Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Manchester


I’m writing this a few days after the senseless bombing in Manchester.
It feels like I have been winded and I am struggling to breath. 


I am left reeling - maybe you are too. 

Is it because I love live music and I can empathise with the young crowd there that night? Is it because my mind was taken back to an attack at the Bataclan in Paris back in 2015 (a venue I've been to on several occasions)? Is it because those injured and killed fall largely into the age group of my own children (and perhaps of your own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or cousins)? Is it because I’ve been to the venue where the attack took place? is it because Manchester is a city I know and love where family and friends have lived and worked over many years? I’ll never know. But I have wept and I continue to weep.
I was struggling to find a way to voice my horror at the attack against a backdrop of stories of Mancunians of faith and none reaching out to their neighbour, going the extra mile, being Christ-like whether they would name it as that or not. And then I found a shaft of light in the darkness. Then I found hope in the gut wrenching despair I was beginning to feel and it came in a surprising place - the Archbishop Cranmer blog (http://archbishopcranmer.com/blast-flash-fire-jesus-came-manchester/) which is a blog where politics and the church meet head on in a healthy debate. 

I rarely read the blog and I find it all too often too Conservative and conservative for my own tastes, but here, the author put words on my lips and a voice in my mouth and so I share the post with you with kind permission of the author (notwithstanding some editing of the original tweets posted in ++C's blog and the biblical quotes updated to contemporary English).

There was a blast and then a flash of fire, and then Jesus came to Manchester



Bodies and blood.
Carnage, terror and tears.
“There are children among the deceased,” confirmed Greater Manchester Police. “This has been the most horrific incident we have had to face,” said Chief Constable Ian Hopkins.
Nuts and bolts and nails.
Smoke and burning.
“This is horrific, this is criminal,” said Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. “May the perpetrators face the full weight of justice both in this life and the next.”
Emergency services praised.
Cobra committee convened.
“Please hold the people of #Manchester in your prayers,” tweeted David Walker, Bishop of Manchester. “We’ve faced terror attacks before and this latest won’t defeat us.”
Fear and division.
Thoughts, prayers and condemnation.
Evil descended upon Manchester Arena last night: his target was teenagers at a pop concert. He wore a vest packed with explosives and metal bits. There was a blast and then a flash of fire. And then everyone just started running, screaming and crying.
And then Jesus came.
“We are visiting for a health conference from morecambe bay trust tomorrow 3 Theatre ODPs available if needed,” tweeted Kirsty Withers, an NHS theatre clinical manager.
“If anyone needs shelter we are right on the outskirts of central Manchester in Salford, anything I can do to help DM me!!” tweeted science student Karolina Staniecka.
“Anyone in Manchester who needs to wait for their parents or needs somewhere stay or to make phone calls, etc, just DM me. We have tea!” offered the BBC’s Simon Clancy.
“Anyone needing somewhere to stay can come to our Manchester headquarters in the city centre,” tweeted Stephen Bartlett.
“Taxi drivers in #Manchester offering free journeys to those stranded after the events in #ManchesterArena,” tweeted Bethan Bonsall.
‘Very truly I tell you, just as you have done it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me, said Jesus.
Out of the depths comes light; out of oppression, a new possibility and hope. You can blame and curse the Islamist in bitterness and hate, or you can sing a song of joy because there’s a better story to tell. In times of distress and suffering, there are little signs of the presence of the Lord: manna falls from desert bushes; quail drifts in with the wind; water is to be found in the most unexpected places. And the water of life is the presence of love and compassion, of guidance and affection, of ordinary people doing extraordinary little things to help their fellow man, for no other reason than that they want to and can.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, and there we wept, when we remembered Zion‘ (Ps 137:1).
Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?‘ (Ps 94:3).
Is the Lord among us or not?‘ (Ex 17:7).
The power of death brings unbearable grief, but God restores the soul. To live is to praise. There is kindness in darkness, and mercy in Manchester. It is the intuitive pulse of faithfulness, covenant, unity and peace. May God bless those who mourn, and wipe every tear from their eyes.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Martha and the Window Cleaners - A Resurrection Story

