Category Archives: Sermon

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.

Sermon by Paul Magnall 6th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 1)

Notes from the sermon by Paul Magnall 6th October 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 1 – Sign of love / Sign of hope)

Readings:
Genesis 9:11-16
Exodus 13:3-16
Acts 2:37–47 

Friday was 4th October the feast of St Francis, the last day of Creation-tide and the time when we focus specifically on God’s Creation, not that we should forget about it for the rest of the year! And Extinction Rebellion will be doing their bit this week to remind us about how we are treating God’s creation.

Today is when we celebrate harvest. We urban dwelling people are more out of touch with the seasons and so harvest might otherwise pass us by especially if we are not involved in growing and harvesting any of our own foods. I will be talking about food today (I never stop thinking about food!) but not so much in connection with harvest.

As I have talked about before, much of our lives, both individual lives and community lives, are guided and influenced by the stories that we tell or are told. If we are brought up to believe that we are superior to everyone else then we will live that way. If we are told that we are worthless when we are young then that is what we are likely to believe as we grow up. If we are part of a nation who believe that they were a great nation once upon a time and that now we have lost our influence in the world then we may well believe that we need to make our nation great again. Some of the stories that influence us are quite obvious, some are much more hidden and subtle.

So today “I wanna tell you a story”!

“Way, Way back many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began!” (Catherine plays tune)

The story of the Bible starts with Creation, something we have been looking at over the last month during Creation tide. The creation story ends with Adam and Eve walking with God in the garden, in paradise. But then things go wrong

Time passes and a very wealthy Jacob with his many wives and sons are living together tending their sheep. Joseph is brought up believing himself to be Jacob’s favourite son and so he acts in a way that really gets his brothers backs up and they try to do away with him. To cut a long story short, as we don’t have the time this morning and I can’t do the whole Bible in half an hour like Heston does, the whole of Jacob’s family end up abandoning their lifestyle and moving to Egypt where they are welcomed. Time passes, Jacobs descendants have increased in numbers and the Egyptians feel threatened by these “refugees” that they welcomed in and so they make them into slaves and all male offspring are killed. Along comes Moses and after some further amazing stories and not a few plagues the Israelites leave Egypt for the wilderness. A new story emerges of how God has chosen them and rescued them from slavery. This is a great new story to live by, they are chosen, special, loved. God is with them. But, and there’s always a but, how will they live in the wilderness? At least in Egypt they had a roof over their heads and some food to eat even if they were slaves!

But God has something else to teach them. The Joy in Enough! Every morning, except the Sabbath, there was enough food for them. It miraculously appeared. There was enough for the day, not too much, not too little, just enough. Except on the day before the Sabbath when there would be enough for the next day as well. We are reminded of this when we pray “give us this day our daily bread” – a prayer for enough, not too much, not too little – a prayer that we should be satisfied with enough.

And so for forty years the people of Israel wander in the desert learning to trust in God, learning how to live in community sharing what they have and that they could live on enough.

Jewish tradition grew from this. Every Sabbath the family would sit together and remember parts of the story of the Exodus using the food of their meal as symbols. For example, in the Sabbath meal on the Friday night they have two loaves of bread to remind themselves that God gave two lots of manna on the day before the Sabbath.

And each year Jewish families celebrate the Passover, Pesach Sedar, with a meal with even more symbolism. Examples include
• bitter herbs to represent the bitterness of slavery in Egypt,
• unleavened bread to represent the speed with which the Israelites had to pack up and leave Egypt, they didn’t have time to let the bread rise
• Salt water to represent the tears of the slaves
• Cushions on the seats to show that they can now recline in comfort at their meal since they are no longer slaves

Pesach Sedar, the Passover meal, is celebrated in many different ways across the world with added symbolism according to the history of that Jewish community eg an additional cup of wine known as Miriam’s cup is used in some communities to symbolise Miriam’s Well and the role of women in the Exodus story.

There is so much symbolism and storytelling in this meal and this has sustained Jewish communities over the centuries through all the good times and the bad times.

So let us go back to the time of Jesus and the stories that the Jewish community were telling themselves at that time, and the way in which Jesus wove old and new meaning into the story.

The Jews were again being oppressed. This time they weren’t slaves in a foreign land, they were living in their own homeland, the land that God had promised them but they were being ruled over by yet another invader – the pagan Romans.

