Monday, June 28, 2010

Rev - BBC 2, 10 pm

It was great. A sensitive and funny portrayal of real clergy life and ministry...

A vicar friend of mine, also married to a vicar, commented that he '...thoroughly enjoyed Rev. on BBC2. So rare to see vicars portrayed this accurately and this sensitively. If the whole series is this good it'll be fab...' (Thanks MVS)

You can watch it again on iPlayer here

Further thoughts on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

I have re-read the passage and further thoughts on it, musings if you will, are below... I broke the passage down to highlight how specific the tasks and requests given by Jesus to the 70. We should note that they are sent to places that Jesus intends to go. He goes still... so must we...


1. After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.

He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore

2. ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.

Go on your way.

3. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

4. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.

5. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.

6. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid.

7. Do not move about from house to house.

8. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'


Final thoughts...

The ministry of the sent disciples is an extension of Jesus’.

Sense of urgency to the story

No dawdling says Jesus

Eat what is put before you - don’t do the usual rounds of hospitality. Eat the food even if it is unclean

Take no bag, no money - also alludes to a reliance on God. No (money) belt.

Go like lambs - be vulnerable like the Lamb of God.

It is assumed that houses and towns will be receptive to the Gospel. There is a sense of expectancy. They can expect rejection too.

Peace in Luke/Acts is another word for salvation. Peace can be given, received, accepted or rejected. It is a gift of God freely offered to all...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Word as a Wordle for Trinity 5

Luke 10.1-11, 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'


Here is the text and Wordle of Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke 10. I am struck by the juxtaposition of Jesus' very specific call to the disciples about the nature of their mission - to go cannily and '...carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near...' with the Wordle which highlights the words 'house', 'town', 'rejects' and 'Lord.'

Is God opening up a discussion about urban mission in the 21st century where house after house, town after town, culture after culture in contemporary Britain seem to reject Jesus and his teaching...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Leverstock Green Big Lunch 2010

The Big Lunch is an initiative that began last year, the brain child of the Eden Project in Cornwall. From their own website:

The Big Lunch began life as a wild seed at The Eden Project. We believe the world can get better by working together, with nature, optimism and common sense.

We know that when people get together, we become more positive and start to sort out some serious stuff. By simply having some fun on one day in July, we can build new friendships that we can enjoy for the rest of the year.

The Big Lunch is a chance for different generations and backgrounds to hear each other out and share stories, skills and interests. It's the start of a journey into rebuilding our communities. We call this phenomenon ‘human warming’.

For most of us, doing The Big Lunch is simply about having fun and sending a message to the establishment that we're not all going to hell in a handcart. But there are many of us who lead lonely lives or at least more isolated or anonymous lives than we’d like. The stats don’t make easy reading but if we want to turn them around, we need to hear them:

* Two million more single person households by 2019.
* More rich, poor and ethnic ghettos than ever before.
* 7% annual drop in trust between neighbours from 2003-05.
* Social trust in the UK halved and now among the lowest in Europe.

So, you might think a street party is the last thing you’d do to tackle crime, domestic violence, homelessness or children in poverty. But as a catalyst facing up to tough issues, it works, as anyone who took part last year knows. When doors open up, people open up and neighbourhoods open up, from sleepy hamlets to hyper estates.

It seems to me that the drive behind the Big Lunch is stuffed full of Kingdom values and the justice of God.

Last year the Church of England encouraged parishes to take part. On their website they said:

Churches are being encouraged to grow their own produce – or use local food – and break bread with their own community as part of the Eden Projects nationwide ‘Big Lunch’ this summer...

... [T]he Big Lunch aims to bring communities – both rural and urban - together to create a new sense of neighbourhood and make the most of what they have on their own doorstep.

With a Christian presence in every community the Church of England is keen to tap into the event and support community ventures or host their own.

Dr Jill Hopkinson, the National Rural Officer for the Church of England, said this would be a chance for churches to celebrate with their communities: “The rural church has always been deeply involved in its local community and this is a great way to show it. The Big Lunch is an opportunity for rural churches of all denominations to work together to encourage gardeners, support local farmers and food producers and have fun with the whole rural community.”

David Shreeve, the Church of England's Environment Adviser, said: “Many churches already organise parish lunches for their congregations on Sundays. The Big Lunch brings the opportunity to extend these and offer a welcome to others in their communities. If this can include using church land to produce some of the food then that would be a real bonus...'

