Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sermons for Sunday 24th at 10am - 4th Sunday in Advent and Christmas Midnight follow... It's been a really good Christmas all in all. We split the crib service in 2 due to numbers and ended up with 200 there at the 3.30pm service at 350 or so at the 5pm!!! AMAZING!

Other services were well attended - Midnight Mass must hav had a congregation around 130 people and at least that on Christmas Day - inc. lots of children!

Incluiding multiple visits we must have had contact with just short of 1000 people over the Christmas Eve/Day celelbrations!!!

Even the eucharists after Christmas had worshippers! ALso really good.

I feel elated but knackered now. We had a nice family time too with the in-laws here - they helped out and were good with the kids too!!! LOTS of pressies...

Anyway enough - here are the 2 sermons:


In recent weeks’ sermons, as we have prepared for the coming of Christ, we have thought about how we should be as individuals and as communities. As individuals we need to be hopeful as it is only Christ, the Key of David, who can unlock the doorway to God and the doorway to humanity as God created it to be. Advent people need to be trusting people, people who have come to know that trusting God is not a last resort when all else fails, but the place to start. We also needed to be proclaiming people, people who know that it only when we return to our creator that we find our true status - as children of God - forgiven, healed, hopeful and reconciled.

As communities we have recalled that Advent communities are repentant communities, because we know that we try to survive on our own without God at our peril. As an Advent community need to work to bring ourselves and others to him, broken and incomplete as we each are yearning for forgiveness and love. We have also recalled that Advent communities seek justice and are aware of God’s coming judgment. Since the Buncefield explosion a year ago, there has been a growing need for justice and judgment for residents and business people alike - calling for a full public enquiry and for insurance companies to act as one. Advent communities also proclaim hope. As an Advent community, we must be about sharing hope; hope that the darkness is temporary, hope that the bleakness of life is being overcome by the coming of Life itself, God himself in Christ.

I began this season with Mary and we should end with her too, Firstly, let’s put Mary in context. What did she look like? Next to the tomb of the tomb of the Venerable Bede stands the diminutive stature, the slight frame, the delicate features not quite grown into yet of a teenage girl. There is a gracefulness and yet awkwardness about her as she stands almost coyly next to the English saint. This is Mary - the shy, unassuming girl edging with some difficulty into womanhood whom you still see coming out of Woolworth's at 4.30pm with her school uniform untucked, who spends hours with her friends trying out the cheap make-up she bought in the bathroom mirror. That said, by Jewish standards, she will have been a woman socially, legally, and religiously.

Secondly, the religious context. Mary as a good Jew, was expecting the Messiah who would redeem God’s chosen people and liberate them from the Roman tyranny. The Messiah would be David’s son - a political tour de force with the heavenly armies at his command. This divine leader would exercise the righteous judgment and wrath of God over people and nations. The expectations of most seem to be that this person would come from ‘above’ as an exalted leader and would certainly not be born fragile and delicate in our midst ‘with us.’

Mary must have wondered about the future and what it would bring after her angelic visit - for the child she was carrying promised the world much, as what the angel said challenged her own hopes for her baby, but the angel’s words also challenged what her faith told her about the nature and action of God. In her discussions with angel, we also learn something fundamental about this adolescent and her radical obedience to the will of God.

The Mary’s we see probably every day are often very self-conscious and extremely image conscious. So if some teen idol had spoken to her today, my guess is Mary would have been terrified, excited, and embarrassed all at once. It is hard to begin to imagine how one feels in the presence of an angel but I suspect that it must be all that multiplied to eternity. Either way, after the initial rush of emotions, most of us would be very perplexed at being called ‘favoured one!’

Gabriel goes on to tell this ordinary girl some extraordinary news. She has found favour with God. Why should she - she not holy, in fact she may have seen herself as wholly unremarkable, but she is exactly the sort of person that God likes to give status to - where the poor and humble are lifted up and the rich and proud are brought down. Gabriel comes with a commission, literally a co-mission with and from God. She is to bear a son and to name him Jesus which means saviour. It is a a joint mission with God as this child will be given the throne of David by God and his kingdom will last to eternity. This child is the promised redeemer, but He, like Mary, is not the person that people will expect God to use and he will redeem people for God, but not in ways that they will expect.

What is remarkable with this Mary, compared with her peers in today’s world, is that she has not had sex with Joseph or any other man. This she tells quite calmly to the angel. The biology is pretty basic - how can she become pregnant? Gabriel reassures Mary that all this will be God’s doing. This is supposed to reassure Mary. What will people say? What will Joseph say more importantly? This is it - the marriage is over - in Joseph’s eyes, this will be the consequences of sleeping around. She will bring shame on herself and her parents. Mary is not the sexually active or even curious teen of today - no contraception, no morning after pill - she will somehow just have to come to terms with the social and religious stigma of having a baby outside marriage. Gabriel tells her that this child will be holy and called son of God. So what, who will believe her and how will she cope? The road ahead must have seemed confusing, complicated, even objectionable, but God will see to it Gabriel's says.

In Mary the teenager, God takes something very ordinary and does something extraordinary in the miracle of the conception of the Christ child. The truly extraordinary thing though is not what God does, but what Mary does - she hears the Angel’s words, believes, and obeys, despite the consequences of what others will think of her.

We can learn much from Mary. The Orthodox Church call her Theotokos - God Bearer. This Christmas, as we celebrate the fulfillment of gabriel’s words, we have a choice, a co-mission with and from God. Either we can resolve to hear and obey God’s call to bear Christ to others in our whole lives, for as Christians we believe that God made a permanent and lasting difference to the world in this child. We must not shy away from the consequences of being Christian, and God using even us to tell others in our words and actions of His love. Let it be to me according to your word. Or, we can do nothing leaving it all to to others, besides what might others think of me - thank God Mary didn’t.


Angels. They are flaming everywhere at the moment. If you go in Waterstones, in either the Mind, Body Spirit section or in the Religion section you will find books about angels - how discover your own personal angel, getting to know your guardian angel, your round angel, how to amuse an angel over Christmas and so on.

Angels are not unique to the Bible and therefore to the Jewish and Christian faiths. Angels feature in other major world religions including Hinduism and Islam. Wherever they appear angels come as spirit messengers from God - usually in human form. They exist to carry out God's will. Angels reveal themselves to individuals as well as to the whole nations, and their ‘main job’ it seems is to announce events, either good or bad, affecting human beings. Aside from that they also spend a lot of time worshipping God in heaven.

As a result of spending so much time with God, we can conclude that angels are a bit like God - good, holy, otherworldly... Despite them being announcers of often good news, in the Bible they are usually frightening to those who encounter them (despite the attempted reassuring ‘fear not!’), they occasionally carry swords, they appear in white shining garments, they pitch up it seems anywhere they are sent - in dreams, in tombs, in Temples, in the sky itself.

Angels abound particularly in the Bible stories that we hear at this time of year. An angel tells Mary of her pregnancy, an angel tells Zecheriah of his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy, an angel reassures Joseph about the nature of Mary’s pregnancy, an angel tells the shepherds about the birth of Jesus, and a host of angels sing praise to God for all that he has done and will do through this the baby whose birth we remember tonight.

Angels also feature at the end of this story too. After 3 years of turning the religious world upside down, of healing the sick and raising the dead, of teaching people everything they need to know about God which was often contrary to what the religious establishment of the day, Jesus is arrested, tried for a crime he did not commit, and sentenced to death on the cross. Three days after Jesus’ death, visitors to his tomb discover the stone removed from it, the body gone, and in it’s place an angel or angels telling those who have come some really good news - that Jesus is alive again as he said he would be, all of this happens to forge a new relationship with God with me. For me to know that the things, my sin, that keep me from God are no longer an issue and giving me the chance to live a new way - to aim for a good and holy life.

Tonight, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I want us to rediscover the importance of this part of the story with it’s angels, as I feel that in some ways, Christians over the years have focussed too much attention on the end of the story of the life of this baby.

The Christmas story is these days often confined to the ‘children’s section.’ It’s a lovely story about a baby after all. Yet we forget at our peril that the coming of God’s promised saviour, a political figure, was foretold generations beforehand and the arrival of the one who would liberate God’s people from Roman rule, and restore the worship of God once more at the heart of the life of people, was longed and hoped for almost physically. Thing is, in this baby, no one really got what they expected.

No one expected God’s great leader to be born in poverty, in the squalor of a stable. But to show that this accidental identification with the poor and homeless was no accident, the first visitors to the manger are shepherds - socially one of the lowest groups - so the poor and outcast are welcomed by God!

Later wise men too observe using their astrological charts the rising of a birth star of a new godly ruler and they come to seek him out to worship him. Similarly, no one expected God’ Jewish saviour to be visited and worshipped by non-Jews.
Also, for generations, people tried live God’s way, following the Law and the Ten Commandments and succeeding for a time and then mostly failing. The Old Testament is one long story of God people struggling to get back to him, to relationship with him. No one expected that in birth of baby Jesus - God comes to us.

Advertisers talk much about medium and message. For generations people had heard God’s message of love of love to the world and the call to live a new way - through God speaking, prophets speaking, and people doing some listening. Most of the time people wandered away from God and did their own thing - they heard the message, but the medium was too abstract.

Tonight though no expected it, in the birth of baby Jesus, God comes as medium and message - for in Jesus the adult, people see and hear what God is like and how all people - rich poor, Jews gentiles, wise lowly can build a relationship with him.