The Romans allowed the Jews a certain amount of religious freedom but they were definitely in charge. They imposed their own rules which often contradicted the religious rules of the time. They taxed everyone. They took over land to grow food and wine to export back to Rome. They set about factory fishing the lakes for fish to in order to send them back to Rome. They were the supreme colonialists. And if anyone contradicted them or opposed them they had the military machine to impose “Roman Peace” and to remind everyone that Caesar was the all-powerful “Son of God”.

The Passover meal gained importance for many Jews as it gave them hope, if God could rescue them from the Egyptians He could do it again with the Romans. It inspired some to resist the Romans, every Passover festival the Romans had to send extra troops to Jerusalem in order to enforce their “Roman Peace”.

Into this situation came Jesus. He reminded the Jews of their story, often re-interpreted it and brought new meaning. Let’s look at a few examples:
• In feeding the 4000 and 5000 he reminded them of the story of God feeding them in the wilderness with manna from heaven, that God supplies all their needs, that they should have “Joy in Enough”. Their wealth was not in material things but in being a community walking with God.
• In listening to, speaking to and healing people from all races, all backgrounds, all walks of life – the untouchables, the women, the foreigners, the oppressors, the other – Jesus reminded them that God is the creator of all and the lover of all Creation.
• Jesus told them that to be the children of God you should love your enemies and pray for them since God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:45)

Jesus told a story of a chosen people that was different from the one that the Jewish community were living by at the time. The narrative of Jesus was about a God who loved all of creation, who provided for all and that we should all respond by loving and caring for all of creation and each other. And this narrative got him into a lot of trouble!

So, back to food!

According to the synoptic gospels the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples was a Passover meal or Pesach Sedar. Jesus took the meal that his fellow Jews ate to remember their time as slaves in Egypt and to celebrate that God chose them as a people and led them out of Egypt, into the wilderness and then onto the promised land, Jesus took that meal and gave it what was to become a new narrative, a new story for his followers. In the Jewish Passover those taking part would discuss the symbolism of the meal – the roasted lamb, the unleavened bread, the wine, the bitter herbs. In the meal that Jesus celebrated with his followers Jesus did the same but differently. He talked of the bread as being his body, of the wine as his blood – as I understand it he was redefining the symbols as speaking of what was happening to him. He was saying “I am bringing to this meal a new understanding, a new narrative, a new story. Use these symbols to retell my story in the same way that Jews have retold their story for centuries before.” Of course, the disciples were so wrapped up in their traditional narrative they didn’t understand until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The early Christian Church was mostly made up of Jewish followers of Jesus and they would have celebrated the Sabbath and the Passover in the traditional Jewish way but with a Christian narrative. As the church grew and non-Jewish Christians grew in number their practice would have been different as they wouldn’t have had that Jewish tradition, that Jewish narrative to guide them.

Here is a description of early Christian worship from the second century AD.

Early Christian worship
In the middle of the second century a Christian writer, Justin, explains
Christian practice to the educated Roman public, telling how ‘On that day
which is called after the sun all who are in the towns and in the country
gather together for a communal celebration.’ First the writings of apostles
and prophets are read, ‘as long as time permits’; then follows an
exhortation by the president:
Then we all rise together and pray and, when our prayer is ended,
bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like
manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,
and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to
each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given,
and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And
they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and
what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the
orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other
cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers
sojouming among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in
need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common
assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a
change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ
our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.
[From The Sign of Love, chapter 1, by Tim Gorringe]

Since that time, as Christianity has spread around the world and met different cultures and sub-cultures, been absorbed into the Roman Empire and other empires as the state religion new narratives, new interpretations and new practices have either sprung up or been imposed. Today all the different “flavours” of Christianity have their own emphasises, their own practices, their own narratives. I come from a background of exclusivity in the celebration of this meal. In the church that I first went to only those who were baptised and were members of that local church could take part in the meal, it was held once a month after the service once everyone else had left and consisted of tiny squares of white sliced bread and tiny thimble like cups of non-alcoholic wine plus lots of words. It had it’s good points and it’s bad points!

We all have our own backgrounds. Some of us have no or very little experience of church practices. Some are from so-called “low” church, some are from “high” church, many of us are from Western traditions but some are from Eastern traditions. We all have our own stories, narratives, interpretations that hopefully speak to us through this meal.