Edgar Moreno (left) and Alcides
Edgar and Alcides Moreno loved to clean windows, especially of huge skyscraper buildings. One day they set out to clean the windows of the 47-floor luxury Solow Tower building in Manhattan. They took the lift up. It was a beautiful day, but at the top the temperature was close to freezing. When they stepped onto the washing platform, one side of it gave way, plummeting Edgar 144 meters to his death in a narrow alley. Tragically, Alcides side also gave way and he plummeted to the ground at 120 miles and hour.

Miraculously, Alcides was found alive in the same alley, crouching, gripping the remainder of the washing platform. He was rushed to a nearby hospital suffering multiple injuries."If you're looking for a medical miracle, this certainly qualifies," Dr Herbert Pardes, the then president and CEO of the hospital said.

"The survival rate even from a four-storey fall is not very good," Dr Glenn Asaeda from the New York City Fire Department said. "A higher hand was in control here.”
Empathy: Stories of this sort are very rare. We all will die. Maybe not so dramatically, but like the taxes we pay, it is one of the other certainties in life. Yet the story we hear as the Gospel reading is more remarkable still.

Like Edgar Moreno, Lazarus has sadly died but that’s far from the end of the story. When Jesus finally arrives at the family home, Martha admonishes Jesus. Such is the closeness of friendship between Jesus and this family that Martha is not only certain that Jesus is capable of preventing death but sufficiently confident in her friendship with him that she can tell him off for not having been there to do so.  Jesus is sufficiently confident in himself and in the love he experiences in this family that he allows this woman who is not his mother to talk to him in that way.  As with the Samaritan woman at the well, as with Mary Magdalene, as with so many other women, Jesus breaks down societal norms.

Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. 


Over the last few weeks I’ve meeting many of my parishioners in small groups to do some talking and listening together, trying to discern what sort of church we are and what we’d like to be and what the community we live in’s needs may be. Generally we probably think we know our community pretty well. But what surprised me was whether we were talking about Mill End, Heronsgate, West Hyde or Maple Cross - the big issue we noticed facing our community was isolation for both the elderly and the young. We know it if we think about it, but I certainly hadn’t seen it. The same was true for Martha.

Martha

She believed in the resurrection, but as a future event but it wasn't a new or radical idea. Lazarus will rise again when God vindicates His people. Like good Jews she believed that the Resurrection would happen at the end of time.  What Jesus then says brings that future hope right into the here and now. That action of God, that future life-restoring, death-defeating, covenant-fulfilling, creation-affirming action of God is not only future and is not only an action of God, it is now and is experienced through connection with a specific person, the person John has identified at the beginning of his Gospel as the Word made flesh.  God incarnate, standing with Martha just outside Bethany.  All he asks of her is, Do you believe this?

Do you?

What Jesus asks Martha He asks us: do you believe this? The promise of this passage to us is exactly the same as it was to Martha and to Mary, to those who were stood at the tomb, who had come to comfort the sisters.  Jesus offers the power of his resurrection in our lives today if we will accept it.  We can have the same hope instilled in us that though we will die, we can – and will – be raised to new resurrection bodies on the new earth.  This is no “rapture”, not a disembodied, go-to-heaven-when-you-die notion because that’s not what the scripture says.  This is real, earthy, physical resurrection.  This is God demonstrating his commitment to his creation.  This is not the blithe acceptance of death as some sort of gateway to something better to come but God in Jesus promising to overturn and defeat death.  And all he asks of us is, Do you believe this?

Now, there’s living required after the response to Jesus’ question.  But do you believe it even in the face of the Columbian landslides; after the triggering of Article 50; in the places in life where we feel picked over, sun bleached and barren places where we have stopped hoping that things could and should be different.