This is precisely the reason why the Christmas story is not just for children. It is a historical event that happened for all of us - rich, poor, Jew or Christian, intelligent or foolish. Don’t think for one second that this baby is not for you because you’re not like the ‘holy’ people who come to church and it’s not somewhere where you would normally feel at home. Don’t think for a second that this baby is not for you because other people come here regularly to worship God and you are not that sort. Don’t think for a second that this baby is not for you because you haven’t got your life in order, your relationships sorted and everything fixed.

You are in for a suprise. No one expected God’s promised saviour, whose birth was prophesied by angels, and whose arrival was sung by heavenly choirs, to arrive as a fragile and vulnerable newborn. Similarly, the baby whose birth we celebrate tonight is for us especially when our lives and our relationships are in a mess, he is for us especially when we don’t feel good enough and certainly not holy in any way shape or form - not today, not ever!, he is for us when we see ourselves as ‘normal’ and not like them in there because that’s how I feel, how many of us feel. You do not have to be an angel to be here tonight or any time and we will certainly not be checking for halos at the door.

The only angels tonight are the ones that tell us again of Jesus’ birth and invite us to discover him ourselves in Bethlehem, in Galillee as an adult, on the cross outside Jerusalem, and here in Leverstock Green in the hearts lives of ordinary people like you this Christmas and every day. Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Herewith a version of what I preached at 8am on Sunday. Very concerned about what I am going to preach about this weekend. Here's hoping and praying!


Remember when you were expecting your first child? That feeling is probably clearest today, the third Sunday of Advent. This day is traditionally called "Gaudette Sunday." It means "rejoicing Sunday," from the Latin word, gaudere , to rejoice. The rose candle on the Advent wreath is lighted today and the sometimes heavy weight of Advent is lifted for a time.

Now, there is something tricky about great gifts -- especially when the gift is a child. The lessons we just heard do a marvelous job of pointing to this insight. The first isall about rejoicing. "Rejoice" is the first word we hear from Philippians. We are assured that the Lord is at hand, and this is a wonderful thought.

That is part of what it means to prepare for a gift. That is almost always the very first thing you say when you discover someone is expecting a child; you say, "congratulations," -- rejoice, this is wonderful news. We have all heard that a lot.

Rejoicing is also a big part of what it means to prepare for Christmas. The good news of Advent is that God is coming to God's people -- to you and to me. God's promises are being fulfilled. And we are to await that, to believe that, to realize that-and open ourselves fully to it. That is cause for celebration and for rejoicing.

Then we hear the Gospel and the image shifts. God is no longer pictured as a victorious warrior exulting over his people, but as a wrathful judge, an executioner who loves his work. We are standing at the River Jordan, face to face with John the Baptist at his most intense.

John doesn't say to rejoice; John says to repent. Paul told the Philippians not to be anxious about anything; John tells his hearers to flee from the wrath to come.

Everyone in the Gospel is asking, "What shall we do? What has to change if we are to survive the great and terrible events that lie ahead?" For the axe is already laid to the root of the trees, and fire
Is prepared for burning the chaff. This is a very different message from "rejoice!" And if you think about it, that makes sense, too. That fear, that anxiety, too, is part of our preparation and of our waiting. And it should be heard, and felt, at exactly the same moment we hear, and feel, the call to rejoice. For the Lord we await in Advent is a Lord who makes a difference, who changes things.

He is a Lord who offers both new life and new responsibilities, and who offers them together -- simultaneously. Part of what new life means is that the old life just doesn't work anymore -- because everything is different. If we receive the gift of the Christ child, everything will change, and the direction and the focus of our lives will shift. It just works that way.

Remember the second thing everybody says when they learn that you are expecting a child? The first thing said is always, "congratulations, we're happy for you; it's wonderful news." The second thing is always one form or another of, "boy are you in for it!"

We are told often, and in a variety of ways, that things are going to change, that everything will be different. Nobody uses the word, but everybody tells us we have to repent, indeed that we are going to repent, to change our way of looking and living.

"Rejoice/repent!" This dual demand in the face of the coming of God is addressed to all of us -- it is part of Advent. It is a perfect reflection of the ambiguity that permeates our vision and our experience. We await and try to prepare for the coming of a child -- a child who changes everything. So Zephaniah is right, we are to rejoice, and give thanks to God, and sing. And John the Baptist is right, and this wonderful gift will also come as judgment, and with a power and a violence all its own. If we are going to take seriously the good news of Christmas, then things are going to be very different.

Think about how much your first child changed your lives. Think of what it would look like to live comfortably with the child from Bethlehem -- as a baby, and as an adult. For both the joy he offers and the demands he makes cannot be truly ours if we remain exactly the people we are today. And think about what repentance, the redirection of our attention, looks like -- it is not something weird or mysterious. Repentance generally looks pretty much like our lives now, but with a difference.

When the crowd at the Jordan River felt this crunch of anticipation and judgment, their cry of "what then shall we do?" was met with responses designed to force them into practical decisions. "Look at who you are," John the Baptist said; "begin there." When it comes to sharing, share from what you have. Don't wait until you have more, or until your offering can be of a higher quality-start now, start with what is already there.

Practice justice where you work, build fairness and mercy into your present dealings, your current life. Don't wait until you have a job where justice is easier -- or more noticeable. Don't wait to be somewhere else, or to be doing something else, or to be someone else -- begin with the road in front of you, walk that road, and so allow God to transform the real life you live right now. John did not tell even the despised tax collectors or the hated and feared soldiers that they had to go somewhere else to begin. Just as being a son of Abraham was no exemption from the call to repent, so being a tax collector or a soldier was no barrier to repentance, to change. The business of repenting because of the gift of a child is much the same as rejoicing. It has to do with transforming the life we are already living.

Repent and rejoice -- in all things, with the real life we live in the real world. It really is a familiar situation. As it is with much else, this is also our response to the ambiguity that surrounds us, and to the reality of the coming of the Lord. Rejoice, for what is happening is wonderful. Repent, because from now on, everything will be different.

Monday, December 11, 2006

And from the Diocesan website, the text of the sermon the Bishop Christopher Herbert preached at the service called Buncefield: A Service to Remember at our Holy Trinity, Leverstock Green.

Buncefield Anniversary Service Sunday 10 December 2006 by The Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, Lord Bishop of St Albans.

We all have our memories. Mine is of being woken suddenly and terrifyingly by the huge explosion; the whole house shaking. Like everyone else I didn’t know what had caused it. Within minutes someone was at my door telling me that it might have been a terrorist attack. The next memory is of seeing thick, black smoke pouring up into and across the sky.

I have other memories – of coming to the meeting at the Sports Centre in Hemel and seeing the look of shock and devastation on the faces of those made homeless – and watching the Police and Council Officers as they swung into action so efficiently – some of them homeless themselves; and then going to a school in Leverstock Green and seeing all the windows shattered and tiny shards of glass embedded in absolutely everything like shrapnel….and being taken to meet the fire crews and being asked what took me so long because the minute I stepped into Silver Control, the fire damped down….and then going around the Industrial Estate, and being unable to comprehend the scale of the devastation; buildings twisted into grotesque shapes; trees stripped and blackened. It would be invidious to pick out heroes – though the fire crews are up there with the gold medallists and, I can’t begin to tell you how proud I was of the clergy and people of the Church in Hemel, as so much pastoral and practical help was offered. It was understated, often un-noticed – but it was the stuff of which real ommunities are made. I should like to put on record my personal thanks and profound appreciation for all that was done by Dave Middlebrook, Simon Cutmore, Peter Cotton, Sue Allen, Jan Neale, David Lawson and fellow ministers in other churches…..the Salvation Army (the Mars bars in their van near Silver Control were delicious). Of course Government Ministers came shooting up the M1 and shot back down again….but the real work was done at County level, at Borough level, and at parish and street level. It is not recognised, it is unsung – but it has its own tenacious, quiet and noble bravery.

What the fire crews did as they walked towards the inferno, was echoed a thousand times over by smaller but equally important acts of sheer loving heroism, all over Hemel Hempstead, on the day itself and in the weeks which followed.
None of this, of course, detracts from the questions that continue to be asked – about the causes of the blast; about the storage tanks being so close to places of work and homes; and about who was responsible. Those questions will not and must not go away. I confess I remain puzzled why a public enquiry was not held. There should be nothing to be afraid of in transparency should there?

A sermon needs a biblical text – and mine comes from the story of the prophet Elijah, who longs to meet and see God. He stands on a mountain: “a great strong wind came, rending mountains and shattering rocks before him, but the Lord was not in the wind, and after the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake, fire, but the Lord was not in the fire – and after the fire, a still, small voice….” There have been many attempts to listen to the still, small voice after the devastation here – all those acts of worship, in the car park at Maylands Avenue Industrial Estate, in the school at Adeyfield; all those quiet, one-to-one conversation where people have helped each other through the shock; the counselling, the friendships, the Mayor’s remarkable and very timely appeal; the work of repair and rebuilding: the still, small voice of God is heard and found in all of those things – wherever, out of love and self-sacrifice people give themselves to each other. But I want to suggest that there is also a still, small voice to be encountered in some of the bigger questions which the Buncefield explosion highlighted. Let me concentrate on one in particular:

In the past few years Hertfordshire has suffered more major incidents than any other county in Great Britain. The Watford railcrash; the Hatfield rail-crash; the Potters Bar rail-crash and Buncefield. In each of those cases the work of the emergency
services, the work of the churches, the work of voluntary organisations, and the work of hospitals, the work of Borough and
County Council Officers has been outstanding. The County of Hertfordshire has a remarkable record – and can be proud of how these major incidents have been handled. Hooray and alleluia for that. But can someone please explain, therefore, why those services upon which we all rely, I’m thinking particularly of the NHS and our hospitals, are now facing such upheaval and such turmoil? The A & E at Hemel Hempstead is apparently scheduled for closure; the QEII at Welwyn Garden City is under threat and we are told that the NHS is being taken closer to the people. That is a twist in truth and logic worthy of ‘1984’.

