Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent 2011

It has become a tradition of mine to put this blog to bed during the holy season of Advent, and to blog daily over at my Advent blog.

Please do join me over there are we make our way through this holy season.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Word as a Wordle

Here is Sunday's Gospel for Advent Sunday from Mark 13:24-37 as a Wordle. I am very familiar with the passage. Jesus' language and imagery is initially apocolyptic.

As He talks about the fig tree, the metaphors are immensely hopeful and speaks of the growth of faith in the church.

The passage is so full of hope and immediacy.

As I wordled it I was really struck how, in the midst of angels and men, houses and the sun, branches and leaves, and in the midst of the dawn and the clouds we can know heaven. The two most prominent words just sum up Advent. We can know the nearness and purposes of God.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King

I wonder what the word king makes you think of? Probably a man with a crown. A regal image. Perhaps you are thinking of a particular king in our country’s recent past. Either way, it’s hard for us to do when a queen has sat on the throne of this nation for such a long time. It’s harder still to engae with the image that this morning’s gospel presents us with,  as 21st century kingship is mostly a nominal power, and couldn’t be further from the reality of authority running through images of kingship from the world and time of Jesus.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King and my mind is whisked back to that wonderful hymn - ‘O worship the king, all glorious above.’ This is the king that we will sing our way through Advent about and whose gaze meets ours in a galaxy of icons and religious images.

Both of those sorts of kings are present in our Gospel reading this morning. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. This is the court of judgement ...the place where we will hear our final destiny...truly a place of awe. But if we wish to live as citizens of his kingdom in the meantime, what does it mean for Christ to be King?
To live in a kingdom is about far more than standing to wonder at the majesty of the king as he makes his grand entrance...and we may be in real danger of missing the heart of it, Jesus reminds us this morning.

It's an easy mistake to make – one that we hear about again and again in the gospels. Think of the Wise Men, eyes fixed on the star, dazzled by its brightness into calling at the obvious place – the royal palace of Herod – while the king they seek, is born in the poverty of a stable. Think of the Palm Sunday crowds who seem to speak prophetic truth as they shout “Hosanna to the Son of David” but whose expectations of uprising and God-led triumph are disappointed by the events of Good Friday. Then think of the ways in which Jesus chooses to explain what the kingdom is like – a mustard seed, a hidden treasure, some leaven mixed with dough - and remember just how close king and kingdom really are... and realising that Christ the King, however glorious, is always to be found in the least likely places - with the naked, the hungry, the prisoner, the stranger, the sick or the thirsty, for it is they, says Jesus, that are blessed by God. Suddenly the question of judgement and choices comes close to we realise that it is our judgements, our choices now, today how we react to others, that will make all the difference. And those judgements, those choices, will be governed by our allegiance – to Christ the king.

To live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, means you and me, living by the standard set for us by Christ the King - Christ, who chooses to spend his time with the marginalised, the oppressed, the forgotten. Christ who is utterly committed to those whom nobody values, nobody respects. Christ who identifies himself so completely with “the least of these” that when we look at them, we know we are seeing him too.

To love Christ, to dwell as a citizen of His kingdom, is to love what He has made - men, women and children however broken and needy - the sick, the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned - to love such as these is to live and love like the King; it is to love the one in whose image we are each made.

The German pastor and concentration camp resident Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote ‘How may Christ take form among us today and here?’ It is by modelling the example of Christ our King - by loving and loving again. We may not notice, we may not realise that we are loving and serving Christ, and the parable Jesus tells offers a wonderful surprise for those who in love served the downtrodden in society, also served the king.

To love like this is to love Christ - but we are clearly warned - not to love, to walk by on the other side, to condemn, to exclude, is to deny Christ, to walk past Him, to condemn Him, to exclude Him...

Peter Rollins says it all...

There is just one commandment, the commandment of love, and real love is always manifested in action. And, when it comes down to it, it is living lives of love that will build the kingdom of God here on earth. We aren't asked to decide who might be sheep or goats...that is down to the King to decide. All we are asked to do is to carry on loving – wildly, indiscriminately, just as Christ our King does.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Word as a Wordle

Here is the wordle of Matthew 25:31-46 which is the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King...

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine – Grant them eternal rest, O Lord

We are all very familiar with the saying that there is nothing certain in life except death and taxes. What a true expression: Taxes are not very pleasant to think about, and death even less so. But, we know, deep down, that death must be accepted as an integral and inescapable part of life. Death accompanies us through life, as we face the passing of loved ones and friends, and come, each of us, to face our own mortality. So on this day, All Souls day, the Church pauses to reflect on the meaning of our death.

What happens to us when we die? It is such a common question when we are children, but we soon grow away from asking the question openly, but it still is within each of us. Back, two or three decades ago, there was a rather silly joke that was going around: “What do you call an atheist in a coffin?” The answer is of course, “All dressed up and nowhere to go”. It’s bad joke I admit, but it does provide a starting point in considering some answer to the deep questions we have about death: “Where do we go?” “Are the dead at rest? At peace?” “Are they happy?” “Will I ever see them again?”

We have all had these questions raised within us, especially as we have mourned the death of a loved one, or even as we attend the funeral of an acquaintance. For the occasion of a death leaves us with a mixture of deep feelings: grief and sadness, naturally, but also confusion, doubt, fear and loneliness.

Our readings tonight speak into those feelings which may still be very live for us - they are what someone once called, words against death - the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God. No torment touches them. They are at peace. We need not worry too much about those whom we love but see no longer because of death, for God’s loving care for us extends even beyond the grave. We are still held by God in his arms, in peace, for ever, and that God offers each one of us, not just life in the now, but an assurance of Resurrection life now and for eternity, when we place our faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

Tonight as we gather, missing those whom we love and praying for them, we hear again of the loving and eternal embrace of God for us all in life, in death and into eternity.

An elderly woman who was a very active and a faithful member of her parish years was dying, and she asked for the priest to come to her bedside that they might talk about her funeral. She said, “Father, when I am laid out in my casket, I want my rosary in one hand and a fork in the other”. The priest was caught by surprise: “You want to be buried with a fork?” “Yes. I have been looking back at all the church dinners that I have attended over the years. I remember that at all those meals, when we were almost finished, someone would come to the table to collect the dirty dishes, and usually they would say, ‘Keep your fork’. That mean that dessert was coming. When they said that, I knew the best was yet to come! That's exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral”. When people see me in my casket, I want them to turn to one another and say, “why the fork?” And, Father, I want you to tell them I kept it because the best is yet to come”.