When Lazarus came out of the tomb, he was still in his grave clothes, and the community had to help him out of them.  We are called to live as a community of those who follow Jesus, to continually help each other out of the metaphorical grave clothes that bind us.  To come alongside the isolated in our communities and offer them love and friendship - whether that’s amongst those whom we already know living in Meresworth or Moneyhill Court - or those who we don't know yet perhaps offering a lunchtime drop in or afternoon coffeeshop or a toddler group on the Maple Cross estate.  We do this in anticipation of the Kingdom of God that is to come in its fullness.  It is then that, as Jesus did when he was raised on the first Easter morning, we will be raised without grave clothes.  We will then be unhindered by the past and free as children of God to live our eternal life in and with him.


I am indebted to the @underseamonkey for some scholarship that shaped this sermon

Monday, February 27, 2017

Metamorphosis - A Sermon For The Transfiguration

On January 1st 1985 a passenger jet crashed in Bolivia killing all 29 people on board. No bodies have ever been recovered nor the black box voice recorders, but last year Isaac Stoner and Dan Futrell decided to have an  unusual holiday to see if they could find out more about what happened. So they prepared to climb Mt Illimani and see what they could discover in what became a very beautiful and eerily silent two weeks away.  The first thing they saw when they reached the suspected crash site was a life jacket - "a piece of equipment intended to save somebody's life" as Futrell puts it. "So not only did we know we were in the right spot, but we were instantly reminded that there's tragedy here for 29 families.”

On the final day of searching at the lower site, Stoner unearthed a piece of metal with a label attached to some wires that read "CKPT VO RCRD" an abbreviation of Cockpit Voice Recorder. Fuelled with hope, not far away they discovered a spool of magnetic tape - could this be the evidence needed to explain what finally happened? In short no, but they have more in roads into discovering the truth that previous official investigations.

We talk of mountaintop experiences - moments of joy or clarity. The mountaintop experience we hear as this morning's Gospel reading enables us to gather some evidence about who Jesus is, but also to discover something new about ourselves.

Rev'd. Ally Barrett's artwork of the Transfiguration
(c) Ally Barrett 2017 used with permission.

The Transfiguration features in all 3 of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) but with some slight variations to the story. The fact that all 3 record the experience Jesus had on that mountaintop should indicate it’s significance. It full of references to or hints at other biblical stories - Moses encounters God on Mt Sinai, his face shone and clothes changed; dazzling clothes and shining faces are indicative of angels in the book of Daniel and in the Gospels; a cloud on the mountain or in the wilderness symbolised for the people of Israel the presence of God; the voice of God uttering similar words is heard at the beginning of the Epiphany season at Jesus’ baptism; and aside from those, there are some striking parallels between what we hear today and the crucifixion/resurrection story we will hear in a few weeks - Jesus is accompanied by Moses and Elijah today and later by 2 criminals; Moses and Elijah depart leaving Jesus alone in glory and later we hear of someone wondering whether Elijah will come to the crucified Jesus to save him; in both events 3 followers are witnesses and so on. Today’s Gospel I believe is meant to be read referring back  to those Old Testament stories and in the light of Christ’s passion and resurrection to come.

2 quick points. Firstly: Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I* will make three dwellings* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’
5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;* with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 

John Cage caused consternation in the music world in 19?? with his 3 movement piece called 4:33. If you’ve heard it you’ll know why. It instructs the musicians to sit in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds. Yet the piece isn't silent - it allows a space to be created by the interaction between musician and the audience to listen and to rediscover the music of the world around and within us - birdsong, traffic noise, our breathing or heartbeat - sounds we so often screen out as background noise - but are still there as we listen. In the Gospel today Jesus is revealed to Peter et al as the glorified beloved Son of God, but this news doesn’t help Peter understand what he should do as a result - he wants to build booths (perhaps to contain the experience) but God wants him to listen - but not as a one off experience. The voice tells us to literally go on listening to and for Jesus’ voice. Our faithful following of Jesus must centre not on our doing but our listening.

