Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Our Life. Our Worship.

Richella Heekin saved £1200 over two years to pay to take her boyfriend Ben Marlow on a surprise holiday to Las Vegas for his birthday. She spent a long time researching flights and routes which she finally booked - flying from Birmingham to Dallas and then on to Las Vegas.  It was only as they got to Birmingham airport that they discovered that instead of flying from BHX - Birmingham International airport in the UK, they had booked to fly from BHM - Birmingham, Alabama. Sadly the surprise was on both of them…

It’s kind of like that with our worship on a Sunday and during the week. We know the destination as it were - our worship is offered to God, expressing our love of Him, our thankfulness to Jesus’ for His teaching and leading of us and for His willingness to walk the Way of the Cross and His resurrection, and to be fed by the Sacrament of Holy Communion and filled with the Spirit sending us out in love and service to make Christ known. But are we certain of our starting point? Is our worship just about what ‘I like’, or about ‘what we need’ to best enable us to reach our destination?



In these early chapters of John’s gospel, in the preceding verses, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar. Crossing social, ethical, historical and religious boundaries, He shares with her a truth about the worship of God - it’s not about place or style - but about the intent of the heart. Jesus then returns to Cana in Galilee. Whilst there an official from the royal court in Capernaum come to Him seeking healing for his son, which Jesus grants, offering us insight into the work that God has called Jesus to - that Jew and Gentile alike are called to worship the God of Israel and that all people are invited to witness the breaking in of His kingdom in their lives and the world.


‘… After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem…’ Tim Peake, the British Astronaut on the International Space Station has had a new challenge - it involved him driving round Stevenage. Well, indirectly actually. He successfully managed to drive a remote control car from the ISS around a large sandpit in Stevenage which was part of an experiment to see how astronauts can control remote systems on other worlds. In Jesus, God does the opposite. Instead of sitting remote to that which He loves, Jesus comes to us to navigate us into a new relationship with God. It is no accident that He comes to Jerusalem - the centre of Jewish life and worship. He, the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin - enter’s the city through the gate through which the sacrificial animals would be brought, and comes to the pool of Beth-zatha - which means house of grace or place of shame, to bring the grace of God to lives shattered by sickness and shame. Worship was central to Jesus’ life and ministry - through it He drew close to God His heavenly Father. We need to ensure that the worship we offer in our church our ‘houses of grace’,  feeds and resources us in the same way.


Jesus said to the man at the pool, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up… So it seems that BHS and Austin Reed are likely to disappear from the high street for good. It feels like some of our top name stores (or certainly ones from my childhood) have just disappeared - Woolworths is a recent casualty along with Comet and Dixons, but how about Dewhurst the butchers or Freeman Hardy and Willis? Brands and names that once were thought immoveable, due the economy changing, have gone by the wayside.

The man by the pool was also immoveable. Not only had he been ill for such  long period of time but his expectations were totally stuck and even when Jesus offered to heal him, he rejects the offer because no one could carry him into the pool. He only could see healing happening in one way.

Research clearly shows that for a church community to grow numerically one of the very important factors is not the style of worship or whether modern songs are sung or robes worn, but rather the fact there is an act of worship at the same time every week. Now I know we looked at and revised or pattern of worship only relatively recently to enable me as your parish priest to lead worship in our 3 churches as regularly as possible. Since that revision our ministerial team has grown with the arrival of Anne and Jairo and the licensing of Helen, but our needs are changing too - we now have an act of family friendly worship in each church over 3 Sundays of the month month.  Our worship needs to meet the needs of the community today and dare I say look to tomorrow also, but also must be offered at a time that allows people to attend every week at the same time. This will require some careful planning and negotiating for the whole team of clergy and readers to enable us to all encounter the Living God in worship each week and to be fed and resourced by Him.

What is Jesus asking of us? Our pattern of worship as a parish is confusing. Here it laid out by each church.  IS it any wonder that we aren't growing as effectively as we could be if no one knows for certain where and when our services are?

