jesus, as God made human, would have felt that, just as we would have done.
And, whilst terrible, isn’t that a second amazing thing? That God has experienced and knows all-consuming pain. The pain that was there in the First and Second World Wars and in countless conflicts, and which is so evident is our world now. It’s a reality, but it’s a reality that God shares with us.
So pain is one of the things we remember too.

“The war that will end war”. That was the title of HG Wells’ book about the conflict that had just stated, published in 1914. Despite the cynical or ironic slant given to the phrase in subsequent years, at the time it represented the optimism and belief that humans could move forward to a peaceful era. Woodrow Wilson, the American president who led the United States into the war in 1917, subsequently committed himself to establishing the League of Nations, as a way of bringing countries together through diplomacy, to ensure peace. Not much more than twenty years later, the world was again at war.
Thirty years ago yesterday, the fall of the Berlin Wall was being celebrated as the culmination of the largely peaceful transitions that were taking place across Europe. Millions of people felt that times were changing in a fundamental way, in a way that created new hope and promise. In the words of two East German citizens who lived through that day;
“But what I see today doesn’t just take my breath away, it leaves me reeling: the Wall is open! I can’t believe it.”
“It was the joy and the release, the surprise of it all, and the thrill of it being a shared experience.”
And yes, Germany was reunited a year later, and for many people new possibilities emerged. But walls haven’t gone away. Perhaps the ones we’re most familiar with are focused on keeping people out, rather than in, but they’re still very much there – on the Hungarian / Serbian border, or on the American political agenda. There are new walls that impose barriers, that insist upon division.
We try to learn from our experiences, from history itself. We make promises about what we will or won’t do again. We hope for the future. And it would be a pretty bleak world if we didn’t. But we find it so hard to keep those promises.
And if we turn to the eucharist, we see promise there too. Not a promise that all will be well immediately, for we know that sacrifice and pain were very much part of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. But a promise that God’s love is eternal, unlimited, and sufficient to overcome the darkest moments, even death itself.
In the very first week of this Eucharist series, Paul spoke of signs of hope and signs of love. Of a meeting place for God and people – who are sat down together, sharing food and wine, listening to one another and caring for each other, sharing one another’s joys and burdens, recapturing God’s plan for all of Creation.
And when Anna talked the second week about kingdom economics – how the Eucharist should challenge materialism and consumerism – she reminded us that God sees our intentions for good, and that even if we don’t hit the mark every time, even when we buy something unethical or fail to invite our neighbour in for tea just because we are tired, there is always forgiveness and grace.
And that’s the third amazing thing. That God’s promise holds true, even though – perhaps because – we struggle to keep ours.
So promise is one of the things we remember this day.

Sacrifice, pain and promise. We remember them in particular this Sunday each year, but we also remember in the eucharist throughout the year.
And I just want to finish, both this sermon and this series, by thinking about where that remembrance leads us.
We’re used to the familiar words of the communion service – “do this in remembrance of me”. I guess the instinct is to think of “do this” as meaning “break bread and share wine”. And undoubtedly bread and wine are central to the Eucharist. A fortnight ago Angela touched on the different beliefs about what happens to the bread and wine during the prayer of consecration, and the different practices for communion that can result. The sharing of bread and wine is a simple but powerful act, and is part of our remembrance of Jesus. But can we also read the instruction “do this in remembrance of me” as referring to the action, the sacrifice, that Jesus was about to make following that very first communion?
“Do this”…
“Do as I am doing”…
“Show the unconditional love that I am showing to my disciples and for the whole of humanity”…?
Few of us would be able to literally pick up our cross as Jesus did, and thankfully we’re unlikely to be asked to, although some of the information Jan shared last week about current persecution of Christians around the world was sobering.
But we are asked to think about how we act in this world. Our hymn at the end of today’s service will be For The Healing of the Nations. It was written by Fred Kaan, a man who spent his teenage years in occupied Holland during the Second World War. Its words touch on hatred, dogma and unequal sharing. But it highlights God’s love too, and it prays “to a life of love in action help us rise and pledge our word”.