Secondly: When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

I am struck on a daily basis at how frightened the Trump presidency is and how fearful it makes us all. The fear is masked by soundbites of power, calls to make America great again, and yet detaining and searching people who just look different at airport security; talk of travel bans and wall building are policies not of might but of fright. The politics of anxiety don't make people feel secure - they breed further suspicion in our streets and schools. We are all looking over our shoulders.

Verses 6 and 7 in today’s Gospel are unique to Matthew’s account. Perhaps this story is more about the transfiguration (literally the metamorphosis) of the disciples - as the glorious experience doesn't bolster their faith but fill them with so much fear that they cower. But notice that it is not the radiant Jesus that comes to them, but the human one as it were. It is He who reaches out and touches them with a hand that has so often provided healing and raised the dead. The disciples are transformed from fearful, anxious, inactive, cowards to brave, confident, active, champions of the faith - perhaps that’s why Jesus tells them to say nothing of the experience. Something in them has changed? Our faithful following of Jesus must also centre on reaching out the divine touch, through our hands to the fearful and anxious in our community.

So often we are human doings - like Peter. Filling our days with activity and noise. When were you last a human being who sat and listened - breaking the curse that our culture burdens us with about a need to be constantly busy as though we gain some worth by that - and just stopped and sat? Disciples of Jesus listen for His voice - not bound in a booth of scripture or tradition - but a voice that speaks through the arts and our culture and each other… but we only hear it if we conciously stop.

Our community is frightened - and it is. The police were visibly present in the village last week after some thefts; some are concerned about their health or that of a family member or friend; HS2 has been given royal assent without any sort of real awareness of it’s impact on not just the green space we enjoy or our views - but on homes and wellbeing locally. Can we be the ones who reach out a hand of friendship and love to the anxious and fearful? Jesus shows us we can.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Letter To Our General Synod Representatives post GS 2055.

To the General Synod representatives from St Albans Diocese (CC The Bishop of St Albans).

Dear all,

As Synod meets this week I wanted to assure you of my prayers as representatives of St Albans Diocese as you discuss, deliberate and listen. I know that this week’s business is not about a single issue, but for many within and outside the church, it is.

Having read the Bishops’ Report (GS 2055) myself I am writing to you to ask you not to ‘take note’ of the report in front of you.

I welcome the desire to change the tone of the discussions of which the report speaks but there are a number of matters that cause me - a happily married heterosexual man - to squirm with embarrassment and shame both emotionally and theologically.

Firstly, we are a denomination which has lived with divergent theology before. I am of course referring to women’s ministry within the three-fold order of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. There are some who, with good conscience, are unable to accept the will of the church regarding their ministry. I pray that a time will come where this will no longer be the case. Yet, either out of pragmatism or out of a sheer need to stop the church ripping itself apart we reached an 'Anglican compromise' offering pastoral care and episcopal oversight to those of a traditionalist position, allowing for a so called mutual flourishing.  This is not the only example as the Church of England has allowed it’s clergy to remarry divorcees in church under some clear guidelines. This pastoral accommodation has allowed me to minister to those who thought because of certain circumstances they were unwelcome and unwanted before the God of love, to find themselves welcome before God and for their marriages solemnised in Church. We’ve done it before, we can do this again and allow for differing doctrinal positions to be held and for our theology to grow and enlarge in the light of new Biblical understanding, new experience of God and new appreciations of what it means to be human and made in God’s image.

Secondly, I was not part of the Shared Conversations, but talking with those who were, through that process of attentive listening to one another and God, there seems to have been a move of the Spirit at work. People with differing views have come to see those views not as flags to be waved or drums to be banged, but genuine and heartfelt positions based on a interpretation of scripture, tradition, theology and experience. There seems to have been much gained by the Shared Conversations. Whilst opinions and convictions may not have been changed necessarily - those positions and opinions became people and human stories and it has been this incarnational work that seems to have been transforming. It surprises me therefore to find so little reference to the Shared Conversations or their outcomes in this report. Indeed it feels as one reads it, that the Shared Conversations experience has played none or certainly very little part in the writing of it.