St Peters
Week 1: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist
Week 2: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Family Eucharist
Week 3: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist

St John’s
Week 1: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 2:10.00am Family Eucharist
Week 3: 10.00am Family Eucharist
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 9.00am Said Eucharist

St Thomas’
Week 1: 10.30am Family Eucharist
Week 2: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 3: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 9.00am Said Eucharist



Our worship is as crucial to our life as Christians as is the air we breathe is to living. But are we offering worship at a time that is only convenient for a few or perhaps for those of us who lead and not at a time that enables the maximum number of people to attend each and every week? Are we immoveable like the sick man, assuming that things have to be done a certain way because they always have been? Are we willing to see something new that we can offer to others and God as we worship? Are we willing to look generously away from what I want, to what we need to allow our worshipping life to flourish?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Gospel According to Mary

At diocesan synod on Saturday we were told that it would take a further 80 years at least for women to be paid the same as men and have the same opportunities as men if it were to happen naturally over time - namely if society did not ensure that the very best women are encouraged into the best positions and salaries. 80 more years where women are paid less. 80 more years where women do not rise to the same positions of responsibility. 80 more years where we are still implicitly and explicitly building a gender bias into our work places. I bet Emmeline Pankhurst is still spinning in her grave.

Emmeline Pankhurst

It would appear that whilst we may believe that our society has striven for equality and that battle is won, some are more equal than others, whether the extravagantly wealthy on one hand or every working woman on the other. And I would like to hope that all of us know that this latter example is just not right.

St John places what we hear as this morning’s Gospel reading just before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and Jesus’ turning towards His crucifixion.  Lazarus has been shockingly raised from the dead, and as if to prove it, Mary and Martha throw a banquet for Jesus with Lazarus as a guest.  That which once was dead is alive again.

Yesterday marked the 22nd anniversary since the ordination of the first women priests in the church of England. What some considered would be the death of the church, has actually proved it’s life - to see a mutual flourishing of the ministries of women as well as men, thank God, in all orders of ministry. This shouldn't surprise us as Jesus again and again affirms the place of women in his ministry. The Mary who anoints Him here is the same Mary who sat at His feet only a few verses earlier.

The story of Mary reminds us of the woman that Jesus put in her place in St Luke’s Gospel, when the woman in the crowd exclaimed “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus was bold in his response: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” For Jesus, women are more than sexual objects and children-rearing machines. That’s why Jesus does not have a problem with being touched by women, seeing them with their hair down, with women talking to men or being active with their bodies and alive in their senses. In short, in the Reign of God women are equal at the intellectual level, at the salary level, and at all levels. Women are disciples.

I heard this week of Black Ballet - a professional company of ballet dancers for ethnic minorities formed in the early 2000s as back then there were none in the UK. The company’s mission statement involves ‘making Black Ballet unnecessary.’ Astonishing isn't it? 

But it’s more fundamental than that. Ballet dancers need to wear flesh-coloured shoes - but for non-white dancers at the moment, that is just not an option and for Eric Underwood of the Royal Ballet and other dancers, they have to apply makeup to their shoes before dancing. Surprising isn't it? There are still social taboos to be crossed.

Our Gospel reading is full of surprise and social taboos being crossed. It would have been surprising (actually shocking!) to see perfume costing a years wages to be used like this.  It would have been surprising for a guest to dampen the mood a a feast by talking about their death. What’s more surprising is that Mary anointed Jesus at all as it is usually men who anoint men. Samuel anointing Saul to be Israel’s first king. Male Popes anointing male emperors throughout western history, and so on. But here, Mary lets down her hair – with all the cultural connotations of that expression – and anoints Jesus.

People expected the Messiah to look like King David - instead they get a carpenter from Nazareth; in a few verses time they expect Him to overthrow the Romans and yet He is crucified by them. Sarah wasn’t expected to have children, let alone found a dynasty. Moses wasn’t expected to lead the Israelites to freedom. Miriam wasn’t expected to be the prophetess of Israel teaching her people to sing of God’s victory over the Egyptians. The ruddy-faced shepherd boy David wasn’t supposed to be king. And on and on and on.