Remembering matters.
And whilst you’ll be pleased to know that the next part of the service isn’t an exam paper to test what we’ve all remembered from this six part series, please do take the time to reflect some more. There are several books linked from Phil’s mini-website about the Eucharist, as well as all the sermon texts. And there’ll soon be some notes and questions that could be used in Rainbow groups or house groups. Have a look, and see what’s useful to you. But above all, when we come to receive communion, Eucharist, mass, the feast of life, or whatever we choose to call it; when we break bread in the name of Christ, let us remember the sacrifice, pain and promise of when Jesus broke bread for us.

FINAL HYMN: For the healing of the nations (Fred Kaan)

For the healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action help us rise and pledge our word.

Lead us forward into freedom, from despair your world release,
that, redeemed from war and hatred, all may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness fear will die and hope increase.

All that kills abundant living, let it from the earth be banned:
pride of status, race or schooling, dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice may we hallow brief life’s span.

You, Creator God, have written your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness bring the life of Christ to mind;
that by our response and service earth its destiny may find.

Sermon by Dr Jan Betts 3rd November 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 5)

Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts 3rd November 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 5- Forming an Alternative Community)

Readings:

We ask that all that I say and all that we hear be filled with God’s  guiding spirit of truth.

At All Hallows we have spent the last four weeks journeying through some different aspects of God’s fellowship meal which we call the Eucharist. We have heard some fascinating bits of its history, and how it relates to a divine economy of sharing and we have had a meal together. Today, just after All Saints’ Day,  we come to why the Eucharist is a huge shout out for us  to be part of wider communities than St Chads, St Michael’s or All Hallows or even all of those together.

As Angela reminded us last week, Eucharist means ‘thanks’.  it is a thanks giving for the love, the life the death and the resurrection of Jesus. If you go to Greece on holiday ‘efkaristo’ is still how you say ‘thank you’. So we come to this holy event to meet Jesus our God giving thanks for all that he has given me, you and most importantly, and sometimes lost,  us.

We often focus on the personal and individual in the Eucharist. One of the ways in which I came to see how deeply transformative and healing this individual personal meeting with God in the Eucharist is was long ago. I had still born twins, and didn’t know how to grieve for them but one day, several years after, someone said to me ‘did you have names for them?’  When I said yes, she said ‘take them with you to communion’ so I did, and it has been my practice ever since to bring very difficult situations, either mine or others’, to that moment of receiving bread and wine.  Situations can be healed and transformed by the reminder and experience of the hope that is in Jesus.

That’s us personal, the blinding object usually at the front of our consciousness.

However here at All Hallows, in our communion, our community meal, we have a circle, which emphasises that we have a Eucharistic fellowship, a community of believers. We are together as people who want to follow Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life. To do this is to take a political – with a small p – stance, as has been pointed out by Tim Gorringe (in the book which was the starting point for this series) and many others over the history of the church. What we do here is to say that we are one with Jesus in his desire to be against all injustice, all exclusion, all hatred and all scapegoating. It was not for nothing that the first Christians were known as People of The Way. Jesus sets out a very particular Way, and our first reading from Acts showed the early Christians in fellowship together and caring deeply for each other.  We all together as well as individually bring our whole messy lives, social, emotional and behavioural to this reminder of the Way of Jesus and we ask to be changed by it as part of the body of Christ and not just individually.

However…..Our churches are one part of our community but the alignment with the love of Jesus, which we affirm by coming to communion, leads us into many others.

Within our own community here at All Hallows we welcome to the Lord’s Table anyone who has a heart open to the way of Jesus and we define it no further and no less than that.  We also welcome other communities here, not just to worship but into all sorts of other activities.  LGBTQI,  ecology,  asylum seeker support, refugees, people suffering from addictions of all sorts, people who are hungry and marginalised, our interfaith brothers and sisters, are all our concern,  and I’m sorry  but I know I’ll have missed loads. And in case that sounds like a whole heap of hard work, we also take our Jesus shaped attitudes into less tough places, our places of work, fun and relaxation. Jesus wasn’t averse to eating out, he just unashamedly took his attitudes with him.

These communities are all good and right to be involved with. However today I want to share with you a passion of mine for another community of saints, as we are all saints.