Thirdly, I initially welcomed talk in the report of a new teaching document on marriage and of ‘maximum pastoral freedom' in terms of potential pastoral responses, until I realised that both were couched, not in the language of love, but of concession and therefore of fear. This is also perhaps why the appalling and dehumanising short hand ‘same-sex attraction’ is used throughout the report to describe the emotional life of LGBTI people. These people are people who love and laugh and cry and sing just as I do. They have feelings like I do. They experience the love of God as I do. They are invited into a life of discipleship as I am. In this climate, my fear is that any new teaching document on marriage will continue to perpetrate the myth that marriage is about procreation and property as our liturgy still hints at, rather than celebrating the crowning glory of what it means to be human - to be loved by another - into life. And talk of ‘maximum pastoral freedom’ sounds like ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’ As far as the church is concerned marriage is marriage regarding heterosexual couples whether it took place on a beach, in a hotel, on a cruise liner or in a church. 'New pastoral freedom’ makes me as a parish priest feel like I am still having to look over my shoulder to keep an eye out for the Archdeacon or indeed the Bishop. We should be in the business of celebrating love between two people. Anything less, reduces those two lovers, to something sub human and denies the being of God.

Fourthly, LGBTI people continue to be treated by our church as an issue to be solved rather than people that God loves; despite the talk of a new tone in speaking of and relating, GS 2055 fails to model it. I have found myself shocked and breathless at some of the language coming from Trump’s America in these early days of his presidency - partisan language that names people as ‘things' whether they are muslim, Mexican or women.  The report before you similarly objectifies LGBTI people but fails to temper that language by doing what the Shared Conversations did, and that is to allow their voices to be heard and their stories of faith and commitment under God to be told. If the Church were to speak of other social or ethnic groups in a report using the tone and language as this one, we would quite rightly be accused of racism or sexism, which as a national church we rightly speak out against. Why is it therefore somehow ok to use language couched in homophobia in relation to the sex lives of some of our servers, choristers, PCC members, cleaners, youth workers, Sunday School teachers and so on? That’s right, it’s not. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Fifthly, we ask the God of love to bless many things - people, pets, homes, ships, even nuclear submarines and yet we can’t bring ourselves to ask Him to bless all loving relationships. Who is making the distinction?

In my opinion GS 2055 fails to model the Church of England ministering well in England to the people of England. It models the very worst of poor compromises and fails to speak to our nation, to our church or for our church as it it actually is - even in a holding position.

I encourage you not to take note of this report and to vote against it tomorrow and instead call on the Synod and indeed the whole church to be bold, prophetic, inclusive and welcoming - to truly be a church in England for England - and not just certain sections of it.

With every blessing 

Rev'd. Simon Cutmore

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Salt and Light: David Beckham, Corrie Ten Boom & Gram Seed

David Beckham was the guest on the 75th anniversary edition of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. He admitted that he would look forward to the solitude of island life - a contrast to life lived in the media’s gaze - with a cook book as his reading matter and his England caps as his luxury item. The peace and quiet of a desert island is something we might all crave from time-to-time, a much-loved book to read, and a luxury item to enjoy, as we relax alone in the sunshine – idyllic!

However, the reality for most of us is that we live in a world that is fast-paced, full of complexities: Brexit, Trump’s travel ban, and the mosque shooting in Canada – they all point to a world that seems to be changing almost hour-by-hour. Yet, this is the world into which disciples of Christ in 2017 find themselves, and this is the reality into which we are charged to shine.

We meet Jesus this morning having been tempted in the wilderness, then moving into the bustle of ministry. In the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ which we hear some of this morning, Jesus reinterprets the nature of power relationships - blessed are the meek not the powerful - for they shall inherit the earth. But just when the crowd begins to wonder if Jesus is coming to sweep the Law away, He points out that He has to come to fulfiil it - in His life and theirs.