Sign of love / sign of hope
Over thousands of years people have been sustained and inspired by the signs of love and signs of hope that they have found in the Sabbath and Passover meals and the Eucharist or Holy Communion. A meeting place for God and people – God and people 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. I believe that in these times of political and environmental crisis we need this sign of love and hope more than ever. For me, the story of a faithful God working throughout history, through all sorts of people, continually reminding us of His-Story, his narrative for the world, giving us our daily bread, continually breaking down the barriers between us, giving us new life, new hope – I am reminded of all of this in the simple sharing of bread and wine.

Over the next 6 weeks we would love it if we could share and explore our understanding of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Mass, Holy Communion, whatever you choose to call this meal. It is a central part of most, but not all, Christian traditions. It is so full of meaning and death and life and resurrection, of symbolism and of power and of the power to change.

Amen


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

 

Sermon by the Revd Dr Angela Birkin 15th September 2019

Notes from the sermon by the Revd Dr Angela Birkin 15th September 2019

Readings:
Exodus 3: 1-15
Luke 3: 15-17

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

When I first heard that I would be preaching this morning on the theme of ‘fire’ as part of a sermon series following on from sermons on the themes of earth and air or wind, I have to admit that my first thoughts involved the song Boogie Wonderland, one of the great disco songs of the late 70s by the group Earth Wind and Fire. Thankfully my thoughts moved on, but I do defy anyone not to dance when that particular song comes on the radio.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘fire’?

Do you think of beautiful dancing flames, the delicious smells of a barbeque, warmth on a cold evening?

Or do you think of how humans have harnessed fire to cook food, bake pots and bricks, work metal, produce steam power, electricity and the internal combustion engine?

Or do you think of the destruction and terror and pain and loss of life that fire can cause when it is uncontrolled, or used as a weapon?

Maybe all these thoughts pass through your mind because fire can be comforting and useful whilst also being terrifying and hard to control.

Perhaps it is not too surprising that the writers of the books of the Bible use fire as one of the descriptions of, one of the metaphors for, God,

e.g. in the Old Testament:

Exodus 24:17 ‘The appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain.’

Deuteronomy 4:24 ‘For the LORD your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.’

And in the New Testament

Hebrews 12:29 ‘our God is a consuming fire.’

Fire is also written of as a weapon of God’s righteous judgment:

Isaiah 66:15-16 ‘For the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to pay back his anger in fury, and his rebuke in flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD execute judgment.’

And fire is a common biblical symbol of God’s presence:

Exodus again, 14:24 ‘At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army.’

So far, so terrifying and not very comfortable, but we should take notice and consider how this challenges us and our view of God.

Is our picture of God too comfortable, too tame, too small?

Do we play down the strength of the anger of God at injustice, cruelty, greed, and the desecration of creation?

Do we know that when we try to manipulate God, ‘if you do this for me God then I will do that for you’ we are playing with fire?

What does it mean to someone who has suffered greatly in this life at the hands of others to know that ‘by fire will the Lord execute judgment’?

Bearing all this in mind let’s look at our reading from Exodus. Moses is looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, and at Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, he comes upon a burning bush.

This is not an unusual sight in a hot, dry climate, think of the moorland fires which break out during spells of dry weather here, and the wildfires which have occurred in Europe, the Americas and Australia. But something makes Moses turn aside to taka a closer look. The bush was blazing but was not consumed. The energy producing light and heat was not due to combustion using fuel and oxygen, but due to the presence of God.

God has come to talk with Moses because God has heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt and has a plan to save them, a plan involving Moses.

In the ever-burning shrub God comes down to Moses’ size, meeting Moses where he is, but at the same time the inextinguishable flame is the sign of God’s awesome and powerful holiness. ‘Take off your sandals Moses’ says God, ‘for this is holy ground. I am going to send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt. I will be with you’.

The fiery holiness of God; attractive ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up’ said Moses, and dangerous ‘Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look at God’, frightening and yet comforting, untamed but reassuring, ‘I will be with you’ God said to Moses. Fearful and wonderful.

In our passage from Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist says that the one who is coming, Jesus, ‘will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’, and at Pentecost when all the believers were together in one place, ‘divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Acts 2.3-4

Fearfully and wonderfully, the Holy Spirit of God came to the believers where they were, frightening no doubt but also comforting, in John’s Gospel chapter 14 the Holy Spirit is called the advocate, the comforter or the helper.

Untamed – the believers started to speak in other languages and were accused of being drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning- but reassuring for it was just as the risen Jesus had promised before his ascension, and they knew that the risen Christ was with them.

‘I will be with you’ God said to Moses from the fiery bush.

‘I am with you always, to the end of the age,’ said Jesus to his disciples. Matt. 28:20

God had a plan involving Moses, came and met with him and equipped him.