When, from a statistical point of view Hertfordshire is such a vulnerable place to live (because we are the neck of the funnel from the North and Midlands into the London). Is that being factored in to the “reorganisation” of our health-care systems?
Is that being factored in to the resourcing of our emergency services? Is that being factored in to the siting and development of new housing areas? I do not know the answers to the questions – but it is only right to raise them. Would it not be helpful if, as we reflect on Buncefield, Potters Bar, Hatfield and Watford – would it not be helpful if County-wide we could bring together the leaders of emergency services, hospital trusts and PCTs, churches, voluntary organisations, councils and transport planers and see what we can jointly learn from all that has happened?

And the still, small voice would require that Ministers, who have a very difficult job in balancing priorities (I fully acknowledge that), if they and their senior advisers might come to listen to what is being said. The still, small voice is in danger of increasing the volume – and that must be avoided, but I want to add two things more. - and that is firstly to acknowledge and give thanks for the ingenuity, the efficiency the professionalism and the wealth created by the industries in Hemel Hempstead and especially on the Maylands Avenue Industrial Estate, which enables so much of our society, in spite of all the criticism we hear, to flourish. and secondly, to recognise that whilst competition seems to be an inherent and necessary part of industry and society, what we also discovered out of Buncefield, was the significance and pleasure that came from co-operation: cooperation across the boundaries of professional and volunteer, of industry and social services, of councils and

At a local level it would be very telling and very forward-thinking if those kinds of co-operation for the common weal of all the people of Hemel Hempstead, could be explored and developed further. Put in this way: imagine a child in Hemel Hempstead in, say, twenty years time. What would you like that child to be able to say about living in this corner of Hertfordshire, which they cannot say now? If Buncefield could lead us to shape our community and our work and our lives so that we could bring that kind of vision into being – then the still, small voice of God will be able to be heard.

Meanwhile, in those who are still suffering ill-health, homelessness or distress as a result of the explosion, the still, small voice of God discovered within the depths of our souls and within the love of others, will bring healing. But for those in positions of power, in the worlds of insurance and law, in the boardrooms of public companies, the still, small voice is
waiting to be heard; quietly and persistently demanding righteous and just dealings for those who suffer, and demanding that the eternal values of compassion and truth are given space to flourish.

‘After the fire, the still, small voice….’.
Herewith a version of Sunday's sermon marking the anniversary of the Buncefield blast.

A year ago at 6.01am all of us were woken by the largest explosion in peace time Europe. For a large number of us, the damage to our homes, lives and livelihoods has been small, and in most cases anything that needed attending to in terms of counseling, building work, and employment have all been resolved one way or another.

For a significant minority of people though in this village, the Buncefield blast lingers on in more than just the memory due to wrangles with the insurance company, incomplete building work, ongoing unemployment, children’s inability to sleep, and unresolved post traumatic stress. As Mike Penning rightly said on Friday night - those members of our community have become a forgotten people and and their struggle has become a forgotten story. So on this anniversary weekend I feel that it is absolutely right that bring to mind the almost biblical events of last year that affected us all to a lesser or greater degree, that we remind ourselves of the ongoing struggle for some, and that we commit ourselves to walking with them into the future.

This anniversary weekend we are also confronted with this strange, hairy man, John, shouting in the desert about repentance. The Gospel writers associate him with a prophet standing in the desert scrubland. This prophet seems to think we only get to the comfort when we’ve faced the devastation. He’s on about the wilderness, as well. What’s more, he seems to think that we are sitting in a desert because that’s what we have made of our lives. He suggests that we’ve pulled up our roots, and turned away from our ground, our source of water, which is God. Now we are so weak and dry that we drift about aimlessly.

With the Buncefield blast still ringing in our ears, and the prophet in Isaiah linked to John certain that we only get true comfort when we have faced devastation - a devastation still present amongst us, what sort of a community should we be as we prepare to greet the Christ child?

Repentant. John calls us to repentance, to live a new way. To give ourselves so completely to God, that our lives take an about face away from the wasteland that we so often make them, filled with lifeless doubt, crippling guilt, and choking fear of today and tomorrow, to them becoming places where life springs up and new growth is nurtured which is completely dependent on God for it’s future.

Advent is our readying ourselves for God’s coming to us. In some senses this is not a joyful season but one that helps to acknowledge that our world, our society, our lives, our faith are all broken and the only help and hope open to us is in God. Advent is also our readying ourselves for our coming to God and therefore being repentant is not just about breast beating at our willful ignoring of his will for us, rather it is as much about our longing for wholeness, healing and hope.

An Advent community is a repentant community, because it knows that we try to survive on our own without God at our peril. As an Advent community need to work to bring ourselves and others to him, broken and incomplete as we each are yearning for forgiveness and love.

As advent people, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to work for healing and hope for those in our community who continue to be affected by the events of a year ago - listening to and sharing the story of our community, supporting the most vulnerable amongst us through acts of practical love and working together for the future of all.

Seeking justice and judgment. Hear the words of God through Malachi - God says he is like a refiners fire and a fullers soap, purifying and refining the descendants of Levi. Isaiah too prophesies the leveling of the land before God. We as an advent community need to be prepared for God’s judgment whilst also longing for his justice.

The story of God’s involvement with people in the scriptures speaks again and again of God’s coming and his coming again, to conclude the work he began at the first moment of creation and to restore and renew, but also to identify that which is irrevocably broken, to bring to light the things that we as people do which have willfully hampered God’s purposes for us and our lives.

Advent communities seek justice and are aware of God’s coming judgment. Since the Buncefield explosion a year ago, there has been a growing need for justice and judgment for residents and business people alike.

As an Advent community, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to continue seek justice and judgment and to call for closure for our community. Part of this justice and closure must come through a full and transparent public inquiry, not so that the finger of blame can be pointed at particular people because their job was not done properly, but so that the community can know stage by stage what happened and why it happened. God’s advent justice for this community is also about our insurance companies acting with a single voice and acting as one and acting now. God’s advent justice for this community is also about those who have the power to ensure that as far as possible this sort of event doesn’t happen again, make sure that it doesn’t.

Hope. Hear the words of Isaiah, liked to John the Baptist - all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Salvation, literally saving from an irredeemable event, from an impossible situation offers hope. The story of God’s involvement with people is one that speaks again and again of God stepping in and lifting humanity out of the deepest darkness we insist on putting ourselves into

As an Advent community, we must be about sharing hope; hope that the darkness is temporary, hope that the bleakness of life is being overcome by the coming of Life itself, God himself in Christ.

As an Advent community, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to be the voice telling our beleaguered community God’s story of hope. Part of this story is already being told not in words but in actions. Look back over the last year and see how this community has come together and supported one another because we had to.

As Christians we are purveyors of hope - hopes invested in a soon to be born child, but not just any child but God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus - saviour. But it was throughout this child's life that hope exudes as even at teh end in death and resurrection - hope is revealed. Hemel Hempstead, heavenly homestead as it literally means. knew the presence of the coming God a year ago. It must continued to do so now as we hold our community’s hand, and walk together into God future in hope.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Very tired again tonight.

Feeling better though after a month of feeling really pretty ill. The Advent carols service - 'Seven Bells to Bethlehem' went really well on Sunday night. The best attended it has been in my time with about 100 people there. It really is a beautiful service though...

Today though, it seems there tensions between school and church that need resolving. The main issue it seems to me is that communication at the bazaar needs to be improved. I am quite angry though at the back biting and bitching and will talk to Alan about it tomorrow. I will also ensure though that if we do something as a church like the bazaar - we will make sure we do it properly including helping set up and clear up et al.

On another note - Ben seems ro be doing really well potty training. Been at it for 2 weeks now and he has got it! Today he managed to to verbalise that he needed to go, took himself off un aided and succeeded! Major breakthough...!!!

As the Buncefield anniversay draws nearer, I am aware of how big the service in church on Sunday at 2.30pm could be - it is certainly got national profile. I feel a bit daunted by what needs to be resolved yet and I feel that I need to spend some time on Saturday and maybe even Friday in putting stuff in place. I am delighted that the Bishop is coming and his support through all of this has been immeasurable.

On another note - the first of the Adevnt studies on prayer happened tonight using Bishop Martin's 'Pearls of Life.' A small group, but the content seemed to be very well received. Do feel that I feling around in teh dark a bit and will need to be better prepared next week - even so - the group seem as liberated to pray as I do using them pearls. I also need to do less talking next time and find some we to free discussion. Either way, I hope that this is beginning of something special in terms of renewing the prayer lives of the people at church.

Anyway, off to bed


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Very very very tired today - in fact Alex is too... Very bad night indeed. Hey ho!

New Advent service book in use for the first time today - I was pleased with the result I think.

I am concious that there are alot of people within the community who are really struggling right now with one thing or another. It feels quite crushing. Need to to hope and pray that God breaks into the situations of many in our church right now...

Below is an incomplete version of what I preached this morning...

LGVA Carol concert in a little while... :-)



In the hills of northern Spain stands an old church with a very unusual statue of Mary in it. Down in the crypt she stands - La Madona de la O - the O Madonna or Advent Madonna. She stands in late pregnancy, heavy with child and full of hope for the future. Her pregnant fullness quietly announces God’s love for the world.