Jesus said: You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who hid Jews during the war. She and her family were caught and taken to Ravensbrook concentration camp. Her father and one of her sisters died there. After the war she went to speak to others about forgiveness. She was speaking at a church one day and at the end a man who was coming up to her. She recognised him as one of the cruelest guards from her time in the camp. She felt cold. He told her that he had become a Christian and had received God’s forgiveness and he had prayed that God would allow him to recieve forgiveness from one of his victims.She talks about what happened next below...


Light shines - but if you shade it - the light is simply directed elsewhere. If you shroud it, even if it cannot somehow seep out from around the edges, the light still burns resolute looking for a way to blaze out into the darkness of our lives, our choices, our hatred, our unforgiveness… It was the light of Christ that shone into the dark heart of that guard, possibly from Corrie Ten Boom and her family even whilst they were in the concentration camp, which in turn shone into her life from him years later - allowing her to forgive him.


Jesus said: You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Jesus calling us salt is a puzzling and rich image - salt is used to cleanse wounds, its used to season food, it’s historically been used to preserve food, it symbolises the covenant relationship of God and His people a few times in the Old Testament. Salt rapidly changes the chemical composition of ice into water, but in dough it not only seasons but it slowly enables that dough to keep more or the CO2 as it rises and to it strengthens and stabilises the whole loaf. But all of this can only happen when it’s not trapped in the cellar or put through the mill. 


Gram Seed knows what it is to be trapped in the cellar of self loathing and he certainly put others through the mill. Brought up in an abusive and ultimately destructive home - he was thrown out onto the street aged 15, ending up in a special youth detention facility. There he became increasingly angry and aggressively anti authority. After being freed he became the worst sort of football hooligan - his body still bearing the scars of stabbings, being bottled and and other unspeakable violence. By the mid 90s he was on the streets living life on the brink as a drug addict and drunk. Some people came and said to him - do you know that Jesus loves you? He chased the away but they kept coming back week after week with the same message. Months later, Gram collapsed and was taken to the hospital in a coma. On the 6th day in hospital he died and given the Last Rites. People gathered with his family to pay their respects including this small group of Christians who had got to know him. They asked whether they could pray for him - to which his mother replied: what good is that going to do? He’s dead. They prayed and as they did Gram came back to life. But he hadn't just revived - he no longer felt the urge to drink or take drugs - he wanted not longer to maim people but help them. The anger and self loathing had gone.  Those Christians on the street mixed into Gram’s world, got to know him and showed him the love of Christ - a love which ultimately healed his emotional wounds and transformed his very make up - strengthening and stabilising his life for good and for the good of others.


Gram Seed

What is Jesus saying to us? You are salt. You are light. These aren’t conditional things with Jesus - they are imperatives. Jesus is being emphatic - be salt; be light, but if we lose our saltiness we are good for nothing; if we hide our light we become pointless. In a dark world feeling like it’s getting darker we need the light. In a bland world of polarising politics we need the seasoning of God’s love. It may not feel like we can make much difference against the back drop of the muslim travel ban or terrorist attrocities in Canada and France; we may feel despondent at where our own Government or indeed denomination is taking us - but then I realised that it only takes one candle to make a difference to the darkness. It only takes a pinch of salt to season and give structure to the bread. You are salt, you are the light - corporately, but individually too…

St Benedict

The Benedictine moto is laborare est orare - to work is to pray. St Benedict encouraged his monks not to withdraw from the complex and difficult world, but to bring the world to God through their prayers, and by surrounding their entire day in regular prayer - everything that they did became an offering back to God. So we should pray - it only takes a little light; a pinch of salt is needed… But having prayed we should also work where God sets us. We may not be able to confront the politics of hate - but we can welcome the stranger and help them become a friend supporting Together 100 of the Catholic Worker Farm’s work with refugees; we can love those whom the church and others tell us are somehow less lovely - those with dementia, ex cons seeking to reintegrate into society, our gay, bi sexual and trans brothers and sister; we can work alongside others to enact justice and forgiveness. It takes one candle, one pinch of salt is needed. But as followers of Jesus they aren’t optional extras. They are visible signs that we are following.