Around the world, and especially now in the global south,  there is probably no single minute when someone somewhere is not coming to this same  feast of life that we share. There are Christians all over the globe: Paul on his journeys to spread the Way of Jesus founded many of the first communities, and he loved and kept in touch with them and nurtured them. I chose the reading from Corinthians because in it Paul gives thanks for the prayers of those who stand with him as his brothers and sisters through hardships of all sorts.

We have a community of worldwide brothers and sisters in Christ’s family, part of Christ’s body as we are part of Christ’s body, many of who have paid or are paying a great price for their commitment to the way of Jesus. In December 2018 the Archbishop of Truro was asked by the then Foreign Secretary, (one Jeremy Hunt….) to produce a report on the scale of religious persecution around the world, and more specifically persecution of Christians, and it was published in July this year. You can find it very easily online. https://christianpersecutionreview.org.uk/report/ It’s really sobering reading.  I’m not going to harrow you with stories but they are legion, from Boko Haram to Syria to N Korea and China.

The academic in me needs to say that his report is based in large part on the work of organisations such as Open Doors, the Pew organisation and Aid to the Church in Need in the US, all longstanding world watchers in this area.

It concludes among much else that ‘approximately 245 million Christians…suffer high levels of persecution or worse, up 30 million from 2018’ and that ‘in some regions the level and nature of persecution is coming arguably close to meeting the international definition of  genocide according the that adopted by the UN.’ And that 80% of all religious persecution is directed at Christians.

Now we know Christians who are fleeing persecution because we meet them as asylum seekers in our churches. We have some here. And we used to have a brother from the Philippines who would ask us to pray for those who were being persecuted there, his friends…not some random statistic but his friends. How would we feel if Heston or Tony were imprisoned for being our ministers?  If our Christian children were not allowed to apply for university places? If we knew that the eradication of Christians was one of the main objectives of an extreme group in the UK, as it is in Iraq, Syria, NE Nigeria and The Philippines? if we were persecuted as Christians for standing against illegal activity by the government as in Central America? Would we not want Christians from other countries to stand with us and pray for us?

But almost the most telling comment in this report comes from former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the house of Lords: ‘The persecution of Christians throughout the much of the middle East,  sub-Saharan Africa and Asia and elsewhere is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I’m appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked’. This echoes the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal ‘does anyone here hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before someone comes to our aid.?’ Archbishop Nicodemus Dawood Sharaf of the Syrian Orthodox Church, said that “there are many diplomatic missions only seeking to inquire of our situation without actually providing any assistance.” Against this backdrop, academics, journalists and religious leaders (both Christian and non-Christian) have stated that, the global persecution of Christians is “an urgent human rights issue that remains underreported”. The report speaks of the “paucity of awareness of the challenges facing the Christian community” and highlights the lack of religious literacy among Foreign Office staff.

I wonder if any of you are thinking that this sounds like a political comment and here we are in church thinking about the Eucharist. What has the Eucharist got to do with this?

Well, we take the bread and wine as the Body of Christ, we describe ourselves as one body and surely we are part of the body of Christ who we don’t see, with those who have the courage to wear a Jesus T shirt in public when they know there will be more consequences than a raised eyebrow.  I feel so strongly that they need our support as fellow believers. You might argue that all persecuted people need our support: yes of course, and the Report is at great pains to say that, but again as the report states, this is not about special pleading for Christians, but making up a significant deficit in world attention – and our attention.

Paul wrote that he was grateful for the prayers of his fellow believers who clearly knew what was happening to him and we can at least keep ourselves informed and pray.

I have felt stumbling and incoherent as I write this sermon, because I feel increasingly deeply about this subject and that I cannot ignore the body of Christ outside my little boundaries. We make our memorial of Jesus’ death together with all Christians: is that part of the body which suffers not part of our community as well?   In their brokenness can we not be part of their hope?  This community of persecuted saints, who take Jesus body and blood as we do,  is rarely mentioned among us and they are inspiring and inspired by the same Spirit who inspires us.

Jesus’ body was broken for us and for all, to transform us into channels of his love in the communities to which God invites us.  Thanks be to God, Efkaristo.