It is this Mary, blooming in late pregnancy, that also represents the church as she enters Advent. We like Mary are anticipatingly awaiting the arrival of her Son. We, like her, are filled with hope because of the child she will bear. The Advent church, with Mary, long for justice for the world, through this child whose name means ‘saviour.’ We, like Mary, know that with God this sense of hope and longing has a personal edge that affects us - it brings us into the searing light of God’s judgement, it calls us to change, and yet fills us with pregnant joy that the fulfilled hopes of God and us rest in this unborn child. As we prepare to greet the Christ child - how should I be?

Hopeful. Advent is the season where we long for God’s coming to us. For centuries faithful men and women throughout the Old Testament had watched and waited for God to come and liberate his people - freeing them from oppression, slavery, and occupation. With the angel’s words to her, Mary knew that generations of waiting were soon to be over. In this holy season as we anticipate remembering God coming to our world bringing justice and judegement, we need to be hopeful that God has moved the constant battle with evil and suffering, into it’s endgame.

The coming Christ is the one who can open the gateway closed by God at Eden because of sin and who stands at the door open in heaven inviting us in. In Advent, Christ is called the Key of David - a symbol of authority at the palace of Jerusalem - and it’s bearer had the authority to admit people into the royal presence. The key in question was a cumbersome affair carried on the shoulders, and the analogy between key and cross cannot be downplayed.

With the coming of God comes wild hope, but not a crazy utopian dream. Peace in nations begins with peace in people. Free nations begins with free people. Liberation of lands and political systems begins with liberating the human heart. Advent people are hopeful people, people who know that it is only the coming Christ child who can unlock the doorway to God and the doorway to humanity as God created it to be.

Trusting. Mary’s words to the angel. “Let it be to me according to your word.’ show a radical obedience to the will of God. In this holy season, as we anticipate remembering God coming into our world - restoring, healing - we too need to become people who trust God. As God entrusts himself to his creation in the vulnerability of a helpless baby, so we need to entrust ourselves to his will. In advent, Mary reminds us that her trust is not a blind acceptance. All that she had been told would happen had happened.

We need to trust God, as incredulous and unlikely as that might seem. God is trustworthy and true and does not revoke his promises. In Christ, all God’s promises already in place. His first coming at the Incarnation confirmed the reliability of all the Old testa ment prophesies. The enduring presence of of the Holy Spirit in his church, by which the endgame has begun, assures us that he will return again. God’s future has begun, here, now.

With the coming of God comes a need to trust him, but not a crazy utopian dream. What Mary knew, we must know. God has consistently proved himself to be faithful through the pages of scripture and the lives of men and women over the ages, all that Mary heard from the angel she saw fulfilled. Advent people are trusting people, people who have come to know that trusting God is not a last resort when all else fails, but the place to start.

Proclaiming. Mary’s words ‘My soul magnifies the Lord!’ remind that Advent’s purpose is to proclaim God in a world that largely ignores him. As a tiny baby, that is to say so unobtrusive in his humility, he needs to be magnified to been seen. In a world that ignores him and yet needs him more and more - the we need to sing the Magnificat in our live all the more loudly. In a world that gives status dependent on wealth, on body image, on clothing, yet longs for love, forgiveness, healing and hope, we need to proclaim him all the more.

Advent longs for coming of God to us, but it also is the time to remind us that God waits for our coming to him. At the incarnation he comes to us and will come again at the end of time, in the meantime he watches out like the father of the prodigal son - waiting to embrace us in eternal love.

Advent is traditionally as season of repentance - seeking to mend broken relationships, hearing words of forgiveness - so we also need to return to God, discovering as we do in this holy season, that it only when we return to our creator that we find our true status - as children of God - forgiven, healed, hopeful and reconciled.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On Saturday, whilst the Christmas Bazaar was going on, I was in London at Southwark Cathedral at a service and events to celebrate the signing of the Porvoo Agreement. I got absoloutely drenched as I made my way from teh tube to the church... oh well...!

The service was wonderful, and the Dean of Nideros preached a cracking sermon. It was a real shame that +Kenneth is still too unwell to prevent him from being there - prayers...

After the service I was invited to lunch with other intresated parties, links people, and bishops. All very nice and sociable. After lunch though I attended a seminar on the future of Porvoo and where we go together in the next 10 years. Focus was on parish links and young people and it really feels like there is some meaningful direction and a new work to be done...

I was sad to miss the bazaar - but this was a great opportunity to be involved in ecumenism on an international level and with the Porvoo agreement being close to my heart (as it links the Swedish church amongst others to the Anglican church) I really needed to be there...

More in a moment!

Here is a copy of what I said (more or less on Sunday morning.) I am really feeling like we have some God given clarity and vision and direction now. More on that another time.

Confirmation serivce today - lots to do...


Based on John 18:33-37

Today, the Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the church year. Over the year we have recalled the promise of Christ’s coming, his birth, life and ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today also marks the end of our annual training programme on how to be Christian disciples.

The conversation between the Pilate and Jesus revolves around the issue of kingship, with Pilate determined to discover whether Jesus poses a real political threat or not, and Jesus determined to redefine the notion of ‘kingdom’ and kingship.’ Again Jesus reminds Pilate that it is he who defines Jesus in political terms. “You say that I am a king.’ Even though Jesus was not a problem for Pilate - he believed he held Jesus’ life in the balance - Pilate was determined to get to the bottom of this and so should we - what does it mean for Christ to be King?

Christ’s kingship is God given and has a universal and personal reign. Universally Christ is king of all creation. When God sent his son, he did so to complete the work he began when he said. ‘Let there be light!’ Christ’s life, death and resurrection are about God taking all that it means to be created, broken, hurting, incomplete even sinful, to heart, and on the cross’s eternal embrace, to allow the eternal effect of sin and death to die with his Son. Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates every thing into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present,

Personally, Christ is King of our hearts. As Christ dies, the eternal affects of sin and death are annihilated. With his cry of ‘It is finished!’ Christ is not defeated, but victorious! Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates every thing into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present. Christ is King in me, for just as he took sin and brokenness to his heart, so I must take Christ’s kingship to heart. Christ is King in me by my faith in him. The liberation beginning to experienced in creation, can be experienced in my life, in yours only when we pay due respect to the king, when we listen to his words, and as loyal subjects, carry out his will.
What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who lay ourselves open completely to the will of God, we need to become a trusting people, we need to ask him to help us to become a faithful praying people. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows even Jesus found it hard - Gethsemene still rings with Jesus’ ‘Father if it is possible, take this cup from me!’ Yet when we do, even our deaths become resurrections and the problems and worries that might keep us awake at night pale into insignificance. It’s not that they disappear, but that we entrust them and ourselves to the will of God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who are filled to overflowing with the love of God. Just as God’s love for creation overflowed into the coming of Christ, so our love of God should overflow into our relationships with others. The hallmark of the Christian community in Paul’s day, back as the church was beginning, was the way that Christian’s loved one another. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the well where Jesus encountered the Syrophonecian woman still stings with Jesus’, ‘Is it right that the children’s food is thrown to the dogs?’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Jesus, even the most deepseated difference with our neighbours, friends or family pale into insignificance when we see all people made in the image of God and loved by God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.
What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who know that we are loved personally by God. If you were the only person on earth, God’s love is so great for you, Christ would have come - did come - just to restore the relationship between God and you. Hear Jesus’ words in 3:16 from God’s point of view - God so loved N so much that he sent his only son so that if they believe in me, they would not perish but have eternal life. God calls us to love ourselves too - he does. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the seashore is still lapped with Jesus’ words to Simon and his response, ‘Do you love me... you know that I love you.’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Peter, our self-worth is restored. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Friends, today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today marks our renewed recommitment to be Christian disciples, seeking Christ’s kingship, the love of our redeemer, brother and lord, in our lives, in our loves, in our world. Amen.

Monday, November 20, 2006


A couple of Sundays ago we had 2 extremely moving remebrance Sunday services - a non eucharistic 10am service with stories and memories and a new service at teh War Memorial. There were in excess of 200 people at both which was great!

The text of this week's sermon follows and is based on Mark 13:1-8 and the sermon was in 2 parts (part one as taster for everyone inc the children)...

Sermon part 1:
I love going away on holiday and when I do I love to go and visit some of the sights. One of the best places I have ever visited is Chicago. It is beautiful - right on the banks of Lake Michigan. It has loads of really amazing buildings - some quite old by American standards with nice bricks and stone and carving; some really new with smoked glass and chromed steel. Some of the most successful companies in America have been and are based there. Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem doing a bit of sightseeing. The disciples are amazed at some of the things they see. They are particularly taken with the size of the Temple - they notice how big the stones used to make it were. Jesus warns the disciples that one day these great buildings will be destroyed. That’s sad, especially if they were as amazing as the ones in Chicago are. Jesus’ point though is: these buildings might be used by companies who make all sorts of amazing things that we might really want, that help make life good - PS3, drums, trainers - but if we have the best trainers, a fantastic drumkit and a new PS3 and don’t trust in God and listen to Jesus then we have missed what life is all about.

sermon part 2:
So where do place our trust? What do we hope for? What makes life good for us? Lower taxes? A new car?? Aromatherapy???

Back in Jesus’ day, people were pretty anxious. They were people living in an occupied land, kept ‘secure’ by foreign soldiers. They longed for freedom. There was also a strong feeling that they were living in ‘the end times’ the end of the world was near. The metallic taste of fear was in the air. There were sections of Jewish society that played on that fear - the tax collectors who helped to finance the political status quo - the all encompassing influence of one nation, Italy and the Roman system of government - oh and line their own pockets too! Another such section of society was the Temple. Instead of being a place where God was worshiped, and people were liberated to live for him - they were being crushed by the weight of the letter of the law, and being tithed financially dry. This suited the religious leaders - it kept them in jobs, in the lifestyle they loved, and in the respect of the masses.