God regularly loves to do the unexpected with, for, and through unexpected people. And the culmination of Lent and celebration of Easter are the highlight of the work and activity of this unexpected God, as death is assumed to have the last word, until Jesus is raised from the dead.
So instead of asking - what is Jesus asking of us this morning as I would as we reflect on what scripture might mean for us in our lives - instead perhaps we need to ask - what do we expect of God, especially this Passion Sunday as we being to turn our faces with Jesus towards the cross?

Are we expecting God to come in power, to answer our prayers as we would like, to favour our political point of view or our sports team? Are we prepared to be surprised as God again does the unexpected amongst us?  Where God might be at work in unexpected ways in our community?


Whom God might work through next? Look at those sitting near you. For God may be about to use each of you in a surprising way to care for your neighbour, to offer a listening ear, to do your work with faithfulness and courage, to stand up for those who are less fortunate and offer an alternative to those watching. To serve Him an authorised ministry of the Church as a Reader, Deacon or priest. Either way, He’s certainly calling you to be a disciple.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

The Worship Puzzle

Here's a thing.

I currently minister in a parish of just short of 11000 people serving 4 very different communities (urban, estate, suburban, semi-rural, but also across the social and economic spectrum too.) The parish has three centres of worship.

The Parish's worshipping tradition has been broadly Eucharistic/Anglo Catholic and this has varied inevitably depending upon the incumbent.

Parishes were asked by our Diocesan Bishop a while ago to look to ensure that worship in the churches across the Diocese happened at the same time each week and a new scheme to train Lay Leaders of Worship was introduced to help facilitate that. Now I know that there is significant research that shows that a regularised pattern of worship is a good thing.

Stats show that churches with a  fixed pattern of worship, i.e. services are at the same time each week, are the ones that tend to be the ones that are the fertile soil for growth. It's not just statistics though, because common sense says that if you have a service at 10.00am every week, it doesn't matter how many times in a month people attend, it is very easy to know when a service is being held.

Here's the snag. Or worship should be life-giving.


As I said above, we have three church communities, whose worshipping needs have developed and changed over the time that I have been Vicar here. The pattern I inherited looks like this:

1st Sunday of the month:
8.00am Said Eucharist in Church A
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church B
10.30am Family Eucharist in local school near Church C
10.30am Sung Eucharist in Church A
12.45am Holy Baptism (by arrangement)
6.00pm Choral Evensong

2nd Sunday of the month:
8.00am Said Eucharist in Church A
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church C
10.30am Family Eucharist in Church A
11.00am Mattins in Church B

3rd Sunday of the Month:
8.00am Said Eucharist in Church A
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church B
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church C
10.30am Sung Eucharist in Church A

4th Sunday of the month:
10.30am Parish Eucharist (moves round between churches)

5th Sunday of the month:
8.00am Said Eucharist in Church A
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church B
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church C
10.30am Sung Eucharist in Church A

When I arrived here this pattern was just impossible for one priest to offer without the invaluable ministry of Readers and a local retired Priest with PTO to cover the pattern.

Then a few years ago we recognised that this pattern was unworkable whilst I was the only full time Priest in the parish. After some consultation we agreed to adapt our pattern of worship to enable me as parish Priest to minister across the whole parish more effectively:

1st Sunday of the month:
8.00am Said Eucharist in Church A
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church B
10.30am Family Eucharist at Church C
10.45am Sung Eucharist in Church A
12.45am Holy Baptism (by arrangement)
6.00pm Choral Evensong (discontinued due to very poor attendance.)

2nd Sunday of the month:
8.00am Said Eucharist in Church A
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church C
10.45am Family Eucharist in Church A
11.00am Mattins in Church B (This pattern has been adapted again further due changing worshipping needs and a 10.00am Family Eucharist is being trialled.)

3rd Sunday of the Month:
8.00am Said Eucharist in Church A
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church C
10.45am Sung Eucharist in Church A
6.00pm BCP Evensong at Church B

4th Sunday of the month:
10.30am Parish Eucharist (moves round between churches)

5th Sunday of the month:
8.00am Said Eucharist in Church A
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church B
9.00am Said Eucharist in Church C
10.30am Sung Eucharist in Church A

This adaptation allowed me as parish Priest to minister across the whole parish in a manageable way (even if it was a fairly heavy worship load some Sundays.)