For Christians, our life’s journey is towards towards God and the promised eternal banquet of the Messiah - a celebration in the presence of God and his Son Jesus Christ forever. We are called live our lives in joyful hope and anticipation of that promised life that is ours now and in the future, through Him. That fullness of life with God, that hope that is offered to each of us by God, promised in the resurrection of his Jesus, is glimpsed here in this Eucharist tonight. For as we eat bread and drink wine, we don’t just recall Jesus, but we remember Him. Through Him being with us as we worship Him, the veil between earth and heaven is specially thin. When we join in the song of the angels in heaven “Holy, holy, holy...” I'm certain that if we cannot hear the angel voices, it is only that we aren't listening hard enough....but today, as we gather to remember our own beloved dead that great community is closer than ever.

From the perspective of eternity, that barrier which we call death is non existent...Where there is no time, no past, present or future, then there can be no endings or beginnings.

We pause to remember and to pray for those whom we love but see no longer, knowing that the ties that connected us in life, that made us pray for them and they for us are not broken. Standing in God's closer presence, I know they are praying for we for them, and knowing that, for those whom we love but see no longer, and for us, the best is yet to come.

With heartfelt thanks to @Eurobishop and @Goodinparts for inspiration and input into this homily

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

X-Factor Saintliness

I have a guilty Saturday night pleasure - I love watching X-Factor. Once the show really gets underway a few weeks in, I love the passion, the sheer self belief that lies at the heart of each performers’ song each week.  I think everyone loves the sort of rags to riches stories that that show tells; where ordinary people people come with their raw (sometimes very raw!) talent and see their lives transformed into multi-million pound, blessed beyond belief pop superstardom over a matter of weeks.

What we remember today as we celebrate the saints is rags to riches story after rags to riches story as we hear of God entering into human lives, blessing and transforming them through the grace and holiness of God.

In biblical times, the affluence that X-Factor promises, was a sign of the favour and blessing of God. Abraham is blessed by God in the book of Genesis - evidence of that is all the ‘stuff’ he came to have - cattle, sheep, male and female servants and so on. Similarly in the New Testament in the teaching of Jesus, in the parable of the Rich Fool, his crops have produced so much grain he contemplates building bigger barns to store it all. Now I don’t know if God takes account of recessions or not, but it seems that blessing, affluence and success are to be spoken of in the same sentence - as one follows on from the other. In other words, if you are rich you must have found favour with God.
Blessed are you who are poor, you who are hungry, you who weep,blessed are you when people hate you says Jesus. On this All Saints Sunday, the blessing of God, those on whom His favour rests, are not on those affluent few whose lives are measured in tabloid headline inches, but on those who weep, whose lives are poor,empty and broken. The rich, the full, the laughing, those of whom much good is spoken of have already been rewarded of their own doing now and are not seeing or living by the standards of eternity.

To live by the standards of eternity is to live by God’s standards. Living by these standards takes us along the road to what we might call saintliness. Jesus says saintly living is not about a rarified holy way of living, but is simply put - God’s design for life - a better way to live. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

When we consider the lives of those the church traditionally calls saints, what strikes me first is how very ordinary most of them were but how thet tried to live out these words ....from that clutch of Galilean fishermen to a consumptive French nun,from a wounded soldier who spent most of his time dreaming of damsels in distress to a forthright Albanian with a genius for spotting Christ in the slums of Calcutta. None of them looked in the least remarkable – they didn't start out as super-holy beings, nor, I suspect, did any of them spend their days with heads surrounded by a heavenly glow. They didn't even aspire to outstanding holiness but they lived Christlike lives and accepted the gift of grace that God offers to all of us, and in so doing, they found themselves transformed.

The Saints we celebrate today are ordinary people trying to live Christlike lives transformed by the grace of God celebrated in the windows, paintings, statues, icons hymns... and pews around us. Yes you too... We are called to be saints, it is in our spiritual DNA, to strive to faithfully follow Jesus Christ in our day and to proclaim the Gospel in words and works of love.

Part of our saintly calling though is therefore to side with those whom God sides and favour those whom He does.

As we answer His call on our lives to Sainthood, we must also recognise that whilst He is transforming our lives as we worship Him, His favour, His blessing, rests on those in pour community where we might least expect to find it - in the home of the grieving widower, at breakfast with the family struggling on benefits, in the cold flat of the assylum seeker, in the frightened dreams of the child in care... Love them says Jesus. Support them. Do good to them because few are, and why, because as you see your life transformed by grace and new life, so the grace and new life spills out and blesses them through you... God’s blessing is on them because of you.

On this All Saints Sunday, we thank God for His transforming grace at work in people past as well as in us today as we seek to follow Him. We pray that we would not squander that grace He so freely gives us, so that it turns into sour judgement of others in our hands and fills our mouths and lives with bitterness.

Rather let us pray that God would continue to meet us where we are; would take us as we are - with all our rough edges, and by His grace transform the raggedness of our existence by the richness of His grace. As He, as Mother Julian says, transforms our wounds into worships, let us also pray that He would charge us with a contagious holiness to allow even us to be God’s blessing on those in our community, especially on those who need it the most. Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Good Book - God's Unfolding Drama

Imagine for a moment that, in a dream, you are attending a theatre and watching a play. The play is reaching the climax when suddenly an actor is taken ill. The director steps forward and invites not just anyone but you to play the role. What could you do? You would have to improvise in the light of all you knew about the play so far – the plot, the characters and perhaps what you had read in the programme about the end. Today, as we give thanks to God for the scriptures, we are reminded that one way to understand the Bible is that through it, God invites us to play our part in his drama, applying all we know of his plans and words to our own often unexpected situations.

Our Epistle this morning reminds us that Christ has not been properly understood, if we forget his life before birth and his life after the resurrection! The whole creation and the whole development of the universe revolves around Jesus Christ. Nothing falls outside the scope of God’s project. Here we have God’s Mission Statement – you cannot be more comprehensive than this. The whole Bible backs up this view. It’s a play - THE BIBLE – A DRAMA IN FIVE ACTS
1. The Creation – God creates the scene (Genesis 1-2)
2. The Fall – The tragic consequences of human sin distort the world (Genesis 3-11)
3. Israel – God begins the process of redemption (Old Testament)
4. Jesus – God brings redemption to a focus in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus (The Gospels)
5. The time of the Church – God’s redemption is brought to the whole world (Acts – Revelation).
Scene 1 – the birth of the church
Scenes 2 & 3 - Church history so far
Scene 4 – in which we are called to live faithfully and creatively
Scene 5 – Redemption completed.