Jesus deplored this. It stood rank and file against the coming kingdom of his God and father, with it’s inverted values that benefitted the many not the few. Whilst the Temple and the rest of Roman influenced society was an amazing structure, there was a time coming when God would tear it down and raise it to the ground. This, along with the persecution of Jesus’ followers would lead ultimately to his return.

Jesus is unnervingly specific in his predictions - in the future, disciples could expect to face famines and earthquakes, wars, the break up of families and community strife. This is just part of the process of freeing that the Son of Man will himself complete.

Yet this is an unnervingly contemporary gospel. We too live in anxious times. Whilst our land may not be occupied, in many places we are the occupier albeit in the name of peacekeeping. Yet we are occupied, or at least our political leaders are pre-occupied with the very real threat of Islamic terrorism. With that threat and nuclear programmers being developed if not in Iraq then certainly in Iran and North Korea then we maybe also feeling a bit apocalyptic. There are also those in our society who play on our fears - offering us loans we cannot repay, health remedies that may not work, legal advice to sue when what happened was a genuine accident - and the all encompassing influence of one nation America, her MacDonalds culture and ‘democracy at all costs.’

An anxious people look for surety in all sorts of places and some find it in religion. But if the church is ever a place where people are drawn in and all your gifts, talents, time and money are used up here, then it makes us no better than the Temple enforcing the unenforceable.

The church should be a place where we are encouraged, where we meet with God and are empowered by him , where we are sent out to face earthquakes, wars, family break up, community strife.

It is here where we learn what suffering means - or put a better way, where life is headed. Jesus doesn’t try to down -play or explain the sufferings he talks of - except that we see later that he himself would walk the same road, being rejected by the same institutions of power and influence, taking suffering to it’s conclusion. And yet his death marks the death of those who play on our fears - the Temple curtain tears in two. Not one stone will be left one on another.

We have no way of knowing whether any of what Jesus talks of here will happen. Except... the things Jesus predicted happening to him happened. Except... men and women around our world have been and will suffer in exactly the sorts of way that Jesus suggests.

Go on - place your faith in the institutions of power; see if that massage helps long term not just for you but for others; long for the Iraq war to end or Tony Blair to resign - or place your trust in a God who made the world, loves it, suffers, dies and rises again in it, and who is freeing it’s anxious people from fear one at a time. Amen

In other news:

I have been invited to the 10th Anniversary service for the signing of Parvoo on Saturday which I am going to which should be wonderful - at Southwark Cathedral... I shall be thinking specially of Richard et al in Sweden on the day...

Speaking of Anniversaries - 10th December 2006 at 2.30pm - Buncefield: A Service to Remember with Rt Rev'd Christopher Herbert, Bishop; of St Albans. All Welcome.

The Bible Study groups seem to be going well and people seem to be enjoying them and each other's company. I hope thatg more people might want to join in (esp. those who couldn't this time) when they re-launch after this study in February.

Also, it has been really good to have Hitesh on board - he led on Sunday and his ministry is such a blessing...

Anyway, that's it for now - perhaps more later...


PS Bought 2 new (ish) King's X albums recently - wonderful! Also sad that their faith seems to be completely gone now...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Someone suggested that, as I hadn't updated this blog for about a million years, that I should put the sermon for the week here, so I will. It's for Bibile Sunday (thanks to The Bible Society for the ideas...) in brief...

Opening illustration: satellite navigation
Start with the common experience of being in a car and lost.
Explain that now help is at hand. Or is it?
� Sat Nav is here.

What are the benefits of Sat Nav?
� Guiding us (giving us instruction)
� Telling us where we�ve gone wrong
� Getting us back on the right route when we stray off the right road
� This could be a picture of the Bible maybe � as Paul told Timothy.

But Sat Nav has its pitfalls!
Tell how �
� Many cars have been diverted from the M5 to a ford in a river in Somerset. The ford is too deep for cars and the local farmer is regularly pulling cars out with his tractor!

� For truly reliable information we need someone with genuine local knowledge alongside us.
� And this, as Paul tells Timothy, is really what an encounter with God�s Word is like.
� The Scriptures are not just �useful for teaching and helping� us know what to do but for �showing [us] how to live� (2 Timothy 3.16, CEV)
Stress that �
� The Bible is more than a programmed computer.
� It is living, �inspired� by God, full of the breath of his life, and capable of setting off a chain of reactions in our lives.

Show how the chain reaction of God�s Word was easy for Timothy to see. How the Scriptures had in turn shaped his grandmother deeply, then his mother, then him.
� And now as leader of the church, probably in Ephesus, they were shaping him and he was experiencing their power.

Illustration � Wilberforce and the anti-slavery campaign

� 200 years ago the big industry was slavery. It was as vital to Britain�s economy as the IT industry today. But it trapped 11 million Africans over several centuries as slaves in cruel conditions.
� Over the next six months or so, churches, cities and many people across the UK will be remembering an event 200 years ago which outlawed the slave trade.
� This came about through a chain reaction when a small group of mostly Christians fought for about 50 years for Parliament to abolish the slave trade. And finally they won.
� What many people won�t realise is that this was all due to a chain reaction that can be traced back to the Bible � which changed the lives of those who led the fight against slavery.
� First the Bible impacted a slave trader called John Newton.
� Eventually he became a minister of a church in London. Here his preaching and life made an impact on the young William Wilberforce who went on to become one of the country�s brightest MPs.
� When Wilberforce began thinking about becoming a Christian, he turned to his old friend Newton. Newton helped him both on his journey to faith and in making it part of his life mission to stay in Parliament and lead the battle against the slave trade. In particular, there were two building blocks from the Bible that especially inspired William Wilberforce. And he built his whole life on them.
� One was the understanding in Genesis (1.26�27) that all people are made equally in God�s image.
� The second was Jesus� command to do to others as we want them to do to us (Matthew 7.12).
Wilberforce was not alone.
� Fellow anti-slavery campaigners Granville, Sharp and Clarkson and freed slave Olaudah Equiano were also a part of the bible�s chain reaction.
� The �force behind Wilberforce� � the Bible�s principles guided and sustained Wilberforce through to the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.
Wilberforce and his associates continued to press for the release of all those who were oppressed. In 1833, a few days before he died, Wilberforce was given the last piece of news to reach him from Parliament � the law to liberate slaves in the West
Indies had been passed.
So we can see that �
� The Bible has the power firstly to change each one of us very deeply.
� If we let it go on shaping us, it will change our whole way of looking at life, how we think about and treat other people, the goals we have and the difference we can make in the lives of others.
2. The chain reaction � how it happens
Pose the questions �
� So how should that transforming life-changing reaction occur for us?
� We may never be a Wilberforce but how can we be transformed as we encounter the Bible?

First, we need to be encountering the Bible ourselves � alone or with others, by reading or listening.
� Second, we need to encounter it with an openness to being changed and shaped � in our attitudes, values, choices, priorities and actions.
� Third, we need to begin to respond to what we hear � one Sat Nav direction at a time. And some times this can mean retracing our steps.
� Fourth, do it with fellow passengers � because there is safety in numbers. Are they hearing what you are hearing? Can you help each other find the right road?
� For Wilberforce, following Jesus wasn�t just about fighting the slave trade. He also committed to getting his daily living right.
� One of the first steps was to rebuild his relationship with Charles Fox, a leading opponent in Parliament. Before this, Wilberforce had used his killer wit and no-holds-barred criticism to defeat Fox and seriously hurt
him in the process.
� Now, as a Christian, Wilberforce determined always to treat his opponents fairly and with respect.
� Just like Wilberforce it is about our daily living as much as the big things � taking notice and being a friend to the neighbour or the new student at school/college going through a hard time.
� Thinking about how we use our money � does it go straight on the latest music downloads, holidays, house improvements, or are we asking God how we can use it?
� It is this powerful, never-ending, transforming power of the �God- breathed Word� that equips us to live in the right way day by day at home, at school, at work and wherever.

Rwanda � making peace through the power of the Bible
� Adele lost her husband in the terrible violence that ripped apart communities across the east African country of Rwanda in 1994.
� Her husband and many other members of her family were some of the one million people who died.
� But Adele has found healing for her bitterness. Searching for a way to deal with her pain, she turned to the Bible.
� Remarkably, she found through God�s forgiveness there that she was able to forgive her husband�s killers. But it didn�t end there. Through the Bible, she also heard God calling her to take this healing to many of the killers of her tribe.
� Adele started visiting the prison in Ntsinda and talked to the men there about the Bible and how it had healed her life and could heal theirs.
� One prisoner who gave his life to God during this time asked to see her. When Adele arrived at the prison he broke down. He told her he was her husband�s killer and asked for forgiveness.
� To his relief, Adele immediately forgave him. There was another amazing sign of the chain reaction of God�s love still to
� When the man was released from prison he had nowhere to go and Adele took him into her home and took care of him.

My voice has gone tonight - can barely speak! Feel a bit got at right now and there is a small issue that is in danger of becoming a bigger issue. Spoke to a couple of people about what to do today - have formulaed a plan...

Anyway, good services today. The sermon above came from thae baptism service for George Hawes and there must have been a congregation of 200! What follows came from my address at the Thanksgiving and Remembrance for the Departed Service in the afternoon... very moving...