God in Jesus Christ had a plan for his disciples, came and met with them and equipped them.

God in Jesus Christ has a plan for us, comes and meets us where we are, whoever we are, no exceptions, and equips us fearfully and wonderfully. And God’s plan always involves salvation, mercy and justice: freeing those who are enslaved by poverty, war, famine, abuse, and violence.

But we need to be observant like Moses. We need to look for God’s presence in people and all creation, and if we notice beauty and strangeness and holiness we need to be prepared to turn aside to take a closer look. If we don’t we may well miss an encounter with the divine.

Poets say things so well in few words:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning from ‘Aurora Leigh’,

‘Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.’

R.S Thomas, priest and poet: ‘The Bright Field’

‘I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.’

God in Jesus Christ equips us to serve God’s kingdom of love and mercy and justice with Godself, the Holy Spirit so that everywhere we walk is holy ground, is burning with the inextinguishable fire, the unquenchable fire,  of God who is love.

Words of Woody Guthrie:

‘That spot is holy holy ground
That place you stand, it’s holy ground
This place you tread, it’s holy ground
God made this place his holy ground.

Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk, it’s holy ground
Every spot on earth I traipse around
Every spot I walk, it’s holy ground.’

Amen.

Sermon by Graeme Hay 8th September 2019

Notes from the sermon by Graeme Hay 8th September 2019

Creation Season part 2:Air

Readings:
Psalm 139:13-16
John 20:19-22

Creation: Fearfully and wonderfully made Air and Breathe

Today is the second in our four-part series on Creation: Fearfully and wonderfully made and I am considering Air, or more particularly Breathe. We’ll look briefly at what and why we need air and breath but I want us then to consider God’s breath and Spirit and how or if we need that.

What is Air? I can’t see it, touch or feel it, but I know it’s all around me and without Air I would die. Technically it is made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide and about 0.03% other gases. Air’s value to us is that we need to breathe it in order to live. When we breathe our diaphragm lowers, our chest cavity expands and our lungs take in air: but our bodies only really need the oxygen which is absorbed into our blood, and carbon dioxide is expelled when we breathe out. Breathing is a reflex action which our bodies perform naturally and without us having to think about or tell our brain to do. But we can override the system and actively manage our breathing.

For example let us all (who can or would like to take part) see who can hold their breath the longest: i.e. who has the biggest breathe! When I say so I’d like you to stand then take a deep breath and hold it for as long as possible: when you can’t hold your breath any longer please sit down (i.e. don’t collapse) and the last person standing, literally will have the biggest breathe.

Now let’s have a go at slowing our breath to reduce our breathing rate. This time we’ll take a big breath and exhale it as slowly as possible: it may help to gently whistle as you exhale or to imagine you have an eyelash on the end of your finger and you’re trying to blow it off.

Now another aspect of Air is Wind. You cannot actually see ‘Wind’ but you can certainly see its effect and outcome. When I was preparing this talk the sun was shining and I thought it would be lovely to sit on my balcony and enjoy the sun’s warmth. But it was windy and as soon as I sat down my papers and books where blowing around out of my control and I had to go back inside. More dramatically did you see the pictures of the effect of hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas this week?

The Bible sometimes uses the image that God’s Spirit is like breath or wind in order to help us understand some aspects of what God is like, how God works, who God is.

“Ruach” is the Hebrew word the Jewish Bible uses for ‘wind’ or ‘breath’. It is not just the actual physical thing but more significantly the POWER encountered in the breath or wind: this power is seen as motion and action or the ability to set other things into action. “Ruach” is used to describe the power of God’s action in the world: so the power of God in creation in Genesis as ‘God moved over the face of the waters’; or the power of God at specific times such as in Luke when the angel Gabriel visited Mary ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most high will overshadow you’.

In the biblical account of creation ( which I believe is meant to give spiritual meaning and not be a literal record) in Genesis 2v7 we read “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being”.  God the Creator is our source and the sustaining power of our world and lives.

I was able to be present when each of my parents at different times in hospitals took their last breath and died. On each occasion their medical care was superb, but their bodies were worn out and I was alongside them as their physical strength failed, their breathing slowed, then stopped. Their physical bodies were still and their souls were at rest.  

I was also privileged to be at the births of both my children: when the babies emerged into the world and took their first gasping breaths and amazingly their bodies started moving and each of their fabulous lives truly started.