We are invited to play our part in this developing drama. The our Gospel reading from Matthew reflects the vision of God beginning to wrap the whole play up – it’s part of the final scene.

Looked at in this way, the Bible provides us with a “big story” in which to live out our lives – a dynamic framework which helps us to make sense of the meaning of life, to explore its difficulties and to discover a sense of purpose for our selves.

David Wilkinson a respected astrophysicist and theologian tells us that physicists have calculated that the probability of the universe ever getting started is 1/1x fifty seven zeros – in other words so improbable as to be impossible as a chance event. Scientists also calculate (from observations of the galaxy’s oldest stars) that the universe has been around for 13–14 billion years – in other words, an unimaginably long time. Both of these estimates give us just a glimpse of the scale of the “big story” God is directing and that we have a part in. More than this, it offers us • A new beginning – resources for living and an invitation to friendship with God agreeing to live in this story • It does not impose a fatalistic future – we are invited to make choices, enjoy relationships and contribute to the developments.

So, this grand narrative of God’s eternal purposes has local implications – that too is part of its richness. Christ’s death turns enemies into God’s friends and overcomes all the divisions that people create. It leads to transformed people who then transform the locality in which they live. There are all kinds of hints to this effect in the letter. Old divisions are being overcome – whether they are religious/ethnic ones or social ones. Old attitudes and destructive patterns of behaviour are being transformed so that anger is replaced with compassion, hate with forgiveness, insults with kindness and so forth.  Old-style relations in home and workplace are being replaced with ones that more fully reflect the model of Jesus – loving respect for all. We can see in these how the yeast of the Kingdom is beginning to change the whole loaf!

So, another aspect of the richness is that through Christ God is redeeming his people for holiness. God’s Word has always worked like this. Our context is very different, so completing the drama does not mean copying but being stimulated by this story. We too need to seek “to set ourselves” apart for God and demonstrate how
the message of Jesus transforms communities.

Some of us face the challenge to work out how we can demonstrate God’s kingdom in the workplace or in a difficult family situation. As Christians we need each other to work these things through and to support one another – it is easy to forget we are in God’s play when we are “out there “on our own!

But this richness affects individual people – the details about various believers in chapter 4 remind us of this. Within this list, there are many dramatic personal stories. Fortunately, we know a little about a couple of them. We can tell the stories of Mark – Barnabas’ cousin, who opts out of missionary journeys with Paul and gets barred by Paul on a subsequent journey. But in Colossians 4, Mark is restored as a companion of Paul; he is one of three people who have “been a great help to me”(4.11). Mark goes on to provide us with one of our Gospels. Clearly, he had allowed Christ’s word to live richly in him. Onesimus – a runaway slave, whose master Philemon probably lived in Colossae! Here are individuals profoundly influenced by the richness of Christ’s message, who have become part of its unfolding drama. And there are the others, known to us only by name, but whose own parts in the drama would have been well-known to Paul and the churches in that region. And that’s where we all come in – [refer back to Bishop Tom Wright’s five acts] – we are invited to construct scene 4 in the final act of the Bible’s continuing drama!

“Let this rich message about Christ live in your hearts …”  Now we need to beware! “Live in your hearts”, doesn’t mean keep it hidden, locked away, inside us! It means to take it so much to heart that it reshapes who we are and what we do from the inside out!

The Colossians are encouraged to encounter Christ’s message in many ways and so are we so that we can fully receive it’s message and play our part in God’s continuing drama.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday podcast

What belongs to God?

You know you are in trouble when your enemies begin to flatter you: Kind words and Very Unkind Intentions. “Now, tell us, Jesus,” they continued, “is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

By “lawful,” of course they meant “according to Torah.” Any of Our Lord’s responses could have got him into trouble with one faction or another.  If Jesus said that a good Jew should support the Roman state, then he would have allied himself with a power that was occupying Israel and killing Jews. That would have alienated the Jews and given implicit approval to a state that regarded its ruler as a god. It would have been idolatry. But to say that Jews should not pay taxes to Rome would have been treason. The question was a perfect trap for Jesus.

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” It was a good question then, and it is as difficult to answer today as it was two thousand years ago.

There is much to say in favour of Jewish or Christian support of the state. The state maintains order; it keeps the roads paved; and it operates schools. Even the Romans, for all their brutality, created a system of roads that ran the length of Europe. It took less time to send a letter from Athens to Rome in the first century when Rome was at the pinnacle of its power than it did in the 11th century when Europe was divided into hundreds of small kingdoms. Under Roman rule, we and the whole of Europe enjoyed a standard of living that fell drastically after the Roman state disintegrated and was not recovered until the late 19th century.

Yet, the Roman state was brutal. Persons found guilty of treason were hung or nailed to a cross and left to bleed to death and asphyxiate; it was the cruellest form of capital punishment ever devised. Men and women flocked to the circuses or amphitheatres to watch convicted criminals fight wild beasts.

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” The question seems easier to answer today. Compared to Rome, we live under a humane and beneficent power. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”  Is it?

One of the interesting things about this story of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees and the Herodians is that he never answers their question.

“Show me the money for the tax,” Jesus demanded. And they produced a Roman coin. As Jesus held it up, it glinted in the sunlight, and Jesus asked, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” The coin would have borne the image of Caesar, much as our coins display the profile of our Queen. Finally, Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Well, that settles the question, doesn’t it? There are things that belong to Caesar, like the money with which we pay our taxes, and there are things that belong to God. Such as…? Well, what? There’s the problem.

Jesus threw the question back at the Pharisees and Herodians. His statement just raises some questions. How and where do you draw the line between the things that belong to Caesar and the things that belong to God? What are the things of Caesar and what are the things of God?

Jesus was a faithful Jew who every Sabbath of his adult life had recited the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your might.” 
Friends, a whole God demands the service of whole human beings. The God of Jesus has a claim on all of our life. So if God demands all of our life, what is left to render unto Caesar?

The question Jesus threw back at the Pharisees and Herodians echoes Genesis. Holding up the coin, he asked, “Whose likeness or image is this?” The image of Caesar was imprinted only upon coins; but the image of God is upon every human life. The fingerprints of God are on us all.