Now on paper, from the parish Priest's point of view, looks like a pattern that can be staffed. But look at the point of view from each church community:

Church A
Week 1: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist
Week 2: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Family Eucharist
Week 3: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist

Church B
Week 1: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 2: 10.00am Family Eucharist
Week 3: 6.00pm Evensong
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 9.00am Said Eucharist

Church C
Week 1: 10.30am Family Eucharist
Week 2: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 3: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 9.00am Said Eucharist

We currently have a very able team of Readers and a stipendiary Curate and myself to lead worship across the parish and our Readers play an active part in leading the Ministry of the Word and preaching.

We are again trying to take seriously our Bishop's challenge about regularising the times of services in each church because as it clear and obvious above that church A more or less achieve that but church B fails spectacularly and church C struggles but somehow the pattern seems a little more balanced.

Churches are not immoveable structures, but are buildings to house the worship of God's people, and we are a pilgrim people. The age profile of one congregation may change and develop. The style of worship required in another church might need to change to meet developing needs. Times of service may well need to alter as congregation members age and early starts become more difficult. It is entirely possible that new services may well need to be introduced.

It would be wonderful to have a pattern of worship over a 4 week month that looked like this:

8.00am in church A
10.00am in church B
10.30am in church C
10.45am in church A

This would mean that worship at existing times in our current pattern are honoured (especially the newer and growing services.) This pattern would be one that would be that would affirm the ministry of our Curate (as long as they are with us) and our Readers, because it would only be possible for me to lead 2 of those 4 services as a Eucharist, meaning that a least 1 of the services left in that pattern would be non-Eucharistic. The bigger issue perhaps, means that when we have no Curate who is a Priest but a Deacon, there would only be a Eucharist, mid morning, once a month.  I am uncertain how a parish that holds the Eucharist so central to it's worshipping life would remain sustained with a  pattern like that.

Another option might look like this:

8.00am
9.30am
11.15am

This would be a manageable pattern timing wise for me, but I doubt one of our churches would be willing to have it's main act of worship for Sunday at 8am.

A variant might look like this:

8.00am Eucharist
9.30am Eucharist
9.30am Morning Worship
11.15am Eucharist

but this would only work if the 'Morning Worship' service moved from church to church and was lay led.

A further option would be to create an afternoon or evening service:

8.00am
9.30am
11.15am
3.00pm OR
6.00pm (or later)

On the other hand, building a pattern of regular non-Eucharistic worship affirms the ministry of our Readers and, either encourages those who in the parish need to receive the Eucharist as part of their spirituality to travel to one of the other churches where the Eucharist is being offered, or it encourages our congregations to appreciate different liturgies and to be fed but sacramentally by word and action in other ways. The significant drawback with that for me personally though is that I would potentially only be worshipping once a month with some congregations as I preside at the Eucharist.

It is important that we seek to regularise the times of our services in each church each week to allow each church community to have the best chance of growth and stability. It is important to affirm the ministry of our Readers in offering non-Eucharist worship across the parish. It is important as a parish who have traditionally been fed spiritually at the Eucharist continue to have that offered regularly. It is important for me as parish Priest whose ministry centres around the Sacraments to continue to see that ministry exercised.


But, this circle is very tricky to square! Whatever pattern we adopt, our worship is an aid to our continued growth in faith but I wonder sometimes whether we have the church the wrong way round.

We need to help individuals grow in faith and become disciples. That growth should lead to Christian living and that should feed into Sunday where we celebrate all that God is doing, meet with Him and each other, be resourced by Him in word and sacrament and then sent out to do it all again.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lines In The Sand

She had been behaving strangely over the previous few weeks. Avoiding my gaze, being secretive. She had to go out suddenly a a few times after I came back from work leaving me with the children. It was just out of character.


Then one day there was the bag of money I found on the table. I asked her about it, where it had come from. She whisked it away making non committal comments and telling me to mind my own business.

