Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Podcast

Anthony Walker and the Love of God

Back in 2005, a vivacious young man was waiting at a bus stop with his girl friend. Some lads appeared over the other side of the road shouting racist taunts. The young couple decided to avoid confrontation by walking down to another stop. The lads followed. The chase ultimately led into a park where the young man was confronted and beaten to death with an ice axe. The young man was Anthony Walker.

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

“…For God so loved the world," John writes, "that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." In other words, God loved the world so much that he gave his only son even to this obscene horror; He so loved the world that in some ultimately indescribable way and at some ultimately immeasurable cost,  he gave the world himself. Out of this terrible death, John says, comes eternal life, not just in the sense of resurrection to life after death, but in the sense of life so precious even this side of death that to live it is to stand with one foot already in eternity. To participate in the life and death of Jesus Christ, to recognise the victory of Christ crucified, is to live already in his kingdom. This is the heart of the Good News, especially on this Holy Cross Day, and it is why the cross has become the chief Christian symbol.

A cross of all things - a guillotine, a gallows - but the cross at the same time is also the crossroads between eternity and time, as the place where such a Divine heart was broken that the love and forgiveness of God himself could flow through it into a sick and broken world. 

“…For God so loved the world…” The Son of Man has come from heaven to be lifted up as a sign that God loves all the world - even in it’s brokenness and darkness. For it is in a place of brokenness and darkness that God ultimately reveals and demonstrates His love and forgiveness and it from there that He leads those who believe to new life.

Yet this supposed failure of Christ crucified will cause a crisis (krisis, is the Greek word for judgment) for all who encounter Him. Because the Cross is unjust, because it is so stark, because it is so shocking, it continues to be the thing that turns people away, but without it Jesus remains just a Teacher and Healer.  It is only in the cross that God restakes a claim on His world and all that is.  In the presence of Christ Crucified, those who do evil will flee His light to hide their deeds, yet others who believe and confess their need will come into the light to live a life of grace.

These verses stand at the close of the story of Nicodemus, and here we notice something odd: Nicodemus has disappeared. It’s similar to the close of a movie scene where the screen fades to black as we listen to the narrator continue to speak. So also here, as Nicodemus the Pharisee and leader fades away, presumably back to where he came from, decided or undecided about Jesus we do not yet know, and all we are left with is Jesus’ words, reminding us of the offer of abundant life and grace from God which demands our attention and ultimately a decision.

This scene and pattern is replayed countless times in our lives and never more explicitly than on Sunday morning. For here, too, we are offered the the abundant life and grace of God in Word and Sacrament. But like Nicodemus we are faced with a decision.

How will we respond, for respond we must? We either seek our source of goodness, grace, security and life from Him or from elsewhere. And as we leave the altar rail and return to our daily lives, we will be offered countless other options -- status, power, possessions, and more -- that similarly promise us life and require our allegiance in return.
“…For God so loved the world…”

This is the first and last word of this Gospel, indeed of the whole Christian story. So perhaps especially on this Holy Cross day it’s not so much  -- would you like to receive God’s love and life? -- as about God’s shout of victory and decision across eternity -- God loves you and all the world!

The cross is ultimately a paradox - 'para' meaning near to and 'doxa' meaning glory because somehow through the Christ’s death we are innaugurated into the new life of God. The cross stands between our fallenness and our fulfillment, between the dust from which we come and the glory towards which we move, between that which is good and that which painful and broken in us. And yet we know too well that these are not different places: for sin and grace, hate and love, dust and glory, make up each one.

The cross of Christ meets us at these points of conflict - in our own brokenness and darkness and our longing for wholeness. It is the points where the foundations of our very being are shaken, that Christ’s cross becomes for us forgiveness for hurt, hope in despair and healing for brokenness and life out of death - God’s shout of victory and love for all that is. For at the cross, we are indeed close to glory. Amen.

Holy Cross Day - All Age Talk

I rarely seem to have new ideas of my own for my All Age talks and yet as I prepared for today's parade Eucharist I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to do. I often record my sermons as MP3s but today I didn't, so I've decided to blog about the idea I used (which is almost certainly not new at all!)