It is natural to feel the absence of someone we love because they have died. This gap in our lives is often felt most keenly at obvious times such as family celebrations when there will be one less person at the table. It can also be felt at the times we least expect - whilst watching the tv or in the supermarket. Either way, at times like these we wonder where our loved ones are and why they are not here with us now.

Despite that, Paul , the writer of those words, does not want us to be sad today. Death is one of the most painful realities of life, and yet there are some things that even it cannot take from you - the memories and stories that you will always treasure about N. All those stories and memories if told and shared would give a very varied picture of N�s life and they explain why you love them, why you treasure them, why you will always miss them.

Paul, who wrote the reading we heard, wants that gaping hole of sadness that we may feel filled with hope - a hope based on Jesus� own death and his rising again.

Jesus� death and resurrection are at the very heart of what all Christians believe. Christians believe that for those who place their faith in Jesus, death is not the end of life - leaving pain and emptiness for others - rather it is a welcome return to the loving God who created all things. Jesus� death offers each one of us hope in the face of death if we place our trust in him. Jesus� resurrection offers each one of us life with God for all eternity if we place our faith and trust in him.

God isn�t waiting to embrace us in love just at the end when we die. He longs every day, every hour, every minute, every second for each one of us to turn to him. God loves like a parent should love their child - no matter who we are, where we are, or what we do - God goes on loving us; in times of joy, in times of great sadness, even whether we know it or not.

It is my prayer that you know something of that love today and every day. It is a love that Jesus showed throughout his life by bringing wholeness and healing to the broken, joy to the downtrodden, salvation to those bound in the troubles and trials of the world, and life to the dead.

It�s that love that reaches out to us still in Jesus. It is that love that love that will, I pray give you the resources you need in the times ahead. It is that love that offers the hope that Paul writes of - even in the face of death, and it is to that death-defying love that we commit N today. Amen.
Based on 1Thessalonians 4:13-18

Cheers it's good to be back!


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Last night we had act 2 of 'Love's finest hour' a play in four parts.

Tim Sledge gave us much to think about in terms of why Jesus died on the cross and the forgiveness we are offered as a result. Another deeply moving evening culminating in an act of confession and repentence and absolution.

Again some 50 people were there - fnatastic!

It's not too late to decide to come - coffee at 7.30pm, worship at 7.45pm and teaching at 8pm (ish) and tonight we welcome Bishop Chris Foster (of Hertford.)

This week may change our lives - don't regret not being there...!


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fan the Flame began last night with a fantastic evening about 'Baptism and Grace.'  Part one of four - act one of a four act play.

One of the points that Tim made last night really rang true for me - that at my baptism, and indeed every day, those words of God's at Jesus' baptism ('You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased') are spoken even to me. I am a child of God. I am beloved (a very intimate term) and he is well pleased even with me... That's the starting point. As soon as we get that - nothing else actually matters...

50 people were there last night despite the rain and depsite it being Bank Holiday Monday!!!

If you got things from last night, don't thank me or Tim, but tell others and encourage them to come so they don't miss

If you missed last night for whatever reason, I hope that you can come tonight to ensure that you are part of a week that will offer us all the chance to have our faith renewed, and to be part of something that may change the landsscape of our church forever!

See you tonight!


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Here is the text of a letter that is being sent out by teh weekend...

Dear friends,

You might have heard that beginning on Sunday 28th May we are holding a special week of activity and learning called ‘Fan the Flame’ at Holy Trinity Church. The week is an important opportunity for each one of us to renew our trust in God and be reminded of what being Christian is most basically about.

The week looks like this:
Sunday 28th May - Launch Service at 10.00am
Monday 29th May - Evening Session 1 from 7.30pm (for coffee) “Baptism and Grace’
Tuesday 30th May - Evening Session 2 from 7.30pm (for coffee) “The Cross and Forgiveness’
Wednesday 31st May - Evening Session 3 from 7.30pm (for coffee) “Resurrection and Healing’
Thursday 1st June - Evening Session 4 from 7.30pm (for coffee) “The Eucharist and Offering’
Saturday 3rd June - 10.30am Clowning workshop by ‘Roly the Clown’ followed by Family service and picnic (the service and picnic are open to all.)
Sunday 4th June - Pentecost Sunday Worship at 8.00am and 10.00am
Evening Session 5 at 6.30pm Service of Rededication ‘Mary’

This excellent week will be led by others: Rev’d Tim Sledge (DIocesan Mission Enabler for Peterborough Diocese), Rt. Rev’d Richard Inwood (Bishop of Bedford), Rt. Rev’d. Christopher Foster (Bishop of Hertford), and Rev’d Roly ‘The Clown’ Bain.

It is not too late to decide to come to the sessions of the week - just turn up - it is as simple as that! But, I would hate you to think that you had missed out on what I believe will be a very important week for us a community.

So to avoid disappointment, why not make a commitment to coming. To get the most out of the week I would strongly suggest that you come to all of the sessions, but I hasten to add that they do stand alone.

If you have ever wanted to deepen you faith or to discover what it is that Christians really believe then this week is for you. If I can help in any way beforehand or answer any questions, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Should be really good - lots still to organise though!

Oh well, so PNE are still in the Championship next season having been beaten by Leeds who now play Watford (Go Hornets!)

Less than a month to the mission (Fan the Flame) now and there is lots to organise, but I trust it will all come together...

Er, more later maybe!

Sorry for the silence...


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On 20th April 2005 Abigail Witchells was walking in the village of Little Bookham near her home, with her 2 year old son Joseph. She was attacked from behind and stabbed in the neck, paralyzing her and leaving her son unhurt but traumatized.

A statement was released on her behalf which read, "The staff here are wonderful and I am making progress every day. I have sensation over most of my body and the pain is less now. I can move my head, but as yet I cannot move my arms and legs. I can breathe and speak on my own for short periods. Please pass on my thanks to everyone for their support and prayers. God is doing beautiful things."

Much has been made of the Witchalls' strong Christian faith, and that of the whole family. her attacker was publicly forgiven by her, her mother and her husband. Her mother said, “Just being with her makes me feel better and I am immensely proud of her and her husband, Benoit, and of how much I have learned from them. Abigail's life is a triumph of the Cross. Not the world's usual triumph of strength, but rather one of vulnerability and love.

It seems to me that Abigail Witchells, along with Gee Walker (mother of Anthony murdered in Huyton), Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Gordon Wilson (who’s daughter Marie died in the Enniskillen bombing) - all of whose stories (or parts at least) we have heard this week, have an Easter faith - a faith that trusts God to do, not just the improbable but the impossible. Have we?

Easter to many people is about chocolate, hot cross buns, bunny rabbits and two long over due Bank holidays. Easter is REALLY about Jesus Christ’s passion for a hurting world. In recent days we have journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem shouting our hosannas, to the Last Supper, to betrayal by kisses in Gethsemene, to trial and torture by Ciaphas and Pilate, and then standing watching the death of a traitor on a cross, dying the death of a failed man. As a we stand close to the garden where the tomb is, where we have been waiting since last night, the sun gently pinking the early morning sky, some figures are seen making their way in the half light.

It’s Mary and the others. These women, have been faithful to Jesus through it all - after desertion and betrayal - and here they are, after the Sabbath coming to the Garden Tomb to anoint his body as is the custom. Although they are doing what they can to be faithful to Jesus, the women like the other disciples never really heard Jesus latterly, not really. Here they are, despite talk of resurrection, coming to embalm a decomposing corpse.

They are chattering as they pass us, who will roll the stone away? The women are clearly expecting to find what you would expect to find at a new grave. The women are still live in a predictable world. If you roll a stone in place on Friday it will still be there on Sunday. These women demonstrate enormous courage and faithfulness coming ot the garden tomb, but they come expecting, despite what Jesus has said, that death still has the final word.

Throughout his ministry Jesus taught and revealed a new order that God was bringing in. A new order where things are not always necessarily one of cause and effect but one where the topsy turvey values of the Kingdom of God break through.

As they near the corner of the garden, near the small outcrop of trees, where the tomb is located, this new order of things begins to break through. As we follow them to the tomb, we all notice that the stone has been moved to one side. Whilst there are many explanations for this, a sense of something just being wrong overcomes us all.

Out of concern? Out of curiosity? The women look, we look too - inside there is only a shroud in the tomb and no body. What is going on? ‘Do not be alarmed!’ says the young man sitting over to one side of the tomb. Do not be alarmed?! They were now terrified - was this the grave robber himself that they have disturbed? ‘Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus who was crucified - he has been raised, look here is the place where they laid him, ‘ he says as he points to the shroud. ‘Go and tell the others he is going ahead of you to Galilee, and there you will meet him..’

If something as predictable and inevitable as death is not longer inevitable or predictable then the world has changed dramatically. Frighteningly so. The body has not been stolen but the grave clothes are lying there as if Jesus has just stepped out of them... If stones can be rolled without help, if Jesus is really alive, what other certainties in life are now up for grabs. Life is suddenly awe-inspiring and terrifying. What else can and will God do in our lives?

One of the women with Mary said it later - that Jesus is now just loose in the world and coming to meet us, not on our terms, with our expectations, but on his. We can no longer deal with Jesus compartmentalized as a dead body in a tomb, as a story told by Mary and the other women, but we meet him here as a living reality and there is absolutely no avoiding him in grief, sentimentality, in liturgy. Business as usual in our day to day or Sunday lives is no longer safe because Jesus is here wherever we are, whatever we are doing calling us to be his disciples again and again and simply to come and follow him.