We had been married for just over 3 years. Her family and mine had been friends for years. She was a good match but there was more than an arrangement. We had grown up in the same village. I had seen her blossom into womanhood and I had fallen for her. Those eyes… I love her still… But I had in recent weeks begun to wonder if there was someone else. And there was… But I hadn’t expected it to be him!

I came back home early last Thursday to find her gone. Sarah was looking after the kids. 'Where was she?, I demanded! Sarah looked sheepish and guilty but said nothing more. She just looked at the floor. I had to find her. I stormed out of the door and into the street looking left and then right and that’s when I noticed the commotion. People running toward the Temple. Something was going on. Perhaps she was there. I ran.


When I got into the court, I could hear the bray of the crowd above the calling of the money changers and animal sellers. In fact some of them had left their booths to see what was going on.

I edged into the back of the crowd, and that’s when I saw him, Yeshua Ben Joseph, some use his Greek name - Jesus. You know, that carpenter from Nazareth that so many people seem to be making a fuss about, using the M word and all that.

He was sat on the ground about to teach.  But there was more here. On the edge of the crowd I caught sight of her just out of the corner of my eye. Anna! My heart was win my mouth, She looked edgy and nervous, ready to bolt like a frightened dog. That’s when I noticed him.  He held her wrist and was whispering in her ear as he pushed her through the crowd.  The anger rose in me like molten lava. What was he doing with my wife?

Others were with him… Pharisees… ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ The crowd were stunned into silence. Everyone looked at Jesus. Anna how could you!?! I felt hot tears of grief and shame on my cheeks.


The crowd began to murmur, waiting for Jesus to reply. And they waited. And they waited. And they waited. And then Jesus did something odd. It looked like he was writing on the ground. I couldn’t quite see but it looked like references in the Torah... Now the crowd are silent again. All eyes on the Scribes and Pharisees. They are the ones murmuring to each other now! I get it - this is a set up! The only affair that Anna has been having are with these teachers of the law as they seek to conspire against Jesus!

Again the Pharisees question Jesus. 'Well what have you to say?', they ask insistently. Jesus makes no reply. 'Rabbi, if you are a teacher of the things of God, then tell us!' Silence.

 

Then one of the Pharisees picks up a large stone. And one of the Scribes does the same. Others in the crowd follow suit. No! Surely not here. And for a reasons that I cannot explain I too reach down and pick up a stone too. It’s weight feels satisfying in my hand. It’s roughness, it’s roundedness. It’s like it was made for me to hold. And into it I pour my anger at this outrage, the shame that will fall on Anna and me now. I pour into that stone my own failings as a husband, as a father, as a friend. It’s roughness reminding me of where I rub up against people the wrong way and irritate and frustrate them. Im aware that this stone doesn’t originate here but it has travelled time and distance to be here. This stone is me - the imperfect, broken, displaced me.  I draw breath suddenly and people swivel their heads to look in my direction.

Then Jesus looks up, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ I can’t throw my own failings, weaknesses, frustrations and anger at her. I love her. But how often do I throw that stuff at others? Am I without sin? Are any of us? We all fall short of the standard set in the Law. I lie and cheat to get my own way, to satisfy myself. I’m selfish and self centred. I pursue what I want, over an above Anna’s needs sometimes. I too am an adulterer. All of us are.

Jesus went over with his finger the things he’s written on the ground. I looked at my stone. I looked into my stoney heart and then looked up. And the crowd has peeled away. Later I’d take and throw that stone off the city wall as far as I could into the wilderness. I don’t like that version of me very much. Fortunately, despite my brokenness, I realised that day, perhaps more than ever that God loves me.

Jesus straightened up and spoke to Anna, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’


She had a second chance. We all do. Go your way and sin no more…

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Girl, The T Shirt And Brooklyn Beckham: A Transfiguration Sermon

There was a girl who walked herself home from school each day.  One day her mother noticed that she hadn’t got home at the usual time. Five minutes went by - perhaps she got talking with a friend. Ten minutes passed - she’ll be back in a mo. Fifteen, twenty minutes passed still no sign. Perhaps she had an after-school club, that I’ve forgotten about, but the list clearly said there was no club that day.  Twenty five, thirty, thirty five minutes passed and still no sign. Just before mum had reached fever pitch and rung the school and then the police the door opened and in strolled her daughter.