Having recently been to Ikea a couple of times over the last few weeks I knew we had some spare cardboard packaging around.  Firstly I set about making a box out of the card whose net is the shape of a cross.

Secondly, having cut the shape out I glued it together to make the box.  Inside the box I wanted to put some surprising things that would hint at the message of Christ crucified.  Into the box then I put:

a nappy

a pad of heart shaped post-it notes (i had some of these kicking around from another All-Age talk), and

2 tubes of glitter.

I then folded the lid of the box down and wrapped the box roughly in some spare Christmas wrapping paper, and I was ready.

The guts of the address went then like this:

 - Has anyone had a birthday recently (wait for a volunteer and invite them up)? Talk with them about their birthday, did they have a party, did they get some presents, if so what?

 - Tell the volunteer that you have got them a present and produce the wrapped box. Speculate with them what might be in it. Ask them to open the present, to look inside the box and to get out the items. If today's experience was anything to go by, the reaction will be one of distaste!

 - Open up the box to it's net and display the cross shape. Talk about the items being a strange present, but the whole thing reminds us of the heart of what we recall on this Holy Cross day.

 - Talk about the nappy - the heart of what we recall today is that God loves us and this world so much that He comes amongst us as a baby born in Bethlehem. Talk about God understanding the ordinary stuff of everyday life and loving us in and through that.

 - Talk about the heart shaped post-it notes - the heart of what we recall today is that God loves us. Through the cross God proclaims His love for the world again, for each of us - a love which calls us to love others after the example of Christ. In Christ, God writes words of love on our hearts and calls us to share His love with others.

 - Talk about the glitter - the heart of what we recall today is that God loves us, but the cross reminds us that He does so in surpassing ways. The thing with glitter is that it can get everywhere (on our fingers, in our hair and on our clothes) but it also turns the most ordinary things into things of beauty.  The cross of Christ transforms our brokenness and ordinariness into something beautiful for God. Like glitter, God's love for us, show supremely on the cross, gets into the most unexpected places - into our relationships, words and actions.

I finished with a  prayer that united all of those images again. Have fun, play with it and amend it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Podcast

James Foley, Self Denial and the Cross

The unfolding drama in Syria and Iraq is deeply upsetting especially when nestled so closely to the ongoing military arguments in Gaza.  The stories of people, families, ethnic minorities, religious groups being driven from their homes, mercilessly persecuted and in some cases senselessly murdered, produces from the theist and atheist alike a prayer-like cry of anguish…  Why… surely not more… how long O Lord…

All too often this news story remains something on the screen, in a far-away land, but then something happens which takes our breath away and brings the story back to our neighbourhoods and our streets.  The murder of James Foley at the hand of a British ‘Islamic State’ extremist for me is just one such story.  James Foley was unable to write letters to his family whilst being held by ISIS, because they were confiscated by his jailers.  Instead he asked another hostage who was about to be released to commit a letter to memory.  When that hostage was freed he dictated the letter to James' mother, Diane.

Dear Family and Friends,
I remember going to the Mall with Dad, a very long bike ride with Mom. I remember so many great family times that take me away from this prison. Dreams of family and friends take me away and happiness fills my heart.

I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.

Eighteen of us have been held together in one cell, which has helped me. We have had each other to have endless long conversations about movies, trivia, sports. We have played games made up of scraps found in our cell… we have found ways to play checkers, Chess, and Risk… and have had tournaments of competition, spending some days preparing strategies for the next day's game or lecture. The games and teaching each other have helped the time pass. They have been a huge help. We repeat stories and laugh to break the tension.

I have had weak and strong days. We are so grateful when anyone is freed; but of course, yearn for our own freedom. We try to encourage each other and share strength. We are being fed better now and daily. We have tea, occasional coffee. I have regained most of my weight lost last year.
I think a lot about my brothers and sister. I remember playing Werewolf in the dark with Michael and so many other adventures. I think of chasing Mattie and T around the kitchen counter. It makes me happy to think of them. If there is any money left in my bank account, I want it to go to Michael and Matthew. I am so proud of you, Michael and thankful to you for happy childhood memories and to you and Kristie for happy adult ones.