The idea of God breathing creation into being is recorded more poetically in Psalm 33v6 “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of God’s mouth.”  The psalm continues to suggest our rightful response to God’s power, verse 8 “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the people of the world revere God.”

In the more philosophical narrative of Job , when Job has been beset by horrendous calamities, in reply to his friend Zophar’s explanation of why these events occurred, Job himself is able to offer an understanding Job 12v10 “In God’s hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all humankind.” Whether in good times or bad times God gives us breath and we can see our lives as ‘being in God’s hand’ not necessarily to prevent harm happening but surely to be with us in our difficulties and offering support and comfort.

We are given a different image of God breathing life into worn, dried-out bones in Ezekiel’s prophecy of the valley of dry bones. In the prophecy Ezekiel was shown a valley which was covered with dry lifeless bones and asked if the bones could be made to live. Ezekiel 37v5-6 “This is what the Sovereign LORD says ( to the dried-out bones): I will make breath enter you and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

We are given a reason why God has created us, his amazing people, called to follow the way of Jesus, in Isaiah’s prophecy and the well-known passage about the Suffering Servant, which we take to be a foretelling of the life and ministry of Jesus. Isaiah42v1 “Here is my servant whom I uphold, I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations….He will not shout or cry out…A bruised reed he will not break…He will not falter or be discouraged til he establish justice on earth.” Isaiah42v5-6 continues “This is what God the LORD says-God who created the heavens who gives breathe to its people… I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness: I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those that sit in darkness.”  Notice that in these few verses we see reference to God the Spirit being both a presence (upon the Servant) and an enabling force (upon the people).

So what is different about breathing air (which everyone does) and receiving God’s breath or Spirit? Is this something I can do? Is it reserved only for ‘special people’? Is it real and for now?

In John’s gospel Nicodemus, a religious man who knew the ancient Hebrew texts and was following God’s rules, came to Jesus questioning the new things God was doing through Jesus and what this new kingdom Jesus was showing was about. In reply Jesus said John3v8-16 (parts) “The Spirit gives birth to spirit…You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit…For God so loved the world that God gave the one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God doesn’t force people to receive his Spirit we need to choose to open our lives and let God work in our lives so that by the breath of God’s Spirit we grow in God’s grace.

This leads us nicely to today’s gospel reading. We are right at the point of Jesus resurrection, the stunned disciples, still in fear of their lives, are cowering in an upper room and the risen Jesus is with them . Overjoyed with his presence Jesus shares his peace with them and then empowers them with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit; John20v21 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. With that Jesus breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” God offers us a new, special presence to help us live more loving caring lives as we follow the example of Jesus life; to grow in God’s peace and share our experience with others.

What is Air? I can’t see it, touch or feel it, but I know it’s all around me and without Air I would die. Now another aspect of Air is Wind. You cannot actually see ‘Wind’ but you can certainly see its effect and outcome. So it is with God’s Spirit or breath. We can’t see it, we can’t usually feel it physically, but wow as a Christian do I need God’s Spirit or presence with me to help me to live as I’d like to.

AS Jesus promised to his disciples in that upper room after his resurrection, we are able to receive the Holy Spirit, and we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to live loving, caring lives and to share the Good News of God’s continuing presence that is still with us today with others around us.

Not just so we here at church can be blessed, but so that others near us and around us can be blessed too. Remember the promise from Isaiah’s prophecy? “… I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness: I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those that sit in darkness.”

As we receive God’s Holy Spirit we should expect to develop and demonstrate some of God’s good qualities in our lives. In the Bible some of those qualities are described as “fruits of the Spirit”. Do you remember Heston’s challenge to Kid’s Church last week? Can anyone tell me some or all of those fruits? Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Wow would I like more of those qualities in my life!

So we’ve had a whirlwind tour through the Bible and looked at various images describing God’s action in creating and empowering by the Spirit’s breath: in Genesis breathing new life into being; in Job giving breath and holding us in his hand; in Ezekiel breathing and giving new life to old dried-out bones; in Isaiah Spirit anointing and empowering; and in John’s gospel Spirit giving us new life to receive a spiritual birth and the resurrection Spirit breathing life into us to share Jesus Good News  with others.

We probably spend most of our days (and nearly all of our nights) not being aware or controlling our breathing. It’s regular, natural and normal. But there are times (maybe under pressure or stress) when we are very aware of our breath and the air we need. Eg as we’re gasping for breath after we’ve walked upstairs, or run for a bus: or when we’re anxious and tell ourselves “BREATHE”.