Overcome with relief and joy, as any parent would, mum ran to her daughter and swept her into the biggest cuddle imaginable. But relief turned to anger as it so often does: where on earth have you been I have been worried sick demanded her mother sternly. Well I was walking home from school said her daughter and as I rounded the corner into our road I saw a woman carrying lots of bags and a very beautiful very large vase. I could see that she couldn't manage. Do you go and help her home her mother eagerly asked. No, said her daughter.  As I got near to her she dropped the vase onto the pavement and it broke into hundreds of pretty pieces. Her mother’s face changed - so you were late because you stayed to help her pick them up? No said the girl.  Then what said her mother.  The girl replied - I was late because I helped her cry.

Sometimes when the load we carry in life is too great to bear, and we drop something and we see how broken we are, sometimes we need someone to weep with us.

This morning the lectionary compilers give us the option to stop our reading at vs 36 and be stunned into silence with the disciples at the experience they had had with Jesus on the mountain, but my friends we need to hear again and and again of the God who loves us, not from a distance, but comes to us in our tear-stained pleading for healing and hope.

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 


Do you remember those washing powder ads where they tried to show one brand was better than the other leading brand because it washed whiter on just a 30 degree wash? This feels like - try new Glory - washes you whiter than white! You can see why, with talk of changed faces and glowing clothes, why some scholars think that parts of this story are actually a resurrection appearance of Jesus tagged on to another tale. But is that a problem? On the mountaintop Jesus talks with Moses (symbolising the Law of God) and Elijah (the prophets) about his departure in Jerusalem. From this point in our liturgical calendar we can look down into the valley onto Jerusalem and on towards Jesus’ inevitable death and Passion. We know where the story of Jesus is headed. Are we willing to walk there with Him?

34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”


I had the misfortune of typing ‘father and son’ into Google as I prepared this.  In the search results, alongside stories of tragic deaths of fathers and sons over Christmas and New Year, came up a tale about Brooklyn Beckham (an aspiring model) sporting a new outfit in a photo on social media, to which his father David Beckham responded ‘Hey, that’s my jumper!’

Look at my Son the voice of God is heard saying, look at my son says the possessed son’s father to Jesus.  Both stories in this morning’s Gospel are inextricably linked.  Often we come to church or to a place of quiet prayer, to remove ourselves from the pressing needs of our society for an hour’s quiet space in the presence of God.  But it is clear from what we hear of Jesus this morning that whilst His true identity is revealed to a select few in the context of prayer and worship, it only makes sense in the context of a compassionate response to the needs of people.  For us, what we receive here from God in Word and Sacrament only make sense if we take them out from here into our everyday living in response to the needs of God’s people.


As we stand on the cusp of Lent we know where the story of the life of Jesus is going. Even from here the cross looms large. Are we willing to follow Jesus, I mean really follow Him, because not all of this is going to be glorious and wonderful. Sometimes the load we carry is too great to bear and things and lives shatter and break, but…

God loves the world so much that He sent His Son so that everyone who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. 

On the mount of transfiguration we get a look back to the scandal of Christmas - that the glory of God comes amongst us in human form - and that glory is revealed to us again; but on the way to Calvary He comes down from the mountainside, amongst us in our brokenness, and demonstrates what that glory really means in acts of love and compassion in response to human need.

Friends, Jesus’ glory is revealed in mountaintop experiences of prayer and worship but it only transforms lives in the context of the here and now.  Having met Jesus in Word and Sacrament this morning, and having our hearts transfigured by His grace - are we willing to demonstrate His glory to others in their need? As we head towards Lent are we willing to embrace the cross to which we are headed with Christ; to acknowledge our need of His saving love for ourselves; and to accept that we can hear of His love for us but if we want hope and peace in our lives then then we need to meet Him there.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Intergenerational Love Of God

When I was a kid, me and my friends loved to ‘play out.’ We lived in suburbia and one day we decided to play football in a cul-de-sac round the corner from us. We were boisterous, the 5 or 6 of us and we obviously annoyed one of the residents of the street who came down his drive and yelled at us, ‘Clear off or I’ll call the fuzz!’