And big John, how I enjoyed visiting you and Cress in Germany. Thank you for welcoming me. I think a lot about RoRo and try to imagine what Jack is like. I hope he has RoRo's personality!
And Mark… so proud of you too Bro. I think of you on the West coast and hope you are doing some snowboarding and camping, I especially remember us going to the Comedy Club in Boston together and our big hug after. The special moments keep me hopeful.
Katie, so very proud of you. You are the strongest and best of us all!! I think of you working so hard, helping people as a nurse. I am so glad we texted just before I was captured. I pray I can come to your wedding…. now I am sounding like Grammy!!

Grammy, please take your medicine, take walks and keep dancing. I plan to take you out to Margarita's when I get home. Stay strong because I am going to need your help to reclaim my life.

Foley was not known as an especially religious man but the faith he reveals in his letter is in stark contrast to the extremist faith of his captors and killers.  The letter reveals him as a prayerful man and his life’s work and story demonstrates how he ‘lost his life’ (to use Jesus’ expression literally) reporting these terrible events to the West.

We meet Jesus this morning not in prayer in a war zone, but in today’s Gospel at Caesarea Philippi. Interest in His ministry is growing and people want to know more. So Jesus does a little survey - are people getting it? Are they getting him? So he checks it out with the disciples - they hear it all - the chatter in the crowd as He teaches, the exclamations as He heals and performs miracles. ‘Who do people say that I am?’ He asks. Some say John, some say Elijah but then there’s Peter squirming to say something like a kid in class with his hand in the air, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of God!’ Bingo!

But almost without pausing for breath, Jesus goes on to teach that it must all come crashing down - the triumphant of the Messiah warrior-king will not be crowned in glory, but in failure, suffering and ultimately death. The hopes of generations crushed.

The headstrong schoolboy Peter at least had the grace to take Jesus to one side before blurting out his incredulity… Surely this can’t be… This is madness… Why… This Must. Not. Happen… And all of a sudden - Peter the one who get’s Jesus - is the adversary of God and must get out of the Way, the road toward His Divine purposes.

‘…If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it…’ And this is where I struggle.

I don’t want to deny myself.  I have spent much of my adult life accepting and gradually liking and on my best days, loving myself as you told me I should Jesus.  I am finally at ease with who I am and now You tell me Jesus to deny myself - my successes and shortcomings?  I’ve just come to terms with these.  This seems to fly in the face of the big story of God and people as told in the Bible where your Father effectively says - I love you; I want to be with people like you; will you come and be with Me?

So what is it that I should deny Jesus? My gifts and talents, my self-worth, my personality, my hopes, dreams and desires? What needs to decrease in me that means that You increase? Surely self-denial isn’t a form of self-flagellation? 

Self-denial does not mean embracing suffering for its own sake.  Jesus you spent much time alleviating needless suffering or oppression whenever you encountered it.  Saying no to me and my priorities and drives allow the possibility of me saying yes to you and yours, but as Syrian and Iraqi Christians remind me that this sort of self-denial comes with, sometimes, enormous risks.

Then there’s the cross taking. I have always understood Jesus that you took the cross and suffered and died so I don’t have to. So sorry, but I reject “take up your cross” as some sort of victimisation or martyrdom for its own sake.

Yet, if the cross is a symbol for defiance of empire? If the cross is representative of the absolute certainty of the incarnation? If the cross is a model for resistance to the status quo? If the cross is a reflection of our human propensity to eliminate the voices that call for justice, for mercy, for compassion, for love? Well then, I am all for the cross. And I will readily take up that cross, any day.

Jesus you say “take up your cross and follow me.”  Taking up my cross is not an individual act that validates my faith or demonstrates my willingness to go the distance or a statement of self-denial. The cross has everything to do with community. Taking up my cross with you and yours and following. In asking what am I willing to deny in myself, in asking what will I give my life to and for, what you are ultimately asking Jesus if will I follow and be identified with you - even if that means putting me second or worse, whenever, wherever… 

It’s no wonder that this Jesus still has trouble attracting followers. It’s not an welcoming prospect.  His logic, that seems so opposite all we have encountered in life. It invites us to find our purpose in serving others rather than in accumulating goods. It invites us to imagine that our life – and the lives of those around us – have infinite worth simply because God chooses to love us apart from anything we've done or not done.