Find out more.

https://frrme.org/    Fellowship for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. An amazing organisation based in Iraq, who do everything from building football fields in Irbil, medical support throughout Iraq, contributing to peace talks with leaders of all faiths throughout the Middle East… check them out, support them

https://www.opendoorsuk.org/  another fantastic organisation both helping on the ground and being a source of data through their World Watch work.

https://acnuk.org/  Catholic based organisation, who again do brave and inspiring work on the ground and through data gathering.

https://barnabasfund.org/en/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw9fntBRCGARIsAGjFq5Fw_0mvD4Hb_ZTM0lKsOYTnjjE99O6Nz2D-sQiX7BI3j6aQveY1Xh0aAvCgEALw_wcB

This one was kindly brought to my attention by Bob Shaw from ST Michael’s. Thank you Bob.


If you would like to find out more about this series then please visit Phil Gardner’s site.

Sermon by the Rev Dr Angela Birkin 27th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 4)

Notes from the sermon by the Rev Dr Angela Birkin 27th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 4)

Introduction to the Eucharist

We are here this morning to celebrate together the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or the Mass.

In celebrating the Eucharist, we will be drawing on traditions some of which go back to the first Christians, some of which are more recent, many of which have been rediscovered and recovered in the last century or so.

Such as the wearing of vestments – which were derived from clothing worn by civic leaders in the Rome of Emperor Constantine and were adopted by the new official religion of Christianity, taking on a new significance.

Our music may have its origins in medieval plainsong, choral music of the renaissance, the hymn writing of the 18th and 19th century, local folk music or modern pop and rock music and may be played on the organ, the cello, the guitar, the piano, drums or any number of other instruments or no instruments at all. Music may be played live or be recorded.

We may or may not light candles, burn incense, or process around our church buildings.

Our church buildings may be large or small, old or modern, very many such as St Michael’s and St Chad’s and the previous building on this site were built by the Victorians in the gothic style. Our buildings may have stained glass windows, icons, statues or other works of art or may be very plain.

We may bow, kneel, cross ourselves, genuflect or put our hands in the air at various points in the service or we may not. We may use computers and TV screens utilizing PowerPoint with video clips or we may use worship booklets or folders. None of these are right; none of these are wrong. None of these are essential, all have a place in Christian worship

What occurs here may look very different to what is happening this morning at St Michael or St Chad’s but is essentially the same. And is in fact essentially the same as the worship that will take place in Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic Churches all over the world and has taken place in churches back through the centuries.

We gather together with a President, there are readings from the New Testament and possibly from the Hebrew Scriptures, the OT, there is a sermon or talk or reflection, we pray together and share the peace, bread and wine are brought to the table, the president gives thanks over them and they are distributed to those present, and may then be taken out to those who are not present for example due to sickness. You’ll be glad to know that a collection was taken from very early times.

Within an Anglican service the prayers will usually include confession – saying sorry, praise, and intercession for others, and the prayer over the bread and wine, the Eucharistic or thanksgiving prayer will be one approved by the national church.

All prayer will be in the name of the triune God praying to God the creator, through the Son in the power of the Spirit.

Spoiler alert for part 2 of my talk later but I believe that God, the one true God who is love is present in a very special way in this service and that has consequences!

Readings:

Andrei Rublev’s famous icon Abraham’s three visitors at the oaks of Mamre

Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of Abraham’s three visitors at the Oaks of Mamre

2 quotes from our reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians written probably around 54 to 55AD so only just over 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, “Do this in remembrance of me”, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

I find it a bit mind boggling, thrilling and very moving that in this Eucharist this morning we are worshipping God and remembering what God has done for us through Jesus Christ not only in the same way as Christians all over the world today, but also in the same way as the first Christians at the time of Paul; breaking and sharing of bread and drinking wine. Not exactly the same of course but there is significant continuity.