Last year in Leverstock Green we also held a Big Lunch with some 70 people coming to build community, to deepen friendships, to commit to local living and and join the fun.

We are holding another one this year on July 18th from 12 noon in the church yard. As we share together and get to know one another we are also standing against poverty, we are standing up for our community, we are standing on a road that leads to sustainable living and justice for the whole of creation. Why? Because these things matter, not just to us because we a re nice, but because they buy into God's vision of how humanity should live:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Why not join us?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Word as a Wordle for Trinity 4

Here is the Wordle of Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke 9.51-62, the text of it follows below.

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’* 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then* they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 59To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60But Jesus* said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'

I am struck by the Wordle which highlights the words 'Jesus', 'Lord', and 'go.' Those three words for me point to Jesus' desire to go, to be active in the ministry that God has given him. I am reminded of that passage from Isaiah 55:11,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Jesus is active in proclaiming and showing the love of the Lord, of God, in Word and deed and none of Jesus ministry is fruitless. Even the most hopeless of Gospel situations, spoken into by Jesus, ring aloud with the hope of resurrection.

And yet this section of the Gospel seems to be a passage about barriers to that active proclamation of the Gospel. He is rebuffed by a Samaritan village and when he is the disciples instead of responding in love, or just ignore it, respond by asking whether God should punish their hardness of heart. Yet those closest to him have misunderstood the hospitality of the Gospel which offers even the Samaritans - the most despised of near religious cousins to good Jews - the fullness of the goodness and grace of God.

The barriers are also placed by Jesus himself. Even reasonable requests for social etiquette - saying farewell, burying the dead - are unreasonable when confronted by the Gospel. A Gospel which consistently asks the disciple - are your priorities consistently God-ward? Where is your treasure?

Jesus seems to say that family ties, friendships, work are all important, they are lifegiving and enriching now, but in the economy of eternity they count for nothing in the face of an offer of eternal life.

Jesus says - hear and accept the offer of Life from the Lord God - or not... and watch it go on by, head down, onward to those who will receive it....

Puppy Search 2010: A Possible Conclusion

I often blog serious stuff here, sermons and the like, but I thought I would share something different and perhaps a little more personal.

As a family we have been looking to increase our family, already fairly full with 5 of us, by getting a puppy. We hoped that this would be good especially for our boys, but in fairness for all of us.

My darling wife has been doing a lot of research and reading, and a number of weeks ago now found what we hoped was going to be a good breeder and a good puppy. All we went well - we visited, paid a deposit, and finally collected Hetty (don't ask) a name chosen by son number 2. We brought her home to much joy and celebrating. Our lives were much richer with her in them.

Sadly, all did not go well, as after a visit to a local vet for her vaccinations, we discovered she had a significant heart murmur and the vet told us that we should return her to the breader. We ummed and erred over this for a day or two but eventually decided that this was the right thing to do.

It is amazing how attached we got to Hetty so quickly. She had a lovely nature. Having to tell our kids what we needed to do was one of the single hardest things I have ever done.

Our sense of bereavement continued for days...

We have since then kept our eyes and ears open for new litters, and then finally we found one not so far away in High Wycombe. We went across to see the litter and meet their owners on Saturday.

The pups are beautiful and the mother is attentive but also very happy for others, namely us and the kids, to pick up and play with her puppies. We got on well with the owners too who were warm and welcoming and clearly church-goers - the statue of Jesus and icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary gave it away!

All in all we are delighted and a deposit cheque hits the post in the early part of this week.

In the meantime, if you would like to join us in our countdown, the owners of the pups have a blog which you can view here with video, pictures and anecdotes about the litter...

P-day here we come!!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Naming and shaming at Geresa...

A friend of mine was speculating what linked this morning’s Gospel reading to Father’s Day. I hasten to add that you wouldn’t expect it to, but anyway... The link between the demon possessed man this morning’s Gospel reading and Father’s Day is that he was driven out of his mind and he wouldn’t go home... until he was commanded to at least!... Da, dum, tish!

The city of Geresa is to the south east of the Sea of Galilee, in what would have once been an area with predominantly Jewish settlers but by the time of Jesus it was pretty mixed. There was a huge Roman city called Jerash in the area, and presumably the swine were to feed the Romans.