It wasn’t the first time we were caught out by local residents, but many a time we made our way away from wherever we were followed by a call of ‘Remember, I know your folks!’

A few years ago, Hilary Clinton in part quoted a Nigerian proverb, when she said that she still believed that it took a whole village to raise a child. Many of us as adults here will remember ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ who played significant roles in our childhoods; adults looked out for children more generally. But nowadays many of us would be afraid, and I do mean that, to intervene if we saw a child out on their own at an odd time or in an unusual place, for fear of being reprimanded. It’s somehow no longer my responsibility.

Prior to the passage we hear as this morning’s Gospel, in characteristic detail, Luke records Jesus’ birth, and He is surrounded by a host of people influencing even His earliest days - Emperor Augustus, Governor Quirinius, angels and shepherds as well as His parents. The child is born into occupied land & welcomed by those outside - socially and spiritually. He is welcomed as a child of Israel as he is circumcised and named at 8 days old and then is taken to the Temple in thanksgiving as was the custom.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”


Andy Murray was widely reported in recent days that he would leave the Australian open tennis championship to ensure that he could be with his wife Kim if she went into early labour. Given a chance you wouldn't want to wouldn't you, as the hopes and dreams we have for our children begin at precious moment one. And it’s not just parents - I can remember my parents and in-laws all waiting impatiently at our house for news of the arrival of Matthew.  Whilst focused on Jesus throughout, our Gospel reading also records the responses of the adults around him to the child and asks us some key questions about all children: What expectations and hopes do we have for our children as they grow toward adulthood? What responsibilities do all adults have for children, regardless of whether or not they are related to them by blood or marriage, to keep them safe and to help them learn our social and religious customs?

Then Simeon… said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed…

When my boys were small we had to find times in the liturgy for them to be able to come and see me and for me to be daddy. Many Sundays I would be praying for God’s blessing on us (with them making the sign of the cross too) or processing out with my children in tow. this became the norm for them and they did this with visiting priest and bishop alike. They were learning what it meant to be in church and how to worship and it was ok. But how is it ok for the Vicar’s children and not ok for others to come to the symbol of the presence of God here - the altar rail? Why is it not ok for them to dance to the music of our hymns as we praise God?


This child, Jesus, will be the falling and rising of many in Israel. But what of this child? Or this one?? And all too often, because of them, the inner thoughts of many will be revealed by a look that says - I wish they would be quiet; what are the parents playing at etc.  Jesus wont have been the only child in the temple on the day, in the midst of it’s hustle and bustle but when parents with their children are here in this temple, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When parents are here with their kids, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When parents with their kids are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn't about bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as an extended family where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When parents with their kids are here, I have hope that these pews won't be empty in 10 years when the kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they can learn how and why we worship now, before it's too late. They are learning that worship is important. Oh and let's not kid ourselves that the children are the church of tomorrow because the simple fact of the matter is that unless we care for and nurture our children in the faith and support and encourage their parents, there won't be a church of tomorrow! They are the church of today.


What is Jesus asking of us? Both Simeon and Anna saw the hope of God in this child, not just for the future, but in the now - cradled in their arms.  The church is one of the very last organisations where ages and stages and differing backgrounds all mix together.  It is our shared responsibility to help our children learn how to worship - parents that is perhaps by finding new places to sit so the children can see worship and not just staying down the back. It’s also about helping them understand the different things we do - stopping and being still in prayers, listening to the Bible as it is read. Adults it is about encouraging our children and supporting their parents with a kind word not a scowl or a moan to a Warden. The children only learn they are not wanted or loved that way.

At the heart of our Gospel today is a child, young adults and the elderly all gathered in the presence of God in the Temple; family members and others together discovering the presence of God in their midst in this child. Simeon reminds us that the hopes of not just these parents but the hopes of the whole world are vested in this child.  In this child.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Grace For All At Cana

We have lost some of the greats in recent days - the artist David Bowie, the actor Alan Rickman are two.  I was never really a fan of Bowie’s music, and personally I think a 15 minute slot on the 10 o’ clock news was probably a bit extreme. Then I looked back and I noticed that he had eleased some of the most memorable popular music in the last 40 years.  I admire the way he has managed to reinvent himself musically and stylistically to appeal to a new generation. 