Bread and wine were normal elements of a Jewish meal at the time of Jesus, and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the early church appears to have developed out of a whole range of associations between Jesus and eating and drinking:

  • The last supper of course, but also
  • Many meals with all kinds of people during Jesus’ earthly ministry
  • Miraculous feedings by Jesus – the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story of Jesus that is recorded in all 4 Gospels
  • Jesus’ use in his teaching of the picture of the kingdom of God as a feast or wedding banquet, and
  • The resurrection meals – several of Jesus’ resurrection appearances are accompanied by eating such as the meal with the two disciples at Emmaus which we have heard this morning

The first Christians probably met in private homes to share the bread and wine, but when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine church buildings were constructed using the template of the basilica, a secular building rather than the template of the pagan temple, and keeping of the Lord’s Supper settled into a weekly pattern on the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection.

I am not going to recount 1500 years of church history you will relieved to know, but as Anglicans we need to be aware that the Church of England is both reformed and catholic, and therefore contains individual congregations with very different styles of worship and different beliefs about what happens to the bread and wine during the prayer of consecration.

Indeed, any given congregation is likely to include people with different views about the bread and wine which will affect how they receive them. If a church or an individual believes that there is an objective change in the bread and wine, they will tend to be very careful in how the bread and wine are shared, preventing spillage as much as possible and will treat consecrated bread and wine with reverence.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who was hugely responsible for the Book of Common Prayer which is still a very important prayer book of the Church of England, believed that the bread and wine don’t change at all, but that, as we receive them by eating and drinking, we truly receive the body and blood of Christ in a spiritual way. As Cranmer put it, we “feed on him in our hearts, through faith.”

Whatever our own understanding of what happens when we receive the bread and wine it is important to know that everything we receive at the Eucharist is the gift of God, and is the result of the grace and love of God.

At this point it is also important to say that to receive the full benefits of Holy Communion you do not have to receive both the bread and the wine. In eating the bread or in drinking the wine you make your communion, and the smallest portion is sufficient. This can be very important if a person is unwell or otherwise limited in what they are able to eat and drink.

How often should one receive Holy Communion? That is for the individual to decide. How often we make our Communion does not necessarily indicate how highly we value Holy Communion as those who receive once a quarter may prepare themselves very thoroughly for doing so seeing it as a high point in their Christian journey. In the Church of England non-Eucharistic services such as those of said Morning and Evening Prayer, and sung Matins and Evensong allowed people to worship God and to prepare themselves for the sometimes rarer service of Holy Communion. As a child in the choir of my local church I experienced the service of Holy Communion only every other Sunday, with the service of Matins on the other Sundays.

Over recent decades the Eucharist has been affirmed as the regular main Sunday service in the Church of England, but now some churches are looking again at having a non-Eucharistic service as their main Sunday service perhaps with a said service of Holy Communion earlier or later that same day. This happens at St Chad’s as once a month their Parish Praise service at 9.30am is non-Eucharistic but follows their regular 8am service of Holy Communion.

So, with alternatives available – why the Eucharist?
It is a gift to us from God. In baptism we are incorporated into the body of Christ in a once-for-all sacrament; the Eucharist is the sacrament of ongoing incorporation, where Christ takes us to himself by giving us his very self. In the Eucharist, as in his earthly life, Christ comes to be with us, and through his presence, to unite us to God and to one another.

In the Eucharist we are all guests at God’s table, Christ is the host, the priest is not the host, Christ is. In Andrei Rublev’s famous icon Abraham’s three visitors at the oaks of Mamre are seated around a table on which there is a bowl which resembles a chalice. Jesus is in the centre, the person of the Holy Spirit to the right in robes of blue and green, the person of the Father, the creator in rather diaphanous robes to the left. There is a place for us for each one of us at this table. We are all invited, each one of us, and that invitation, that gracious invitation from God to each one of us gives us all dignity in our individuality.

We are all affirmed by God, and therefore we are to affirm the value of each other, of all people, and in our Communion with God we are to become a community, affirming and supporting each other. We are helped to do this by God who comes to us in bread and wine, and who in the person of the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and minds if invited.

This physical demonstration of the equality and dignity of all people before God in the Eucharist was important to the first Christians when many were poor or slaves, and that importance is still great today.
We are physical beings with bodies and the fact that in the Eucharist we not only say or think something, but also do something in remembrance of Jesus is significant. As much as I enjoy singing and hearing a good sermon the use of action, of symbol, of something that is tangible can greatly enrich our worship and our understanding of God’s grace.