If you’re like me you probably spend most of your time unaware of God beside us in our daily lives, alongside us in the nitty gritty of daily routine. But we might remember to send up an arrow prayer for help when a friend asks, or when we face a difficult situation. When we take time to read God’s word, the Bible, and when we come to church to share in communion and fellowship with others we soak in God’s presenceand breathe more deeply of the Spirit among us.

As I close we are going to spend a short time together with an opportunity to actively manage our breathing and invite God, by the Holy Spirit to be among us and enable us to rest in God’s presence and receive again from the Holy Spirit. We’ll be quiet in prayer as I will simply ask God to grace us with his presence.

Let us pray. As we pray allow God by the Spirit to come and grace us with gifts of the Spirit.

Holy Spirit breathe LOVE on us, take away dislike and scorn.

Holy Spirit breathe JOY on us, take away despair and sorrow.

Holy Spirit breathe PEACE on us, take away conflict and strife.

Holy Spirit breathe PATIENCE on us, take away irritation and exasperation.

Holy Spirit breath GOODNESS on us, take away badness and corruption.

Holy Spirit breathe KINDNESS on us, take away cruelty and cold-heartedness.

Holy Spirit breathe FAITHFULNESS on us, take away deceit and hypocrisy.

Holy Spirit breathe GENTLENESS on us, take away harshness and anger.

Holy Spirit breathe SELF-CONTROL on us, take away thoughtlessness and rashness.

Holy Spirit as we rest in your presence grace us with your gifts.

Pause for time to rest and receive from Holy Spirit.

AMEN

 

Sermon by Toby Parsons 1st September 2019

Notes from the sermon by Toby Parsons 1st September 2019

Creation Season (Earth)

Readings:
Psalm 139:13-16
Luke 8:22-25

Can I invite you to close your eyes, and to start forming a picture in your mind of somewhere on this earth that you find beautiful?
It might be the rugged coast of Northumberland, with long windswept beaches and an endless sea.
It might be a gentle piece of nature much nearer to home – a corner of your garden, or an open park, where you can sit and just be.
Or it might be right within the bustle of Leeds itself – or a panorama of skyscrapers in a megacity; beauty in busy-ness.
You may or may not have been there; perhaps you’ve only seen pictures.
And as you hold that image in your mind, try to see some of the detail – maybe the birds and insects that move along that windswept coast, or the ornate decoration on one of the buildings in the background. [brief pause]
If you can just hold that image in the back of your mind, we’ll return to it in a few minutes.

So, this is the start of Creation Season at All Hallows. Over the next month we’ll particularly celebrate God as Creator – the fountain of life, to use the words from the start of our Creation Season liturgy. Over four weeks, we’ll focus in turn on earth, air, water and fire as the themes for our sermons.
So today, we’re thinking about the earth – although apologies in advance for straying a little from that theme! But the earth… the incredible place God has created for us, and to which we are so fundamentally connected. One of the Hebrew words for ground or earth which is used in the book of Gensis is Adamah. The link to Adam as one of the first humans in the creation story reinforces that connection between humankind, Adam, and the earth, Adamah. We originated from the earth, and in a physical sense we’ll return to it – “dust to dust, ashes to ashes”, as we hear at funeral services.