Like David Beckham, we may crave the solitude of the desert island, how much better to be bearers of hope in this world – particularly in a week full of such chaotic headlines. On a deserted island there are no others to shine for, no life to season and strengthen. In fact, it is by being here, that we have the opportunity to shine here; and in doing so, to share the faith we have, so that those around us may also give glory to God.


~~~

If that weren't enough, during the intercessions (where candles were lit and we prayed that we would shine in the darkness), I even snuck in some prog, but it was the only thing we could listen to...



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Teddy Bear Blessing

We have reasonably recently started giving Baptism packs to the families of the children we baptised. The packs include a whole range of things:

A Teddy Horsley story called 'Water.'
A Mothers Union magazine
A Congratulations card
A small leaflet highlighting what fathers can do to support their children spiritually
A card for the parents to give to those who are the child's Godparents
A hand knitted teddy bear for the child in question.

This morning at our Candlemas Eucharist we asked God's blessing on all of the bears we will give away this year. Feel free to use, adapt, correct the prayer as I'm sure you'll do it better than me!


Almighty God, Creator and Lover of all.
We give you thanks for those whose care and skill have made these bears.
May your blessing + rest on them.
May those newly baptised children who receive them
know the love and care of you their Heavenly Father,
whom they cannot see,
through us, your family here.
Through Jesus Christ who became a child like us,
and grew and lived and died and rose
and reigns for ever. Amen

Teddy Bears And The People Of God



This is my teddy bear. It doesn’t have a name. It was given to me when I was born and has travelled with me into different neighbourhoods, homes and stages of my life. On the one hand it’s a lovely gift you give a child and yet on the other it symbolises something you cannot see - a love, a relationship that sustains you from childhood into the rest of your adult life.



These teddy bears have been knitted lovingly to be given away to the families of small children who come for Christening. On the one hand it is just a gift from the church community to that child and their family and yet on the other it symbolises something you cannot see - the blessing and presence of God who loves that child from conception to grave and wants them to love Him too. It connects that child and their family to a particular time and place by water and oil; but also welcomes them into a family of people of differing ages and stages.

This morning we meet Mary and Joseph going up to Jerusalem, following the centuries old traditions of their faith. They went with their first born son to honour the God who had been faithful to their forebears. What they were doing was common place and normal.

Encountering Simeon and Anna introduced an abnormality as Simeon takes their child and speaks not a blessing over the child but himself. No wonder they were amazed. But as Simeon blessed the couple, he turns to Mary and speaks of her child tipping the balance of power amongst their people to the point that he will be opposed - silenced, stopped, perhaps even crucified… her heart and soul now cleaved in two by such awful news.

This morning we encounter Simeon and Anna, who through years of faith filled tradition reveal their trust in the same God, who through those traditions, speaks, acts and transforms our today and tomorrow by the power of the Holy Spirit.

What’s clear to me is that Mary and Joseph did not come to the Temple to have their feathers ruffled or their received traditions challenged. They knew what they were coming to do and what to expect. They followed the Law of Moses to the letter - offering the thank offering of the poor for their Son’s safe arrival and for their own sanctification.

It sounds familiar doesn't it? We come to church week in week out. We carefully attend to the various practises of our faith that countless others have lived and shared. Honouring the God who had been faithful to our forebears. We certainly do not expect to have our feathers ruffled or our practise challenged. When we come many of us know what we are coming to do and what to expect. And we find it difficult, unsettling and uncomfortable when the liturgy is different, or the music changes or there is no Eucharist. But when two words I’ve heard recently to describe the church come again and again - buildings and boring - you know that we have got something badly wrong.


'...Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…'