For example, I was very struck by the reflection of Father Christopher here on Maundy Thursday that when we lift our hands to receive the bread or the cup we often form our hands into a cradle as if to receive a baby or to cradle the head of someone who is ill or dying. The bodily action of receiving the broken body of Christ into our cradled hands can speak to our hearts like nothing else.

And when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we utilize our senses of taste and smell and sight – receiving Holy Communion is a very bodily experience as well as a profound spiritual experience.

I also know from personal experience that being brought Holy Communion at home when unable to attend services due to illness is hugely important in the demonstration of worth and dignity in the sight of God and the community of God’s church, and of the presence of God in all circumstances good and bad.

Receiving from God and forming community with each other is not the end of the Eucharist however, for accepted and affirmed by God, fed and energized by God we are then sent out to take God’s saving love into the world in thanks for all that God has done for us. The word ‘Eucharist’ is derived from the Greek word for thanks, it is the least that we can do, knowing that we can come back again and again to be fed for our life’s journey and work.

In the Eucharist we remember and celebrate and give thanks for what God in Christ achieved in his life, death and resurrection, and we look forward to the day when God’s kingdom will come and we will all sit together at God’s table dedicating ourselves to work for that day.


If you would like to find out more about this series then please visit Phil Gardner’s site.

Sunday 20th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 3)

On Sunday 20th October we had the third in the Reflections on the Eucharist series entitled “The Open Table”. It’ was a slightly different service – we prepared and then shared a simple vegetarian meal together and our worship combined the preparation and eating of the meal with prayers and readings. There was also space for quiet reflection, and some creative activities.

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Reading:
Luke 14:12-24

Reflection by Janet:

Today we’ve been gathering, baking, cooking, decorating, moving tables and chairs, preparing to share a meal together. All very ordinary things, but our reading today reminds us of the extraordinary in the sharing of a meal together.

Our reading tells the story of a man hosting a feast. A wedding banquet. And he wants this to be an amazing celebration. The food is prepared. The table is set.

The invitations are sent out. To important guests. To close friends. Special guests for a special occasion. To fill the room for an amazing party.

But in our story, the people on the invite list send their replies and the worst thing happens – the answer is no, they’re not coming. They are too busy. They have their own things to attend to, their own concerns. They have their work, their businesses to run. They have family and a farm to look after.

But our host is not daunted. The party must go ahead. The room must be full – there is a wedding to celebrate. The table is ready.

So the servants are sent out, to gather people from the streets. The ordinary are the ones who show up, who fill the room, sit at the table, who make the party happen.

As with lots of stories from Jesus, this isn’t just about a couple celebrating their wedding. It is pointing us towards something else. The wedding feast is a picture of Gods kingdom, God’s world order.

This kingdom is the one that began with Jesus, is continuing to come into being now, and will ultimately be completed when Jesus returns, when God finishes his work of bringing about this God’s world order.

In the wedding feast, the servants went out to find everyone who would come. The exclusive guest list for the party was torn up. And this kingdom of God, like the wedding feast, it isn’t just for the VIPs or special friends. The invitation is for us all.

And now, today, as we share our meal together, we are reminding ourselves of this party that started with Jesus. Where everyone is on the guest list. Where we are all welcome. We are all are invited to sit at the table.

The question for us is what is our RSVP? Will we take our place at the table? Will we say yes? Will we say yes to the invitation?

Comments

“…really enjoyed today. doing stuff together as a small group was really good , and the prayers felt very meaningful as we all paused and came together as a big church”

“… a fantastic service this morning! … it was really meaningful and lovely!”


If you would like to find out more about this series then please visit Phil Gardner’s site.

Sermon by Anna Bland 13th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 2)

Notes from the sermon by Anna Bland 13th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 2 – Kingdom Economics)

Readings:
Mark 6:30–44
1 Cor 11:17–26

Hello for those who don’t know me I am Anna.
I’ve been asked to talk to you about kingdom economics and the Eucharist. The symbol of self-giving love and a meal shared by friends on that fateful night which has resulted in two thousand years if us doing the same.
The gospel reading today is about a different meal shared by 5,000. Thousands fed with a meagre 5 loaves and two fishes.
In my reading for this sermon I came across a theological view I’d never heard before.
Rather than Jesus doing a miraculous multiplication of bread and fish, Jesus sharing the generosity of the young boy to inspire all to share what was in their bags and all were fed as a result.