We heard a version of the first chapter of Genesis at the start of our service today, and many will know the biblical creation story very well. Whilst most Christians today are comfortable with not taking it literally, there are many points we could draw out. We could look at the fact that God created humans last, not first. Or we could focus on the example of resting and reviewing work well done, as God did multiple times. But for now, I just wonder why it took seven days?
God didn’t rest at the end of each day because of tiredness. There wasn’t that Friday-feeling of “thank goodness it’s all over for another week”, or an exhausted flomp on the sofa. God wasn’t tired.
And it’s not that God couldn’t have summoned everything into being in one go. Creation could indeed have been described in the bible as a big bang: an explosion of God’s creative power.
Amazing. Immediate.
But instead we have a six stage journey – seven, if you include the day of rest. And perhaps we should take from that a suggestion, a reminder, that creation isn’t a single event that happens and finishes.
Later on in our service today, we’ll be invited to join in saying the affirmation of faith(1) together. The opening line of the version we use during Creation Season is “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”. At other times of the year, our liturgy uses the phrase “We believe in God, who has created and is creating”. It’s an on-going process, not a one-off event.
As individuals, we‘ve been created – individually and specially, not accidentally. Just as the earth is the sum of so many different parts, we are each a unique combination of our skills, our personalities, our experiences. If we call to mind again that image of somewhere in the world we find beautiful, it will surely have many parts to it. Even if it’s a mighty river, it’s perhaps got a
backdrop of clear blue sky, or lush vegetation on the banks. And that’s before we get to the subtle detail – the swirling eddies, the shadows, the reflection of the sun. Whatever our image, it will be made complete by many different things, and removing one of them – even the supposed least; even the most painful, if we think now of the experiences that form us – will diminish the whole.
And so, we are individually made; our completeness being in our complexity. And to hear again the opening words of the affirmation of faith, “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”.
If creation is a journey, a process that doesn’t stop; if we believe that God does indeed renew all things; then we haven’t just been created, but we – and the whole of humankind – are continually being re-created, renewed.
Let’s go back again to the image in our minds – the place that you find beautiful. Maybe close your eyes again, if that’s helpful. And now try to picture it if we gradually turned back time: a day; a year; a decade; a century; or right back to Jesus’s time. Depending on your image, it might be very obviously different when you get to the Victorian era, the middle ages, the time of Christ. Certainly any stamp of human activity will have changed. But it may initially feel much the same – hills or coastline would still be there. They would change, however – beaches vary with both the daily tide and the effect of the currents over the years; even rivers change their course… if my vague memories of secondary school geography are correct, a river’s course meanders in curves, which can then separate to form distinct ox-bow lakes. This leads to a part of the river that had been a swirling churning current becoming a still, calm lake. And then later in time, it perhaps rejoins the main river.
Some of the changes we see in our world are accelerated at the moment by human actions, through climate change and the abuse of our environment. Some changes will naturally happen anyhow. Whatever the cause, creation is an on-going process.
So what does that mean for each of us?

I wonder if, for most people, life is a mixture of regular, routine, repeated experiences, and the specific events that stand out much more. We might have that combination of nerves, excitement and refreshed interest when we start a new school, begin a different job, or commit to a new relationship. We don’t know at that point exactly how those steps will shape our lives in the future, although we may have a plan as to how we see things developing. But we can’t be sure what will happen, even if we do know that these are moments of creation, of new opportunity.
Some of these events won’t be positive. There are times when our individual world will be turned upside down; when an unwanted intrusion of grief, anger or hurt punctures our routine of life. Sometimes that will be in ways everyone else can see; at other times it may be much more hidden. Sometimes we’ll wonder why this should have happened to us; at other times we might devalue the pain we feel because of all the headlines of suffering we see in the world.
These events, and the potentially long and slow journey of healing that follows the most painful ones, are important moments in our very own creation story; our journey of renewal.
So where does that journey lead? If we turn back to the bible – and resist the temptation for our fingers to flick to Genesis at the mention of creation! – we can see in the gospels how Jesus himself embodied those concepts of creation and renewal.
We can read the practical accounts (which, unusually, are found in all four gospels) of Jesus creating meals for thousands from a few loaves and fishes. We can see in many emotionally charged verses that he created excitement and fervour in the crowds. Conversely we read of Jesus calming the storm in Luke 8 – creating physical stillness and removing the disciples’ fear. And Jesus created peace around many who were troubled – think of John 8, verse 9, when Jesus is left alone with the woman caught in adultery, after her accusers have withdrawn one by one following
Jesus’s challenge to throw the first stone. John may not have said it, but you can imagine the stillness, the relief, but also the remaining pain, with Jesus waiting quietly for the woman to digest what’s just happened.
Jesus creates, in so many different ways. But even he is also renewed by God throughout his earthly life. He comes to his active ministry over time; he gradually teaches his disciples; he struggles in the garden of Gethsemane with the knowledge of his coming death (Mark 14, from verse 32). And then comes the cross, the moment when it might all have stopped; the ultimate test of destruction versus the on-going power of creation.

There are many fantastic Easter hymns, resurrection hymns, that abound with joy and promise, and I love that rejoicing on Easter Sunday. But some of the words can feel so triumphalist, so certain of victory, that they don’t always match our life experiences throughout the year.
But the middle lines of Thine Be The Glory say “Lo! Jesus meets us, Risen from the tomb; Lovingly He greets us, Scatters fear and gloom”. Again, we have the present tense – meets us, greets us, scatters fear… not once, I’d suggest, but many times throughout our lives, as part of that process of creation, re-creation, renewal. And the meeting doesn’t have to be at those massive moments, but in the routine times too – Jesus rises to greet us each and every day. And whilst the now scattered gloom probably does reform at another point in our life, Jesus will again offer to meet us there, creating and renewing.
Our affirmation of faith today starts “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”. It concludes “We believe that with Jesus Christ we too will rise and take our place in a new creation, reconciled, restored, and renewed”. There may be a long and often painful journey before we reach that final statement, but each step – whether big or small; whether forwards, backwards or sideways; however painful – is part of our own creation story, which God writes with us, in love.