Aerial performer Jennifer Bricker was born without legs. Adopted by a loving and supportive couple, both they and she never let it stop her reaching her goals.  By the age of 11 she was a gymnastics champion - having fallen in love with the sport after watching Dominique Moceanu win a gold medal for the US at the 1996 Olympics. She followed the ups and downs of her idol over the years. When Jennifer was 16 she asked her mother if there was anything they hadn't told her about her birth family. To her surprise, her mother said: "Your biological last name would have been Moceanu."And it turned out to Jennifer and Dominique’s surprise and delight that the two had a lot more in common than athletic talent but they were sisters.

I find myself surprised and delighted by Simeon and Anna. It is clear that they both played a very important role in revealing God’s love and purposes for Jesus to Mary and Joseph. They continue to challenge me to think and think again about the way we help young parents and their children hear of God’s love and purposes for them. But they offer me a further challenge.

Simeon and Anna offer us a pattern for living out our faith. Yes they clearly loved the traditions of their faith but they weren’t a means to an end, as it’s clear that as they meet the Holy Family, the Holy Spirit had tuned their hearts to the music of God. Their lives were a dance that told of a radical trust in that God who they knew would one day fulfil His long held promises in their day and in the their age. It is no accident that their encounter with Mary, Josephs dn Jesus took place in the heart of Jewish life and worship - the Temple - the place that enshrined the presence of God amongst His people.

Two words to describe the church that I’ve heard in recent days - buildings and boring. Yet the Bible talks of the church as a body; as people; as disciples as something organic, full of life and growth. There is a dissonance. How do we become the church we long to see - the people of God who embody His presence in in this place?

What is Jesus asking of us? Our traditions need to lead us to God and not be an end in themselves - constrained by expectations and time. Our worship needs to be engaging, beautiful and moving, drawing us into the presence of the God of tradition but with an expectation He will speak still through Scripture and sustain us through the Sacraments. We are part way through an experimental pattern of worship. We didn't change things for changes sake, but try to enable as many people as possible to encounter God. Change is uncomfortable. But our worship is something we offer to the God who loves us and longs to transform our hearts and lives. When it has been boring - sorry. Please journey with us as we seek to meet God in new ways together.

We need to allow our buildings which speak of God the Creator to be the places where the church gather to have the Holy Spirit rest on us; where we encounter God and be remade and transformed by Him. Our buildings are places where we the church should be expectantly waiting, hoping praying that God will do as He has said He will.

We need to radically trust the God we cannot see - expecting Him to fulfil His promises. That doesn't mean we do nothing - we should live that reality - being gracious with our time and our generous with our money for without enough of either we stop looking expectantly for God and instead see a few more empty pews & changing figures in our accounts. Simeon and Anna faithfully worshipped; Mary and Jospeh gave what was needed both expecting nothing in return but they did so responding to the God whose love and presence filled that place.

The Temple was the place that enshrined the presence of God amongst His people. The church is the people of God who embody His presence in in the communities of our parish.  Today we reorientate our gaze from looking back to Christmas as Christ’s coming amongst us to looking forwards to the mystery of His Passion - His Crucifixion and Resurrection. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, described our journey of faith like driving a car on the motorway at night - the only way the driver can keep to the road is by using his headlights. So will you help me steer this car following the light of Christ? Will you help me and each other to not look back to where we have been but to look ahead to where God is leading us? Will you help me by being gracious with you time and generous with your money so that we can focus on God and His leading and not those things? Will you help to ensure the times we gather to worship or study to be occasions where we encounter God and are remade by Him? Pray with me...

A prayer of St Thomas Aquinas:

Most loving Lord, grant me
a steadfast heart which no unworthy desire may drag downwards;
an unconquered heart which no hardship may wear out;
an upright heart which no worthless purpose may ensnare.
Impart to me also, O God,
the understanding to know you,
the diligence to seek you,
a way of life to please you,
and a faithfulness that may embrace you,
through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.