The disciples would probably have been extremely reluctant to go with Jesus to this place. It was outside their comfort zone, the Jewish people were pretty superstitious, becoming unclean if they touched various things like someone who had died, or pigs, or even if they touched a woman during her period. So in a country with so many foreigners it was possible that there were all sorts of horrible things to be fearful of. And in this passage there are the pigs and the demoniac.

The demon shouts aloud ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ The demon in the man proclaims aloud knowledge we take for granted that the disciples had only just begun to get a sense of... that this man, Jesus of Nazareth was more than a Rabbi.

The disciples have been with Jesus a while now and heard Jesus teach about God’s kingdom and love, but in these chapters of Luke’s Gospel, they are beginning to see the power of God at work in him. This encounter stands in a line of miraculous events and teaching in the Gospel - calming of the storm, healing of the centurion’s servant, the raising of the widow of Nain’s son, the forgiving of the sinful woman we heard about in last week’s Gospel reading and the healing of the man with the withered hand. The demon proclaims what has been known in eternity, that Jesus is the Son of God, with the power of God at work in him.

I am intregued by Luke’s little aside that the man was under guard and bound in chains. This man was as incarsarated as he could be, and yet the demon or the man or both long to be free - the man occasionally breaks the bonds and runs out of the city into the wild - the spiritual realm, the realm of angels and demons. The liberation that the man is offered by the demon is only a pale imitation of what Jesus offers them both - liberation.

Another interesting thing to note is that Jesus asks, presumably the demon, it’s name. Legion.

In the Bible, the power to use someone’s name is the power to control or completely understand them. It is interesting that for a certain generation of people - being known by their first names was never an option. It was disrespectful. When I was a child, we had elderly neighbours who lived over the road - I knew their names were Tom and Elmer, but they were always Mr and Mrs Nicholson. Always. In Genesis, Adam not only names all the animals, giving him dominion over them. God himself, when asked his name by Moses replies enigmatically ‘I am that I am.’ So Jesus asks for his name, and the man gives it - Legion. The word Legion means six thousand soldiers, and the man is identified completely by his Legion of demons. In naming the man, the control of Jesus feels like a good thing, like something that is healing and restorative.

The restoration Jesus offers isn’t just psychological or spiritual, as in being healed, the man is restored to his community too. Following the healing the man is seated at Jesus feet - like Martha - sat as one who learns from a Rabbi. The man is healed, but the Greek word is saved, as he also now has a right relationship with God through Jesus.

The people of the town were terrified by the exorcism. In a way I can see why, but on the other hand should they not have been rejoicing? It is one thing believing in God, it is quite another thing to see him in action so to speak it is awe inspiring. It can be terrifying. We would respond in just the same way because our lives are very ordered and distant from a God who is confined to a tidy hour or so on Sunday morning. It is a fearful thing when God steps into our ordered lives and shakes them with His divine presence.

Is this why they sent Jesus away? Possibly, but I suspect that it might have had more to do with economics - they preferred swine to a saviour. Possessions, even at the cost of possession, are more highly valued than this once demon possessed man.

Was this episode a failure? By no means because Jesus leaves behind a disciple who longs to go with Jesus but instead is given a mission - go to your home and tell of how much God has done for you...

Two final thoughts. Firstly, I do believe in demons as spiritual entities in a Biblical sense, but also I believe that demons can be a spiritual expression of the reality of the world. Our lives can be completely consumed, obsessed by, addicted to any number of different things physically but their impact is so often felt spiritually, at our core, in our hearts. This morning’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus longs to liberate us from the things which bind and possess us and with which we demonize each other whether that’s attitudes, politics, habits or substances. God longs to free us to be the people he made us to be - named as his beloved sons and daughters.

Secondly, at the heart of this story is the love of God. God’s love encounters this man in Jesus and sees him transformed. The man is then sent by Jesus with a specific task - ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. Proclaiming the all transforming love of God is not for the a job for the specialists - clergy et al - but for all of us whose lives are touched and turned upside down by Jesus.

With heartfelt thanks to Simon Robinson and Lesley Fellows...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Funeral address for an ordinary man...

Here is a version of the address I delivered at the funeral of JH on Wednesday this week. JH died quiet suddenly aged 58. He was a top bloke - always calling 'hello mate!' as I went to the shops locally. He never called me Simon. We never exchanged more that that, and yet he was surrounded by knowledge of the love of God. It was a special service...


In the name of Jesus Christ, who carries our burdens, and gives us rest. Amen.