Alan Rickman similarly has never been one of my favourite film stars.  Yet whether it was Sense and Sensibility, Truly, Madly Deeply, Dogma or the Die Hard or Harry Potter franchises I recognise that stage and screen alike has lost someone very important.


The other great thing that we have lost, for now I believe, is the Church’s right to speak to a culture that needs the Gospel more than ever.  Jesus ministered to those on the margins of society in His day - lepers, women, the sick, Samaritans, tax collectors etc and He called His followers to do the same.  We have been reminded this week that as members of the Anglican Communion we have failed to be good news to the LBGT community, and we remain publicly unrepentant for the way we have corporately treated them.  Whilst it was highly unlikely that Anglican Primates were going to agree on issues of human sexuality, to see the Episcopal Church in the US effectively ostracised for three years to keep the Communion together seems like a heavy price to pay. An odd definition of Communion if there was ever one.


We all want Jesus to take our side and to act on our behalf not theirs. Even His mother tried to play that game according to what we hear in this morning’s Gospel - ‘…And Jesus responds to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’…’ The historical actions of slave traders and abolitionists, supporters of women’s rights and those wedded to traditional understandings of patriarchal headship alike can all be justified by the words of Scripture. Yet history shows us that what is considered culturally acceptable changes with time as does the Church's interpretation of Scripture.

The wedding at Cana is an odd story in a way - Jesus meets a human need with miraculous divine provision. But the need in this case is just that the hosts at a party have run out of wine. Compared with the needs of the desperately sick or seriously disabled, more wine for a party seems more like a luxury than a need. 

The mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ Christina McQuillan rented out her flat on New Year’s Eve via the website Air BnB. She was called by a neighbour back to her property after a party involving hundreds was clearly in full swing.  “It was horrific – me and my partner got to the property and there were hundreds of people on the streets… We entered the property and we told [the host] to shut it down immediately. This girl just laughed and said ‘no, I’m holding a party’.”

Running out of wine was a social faux pas: to entertain relatives and neighbours at a wedding was a major social obligation. To run out of wine would be a serious social disgrace and spoil the party. But this is evidently not a really poor family. Couldn't they have just sent out to buy more wine? In the end, by providing more wine we have to admit that Jesus isn't so much meeting a need as being rather extravagant. As Jesus' contribution to the party, if you like, he provides far more wine than they could possibly have drunk, even though such wedding celebrations traditionally went on for a whole week. And much better wine than they would normally have expected to be drinking. Luxury and extravagance are the words we have to use.

Jesus said, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ When the steward tasted the water that had become wine… the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’


Soren Kierkegaard, the great 19th-century Danish philosopher, said: 'Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something even more difficult: it has turned wine into water.’  Wine though wasn’t just a social lubricant at an event such as this.  It was a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, of joy and gladness and hospitality.  In performing this miracle Jesus provides for over a thousand bottles of the finest of wines.  And that, according to John, is what grace is like: an overflowing of joy, blessing, and the presence of God.

If Jesus’ call to us, as to his first disciples, remains the same, to model what he did and said in his earthly ministry bringing the grace and joy and blessing of the presence of God to the outsider, I wonder whether what the church does and says so often turns the wine of the kingdom into water? It certainly feels like that might be the case following the Primate’s meeting if you are a member of the gay community, but it will also feel like that every time we shush a child or glare at it’s parent who is trying their best to feel welcomed by Jesus and helping them grow in faith and yet we push them away from our Jesus.


We are the conduits of the extravagant grace of God to the whole of our community, not just those we like or who are like us, but to all that society and the church push to the margin.  Not demonstrating God’s grace to others in our words and deeds is more than a social faux pas. It silences the Gospel. We lose our right to speak.  Archbishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop in the TEC said this week: “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ…’ To paraphrase St Paul: There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, gay or straight adult or child, for all are one in Christ.’