To quote Myers the theologian who shared this view: ‘the only miracle here is the triumph of the economy of sharing within the context of a community of consumption.’
I love this.
It speaks of a Jesus who isn’t showing off his miraculous power but inspiring a change in each of us.
Making everyone more generous with those around them.
He’s helping us to create community through generosity -something that I think many of us would admit we don’t find easy.
The crowd is likely to have been a real diverse mix of Galilean society:
young, old, male, female, rich, poor, people born in Galilee, people not born in Galilee.
But all shared as equals.
It made me wonder:
Where in our lives could we eat alongside those who different from us?
I believe in this story as in many others Jesus is challenging us to seek out and be generous with those who challenge our view of the world, making us all more well-rounded and compassionate people.
We’re part of a culture built around consumption and forcing us to desire more and more, so never has this been more challenging.
Economist Grace Blakely said at Greenbelt that capitalism as a system is broken.
It’s a system based around gain for the rich and with the poorest paying the price, something we see reflected around the world today.
Unequal trade deals, tax havens, extreme weather hitting poor regions and some rich governments doing nothing – I could go on.
Since the financial crash Blakeley states in Britain the only people who are significantly wealthier are the wealthiest, so the average worker is no better off, the vulnerable are often far worse off due to government policy but the richest few are richer.
How different this is from the generosity of those listening to Jesus on the hill that day 2000 years ago.
One word really stands out to me in that story: all were ‘satisfied’ after the meal.
Not some were stuffed and some remained hungry but ALL were satisfied.
It speaks to us of a system running in a different way, on kingdoms economics rather than earthly economics.
This idea is reflected in 1 Corinthians where Paul chastises them for their Eucharist meals where some, the richer individuals in the party, are full and drunk while others leave the meal hungry.
This has implications for us. Where are we greedy and full, leaving others hungry?
Or do we ever feel that we’re leaving the table hungry?
Where in our lives, in our local communities, can we adopt a system of kingdom economics rather than earthly economics?
One way is as a consumer, as Christians partaking in the Eucharist we are contributing to this global system: where is our bread produced?
Who made the wine?

Gorringe has some strong words for us on this topic: ‘bread which takes from the poor for the consumption of the rich is not the bread of life but bread of death.
In that case our worship is not a Eucharist but idolatry and worship of mammon.’
His words do offer a significant challenge to me and force me to think not only about where my bread and wine come from, but also my veg, tea, coffee, clothes -I could go on.
I believe we’re called to understand our place in the world and in this complex capitalism system and do the best we can to create a more beautiful and equal world from where we are.
One of the reasons the Capitalist system is broken, says Blakeley, is due to climate change and the ecological disasters which are already happening, and are predicted to get worse.
She shared a terrifying message for the future but also her more hopeful view that through this disaster comes opportunity:
because powerful people are now seeing that the capitalism system is leading us to death and destruction and we NEED something different.
It’s no longer optional.
Many here I think would say “about time, and they really need to hurry up.”
With 100 councils declaring a climate emergency and much talk around the green new deal she suggested things are moving in the right direction.

I see a parallel with the child in the feeding of the 5,000 and the young people of today led by Greta Thunberg – the school strikes and their strong views on plastic.
I pray they are leading us to a better, fairer, greener future.
When I read back over this sermon I felt overwhelmed by our responsibility as consumers, campaigners, community members.
And I feared I was only contributing to the feelings of inadequacy many of us feel in the face of such overwhelming problems.
There simply isn’t enough time in the day, week, year or lifetime to make the difference we want in the world.
I believe God sees our intentions for good and even if we don’t hit the mark every time, when we buy something unethical or fail to invite our neighbour in for tea because we are tired, I believe there is always forgiveness and grace.
I leave you with this poem by Thomas Merton, which has relevance for us as individuals but also for our world:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


If you would like to find out more about this series then please visit Phil Gardner’s site.