Why follow? Because, even when confronted by self-denial and death on a cross, it’s all about life, because the story of this Messiah doesn’t end there but concludes in an offer of eternal life to every life. Not the pseudo-life we've been persuaded by advertisers or politicians it's the best we can expect, but real, honest-to-goodness life.  All we have to do is trade what we've been led to believe is life for the real thing. It's incredibly hard because so much money and energy has gone into convincing us that the best we can expect is a quid-pro-quo world where you get what you deserve. But if we can let it go, even for a few moments, we'll discover that God still loves to create out of nothing, raise the dead to life, and give each and all of us so much more than we either deserve or can imagine.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Agape Love - an address at the memorial service for Jane Cameron

I’d like to take us back to the reading we heard earlier in the service from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian christians.  These words so often fill these walls as a couple come to seal their lives in love, and yet for me at least, they gain new poignancy as they fill these walls as we gather to give thanks to God for Jane today.

The love which Paul writes of is not that of two lovers - (eros), nor is it a recognition of our shared human concern - (philios), but it is the love that of God Himself lived out in the person of Jesus Christ - (agape): self giving, servant-hearted, putting others needs before your own love.

Jane’s love and life are woven into the fabric of many lives locally - whether inside or outside the church community - as a keen supporter and member of the Mother’s Union, as an ardent supporter of John in his time as Parish Warden, or as one of the very earliest members of the In Touch Bereavement support group.  But also, with others, Jane is woven into the very fabric of this place literally, as she played a part in manufacturing the kneelers on which we pray.

Whilst many of us have been on the receiving end of Jane’s love and care and are here today thankful for that - the love of which St Paul writes is not about receiving something.  It is ultimately about knowing a person ‘face to face’ - which Jane did.  In this fuller vision of love’s capacity, infancy will be exchanged for full maturity; imperfect or shadowy vision will be exchanged for a recognition that ultimately it is not so much that I know things, but rather that I have been known by someone.  The love and care that Jane expressed were a response to being caught up with the whole church, in the love of God Himself.

These words of St Paul are a legacy. He doesn’t just write describing love at it’s very best which in many ways describe the Jane we’ve known and loved. Rather what Paul writes about applies to all of us, as it is a vision of the whole church as a caring community that is the gift of the Holy Spirit at work amongst us.  Therefore if Jane’s life is to mean anything to us now and in the days that lie ahead, let it be this - let us also love as Jane did - gently, graciously, kindly - but generously, loyally and transformatively too so that faith, hope and love abide amongst us.

I am taken with a contemporary translation of 1 Corinthians 13 by a spiritual theologian named Eugene Peterson. "We do not yet see things clearly. We are squinting in a fog, peering through the mist, but it will not be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright. We will see it all then, see as clearly as God sees us, knowing God as directly as God knows us. But for right now, until that completeness comes, we have three things to do. Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.” There would be no more fitting a tribute to Jane than that. Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

YES! (Now slightly edited!)

As I write, some are saying that history has been made as The General Synod of the Church of England has voted to follow the clear mandate of 43 of our 44 Dioceses, and the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit, to allow women, duly called and equipped, to become Bishops.

This is a decision that has and will cause enormous pain for some and much rejoicing for others.  But this article is not the place to rehearse the theological and scriptural arguments for or against women’s place in leadership in the church (which I believe is very clear indeed), which will continue on for weeks, months and I suspect years to come.

What is worth saying that in some ways, history was not made at the vote.  History was made as Christ came amongst us, and called all of us, men, women and children to follow Him; to fashion our lives on the pattern He gives us; and to see God’s hope and promise in Christ sealed on and in us by virtue of our Baptism.

Friends, our baptism isn’t just a naming ceremony under an other name.  It is not ‘just’ our entry into the Church of God. Rather our Baptism binds us to the death and resurrection of Christ and is a call on our lives to follow Jesus’ Way, to abide by His Truth and live His Risen Life.