The JH we are gathered here today to remember with each other before God, in some ways would hate today, being centre stage so to speak, because J, when he was at his best was an ordinary, much loved, down to earth, hard working chap. It's worth mentioning that ordinary here for me, for J, is not second best or something derogatory, but to do with the normal everyday good people we are sat amongst this afternoon.

J is much loved - the sheer number of you here today are testimony to the man. Today we are remembering a man of few words but somehow his 'hello' was worth more than that. We remember the J who would help out. We remember the J who strove to show a love that was patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, nor arrogant, nor rude to borrow Paul's words from our first reading.

In some ways I am hope J would have related to Jesus’ words that we heard today too. Jesus speaks those words at a time when the concerns a person had were real concerns, problems and issues about life that affected life at its core. The words speak of a life lived and engaged at a very personal, very real level, a life and level shared by countless other people over the years.

Our world is not ordinary and down to earth but complex and difficult and we worry about things as a result. Often we might look back through slightly rose tinted glasses to a time when work was hard but the rewards were real and tangible - good times though.

Jesus lived in a world where the biggest issues in a person’s life were the immediate, the ordinary, the results of hard work. And he spoke in language that the folk around him could understand. 

Imagine you live in the 1st century, in Palestine. You listen to Jesus speak about the presence of God in the ordinary everyday things of life, and he tells you of working yeast into flour to make dough, he speaks of scattering seeds on the soil, he talks of weeds and of bushel measures. He speaks to you in simple terms using words that the ordinary, hardworking, everyday people like you can understand, words that tell you about your world, and that relate to your life. J would understand.

Jesus talks to us with words that ordinary, working people understand. 
And it is with the same language that he brings us his gospel, his good news. Listen again: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

To you who labour from dusk to dawn, to you who struggle to put food on the table, to you who find life hard to deal with, to you who wonder where you fit in, to you who fear local crime and abuses of the people in power who keep you down; to you whose concerns in life can be a matter of life and death, his words are words of incredible comfort and promise. For you are weary and burdened, and you long for rest, you long to escape the yoke that your world has placed on you and be free to be you and to be loved...

So Jesus’ words are words of comfort, for all who have lived since they were first spoken. For they form a promise, for us. Jesus’ words speak to everyone. Jesus Christ offers refuge from the burdens of the world, and his offer is simple and to the point. Today God’s love which is patient and kind extends again to John and to us, offering all of us the ordinary, working people of the world like J, well earned rest in him. Amen.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

He's on his way...

I am just loving this new poster designed by

Many soon to be parents proudly show their scan photos to all and sundry, some even post them on Facebook. It seems odd to me because in so doing, something so intimate and private is made public... Just like the Christmas story...

I know that there is already a bit of controversy about the campaign, but I love it because at it's heart we are reminded that Christianity takes our humanity seriously. In Christ, God takes us as we are...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Word as a Wordle

Here is Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke 8:26-39, as a Wordle.

I am really struck by how the key words in the passage are 'Jesus' and 'demons' and how having these two highlighted identifies the spiritual war between God in Jesus and the powers of darkness that lies at the heart of this reading. The starkest of dichotomies.

Postcard in my pocket...

I have a postcard in my pocket which I carry with me every where. It comes from from Bjärka-Säby_Castle which is now inhabited by a community, affiliated to the Pentecostal church in Sweden, led by Peter Halldorf.

The surroundings of the castle are majestic. The sense of the presence of God in the castle is awesome. It is mostly a retreat/conference centre but at the centre's heart is a Pentecostal/Orthodox expression of Christian faith.

It is impossible is adequately express here the sense of God there, and yet the postcard in my poscket reminds me of how I felt when I entered the 'Upper Room' at the top of the castle where the community share in a neo-Monastic pattern of worship with the Eucharist at it's heart.

The postcard in my pocket is an icon of Pentecost. It was written especially for the community. I love it because it references visually back to the events recorded for us in Acts 1. But I love it, because it is a contemporary expression of that outporing of the Holy Spirit.

I have taken that story back to the UK as a memory, as a story and as an image. All three continue to inspire my own Christian journey.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Anne Frank, costly (not cheap) grace, and the forgiveness of God

Yesterday, 12th June, would have been the 81st birthday of Anne Frank. Anne was born in 1929 and she lived with her sister and parents lived in Frankfurt in Germany until she was four. In 1933 in Germany, the Nazi party came to power and the family moved to Amsterdam to escape the persecution of the brutal Nazis.