“The things that are Caesar’s.” What are they? Caesar seems to have a claim on much of our lives, but in fact, nothing belongs to him. Everything belongs to God; the things that Caesar claims are merely on loan.

“The things that are God’s.” The way most of us behave suggests that we believe that God has a claim on about one hour per week and a small percentage of our income. But God’s mark is upon every particle of our being.

Many parishes today will hear sermons on stewardship today, many parish priests will ask people to consider how much they should pledge to the church. But the real question is not how much we should give to God or the church or how much belongs to Caesar, but how much belongs to God? And if we ask that question, then the real issue of stewardship is not “How much should we pledge?” but “How much should we keep for ourselves?”.

All that we are and all that we have belongs to God. But we belong to God not as slaves but as children and if children then heirs. Rendering to God what God has a claim on is not burdensome; it is liberation. We cannot divide our lives between God and Caesar. Realizing that life is whole and not fragmented is an insight that brings us freedom. It teaches us that our first and foremost priority is the service of God.

If you, like many people, feel many claims upon your time and finances and energy, then it is freeing to realize that in reality is that there is only one claim upon our lives: to serve God in joyful freedom.

Yes, my dear friends, there are Standing Order forms that you get and fill in and return, and yes, there are Gift Aid Envelopes and as you all know, there is a whole host of mission and outreach which needs to be underwritten both here in this parish, in the diocese and internationally, but we gather here to give ourselves, and through that we bear fruit for the Mission of God in this place. Your prayer, your activism, your community engagement with the young, the disaffected, the old and the isolated, and yes, quite importantly, your money is a response to Him who gave it to us in the first place.

“Render to God the things that are God’s.”

That’s you.

Every bit of you.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Word as a Wordle!

Here is the text of Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew 22:15-22 as a wordle...

I am interested to note the importance of the words: emperor, went, God and things.

The passage makes me dwell on how Jesus seemed to be caught by this question between offending the spiritual legalities and committing blasphemy and offending the temporal laws and committing treason - but that was the point.

Jesus sees beyond the questions to the heart of the matter - where does true authority lie? With the emperor? Where does he get his authority from???? From the State?????? And where do they get theirs from?????? From the people??????? And where do they get theirs from???????? The inbuilt sense of justice in most people????????? And where does that come from???????????

Pay due attention to the the laws of the land says Jesus. Give to the state and their authority the things that are due them - tax, law keeping and so on. But as a follower of the way, God asks not for our taxes or our deference, but our whole selves.

Which matters more?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Podcast

Here's is this morning's sermon in the audio equivalent of glorious technicolour!

The Peckham Gospel

On the evening of 22 April 1993, Mr & Mrs Conor Taaffe had been to a prayer meeting at their local Catholic church.  As they left the church they noticed two young black boys who were running towards them. Further away they saw a young man holding his upper chest with one of his hands, as if he might have been injured in that area. Then they saw him crash onto the pavement. At once they realised that something very serious had happened.

They moved closer, oblivious of their own needs or safety. There was another man standing in the middle of the road trying to flag down passing cars. Then they saw him go to the telephone box on the other side of the road, probably to try to call the emergency services.

The Taaffe’s crouched down on the hard pavement with the young man as he lay there, and Mr Taaffe remembers an involuntary movement of the head to the left and a sound as if the young man was choking and trying to breathe. There was quite a lot of blood on the pavement.

As the young man’s life clearly was ebbing away, Mrs Taaffe gently and lovingly reached over and touched the young man’s head. The last words he heard as he gave up his life were her whispering into his ear: you are loved, you are loved. The young man’s name was Stephen Lawrence.

Dear friends, oblivious to His own needs, in the person of Jesus Christ, God makes His way down close to us. In His incarnation, He comes down to where we are in love and compassion, onto the litter filled streets of our lives, and whispers into our ears, into our lives, into our very souls - you are loved, you are loved you are loved...

That is the extent of the love of God in Jesus Christ. Instead of crossing the road and walking by on the other side, perhaps rightly avoiding us, not wanting to get involved with the mess, He runs to us...

In the story that Jesus tells us this morning, it is this same God who comes to us where are, waiting in the market place.

And we are all in the market place sometimes in our lives, whether we realise it or not. All of us ask those big searching ‘why’ or ‘how’ questions about life from time to time. Just this weekend, how Lord, could you let those Welsh miners die? In asking those sorts of ultimate questions, we are all looking for ultimate answers, ultimate answers that can only come from a relationship with the ultimate - with God himself.

In the story Jesus tells this morning, for some of those workers, the day is long, hot and hard, but not so for others. To our mind, it seems unfair, unjust for the wages for all the workers to be the same. But if we carefully look at the contract made by the landowner and the workers - they agreed to the ‘usual daily wage.’ for work, whether they have worked all day or for just an hour. It is up to the land owner to pay what he desires and whatever is agreed.

As far as God is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether we came to know Him, asking big life or faith questions, eighty years or eight weeks ago. It doesn’t matter whether we have faithfully attended church our whole life or come to Him on our deathbeds. That is the extent of the generosity and patience of God outworking the topsy turvey values of His Kingdom.

There is never any sense of - right, sorry, heaven is filling fast, if you want to come in you have til next Tuesday to sign up. God goes on loving, He goes on welcoming those who come to Him in faith. And the payment?

Jesus is clear, the wages are the same - when we ask those ultimate questions of an ultimate God, He offers each one of us an eternal life long relationship of love - the wages are the same. We may not get all the answers we seek straight away, but we do ultimately get a God’s eye perspective on how life should be according to the values of His Kingdom - where the the poor are raised up, the rich and powerful are cast down and where the last are first.

It may not seem fair or just if the office junior were paid the Director’s salary but this is the extent of the wild, wanton, almost wasteful generosity, love, and grace of God.

In economic terms, if God’s company were to run like that it would surely go out of business very quickly, but there is a price for the wage structure to be like that. But this is not a parable about our work or how we will be paid - it is a reminder of the graciousness, the benevolence, the kindness and the generosity of God – a God who gives the best thing he has – himself. Who in some mysterious way in Christ’s crucifixion, pays the price of my sin – and the only reward any of us could ever hope or pray for – assured in His resurrection - the gift of eternal life with Him.