But Martin Luther, Church Reformer, understood Baptism being even more significant than that: ‘…Whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that [they are] already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope.” (Treatise To the Christian Nobility (1520)). Friends, our Baptisms are our ordination to a life of Christian discipleship, formation and service.

I am neither trying to negate the historic three-fold order of ministry that the Church of England has received it; nor I am I seeking to undermine the authority and validity of those called to the recognised lay ministries of Reader, Lay Worker, or Evangelist, as all these ministries have and continue to serve us well as a means of ordering our ecclesiastical life; nor am I downplaying the significance of the vote that prayerfully took place at Synod recently where Catholic, Liberal and Evangelical members alike understood the will of God for the Church of England was to see men and women serve in every Order of our shared life. 

Friends, what I am struck by afresh though, post ‘Yes!’, is that it is by virtue of our Baptism that we are all called to Christ and called to serve Him - primarily as Baptised Lay people, and it is only from there some of us are called to serve Him secondarily as deacons, priest and bishops.

Whatever we may personally feel about our shared life together following Synod’s discernment of the will of God, my friends, we are all Ordained - children, women and men - to serve Christ because of our Baptism. We may not wear a cope, mitre or pectoral cross, but as it says in our Baptism liturgy:

‘… Here we are clothed with Christ…
As children of God, we have a new dignity
and God calls us to fullness of life.’

As the Ordained, let us continue to pray for the ministry Christ calls us all to share:

Heavenly Father,
by the power of your Holy Spirit
you give to your faithful people new life in the water of baptism.
Guide and strengthen us by the same Spirit,
that we who are born again may serve you in faith and love,
and grow into the full stature of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
now and for ever.  Amen.


For those who would like it, the voting statistics by house: Bishops 37 yes, 2 no, 1 abstention. Clergy 162 yes, 25 no, 4 abstentions. Laity 152 yes, 45 no, 5 abstentions.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Concealing Fate Live ALL 28 minutes!

I know that my taste in music is not for everyone, but those who know me (and who perhaps follow me on twitter - @SimonGCutmore) will know of my near obsessive love of progressive rock music.

One of the bands that I fell in love with a few years ago was TesseracT. Sitting on the more metal end of the genre, along with brand leaders Messhuggah, Periphery, Chimp Spanner and FellSilent, TesseracT carved a niche of more melodic 'djent' (as the sub genre became known.)  The heaviness of the riffs, the technicality of the arrangements and the simply jaw-dropping musicianship were enough to draw me in. Their debut, 'One' was essential listening for many many months.

Then their versatile vocalist Daniel Tompkins left to sing for SkyHarbour, amongst others, and to cut a longer story short, eventually in came a new vocalist, Ashe O' Hara, a toning down of the heaviness and an album called 'Altered State.'  This album won them plaudits and awards and notoriety as well as many new fans, particular of the wider prog family, but it left me cold. Gone was the vocal textures and the heaviness in favour of a much lighter sound and expansive, almost ambient, compositions.

I hear today that the band have amicably parted with Ashe due a disagreement in musical direction and Daniel Tompkins is back. Hip hip hooray says I!

Tonight I have rediscovered 'One', and it still stands up for inventiveness, swagger, technicality, emotion and HEAVINESS. It's not for every one but I am excited at Dan's return, and in anticipation, here's the whole of 'Concealing Fate' from 'One.'


Monday, June 23, 2014

The Fear!

I am no adrenaline junkie - you wont find me skydiving, base jumping, or free climbing. I agree life should be lived to the full, but I love life and quite frankly I do not want to place myself in a position where I amy risk losing my life - certainly not in the name of ‘fun.’  Activities like that fill me with THE FEAR - with a  capital FEAR.

The physical, bodily symptoms of fear and excitement are identical. That is, you would not be able to tell the difference between fear and excitement by checking breathing, heart rate, release of sugar into the blood, or any of the other activities of the sympathetic nervous system that prepares us for “fight or flight” responses to threat. There simply is no difference.