The women stand, as if suspended in treacle for a second that seems to last an hour, and then Salome screams. She screams and screams and screams. Immediately they are off in the directions of the four winds, running like they are being chased, running to who knows where, but not in the direction of Galilee. Leaving us - at this strange and empty place. They have seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears the truth of all that Jesus taught - he has been raised.

This easter story does not have a happy end so that we can all heave a sigh of Lent-is-over-relief. Jesus’ Easter story ends where it began, in Galilee - back in the ordinariness of the everyday routines. Our Easter story ends where it began, in Leverstock Green - back in the ordinariness of everyday. But it is now the Risen Jesus meets us in the ordinary and everydayness of things - on his terms, whenever and wherever he wants to, calling us to follow him.

The disciples abandoned Jesus to death in the garden as he was arrested and then crucified, and these women abandoned him in as yet unseen new life. There is only one group of people who can take the news that Jesus is risen, back into the ordinariness of every day life - us. But will we?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Here with a version of today's Good Friday address...

Just over a year ago, a bright, vivacious young man was waiting at a bus stop with his girl friend. Some lads appeared over the other side of the road shouting racist taunts. The young couple decided to avoid confrontation by walking down to another stop. The lads followed. The chase ultimately led into a park where the young man was confronted and beaten to death with an ice axe. The young man was Anthony Walker.

As she left the court flanked by her daughters following teh tiral of her son’s killers, Gee Walker said, ‘Do I forgive them? At the point of death Jesus said, ‘I forgive them because they do not know what they do’. I have got to forgive them. I still forgive them. It will be difficult but we have no choice but to live on for Anthony. Each of us will take a piece of him and will carry on his life.”

I knew a couple once whose son had died in a tragic military accident several years ago. They never spoke of the detail of what happened but the emotion was aleays only just beneath the surface. Years later, their son was still spoken of very highly, he could still do no wrong. Both parents were so caught up in the tragedy of the past that they failed to see that their focus on their dead son was alienating them from their other children and their friends and they remained locked in the angry and bitter past, unable to move on into the future, our present.

Today is about the grief of a parent, whose cry of anguish at the death of their son still resonates in the empty caverns of eternity. Today is about the grief of a parent - not just at the death of their son - but that they willingly allowed them to die feeling abandoned, alone, in the darkest abject hell.

Today is about a father that knows the depths of unimaginable grief in the death of a child. We underplay the horror of what was going on for Jesus and his father on this day at our peril. Jesus’ cry of ‘My God! My God, why have you forsaken me?’ is not the cry of a child who knows that despite having been lost in the supermarket, a call for their father has been put out on the tanoy, and he is on his way. This is the cry of someone completely alone. This cross is a dark and desperate place because here we witness the distance between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus has known and people have witnessed the pressence and power of God in him throughout his life and ministry. But here at the cross, God is torn in two. The distance between God and humanity normally present because of our fraility and sinfulness is revealed on this cross in Jesus the man as an unimaginable gulf in God himself. Today God stands speachless with Gee Walker, and millions of other parents worldwide who’s hearts have been torn from their bodies in the death of a unique child, their love, their flesh and blood, gone...

The cross is the ultimate darknes. And yet according to the Gospel, that darkness is not tragic. The gospels show Jesus not as a tragic figure haunted by fate, but as a faithful and trusting though at times terrified figure who moves towards his death with courage and conviction. He enters this darkenss of his own free willI and in full awareness of the outcome.

In the cross, we discover a God acting with finality and surety, yet with a tear streaked face. The cross is not God’s last ditch rescue mission of humanity, but part of the mystery of salvation for the whole world, formed in the mind of God since before Creation itself was and there was only God. The cross also does not explain away the suffering of Gee Walker and countless others. But on the cross God bears in his broken heart all wounds. So desperate and dark is our situation that God has to it enter to begin to see it transformed into a place of healing. Christ’s wounds are ours; his pain is mine. Our Father loves this hurting world this much - there surely must have been a calvary in the heart of God before it was planted on Golgotha’s hill.

Today we are called not to imitate Christ. Today he imitates us. He enters our suffering, our brokeness, our pain, our death. Until we meet the forsaken, sorrowful, and mutilated Christ of Good Friday here there will be no facing up by us to the sorrow, forsakenness and mutilation of real people in society, nor will we be capable of a passionate love affair with a God who really knows us.

The cross is a paradox - 'para' meaning near to and 'doxa' meaning glory because somehow through the cross we are innaugurated into the new life of God. The cross stands between our fallenness and our fulfillment, between the dust from which we come and the glory towards which we move, between Eden and the New Jerusalem, between that which is good and that which painful and broken in us. And yet we know too well that these are not different places: for sin and grace, hate and love, dust and glory, Eden and Jerusalem make up each one. The cross of Christ meets us at these points of conflict of our own fragmentation and longing for wholeness. It is the point of our most profound brokenness, at the shaking of the foundations of our being, that Christ’s cross becomes for us forgiveness for hurt and hope in the face of brokenness and death. Here we are indeed close to glory.

Today we are called not to imitate Christ. Today he imitates us. He enters our suffering, our brokeness, our pain, our death. ‘I have got to forgive them. I still forgive them.... It will be difficult but we have no choice but to live on for Anthony. Each of us will take a piece of him and will carry on his life. Gee Walker may have imitated the Christ of Good Friday in her forgiveness of her sons killers. Today God imitates Gee Walker and others, knowing the pain of the loss of a son, forgiving and in the face of death offering life.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Here's tonight's third address on forgiveness...

In a speech, shortly following the setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela said, ‘The feeling of freedom that infuses every South African heart at last liberated from the yoke of oppression underlines the fact that we have all in one way of another being victim to the system of apartheid.... In no activity is this more lucidly captured than in the heart rendering evidence being led at the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission... It is only natural that all of us should feel a collective sense of shame for the evils that as compatriots, we have inflicted upon one another. But even in the few days of these hearings we can all attest to the cleansing power of the truth. It is to this that this Commission is committed. We are committed to the truth so that we can all be free. We are committed to the truth that we can all become reconciled one to another. There is a very long road ahead. We are only just starting...’

In the forward to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, ‘We have been privileged to help to heal a wounded people, though we ourselves have been, in Henri Nouwen's profound and felicitous phrase, ‘wounded healers’. When we look around us at some of the conflict areas of the world, it becomes increasingly clear that there is not much of a future for them without forgiveness, without reconciliation. God has blessed us richly so that we might be a blessing to others. Quite improbably, we as South Africans have become a beacon of hope to others locked in deadly conflict that peace, that a just resolution, is possi bl e. If it coul d happen i n Sout h Africa , then i t can certainly happen anywhere el se. Such is the exqui site divi ne sense of humour...’

Very powerful words reminding us that forgiveness is not just to be given and received between individuals, but if brokered carefully can be for the benefit of all, for the greater good of all, and freeing for all concerned into the future.

On Monday evening evening we reminded ourselves that Jesus teaches that forgiveness is something that must come from the heart - it must be freely given - over and over again. It is not just a matter of forgiving or loving those whom we like, because even ‘sinners’ do that but forgiveness must extend to those whom we object to. We must not judge or condemn, but forgive and we will be - not by our enemies - but by God. We also remembered that the majority of the time Jesus talks of forgiveness in relation to sin. Sin being the things that we do and say that build barriers between us, God and other people. Jesus came not to rescue humanity from sin, but to complete God’s work of creation, as in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection the barriers that we build between us and God come down once and for all. Forgiveness for Jesus it seems is about receiving assurance of that fact, repenting, and living this new way.

Last night we recognised that forgiveness is sometimes very hard to give. We cannot do it under our own steam even though we know we should. Thinking in relation to the story of the rich young ruler we remembered that we can forgive no one, but for God all things are possible. We looked again at the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, where he offers her living water springing up and giving eternal life. We remembered that Jesus refers to this living water again in John 7 - whoever believes in Jesus shall have ‘streams of living water flowing from within them,’ clearly that Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit which believers would later receive. The forgiveness of which Jesus speaks in the Gospels, which we are to give, must flow from us like streams of living water - the new life of God. In that sense forgiveness is not ours to give, but God’s forgiveness flowing through us because of the presence of the Holy Spirit given in the living waters of Baptism.

Living the new way that Jesus inaugurates and allowing God’s forgiveness to flow through us is freeing and liberating for all.

In John 8, Jesus has been debating with some Pharisees about his ministry and teaching and some of them clearly believe him. He assures them that if they follow his teaching they will know the truth of the presence of God in his ministry, and that will free them from the legalism of their own traditions into living the new life that God offer. Jesus makes a clear link between seekers after truth and freedom - those who search out the forgiveness of God, the new life that Jesus inaugurates are freed from the effect of sin - from guilt and from pride, and freed to be people through whom God’s forgiveness can flow, not just to us but from us - reconciling us to God, but also us to each other.

Later in John 14, speaking to his disciples of his immanent death, Jesus links this search for truth to the idea of journey and of life. If the truth of God, revealed in Jesus is to bring forgiveness and freedom to blossom in us we need to be ready to change. As searchers after truth we are on the way towards God, moving from being the people we were to the people God is making us to be - forgiving, being forgiven, and free to live life.

An inability to forgive rests like a yoke on us, as individuals, as a community. Yokes are used on animals and people in traditional communities when working the land. They are heavy, and their burden restrains and directs us to walk one way or another. The power of forgiveness is to lift those burdens from us - and if you have ever been forgiven you will know what a relief that feels like. The forgiveness that Jesus offers - God’s new life - frees us from the oppression that divides us. In Matthew 11:28ff Jesus offers to the weary, the sinful, those feel that they are unforgivable, another yoke in exchange for theirs - a light one - of love for ourselves and others. This yoke of forgiveness, of new life, frees the wearer. Instead of being bowed down with the weight of our burdens, only able to focus on them, constantly dwelling on their impact on our past and present, God’s forgiveness in Jesus liberates us to focus on God, and on our present and future with each other and Him.