This morning, Jesus runs to us, He crouches near to us on the hard pavement of our lives, gently loving us into life, whispering into our souls - you are loved, you are loved you are loved; He meets us again and again, today, here even, in the market places as we ask life’s ‘why?’ questions and offers us the wages of eternal life, knowing that the costs are covered, the price is paid.

This morning we need to decide for ourselves - perhaps for the first time, maybe afresh, whether to accept the generous grace-filled offer of His life transforming love, his very self - freely given, thoroughly undeserved and outrageously unwarranted and offered widely and to all, whether we have known Him for eighty years or eight weeks, or not. For faith, being Christian, is not about how much we know about God in our heads, or for how long, but how we are known by God in His heart of love. Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Word as a Wordle

Here is this coming Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew 20:1-16 as a wordle...

 I am struck by the importance of the vineyard, the labourers, the usual daily wage being received are to the wordle and the passage.

I am left wondering:
1.  At the fact that here is another parable of Jesus that speaks of the extravagant generosity of God - all were paid the same.
2.  At the place of envy - we check each other out as a way of ensuring that we are 'normal.' Most of us don't like sticking out in the crowd. We measure ourselves by those who are like us, to make sure that we blend in, that we are part of the crowd.  That checking though can lead to a more worrying condition that says things like - 'Wow come our next door neighbour can afford that new car bearing in mind what they earn...?' Is there a parallel with this parable and the parable of the Prodigal Son, especially with the son's older brother...

Thursday, September 08, 2011

9/11, forgiveness and prayer

h/t to Lesley Crawley for the vid which, as we move to the 10th anniversary of the events of that day, I found deeply moving and very self explanatory....

Tell. Show. Be

Thanks to Muriel for sharing this...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Word as a Wordle is back!

Here is a wordle of Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew 18:21-35. It is about the area central and distinctive (I believe) to Christianity - ongoing and unmeritted forgiveness of each one of us, and Jesus underlines that in the parable he tells of the unforgiving servant.

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

The wordle highlights four key words - pay, slave, debt and Lord. I am left asking and I need to prayerfully explore:

1. Who is the slave?
2.  What is the debt?
3.  How do I pay? Who do I pay?
4.  Who is the Lord?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Gavin Harrison...

Because of the sheer joy of the music, and the outstanding but effortless looking skill, I had to post this vid... I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Podcast

For your listening pleasure, here is this morning's sermon based on Matthew 15:21-28...

Crumbs or Bread?

A prostitute went to see a minister in dire straits - homeless, sick and unable to buy food for her 2 year old daughter. Through sobs she told of how she had been forced to prostitute her own child to feed her drug habit. He could barely take hearing any more of the story she was telling and besides he was legally bound to inform the authorities if he became aware of any cases of child abuse.

Unsure of what to say to her to offer her any advice, he asked her if she had ever been to church to seek any support. The look she gave the minister was one that would live with him for the rest of his ministry, ‘Church?’, she said incredulously, ‘Church? Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They would only make me feel worse!’

This true story reminds us of the way that people perceive the followers of Jesus to be. In this morning’s Gospel reading - it is Jesus’ disciples who are seeking to send this undesirable noisy woman of questionable integrity and faith away. Jesus should not be mixing and certainly not seen to be mixing with people like her. Would we want to have anything to do with her? People generally think of us as judgmental, holier than thou do-gooders who believe they are better than everyone else. This morning, Jesus reminds us that to be His disciples, to even call ourselves Christians, we must not find ourselves to be anywhere near living out that preconception.

Jesus makes His way out to Tyre and Sidon. These prosperous, multicultural cities were made wealthy through the manufacture and sale of purple cloth, quality cedar timber and ship building. Due to their ‘international trade’, they were heavily influenced by both of the superpowers of the day - the Romans and the the Greeks and were most definitely seen by most Jews as places not to go to.  Religiously, the Canaanites worshipped a plethora of Gods including Baal. Jews saw themselves as better than the Canaanites mostly due to Old Testament stories like Elijah’s defeat of the prophets of Baal on the mountaintop.

Why is Jesus going here?  As they arrive this local woman starts making a scene. No wonder the disciples start feeling uncomfortable. Yet notice what she is shouting - she calls Jesus - Son of David. She recognises Him as the Jewish Messiah. She may may regularly worship many gods, but she recognises Jesus as someone significant. Maybe she has found that her gods are silent and unable or unwilling to respond to her cries for help. Perhaps the Son of David - God present on earth - can transform her world.

This persistent Canaanite woman approaches this Jewish Messiah and kneels before him. She knows that he can help her cause. She knows that he offers more than empty words or broken promises. Having reiterated to his disciples that he has come to call the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Jesus then responds to her request for help with a very enigmatic statement: It is not fair to throw the children’s food to the dogs.

Non Jews, were vilified and popularly called dogs. Is this a racist slur on the lips of our Lord? No. The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. The picture of dinner time, with little kids at the table, and their pet puppies at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably so too to the master, were to be fed after the children. Jesus must take care of those to whom he is sent first.

Did the woman misunderstand Jesus’ words as words of love? ‘But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table...’ Either way, she is clearly demonstrating a very strong faith - even those who don’t deserve to be fed by the master, scavenge for whatever they can. She knows Jesus can give her daughter what she is asking for her.

Jesus challenges the Canaanite woman to articulate her faith - so it’s more than just empty words. She calls Him Son of David, acknowledging Him as the Jewish messiah.  Yet she demonstrates that even those outside the expected boundaries of the work of God’s Jewish Messiah, fully understand what He is teaching and revealing - even the dogs eat the crumbs, the words of Godly wisdom and ways to Godly living, that fall.

Jesus welcomes and responds to this woman because her grasp of what it means to have faith. She clearly gets who Jesus is and he includes and welcomes her - even though she would be excluded and alienated by many others. She comes to Jesus as a stranger and leaves a friend.

We all know people like the prostitute I told you about. They are people who wouldn’t normally go anywhere near a church for fear of being condemned. Yet that’s how most people feel about coming to church. But Jesus didn’t invite that Canaanite woman to come to Jerusalem to meet her - he met her in her home town.

There are many people in our community who long to meet with God. They cry out to him in desperation in some cases every day, for release, relief, for healing, for hope. They are often people we wouldn’t expect to see in our churches, and yet if we talk with them - like the Canaanite woman - they know what God can do in and for their lives. They understand the all transforming power of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

This morning are we all too often like the disciples - keeping the Canaanite woman far from Jesus if at all possible, ensuring the ‘undesirables’ are kept away from our Lord? Or are we like Jesus, meeting those people where they are; where we most often are - at the shops, bus stops, chemists, doctors’ surgery or the pub?