After a few happy years in Amsterdam, World War 2 broke out. The Netherlands never expected to be attacked by their neighbours, but the country was invaded and taken over in 1940. Now the Nazis’ policies against Jews would be put in place there too. Anne and her family went into hiding. It is during this time that she kept her now famous diary.

Anne’s story does not have a happy ending. After they had been hidden away for over two years, without being able to go outside or make loud noises – Anne and her family were betrayed. They were taken by the Dutch police from their hiding place and were sent to concentration camps in Eastern Europe. All of the family, except Anne’s father, perished there.

Even in those desperate times, Anne always believed in the true goodness of people.
“It’s difficult in times like these; ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

The possibility of believing in the goodness of people, even in the grim reality of Nazi occupation and concentration camps, is something that many of us struggle with still. And yet, a fellow concentration camp resident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, also passionately believed in human goodness, but it was a goodness that needed to be restored. He once said

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

What Bonhoeffer is getting at, I believe, is that there is a difference between believing that we are good at heart and knowing it. There is a gulf of a difference between telling ourselves that we are alright, and being told it by God through Christ’s death on the cross for us. That difference is measurable, quantifiable, tangible...

In our Gospel reading this morning we hear of Jesus sharing a dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house. The meal would have been in the very fashionable Greco-Roman style, the guests reclining at the table. In the shadows of the surrounding colonnade, it was permissible for the poor to gather, waiting for the occasional morsel or the chance to ask some favour of the rich. From the shadows comes this unnamed woman who silently washes Jesus’ feet with tears of repentance and dries them with her hair, then annointing them with ointment.

As far as Luke, the writer of the Gospel is concerned, we have never encountered this woman before and neither has Jesus, and yet we are left in no doubt of the intention of her heart, by the shedding of her tears and the actions of her hands.

This woman did not seek the cheap grace that Bonhoeffer wrote about. She knew where Jesus would be, she shockingly brakes all of the social codes by leaving the colonnade to draw close to him and Jesus equally shockingly brakes the religious codes by allowing her to touch him. Their interaction is hugely costly for both of them. But what has she got to lose? Nothing, for her reputation is already in tatters - Luke tells us she was a woman of the city and a sinner - draw your own conclusions. Yet she has reached rock bottom. She can go no further. She knows deep within her being that she can regain a sense of her own worth, her own inner goodness and God-given dignity, through this man Jesus. And so she comes. She offers him all that is left of her in her brokenness. In return, he offers her all that he has, the restoring love and forgiveness of God himself. Renewed, restored, forgiven and loved she turns and leaves.

This friends is the miracle of God. God doesn’t wait for this woman, for any of us to be good in heart to love us; he doesn’t wait for us to think we are now somehow more loveable for us to be loved. The story of God and people throughout the centuries is of a God who just loves us - with all the lovely bits we show each other but also the bits we daren’t even show ourselves.

The ointment of the Gospel is poured on the life of this woman by Jesus, forgiving her sin and turning her life around. This woman walked in there weeping and longing for recognition, forgiveness and hope, and she walked out of there a changed woman. I believe the change in her must be somehow directly related to the list of names at the end of the reading this morning. Somehow the change in this woman following an encounter with Jesus, affected and impacted the lives of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Chuza, Susanna and many others.

What have we got to lose? We are loved unendingly and eternally by God. He sees our heart. He know what we show others and what we try to hide. He sees even that. In seeing that stuff he does not judge us, but loves us all the more and longs for each of us to be freed from it - free to love and be loved. This morning, reclining around this (Eucharistic) table with us, he offers us not a cheap grace that costs us nothing, but full and lasting forgiveness that cost him everything a love and grace that will if we let it, still transforms us and our world. Amen.


Then just prior to the invitation to receive the Eucharist...

As I have been preparing this a song has been going round my head, It is Elton John's - 'Sorry seems to be the hardest word.' Strange that. Sorry seems in some ways to be the easiest word - easy to say. Harder to mean or demonstrate. The sorrow of that woman, through the forgiveness of Jesus, transformed her life in a way that affected others. Jesus saw the intent of her heart by the shedding of her tears and the actions of her hands.

There are times when our lives can become more full of the stuff we don’t wish to look at let alone show anyone else. You know when you are in those times when someone asks you how you are and you reply ‘fine’ looking away, avoiding eye contact with a knot in your stomach.