We are all a work in progress - Christ’s forgiveness, his new life in us, enables us to be Christlike - to be reconcilers and to use Desmond Tutu’s words ‘to help to heal a wounded people, though we ourselves have been, in Henri Nouwen's profound and felicitous phrase, ‘wounded healers’. When we look around us at some of the conflict areas of the world, it becomes increasingly clear that there is not much of a future for them without forgiveness, without reconciliation. God has blessed us richly so that we might be a blessing to others.’

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Here is a version of tonight's second address on forgiveness...

On July 7th 2005 bombs ripped through trains and a bus in London. Jenny Nicholson, who was 24, had boarded the eastbound Circle Line train at Paddington station. Moments earlier she called her boyfriend James White on her mobile. Minutes later the train was blown up by suicide bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan.

Her mother, Julie Nicholson was unable to speak at her daughter’s funeral, but someone read on her behalf - "There are few human words that can adequately express what we feel about people who indiscriminately carry out apparent acts of senseless violence against innocent civilian populations and, unbelievably, do so in the name of God. Such delusion, such evil, is impossible for us to begin to comprehend." Since then she has been unable to forgive; unable to move on. Her plight is all the more moving when you realise that she is ordained.

Rev’d Julie Nicholson has resigned her post in Bristol as since 7th July she has been unable to preach forgiveness. She said, "It's very difficult for me to stand behind an altar and celebrate the Eucharist... and lead people in words of peace and reconciliation and forgiveness when I feel very far from that myself ... So for the time being, that wound in me is having to heal..."

On the same day, Maria Williams lost her son Anthony. Reflecting on how she felt after the realisation that he had died sunk in, she said "Lord okay, I'm all done, and like you say good will come out of this, I leave it in your hands". And that's how I feel. He's a prince of peace and Anthony was a peace lover, he loved people, he loved to help, he was charitable, and as a test of tests I gave him up to God and I said "Lord take him to yourself and then use me as a vehicle of your peace. Use me Lord, lead me, I put my hands in your hands, guide me, shield me and show me the way to go".

And all that I'm doing at the Anthony Williams Foundation for peace is the fallout of that.... and I'm saying why don't we wake up as well and act for peace, not by just sitting quietly, by doing? Because we can't give out what we don't have. Let's work out how we can make peace...

That's why my guiding philosophy is to recognise and have a common humanity. I'm working for peace. For as long as we don't recognise our common humanity and let our difference separate us and create this yawning gap of self and other ... so long will we have a problem.

Two grieving mothers responding to the same situation in different ways, demonstrating clearly how difficult it is it forgive as Jesus calls us to - even for Christians.

Yesterday evening we reminded ourselves that Jesus teaches that forgiveness is something that must come from the heart - it must be freely given - over and over again. It is not just a matter of forgiving or loving those whom we like, because even ‘sinners’ do that but forgiveness must extend to those whom we object to. We must not judge or condemn, but forgive and we will be - not by our enemies - but by God. We also remembered that the majority of the time Jesus talks of forgiveness in relation to sin. Sin being the things that we do and say that build barriers between us, God and other people. Jesus came not to rescue humanity from sin, but to complete God’s work of creation, as in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection the barriers that we build between us and God come down once and for all. Forgiveness for Jesus it seems is about receiving assurance of that fact, repenting, and living this new way.

Living this new way is impossible without God - we cannot try and do it under our own steam. Look at the story of the rich young man in Matthew 19. He asks Jesus what good thing he needs to do to get eternal life. Jesus as usual turns the whole thing on it’s head - if he wants eternal life he should obey the commandments. The man replies that he has done this; what else does he need to do? Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and give to the poor. The man leave downcast. Astonished at this exchange, a little later the disciples ask, who can be saved? Jesus replies that in our own strength no one, but with God all things are possible.

Christians recognise that forgiveness is one of the hallmarks of the new life that Jesus inaugurates. So often we find that we cannot just give it, even though we may wish to.

Look at the story of the Samaritan woman again in John 4. In their discussions Jesus asks her for a drink of water from the well, and offers her ‘living water springing up and giving eternal life.’ Jesus refers to this living water again in John 7 - whoever believes in Jesus shall have ‘streams of living water flowing from within them.’ Here John tells us clearly that Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit which believers would later receive.

The forgiveness of which Jesus speaks in the Gospels, which we are to give must flow from us like the streams of living water - the new life of God. Forgiveness is not ours to give, but God’s forgiveness flowing through us because of the presence of the Holy Spirit given in the living waters of Baptism.

Why is it sometimes so hard to forgive? It is understandable after what these and countless other mothers have been through. It might be to do with those we need to forgive or what they have done. In times like these we can become the camel trying to pass through the needle - like the rich young man - we may know what God asks of us and yet be unable to exercise it.

More shockingly though it might be to do with us. In times like these we need to become like the Samaritan woman listening to Jesus, and to ask God for living water to flow out even through us.

So who can forgive and be forgiven? Jesus assures us that in our own strength, no one. But with God, all things are possible.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Here is an early draft of tonight's first sermon on forgiveness...

On Sunday 8th November 1987, as people gathered round the Enniskillen Cenotaph, and IRA bomb exploded. Eleven people died; there was extensive damage. Gordon WIlson and his daughter Marie were buried in the rubble. As they held hands, waiting to be freed, Marie died. That same evening, Gordon Wilson gave a spontaneous and memorable interview to a BBC reporter. Some criticized him for what he said; others were amazed. Later he wrote:

I’d like to think that it was the real Gordon Wilson who spoke to the BBC’s reporter... on the evening of the bomb, when I said, ‘I have lost my daughter and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back.. She was a pet. She’s dead. She’s in heaven. We’ll meet again. Don’t please ask me for a purpose. I don’t have a purpose. I don’t have an answer. But I know that there has to be a plan.... God is good and we shall meet again.’

I did not use the word ‘forgive’, in that broadcast nor in any later one, but people understood that my words were about forgiveness. Our Lord taught us to pray, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’ We ask God to forgive us, but we are always subject to his condition that we must forgive others. God’s forgiveness is ultimate, ours is the forgiveness of man to man. To me the two become one. It’s as simple as that. My words were not intended as a statement of theology or of righteousness, rather they were from the heart, and they expressed how I felt at the time and I still do’

The call to forgive comes over and over again in the pages of the scriptures and is found many times on the lips of Jesus himself. Jesus calls his followers are to forgive over and over again. Jesus says that Christian forgiveness must come from the heart - it must be freely given. It is not just a matter of forgiving or loving those whom you like, because even ‘sinners’ do that (Luke 6: 35ff) but forgiveness must extend to those whom we object to. We must not judge, condemn, but forgive and we will be - not by our enemies - but by God (see the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23ff)

Forgiveness for Jesus is not some sort of social project, but linked inextricably to God’s work in the world, especially in and through his life, death and resurrection.

Jesus talks most often about forgiveness of sins (at the Last Supper Matthew 26:28 and the healing of the paralysed man in Mark 2.) Sins are the things that we do and say that build barriers between us and God and other people. These barriers go up because we are proud and don’t acknowledge we need God. We get into such a mess and despite knowing that God wants to lift us out - we shut God out. We sometimes wonder whether God can forgive us, the guilt eats us up - we shut God out. In circumstances like these, we realise that God asks us to change, and yet either feel powerless or unwilling to - so we shut God out. Sin offends God. It separates him from the thing that he loves more than anything else in the whole world - you - and it breaks his heart enough to send Jesus; not in some sort of rescue mission, but to complete what he had undertaken at the beginning. God acted so that we might fully understand him. Jesus tells us all that we need to know about God and all that we need to know about ourselves. When Jesus talks of forgiveness then, what does he really mean?

It is not about being a member of a religious community that worships a loving and forgiving God. Christianity is the end of religion and of forgiveness. Look at the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. She asks him about the right place to worship God, seeing Jesus was clearly a prophet. Jesus’ answer turns the whole thing on it’s head, he says - it doesn’t matter where you worship, but about how you worship; worship will be in spirit and truth and God seeks out people like these. Christianity is not a religion. Religion is only needed when there is a wall of separation and sin between God and us. Christ in his life, death and resurrection breaks down that wall and inaugurates new life not new religion and does away with continued forgiveness.

When Jesus talks of forgiveness then, what does he really mean? He means that new life which is about repenting. Repentance is where we feel totally alienated from God, from real life. It is about realising through my actions that I have defiled my spiritual beauty, that I, like the Prodigal Son, am far from home, and that something precious entrusted to me is hopelessly broken in the very texture of my existence and my deepest desire to return home.

When Jesus talks of forgiveness then, what does he really mean? He means new life which is about receiving assurance that God has (past tense) broken down the wall of separation between God and us through Christ’s death and resurrection once and for all, and having received that assurance, sharing that news, that ‘forgiveness’ with others.

‘I did not use the word ‘forgive’, in that broadcast nor in any later one, but people understood that my words were about forgiveness. Our Lord taught us to pray, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’ We ask God to forgive us, but we are always subject to his condition that we must forgive others. God’s forgiveness is ultimate, ours is the forgiveness of man to man. To me the two become one.’ Gordon WIlson is right in that sense. Forgiveness can only come from an awareness of God’s new life in us, which God longs to give, if we would only return home.