On 25th September, B2CS, we encouraging you to rediscover those people you know who wouldn’t normally come to church, who like the Canaanite woman, who have heard of Jesus, who used to come to church, but who don’t anymore and to invite them for a special service on that day. To come back to church. Jesus, in you meets them where they are and invites them into renewed relationship with Him.

This says it all...

After all, what are we offering our community? Crumbs? Memories of what church was or should be? A chance to come to Harvest festival or a beetle drive as lovely as those may be? Or are we offering them Jesus - who meets them in their desperation, offering release, relief, healing, and hope, the Living Bread, in whom all our hungers are satisfied? Amen.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Word as a Wordle - Trinity 8

Her is the wordle of Sunday's (shortened) Gospel reading from Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Salvation according to Charlie Stoltzfus

Tony Campolo, the American evangelist was invited to preach at a Pentecostal Church and before the service the leaders prayed for him. He wanted to get on with preaching but soon they started praying for things in their own lives.

One man said, “Oh, Lord, be with Charlie Stoltzfus, my neighbor. You know Charlie, Lord. He’s leaving his wife and three kids today and he’s going off. Lord, we don’t know where he’s going. Find a miracle to bring him back. He lives at Exit 14A off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. You know, Lord, in that little trailer park. His is the first one on the right hand side.” And Tony’s thinking, oh brother, why is he giving God directions. God knows this guy and knows where he is. God created this him. Tony just wants to start preaching.

Finally, he preaches the sermon. The service is over. He gets in his car and starts driving home. He’s on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and he sees hitch- hikers holding up signs – California, New York, Philadelphia. He passes by them but one guy has a sign that said “Anywhere.” Tony said to himself I’m going to pull over. He pulled over, backed up, and the guy got in. Tony said, “I’m intrigued by your sign.” The guy said, “Yeah, I don’t care where I go, I’ll go anywhere, I just have to get away from where I am.” Tony introduces himself and asks the guy his name. He replies, “Hi, I’m Charlie Stoltzfus.”

So Tony drives on. When they get to Exit 14A Tony exits the Turnpike and starts driving back. The guy said, “Where are you going?” Tony said, “I’m taking you home.” The guy said, “Now wait a minute. What do you mean you’re taking me home.” Tony said, “You left your wife and your three kids and I’m taking you home right now.” The guy said, “You don’t know where I live.” Tony said, “Yes I do, in the trailer park up here, in the first silver trailer on the right.” And the guy said, “How do you know that? Who told you that?” Tony said, “God told me!” He pulls over, gets Charlie out of the car and goes into the trailer with him. Charlie and his wife and Tony spend time talking together. A year later Tony learned that Charlie and his wife had decided to stay together – their marriage is restored. Friends, there are no lengths that God will not go to, to bring us back into relationship with Him. He reaches out His hand, we just have to take it.

At the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading, lies unseen, the heart of God, beating with love for His world.  It is the love which God has for His world that calls His Son to complete His work of creation by coming amongst us in the first place. It is this same love that Jesus demonstrates by feeding the crowd with bread and fish. It is the same love that sends the crowd away, allowing Jesus to cross the lake and climb a mountain to pray; to renew and be renewed in His Father’s love himself.

It is the same love of God, that compels Jesus to reveal to the disciples who He really is. Early in the morning He comes walking across the water to the to them in the boat. Only the Creator of the universe can defy the laws of physics - God in Jesus Christ draws near to those He specially loves. The disciples are rightly terrified at what they are seeing. Is this a ghost?  Jesus speaks to them and His words sound like reassurance - ‘it is I’ and yet they echo God’s revealing of Himself to Moses in the burning bush ‘I am who I am.’ None other that the Creator God is with the disciples on the lake.

This is all just classic Peter, unsure of himself and unsure of who Jesus is. ‘Lord, if it you, if you really are God, I’m going to come out of the boat and out onto the water & walk with you.’  So he does. Just as Peter begins to experience the reality of God’s love for Himself, he doubts and starts to sink ‘Lord save me!’ And Jesus reaches out His hand in love and saves him.

All too often friends, we think we have faith sown up. We think we know God. He is safely contained in the pages of the scriptures or in the guise of bread and wine, and yet we forget all too easy that He has the capacity to surprise us. To think and act outside the box. It is this God of surprises that limits Himself and meets us invitingly contained in the pages of the scriptures or in the guise of bread and wine. And yet it is this God in Jesus Christ who out of love for us encourages us to step out of the safety of those comfort zones, of what we think or believe God to be, and to walk with him.

The boat is a safe place to be whether that boat is our lifestyles, our jobs, our houses, our choices, our humanity even. We believe that we can only ever be like ‘this’ - sad, tired, broken, unforgiving, unforgiven, guilty, shamed. Jesus comes alongside us in love and encourages us to step out with Him, to trust Him, to leave the boat - our old lives - completely behind. Jesus doesn’t meet us someway off on the lakeshore, He meets us where we are, by the boat. He comes alongside us. He doesn’t deny where we have sailed, where our lives have taken us whether filled with goodness or sadness. It doesn’t matter to Him how we feel about ourselves.  He loves us for who we are and encourages us to be where He is - in the presence, in the love of God - where we were created to be.

That encounter, with the love of God in Christ whether in Scripture, Sacrament or wherever is all transforming - for through it we can walk with Him. And we know we can trust Him too, when he stumbled, when he doubted, when he struggled to believe in Jesus - to let go and to let God, Jesus came alongside Peter and Thomas and countless others in love reassuring, restoring, renewing and resurrecting their lives.

Friends, in life, whenever and wherever we fail, no matter how far we feel we have fallen even when we feel He can’t, Jesus reaches out His hand to save us, restoring and renewing and resurrecting our relationship with each other, with Him and with his Heavenly Father in love. All we need to do is take His hand. When we do, wherever we are, He walks with us to where He is - helping us to become in each step we take, more and more like the Son of God - whole and holy people transformed by His love. Amen.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Better late than never - The Word as a Wordle for Trinity 7

The Gospel reading for Sunday is another well known story about Jesus, where He and then He and Peter walk on water from Matthew 14:22-33...

'...Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 

 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'...'