Yet is is crucial in our earliest moments to discern which emotion is which.  It is easy for a young football player at this year’s world cup to be feeling both emotions at once as he represent’s his country - but which emotion he allows to come to the fore will dictate his performance on the pitch.
And yet if there is, physiologically, no difference between these two states, that means that our interpretation of our condition makes all the difference. Reading our sweaty palms and increased heart rate when meeting someone for the first time -- or climbing into the pulpit on Sunday morning! -- as signs of excitement or fear dramatically effects how we approach the situation in question.

All of this bears, I believe, on the gospel reading appointed for this Sunday, as it is a gospel reading that talks a lot about fear. Jesus has commissioned his twelve disciples and is about to send them out on a mission of their own, a mission during which they both exercise great authority and need to demonstrate profound trust. For while they will have the power to cast out demons and heal the sick, they are to take no money or extra provisions but rather depend upon the grace of God as shown in the hospitality of others.

As part of what seems almost like a pre-game “pep talk” (okay, so the World Cup is still on my mind!), Jesus levels with the disciples about some of the challenges they will face, challenges including rejection and slander and persecution and perhaps even death. (Keep in mind that Matthew writes not only about the original disciples but also for the disciples of his community who may be experiencing just these things.) It’s in this context that he says several things about fear that are worth attention.

First, fear is, in many ways, the antithesis of faith. Not surprisingly, in seeking to encourage his disciples Jesus employs the characteristic hallmark of good news throughout Scripture. Anytime, in fact, someone -- whether prophet, priest, or angel -- begins a message with the words “Fear not” you know that good news is about to come. (When they begin “woe unto you,” on the other hand, start bumming out now!) And so after warning them of coming persecutions -- just as their teacher Jesus faced opposition, so will they -- he encourages them with an injunction not to fear.

Second, courage is rooted in God’s promise. Jesus reminds them and us not to fear because while their opponents may be able to hurt them physically, they can do them no spiritual harm. God, however, is the one who has power over both body and spirit, and God has promised to guard and protect them and bring them to eternal life. The God who created and tends every living thing, values them more than anything.

Third, fear of conflict may be one of the most debilitating of all fears. While I have always struggled with Jesus’ somewhat (I hope!) hyperbolic sayings about parents and children being at enmity with each other, it strikes me that this difficult passage gets to the heart of one of the most paralyzing characteristics of many faith communities I know. We can get so afraid of conflict -- whether within our immediate families or the larger family of faith -- that our witness is muted, our convictions surrendered, and any forward movement greatly limited for fear of upsetting the apple cart. Noting that Matthew’s original context likely included people who were rejected by their family and friends because of their faith -- hence the import of these words of encouragement from Jesus -- I think we often allow our hopes, plans, and mission to be held hostage by those who threaten conflict when things don’t go their way. In these situations, Jesus invites us to remember that there are worse things than conflict and that, indeed, the call to follow Christ and take up his cross will in fact have costs, including at times conflict.

Fear can dominate our lives -- fear for our loved ones, fear about an uncertain future, fear of continued war abroad and economic downturn at home, fear of where our next meal or rent payment will come from, fear of being accepted in this next stage of life (going to high school or college, entering a retirement community), and the list goes on. 

How we respond to challenges in life depends upon our interpretation. Are the hardships we face things to fear or opportunities to exercise our faith? Is a brewing conflict with a dysfunctional colleague or difficult friend something to be avoided at all costs or an opportunity for setting boundaries, affirming healthier patterns of behavior, and nurturing personal and corporate growth? We need to take care, of course, not to characterize hardships as challenges sent from God, but rather remind each other that if God can use something as awful as the cross to work redemption then God can and will work through our hardships for the sake of life. This promise might help us approach challenges not with fear but rather anticipation and even excitement.

I am indebted to David Lose over at Working Preacher for large chunks of this

Before and After

We've all seen those 'before and after' photos. Whether they are advertising an new diet or fitness regime or what our dentist can do for our teeth, they look soooo inviting, but after a moment's reflection are almost certainly very unlikely - or photoshopped.  

Those 'before and after' moments can arrive at very surprising moments indeed though.

So here's how it goes.

We're the sort of parish where doing the 'round' of home communions is a central part of the pastoral ministry of the church - a ministry shared with some skilled and trained laity too, but I bear a burden of that load. And I love it.