This morning, Jesus reclines with us eating around this table. As he offers bread and wine, he calls silently to each of us, as he did to that woman. Jesus longs for us to come to him. offering him the hearts he alone sees, and in return he offers not cheap grace, but forgiveness and eternal love.

This morning he sees the intent of our hearts, but wants to see the intent of our hearts through the action of our hands...


At this point people were invited to receive the Eucharist, and then on their way back to their seats, if they wanted to, to express their desire to receive the forgiveness that that woman knew in their lives themselves, by taking a post it note and sticking it to the ultimate symbol of forgiveness - the cross. A rough guess says there are some 50 notes

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Word as a Wordle for Trinity 2

This Sunday's Gospel reading is one of my personal favorites as it paints such a powerful picture of repentance. This woman's desire to see her life have meaning and turned round. Perhaps it is no surprise that in the Greek, the word 'repentance' is the word 'metanoia' and is about quite literally turning one's life around...

I also really love the way that Jesus sensitively and yet powerfully deals with Simon the Pharisee and teaches him how to live out the Law...

I also love how, having done the wordle, words that lie at the heart of the action of God in this Gospel are - Jesus, woman, forgiven, feet, ointment, sin and house.

The ointment of the Gospel is poured on the life of this woman by Jesus, forgiving her sin and turning her life around. But what of the feet reference you might ask? Well, perhaps simply, she walked in there weeping and longing for recognition, forgiveness and hope, and she walked out of there a changed woman and her witness must be somehow directly affected and impacted the lives of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Chuza, Susanna and many others...

The reading is from Luke 7:36-8:3...

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus* to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,* and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus* said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 50And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them* out of their resources.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

DIY - Jesus the typical man who 'fixes' things

(A version of Sunday's sermon 6 June 2010)

Friends I have discovered that Jesus is an unreconstructed male. The sort of man who thinks that however difficult a situation is he can fix it.

(Produce planks of wood and begin nailing them together)

That’s right, Jesus the typical man, champion of the vulnerable, seeking to right even the worst of societal wrongs. Jesus the carpenter who could have made and fitted our garden fence. I looked at it as I came to church this morning. It’s slightly broken at the bottom. Jesus the carpenter’s son could have mended it. He fixes things. Typical bloke.

* Jesus out the other side of the lake in the region of the decapolis met the cortege outside the town - place of the unclean. Place of the dead.
* Large crowd with him, large crowd with the funeral party. Watched footage of war torn Iraq or Afghanistan you will know that Middle Eastern grieving is not silent.
* We are told some very specific things about the deceased widow’s son. He was her only son - experienced a double loss. Lost her husband. Now lost her son - he was her social security, the one who would keep her and take care of her in her dotage, the one who paid the bills and put food on the table. what would become of her?
* Jesus is moved by the situation - a mother should not outlive both her husband and her son. A desperate plight. Being a typical man he tries to fix the situation.
* Not being a typical man, Jesus speaks in power with the authority of God directly to the dead man. QUOTE. There is no doubt that he is alive - he sits up and speaks.
* Jesus returns the previously dead man to his rightful place - to his place within the family - to his mother.
* People were frightened - this is not humanly possible - a prophet has arisen say the scepical crowds. Yes JC is a prophet as he proclaims the presence of God in word and deed but so much more than that. But then the crowd draw the right conclusion - God has looked favourably on his people in the person and actions of Jesus. Jesus speaks and acts with the authority of God. Jesus tries to fix things - typical man... but he fixes them with the hand of God...

As Jesus is confronted by this tragedy the ‘typical male’ solution is all that is can be offered in response. Tragedies like this are all too common and somehow we forget to yell out - it’s not fair!

The line between death and life that lies at one edge of this story also draws our attention to the line between injustice and a crying out for justice for this woman and the women of Afghanistan, Iraq, Whitehaven, Wotton Bassett and Leverstock Green that lies at the other. As disciples, God asks us to find our way, to live life in life between these two lines because God’s life and love is always expressed in down to earth matters of justice, freedom, peace, love and liberation.

This morning’s Gospel and my garden fence remind us that 2000 years on from the widow’s story too many people are fenced off and shut out of life by prejudice, persecution and yes even the cruelest of bereavments. As I looked at the fence this morning it reminded me that the things that divide and separates us from each other is made up of overlaid slices of wood which make and overlayed, repeating pattern. With minor variation the same textures, knots and grain are repeated over and over again. Ways of thinking or acting which exclude and harm those on the other side of the fence are repeated consistently and deliberately. It is exactly these sorts of fences that Jesus came to fix or tear down.