Things that stand out as I read the passage include:
  • This is classic Peter and classic Jesus
  • Is Jesus physically different? They don't recognise Him and think He is a ghost
  • This is the God of surprises at work - we think we know Jesus/God (teaching, healing, raising the dead etc) but then He does something completely unexpected and walks on water
  • We need to trust God, and as He reaches out to us, so we need to take His hand and step out
  • We need to join Jesus where He is - not in the safety of the boat, our lives, our routines, our earthly expectations and limitations - but accept Jesus invitation to join Him in the realm of the Divine.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Workplace prayer resource

I recently rediscovered something that we promoted elsewhere in previous years.

For those of you who work at a desk (however often) the ReJesus website (which is a brilliant site anyway!) produced a fantactic resource that you can print on stiffened paper or card and have some quiet prayerful time in the middle of your working day.

It's easy to print and make and easy to use. To down load it just click the image below...

Pleased to meet you!

There is a new post on the parish blog about meeting me in small groups. It would be great to do that and gives me a chance to get to know you and you me. Clink the link below and have a read!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Podcast

Here is the podcast of this morning's sermon based on the story of the feeding of the 5000...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Augustine, feed me!

What do you do? It’s often one of the first things we ask people when we meet them. It helps us to identify them along with asking them their their name. I am trying to meet as many of you as I can in the first few weeks that I am here, so I can identify you and build a relationship with you.

What about Jesus? People identify him as all sorts of different things: prophet, teacher, good man. But only Christians identify him as the Son of God. And if he is, then he’s very important. Because it’s easy to ignore a great teacher – you can take or leave his teaching. Or a prophet – you can interpret his prophecies in different ways. But if Jesus was the Son of God then he can’t be ignored.

The feeding of the 5,000 is an incredibly famous story. It’s very important – the only one of Jesus’ miracles to feature in all four gospels. The reason it features so prominently is because it tells us who Jesus is.

We need to set the story in context: Jesus has been teaching about what having God in control of our lives is like in parables about the Kingdom of God and healing the sick. We then have the story of the death of John the Baptist. And then we get this morning’s Gospel reading which I believe friends, clearly shows us who Jesus is and the implications for each one of us.

In Mark’s version of this story, the crowd is described as like sheep without a shepherd – directionless, clueless, helpless, vulnerable. So often in life we can feel like this too.

Jesus is like a shepherd. It’s the shepherd’s responsibility to provide food and protection. In Jesus we find everything we need. We can rely on him. We want to be self-sufficient, but Jesus says actually we do need him, and he is everything you need.

A shepherd doesn’t look after one sheep on its own but a flock. Our society has privatized morality and religious belief and says ‘if you want to follow Jesus, great go ahead, I’ll believe what I like.’

Sometimes people say that it’s possible to have a Christian faith without going to church. Well, on one level it is, but the Bible doesn’t give us a picture of God’s people worshipping him each on their own. It gives us a picture of the church: God’s people worshipping him & being cared for by Him together, like sheep with a shepherd.  Jesus is a shepherd, we should follow him and rely on him.

What did Jesus do when he saw the huge crowd and had compassion on them? He actively demonstrated the love and presence of God amongst people - he cured the sick.

Jesus is compassionate. He calls His church to love others - to demonstrate the presence and love of God. Jesus reminds that the greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are and to love others as we love ourselves.

Time and again we are called by Jesus to love others but to allow our love to go the extra mile - not just to those we like or who are like us - but beyond those boundary lines, to love and forgive our enemies, those who persecute or deride us, those who sit on the outside and on the margins of our society or social grouping, those whose very existence challenge our values, codes or beliefs.

In fact we are called to live out that love that called creation into being and called Jesus the Son to come and demonstrate the length, breadth, depth and height of that love in word and action in his life, death and resurrection.

Jesus’ love shows compassion - a deep understanding of what it means to be human. An empathy that puts Him firmly in our shoes. Sometime people wonder where God is today in the face of disaster and personal crisis, and yet Jesus lives the love and presence of a God who knows us intimately as we are made in His image and He loves us no matter who we are, where we are or what we do in or with our lives.

The key to understanding this story is that Jesus is indeed a leader and lover of people but so what? But the most dynamic and charismatic people, the most self giving of people are simply not able to divide five loaves and two fish and feed so many. Some people have suggested that once the bread started to be passed around, people got their packed lunches out. So it was a Mini Babybel here, a Geo bar there, here, have half a banana… No! All four accounts make it clear that this was a case of divine intervention. They all ate and were satisfied.  I can only conclude this is God’s work.

5000 people are fed - so what. So Jesus is God - ta da! But that’s not the end of it.  They are fed, but notice what Jesus says to his closest friends when they ask him what to do with this this hungry crowd - hungry physically and spiritually, you give them something to eat. There is an expectation from Jesus that the disciples will respond. Is this Jesus being facetious and awkward? I think not.

Many people are still looking to make sense of their lives. They have huge questions about it’s purpose and plan and they fill the holes that those questions generate with stuff - success, money, gadgets, sex, celebrity living. St Augustine described it well when he said ‘our hearts are restless til they find their rest in thee.’ He knew well that only a relationship with a compassionate God could satisfy.

The crowd that Jesus fed with bread and fish were hungry, but for more than food. To their longing, Jesus offers the disciples - you give them something to eat. But how can we Lord? We aren’t equipped. We don’t have the words. We’re scared. We’re not ordained - just the sentiments of Jesus’ first disciples. The crowd are looking for ultimate answers, for deep longings to be satisfied and Jesus offerers them us.

The story reminds us that God can use ordinary things like bread or fish to demonstrate his extraordinary compassion and love. He offers us to a searching world because the people searching for meaning in life are just like you and me, they are you and me. We can only offer them what we ourselves have received. Jesus has takes each one of us, and like bread and fish, blesses us filling us with his very self each time we encounter him in Word and Sacrament and then shares us, ordinary people filled with the extraordinary life of God, with the world. He offers us not to give glib answers, but lives lived in relationship with Jesus the compassionate shepherd, the Son of the Living God. Amen.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rush - Cygnus X-1 10-13-2002

In honour of Geddy Lee's birthday, and prompted by Gerrarrdus, here is part of Cygnus x-1 by Rush. Quality music for a Friday :) Read his blog about it here :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Parish Blog

Evening all, it's late so I'll keep this brief, but just to say that we now have a new Parish blog which you can read and follow here. It will run alongside this blog and the Parish website (which will be due an overhaul fairly soon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Prayer for the people of Norway

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has sent his prayers and sympathy to the people of Norway following the tragic events in Oslo and Utøya last Friday.