I love doing home communions. As a Curate I did loads of them. They were a staple part of monthly ministry. Sometimes they were a burden - especially when leading the service became more about 'liturgical shouting' than leading the well crafted words; or I struggled to find somewhere clean (ish) to lay the corporal. Most of the services that I led were a joy.

Over the years my understanding and appreciation of this ministry has grown. No longer is it about me (somewhat arrogantly perhaps) taking Jesus to the sick and house bound, but more about me recognising now that He is already there with them.

This enables the sick or house bound to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament and find themselves nourished, and I leave having been fed by Him in strong tea and a soft biscuit and the same conversation that I have had every time I have visited.

This recognition of Christ already present extends to much of the ministry which I have the privilege of exercising. My role as a priest becomes more and more about discovering God already present amongst His people, and pointing Him out.

This should not be surprising. Scripture is talks again and again of God siding with, showing a bias to, dwelling specially with - the poor, the broken, the dispossessed, the ill, and the grieving; with those whom society tends to push to it's edges.

Over the last couple of weeks, God already present, acted in a way that has left me speechless.

It was my day off, and I was wandering into school to collect my kids, when one of the mums stopped me and said did I know what was happening to C because there was an ambulance outside her house and she was being rushed to hospital. Having taken home communion to C and her family many times, and knowing that she has been blighted with significant ill health over the years.

Instinctively, I decided to try to call the chaplain at the hospital that she was likely to be taken to. It was 5pm. Would anyone be there?

Miraculously, the Chaplain answered the phone. 'I was just out of the office but I somehow felt compelled to go back in, when the phone went, and it was you', he said. 'I would normally be in the car park by now. Of course I'll go and see what I can find out.'

A while later, my mobile phone rang. It was the Chaplain again, He had found C and her family, had talked with them and prayed with them. They expressed real thankfulness on receiving that ministry and were amazed that he was there as quickly. God was already present - the Chaplain was simply responding.  He suggested I go to see her soon. I made noises about going then, his reply left me in no doubt of how serious this was - I should go, but I shouldn't leave it til Monday as that might be too late... Sobering stuff.

I went to see C on the Sunday afternoon after a full morning of services. Nothing could have prepared me for what I found. She was in ICU and was 'all wired up.' She was awake but clearly very very ill indeed. At her bedside was her husband who looked pleased to see me as did she.

The three of us talked, and as we did, C lapsed in and out of consciousness - her body reminding us of how close she was to God already present.  Seeing she was not well at all I took her hand as we talked. At least she would know I was there.

I know that there was only so much more C could take of me being there. She fought to stay awake. I decided to lead prayers for her which included anointing her with oil for healing and wholeness. This in itself in some ways was unremarkable -  but it is about acknowledging the presence of God already there with her.  C's husband saw me out of ICU and I fully expected to hear within a few days that she had gone to meet her Maker.

We went away on a few days holiday.

On my return I hear stories of how C is back home! Flabbergasted I make arrangements to visit her and take her Home Communion.

Following our ‘liturgical shouting’, otherwise known as a service if her mother is there, we share a cup of tea and it’s then that the miracle of God already present is disclosed.

C recalled her time in hospital and my visit. She recalled snatches of our conversation as we shared in the Eucharist at her bedside.  Then she revealed that she had made up her mind to give up on life at that point. She was tired and very ill. She had no more strength to fight on.

Then she recalled my offering to lay hands on her and to pray for healing & to anoint her with Holy Oil.  She went on movingly to describe how, as she felt my oily thumb trace the sign of the cross on her forehead and I uttered the words 

‘I anoint you in the name of God who gives you life, receive Christ’s healing and his love. My the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ grant you the riches of His grace, His wholeness and His peace’ 

somehow she knew that it was all going to be alright.  Somehow the already present God spoke to her and encouraged and called to her.

We can believe all manner of things to be true - especially the most unlikely when stirring from a waking dream or being roused to consciousness again.  Yet the fact that C was now at home and retelling this, is testimony to the power and presence of the already present God at work.

Those of us who have the privilege in offering or receiving this ministry should never downplay the power and significance of what God, who is already there, is up to.