The miracle of raising this widow’s son to life restores the man to life, the man to his mother, the man and his mother to the community, renews her life and livelihood and renews community. This typically male response to abject grief - Jesus seeks to fix things for this widow. The impact of Jesus’ work is not DIY but DGW. He responds to this woman’s need in the only way he can - doing it God’s way. Thing is, as he steps up to that bier and commands that man to live, the impact of those words, of those actions spread like whispers through that anxious crowd gathered close in around him.

The resurrection life that Jesus the typical man offers the widow’s son, is the atypical life of God himself and that life utterly transformed the town of Nain.

In our brokenness, our need, our prejudices, our persecution our deepest grief, Jesus the atypical Son of God sees our tears, hears our cries, and offers to fix things. Friends do not hide behind the fence. This morning Jesus reaches out and touches and speaks and offers us resurrection life and in Nain that changed a man, a woman, their future and a town. Amen.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Coal Face...

Well folks, here I am back at the coal face after my three month sabbatical adn it feels odd...

In a way I am relieved to be back and that things have moved on in the life of the church in just an amazing way - just as I had hoped ad prayed that they would and I am indebted to 2 fantastic wardens, 2 fantastic Lay Readers, a fantastic team of clergy, a fantastic church council, and each and every member of the church for allowig me and my family to have that very very precious and enriching time.

But here I am back at the coal face and it feels odd because in a way so much has gone on so it feels like I am starting a new job as a return, but also because I feel daunted by what lies ahead.

What does lie ahead you ask? Answer - I am not exactly sure, but what I am sure of is that the process of discerning what the future holds for us as a church begins and ends in listening to and trusting God. So yes it feels odd, but also very very exciting!

I am excited because God has done so much amongst us in recet years, and I am sure that there is much much more to come!

It also feels odd because I am having to readjust to working and praying and trying to construct a new pattern of life and pattern of life and prayer that edifies and resources me but also stops me from frenetically and frantically returns me to a post Sabbatical state. So:

1. I am regularly keeping a track on my hours - I know that with 2 days off last week and simply 'getting back into it' I only worked 37 hours last week. and at the point of writing I have (inc the Bank Holiday) worked 8 hours and 45 mins this week. I am aiming for 40-45 hours a week on average with a maximum of around 50 hrs.
2. I will be taking 2 days off a week once in a while to ensure that, as son 3 enters full time education in September, I get to spend time with my lovely children. I treasure the time I have had with them over the last 3 months and I do not want to allow their childhood pass me by.
3. I am all the more clear what my priorities ad strengths are as a priest and as a human being and I will now ensure that I delegate more effectively to release others into ministry and to ensure that I act on the vision and tasks that I believe that God has laid out before me.

All of that said I am very tired already and days are full - tomorrow for example my day looks like this

10 am Said Eucharist and address
11 am Pastoral meeting
12 noon Lunch with a colleague
4.30ish Meeting about spirituality in local school
8 pm Meeting to plan a Thanksgiving for Marriage service (otherwise known as a blessing).

A few years ago, a friend of mine talked about the difference between him being a human being and a 'human doing'. Sometimes it feels like I have been more like the latter. And yet the principal of weekly rest from work for renewal, recreation, re-creation, and time with God and others is enshrined in the scriptures and is a mandate from God (Genesis 2:2-3).

If it's good enough for a God at the coal face to have some down time and enjoyment, then sabbath living is something I need to rediscover... especially at the coal face

I have just returned from 'full stop.' A sabbatical. This is something we clergy can take every 7-10 years. And yet sabbatical, sabbath living is what all Christians are called to live

Trinity 1 Wordle

Here is the wordle of Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke 7:11-18...

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. The disciples of John reported all these things to him

Trinity Sunday

We had a fantastic Patronal Festival on Sunday. Busy church and busy BBQ afterwards where the sun shone and over 100 people stayed to have fun, make friends and build (divine) community.

Above are a few photos and the text of the majority of my sermon...

It's good to be back... I think!


Holy Trinity,
you are neither monarch nor monologue but an eternal harmony of gift and response:
through the Uncreated Word and the Spirit of Truth include us and all creation in your extravagant love;
help us Father, to hear and receive again of your extravagant love that raised Jesus to life. For we ask in His name. Amen.