His message is as follows:

"Along with all the faithful of the Church of England, I want to express my deepest sympathy with the people of Norway in the wake of the appalling events of recent days. Norway has played so great a part over many years in international reconciliation as well as developing its own distinctive national ethos of openness and fairness, and it is a special tragedy that it should suffer this outbreak of senseless carnage. Our prayers are with all those who died and all those who mourn them; and we are grateful for the many signs of strength and spiritual maturity that the Norwegian people have shown in their response to evil and destructiveness."

A prayer for Norway
God our saviour,
we pray with those in Norway
who are shocked, grieving or in pain.
In your mercy, look on this wounded world,
and hold us closely to your promise of hope
in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Word as a Wordle

Here is a wordle of next Sunday's Gospel reading, a well known passage...

Matthew 14:13-21

Feeding the Five Thousand

 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Sunday Podcast

Here is my sermon from this morning's parish service at St Thomas' in West Hyde based on Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Johnny Cash - Hurt

This sums up the last 24 hours in some ways...

Change? No thanks. Transformation? Yes please!

The red and blue of the Norwegian flag are in some way said to symbolise freedom. The flag is a blue cross on a red background - historically linking Norway to both neighbouring Denmark and Sweden and yet ultimately marking her out as a distinct and free nation in her own right.

It is a beautiful country - politically open, warm people, a low international profile all which has been smothered into silence by the tragedy in Oslo and on the island of Utoeya. Last night’s unfolding news coverage was was captivating, overwhelming, disarming (no grim pun intended) and humbling. Already Norwegians are asking big questions about their national life - how can this have happened, how can the far-right groups likely to be behind this still have a place in Norwegian or indeed in any other society?  If we place that national soul searching alongside the nation-building in Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain and Egypt, it feels like there is need for change in the air.

All politicians talk about working for change and the good of all, and yet the only change that seems to come all too often is no change!  That's because all politicians wield power self-interestedly whether they are Colonel Gadaffi, Barak Obama or David Cameron. As this overarching political change is being fought for in the Middle East and is being questioned in Norway, Jesus reminds us this morning that this sort of fundamental change it is not only desirable but also possible.

People in Jesus' day longed for change.  Even though their nation had been occupied for hundreds of years by Persians, Greeks and Romans, they longed for freedom from political oppression, but instead of looking to the ballot box, they looked to God and the coming of his Kingdom.

We have lost not only a belief in the possibility of political and social change but also the sense of power behind the word kingdom.  Our royalty today do not have the authority tied up in the word that Jesus uses.  Perhaps it might better to talk of the Government or Presidency of heaven to give a sense of the worldshaping power that Jesus has in mind.  In these strange little stories, Jesus is giving a sense of what things would be like if God was in control rather than the EU’s leaders.

In the face of the events in the last 24 hours or unfolding in drought and starvation in the Horn of Africa, we shake our fists at the sky and ask God why he allows it to happen.  We know what we think having God in control of the world and it's people might be like.  John Lennon put it so well: 'Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too, Imagine all the people, Living life in peace, Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man, Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world...'

The disciples thought they knew what the establishing of God's kingdom would be like.  The Romans would be swept from power, and God would bring in his political regime with prosperity and dignity for all.  And yet, what Jesus goes on to outline, is no political manefesto, and what he says it is like when God is in control is not of worldshaping proportions.

God in control, Jesus says,  is like a mustard seed.  It starts small but grows large.  When God is in control, Jesus says, there will be an organic growth in power rather than a dramatic confrontation of governing authorities.

God in control, Jesus says, it is like yeast in flour. I have been known to make bread and you know as well as I do the way that it utterly transforms the dough from the inside out..  Yeast lierally corrupts, it changes sugars into oxygen.  When God is in control Jesus says, his government corrupts the current powers, pervading quietly until it's influence becomes visible.

God in control, Jesus says, is like a man selling all he has for a field with treasure in it or a pearl of great value.  There is happiness in this, but it comes from being ready to give up everything in the process.

Is this the sort of God that Jesus' contemporaries, the people of Oslo or any of us think we want?  A God whose rule starts small and works secretly within?  No, they want regime change and oppression to end NOW.  This is not what any of us long for.

But that's the point, this is what it is like when God is in charge, not people.  Time and again we think an overthrow of a regime will change the world for good, but remember how often people have cheered a new ruler on to find the reality cruelly different. God’s government is different, and the disciples will soon realise that. God crowns his king on a cross: a seed as small as a mustard seed winning forgiveness for our sins. The Holy Spirit pervades with the yeast of godliness. Jesus gives up everything for us, as if we are his treasure or his fine pearl, and in doing so shows God’s love to each one of us, even though good and bad is held together in every one of our lives. 

This kingdom is no superficial change of one regime with another. It’s a fundamental transformation; people being changed in hearts, attitudes and minds by the love of God, and through that, changing the world they live in. We see it in the disciples after Pentecost, and in people like you today.

I remember watching Big Brother once, wondering which housemate would be next to leave, and I realised something.  Who stays in the house is about superficial things like personality or looks. God sees past our society's self-obsession,who looks good on tv, and sees us as we really are - which is both daunting and liberating. Daunting because we feel naked before Him - someone else really knows what we are like. It’s liberating because someone knows what we are like - and loves us all the same. He loves us enough not to judge us, but to judge our failings. He loves enough to hold our hands and lead us through to change.

It's a long process, but one I am committed to. I don't want to be a better person. I don't wanting life-coaching and goal setting. I want God-led regime change!  I hope that I might become the person He longs for me to be, the sort of person who clearly has God in control of my life, even with all my faults.

Here is the amazing truth: God in control can be like you or me.  If we are seriously submitting ourselves to the will of God, asking asking Him to change us, God can be in control of & transform our lives.  It begins with simple things – a baptism enquiry, a listening ear, a loving word to the grieving neighbour, I am going to this or that church event, and it's going to be good, will you come with me... and any of these can lead to an encounter with God lovingly in control.  All of us can become people where God is in control, because when we do, that's the most radical change of regime the world has ever seen.  God's loving control of the world is growing, and changing it’s personal, social, political and economic landscapes one heart, one life at a time. Amen