1 Affirmation of faith in Creation Season
We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love. We believe Earth is a sacred place filled with God’s presence, a home for all its creatures to share. We believe that God became a man of Earth, Jesus Christ, who lived and breathed among us, suffered and died on a cross, for all human beings and for all creation, and rose again to fill all things. We believe the Spirit renews life in the world, groans together with every suffering creature, and waits with us for the whole universe to be reborn. We believe that with Jesus Christ we too will rise and take our place in a new creation, reconciled, restored, and renewed.

Sermon by Rev Angela Birkin 25 August 2019

Notes from the sermon/meditation by Rev Angela Birkin on 25 August 2019

Luke 13:10-17

The woman who was bent over.
The last eighteen years had been hard, very hard for me.
I was only a young woman, little more than a girl really, when I began to suffer back pains and stiffness. It became more and more difficult to straighten my back until I could not straighten it even a little.
Eighteen years of being bent over, unable to see the sky, unable to see the road ahead or the faces of people, seeing only dusty feet and shadows.
I was unmarriageable of course, so a burden on my family, my parents first and then my brother. They were kind to me and of some importance in my village so people mostly treated me with kindness, or at least tolerated me, although a few did mutter that I or my parents must have sinned for me to be so afflicted. I knew that wasn’t so. We are no worse nor better than most other people in my village.
I was treated best by the children of the village who thought of me as a playmate. I was happy to play with them as I could do little else, and they accepted me, showed me the beauty of wildflowers and pebbles, and described birds and clouds and stars in the sky which I could not see.
It was a child who took me by the hand to the synagogue. I went every sabbath, but I particularly wanted to go this sabbath because Jesus of Nazareth was teaching in the synagogue. It made me chuckle that he came from Nazareth, as my father was born there and when my mother was annoyed with him, which was often, she would repeat the old saying, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Despite the old saying I had heard lots of good things about Jesus, about his teaching and his healings. He was stirring up a lot of interest and opposition particularly from those in authority who were becoming afraid that the Romans, who are occupying our land, will use Jesus as an excuse for further violent oppression of our people.
So, I went to the synagogue to hear Jesus teach and with no expectation of anything else. I am not special, and many people are ill or injured or afflicted in some way. Why should Jesus heal me? How could he heal me after eighteen years?
The child led me to the synagogue, and I went to the area where the women were. Sitting is very difficult, so I remained standing tucked away in a corner, and suddenly I heard a voice which I knew somehow was Jesus’s voice calling me over to him. I hesitated, thinking that I was mistaken, but he called again and the little girl who was with me led me to Jesus.
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment” he said, and then he gently laid his hands on my head and immediately my back felt free and I could stand tall again!
There was a sharp intake of breath from the crowd. I don’t know what shocked them more, that Jesus had healed me on the Sabbath, that Jesus had touched me, a woman, or that I was actually healed!
Then there was uproar, people surrounded Jesus asking to be healed while the leader of the synagogue shouted at the people to go away and come back on another day, not a sabbath, to be healed.
I think he realised how silly he sounded even before Jesus pointed out that animals are led to water on the sabbath and how right it was to free me, to heal me, to save me, on the sabbath.
That sabbath was truly, in the words of Isaiah, “a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable.,” and I could not stop myself praising God using the words of one of my favourite psalms,
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Who forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.
(Psalm 103:1-3,8).
Now I must decide what to do with the rest of my life, this gift which has been given to me by Jesus.
I have spoken with the women who follow Jesus, some of whom, like Mary of Magdala, have also been healed by him. He is going to Jerusalem. It is a dangerous road, and no one knows what will happen there, but they know that Jesus has the words of life, and that where he is the Kingdom of God breaks though.
I think that I will follow Jesus on the way too. I am no longer the woman who was bent over, I am a daughter of Abraham, and I believe that my God is acting in and through Jesus of Nazareth. I am healed. I am saved. I am blessed. I am loved by God. I always was.
That is my story. Now tell me yours.