Today we are celebrating the 160th year since the construction and then consecration of this church building back in 1849. Prior to that point the village had no Anglican church of it’s own. The village was instead part of 3 separate parishes - St Michael’s St Albans, St Mary Hemel Hempstead and St Lawrence Abbots Langley and unless you were part of the non-Conformist traditions, you had to make the approximately 3 mile journey either way to attend worship

Perhaps due to this fact, and the growing size of the village with it’s burgeoning tile and brickmaking industries, plus local agriculture, made things ripe for change and in 1846 a meeting was held at what is now Abbots Hill school, then the home of John Dickinson. The outcome of the meeting between local dignitaries and landowners was ultimately the building of this church.

Friends this building in which we worship today is testimony to the vision faith of many in this community of the years. Come with me on a brief journey...

The font. pulpit and altar were all gifts of John Dickinson to the church, the local paper magnate and philanthropist. The font window recalls the baptism of Robert
Mashiter’s children - he was vicar here from 1861-1871. The Rood screen, stalls and old high altar in what is now the Lady Chapel all commemorate the ministry and family of Rev’d Arthur Durrant who was vicar here from 1899-1936. Various windows, the copy of Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World”, the credance table all commemorate some who gave their lives serving local community, country and crown in the World Wars including the likes of Thomas Alderman, Harry Biswell and others. Right up to our day where the wooden table at the back of the church gives thanks for the life of Bernard Field and the Benedict Chapel window and Stations of the Cross, both designed and crafted by John Lawson, and the latter in memory of Kay Baker.

These people do not just help us to look back and celebrate the past but they help reveal a vision of the present and the future - a vision of how this thriving village community should and could be, but also an experience of the love of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their and our lives.

God was here in Leverstock Green long before this church building was - listen again to part of our first reading from Proverbs:

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
   the first of his acts of long ago. 
Ages ago I was set up,
   at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
   when there were no springs abounding with water. 
Before the mountains had been shaped,
   before the hills, I was brought forth— 
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
   or the world’s first bits of soil. 
When he established the heavens, I was there,
   when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 
when he made firm the skies above,
   when he established the fountains of the deep, 
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
   so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 
   then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
   rejoicing before him always, 
rejoicing in his inhabited world
   and delighting in the human race.

It was that experience of God present everywhere that ultimately, I believe, sparked the idea to design and build this wonderful church, Today we are thankful for years of experiencing God’s presence here and we long Lord for many more years of inspiring and guiding your people to dream big dreams for you and to help build your kingdom in this community.

The journey of God’s people though is not always an easy one and this community is no different. We are from time to time distracted from the path that God’s lays out before us by sadnesses and suffering whether that is bereavements, illnesses or other tragedy and turmoil like the Buncefield explosion. It is no wonder. Life does not always seem glorious. And yet Paul remind us that in those times of suffering we learn about ourselves and have the opportunity to experience again something of the love of God for ourselves. Listen to what he says again:

‘...[We know that] that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us...’

And the love of God has been given to us all through the care of many in times like these - through an encounter with Jesus Christ for ourselves in the life and love of others.

Today is Trinity Sunday, our Patronal festival.

I believe that it is no accident that this building is named in honour of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit... a divine community of love...

- Bringing together of 3 historic parishes (today now linked with 3 others)

- Bringing farmer, brickmaker and tilemaker and their families together for worship
- Seeking to build a strong and lasting community in this village - flowing out from an experience of the love of God over every age - a God whose simple message throughout the scriptures and over the centuries is ‘I love you, I want to be with you, will you be with me.’
- Bread roll - cannot completely understand God and his love if we experience him together as F, S and HS.
- Rublev - Trinity, welcome, as we view we are welcomed at the table. Invited to the banquet and called to share love and build community in the image of God.
- Trinity Sunday is a hallmark of love on the paper of history. Our church building is the local expressions of that over the last 160 years.
- That same hallmark of love is also visible in our lives through an experience of the love of God in Christ and the mark of the cross on us as we were baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

What we celebrate today at the heart of our faith is not an equation to be apprehended pr a puzzle to be solved, but a challenge to us who bear His name together and individually. What legacy will we leave for the next 160 years. Perhaps yes a building, but please Lord, changed lives for the glory of the Father, in the name of the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.